Biographical Non-Fiction posted October 19, 2014

This work has reached the exceptional level

Hey, now I'm listening.

by Jumbo J

At the age of fifty-three, surely by now, even I would have come to the conclusion that damaging my body continuously was never going to end in a happily-ever-after story.

It seems this time I have really done a number on myself; multiple lumbar disc herniations and a fracture at the base of the spine. From the top of my right hip down and up into my back, my muscles are atrophied and won’t support my mobility. It just didn’t happen--this injury was cultivated.

As a boy, I always seemed to be continuously having those unfortunate accidents. But what does the word accident conjure up? To call it an undesirable or an unfortunate happening, without design or just by mere chance? No, I can’t digest that meaning at all. It has no validity in my comprehension.

Every action has a reaction. Everything we do or think, takes us in a direction that may cause these so called accidents. Not an accident at all--just bad judgement or bad choices.

My competitive nature was never going to let me fold under any kind of injury or disability. I never accepted these signals as a warning, just as a sign of weakness. I whole-heartedly convinced myself, if my thought created my reality, would the acknowledgement to the truth of my injuries cause my demise?

Introspection?  No, I can’t ever go there; this is where self-doubt, anxiety and depression are waiting in highjack to the future of my recovery and progression.

When does conscious thought kick in and become the thinking tool we use to smooth the path we track? Is this just a journey of being slapped in the back of the head until I finally ‘get it?’

Obviously I’m a very slow learner. What, did I think? That I was invincible or something?

One of my hard-fast rules to survival continues to be, if the thought doesn’t serve a purpose for a positive result, throw it out. It’s useless.

Rule number two: Be kind to myself. It all starts from there. No use in beating myself up for a situation that has already occurred.

Rule number three: Don’t get lost in the bush--the mind-field of head games. Thinking about a worst case scenario, just increases anxiety and fear--nothing of value.  Focus is what allows my personal emotional freedom from the shackles of doubt.

I ask myself daily, is the position I find myself in at this point in time--bad luck, or just a myriad of bad choices? Or am I just too damn stubborn to accept the inevitability of what I need to do to keep my life on an even-keel? I guess I need to play out the hand and wait until the end game to know the finality of the story.

My sporting career as a young man has a lot to do with my current situation. I suffered injury after major injury and endured the rehabilitation that made sure I’d be back on the field playing my beloved football as early as possible. I lived in a habitual mode, expecting damage and soldiering through recovery. It was as if I was programed to expect pain and then healing.  A head space I would go into automatically.

There’s one big problem with that way of thinking. Now, at my age and with the amount of damage my body has sustained over the years, every new injury is not something I’m coming back from, it’s something I’m adding to. There’s no way I’m escaping the inevitability of my circumstances, but there is still time to change the way I think and how I react to that thought.

This is the humongous challenge for me. On one hand, I know if I’m not smart about the way I go forward doing physical activities, I’m going to pay an ultimate price. On the other hand, it’s so damn hard to let go of that last shred of myself that has been the identity I’ve defined myself throughout my lifetime.  My desire to provide and protect, to feel productive and worthwhile, someone to be needed and all wrapped up in this supposedly unbreakable physical shell.

Without this strength, this body, who am I?

I honestly don’t know.  I’ve had to modify my employment opportunities, jobs, sports, recreational and outdoor interest over the years with each new specific physical decline.  While this injury is not life threatening, it is life altering.

Bit by bit, another piece of my life is shredded, stripped away.  I’ve accepted there will be no more contact sports, no more martial arts, surfing, kayaking, or running. But if I can get back to swimming, scratching around in my gardens and walking, I’m going to be one happy and lucky guy.

I’ve heard it said by people going through trying situations in their lives--why me?  I’ve come to realise--why not me? What gives anyone the right to expect immunity?

It’s not how many times we fall down that counts; it’s how many times we dust ourselves off and continue to get back up.

And I’m the first to say, there are so many more people who 'have it' worse than me, who are going through way bigger struggles--life and death situations. I know that, it’s that thought that keeps me grounded, keeps me focused on the bigger picture.

Seven weeks and some loose change down the track, I’ve made some progress, but slow, barely noticeable improvement. Who would have thought that one of these so-called accidents would be the cause of the first strike to this injury? A kayak suspended from the ceiling of a garage in my sister’s holiday house.

Before a new holiday tenant arrives, I do the brotherly thing; cut the grass, do a general tidy-up. You know, everything to make the paying visitors feel comfortable when they arrive.

On the way out of the house, through the garage, I noticed the kayak hanging down from the ceiling on one side, something that would have caused a dilemma for tenants wanting to park their car inside, out of the elements. Instead of taking the extra five minutes necessary to re-position the straps holding the kayak in place, I proceeded with the easy fix. Winding the winch handle up in the hope that it would tighten back into position.  

Click-click-click-click-click--snap. Wrong move! The rope gave way, sending the kayak downwards with force and striking me on an already damaged shoulder and neck. Dazed and shocked from the eighty pound projectile that bounced off me and onto the floor, I knew I wasn’t going to come out unscathed. I did the usual. Rolled the arm around to see if it was still working, moved the neck back and forward.

Nah, everything seemed to still be working, luckily the big trapezius muscle took most of the impact. Well, at least that was my first assessment. Yes, I had one hell of a headache and was a bit tight and stiff around the affected area, but I thought I was alright.

A week later at the front of my house, rousing a couple of amorous teenagers who were walking by and causing a bit of a ruckus, I witnessed a young boy struck by a van. The thud as the van struck and dragged him up the road was sickening. I didn’t hold much hope for the boy who lay prone in the middle of the road. I screamed for my wife Jade, to call OOO for an ambulance and bolted across the road, hurdling median strips and dodging any object in my way. It was if my feet were hardly touching the one-hundred and fifty metres of ground I crossed to get to him.

The boy was unconscious and bleeding from various parts of his body, but the blood coming from his ears was of great concern. I knew this probably indicated a fractured skull. I checked his vitals-his pulse was rapid, but strong. All I could do was to keep talking and reassuring him that he was going to be alright, even though he hadn’t regained consciousness. I felt helpless, but I knew there was nothing more I could do, apart from keeping the now growing crowd from trying to move him off the road.

Living in a small coastal fishing village, everybody knows each other, if not by name, then by face. It wasn’t long before his mother and step-dad arrived on the scene, but still no ambulance.  I waited with the parents until the local police arrived and gave my statement as to what I had witnessed. But still no ambulance was forth-coming; one of the major draw-backs, living in a town with a part-time doctor is that emergency medical assistance is an hour away.

It’s a really hard thing to do, witnessing someone in need of help and not being able to do anything about it. And with the victim being a twelve-year-old, it was so much harder.

A dream-like state had me as I walked back home. Obviously I was suffering a bit of shock as the accident scene replayed continuously in my mind. For the next three-quarters–of-an-hour I watched nervously from my front yard hoping and praying that medical assistance would arrive.

Hours later, even after the ambulance had come and rushed the boy to hospital, I still couldn’t shake the visual replay. I thought the best thing to do, to take my mind off things, would be to hook into Fanstory to read and review some of my favourite writers. After ten minutes of sitting, the pain started. First, in my legs and back, I was finding it hard to remain seated. On standing and with every step the pain was worse than it was sitting. I knew it had been a long time since I had run at top speed. But this pain was far worse than just sore muscles that hadn’t been called on for a few years.

For the next six months I battled on, working, looking after my own place and yard. I thought with time, swimming, walking and my exercise regime, I’d be back to some kind of normal. It was like I was taking a couple of steps forward and then a few more back into the pain, that wasn’t going anywhere fast. Like I said, I’m a slow learner when it comes to my own health.

Eight months later and here I am, caught in another story of ‘how and what do I do to get myself better’.

Progress is still progress and I’ll take every positive step forward as a win. Rest--that was the proffered medical advice, that and surgery, but that freaked me out. Rest? What was that?
But my body was screaming--enough’s, enough. The reality is, there is only one way forward and that is to retrain my brain. The muscles that were shocked into submission need to switch back on and perform their designated function. Yes, one step at a time--pun intended—it’s what I need to do to live a life that resembles the one I know I deserve.

Re-learning to do what you have been doing naturally for over fifty years is proving to be much more difficult than I would have thought. Despite my knowledge of the body and its muscle functions from a background in sports medicine, remedial massage and martial arts; this has all definitely been virgin territory for me.

Once the brain has had a disturbance from nerve to muscle with this type of injury, it has a very similar effect to that of a stroke victim. Obviously there is no damage to the brain as what is sustained with a stroke, but the results are the same.  I have to reprogram my brain to translate the messages to my muscles.

Each week with the professional help of a great young physiotherapist, I have started working my way back; adding on something extra each week, in the form of strengthening and coordination exercises. It’s all low-grade stuff at the moment, and slowly as it goes, but as I’ve said, it’s forward progress.

Everyday now has three hours of these monotonous exercises molded into my recovery. But because of these exercises, I’m now able to walk, or should I say limp further than the confines of my self-imposed house arrest. My first goal is to build up to swimming a lap of the ocean pool, once the atrophied muscles start firing again.

Luckily, the numbness has subsided, a very encouraging sign to regaining full feeling in my right leg. The next couple of months and the attitude towards my wellbeing are crucial for my recovery.

Maybe I should have listened to myself and the pain in my body. After an hour of waiting in distress at a doctor’s surgery without getting treatment, why did I disregard the alarm my body was blaring in my head?  I knew—I really knew—I needed the referral for X-rays, but I ignored the sirens and waltzed out of the medical building. I turned myself over to a cracker of bones, an osteopath who disregarded all the information I gave him regarding my injuries. He cracked me alright, taking me from an injured condition into the acute state I now find myself in, but he didn’t break me.

Hell, what was I thinking?

Hindsight is one of those things we all wished we used more effectively in every circumstance where there is not a favourable outcome. No use wondering if I should have done this, or I could have done that.

What if I’d only listened to my higher-self? The wise voice in my mind who was trying to warn me and seems to know of the impending dramas that are about to occur. When I think about it, the voice sounds very familiar.

There is but one option—to look forward. The only beneficial thing that looking back offers, is to learn, so it doesn’t happen again. Really, how many ‘again’s’ do I have left in me? Will I learn the difference between hearing and listening—ever? Hell, this time I really hope so.

There’s one thing for sure, Mrs Gump had it right when she told young Forrest that “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get”.

“When I let go of what I am,
I become what I might be.”
                                                      - Lao Tzu.


Non-Fiction Writing Contest contest entry


000 call in Australia is the equivalent to 911 emergency call in the US-of-A.

Osteopath-- A practitioner who cures injury and disease by manipulation of parts of the body.

And a footnote to the young boy who was struck by the van.
He sustained a fractured skull, a small tear to his spleen, but was fortunate enough to have had a full recovery and was out of hospital in two weeks... oh to be young again.

Lao Tzu- Chinese Philosopher.

A big shout-out to Crystal Clear for your reflective art work... thank you for the visual to accompany my words... most appreciated.

...And to my dear friend and mentor Ingrid, (Spiritualecho) thank you for caring enough to guide me.

Word count: 2400

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