Sunday, December 09, 2012

Meanwhile, on the Ground...

Sorry that's it's been so long between posts.  I've been in a coffee stained frenzy at work, work, work.   I don't think I'd get any jumps in even if I hadn't smashed my arm and leg in my infamous 75th jump.
And speaking of that jump...
...something puzzled me:  Where were the nightmares?

I have nightmares all the time.  You'd think a young David Lynch was directing them: Creepy things.  Gory things.  Mutilated things.  If I find something unpleasant, I'll dream about it.
Where were the accident flashbacks?  Wasn't that supposed to be the norm?   It wasn't like I was having fun in freefall with the streamer arm.   I wasn't whistling a happy tune when I was drifting towards, the freeway,  under a canopy I could barely control.  No nightmares about that?  I don't get it.
It's not like I never get traumatized.   In my late teens my neighbor's lunatic dog tried to eat me.
 I held my purse between myself and his teeth, so he "only" trashed the purse before his owner pulled him away.  I wasn't able to walk by his house for years.  Even after the dog died I'd cross the street to avoid passing to that home.

I did find time to visit the drop zone.  The observation rides are almost was fun as the "jumping out of the plane" rides.
It's funny how brains work.  Even when I knew I was staying on the plane, I still thought "Yikes, here I go again!" as the plane took off.  When the it slowed for jump run, I felt the familiar jolt of nerves.  The part of my mind that decides what's scary and what isn't doesn't take reality into the picture.
I also heard from people who were on the load where I broke my arm.  I remember striking the doorway, but I didn't think others noticed.  They did.
I also heard that early internet reports of my crash landing had exaggerated the extent of the injuries.
Back in September, the surgeon who fixed my breaks estimated I'd be healed (and presumably, jump worthy,) in four months or so.  That meant I'd be jumping again in January.  That didn't sound too far off...
My local orthopedist had other ideas.  He said to stay on the ground until March. 
As if I wasn't getting rusty enough as it was!
Still, it's probably wise to play it safe.
I also used the money I was saving on gasoline and jump tickets to invest in  equipment.  Soon I had a canopy, a rig,  a reserve and an AAD (okay, some of it's still at the shop, but my name's on it.).

Maybe, since I'm on the ground, can teach myself to pack- something I've watched a million times and still can't quite do by myself (shame!)
It will be cool to get back in the sky, but I can talk tough since it's many months off.  Maybe I'll get more nervous as March gets closer.
In the past, the longer it was between jumps, the more unnerving it was to get back in the air.  And this was just skipping a few weeks.  What was going to happen after six months on the ground?  

Friday, October 05, 2012

How I Broke My Arm & Leg Part III: From "Prang!" to Progress

I was one of many, many jumpers who earned their A licence this year.  Sadly, I wasn't the most promising noob.  My peers were advancing faster than me.  A few were already dabbling in free flying and camera work!
I'd been struggling with basics- exits, landings, beginner RW skills etc...
I tried hard to be good.   I jumped every weekend, listened to my coaches, did tunnel work and studied the SIM.   No freeflying or cameras for you, I told myself.   Learn the basics first.  Be safe.
Yet my "be safe" attitude didn't keep me out of a ridiculous accident:*
As I blogged earlier, I wasn't proud of myself, nor was I thrilled with the idea of not jumping for months...   ...but I  knew I'd be better off if I focused the good stuff.   I hadn't been killed, right?  I'd be out of the hospital soon, and  even in the meantime, there were things to appreciate:
The accident didn't hurt much.  It was the kind of pain that might have you thinking about where the aspirin was. 
Then came the physical therapy.  
Youch!  At first even nudging the bad leg made me see stars.
After a blood transfusion, five nights and some physical therapy  I was cleared for the rehab hospital.
I was never bored.  It was Gimp Boot Camp.  Lots of exercises and activities to do: Bend, stand, stretch, lean, step etc...
And then I peeked out the window and saw a bunch of cop cars come up...
...doors shut.  A warning recording squawked on the intercom.  I  gunman had been reported downstairs.**  Gunman?  I thought,  This has been the most insane week  ever.  I didn't hear any shots, but scoped the room for possible hiding places, just to be sure.
The cops combed the place.  No gunman.***

I'd been hospitalized once before, when I was very little.   I hear I wasn't a model patient.
This time I tried to be more practical.  I gave myself some rules:
Rule One: No slouching.  You can sit up straight, so do it,
Rule Two: If it's not bedtime, get out of bed.  You can get out of bed now, so sit in a chair.
My logic?  If spent my time acting like I was getting better, I'd convince my brain that this was the case.  It wouldn't heal me, but if I thought I was getting better, I'd be more likely to participate in stuff that would make me better: getting around and exercising.
Soon I was able to sneak into the dining room and make coffee.  My caffeine fix was calling.  I spilled it all over the place the first time...
 ...and later found it was all decaf.
A week later they sprang me.
Standing and walking with the cane was a hassle at first, but I did my exercises...

Recently  I saw an x-ray of my leg for the first time.  I'd envisioned a clean little break.  Not so.  It looked like someone had worked it over with a hammer.
There was even a stray chunk of  bone floating by itself (I'd wondered what that mysterious bump under my skin was...)  It didn't really matter that the bone was botched.   A titanium reinforcement rod was doing the work now.
In a few weeks I went from barely being able to stand...

to walking with a cane to walking without one.  I'm not very graceful or fast, but check with me later...

*Not that being safe was a bad choice.  Had I been more daring, who knows what trouble I might have gotten into?

**I wasn't supposed to know this detail until later, but someone told me anyway.

***I suspect it was a false alarm.

Friday, September 21, 2012

How I Broke my Arm & Leg Part II: Lucky Ducky

Haven't seen Part I?  It's here...
My arm and leg were broken.   Snapped in two.   I didn't get to see the scans or x-rays, but I saw the "Uh oh...!" expressions on those who did. A piece of the arm bone poked  through the skin and my leg bone was trying to do the same thing.    Time for surgery.
They pinned my arm bone together, threaded a rod down my leg, let me wake up, and wheeled me to my hospital room.
"Now you've been and gone and done it!" I thought, "Broke your arm and your leg?  On opposite sides?  Whatcha gonna do now?"
My inner critic took over:

I threw him out.  He was annoying.
Still, it would be weeks and weeks before the bones healed, and months before I could skydive again.
No skydiving for months?
I'd been skydiving for barely a year and was just reaching the "good for a beginner" stage.   

It had been an uphill climb.  With obstacles:
It had scared me.  It made me nervous.  Mistakes, slow progress (at least compared to others) and doubts frustrated me.  Each weekend I drove to the DZ for jumps.  I splurged on tunnel time to improve my freefall.   Within the last month or so, the effort seemed to be paying off...
 ...then whoops!  I pranged myself.  Game over.
 Not only that, but while I stagnated on the ground, my peers would still be jumping and advancing.  I didn't like that...

...but it could have been  worse.   Other  jumpers had sustained way more serious injuries.  Some had been killed.  Heck, if I'd landed in a worse spot, I might have been killed too.  Maybe a broken arm or leg wasn't  such a big deal.
Even artists had been hurt way worse than me, I remembered.
Al Capp and Frida Kahlo had both been mutilated by trolley accidents, for example.  I wasn't doing bad for a "fall out of the plane" accident.  Frida had broken her right leg in eighteen pieces  (And her pelvis, foot, spine, etc.)  Had I complained about my injuries to her, she'd  be unimpressed.
"Okay," I reminded myself, "My accident could have been way uglier.  So many things could have gone wrong..."  When I weighed what actually happened with what could have happened...

...I knew I was a lucky duck.

For part three (can I milk this or what?) , click here.

Monday, September 17, 2012

How I Broke my Arm and Leg, Part I: "Don't Let the Door Hit You."

It was my seventy fifth jump:
My third jump of the day.   We were going to practice docking.  My partner and I took our positions in the door.
Ready, Set, Go-
  My partner spilled out ahead of me and I tumbled after him, smacking my arm on the way out.
Maybe my timing was off.  Maybe I should have been closer to the door.  Maybe both.
That's gonna leave a mark, I thought...
I got stable.  Then I saw it...
 My left arm dangled straight up, like a streamer.  It was as if it had been replaced with a lifeless doll arm.  Really!?  I thought. What had I done with to my arm?  Broke it?  Dislocated it?  What the... !?
My jumping partner noticed.  He  fell at a safe distance.  I couldn't read my altimeter (it was on the bad arm) so I kept an eye on him for until he signaled he was going to track away and pull.  Once he was out of the way, I threw my pilot chute.
The canopy opened.  At least that works, I thought, reaching for the toggles.  It felt like both hands reached up.  Then  I looked down.  My bad arm hang, inert, like a piece of meat on a peg.
I don't care what's wrong with your arm, I told myself.  Get it up there and grab the steering toggle!
Again the ghost arm reached up, and the broken arm just hung there.
Uh oh... what!?
 Then I remembered reading about one-armed skydivers who steered with both toggles in one hand.  Try that, I thought.  Carefully I reached up with my good hand, freeing and grabbing both of them.  I was still high up.  Time for some practice...
I found I could get a crude turn by tugging them to the side.  Pulling them left spun me right and vice versa.  It wasn't that precise (it didn't help that one steering line was wrapped around a riser*)but at least I had some control...
...or did I?
I was drifting away from the landing area.**
No, you idiot!  I thought.  You're arm's busted.  You've gotta land at the DZ!
I tried to turn and steer my way back, but it wasn't working.  I was drifting toward houses.  Houses are bad things to land on.  Landing on a roof means you could fall (or be blown) off.  It's killed people.  And even if I missed a house, there were plenty of booby traps: fences, trees, pavement, powerlines etc.. that could mangle me.
You will not fly over those houses!  I told myself.  Get turned around.  Now!
My steering wasn't helping.  I drifted over the houses and towards the freeway.  The freeway!
You will not fly over the freeway!  I thought.  Between the hard surface and the speeding cars and trucks, this was the last place anyone would want to land.  I tugged the toggles and tried to avoid it...
...and drifted straight over it.
 I made it beyond the freeway and found myself heading towards land that was mostly undeveloped.  Good. I was getting closer to the ground.  My steering was still poor but I was able to avoid some trees and electric wires.
The weedy, rock strewn hillside grew closer and closer.  I flared (or tried to flare) and attempted a PLF.  Kaboom!  I hit the ground.  It was rough but I seemed okay.
You stay put, I told myself.  Who knows what's wrong with your arm.  Don't make it any worse by getting up.
I sat up and waited.  Did anyone know I was there?  How long would I have to wait?  How bad had I hurt my arm?
Soon I had a small crowd.  People from the drop zone and people who happened to see me land were there.  I was on the verge of blacking out and couldn't see well, but I could hear and speak.
"Stay with us," I was told.
Stay with them?  I thought.  How much choice do I have in the matter?   And why did I feel faint anyway?  I wasn't bleeding (that I knew of).  It didn't even hurt that much.  Was I a wimp?
I explained what happened the best I could, wondering if I was in trouble.  Had I been stupid?  Would I be  banned from the drop zone?
The paramedics arrived and - to my horror- cut off the arm of the jumpsuit.  It was one I was borrowing from the DZ.  Uh oh.  Not only had I caused a circus, but I'd wrecked one of the jumpsuits too.  Still, I was glad to get help.  They stabilized my arm, then tried to help me stand.
My right leg wouldn't cooperate..  What the..?   "I think maybe there's something wrong with my leg..." I said...

(For part two, please click here)

*I toyed with the idea of holding the toggle with the untangled line in my teeth while I freed the wrapped one, but I had a full face helmet and couldn't open it with one hand (I tried!)  It was probably best that I kept it intact, as even with the helmet's protection I ended up with a black eye. 

**Turns out the winds were getting funny.  Even some "normal" jumpers landed off on that load.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Crash 'n' Bash

I'm at  seventy two jumps now.  
It's fun...
...but this was getting  old:
So many crash landings!
My inner critic wasn't pleased.
What was wrong?  I had plenty of jumps.  I'd even taken a canopy course.  Why so many crashes?
Maybe it's a mental thing, I thought.  Maybe if calm down and act as if I know what to do, I'll land correctly.
On my next final approach I was Superduck.
  Superduck knew how it was done.  Calm down, eyes on the horizon, flare half way at ten feet, plane out, flare all the wa-
That was the end of Superduck.
My inner critic had my rap sheet ready:
 What's with all the screw ups?  These were all things I knew I shouldn't be doing, yet they kept happening.
Maybe I didn't deserve my A license after all?  Did they revoke these things?
Inner Critic was also displeased with my rides to altitude.
Now Inner Critic had crossed the line.  Time for some backtalk.
As for the crash landings, some coaches suggest I try a smaller canopy.  Perhaps the 210 was too big for me.  I rented a 190.
As soon as the chute opened, I practiced my flare.  Half way, all the way... hey....  Something was wonky.
The eye hole section of the steering lines was acting like a speed bump.  Each time I pulled down, they'd get stuck in the slider grommets and it took a tooth-pulling tug to get them through.  I practiced over and over:
Half brakes, tug, tug tug... full brakes.
The brakes were sloppy, yet, the landings were  gentle.  Even the crash landings. 
I assumed the problem was my fault.  Maybe I wasn't strong enough .  Maybe there was some subtle trick to a good flare that I was missing (never mind that this had never been a problem before).  Other jumpers gave me suggestions.  I practiced different techniques up high, but the blankety blank thing didn't cooperate.  It was only much later that I figured out that the problem wasn't me.

Friday, August 03, 2012


When the  plane reaches 1000 feet, we're expected to unfasten our seat belts, spread out, and, if it's a toasty day, open the door.  This means someone gets to sit on the floor, untethered, inches away from a big drop.  When that person is me, I don't like it.
Yeah, I get that I have a parachute on and should be able to save myself if I fell out, but it still freaks me.
Guess who's not a natural at this?
Guess who also still exits the plane like this?
I knew I wasn't the most graceful creature, but it wasn't until I saw video after video of my exits that I realized how all over the place I was.  Its ridiculous.  I knew how to arch.  On the way to altitude I was visualizing myself leaving the plane and arching.  What was up with the rag doll moves?
And then there's the landings. They often look like this...

but sometimes I... standing up.  Whoohoo!  Okay, this is something many of my peers have mastered in their student days... ...but for me it's a treat.

I try to be safe.  I fear "stealth goof ups"- that is, doing something bad without noticing it.   A recent lowish pull comes to mind.  This makes me mad on two counts- I've done something wrong and put myself (or others) in potential danger.   Not safe.  Not cool.
Recently I was planning my landing pattern when I noticed the wind sock at a right angle to its usual position.  We're supposed to land perpendicular to the runway, and that's the way the wind usually blows.  Not today..  What to do?  Follow the rules and find out what a crosswind landing was like?  Or do a pattern lined up with the wind?
 Whatever you do, I thought, stay out of everyone's way!   No surprise turns.  No cutting people off.   Got that?*
I looked around.  I was at the far end of the DZ.   My only neighbors in the sky were a pair of hawks.  They were flying with the windsock.
Okay, I thought, if the hawks know what to do...
Downwind... crosswind... into the wind... toggles up... toggles up... flare half... all-the-way...
Wow!  I landed a stand up landing!  
The shuttle van drove up.  Lisa, the driver said:

"Lucky Duck?"
Oh Geez, I thought.  What bullet had I just dodged?  What stupid, reckless thing had I just done?  Had I put anyone else in danger?  Maybe I had no business doing this skydiving stuff!
"Lucky," Lisa continued.  "You got to fly with the hawks!"

I may be a lucky duck, but it seems I'm also a nervous, high strung one.  The feedback I get from the many coaches who put up with me is "Relax!"
They're right.  Being tense makes my moves crude and clunky.  Being calm makes things easier.  My challenge is to learn to get calm and stay that way.    It's one thing to sit in a chair and relax.  Plunging through the air and relaxing is trickier.
Even a lot of my tunnel time is devoted to relaxing.
It's less spooky than the sky even with an audience of Universal Citywalk tourists watching.   Never mind that some of my peers are learning sit fly moves now.  If learning to relax was what I needed, that was what I was practicing.  It did make it easier to do control what I was doing.

I usually jump with  other people.  We attempt some formations.  I'm usually the one who ends up too high or backslides away.  Even when I get close, I have trouble docking.  On a recent jump I  found myself level with another diver.  Would I be able to grab his grips  without backsliding?
Calm down!  I reminded myself. Relax...


It worked!  I was able to dock..  Then let go and was able to dock in a second formation.  This is very basic stuff, but for me it was a miracle.  I couldn't believe it.   Maybe I could be a decent skydiver after all...!

*for non-skydiving readers both canopy collisions and low turns (to avoid them) are very dangerous.