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.


Linda Davick said...

Oh Namowal. OH NAMOWAL!!!!!

Namowal said...

Or D'oh Namowal!
I've heard of a lot of odd skydiving accidents, but I've never heard of someone breaking a bone on the way out the door. Maybe I'm a pioneer.

James said...

Wow. Just wow.

If you have any doubts about how you handled the situation then discard them NOW. That's nightmare situation and surviving it is something to be proud of.

I'm glad you're able to report it in such a jovial manner, keep your spirits up and don't worry about the jumpsuit.

Someone said...

Holy shit!

I'm glad you're alive and stood so calm!

You're not the only one who broke his hand right on exit though. Recently, a jumper at our dropzone broke his hand in the same way you did. Unfortunately, it was his right and he couldn't deploy his main and had to go for reserve.

I'm glad you're okay and you lived to tell about it!

Pile Girl said...

Oh my goodness! I cannot imagine how scary that must have been!

Does your partner have handles on his elbows that you hold on to (picture 1)?

Namowal said...

Thanks for the friendly words! I'm surprised I didn't freak out more (after all, my early aff jumps terrified me and I still get a bit nervous when the plane slows for jump run.)
Who knew!?

I'm glad to be alive too. There were many ways that the "trip" could have ended much worse than it did. I dodged some bullets that day.

And someone else broke something on the way out the door? And here I thought I was a dubious pioneer at the task.

Pile Girl,
I'm still surprised that I didn't flip out more. After all, I'm pretty high strung and nervous. Go figure. :D

MikeJD said...

Glad you're relatively unscathed, and good on you for persevering and doing what you could under the circumstances. That was a real facer for you, especially at your experience level. You stayed calm and you did great. And rest assured that whatever you do to yourself in the sport, someone else has probably been there before you ;). I think broken bones on exit are fairly rare - dislocations less so. Either one is a nightmare scenario!

I must have hit the door dozens of times, often without feeling it, but usually it just results in a mystery bruise or a scraping of paint.

Oh! In the excitement I nearly forgot to mention the artwork. I love the double-take sequence!

Anonymous said...

Look at the bright side; At least it's not dislocated ;)

Namowal said...

The good news is I "only" broke my arm and leg (no dislocations, though when I was in the air I hadn't ruled out what was wrong with my arm.)

As for staying calm, please remind me to do the same the next time I lose my keys or crash my computer... ;)

Glad you liked the double take sequence. I was still at the hospital when I drew that one, and it was fun to draw. Almost made up for the reason I had to draw it in the first place.

Wolf River Joe said...

#1 - really sorry to hear you got hurt. I know you are mending and will be ok, but this sucks.

#2 - I think you did an excellent job handling it. You maintained focus, including altitude awareness (you couldn't see your altimiter, but you knew your partner could and knew to trust him). You thought through the entire situation, and made concious, deliberate decisions. You didn't panic or freak or stop thinking. Which (in case you didn't realize it) probably saved you from far, far worse injuries.

Namowal said...

Thanks, Wolf River Joe,
I still can't believe I didn't freak out or panic. I knew full well that my arm was messed up and there was many an opportunity to mess up the rest of me, yet I determined what I could do about the predicament, and did it... if I could only train myself not to freak out for everyday problems like frozen computers and missing cellphones... ;)

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