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.