Trauma & Healing

In 1982, as I described in the Emotional Flurry blog, acquiring a body cast was the worst of times. ( To this day, that experience, from start to finish was the most rotten thing I experienced from my fall. The plaster hardening on my skin, the spasms forcing my head to retract as my limbs jolted into the metal bars, the lack of empathy from my doctors, and lastly, the pressure along my ribcage as my weight increased and the cast no longer fit my form combined to create a miserable stew.

The other night while watching The Best of Men, I flashed to my body cast removal. In the film, Dr. Ludwig Guttmann arrived at Stoke Mandeville hospital in Buckinghamshire, England toward the end of WWII. Upon his arrival he was appalled by how the partially paralyzed men were heavily sedated and how rancid bedsores riddled the men’s bodies: some hidden from view by plaster casts. In one scene, Dr. Guttmann requested a pair of pliers and proceeded to cut through the plaster, freeing the men from their cage of misery. Although I was upright and a saw was used to crack open my plaster shell, the procedure ended with my digested insides on the floor. The PA’s couldn’t exit the room fast enough, leaving my mother to clean up after her 19 year old baby.

It was inspiring to watch Dr. Guttmann fight for his patients and treat them like human beings. He helped them to rebuild their body, mind, and spirit. Athletic competition added to the recovery of the men in his charge. In this true story, Dr. Ludwig Guttmann is credited for starting the Paralympic games. With modest beginnings, the event has grown to more than 1,000 participants.

With my 35th anniversary approaching in October, I chose to read, The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer. On the back cover Packer asked, How much do we owe the people we love? Is it a sign of strength or weakness to walk away from someone in need? As the casualty of the fall, I was intrigued.

Mike, a main character, fell and broke his neck at Clausen’s Pier in Wisconsin. The following is a conversation between his doctor and Mike’s family about his paralyzed condition: “You’ve been waiting and worrying for four weeks, and now that he appears to be resuming consciousness, you’re understandably thrilled. The last thing he knew, he was having fun with his friends. You can’t expect him to be happy or relieved or grateful to find himself alive.”

Mike’s father: “He’s waking up to bad news, even though his waking up is good news.”

When I read this exchange, it gave me pause. My mind jetted back to the instant my life changed. Although my life was far from perfect in 1982, the moment the damage to my body registered, I asked for all of my troubles to be returned to me along with my body sensations. If only I could feel my body again, if only I could get up and walk, if only . . . . However, just as it was laid out in this book, it was all bad news to me, even though good news was right around the corner. One minute I was having fun with my friends, the next my body was splayed out over a boulder. From the chest down, life was literally vacating my body.

At one point, I put Clausen’s Pier aside as a hospital scene ignited my discomfort. However, the next night I picked it back up and continued to read. In my life story, no one walked away from me, although there were times I wished they had. Being surrounded by people when things were at their worst disturbed me. Even as nastiness emerged from every pore, family and friends remained by my side.

To truly release a trauma, the charge diminishes or it no longer captures your energy. Most of the time, my fall is like that. However, occasionally something pricks the old wound. Fortunately, it is short lived and it doesn’t consume me. These days, memories from my recovery bring gratitude. Both the book and the movie gave more to me than they took from me. I realize I am one of the fortunate ones. That’s why I share my story, to help those who are paralyzed in life; whether they can walk or not. Be well… Nancy T