Karla, my climbing partner, usually pulled the rope down to pack it up, but this time I did it.
In our partnership, typically she managed the rope, set up the rappels, and often picked where we climbed. But today we had used mine instead of hers. My rope, my responsibility.
It slithered down partway before jamming in a crack 50 feet above me. I couldn’t budge it. Annoyed and embarrassed, I headed up the steep terrain in my running shoes, even after Karla volunteered to retrieve it. I didn’t assess the situation, make a plan, or try to protect myself with gear from free-falling; it was just a job I needed to handle. In retrospect, I should have at least been wearing sticky-soled climbing shoes that make it easier to grip rock surfaces. As I climbed further up the gully, I noticed that it was getting harder to find a secure stance in my vertical environment. The only thing in my favor was the weather – bright sunshine and very little wind.
Midway to the trapped rope, I began to feel unsure. I paused and looked down at Karla, “I’m scared.”
I could see her looking up at me with concern. “Come down and put on your climbing shoes, or let me get the rope.”
But before Karla’s sentence was finished, a familiar compulsion kicked in; dedicated to my task, I continued upward. Almost there. I planted my palms on the outer lip of a rock ledge, grunted and began pulling my body up towards a flatter surface. Just as I was about to fully shift my weight onto my arms, my right foot popped off. The angle of the rock turned out to be more downward sloped than I had anticipated. In a flash terrestrial forces ripped away the rest of me, sending me falling towards the canyon floor, with my hands still trying to cling on – even if only to air.
[bctt tweet=”The rock ledge I slammed into broke my 25 foot fall. “]
The rock ledge I slammed into broke my 25 foot fall. The violent impact of landing face down wiped away all sense of space and time. It wouldn’t be until Karla called out my name that I became conscious. I had lifted my head and that’s when she knew it was safe to turn me over. Over and over I whispered that I couldn’t breathe. Carefully, she rolled me onto my back. I cried out, “My arm hurts! I think its broken!” I had always known Karla to be a take-charge kind of person, someone who could keep her wits about her. It would be many months later before I learned about all that she did for me that day.
I discovered rock climbing shortly after moving to Boulder in the mid-eighties. I got enough exposure to find out I loved it but chose a different path to pursue competitive bike racing and ultra running (distances over 50k) until 2001 when I got lured back to the rock. At that time I couldn’t foresee that I would eventually train year round in the rock gym, take two-month-long road trips every year and invest hundreds of dollars in building up my own “gear rack” to be a leader, not just a follower who never takes any risks. I started out leading sport climbs. With this style of climbing, the climber clips into a bolt already drilled into the rock face using a “quickdraw”: two carabiners attached to webbing. A carabiner looks like a large diaper pin. One end goes into metal hooks fixed into the rock face and the other attaches to the rope. Later, I learned how to place my own hardware, known as “protection,” into cracks using pieces sometimes smaller then the size of a pencil and as large as two fists. The placed gear would withstand my weight if I fell, as long as they had been secured properly and frequently. The only time I fell leading (twice) was when I was on extreme routes over my head. I took leading very seriously, unlike rappelling and rope retrieval since I always relied on my climbing partners to cover this aspect.
My latest road trip had been in September, 2010 when Karla and I summited Baxter’s Pinnacle, a 400-foot granite pyramid that overlooked the calm, glassy waters of Jenny Lake in the Grand Teton National Park. This route was new for both of us. We got up at 4 a.m. and hiked in for 2 hours before starting our climb. I had the courage to lead the first pitch because I’d had my best summer of lead climbs, felt more confident in my ability to place protection and had surprised myself with my mental fortitude. Karla told me she had never seen anything like it. I had become the “rope gun” (the person who leads the harder pitches) in our partnership because I was on a mission to prove to myself I could. As a leader, I tapped into my strengths and discovered abilities I didn’t even know I had. I became assertive, in command of my mind and emotions and experienced a spiritual sense of being present. Even on a bad day when my fears got the best of me, I could still find a way to harness my internal fortitude and complete the job.
After that Wyoming trip, I got rid of my worn-out “sticky rubber” approach shoes (the ones I wore for technical hikes to climbing crags), as that was supposed to be my last outdoor climb of the year. I was going to replace them before the next season. But because this day in October was too sweet to pass up, the shoes I laced up that morning were ones I typically wore for walking on the pool deck at work. I wasn’t worried, since the approach to the crag was mellow – across a creek and a five-minute hike in on a non-technical trail. This would be my first day climbing in six weeks, enough time for doubt to creep back in.
En route I began to feel excited about being back on rock. Karla and I met at our standard spot, left her car in the parking lot and drove mine up the canyon. Immediately, she launched into telling me about where she’d been climbing, her dates with a friend of mine and her corporate work life. I started to feel tension in my chest and wondered if I was up for listening. I found her sharing to be exhausting and it hard to get a word in. I always felt better being with her once we started to climb. At some point in the conversation, she suggested we go to the Bihedral instead of Sport Park. Every climbing area gets named, and so do the routes that are a part of the crag. I went along with her decision – like I usually did. During the hike in, I slipped several times because the trail was narrow, rocky and steep. The minimalist running shoes I was wearing had no traction on granite. I missed the psychological comfort that I had with my old approach shoes.
[bctt tweet=”The stuck rope changed everything.”]
It was a spectacular Indian summer day, and as we headed into another Colorado winter, we knew days like this were numbered. We weren’t alone–climbers were scattered like ants in every direction. Our lungs welcomed the cool air as we explored six new routes on the upper tier of the Bihedral, a crag that looks like a gigantic wide-open book of granite. Trees are sparse and the cliff rises up as if it could touch the stars. Below on the lower tier is another section of climbing routes that we had ascended numerous times. For the final climb of the day and my fifth lead, I hopped on a route called It’s Time for a Change. My unexpected confidence surge and the warm temperature almost kept us from calling it quits for the day but since we both had plans for the evening, we stopped mid-afternoon. As a way to save time we rappelled twice to access the descent trail rather than do the full hike out like we usually did at this crag. Towards the end of the first rappel, I lost my footing, swiveled backwards and hit my head – that was a first. Feeling jolted and off-center, I put my helmet back on for the second rappel, which placed us on a very rocky hillside. We would have only had a 15-minute hike to get back to my car once we pulled the rope and packed up our gear – all of which never happened. The stuck rope changed everything.
After falling, my only focus was on finding air. Every breath I took seemed short of what I needed. I never heard Karla’s desperate scream for help, nor did the climbers above us. After numerous dropped calls, she finally got through to 911, and the operator contacted the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group (RMRG). My instincts told me to stay calm. I tried to move, but my body felt heavy and inert. All I could focus on was getting enough air.
I didn’t know Karla had left me. She had run down to the road, terrified that I would die while she was gone, and flagged down a motorist to make extra sure help was on the way. Several RMRG volunteers arrived quickly on the scene, then medical personnel and eventually the RMRG truck with all the necessary equipment. As soon as everyone assembled, Karla charged up the hill with them in pursuit. The accident site was in a risky location about a thousand feet from the road. Before approaching me, one of them yelled out.
“Beth, can you hear me?”
In a louder voice, “Beth, can you hear me?”
Immediately, a rescuer climbed up to me and screamed in my ear to get a response. When he discovered that my oxygen saturation level was dangerously low and putting me at risk of cardiac arrest, he yelled down to the others to come up quickly and not to bother placing any gear for protection. The first thing the paramedic did was drive a 10-inch needle into my chest cavity to re-inflate my collapsed lung. Before I blacked out again, I sensed warmth and caring from her.
In my next conscious moment, I was being lifted into a beanbag body splint that had been placed inside an evacuation litter. It was an awkward move for the five volunteers working on the crowded ledge, and extremely painful for me. After the air was sucked out of the beanbag, the full-body vacuum splint immobilized my injuries and kept me warm while they carried me down the treacherous mountainside. Before starting the descent, my climbing helmet was replaced with a modified fire helmet and safety lines were attached to anchors set up on a tree above us to prevent the litter from dive-bombing down the cliff if someone slipped. Even with all the most advanced rescue equipment, I could still feel the slightest faltering. The pressure of the splint made me feel trapped. When one of the volunteers decided to stop helping because she felt unsure of herself on the loose and unstable footing, I became extremely agitated. Pulses of terror coursed through me. I hated feeling so powerless. No use of my arms, legs or voice.
[bctt tweet=”No use of my arms, legs or voice.”]
When we reached the road, they ran me over to the Flight for Life helicopter that was holding up traffic. Every breath felt like sipping air through a very narrow straw. My heart began to race and adrenaline surged. I wanted to shout, “I can’t fucking breathe! Get me out of here!” but I couldn’t. My panic made me combative with the paramedic. Just before the winds picked up even more, the crew got the helicopter airborne. I heard the whoosh of the blades. Then blackness.
I was transported to St. Anthony’s Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit in Denver (STICU), one of the nation’s best trauma centers. Medical personnel swarmed around me as they rushed me into the STICU. As I floated in and out of consciousness, I saw Matt, my life partner of four years, helping the nurses wipe clean the bloody abrasions on my forehead, face, palms, legs and feet. Someone had already cut off my clothes, removed the pearl earrings I always wore and set aside my running shoes. The doctors kept asking me, “What is your name? What is your date of birth? What day is it?” I wanted to yell at them. I was tired of answering questions. The flurry alarmed me. I wondered if I were about to die.
A doctor asked if he could stitch up the laceration on my right foot. Seven stitches later, I remember saying yes. Shortly after that, Karla and her new boyfriend dropped off my car keys. She told me my climbing pack was in the back of the car. Nothing else was said.
All I could feel was searing pain all over. The kind of pain that penetrated and accosted every cell of my being. I had broken almost every rib on the left side of my body. Ten posterior (back) and six lateral (side). The other broken bones, a total of 27, seemed manageable in comparison.
My room was near the nurse’s station, making it difficult to find any peace amidst the cacophony of machines beeping, phones ringing and endless conversations among the caregivers. I cringed each time the metal rings slid across the rod and the curtain opened to admit another doctor. Visits from medical personnel were non-stop. A technician returned constantly to take more x-rays and CT scans: a total of 34 during my stay in the hospital. Someone asked me if I wanted to call my family.
“No!” I said. My father was dead, and I didn’t trust that my mother could offer me the kindness and love I needed. Alienation prevented me from reaching out to my two brothers. The only thing familiar was the warmth from Matt’s hand on my forehead. It was Halloween, and he had been waiting for me to come home and carve pumpkins when he got the call from St. Anthony’s Hospital. The plan had been to hand out treats to the neighborhood kids. Instead of seeing me dressed up as Zena, the warrior princess, he found me looking like a character from a horror movie with tubes in my nose, a tube in the left side of my chest, a catheter, a cervical collar around my neck, an IV catheter in my right arm and an epidural in my back.
For weeks leading up to my accident, I had been out of balance with my spiritual self and felt off-track in general. I had become over-focused on financial security. I took my fitness and health for granted. I was obsessed with being a better climber, swimmer, runner and cyclist than I already was, even though I had already accomplished countless wins as a competitive swimmer, won races as a sponsored professional triathlete, raced for an elite biking race team, competed in 50k ultras, paced three times at the Leadville 100-mile trail race and been a climber for 9 years. I constantly measured my self-worth against external achievements, thrived on taking physical risks and ignored the part of myself that had found deep connection with prayer as a young child. Despite participating in a spiritual study group with the Path of the Everyday Mystic, at age 52, my inner life was not my highest priority. Service was not an integral part of my lifestyle either.
Matt returned to our home alone that first night. He would do this for the next 17 days. He stopped going to work. He cancelled a trip to California for the Annual Neuroscience Conference to present his most recent findings on aging and neural inflammation. He missed training sessions with his running group. His new role became caregiver, hospital advocate, personal secretary, business manager and cook. The tenderness in his words and touch never revealed his concern over my future or his anger for having his own life ripped away.
On the morning after my accident, an orthopedic surgeon entered my room, requesting my consent for the insertion of a stainless steel plate and titanium screws into my left humerus. The bone was broken in four places and looked like an X. Since conversations were challenging, words faded in and out of my mind quickly, and night and day seemed the same. Matt signed off on the forms. I only remember my unbearable thirst. No matter how many shaved ice chips or water-soaked sponges they gave me, it was never enough. With another surgery scheduled two days later, only a limited amount of water was allowed. It would be five days before I had my first meal.
Darkness dominated my senses. The pain made me feel desperate and borderline crazy. I could not tell which was worse: the excruciating physical pain or the inability to run from it. Despite my history with injuries – an arm fracture at age two, a leg fracture as a teenager, eight stress fractures in my feet, heel and shins, two broken ribs, a torn intercostal muscle, a fractured hand, two fractured collarbones, two concussions and numerous stitches from bike crashes as an adult – I still felt unprepared to face my current situation. Even with the morphine and other narcotics, an insatiable, voracious pain ripped through my entire body. Somehow I knew I would not survive emotionally unless I made a pact with myself to only focus only on healing and not allow any thoughts of self-pity.
My fall was more than an accident. It entered into the realm of messages. I knew I needed help and the only person I trusted was my teacher, whose spiritual community I had lived in for four years. When two dear friends still living in the same community showed up on the first night, I asked them if they would deliver a message: I wanted my teacher to do a “ching throw” for me. The I-Ching is one of the most ancient books in existence, used for advice on the underlying spiritual influences of a given situation. There are 64 hexagrams for different scenarios. To determine which hexagrams are related to the situation at hand, a question is asked and three coins are thrown six times. A tradition that continues to be used all over the world, not just in China where it originated.
After the local paper ran a notice about my fall, the word spread quickly. A stream of calls started coming in from friends, fellow climbers and parents whose children I taught. I was well-known in the community. I’d been teaching swimming to adults and children for over 22 years. Visitors and gifts began to arrive in Room 259. My best friend started a blog called GETBETTERSOONBETH. The barren white walls became transformed by children’s drawings of swimming pools, of me teaching them and of sharks. Two swim caps got taped up. Freshly cut flowers miraculously made it through the no-flowers zone. A balloon rested against the ceiling. A cuddly brown bear laid on my lap. Baskets of wholesome foods and homemade treats got dropped off. An altar was created at my request. I asked for sacred objects and rocks. I received rocks from around the world, Guatemalan worry dolls, a Hindu goddess and a Buddhist statute. A laminated version of Rumi’s poem, The Real Work also set on the table beside my bed. I had turned to this 13th century poet from Persia before for insight and now I seemed to crave it.
[bctt tweet=”Off and on, grace and lightness lifted my spirits like the dawn of a new day.”]
The first surgery on my arm went smoothly. No complications. On call that day for 48 hours straight was Nurse Dave, an abnormally hairy guy. He knew how to move around my swollen and tender body without hurting me. He’s the one who rolled me outside in a wheelchair when the sun came out. He’s the one who rubbed ointment over the bloody welts on my buttocks and abdomen–caused by an allergic reaction to the one of the pain medications. Nurses covered me around the clock. They did everything for me and so did Matt. During my stay in intensive care, Matt would read comments from the blog, cards and emails. The mass email to my clients he sent out had generated an amazing response. Even those supporting me were affected by the immense outpouring of love. Moments of lucidity allowed me to register what was happening. As a recipient of this unexpected influx of genuine love, the mistrust and skepticism I’d harbored towards humanity my entire life seemed to vanish. Being restricted to a hospital bed, dependent on others, feeling grateful to be alive, I realized for the first time in my life that I was lovable. My heart cracked open. Off and on, grace and lightness lifted my spirits like the dawn of a new day.
On day three in the STICU, a new orthopedic surgeon entered to ask for my consent to insert more plates into my body for my left clavicle (collarbone) and right distal fibula (ankle). Matt signed more release forms on my behalf before heading home to rest. His emotional stamina had always impressed me. Now, I needed him to be strong like never before.
When I came out of surgery, I had multiple layers of bandages around my left arm, shoulder and right foot along with significant swelling and bruising of my legs, hands and feet–mauve, yellow, green, purple and brown. Bright red flowed through the chest tube, a brackish orange in the catheter tube and clear liquid in the IV. I laid there in shock over my condition, counting the minutes till Matt’s return.
Only a few hours out from surgery, he and friends came to visit.
It was then that I learned about the Ching throw: “Limitation changing to treading.” The essence of the throw was about treading upon the tail of a tiger. The tiger symbolizes fate. One who is obstinately on the wrong path gets bitten. By trusting in further enlightenment, danger can be overcome. In order to regain inner balance it is necessary to come to a humble acceptance of the situation as it is. I struggled to take it all in.
During the middle of the night, when no one was around, all I could feel was doubt and darkness circling like sharks around a raft. The only sound in the room was my own struggling breath. Suddenly, a voice of clarity spoke to me: You will go mad if you do not surrender to the void. The pain is too much to bear on your own. The void appeared as the end, an abyss taking me away from what I had always known. I feared being all consumed and lost in it. I felt as if my life was on the line. I did not want to die. I knew I had to get things right, really right, if I wanted to survive, spiritually, mentally and physically. I had to trust the Source. Surrendering myself to something greater, something intangible, had always seemed out of my reach, yet something I had yearned for my entire life. Repeatedly, I asked myself: was this the right time to surrender or should I fight? I surrendered.
Much later, I would learn about the large number of people across the country who had been praying for me to survive. I will never know if I had surrendered to death and others pulled me back, or if I had surrendered to God. The gift was in my surrendering and my receptivity to outside assistance. Even through the haze of narcotics, gratitude was chipping away and shattering my former self-hatred for myself. What remained was a deep appreciation for how well my life had prepared me for this experience and all the help that was coming my way. Armed with determination and a willingness to face my reality, I set my sights on getting home.
Being immobile for almost a week was extremely foreign to my body. My entire life had centered on movement. Yet none of that mattered now. The mere act of sitting up proved to be exhausting. If Matt had not noticed my spirit fading, slipping into passivity from the lack of movement, I could have given in to the lethargy. Instead, he made sure I stayed upright for longer periods of time. I had to dig deep to do this. I forced myself to eat every meal, drink water frequently and engage with the people around me. The mental effort and willpower required reminded me of the weekly six-hour runs I used to do no matter how hot, cold, snowy or windy it was.
Because I was cognitively impaired due to a traumatic brain injury, and at times hallucinating from pain and the medications, Matt’s assistance became invaluable. He would ask questions of the doctors, nurses, residents and nursing students who paraded in and out all day long.
My unexpected hospital stay synced up with the beginning of the month when our November bills were due, and so Matt faced the task of prompting and pulling out of me every user name and password, none of which was the same for any of the accounts. With his hands resting patiently on my laptop, he would say, “Lovey, that wasn’t the correct password. Try again.”
“How about SWIMFISH? “Did that work?” as I shifted my position slightly to stay awake.
“No, that’s not it, either. Try again. You can do it, Lovey!”
Often I fell asleep before I could answer. It went on like this for hours until, finally, our bills were paid.
Standing up for the first time was challenging. I could not believe how such a simple task could be so exhausting. At first, my legs wobbled like the newborn calves I had watched on our Kentucky farm as a child. Like them, I managed to shuffle a few steps before needing to sit down.
I had breathing exercises to do because of my collapsed lung. This involved blowing into a spirometer to force my lungs to work. Multiple times a day I would I place my right hand under my left armpit, press against my ribs, then cough to force dead tissue and blood to come out. I used every ounce of energy I had. The pain was gut-wrenching. Repeatedly, I told myself, “Don’t think. Just do it!” Afterwards, I would be wiped out and often sobbing. When I fell I hit the ground with such force that a segment of my rib cage detached from the chest wall. There were also air blisters on the lower lobe of my left lung due to the deep breath I took in before slamming into the rock. Mine was the largest one ever seen by the lung specialists. My ribs never stopped hurting and any pressure on that area was debilitating physically and emotionally. Later I learned that Matt sometimes left the room to cry after watching these episodes.
By this point, my daily routine had evolved into inhaling a mist of drugs designed to open up my bronchial passageways every four hours, breathing exercises, daily shuffles with the assistance of an aide and a walker and eating the organic, home-cooked meals friends would prepare and deliver for me in the morning and at night. I refused to the eat the hospital food or have any of my food microwaved. My food needed to be alive and not compromised energetically in anyway. Knowing how important food preparation was to me, Matt heated up my meals on a camping stove in the hospital parking lot.
On my seventh day in the Trauma Unit, the epidural was removed, a standard procedure to prevent infection. I screamed from the pain, and Matt and I both broke down. Amazingly, this was the first time I’d seen Matt cry.
I dreaded the nights – in particular this first one without the epidural. In addition to the constant pain I contended with frequent hot flashes, bloody and itchy welts, sheets sticking to the blood on my skin, multiple trips to the bathroom, a nurse administering pain meds every four hours. Life was an endless struggle to find relief and comfort. The small fan attached to the side of the bed within my reach was the one thing that kept me from coming unglued. How was I supposed to heal under these circumstances?
I got my answer the next morning when bright light filled my entire being. The intense light gave me an infusion of comfort and relief on levels I never knew possible. My loneliness and despair turned into a sense of wonder and amazement in my body’s innate ability to heal. I knew I wasn’t doing this alone. It was as if my tenacious spirit had combined with cosmic forces. From that union came an indestructible confidence and motivation to get home.
On day eight, I got moved to ICU Room 239, located at the end of the hall, away from the noise and commotion of the surgical trauma unit. I was thrilled with my “real” door and larger window, but I longed to be in nature breathing fresh air instead of oxygen from a canister.
The next hurdle was removing the chest tube. I hated that thing. It was uncomfortable and awkward. The tube that had saved my life was now in the way of my being transferred to a hospital in Boulder, closer to Matt and my community of friends. In order to be released, I had to cough up more dead tissue, increase my oxygen output to 2500 on the spirometer and maintain a normal temperature. Until it was certain I did not have an infection, I couldn’t be approved for discharge. I continued to force myself to do my breathing exercises, walk, eat all of my food, drink large quantities of water and believe. After getting the catheter removed, I felt encouraged by having one less tube attached to me. On day twelve of being in the ICU, permission to remove the chest tube was finally granted.
At 6:32 a.m. on the morning of my departure from Denver to a hospital in Boulder, I recorded this message on my iPhone: “It is so gorgeous the lighting. The soft light that is filling up my room. Ohhhh, I am sooo grateful to be alive. Oh my God, I am so grateful. I am so grateful the Universe cares and to know that I am not going to die. (Sobbing) I am on a path of fully being me unlike before the accident. Being me is going deep within and discovering the powers that lie within me and the Universe. My first priority is to honor more of my spiritual nature and to follow a spiritual path and a life of service. I have to give back –constantly! The giving that has been coming my way washes the slate clean for the all the wrongdoings of my childhood. That slate is completely clean. (Sobbing) There is goodness in the Universe. There is so much goodness and that is what I want to live for – that goodness. I want to be that goodness.”
[bctt tweet=”There is so much goodness and that is what I want to live for – that goodness. I want to be that goodness.”]
Before my ambulance transport, one of the emergency doctors dropped by. He said, “If it had been any other 52-year-old woman with your injuries, she would not have made it.” His comment made me reflect on how hard I had trained all summer to compete in the Trans-Tahoe Relay across Lake Tahoe at 6,200 feet and a second open water swim competition the day after – that fitness had saved my life.
Thirteen days after my fall, I spent my first morning at the Boulder Community Hospital with my dear friend Linda. She arrived early bringing her signature breakfast dish: steel cut oats, slivered almonds, cranberries and yogurt, a large bottle of conditioner, a wide-tooth comb, nail scissors and a camera. The countless hours of being on my back had permanently pushed my hair up into a rat’s nest that stayed like that all on its own. She had persuaded me to let her try to comb the mats out. After using almost an entire bottle of conditioner, exceptional patience on Linda’s part, and 45 minutes of me sitting still, my hair began to untangle. Our parlor day got cut short due to therapy. The next day she returned and I experienced how great it felt to have clean and brushed long hair again.
My new daytime routine began with three hours of therapy, both physical and cognitive. The first thing I learned was how to take a shower with the aid of a shower bar, shower chair and how to change out my Miami J-collar for a waterproof one. Other aspects of day-to-day life returned as well. I began dressing for the day instead of wearing a hospital gown. I prepared my own lunch. My daily walks on carpet incorporated the use of a cane and stairs since the master bedroom in our home was on the top floor. I received energy from the warm colors in the carpet and stone textured walls. It felt more like being in a ski town condo than a hospital. After a few days of working hard to be mobile and proving myself, I was finally granted permission to go to the bathroom unassisted at night.
My return to Boulder had made it easier on Matt and the folks that had been delivering my morning and evening meals, since the food could now be warmed up in a kitchen, on the same floor as my room. To my surprise, cards and gifts continued to arrive along with requests to visit. At times it felt hard to take in all the love coming my way. I had not expected the outreach to continue outside of my inner circle of friends.
On my last night in the hospital, a close friend from my former spiritual community brought over 3.5 cups of green lentils mixed with ground beef and topped with Swiss cheese for my dinner. This delicious meal provided a high dose of protein and fiber for healing. When I was finished, she read Rumi poetry, played spiritual music and showed photos of the desert on her laptop. I felt deeply soothed and moved by her caring. Right before I fell asleep the last thing I remember was a quote she read from a yoga book on healing. It spoke of calling in the light, pulling it inward to ease one’s pain.
In the early hours just before the morning sun, I entered the infinite void of nothingness again, just as I had after the surgeries, only this time I felt less scared. As I traveled down the dark hole, on the other side of the darkness was a bright light. It was much brighter than before and bathed my entire being. I sensed a part of me still needed to be pulled towards the light, perhaps because I had not fully crossed back from that place in between life and death. I felt incredible comfort, like the hand of God was touching me. I no longer focused on the pain. I felt calm, and in complete surrender to a divine Presence. In this receptive state, I experienced something I had craved my entire life – a sense of belonging and profound inner peace.
The rehabilitation staff had told me I would be there for weeks. After five days, I was allowed to go home.
When I walked out the front door of the hospital on my own, I was reminded of the hundreds of finish lines I had crossed. All those accomplishments paled in comparison to this milestone.
I had survived.
I could walk. I could talk.
I had another chance at getting my life right.
It did not matter that I had another two months in the cervical collar, another month in the boot, restricted use of my left arm, stitches still in my side, and years of physical therapy in front of me.
Matt held my good arm as I got in the front seat of his white Subaru. He tucked the loaner cane between my legs before loading up the rest of my belongings. Neither of us could stop smiling. As we drove away, our excitement to be heading home together washed away the remaining shock of our unexpected hospital immersion. With his hand resting on my thigh, I marveled at the beauty of the foothills against the city. I noticed that the muted tones of winter had taken hold just as gratitude had in me.
We turned into our neighborhood, and at last I saw our house. Tears of relief flowed down my face. Seventeen days had passed since I had left on that beautiful October morning. Returning home reflected back to me a sense of awe and amazement over all that I had experienced and what had been revealed to me.
Since her accident, Beth Davis has been focused on healing, rebuilding her business as a swimming instructor, and her writing. She lives a simple life with her soul mate and partner Matt, cooks all her meals from scratch, exercises and mediates daily, and studies the teachings of The Path of the Everyday Mystic.