The “jump” weekend of October 24 and 25 was planned way in advance. One of my friends, Elise, was going to jump with me and we were going to practice our skills. We are both “newbie” jumpers and each have less than 80 jumps logged. My daughter, Jessica, joined us because she absolutely LOVES going to the Drop Zone (DZ), she feels the energy and just loves being there. She cannot wait to perform her first jump.
The drop zone we visited was not my home DZ, it is a drop zone where I’ve only jumped once before but for some reason, we decided to jump there this particular weekend. The morning started out like any other jump. As soon as we got to the DZ, I turned on my AAD (Automatic Activation Device), my altimeters, checked my rig from bottom to top and did one more double check before donning my custom Tony Suit. It is a beautiful morning, sun is shining, minimal clouds, birds are chirping and winds are low. All is good and the weather is perfect. Winds are light, about 6-10 and coming from the East. We reviewed our jump in detail and then spoke with DZ folks about the landing pattern. Elise and I then reviewed our landing pattern several times and felt comfortable with the plan. We met another fellow fun jumper, Lee, who we’ve jumped with at other DZ’s and he asked if we wanted our jump videotaped, and we agreed. Looking out in the landing area, I recall the sun shining through the trees, the grass was fresh with the morning dew, the temperature was relatively cool for an October in Florida and the humidity was low. It was a perfect day to get several jumps in!
My daughter settles in and we gear up. First, I put on my custom Tony Suit, then shoes, then rig, then altimeters. Elise and I checked and double checked each other’s equipment and we are good to go.
Before we board, I gently kiss my daughter on the head (much to her chagrin) and we board the plane. The tandems board first and then we board.
Other than the pilot, there were a total of nine people on the plane; three tandems, me, Elise and Lee. The tandems were in the military and one of them was getting married so it was a bachelor jump. The level of excitement on a plane getting up to altitude is something I cherish on each jump. The nervousness is treasured, the excitement is palpable, the beauty of what we are about to do it beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. All the beautiful words in the world cannot describe the feeling of stepping out of a plane, you just have to experience it to fully understand it. As we get to altitude someone asked if we minded if the pilot performed a few barrel rolls. We looked at each other with a little apprehension but said yes. I perform an equipment check and ask Elise to do a pin check. All is good and then we hold on and the plane performed a few barrel rolls. I have to say, it was pretty awesome and I’m still smiling about it. The plane stabilizes and we get the signal that we can get ready in the door to jump. The door goes up and the wind whirls in – perfect, beautiful sky! We all get in position and I spot the landing area. One, two, three, and we are off! For me, this is one of the most beautiful things in the world - the actual step/jump out of the plane, again indescribable, but the feeling of falling through the sky is one of peace for me and simply cannot be measured.
Lee is videotaping and Elise and I are doing our thing. Smiling, loving every single second in the sky. As our plan prescribed we track away and we pull as planned. We are now under canopy.
Under canopy is also a fabulous place to be, it’s quiet, serene and beautiful. It is where you can see the hustle and bustle of the world underneath while you are falling to the ground almost in featherlike fashion. After my canopy opens, I quickly spot the landing area and start moving toward the holding area. Between 3,000 and 2,000 feet, I notice the winds have picked up significantly from when we took off. This makes me a little nervous because the second leg of my landing pattern has me going over a line of trees, where the turbulence will be greater. I get to the holding area and perform my 1st leg of my landing and can already feel the wind lifting me up and down as I near the trees for my 2nd leg of my landing, so I decided to do my turn into the final leg (300 feet) in front of the trees instead of above or behind them. As I am ascending into my final leg the winds have me moving faster and I am a bit more unstable than I anticipated. I feel that if I continue on my current path I will hit the open face barn that has big farm equipment in it and I quickly think, if I hit the barn, I might not possibly not live through it. I made the decision to not hit the barn and make a slight left turn. As I turned left, I noticed that the end cells of my canopy collapsed on the left side and I cannot control it, in what seemed like a matter of seconds I slam into the ground. I can actually see the ground racing up to me and I know this is not going to be good. In fact, the last thing I thought of was my daughter, Jessica.
I crash to the ground and am in immense pain. I immediately hope my daughter did not see this happen. I take quick assessment. I am breathing, I can move my arms, and I cannot move my left side of my lower body without being excruciating pain. I am screaming and groaning. Lee landed before me and Elise landed after me. The first thing I think about is Jessica. Lee comes running over and I am able to take off my full face helmet, he becomes a calming force in my chaos. I recall someone saying I’ve called 911 and Lee stays by my side, trying to calm me. He continually talks to me and assures me that everything will be okay. My friend Elise comes running over and I tell her to let Jessica know that I am okay. I think I tell Lee that my daughter is here, I describe her, and if she comes over, I ask him and Elise to please let me know so I can try to stop the sounds of pain that are coming from me. I don’t want her to hear me in pain. I keep repeating that to myself for a few seconds. Jessica comes over and I can recognize her voice, I recall sending her away on little errands (glasses, wallet, ID, etc.) so I could cry out in pain without her being there and hearing me. I asked Elise to call my husband and let him know that I am alive but had an accident, Jessica has the number.
I am lying face down in the grass, my rig and my custom Tony Suit still on. I cannot move because the pain is unbearable. Lee and I talk and I think it’s best if he can undo my leg straps and my chest strap and take the rig off my back. He gingerly and successfully takes off my rig. All of a sudden, the altimeter on my wrist is bothering me and I ask that he take that off as well. I know that when the paramedics get there they will have to turn me over. I know this is going to be beyond painful and I am dread that more than anything. I still cannot move my left leg or my lower part of my body without terrible pain, but I can move my toes. This somehow makes me smile. I have the urge to see and tell my daughter that I am going to be okay and I think that Elise runs to get her. I am relieved, I needed her to see me and hear me say that.
The paramedics arrive and things start moving fast and they indicate they have to cut my jumpsuit off and ask if they can. Others say I hesitated, but at that point, that was the only way it was coming off. It wasn’t like I could move to wriggle out of it, but I recall the sound of the scissors and the thickness of the material and or each cut they took, it made me a little sad. I think I was most devastated about my suit, but also remembered that Tony Suits has my measurements and can make me a new suit when I get back up. This seemed to ease my mind and provide me with a pleasant thought for a few moments. Funny the things that go through your mind.
The paramedics begin their initial assessment and someone pushes my pelvis together, the pain is unbearable and beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. Why in the world did they do that? What the heck! They already knew I couldn’t move that part of my body and this is beyond painful. I remember screaming long and loud when they did that. Hoping my daughter doesn’t hear me. They kept saying breath through the pain, breath through the pain. I quickly think, this is not a Lamaze class and kind of chuckle – my way of coping. The chuckle didn’t last long because they are trying to decide the best way to turn me so I am facing up and I know what this means. I recall thanking Lee several times for being there and keeping me calm. I can still hear the rescuers trying to decide the best way to move me. It was surreal, like I wasn’t there, but I was. I asked them if they could just leave me the way I was, but I knew the answer to that already. I don’t recall what came first, the backboard or the flip. Or perhaps they were both at the same time. I do recall the pain I felt when they flipped me. Each time I was moved, the pain went to a different level. After I was flipped they put the collar on me and I asked if my left knee could stay upright because it was less painful. They stuffed a pillow or something under my knee, and strapped me in. I kept thinking of my daughter and hope that she clearly, without a doubt, knows I will be okay. The paramedics kept apologizing for moving me and going over bumps. They genuinely felt bad and they were top notch! I remember the paramedics discussing which hospital to bring me to and recall them saying they were going to take me to the closest one with a good trauma team. They decided that Lakeland Regional was the best option and it was going to take about 15-20 minutes to get there. This gave me pause, but I figured they know best, I just wanted something to ease the pain. I recall the ambulance driver asking my daughter if she wanted to ride with me. I remember stating I didn’t want her to and that she could ride with my friend Elise, who would be following the ambulance with my car. Finally, into the ambulance and they started an IV. Chris, the paramedic and father of five, stated he would give me something for the pain and I greedily accepted. I knew I was in great hands and began to relax as much as I could. The driver, Jeannette, was fabulous and apologized for every stinking pothole and bump we encountered in Hillsborough and Polk Counties.
I arrived at the trauma center at Lakeland Regional. Wow, what a swift, fast, and efficient process. They allowed my family to be with me and my husband arrived about the same time. This calmed me as I knew that Jessica felt more comfortable now that Bill arrived. The hospital accepted that fact that my friend Elise was my sister and gave her all the family privileges (this still makes me chuckle). A quick assessment of broken body parts was completed, various monitors, blood tests, etc. done and I was almost immediately was whisked into CT scan and did not even have to wait. I was very concerned about being moved from my current bed into the CT machine only because I knew how painful it would be. I knew it was going to hurt and asked that they be very, very gentle. The CT folks gathered up about six people to “move” me from my bed to the CT machine. They were so smooth, I barely felt it. Kudos to them!
I continually focused on being strong for my daughter. I never wanted her to hear or see me in pain. After the CT (or before, I just don’t remember), the nurses gave me something stronger for pain and I begin to relax just a bit. When I got back from the scan, the doctor said a few times let’s just hope it’s only a broken hip and not pelvis, that’s what we are hoping for, that’s what we want. I recall them cutting my clothes off and being sad that they had to cut my favorite running shorts and my favorite “remember Boston Marathon” tee shirt. Anyhow, to make a longer story a bit little shorter, we were told that I have a Pelvis RAMI fracture, a sacrum fracture and an L4/L5 transverse process fracture.
I was in the ER less than an hour and was whisked away to the trauma floor to share a room with a fellow female daredevil. The nurses were spectacular, just beyond anything I’ve ever imagined. They are truly a profession that deserves far more than they receive. I am forever grateful for the awesome nursing staff and the team of doctors and consultants (Orthopedic Surgeon, Trauma Surgeon, and Neurosurgeon) who put me back together again.
A few hours later, a doctor came in and stated that I didn’t need surgery and that I would need complete bed rest to heal and that it would be months before I was able to bear any weight. I was still in immense pain and was thankful for no surgery, however, I thought how in the hell am I going to survive in this amount of pain until it heals...more pain meds were given and I think I was napping for a bit and don’t remember much after that. Elise was phenomenal, a HUGE help and I am not sure yet how I will repay her for all she has done for me. My sky sister, xo.
It’s Sunday and I did not sleep at all Saturday night. Many times throughout the night my vitals are checked and blood is being drawn for a variety of things and, if you happen to be sleeping, you are woken up. Being on the trauma ward, there were many nights where people were in so much pain, you could hear them scream – yes, at times, I was one of those people and as the days passed and I was able to manage my pain better, I empathized with the others. I felt like someone had thrown me entire body into a metal blender and turned it on high and left me there. I was dizzy and everything hurt. I couldn’t move because when I did the pain was beyond anything I’ve imagined. I recall the nurses trying to move me a little to prevent pressure points, but it was too painful. I worried a lot about our daughter and wanted to make sure she was okay. I worried about my husband and the stress he would endure in the coming weeks/months. I worried, and still do, that this injury will somehow jack up my immune system and push my lymphoma into the forefront. I push that aside because the lymphoma will do what it’s going to do and mostly out of my control; however, my recovery from this accident is 100% in my control and I’ll do whatever I can to get up and walking, running and jumping as quickly as I can.
Late Sunday morning another doctor came by and stated that several others reviewed all my scans and x-rays and that I would need surgery later that day. He also stated that essentially the broken parts were floating and had nothing to anchor to. A pin would go in my femur and they would put my leg in traction in order to pull my femur down so the broken part of my pelvis would move into a better place and then a few days later, they would do another surgery to place a screw in my pelvis to hold together/line up the fractured pelvis and fractured sacrum. I was fortunate to have several visitors that day, before surgery, and all I can say is that I love my running and sky family and am so thankful for them brightening my day. I am pretty sure I was out of it some and barely recall much of the afternoon, but very appreciative of them.
Anyhow, I had the traction surgery and took a lot of pain meds the next few days and most of them are a blur. I could not wait for the next surgery in hopes that I would have some relief and be able to really sleep. The surgery on Tuesday came and went and my hospital room started looking like florist shop! My “sisters” came to visit me one evening and it was the best hospital visit ever, just what I needed and will never forget their kindness and laughter. They stayed until way after hours and we were able to convince everyone that they were truly my “sisters”. Love them.
I still have numbness and tingling in my left foot/leg and that is from nerve damage to the L4/L5 area. Doc thinks it could take up to a year to get the feeling back – I’m good with that and Bill massages my foot almost every day in hopes that it will stimulate the healing of the nerve (I know it won’t, but it still feels good). One condition on my release from the hospital was that I had to be okay with giving myself blood thinner shots in the stomach every day for six weeks. Because I am not mobile, they want to make sure that no blood clots form and they keep the blood flowing nice and smooth. It’s not the most pleasant thing to do, but if it keeps me out of the hospital, I’m doing it!
As with anything, immediately upon my falling and once I realized I could still move, a calming overcame me and I knew that this is just like training for a 100 mile race and I decided that it’s going to take a helluva lot more to keep me down and I vow to come back stronger and smarter.
My husband, daughter and I have briefly talked about me returning to skydiving, but for now, it’s not a subject they are ready to talk about and I completely understand that. Jessica could have lost her Mom that day and Bill could have lost his wife of 26 years. I get it. I’m not going to push it, but Bill clearly understands my love of the sky and how it makes me feel. I continue to replay the fall and replay the things I could have done differently, but only time will tell what happens after I am fully healed. I do know that it is a great passion of mine and something that provided me with immense pleasure. If you are not a skydiver, you simply won’t understand. Right now, I am torn between the love of the adventure I had before and the cautiousness of not getting injured again and hurting my family.
I have been truly humbled by the kindness of my friends, running and skydiving community. They protect their own and have touched me beyond measure and have made the initial part of my healing process better. I’ve also realized that it’s so easy to fall down the black hole of despair and I absolutely refuse to do that. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been or won’t get frustrated with my recovery, it simply means that I’m going to overcome whatever obstacle is placed before me. I often post inspiring things/quotes on social media, but it’s not because I am always having a good day, it’s sometimes because I simply need a reminder and it actually helps me climb out of the funk I may be in.
There have been so many others who have reached out and have helped us the past few weeks and we are forever grateful. You know who you are and we are forever grateful.
For now, I will focus on my recovery, I have a lot of work to do physically, mentally and with my family. There are so many thoughts, so many reflections. I realize that things could have easily gone a different direction and when that happens, it tends to make you look at everything much differently. I often wonder what lesson there is here for me to learn, what I missed the last time I was truly scared about my health. Only in time with these be answered.
Until then, we will all move onward and upward ~ xoxo
11/11/2015 08:26:23 pm
11/11/2015 09:55:18 pm
Sue, after reading this I feel like I was in the jump with you the whole time, it even gave me goosbumps when you where describing how the paramedics where moving you into the ambulance. You are definitely a incredibly strong woman. Its amazing how much love you have for this sport. We love you Sue! Stay strong!
11/17/2015 10:40:08 am
Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this powerful story with the world. You are AMAZING!
11/18/2015 10:46:28 am
It is hard to describe the pure joy we feel when we are doing what we are passionate about. I have often been encouraged to write my story of being lost in the mountains, but never did, scared of having to relive the event in detail. As you wrote, it is hard to describe why you would want to pursue such a dangerous passion and at the same time worry your family - a very controversial question to say the least. Your story has encouraged me in so many levels, from the bottom of my hearr thank you.
11/28/2015 11:59:01 am
1/15/2021 10:20:35 am
With all the heart, the passion, the love!
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