Today is Saturday, the day before Easter.
Yesterday was Friday...Good Friday.
Nine years ago, on a golden Good Friday, I went out to the barn where my four charges were waiting for me to disperse grain through the little doors that open above the corner feed troughs. I probably swept out the alleyway, and then caught a tall, Paint gelding named Jedi. At the time, he was about nine years old, and he loved to jump. I loved to jump, too, so we made a good team.
As I curry-combed his shiny bay-and-white coat over his back where the saddle would be placed, I noticed that he flinched from the touch of the steel curry. Jedi is a long-backed horse, in my book.
Such a horse is not the greatest for soundness...horses with long-backs break down earlier in their careers than short-backed horses do. However, those who know jumping horses have written that a horse with a long back has "scope." He can jump out wider and he can usually jump higher than a stocky, short-backed horse. Individual horses have broken this rule of thumb many times and that is because the heart of a horse is the bottom-line, deciding factor. The heart, the willingness to do for his rider, can make up for hundreds of comformation faults.
I took notice of the flinch, and told myself that I should call the horse-chiropractor and have him come out to give Jedi an "adjustment." Chris had done Jedi a lot of good, a lot of "noticeable" good
and I trusted him and his son, who worked with his dad, to do what was best for all of the stable's horses.
About an hour later, I realized I was on the ground in great pain. I felt electricity pulsing rapidly through my arms,legs, feet and hands, painfully so. My brain, which I would later be told had been damaged by the fall I took onto the top of my head like a pile-driver, was probably stunned and confused, but I knew one thing only: that painful electrical sensation could mean paralysis. It's quite an experience to be alone, except for a grazing horse nearby, and respond viscerally to things around me. Nothing else registered except: this means I'll be paralyzed!
By instinct borne of a strong faith in Jesus Christ since 1978, 26 years earlier, I called out to God and I remember the exact words: "Please don't let me be paralyzed! Please don't let me be paralyzed."
I got myself up into a kneeling position and at that moment, I became aware that I had nothing with which to hold up my head. My head lolled forward, but I could not pick it up to look forward or sideways. I had nothing in my arsenal of usual muscle movements to control my head. Years later, when I was interviewed and examined by a true neurosurgeon who cared about his patient, I was told that the trauma had ruptured (in his words "Torn, Ripped, Demolished!")all of the ligaments in my neck and back of the head.
However, at that moment, all I knew was that I had to get up and walk to the house, I knew I would not wait here for someone to come looking for me. Out on a ranch, that could be days before anyone realized I was gone longer than I should have been! And then, I was a person who did what needed done herself, who did not wait for help. I'd move big rocks in my flower garden alone; I'd dispatch a rattler in a horse's corral; I'd rope a wild filly and dally her off to a nearby snubbing post and, then, lean into the charged, "danger zone" while the filly's eyes rolled back in her head and, gingerly, with whispered, beseeching prayer, buckle on a halter, a piece of equipment never seen by this horse, even though she was 3 years old. That done, I'd loosen the neck rope and she'd get back on her feet and I had gotten the job done alone. My father used to warn me with the same prophetic words, over and over: you're gonna break your neck someday breakin' colts! THEN who is gonna raise your kid?"
And besides, doing the job and not asking for help is just what cowboys do. No big deal. So, I thought this was no big deal either.
I stood up on shaky legs, not giving a single thought to my glasses that were ground into the hard, summer dirt of the sun-baked, Central California clay. I needed them for any sort of vision, but seeing things wasn't the top priority in that dusty moment. Noticing Jedi grazing on short grass nearby, his buckled reins having slipped forward to rest on his poll, thereby presenting an awaiting trap that we all know will occur if left to its own devices: he'd put a leg through the loop, lift up his head and then pitch a fit, break the reins, run back to the barn, it was instinctive to me to do whatever I needed to do to save the horse and the equipment, so I lumbered over, bent at the waist to allow my lolling head to dangle downward, reached out to feel for the reins and upon my electrically-charged fingers finding them, I lifted the reins lightly over his ears and gave a little tug to get him started.
I nearly fainted right there!
Shiver! I quickly realized a piece of anatomy I would have known if I'd been more clear-headed: hands and arms are connected to the upper neck (termed the Cervical Spine in medical jargon). Jedi didn't immediately come along with me, which resulted in a small tug of resistance, which zapped along injured nerves straight through to the back of my head like a 10 lb sledge.
But, Jedi was a good, broke horse and, when he understood I was wanting to lead him, he obliged. I lead him a short ways over to our house and under the carport to the back door, thankful that I'd led him back and forth under this very carport at this same spot several times the day before, calling out to Pete to look at how calm and willing this big, tall boy was. With head still dangling, I opened the door, and called out to Pete to "come 'ere, quick!"
The first hospital didn't want me after they took the first CT-scan. They loaded me back up into another ambulance and sent me for a ride down-county to another hospital 30 mi away.
Every iota of brain activity and muscle movement, recognition, awareness, thoughts and plans changed in that instant back at the ranch when I first woke up. I was told by a neurosurgeon that I'd broken my C1 into four pieces; 3 years later, another neurosurgeon would tell me that I'd also suffered "internal decapitation." 8 years later, I finally found a neurosurgeon who would take a chance on me, and would fuse my skull and my C1 to my C2 with long, titanium screws, wire and cadaver bone. During those 8 years previous to finding this doctor, I'd worn large, stiff "Aspen neck braces" or an extremely rigid, "Cervical Thoracic Orthotic" vest that went from my waist to my forehead. I'd searched and searched for a surgeon to help me, and had been seen by nine of them before the tenth would take pity upon me and be willing to try.
Good Friday....some folks might guess that I'd not think of it as having been a very good Friday back then when a young-spirited, strong, tanned, slim, 52-year-old woman saddled up to do one of the things she'd been blessed to have been paid to do for so much of her life. I don't really recall the pain. But I do first recall the sensation of soaring when Jedi had jumped that fence that day, the feeling of freedom and exhiliration and everything right in my world. That was the jump he took right before the oxer when he had suddenly put the brakes on and launched me (as some would later call it)up and forward like a "lawn dart." I remember certain events, but I always remember that feeling of pure, unblighted joy when, right before the jump where my life would change forever, that 16.2 hand, handsome Paint gelding had cantered up to a 3 and a half foot fence and sailed over it in a leap high enough to clear a jump twice the height!
It WAS indeed a Good Friday! I survived. Today, I can walk and I can talk. The results usually seen by most families whose loved one has suffered the same injuries as I did that day did NOT happen to me. Over the years, I have heard many neurosurgeons, some were the best in the country, say that they do not know much about how to treat a Jefferson Fracture (one that is combined with Atlanto Occipital Dislocation) because most folks who have this end up in the morgue, not the ER.
Good? Oh yes, indeed!