My Back Story

Healing benefits of yoga

On Feb 19th 2015 I broke my back. It's still such a big thing when I say it / write it. It makes shocked expletives come out of other people's mouths. It was the most painful thing that ever happened to me in my life. I was snowboarding with my kids in France. I've been a skier for 30 years, snowboarding for 15, so I'm not a novice. One minute my younger son and I were getting on a chairlift, the next moment we were hit by another skier, were not able to sit on the moving chair which rose very quickly, and both had to jump (fall in my case) 2-3 metres (about 12-15 feet). My son, being light as a feather, jumped ok. 

I did not. Cue explosive pain in my back, paramedics in attendance, helicopter evacuation from the mountain, morphine, x- rays. and scans, and a diagnosis of multiple fractures to L1 (first lumbar vertebra). I was transferred from the local hospital, Sallanches, to Annecy neurological unit for spinal fusion surgery on 21st Feb (after 2 days of lying flat on my back with nil by mouth except morphine). The surgery lasted 5 hours, with 3 hours in post op recovery, while my partner was having to drive my kids back to England.

The inside of my back looked like this:


For someone used to having a pretty bendy back, this was devastating.


The good news was that no nerve damage was detected, so loss of motor skills was unlikely. But I really had no idea what the future looked like. The amazing medical team got me out of bed, walking gingerly, the next day. The physiotherapist saw me the day after and had me virtually running round the ward, to my astonishment and massive gratitude.

The day after that I got dressed and walked all the way to the hospital shop to buy myself a "happy to be alive" gift. At this point, I sat outside looking at the view of the snowy Alps on the skyline and cried happy, hopeful tears. I was alive, I was walking, I would soon be able to go home and see my family, and I could dare to look to the future.

March and April were spent moving very carefully, walking every day as much as I could manage, but avoiding bending or twisting my spine.

In May, I really began my rehab of (initially, irritatingly simple!) exercises. I'm grateful for the strength and the flexibility that my yoga practice has given me as, despite the metal in my back, which will be removed next year, and some residual aching in the area of the break, I'm well on the way to full recovery. I also offer huge gratitude to the medical staff who have helped me to get to this point.

So what have I learned? Byron Katie teaches us to treat everything in life not as something that happens to you, but rather as something that happens for you. Shit happens, but like those Victorian people who used to make a living out of hunting in the sewers for coins that had fallen down drains or toilets, there's gold to be found even in some big old turds!

I've learnt greater sympathy and compassion (1) towards my own body. And that I'm crazy strong. Mentally and physically; (2) to others' bodies. I understand how pain and fear can limit people, holding them back from trying new things, both on and off the mat.

I've also learnt that nursing staff are angels. In hospital, before my operation, I was terrified of being rolled onto my side, as it was the worst pain I have ever experienced. A nurse noticed how I froze and was holding my breath (duh, even yoga teachers can forget to breathe sometimes).

Very softly she said to me "Occupy yourself only with breathing". I'm definitely stealing that line. 

Donna GerrardComment