That time I broke my neck...
As the ocean effortlessly picked me up and flipped my body into a summersault position, I felt my head being violently driven into the sandy ocean floor. I immediately heard a loud ‘pop’, and my left arm went tingly/numb. I remember I was surprised I could hear anything over the loud swishing of the under water noise, it sounded like aquatic chaos. The roar in my ears was deafening.
As I pulled myself up out of the water and caught my breath, I came up on my knees and looked for anyone close by to come help me out of the water…I can’t emphasize enough how violent the waves were, so even at waist level I felt unequipped to get out without being taken under again. My husband Kevin was close by, but was getting dressed to leave so his back was turned and he had no idea what drama had transpired in those few seconds. A local bohemian man saw me and came running over, put his hand out and aggressively pulled me out. I wanted to say ‘easy’! but I didn’t want to be rude. I stumbled toward our pile of things, by this time Kevin saw me and came toward me “What happened”?
“I don’t know” I said, “but I’m hurt, really bad”.
“What do you mean? What happened?”
Apparently, he thought I had the wind knocked out of me from a wave and was just out of breath. I think I was just in shock. I told him I needed to sit for a minute, I felt dizzy.
About that time an Australian man came up to Kevin, he had seen the whole event and warned him that he should go get me checked out. “She could really be hurt mate!” he said in his down under accent. He proceeded to tell him how he’d seen several accidents like this in Australia and they ended up being very serious. Kevin looked at me again and this time more frustrated asked “WHAT HAPPENED?”
I told him I had hit my head, heard a loud pop and that my left arm was numb, at this time I was thinking to myself “I REALLY need to be carried out of here on a stretcher just in case there’s something wrong with my neck”, but I did not want to be taken to the hospital in the Bahamas, so I didn’t say anything. I figured once we got back to the ship, if it were anything serious they could call the Coast Guard to fly me to Florida for medical treatment, I remember thinking “I wonder what THAT would cost?” (I later found out the answer to that question in conversation with a lady who had that exact scenario play out for her husband on a past cruise, the answer was $65k) Yikes.
I guess I should back up a bit and tell you how I got in this crazy situation in the first place. This obviously isn’t your typical island vacation experience.
It was January of 2016, my husband Kevin and I were on our annual Bahamas cruise, it’s our escape from the cold WV winters, this was our 6th cruise and so by this time we were pros. We had our routine, we know what we like to do and where, and so on this warm and sunny Sunday after noon we were strolling around Atlantas on Paradise Island, it was our last stop and after that evening we would be setting sail for home. It was around 2pm, we had pretty much done what we were going to do for the day, and since we had spend the previous day in the water at Freeport, we had decided not to swim since we were ‘sun spent’. I asked if he cared to take one last walk along the beach since we were soon to board the ship and it was our last chance to enjoy the ocean, he said sure, so we headed to the beach. When we crested the little sand hill and caught sight of the water, our jaws dropped. The waves were HUGE, neither one of us had ever in our lives seen waves so monstrous, and despite what some of you readers might be thinking at this point, WE were thinking ‘lets go!’ We honestly had no thoughts of danger, the beach wasn’t as full as usual, but there were still several people playing in the water, so we quickly stripped off our clothes and jumped in. The waves were INCREDIBLY strong, we never went any more than shoulder deep (big mistake, I learned later that being in the shallow area is the most dangerous) but the waves tossed even my 200+ pound husband around like he was a toy doll. We laughed and marveled at how strong the waves were, and after about 15-20 minutes of play we were completely exhausted. Kevin said he was finished, so we walked out to go get dressed again. I noticed I had considerably more sand on me than usual, so I told him I was going to go wash it off real quick. I went in (about waist deep) and tried my best to get the sand out of my bathing suit, but it seemed fruitless. Each wave just deposited more granules, so I decided to just give up. As I turned my back and headed toward shore, a large wave came up behind me, and rather than fighting it, I lowered myself into a horizontal ‘belly surf’ position to ride it in. Instead of staying parallel to the water, the force of the wave quickly changed my position into that of a summersault and I found myself (painfully) head firstinto the ocean bed.
After the kind Australian gave my husband such a severe warning, he started to get a little rattled. He was getting all of our things together to carry and to help me back to the ship, about this time a couple probably a little younger than us walked up to me. The woman was a nurse, and turns out she and her boyfriend were on our same cruise ship. She started asking me questions, I told her what had happened and they decided to go ahead and pack up and accompany us back to the ship. As I got up to leave, I had a sudden wave of nausea and dizziness, as I leaned on my husband I prayed “please don’t let me throw up” At this point my neck was hurting and I couldn’t imagine how I would manage to vomit without causing more pain. I then started to see white and black spots, and thought I was going to pass out. Kevin and the nurse lady held onto me until it passed.
The 4 of us start up the beach to go back to the taxi pickup. I should preface this part of the story by saying the boyfriend of the nurse had apparently enjoyed his afternoon on the beach with several adult beverages. When we got to the pickup area, the taxi vans held around 10 passengers, and despite explaining to the driver our situation, he was insistent that he couldn’t take us back to port until he had a full van. The nurses’ boyfriend was very persistent and was loudly explaining how serious I could be injured, but to no avail. So we all sat down in the cab patently waiting for more people to board. It didn’t seem to take too long, and we were violently driving across the island. I never noticed the abundant pot holes and how poor the suspension was on those vans before, but I was certainly noticing now. With every stop and turn I winced, trying to keep my neck as still as possible, still worrying about what could actually be wrong with me, and praying that I wasn’t doing anything to further damage my body. The boyfriend was sitting in the front with the driver (lucky driver) and was very loudly telling the driver to take us directly up to the front of the terminal area as opposed to dropping us in the usual spot, which was a little bit of a walk to get to the border. The driver kept insisting that he wasn’t allowed to drive past a certain point, but the liquid courage of his passenger eventually won out, because after several choice words and name calling the driver relented and took us straight to the boarding area.
When we got back onto the ship, the receptionist/nurse at the infirmary desk checked me in pretty quickly, however she told us the Dr had just received an emergency phone call from home, and had to step out for a few minutes. About an hour later he returned and I was taken back to X-ray where they X-rayed my left shoulder and my neck. The Dr looked over my slides for what seemed to be 20-25 minutes, I could overhear him and the nurse talking and they both seemed extremely puzzled. (Now remember, this is an 'infirmary' on the ship, they didn't have state of the art equipment or even CT scans like in most US hospitals, the machines I saw in there looked like they were from early 1990's at best)
I was in my exam room pacing the floor praying. He finally came back into my room, told me that I had a minor shoulder dislocation, that it would require some physical therapy but no surgery. I can’t even put into words how much relief I felt when he told me that. I was convinced there was something wrong with my neck and shoulder, and my biggest immediate concern was that he was going to have to set my shoulder, and I was nauseous just thinking about that procedure and the pain I imagined accompanied it. They then gave me a shot in the rump (some type of anti-inflammatory injection) and within a few minutes I could feel my arm again. I expressed to my Dr how much tension and pain I had in the back of my neck, but he explained how the shoulder muscles wrap around the back of my body and it was just muscle trauma from the accident. He told me to follow up with an Orthopedist once I returned home. They then gave me a prescription of muscle relaxers and Ibuprofen.
When we were paying and finishing up, Kevin and I both laughed at how my medical chart had noted that I had ‘excessive sand’ on my body. We even noticed how the seat I was in while waiting on the Dr had a pool of sand in the chair and in the floor. That was our comedic relief for the day.
The nurse wanted to put a sling on my shoulder, but I was so crusted with sand she told me to go shower and come back, so we went to our cabin to do just that. Kevin had to help me shower, my left arm couldn’t be lifted over my head, and I had to use my right hand to hold my neck still while he tried (unsuccessfully) to shampoo the sand from my hair. After 3 shampoos we decided to let it stay in there, my neck was killing me. I wore the sling for about 1-2 hours, then took it off because it was causing more strain on my neck. This was Sunday evening, we were out to sea all day Monday and ported back into SC on Tuesday morning. I spent the rest of the cruise making my daily trip to the infirmary to get my anti-inflammatory injection (it helped tremendously) and just taking it easy on the ship. The only real issue I had was getting in and out of bed. Kevin had to lower my head up and down, it’s amazing how much you use your neck muscles for things that you don’t even think about. I kept telling my husband something just didn’t feel right in my neck.
The cab ride from the ship port back to the hotel where our car was parked was horrible. I think it must be a prerequisite for cabbies to drive like maniacs. Once we made it back to our car, I called a client of mine that is a family Dr, told her what had happened and asked if she could refer me to an Orthopedist, she said of course, and told me to come in her office as soon as I got back in town. It was late Tuesday evening before we got back home, so Wednesday morning we went in, she listened to my long story, set me up to see the specialist and gave me a look over. When she checked my ears she said she saw something in them. She went and got a tool and scraped sand out of both of them. I had taken several showers by this point, I can’t even remember how long it took for the sand to completely come out of my hair, I remember scraping it off of my scalp for days. She gave me a steroid to help with the inflammation and scheduled me to see the specialist on Friday.
By this point we were settled in back home, unpacked, and I was starting to call all of my clients to reschedule them, I figured I was going to be off of work for a few weeks with my shoulder therapy (most of you that know me know I’m a full time hairstylist so obviously I couldn’t work with a dislocated shoulder). I remember walking around the house, and when I would catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I noticed my head looked like it was setting crooked on my shoulders. It was tipped just a little off center to the right. I would slowly push it back to the proper upright placement, but within a few seconds it would retract back to the cockeyed position. That bugged me immensely.
I told Kevin something just didn’t feel right with my neck.
We went to bed that night and I woke up around 4:30am with both of my arms and legs tingly/numb. I got up and walked around the living room and kitchen hoping it would subside. Kevin told me to text my Dr client but I didn't want to wake her that early, so I waited until around 5:30am to do so.
By this time the numbness was gone, but she text me back and told me she wanted me to get an MRI, so she scheduled me in with the hospital. They took me in around 7:30am on Friday morning, did the MRI and sent me home, told me they would send the results to my Dr and that I would hear something by Monday.
2 hours later my client Dr called me.
She told me that the tests had shown I had signals of leaking spinal fluid, several neck fractures and some other possible issues. She told me the ER was waiting for me with a neck collar and that the Neurosurgeon would meet us there. They would at that point do more testing and decided if I needed to go up to surgery.
Now as scary as all that sounds, I can honestly say I was relieved to get that call. I had such a nagging feeling for 5 days that something wasn’t right in my neck, but no one seemed to agree with me. I felt relief that I finally had a diagnosis.
My husband on the other hand had the opposite experience.
Within a few seconds I went from a minor shoulder dislocation patient to a broken neck with possible surgery. It was a pretty quiet trip to the ER, I remember praying that God would give me the grace and strength to deal with whatever I was facing, even if that meant paralysis.
I regret that prayer. My faith wasn’t as strong then as it would become just a few weeks later.
We arrived for the second time that morning at the ER, they immediately put me into a Miami J neck brace and took me back for more scans. They put me on a bed to wheel me to X-Ray, I remember tears rolling down the sides of my face as I left my husband, it was the first time I had cried through all of this. They did 2 CAT scans, one with contrast which pumped some weird liquid into my veins through an IV and made me feel hot all over, and one without. As I laid perfectly still in that large machine for 30 minutes, I was reciting Psalm 23 in my head.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
It was such an easy, almost cliche prayer. I’ve heard it a thousand times, but for some reason, this was all I could pray at this time. It just felt appropriate.
After that last trip through the big machine and a few more X-Rays, I was back to the room where Kevin was waiting. When they wheeled me back in I could tell he had been crying. We were both pretty shook up.
The Dr finally came in and read the results to us, it all sounded very confusing at the time but basically there was a ‘pouch’ of spinal fluid that had leaked out at the time of injury, and would close off and heal itself.
Your neck consists of 7 vertebrae ranging from the top which is C1 to the lower part of your neck being C7.
I had breaks in my C4, C5, my C7 had both a fracture AND a transverse process fracture, meaning a piece had broken off of the side of the vertebrae as well.
The biggest concern they had with my injuries was something my Dr told me he had only seen in text books but not on an actual patient (great). I had what was called a ‘jumped’ or a ‘perched’ facet, which is where the vertebra gets out of it’s overlapping position with the neighboring vertebra and literally ‘sits’ on top of the vertebra below it. My C6 was ‘perched’ on top of my C7 instead of laying behind it. Apparently when I hit the ocean floor, the impact broke a piece off of the C7, and the force drove the C6 up on top of it. He explained it like fish gills overlapping, and one getting out of place and getting lodged or stuck on the one below it.
He proceeded to tell me if this injury had just happened that day, I would be taken up for surgery immediately. HOWEVER, it had been FIVE DAYS since the accident, and since I was not:
A. dead or B. paralyzed, they were inclined to hold off on the surgery for now and see what happened.
When I saw my neurosurgeon, he told me it was a 50/50 chance, but he was going to let me heal in the Miami J collar for 4 weeks, and at that point he would re X-ray me and decided if surgery was necessary, or see if I could just heal naturally.
It was 6:30pm by the time we were released from the hospital on Friday, I was famished. I made Kevin take me to Olive Garden, I remember how amazing the food tasted that night, he hardly ate.
What transpired over the next 4 week of our lives could fill a book.
Some of those experiences I share with people, some things are personal and are just between us and God, but over the next month, I can tell you with all honestly that God showed up in our lives every single day. Our TV didn’t leave Christian programming, we listened to preaching some days from daylight to dark, if the TV was on, it was on that. We took communion twice a day. We did a lot of praying, praying together, something we had kept separate and private for the most part up until then, but now we both felt the importance of praying every day ‘together’, as two and not individually. We read our bibles daily, for 4 solid weeks, we were together 24/7, mostly in our house, isolated, just us and God.
I was raised in a Christian home, and have spent the majority of my life living as a Christian, and I would say that I had ‘trusted’ God for most things in my life. But trusting in your mind and trusting in your soul are two different things.
For the first time ever, I could say I knew what it was to TRUST God. I had no choice. There was absolutely nothing I could do but sit in my home with my head in a brace and trust.
I didn’t have any pain once they put me in the collar, I did have some problems initially sleeping. I was a 2 pillow side sleeper up until this point, but now after many trial and errors I was now a 7 pillow back sleeper. 4 pillows stacked into a pyramid under my back and head, and 3 stacked in the same way under my legs. Sleeping a full night like that was my first miracle…
This is the part of the story I really struggle with writing. I kept a journal during this time, so I have vivid memories of things that happened, but I struggle with how much to share. I know some of you reading this have been in or around Christianity most of your lives and would read my encounters with a pretty clear understanding, and some of you would read through it like it was written in a foreign language, some of you might even think I was crazy. But the truth of the matter is, no one person's opinion of my experience changes one thing that happened, nor does it change what I know in my heart and soul that God did for me during those weeks.
Kevin and I decided pretty early on after we got the report of my broken neck that we were going to pray and believe for God to heal me. I felt like at this point that if surgery had been the best thing for me, then I would've been properly diagnosed on the ship and flown to FL, but the ship Dr missing it and so many days passing was a sign to me that it was not the best thing. So we prayed.
One evening just a few days into my recovery, we were watching a minister on TV that we love from Colorado by the name of Andrew Womack. During this particular broadcast he was ministering over in England I believe, and at the end of the service he asked for anyone that needed healing to stand. I didn't even think about it, no mental processing took place in my head, my body just jumped up and stood. I knew in my spirit, deep down in my gut I was supposed to be prayed for right then. Before I could look over at Kevin to see his reaction he was already beside of me, he had nearly simultaneously jumped up with me as well. The minister prayed over the people for healing, Kevin had placed his hand on the back of my neck and we were both praying, when an incredible peace came over me, I didn't 'feel' healed, I didn't have any physical reaction in my body, but I had this unexplainable peace in my soul, and I knew right then in that moment that I was not going to have the surgery, that God was going to make sure my neck was perfectly healed. It was such an amazing experience for us, right there in our bedroom. Before I shared my feelings and thoughts with Kevin, he said to me "You're healed" I replied "I know".
I have known several people through my life that have received a supernatural healing from God, and I read all through the bible where people were healed, so it was another one of those things that I believed in my head as a Christian, but I had never experienced this for myself. I've had 'miracles' in my life, things that I know the hand of God did for me, but never physical.
I wasn't sure what to do. Was this peace that I felt an assurance that God was going to heal me over the next few weeks, and as a result I wouldn't need the surgery? Or did God heal me instantly in that moment? Should I remove my neck collar and tell everyone I was healed? Should I leave it on and continue with Dr's orders and therapy? I decided the first thing I was going to do was tell someone. I called my mom, told her what had just happened and that I knew in my spirit that I was not going to have to have surgery, that God had healed me. I also in the same evening told a close friend of mine what had happened, she and her husband had been praying for me. It felt good. Any anxiety I had was lifted, and I knew over the next several weeks I was in God's hands.
Throughout the next 4 weeks, I had several instances where my legs and arms would go numb, mostly at night when I would lay down, but even some during the day while I was up and mobile. I called and told my physical therapist when it would happen, he explained that it was impingement on my spinal cord that was causing it, and that if it continued we would have to forego the 4 week recovery time and go ahead into surgery. That is NOT what I wanted to hear.
One night in particular, I woke up with the numbness, and I got up out of bed and went into the kitchen, when this would happen I would walk around the kitchen and living room and pray until the numbness would finally after 10-15 minutes usually subside. This night as I started walking and praying for my self, praying that God would relieve the symptoms and heal my neck, I heard the Holy Spirit speak to me so clearly in my mind, he simply said this "Stop praying and starting praising me. From that night on, I never once asked God again to heal me. I started thanking him. I started reading scriptures on healing, listening to ministers teach on it, and after 38 years on this earth, for the very first time I understood a verse I had read a hundred time. I Peter 2:24 says "by his stripes we were healed'. When Christ died on the cross for our sins, the bible teaches us it had 2 purposes. 1. Salvation of man 2. Our healing. It was something he did over 2000 years ago, I couldn't ask him to heal me anymore than I could ask him to die on the cross for me again for my salvation. He had already done it. As a Christian, it was my inheritance, my gift. I started praying bolder prayers. I stopped asking and started thanking.
I wrote down this prayer and prayed it over myself several times a day.
"Proverbs 18:21 says 'Death and life are in the power of the tongue'. I begin to release this power over sickness and disease, I speak death to this injury. I curse it and command it to be healed in the name of Jesus. God, I speak the life that you have already put on the inside of me. I release it to flow through my body. By your stripe I WAS healed."
I began writing down and quoting scriptures like Ephesians 1:19-20 that says "I have the same power that raised Jesus from the dead living in me" and Psalm 103:3 "He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases", and Jeremiah 30:17 "I will give you back your health and heal your wounds"
February 17th was my follow up appointment. We went back to my neurosurgeon's office with all confidence I was healthy and whole, and would not need surgery. They once more took me in for X-rays, and we waited.
I journaled my Dr's words, but that wasn't necessary because I will never forget them. He walked into the room where we were waiting and said that his advice to me was to "put this behind me and go on with my life like it had never happened." I had healed up perfectly, there was no need for surgery. At this point, my biggest obstacle was working out the stiffness that a month in a neck brace had caused.
I walked across the office into my physical therapist's room to tell him the good news and see what future therapy was expected, and he told me a little more about the X-rays. He said my Dr had to pull my original X-rays to find where the injury was, it had healed up so well he couldn't find it in today's scans. He told me how he was adjusting the black and white slider, zooming in and out, trying to find the injury but couldn't see it. He also told my husband he had been in PT over 20 years, and had never seen anyone recover like this.
I expected no less.
It's been over a year now since the accident, and God has continued to be faithful. I had 2 more PT sessions, and other than massage therapy I haven't needed any other treatments. It took several weeks for the stiffness to work out after being immobile for a full month, but I'm back to normal and so incredibly thankful to have my life back. I know this experience could've easily caused paralysis or even death, it's only by God and his grace that I am whole today.
Romans 10:9 (New Living Translation)
"If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, I invite you to this wonderful free gift. It's a life changer.