Yes, I am technically bionic. You see, I have a titanium elbow. I think that qualifies, right? I only wish becoming bionic was as glamorous as Hollywood makes it out to be. My transformation was less than glamorous, but quite an experience for me.
Oct 10th, 2009, I was in Gulf Shores to shoot the wedding of a wonderful couple. The bride, Sarah was a photography major, so I was already a bit nervous. My husband is in the Air Force and had been deployed to Turkey just prior. We had decided to leave the kids with the grandparents and make the trip into a little getaway.
Michael (hubby) is into biking and I was trying to get into it a bit, so we could have a shared sport. Typically, the day before a wedding (and days leading up) I am very cautious of what I do, what I eat and if the kids have a cold, I am pounding the Airborne. I take my job as a wedding photographer extremely seriously. You just don’t play with a wedding. On this occasion, I did break my own rule and decided to ride bikes. I was so wanting some quality time with my husband and a beach bike ride sounded great.
At one point during the ride, I was getting tired, got too close, and crashed. I had hit his back tire. I completely lost control of the bike and slammed into the middle of the road. Praise God that there was no car behind me. I remember flying through the air and looking to see if Michael was falling too. Praise God again, Michael did not fall, only me. I knew immediately that my left arm was probably broken. I was praying it was just out of joint, but I knew better. I couldn’t bend it at all. I had taken the hide off my right hand and had road rash down my left leg. There was a very large laceration on my left shoulder as well.
Michael helped me get to the side of the road, handed me his cell phone and raced off on his bike to get help. I sat there not even thinking about what was going on with my arm, but how was I going to tell my bride what happened and was I even going to be able to shoot the wedding? I was out of town, I didn’t know any other photographers in the area. I had a second shooter there, but I didn’t want her to take on the responsibility of an entire wedding. What was I going to do? It was one of the worst feelings in the world.
After the Ft. Morgan Fire and Rescue patched me up, we opted for a Urgent Care over the ER that was 40 minutes away. Sitting in the urgent care waiting room, I started to make phone calls. I called my friend Taylor Haynie who is a wedding photog in Birmingham and asked her if she knew anyone in the area. She started putting the word out on Twitter, etc. Within maybe half an hour, I already had someone offering to come help. (Technology can be wonderful, but you have to have the friend first.) Taylor even offered to drive down. How amazing is that? I wasn’t even sure what I was facing at this point, just trying to cover my bases. I waited until we got the verdict from the doc to call my bride.
The results from the x-ray showed that I had shattered the top of my radial bone. This is the bone that leads from your thumb to your elbow. It also allows you to turn your palm up and down, etc. Kinda a useful bone. He said it was pretty bad and even mentioned surgery. Awesome. They put me in a temporary splint. Hooked me up with some Lortab, and told me to get in touch with an ortho as soon as I got home.
I had plenty of time to think at the urgent care. I had decided that I was going to try and shoot the wedding. You should have seen the look on the doctor’s face! HA! I couldn’t hold a camera with that arm, but with my right hand well padded, (Remember, I was missing some meat on my palm.) I could hold it in my right and either brace it on the forearm of the broken one or on my shoulder (which also was missing some meat.) I am a bit of a control freak, I admit it. I wasn’t willing to turn over my wedding to anyone else if I thought it was at all possible for me to do it. My clients had hired ME, so they were going to get ME. One-armed or not.
After the decision was made, I had to call my bride and give her the news. Standing outside CVS, waiting on my pain meds, I made the call. I could not believe how sweet, kind and understanding she was! I was blown away!!! She said she trusted me that it would all be fine and was not worried at all. WOW! I cannot say enough about how her grace helped me that day. Now, I just had to follow through…
We came back to the condo and I had my second, Jessica Travis, meet us there. We went over the plan for the day. It was going to be one of the hardest lighting situations: strong back light at the ceremony site and NO light at the reception site. Being a flash snob, I wasn’t about to hit them with direct flash, so that meant hubby (with no photography knowledge) setting up two monolights and pocket wizards. We rehearsed the flow of the day over and over. I quickly taught Michael all my lenses so he could change them for me. I felt like a surgeon, “Give me the 50mm, stat!.” LOL I think the Lortab was kicking in at this point, so I was starting to feel like I might just pull it off.
The next morning, I felt worse than the day before. I couldn’t bathe myself or dress myself. Thank God, Michael was with me. (Thank God we hadn’t brought the boys.) Michael helped me get ready. It’s amazing what you can’t do when you only have one arm and the other hand has a huge gash. I loaded up on my pain pills, careful not to take too many because I still wanted my wits about me. Michael kept me on schedule with the meds so I would stay comfortable through the day. The wedding actually went rather smoothly. Fortunately, when I shoot, I tend to be hyper focused. This helped keep my mind off the pain. God, adrenaline and Lortab got me through that day.
With the wedding behind me, I had a whole other list of issues to deal with. Reschedule shoots, doctors appointments, etc. The only problem was, four of the shoots I had on the calendar that week were newborns. Not like you can reschedule them. SO, I called in the troops. Three of my wonderful photographer friends (Susanne King, Kelley Davis and poor Taylor AGAIN) helped assist me with the shoots. I still can’t believe I did them. Oh, and following that week of newborns, was my niece’s wedding. Not like I could reschedule that either. Shot it with the help of a second, David Hutchens, and hubby assisting me. Man, I was tired that night. Oh, and did I mention it was the night before my surgery…
So, about the surgery…I went to see Dr. Lemak, one of the best orthopedists around. They took more x-rays and deduced that yes, I would have to have surgery. The fracture was so bad that they couldn’t even repair it. They would have to remove the broken section and put in a titanium prosthesis to replace the broken area. Of course where I broke it, is right in the joint. I was quite nervous for the surgery, but also ready to be “fixed.” I had been living with a broken/splinted arm for 10 days. No cast, just a hard half shell of plastic with an ace bandage wrapped around. If I turned my wrist the wrong way…well…talk about pain.
I had a hard time coming out of the anesthesia. They had given me something so I wouldn’t get nauseous. (I tend to get sick from anesthesia.) And they loaded me up with Morphine. That drug combo with the anesthesia made me extremely sleepy. I kept slipping back into a deep sleep. So deep, that my breathing rate would drop. Michael would try and wake me and then I would be back asleep within seconds. They decided to have me stay overnight. I still can’t believe they were going to send me home. I was in so much pain that first night, that they had to give me a super strong pain killer or it was unbearable. Apparently, it’s closely related to opium. um yeah, I was feeling good when those drugs kicked in. It was yet another blessing that I did have to stay. I would have been miserable at home.
I had cleared my schedule for two weeks (from shooting, still had client consults, crazy huh?) Looking back on it now, I think that was ridiculous and I should have taken more time off. But, I also believe that trying to maintain a “normal” schedule helped keep my mind off my situation and I had a lot less time for “oh woe is me.” All my clients were so understanding and I am forever grateful for that. I had to wear a lovely gray brace for a couple of months. Not the most attractive addition to your wardrobe.
I did almost six months of physical therapy. Started out at three days a week for 2-3 hours and then eventually went down to two days. I didn’t have a problem with the therapy as far as pain was concerned, but man, it was time consuming! At one point I over did it and my elbow got inflamed…not fun. That set me back in my range of motion and my attitude. There were a couple of days I cried at therapy, again, not from pain, but from feeling like I was getting nowhere. When they first took the brace off (two weeks post-op) I could bend my arm about half an inch and hardly twist my wrist at all. I set goals for myself. First, I wanted to be able to put my hair in a ponytail. I love my husband to death, but the man can’t do a ponytail. My next goal was to be able to hold a camera to my face. I still remember the day I could finally just get it to my eye. Late at night, I suddenly had the feeling I might be able to hold it to my face. I ran, grabbed my camera and could JUST barely get it close enough. I broke down in tears. It was such a relief to know that I would not have to give up my passion.
It was bittersweet to end my therapy sessions. I had gotten very close to the therapists and other patients. It’s amazing how many people are dealing with pain and injuries. You just never know what people are going through. One of the hardest parts of the whole recovery was feeling helpless. I have always been one that does not like to accept help from others. I pride myself on being self-sufficient. All that went out the window. I had to let go and learn to accept help. I am so glad I did. I am so glad to be blessed with people in my life who are willing to help me.
10.10.10 is a memorial date this year. I think it’s pretty awesome that my “anniversary” falls on this day. I don’t think of it as a sad day. My whole perspective on life changed with this accident.
It showed me:
that I am stronger than I thought I was.
what true friends are
how amazing my husband is
where my priorities should be
that I never want to take another day for granted
that I am so blessed in so many ways
that God had his hand on me that day and everyday
So, here I am a year later. I still have pain. I still have ugly scars. I can’t fully extend my arm and I can just barely touch my shoulder. This is probably where I will stay. But, I can still do what I love. I can pick up my son. I can hug my friends and family. I can live a normal and wonderful life – with a brand new appreciation.
…and I can make a ponytail.