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A Silent Injury Emerges

Katie’s Story

Nineteen years ago today I took a hard fall. Injured traumatically before I ever landed on the ground, and then injured some more when my body slammed to the ground. I had no way of knowing that some of the physical trauma to my body experienced on that June Sunday in 2001 would remain hidden until many many years later. The initial acute trauma demanded more than enough attention for that day, not to mention the recovery and healing from it. 

To give a quick back story, we had made a decision that Spring to purchase a horse. Why? Yeah, good question. We did not have a barn, or a trailer, or land on which to ride. We just wanted a horse. To tell the story after the fact, all of the reasons why this was an impractical idea come very clearly into focus. It’s like seeing a beautiful mountain from a distance and thinking how much fun it would be to hike it and stand on the top – until you get close up and can see the sheer rock cliffs and immense size, and discover that mountain is really not hikable at all. Yeah, like that. Hindsight is 20/20, right? Yes. Yes it certainly is.

Chance the Quarterhorse in June 2001

The “incident”

Less than 24 hours after purchasing Chance at auction and transporting him to the property where he was temporarily being boarded, I volunteered to be the first one in our brand new saddle on Chance’s back. At first, he was fine with me riding him. Until he wasn’t. It was a matter of minutes and then it happened. He reared up. I wasn’t expecting it and my chin slammed into his neck, cutting my chin wide open in a deep gash. Then he bucked his back end up, more than once. I had to have looked like a rag doll up there, completely out of control and flailing around. He wanted me off, that was very clear. He darted in one direction, then the other, and that’s when his efforts to throw me finally succeeded. He zigged left and I zagged right and I flew off the right side of him. My left foot had come out of the stirrup but my right foot was firmly set and not letting go. NOT GOOD. I slammed to the ground with an impact I’d never before and never since experienced. Rung my bell, as they say, for sure. And yes, I was wearing a helmet.

And then, everything was completely still. My wild ride was over, and I was awake, and trying to mentally assess the damage, if any. Within seconds Tim and the kids were surrounding me as I lay there on the ground. I tried to diffuse the terror that had to have been going through my kids’ minds by pointing out that I seem to have broken a nail. Next thing I knew there was a wet washcloth applied to my chin that was quite bloody; my right leg seemed not at all right, and an ambulance was arriving.

As they loaded me into the ambulance, they asked me questions to determine if I’d suffered a concussion. I failed the test when I was not quite able to respond with certainty as to what month and year it was, and who the current president was. I had NO idea what the horse’s name was. “Chance,” Tim told me. “His name is Chance.” And I responded, “oh.” Still not familiar. It was as though I was told his name for the first time on that day as I lay on a gurney sliding into an ambulance.

I was admitted to the trauma unit and stayed a few days while they assessed the extent of my injuries and observed my concussion. I had an MRI that determined that three of the four main ligaments in my right knee were torn beyond repair. My MCL, PCL, and LCL would need to be replaced with cadaver ligaments. And my meniscus was also torn. Once a surgery date was scheduled for later in the week, I was braced up and taught how to use crutches. With my chin stitched up and my pride completely destroyed, I went home for a day or so until my surgery date arrived. My right leg from the knee down was literally hanging by one ligament rather than the usual four.

I remember speaking to the doctor after the surgery about everything. How the surgery had taken 10 hours; how they had discovered one of my ligaments had torn not in one place, but two (he had never seen that); and how he and the residents in the OR found this to be quite a spectacular amount of damage. And I very vaguely remember him telling me that I may have additional injuries that had not presented themselves initially, but that I might notice them in the future. I never dreamed that might mean 16 or 17 years in the future! And for almost 19 years, I filed that conversation away in my memory banks and never thought again about it.

Life after the fall

Ligament reconstruction surgery is no joke. It meant no weight bearing for eight weeks, working with a physical therapist multiple times a week, and letting my knee rebuild itself. I had (and still have) 17 inches of scars on my knee to wear as a “badge” and remind me to be grateful for my ability to walk and have an active lifestyle despite my injury. It can be a great conversation starter too.

My “active lifestyle” is a relative term, I understand. For me this meant daily power walks. It meant hiking mountains with my family. It meant training for triathlons and learning how to become a runner. It meant coaching swimming and being a “swim mom.” It even meant a few more times riding horses (not THAT horse). Busy, physical, and active is the only lifestyle I’d known, and I moved on from that fall with miraculous success. Until I didn’t.

2018-Spondylolisthesis rears its head

In the early Spring of 2018, I started having severe pain in my lumbar spine. Certain routine daily tasks would send intense waves of pain through my body, and a dull, deep ache was ever present in my lower back. All day long pain. There was not a single pain-free day from then on. I saw doctors and started therapies for what was determined from x-rays that I had a condition known as spondylolisthesis. At the outset, I was told it was a non-surgical condition and I could start physical therapy to manage the pain but likely not reverse the condition. In case you’re curious, below are some images to show what spondylolisthesis is. At left is the normal human spine highlighting the lumbar region. The middle image shows a fractured vertebrae and resulting spondylolisthesis. Far right image is my own x-ray. You can see the offset vertebrae inside the circle.

Human lumbar spineHuman lumbar spine-spondylolisthesisKatie's spine x-ray 5/2018

After two years of physical therapy, rehab exercises, acupuncture, and chiropractic, it was becoming clear that the things I was doing were not helping. I’d get temporary relief, but it was evident I needed to take this to the next level and speak to a specialist and have an MRI. In the meeting with the spine specialist to view my MRI results, I learned that I had a fracture on one of my vertebrae which was most likely a result of that incident with Chance in 2001, and it was finally determined that surgery was going to be the best option to help me find a way back to the “old” me. My spine had managed to retain its shape and alignment for all those years despite the fracture, which managed to hide the injury, but degeneration and years of my active lifestyle eventually led to the fractured vertebrae slipping out of position –  and here I am.

Here’s where CBD comes in

As I was learning that I was a surgery candidate and trying to grapple with that less than exciting news, I decided to give CBD a try. My plan was to continue it through my recovery period and beyond. One thing that I have learned over these two painful years is that constant pain, when it affects your lifestyle and puts a damper or even a halt to some of your favorite activities, can really go deep and change a person from within. Hiking, my happy place, is put on hold until I can get to a more comfortable place in my body. Triathlons are not an option because I can’t run two steps – it’s too painful. My only workouts are my power walks, which have slowed markedly in pace/speed and don’t really qualify as “power” walks anymore. Group fitness at the gym in the classes I enjoyed have to be modified so much that I gave up for now. 

The CBD has helped in ways that completely and pleasantly surprised me. Consistent daily use has made a big difference. For me, this has been enlightening and the refreshing change I have desperately needed, and for a change I have hope that I can once again become the “unbroken” version of me that I knew just a few years ago. I’m not ready to stay that broken person for the rest of my life. 

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