when things don’t go according to plan (aka our recent trip to Joshua Tree)

Now that I’m 2 weeks out from my accident, I feel like I’m finally about to talk to you guys about it. If you followed on Instagram, we went to Palm Springs for a wedding and then drove the short distance to Joshua Tree for our first outdoor climbing trip of the season. I was so excited… I had trained all winter and the past 2 summers were a wash for me in terms of climbing because of injuries (2 years ago I suffered a bad sprain and only climbed half the summer. Last year I had a dumb finger injury that kept me from climbing for about 8 weeks). Really, I was ready for this trip and to climb. So ready, so eager. And feeling so good! It felt like this would be my summer to reclaim the joy I have for climbing. That Monday morning, I approached the rock with an open heart, ready to climb hard and kick off a great summer.

personal essay: when things don't go according to plan. wild cactus flower growing in Joshua Tree. More on jojotastic.com

We had finished the first climb of the day (Hemingway area, Dairy Queen wall) and were standing atop a few big boulders at the base of the climb. I untied my rope and was thirsty so I decided to scramble down to our stuff in the shade for water. I had struggled to get up the boulder in the first place and was already a little bit tentative about getting down. I knew there was a spot I could put my foot, but I couldn’t see it. I tried a few different times and then, right before Sean asked me if I wanted help, I thought I had found the spot for my foot and moved my hands… then I slipped and fell, tumbling down about 3 or 4 other boulders. I eventually came to a stop, thanks to landing on my ankle. In those brief moments, I saw my leg break right above the ankle… and I immediately started screaming.

What followed is what haunts my days and nights, even now as I am starting to finally feel better about my injury. The truth is that I’ve never experienced pain like that before. I simply had no idea something could hurt that much. Or that I could totally lose control of myself and cry that much and that loudly. Even now, 2 weeks later, I get goosebumps and feel sick to my stomach just thinking about it. Sean and the two other climbers in the area sprung into action. One was a guide and knew where a callbox was located. He rushed down to it and made the call to Joshua Tree Search & Rescue, thus starting one of the most grueling experiences of my life, but one that I am so deeply grateful for having.

All told, my rescue took about 5 hours. That is 5 hours of pain and swelling and hysterical sobbing and absolute fear. I’ve never felt so out of control, so far from my comfort zone. The JOSAR team was absolutely amazing, doing everything they could to keep me safe while also making sure I got to the hospital as quickly as the terrain allowed. If you are curious, you can see some of my rescue here.

After getting to the hospital and nearly passing out repeatedly, it was confirmed that I needed surgery to repair spiral fracture of my tibia and fibula. Surgery happened on Tuesday (and now I have a sweet titanium rod and screws), which essentially kicked off what will be a very long recovery for me.

personal essay: when things don't go according to plan. wild cactus flower growing in Joshua Tree. More on jojotastic.com

Those are the details. But there’s so much more… those ephemeral, fleeting emotions that pop up and cause me to sob uncontrollably. The fact is that this injury has devastated me. Honestly, I cannot think of a better word for it than ‘devastated.’ I’ve tried. In a single moment, my hopes for this summer were dashed. No climbing, no backpacking in the Enchantments, no Italy, no solo road trips. The act of leaving my house requires so much effort and planning, that for the first 4 days that we were home, I barely left the house. I’m on crutches, but can only go about 10 feet before getting so exhausted that I need to sit down. Sean rented a wheelchair for me, which has helped a lot, especially as I start to get back to work more and more.

I find myself mired in my feelings of disappointment often. I miss my independence and having control over my life. I miss driving, especially my Land Cruiser. I can’t go anywhere alone. I even miss the mundane things, like grocery shopping and walking the dogs. I had no idea showering could be such a taxing, stressful chore. Everyday things that used to be so simply are so complicated right now and, more often than not, the stress of completing those tasks leaves me in tears.

personal essay: when things don't go according to plan. wild cactus flower growing in Joshua Tree. More on jojotastic.com

And then there’s the effects of this injury and my need for constant help on my relationship. Sean has been the most dedicated, amazing partner through all of this, but I can’t help but worry that I’m too much of a burden. I can’t carry a glass of water through my house; instead I have to ask for help. As frequently as he reassures me that this is not the case, I can’t help but feel that I’m a terrible partner (not just for climbing, but for life). I’ve really struggled with this feeling a lot. I strongly believe that for a relationship to work, each person needs to maintain solo interests and a certain level of independence. But now… I require supervision and help and so. damn. much. all. the. freaking. time.

I hate asking for help — and that is why I’m in this mess in the first place. There is one thought that loops in my head constantly: why didn’t I fucking ask for help? I’ve been chatting with an old friend from high school who had the exact same injury a few years ago. She said that the injury and it’s extended healing process really taught her a lot and I have a feeling the same is true for me. Right now my biggest takeaway is that I have to ask for help. That’s what got me in this mess and now it’s all I can do.

I still have so much more time to deal with this. In about 4 weeks, I have a follow up appointment where we can begin the process of learning to walk again. After that, it will be all PT all the time. In terms of climbing, I’m totally done for the season and the very soonest I can even think about it is October. When the ortho laid out that timeline last Thursday during my follow up, I (once again) dissolved into tears.

Now that I’m a few days out and spending more time outside in the sun, I can feel a shift toward feeling more… emotionally stable. By far, this is the hardest thing I have ever gone through. It’s been almost 2 whole days since I got so upset that I cried, which I view as a minor victory. I’m definitely on the path to healing, both emotionally and physically. I hate to be cliché about it, but I guess it is a one day at a time process. Ugh.

And then there are my truly overwhelming feelings of gratitude to everyone who has helped me. I don’t have the appropriate words to thank the other climbs, Seth and Phil, JOSAR and the nursing team at Hi-Desert Medical Center. Both Sean and my mom have been so crucial in helping me get back to my day-to-day life as much as I can. My friends have stopped by, sent flowers, made sure I had healthy food to promote bone growth… it’s all so overwhelming and I’m just so grateful.

  • tidymom

    As someone who has been on the other end of a similar trauma (my husband broke both wrists at once and couldn’t do anything for himself) – I never once felt like he was a burden, or he wasn’t responsible for his own independence. It’s a bump in the road, things will get back to normal eventually and our relationship was actually strengthened because of it (my husband will tell anyone who will listen that you can tell how much someone really loves you by how they stand by you through something like that). That was almost 15 years ago, and we just celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary this week ;)

    Here’s to hoping you have a speedy recovery!

    • aww i LOVE your comment so much and wholeheartedly agree. Sean has been amazing throughout this entire process and I feel so lucky. xo!

  • I’m so sorry! But I can really, really relate to a lot of this. I mentioned to you on Instagram that I broke 22 bones nearly 3 years ago, and one of the hardest parts was the loss of independence. The worst of it was my broken pelvis and shattered kneecap, so I was in a wheelchair for almost 3 months. The physical struggles are one part of recovering from an injury like this, but the mental is really tough, too. I often repeated, “This too shall pass,” when I was at my most miserable. I felt really emotionally vulnerable and cried a lot, too, so it’s not just you. Your body went through trauma, but so did your mind.

    Oh my god, yes, even showering was hard, and I was so happy when my mom took me to the grocery store for the first time after the accident, ha. I hate asking for help, too, but when you’re in a wheelchair and then on crutches, you don’t have a choice. I’ve never believed that “Everything happens for a reason,” because often random bad things happen for no good reason, but I strongly believe in learning everything you can from every experience in your life. So if you can learn some lessons from this, you’ll at least have taken something good from it. Do your best to stay positive, and someday you’ll have a good story to tell :-)

    P.S. Also, my husband and I often discussed how much worse things could have been, how we could have died or been paralyzed in our accident. Recently I heard Sheryl Sandberg talking about her book on grief, and how that’s a coping mechanism for dealing with trauma. So try to think about how it could have been worse, and how you’re lucky it wasn’t!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story, it is soooo deeply appreciated. I especially love your mention of talking about how much worse things could have been. We’ve been doing that, too. I’m so lucky that I didn’t break anything else and especially that I didn’t hit my head. It’s going to be a long recovery time, but hearing from amazing women like you helps so much. Thanks again, xo.

  • Five hours! Joanna, I am an avid hiker/backpacker and just started climbing with the intention of going outside- but I have never broken a bone, and this sounds like such a terrifying and traumatic experience. I am sorry for your pain, and it sounds like you are feeling very vulnerable. Good luck with your healing process, and thank you for sharing your story!

    • thank you so much for your well wishes! keep climbing and getting strong!

  • Hi Joanna, just left the longest comment ever on your instagram. But my heart goes out to you. Here’s my story on shattering my leg 25 months ago. http://sisoo.com/2015/07/07/a-story-of-a-shattered-knee/ You’re gonna get through this!! And be unstoppable. Hang in there. xoxoxo

    • thank you SO much for sharing your story! i really cannot express how much it helps to know that I’m not alone. thank you thank you thank you!

  • Becky Daly / Daly Digs

    Oh Joanna, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this mess. It must feel frustrating but you’ll be back on your feet in no time and this will make you a stronger person. The rocks and Italy will be there waiting. Best of luck and sending good vibes for a speedy recovery!

    • thank you so much for your positivity and kind words! xo

  • Anita Lee Yokota

    You are one strong lady and I know day by day you will tackle whatever is in front of you with the humor and resolve that makes you YOU!

    • you’re so sweet. thank you so much, Anita!

  • Effie Nom

    as Joanna’s mom and “day shift nurse” I can attest to how brutally painful this mess was and how bravely she has managed to date… lots of tears and frustration, no doubt, but no wimpiness at any time… Thanks to Sean, for sure… so glad he is there to care for her after I left Saturday…

    • thanks for adding that mama!

  • UGH!! So sorry about your accident, but happy it wasn’t any worse. This process sounds painful and long – but hope you feel better and recover quickly!

    • I am soooo lucky that this injury wasn’t worse and that I was still wearing my helmet. Thanks for your well wishes! <3

  • Susan Hutchinson

    I’m so very sorry for your trauma Joanna, and while I’ve never been a climber or had an injury like that, I can relate to a lot of it, including not wanting to be a burden. I had a very difficult pregnancy and recovery (needed a blood transfusion, I couldn’t walk unassisted or supervised for over a month, while caring for twins). My husband was a rockstar, and still is – and the experience brought us even closer. Every time I feel dizzy I panic, thinking I’m going to pass out and/or die (not realistic, but that doesn’t stop my mind from going there ha). In my case, giving birth was the most traumatic experience of my life. While I know it’s very different (and something I chose to bring upon myself), there are always circumstances out of our control, and lessons to be learned. It sounds like you have a very good outlook and grasp on the psychological aspect of your injury. I hope your recovery is swift and you can get back to feeling like yourself again soon. xo

    • Oh my goodness, I had no idea that you went through that! I couldn’t even imagine. I really appreciate you sharing your story and all of your encouragement. Witnessing strength from women like you has really helped me cope with this process. xo!

      • Susan Hutchinson

        thanks Joanna…stay strong! xo

  • rosie

    I fractured my ankle last year, two months before my final portfolio hand-in for my textiles bachelors. It crushed me, at first. I literally couldn’t stop hysterically crying at the hospital when I got my diagnosis, mostly because I was in shock, but also because I felt so alone. My family lived in a different city, my boyfriend had been away for 3 months in Asia, and my friends were amazing, but also dealing with their own stresses and distractions. My independent spirit was something I prided myself on, and suddenly everything was such a task! I needed help for even the most simple things like opening doors, getting a cup of tea or buying groceries. It killed me – but also taught me what you’ve highlighted here, that it’s important to ask for help sometimes. And you know what? I ended up graduating with a First Class degree. I couldn’t have been more proud of myself, and I know it’s this independent spirit and feisty ‘never give up’ nature I have to thank for. I’m sure you’re the same. Sink or swim, as they say!
    All the best with you recovery! You’re not alone! X

    • I hear ya on the crying! Sooooo much crying,.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. Hearing about how amazing women like you have overcome the injury and gone on to do great things (congrats on your degree!) has been so helpful for my healing process. xo!

  • Kyla @ House Of Hipsters . com

    You’ve got this girl! And you’re right…one day at a time. Much love.

    • thank you so much Kyla!