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.