Falling from 80 feet and climbing back up again
July 4th 2010 was a momentous day in my life. On this day I willed myself up the same waterfall which had left me badly broken and clinging to life just five years earlier.
Over the July 4th weekend in 2005 a big group of friends and I rented a house in Catskills, New York. The setting couldn’t have been more idyllic, with our house nestled cozily next to Hunter Mountain — a perfect setting for a healthy, outdoorsy, relaxing weekend with barbecues, beer, music, outdoor sport — a classic American summer holiday weekend.
Standing atop Kaaterskill Falls on 5-Year Anniversary of My Accident
On our second day our group awoke early and decided to challenge the mountain hovering over us with a hike. The owner of the house we were renting from had given us a list of local attractions and a climb up Kaaterskill Falls was the featured event. The 260 foot two-tier waterfall, billed as the highest in New York State, looked beautiful and the hike to the falls seemed ideal for our diverse group.
The hike to the falls was actually surprisingly challenging considering its easy access to a very “non-hiking” mostly touristy crowd. The climb was at times very difficult and quite treacherous where one wrong step or slip could leave one in perilous circumstances. I think most of us were quite surprised at the danger considering the unmarked trails and the difficult terrain. Seeing all the other hikers and knowing this was a state park gave us, perhaps, all a false sense of safety.
Nonetheless, the difficult climb to the top was well worth it. The views from above were breathtaking – sitting atop the first tier and overlooking the stream and the mountainous, rugged terrain was serene and exhilarating. The first tier lands into a natural pool made by the rock formation and if one was brave enough to endure the cold water, one could swim in it. A few of us did just that as we enjoyed the setting. Our group left that day euphoric — the sort of euphoria that only nature can induce.
The next morning my girlfriend arrived and I decided to take her to Kaaterskill Falls while the rest of our group decided to go tubing at a nearby river.
At the time we entered the park, it was still quite early and felt as though she and I were among the few people there. We hiked the 45 minutes or so to the base of the waterfall and climbed to the top. We stood enjoying the views and relaxed for an hour in the sun before heading back, trying to carefully negotiate the narrow ledge, with the waterfall and cliff on our right side.
My girlfriend was a few feet behind me and she saw me slip off that edge, “without a sound” she said. In those few seconds my life changed.
All I remember is trying to reach to grab something to hold onto to. I don’t have any recollection of the fall itself but I do have foggy memory of the moments afterwards. In a daze when I was trying to get out of the water, I was thinking “oh man why is my arm and leg not working.” My memory is quite intact thereafter when the rescue began lead by my savior, a NYC fireman who just happened to be hiking with his daughter a few feet from where I fell. He saw me fall and I remember him telling me “I didn’t expect to find you alive.”
I fell some 80 feet and landed in shallow ankle to knee deep water among the rocks below. It’s almost impossible that I survived my fall, the odds stacked heavily against surviving that fall. My body was badly hurt with many broken bones in my back and shoulder and a badly shattered right elbow. I was airlifted by a helicopter hanging by a long rope and rushed to Albany medical for emergency surgery. I was in the hospital for two months and had countless surgeries to repair the injuries. They extracted muscle from my back and skin from my thighs to replace all the tissue that was lost from my right arm.
I remember waking up in the recovery room to seeing my brother by my beside. He casually said “what’s up, how you feeling?” and then dialed my mother. He hadn’t told her anything as he knew she would go into full blown panic. “Hi mom”, I said with some grogginess and weakness in my voice, we talked for a bit and I told her I was in the hospital. A few hours later, she was by my beside also, driving to Albany with my little brother from Toronto.
I was physically and emotionally badly beaten up. But I didn’t spend my time feeling sorry for myself and was determined to return to living a robust, healthy, active life. And as a Physical Therapist, and owner of a practice, I had to get back to work – my patients needed me and my business needed me. My livelihood literally depended on it.
My recovery was hard. Anyone who endures such massive bodily trauma suffers the same. Coping with disfigurement, financial hardships, psychological trauma, acceptance of new disabilities, relationship adjustments are just a few of the many new difficulties added to the challenge of recovery.
I knew intuitively that proper nutrition would play a key role in my recovery. I had always been very nutritionally conscious but was going to be especially meticulous while my going through my recovery.
Proper nutrition is one of the pillars of healing and yet it is often ignored and seldom talked about by doctors.
You’re told about rest, ice and given a prescription for pain medication and anti-inflammatories. But you are NEVER educated about your body’s need for additional nutrients such as certain amino acids or that of Vitamin A, C and Zinc and other key nutrients and how they promote healing.
When the body has been through a trauma, it enters a state of higher metabolic demand and requires elevated levels of certain nutrients to aid with repair process. After all, certain nutrients provide the building blocks of the tissue that the body is trying to repair and nutrition is critical for an optimal immune response as well as for managing inflammation. I researched and then created my own nutritional prescription of all the different nutrients that were available to help me heal more optimally.
Today I still have my battle scars, and occasionally will show my patients the metal in my arm and scars to help them win my trust. It always works because my patients know I can relate to their challenges on a very personal level.
I fell on July 4th and was back to work treating patients in October. Only three months later! It is scary to think today that the surgeon who stitched me back together once considered amputating my arm at the elbow due to the severity of the fracture. Now I’m back to almost normal with a slightly bent elbow and metal that’s part of me. Healing for me was all about a loving nurturing family, my savior doctors, a therapist who pushed me, and my healing nutrients that helped me heal from the inside. Today, I own and operate three PT clinics and am living as fully as ever.