Today is the day when…
That’s why it’s called the Hangman’s Break: it’s what causes people to die when they are hung–they break their C2 and that’s it. It’s usually what has happened when someone dies and they say that person died instantly.
If you are one of the 5% who lives, you’re in a wheel chair. And you’re paralyzed, usually from the neck down.
Of those 5% who live, 3% are not in wheel chairs. They weren’t paralyzed but the risk is so great of paralysis while the neck heals, and they are in so much torturous pain, that the vertebrae in their necks are fused together, and they lose 75% of their movement in their necks. But they can walk and run and do everything else.
My husband’s neck was so badly broken that the risk of paralysis while fusing his neck was so great that the doctor set the bones by hand (by dislocating his jaw) then put his head back on his neck.
And sent him home to heal enough until the day that he could be operated on. (See photos and read more about it here).
Miraculously, my husband completely healed. It was a long, scary process but he is without pain. He has a magnificent scar that is almost faded away and the youthful benefits of the facelift he required. He even has a season pass at Mammoth for the third year in a row. Pictured are photos of u
s on the slopes this year.
Today, on this anniversary of the day that changed my life forever, is the first day I have tried to work, that I won’t be home with my family, quietly celebrating the fact that
my husband is on this side of the grass and walking with me on the earth. I am supposed to be grading papers and preparing for class, but I am having a hard time focusing. I had no idea it would be this difficult. I’m trembling.
My hope is that, just as I advise my students, that in writing about it I will be able to let go of the story, let it out in to the world, recognize the trauma, breathe deep, and keep moving. Just like I did during my husband’s recovery.
Depth Psychology leads us “beneath the surface of thought, behavior, and action to the inclinations and the impulses of the soul they are rooted in” posits Joseph Coppin and Elizabeth Nelson in The Art of Inquiry (2004, p. 41). Central to the philosophy of Depth Psychology is Coppin’s (2011) claim that myths are not only relevant but desire to be lived, thus begging C. G. Jung’s question; “in what myth do we exist?” (p. 171). This leads to questions of how do we engage with the imaginal and what difference does this make? To paraphrase James Hillman (1998), we may want the imaginal passionately and desire to enter it, but we cannot will it — it is a creation of faith, need, and desire (p. 86). While Philip Cushman (1995) argues that the self configures to conform to its historical time and place, Thomas Moore (1996) suggests that as we move toward a mythic sensibility we arrive to an appreciation of the divine in our everyday lives (p. 25). This analysis of a narrative of mythic personal encounters with Jung, the Hindu deity Lord Ganesh, and the Buddhist deity Guan Yin illustrates how the mythic can co-exist, albeit a bit uncomfortably at times, with a self that conforms to its historical time and place bringing the divine into life daily.
During the first term of my PhD in Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute, Professor Coppin shared with us an idea, which many might consider a radical one; that“myths are not just relevant to modern day but they, the myths, have a desire to show up and be lived and relived”. Professor Coppin’s revelation about myths was not exactly shocking news to me. I am aware and sensitive to the mythic in daily experiences, on the look out for the instructive metaphor, aware that we are surrounded by deeper meanings to our seemingly mundane experiences, more interested in interpreting the signs of the narrative in which we find ourselves rather than the purely imaginary material of traditional literary analysis.
I set out on the task outlined by Thomas Moore (1996) in his essay “Developing a Mythic Sensibility” to “return myth to modern life and thought” and to be “a daring spirit willing to live in a mythic animated (imagination-filled) world where everything is sacred, where angels appear unexpectedly and in many guises and where devils make it all interesting and complicated.” The challenge is to do so “without reducing it to eighteenth century notions of reasonable divinity and yet without literal archaism and mythological fundamentalism” (p. 27).
Later in the paper, I wrote:
Myths are not just relevant to modern day but they, the myths, have a desire to show up and be lived and relived. Joseph Coppin, Lecture November 2011
On Friday February 5, 2010, I was moving forward in a new direction in life, working as a writing coach and a social media expert when my expectations of the future suddenly changed. I had signed up that day for a Women’s Economic Ventures Self-Employment training class to learn to write a business plan. Rain moved in that afternoon. Since it was a First Friday, I led the ArtRide in the rain. My 8-year-old son and husband joined us at a rehearsal for an AIDS benefit honoring “angels” in our community. Because of my leadership as a bicycle and arts activist, I was one of those angels, and fourteen ArtRiders — close friends and my nephew — were to be part of a segment in a variety and fashion show. Our children wouldn’t be in the show but many were there for the rehearsal and for a party at a nearby gallery afterward.
We hauled our bikes up the stairs to the second floor of the Elks Lodge on Main and Ash. When it was our turn, we walked our bikes across the stage and down the catwalk where the MC and I bantered. Four of the ArtRiders who were skilled and experienced cyclists — including my husband — were going to ride off the end of catwalk which was about 30” off the ground. At about 8pm, my husband went first. And last. There was not enough room for him to gain the necessary speed do the jump off the catwalk. He needed the speed to lift the front of his bike in the air and land on his back wheel first and then land his front one. Instead he went down front tire first, flew over his handlebars, and landed headfirst.
Over 50 people were in the room and I heard them take in one collective breath. I felt an odd sense of quiet and peace — I knew he was all right, not that he was going to be all right but that he was in the moment all right — whatever that meant. Instead of feeling like I was in shock or fog, I experienced extreme clarity and calm. Instead of feeling like I needed to be strong, I was strong.Blood was everywhere. Someone called 911. A friend held her cotton scarf to his head to apply pressure to stop the bleeding. We kept him still to prevent further injury. Paramedics stabilized his neck in a brace to carry him downstairs. My nephew took our son and friends loaded our bikes. I followed the ambulance to the packed ER where the on-call neurologist, Dr Sabit, said my husband’s neck was broken, his C2, in what I learned later is called the “Hangman’s Break”, where 95% of the injured die instantly; of the 5% who live all but 3% are quadriplegic.
While my husband could wiggle his toes and everything else, the risk was great. If he survived the fall, the doctor said he could still become paralyzed at anytime. The doctor told us that if he performed his preferred surgery — to fuse his neck from the front or the back — his risk of paralysis was 60% or more. A third method was also extremely risky but it did not entail fusion of the bones and might allow him to completely recover with his full mobility or at least heal enough to allow the doctor to fuse his neck with less risk of paralysis. In our conversation with the doctor in the ER as well as in the pre-op area, the doctor learned about my husband’s athleticism, his ability to heal well from previous broken bones, about his healthy diet, his non-smoking habits, and how he had avoided previous recommendations for fusion of his lumbar spine through natural health strategies like yoga, and chiropractic. A little after midnight, they put my husband under, and I let go of his hand. The doctor encouraged me to go home and rest.
Thomas Moore (1996) writes that “The closer we move to a mythic sensibility the more we appreciate the divine in the every day.” (p. 25) I don’t remember if I had a glass of wine or cup of tea but I do know went to work. I knew that there were 50 or more people from the rehearsal who formed a prayer circle. I called my mom; she had been praying since I had contacted her earlier. I put the word out asking for prayer and support on Twitter and Facebook. Soon I was getting messages back; many people had already heard what had happened. As I sat on the couch with my computer on my lap and my feet on the coffee table, I still experienced that eerie calm confidence that he would be all right. Then I felt a cool hand smoothing my forehead up up up, over and over from my eyebrows into my hairline. It felt peaceful and soothing. Were those the hands of my friends? In my imagination I saw the broken bones of my husband’s neck very gently being moved into place; I thought of them being grouted together with love and I held on to this image as I prepared to go to sleep. The telephone rang. With toothbrush in hand, I answered a call: the doctor said the surgery was a success.
In the morning I joined my mom beside my husband’s hospital bed to listen to Dr. Sabit describe what he did and what our future held. Because of my husband’s youth, health, and activity level, and because of the risk of paralysis, the doctor decided to dislocate his jaw, slide his hand down my husband’s throat, gently smooth the bones back into place, and then shove his head back onto his neck. His illustration was very much as I had imagined the previous night. Dr. Sabit continued telling us about the plastic surgery he performed on my husband’s head: Marsh had cracked his skull, lost a sizable chunk of skin, and split open his scalp from his eyelid up and over his forehead and arching back toward his ear. The doctor put his hands on his forehead and showed us how he smoothed the skin up and up, over and over to get it stapled and stitched back into place, very much like I had experienced a few hours before. Because of the fracture to his skull, Dr. Sabit could not attach a “halo” to Marsh’s head — he had a latex collar holding the bones in place. Until the bones healed, he would be at great risk.
My husband was self-conscious about his stitches and didn’t want to scare our six year old son or others so we kept a bandana on his head. The bandana at hand was one of several we had made the summer before for Burning Man. The bandana depicts Lord Ganesha, the elephant headed Hindu deity, Remover of Obstacles, riding a bicycle. We also gave out stickers at Burning Man and told everyone about Ganesh and his birthday that week.
I am not sure when it dawned on me that a myth was living through me. And that this myth had begun six months previously on August 5. 2009.
“But in what myth does man live nowadays?”
–C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1989, p. 171).