5 Things You Learn Staying Awake During a Near-Death Injury
My job was to inspect buildings and make sure their fire sprinklers weren't outdated, broken, or accidentally filled with spiders instead of flame-retardant chemicals. In April of 2013, I found myself 32 feet in the air above the stage in a church in Pseudonymtown, Anystate. There was no catwalk, just steel beams to walk on. It was pitch black. When the light from my flashlight reflected off one of the beams, that momentary disorientation was enough to make me fall straight down. My name is Anonymous, and I was an impressionist painting. My canvas was the ground.
How You Fall Matters as Much as the Height You Fall From
I was in free fall for about a second and a half. When you fall from 32 feet up, you're almost guaranteed to die on impact. But how you fall plays a big factor in your fate, too. Concrete is a hard substance, but I was "lucky" enough to go feet first. If I had fallen on my back or head, I would have died instantly. If I had fallen while front-flipping and playing air guitar, I would have died awesomely. But no, I hit legs first and my body immediately went into overdrive, masking the pain of becoming a human jigsaw puzzle. At the same time, roughly twelve Knievels worth of adrenaline flooded my brain, so I was incredibly lucid at one of the worst possible times to be that.
I was aware of every bone in my body. All 206 of them.
I fell onto the stage, which was occupied by the equipment of a church band that almost certainly had a Bible pun for a name. I was inches away from nailing a drum kit. If this had been a movie, it would've made a hilarious cacophony, then I would've sprung to my feet with a glib one-liner. In reality, I would have merely been impaled on a drum kit.
If it had happened during the solo, I at least would've gone out a hero.
But since I hit a flat space legs-first (the best way to do it -- though it's hard to recommend, exactly), I survived. With the kind of horrific injuries you'd expect from having the lower half of your body sacrifice itself for the upper half, of course. I very nearly died. Plus, Metalthuselah probably had to cancel their set, which I'm sure was also heartbreaking.
I Was Awake Through My Entire Near-Death Experience
Rather than drifting off into a bright white light and waking up to the comforting embrace of sweet lady morphine, I spent the time after my fall completely conscious and aware that my last memory would likely be as a screaming Jenga pile.
There's only so much pain a human body can take. Then it turns into something else -- something that is inexplicably worse than unbearable pain. You want to know what being on the verge of death felt like? It felt like I needed to take the biggest shit in the world, but that damned turtle-head just wouldn't breach. I envy people who had near-death experiences and say they saw angels or Burt Reynolds or whatever it is that's waiting for us in the Great Beyond. Those people were unconscious. Being awake and nearly dead wasn't meaningful. There was no special cosmic message -- only a wall of pain-shit.
Or as Heaven's ambassador calls it, Cop and a Half.
So uh... try to die sleeping. Or at least really, really drunk.
I was still awake even in the ambulance, and together enough to hear the EMT say, "I've never seen this kind of break. I don't think this guy is going to-"
At that point, I opened one eye and said: "Guy at my feet. I'm awake." There was a firefighter riding with us. He told the EMT: "Always talk as if the patient can hear you. Give them a reason to fight."
Though that EMT prematurely signing my death warrant made me want to live to punch his scrotum off, so mission accomplished.
I spent the rest of the ride trying to convince him that his company should hire my son-in-law. Hey, gotta put that guilt to good use, right?
Even a Simple Accident Can Produce Bizarre Injuries
You would think that a straight-up fall onto a flat surface would be relatively simple to treat. But thanks to the wonderful, myriad ways that bones and other internal body parts can be broken, each injury is completely different. It's like a beautiful rainbow made of all the colors of the various bodily fluids.
Can you paint with all the colors of a corpse?
None of the doctors who worked on me had ever seen my specific injuries, despite their cumulative hundred years of practice. My spine was compressed strangely, and the leg fractures were presumably some kind of Trauma Unicorns. The hospital I was taken to even specialized in fall victims and bloody collisions in general, but most of their patients had normal breaks. They had no idea what to do with me.
"Is it unethical to have the circus take him away? Cuz otherwise, I've got nothing."
I won the mangled body lottery! It's a shitty lottery, but I won that bastard.
High Doses of Painkillers Cause Some Strange Hallucinations
It took a series of complicated surgeries, but they managed to fix me up as well as one could hope. Obviously, I was on a ton of painkillers. If you've only had them for minor injuries and in smaller doses, you probably don't know about the hallucinations.
Which sucks, because these daily balloon rides to the Moon get pretty dull without a buddy.
By comparison, I was lucky: My roommate was tripping hard on his drug cocktail. I saw little animals coming in and out of the buildings outside my window, but that poor guy was hollering about the CIA coming for him and trying to formulate elaborate escape plans. It got so bad that I called over a nurse and told her that my roommate needed psychiatric help.
She told me I didn't have a roommate.
I was in the room alone.
When I didn't believe it, she pulled out the security video of the room, which showed me talking to an empty bed. So either I'd hallucinated so hard that I hallucinated a whole other person's hallucinations, or the CIA is really, really thorough.
"He knows too much. Quick, have that janitor who looks like Burt Reynolds get up here so he thinks he's dead."
You Will Never Fully Heal, But You Can Get Used to Anything
After those Christopher-Nolan-caliber plot twist hallucinations, they cut my painkiller dose. And, of course, my pain level shot up through the roof. At first, I was a constant 10/10 on the pain scale, because my nerves were actively healing and my bones were still setting. But then, sweet relief!
No, the pain didn't go away. This isn't a Disney movie. It's just that, like anything else, constant agony gets boring. Pain becomes a part of everyday life. I'd fall asleep and wake up with my nerves pulsating and stinging, and that felt totally normal to me. I had another surgery later and was put back on a high dose of painkillers, and that felt wrong. The absence of pain was so unsettling that moving to a lower dose and having the pain return was a kind of relief.
"Every step is like a thousand stab wounds and each breath is like swallowing hot coals. Finally, I feel alive."
Eventually I was weaned off of painkillers. Again, it's not like it went away -- you don't ever fully recover from an injury like this. But taking pain pills for the rest of your life is the textbook definition of addiction. On the plus side, my pain threshold has gone up dramatically. But I don't plan on going for the Stage Dive World Record again anytime soon.
Evan V. Symon is the interview finder guy at Cracked. Have an awesome experience/job you would like to tell us about? Hit up the tipline at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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