My Cervical Spine Fracture–How I Broke My Neck While Playing in the Backyard with Kids

my cervical spine fracture

The following post is a series of excerpts about my cervical spine fracture from my book, Snapped: A Helpful Guide for Broken Neck Recovery.

Summer is my favorite time of year. With the warm weather, increased sunlight, and my boys’ sudden interest in baseball, I was prepared to maximize my outdoor time. However, one bad decision after dinner on Friday June 30, 2017 put a temporary end to my outdoor dreams.

Play Ball!

It took forever for my older son to have any interest in sports. Truthfully, it wasn’t until his younger brother started wanting to play baseball that he became interested.

In the same week, my five-year-old and two-year-old learned to throw a ball overhand. With both of them enthusiastic about learning about and playing baseball, we took to our yard every night after dinner to play ball.

After some practice batting and throwing, I was ready to teach the basics of base running. Today, I decided to teach them how to field the ball and tag out a runner.

Unfortunately, I made a huge mistake when I set up the bases. Our house is on a hill, with no flat area where we could play. I set up the bases the best I could with second base at the top of the hill, first and third at a mid-point on the hill, and home plate downhill on the patio in front of our back door.

When I was up to bat, the boys were ready in the field. I tossed the ball up and whacked it with everything I could. I was determined to show these kids that Mom is a force to be reckoned with.

Not Quite Safe at Home

It sailed into our “outfield,” and the kids scrambled to get it. I headed toward third and noticed that my older son was coming toward me, so I stopped there.

“You’re out,” he said tapping me with the ball.

“No, it doesn’t work like that. I’m on base. You can’t tag me and tell me I’m out when I’m on base.”

“Well, when can I tag you?”

“Whenever I’m not on base like when I run for home.”

He looked me square in the eyes. “Well, you better run, then.” It wasn’t a threat as much as a challenge, and I accepted.

With a glint in my eye, I took off at a dead sprint down a very steep hill. About a third of the way down the hill, I felt like I was doing the same run that Scooby Doo does when he’s not moving forward and is staying in the same place while his legs work frantically. I call it the “Scooby shuffle.”

Although I’m sure I wasn’t there long, it felt like someone had pressed pause on my life. Time stood still long enough for me to think, Well, this was a bad idea. Then, like someone pressed play, I flailed down the hill, launched myself like a lawn dart, slid across the concrete, and headbutted my aluminum doorframe.

Don’t move, I told myself.

The Self-Assessment

I hadn’t passed out, and I hadn’t heard a snap or crack. Those had to be good signs, right? Even when the first crimson drop splattered on the concrete in front of me, I was still optimistic.

Then, I noticed that I couldn’t talk. For a moment, my tongue felt like it swelled to fill my mouth. I started to moan. What came out instead was an odd, horrifying noise.

Right after my mom had her stroke, she would moan this guttural, disturbing groan when she was in pain. The noise was unlike any I’d ever heard a human make. When she would groan, it sent pain through my bones and scared me like no noise had ever done before.

When I heard that groan come out of my mouth, my top priority was to shut up. I didn’t want my kids hearing that noise and getting scared. If I could keep it together and do all the right things, we’d make it out of this situation without a monthly therapy bill for the kids.

I closed my mouth and swallowed. I was relieved to discover that my tongue wasn’t actually swollen. There wasn’t the metallic taste of blood, which was comforting, too. Still, I knew we would be going to the hospital.

My forehead itched, and I watched another drop of blood hit the concrete beneath me. Then came another.

Stay still. Don’t move.

I heard my kids asking me if I was okay. I had to say something because they were getting worried. When I went to say, “No,” it came out of my mouth like the guttural moan. I would have to do better next time if the kids were going to stay calm.

The Call

I swallowed, took a deep breath, and in an impressively calm voice, asked my five-year-old to get my phone. It was a tough decision—911 or husband? I tried to think through everything as best as I could and figured that my working husband should be the first call.

When my son came out, I dialed my husband. “Tell your dad to come home.” My older son walked off with the phone while he talked to his dad. Before long, he came back and said that Dad was on his way.

Waiting

Next, I sent him inside to get a paper towel. I wanted to figure out how badly my head was hurt without moving. While he was gone, I used my fingers to gently feel around to different parts of my head.

Luckily, it seemed like most of my head was fine. There was a very obvious, drippy gash above my right eye, and a little bit of ooze coming down from the top of my head about where I wear the part in my hair. By the time he came back with the paper towel, I felt confident that we wouldn’t need an ambulance.

I looked at my hands. My nails were broken, ripped, and jagged from my trip across about five feet of concrete as I fell. Then, for some nonsensical reason, my fingernails became my top priority. Maybe it was because it was something I could control or maybe it’s because I was trying to distract myself so I wouldn’t lose my cool.

I sent my two-year-old inside to get the nail trimmers, and I carefully took a seat on the back step. As I trimmed my nails, the thought hit me that it might take my husband a while to get home. I wasn’t sure exactly how long I should sit on our slab.

A Peek in the Mirror

How bad was I?

I started calling people who live near me. No one answered. Friday nights in the summer everyone has plans.

Carefully, I stood up, which went well, so I stepped into the house to look at myself in the bathroom mirror. I was trying to determine whether I really should call an ambulance when I heard my husband’s truck pull up.

We loaded up, and all four of us went to the hospital. The whole ride to the hospital, I held my neck, rubbing it and creating a splint of sorts with my thumbs. Nothing felt especially wrong, but I had discomfort at the base of my skull, which seemed pretty normal since I had head-butted my house. 

The ER

We were very lucky. Right away, I was admitted and taken to a room. Truthfully, if our ER would have been busy that night, I might have waited for hours in the waiting room before getting treatment because I only looked banged up. There was truly no indication that I had a cervical spine fracture.

I had sensation and strength in my hands and feet, I hadn’t lost consciousness, and I could easily turn my head to talk to people when they spoke to me.

To assess my damage, the nurse asked me questions like my name and the date. She asked me what had happened. Then, she asked who the President was, and I laughed. Apparently, that was the right answer because she moved on to her final question.

“Well, I have to know. Did he tag you out?”

“No, I was safe at home. Or, rather, he didn’t tag me out,” I answered. The last part was more correct. Given the extent of my injuries and the fact that they happened on the threshold of my home, I couldn’t really say that I was safe at home.

In our room in the ER, the TV was on my right. I easily turned my head and my oldest snuggled up next to me while we watched one of the Shrek movies on TV.

The Tests

Before too long, they sent the widest wheelchair I’ve ever seen to take me to my CT-scan. Once in the imaging room, I easily got up onto the table. I adjusted myself to get comfortable and didn’t notice anything alarming.

Truthfully, I was only concerned about swelling or bleeding in my brain. I was afraid that I might have sustained some sort of brain injury or caused some bleeding. I didn’t want to stay home from the hospital and run the risk that I might die in my sleep.

After I hit my head, I knew right away that I wanted to go to the hospital and have a CT-scan done to verify that I didn’t have any brain trauma. After the test, they took me back to my room, and the technicians showed up to X-ray my knee.

My knee was badly scraped from my glide across the concrete, and the doctor wanted to make sure my patellar tendon was still attached. Easily, I bent my knee and moved my leg into position. I figured all we had to do was wait for an “all clear” on the CT-scan, and we’d get to go home. 

Waiting to Go Home

That’s what my doctor thought, too. He had already talked to me about how the bumps and bruises would come out of the woodwork over the next couple of days. He even guessed that I’d need to go to the chiropractor.

“Before I go,” he said, “I just have to ask—Did he tag you out?”

“No, I was safe—relatively speaking,” I answered.

“Well, thank goodness for that. How terrible would it be if you fell like this and you got tagged out?”

“Yeah, it would have been so embarrassing if he tagged me out,” I answered only somewhat sarcastically. In truth, beating my long-legged son in a foot race was the only silver lining I could find to my fall right now, so I proudly clung to my win.

The doctor got a good chuckle and left the room to wait for my results.

At one point, the oldest child and I decided we needed to go to the bathroom. I asked the nurse if we could go, and she gave me directions. When we came back, the doctor and nurse both rushed into the room.

The Diagnosis—A Cervical Spine Fracture

Apparently, while my son and I were in the bathroom, the CT-scan results came back. They showed that I had a fracture at the facet joint of my C6 up to my C5. (When you feel the back of your neck with your hand, the bony parts that you feel are the facet joints.) Fortunately, the cervical spine fracture stayed perfectly aligned, and the doctor believed that I wouldn’t require surgery.

“A fracture? Is that like a crack?” I asked.

“Well, it’s sort of like that. You’re going to need to wear this neck brace to help keep everything aligned. You’ll stay overnight, and we’ll have the on-call neurosurgeon see you in the morning.”

He wouldn’t come right out and say it. I think he knew the words would be too much of a shock.

Broken? I broke my neck? I couldn’t believe it. That couldn’t be right.

Broken necks kill people. Or, you could go the Christopher Reeve route of being paralyzed. When I was a kid, Superman was my favorite. I watched every Superman movie and knew who Christopher Reeve was by name—Superman.

Then, he was in a horseback riding accident, broke his neck, and was paralyzed from the neck down, changing his life forever. That was it—the end of Superman.

But surely I didn’t have a broken neck. The doctor must somehow be wrong.

Preparing to Stay the Night

All of a sudden, I was the center of a flurry of activity. People all around me were working quickly to get the collar on, clean my cuts, and fix my eyebrow. I thought, This must be what Miss America feels like.

“Do you want glue or stitches, Sarah?” It seemed a ridiculous question. My brain screamed: I want to go home! I don’t want to have a broken neck! And you’re asking whether I prefer glue or stitches?

“Uh. Glue,” I answered. The doctor and nurse trimmed my eyebrows, cleaned my wound, and glued my gash shut.

I needed to stay the night for observation. Honestly, I didn’t mind. After learning my neck was broken, I wasn’t sure what kind of pain to expect.

Up to that point, my pain was very quickly and easily controlled with Tylenol. Yep, a regular dose of over-the-counter Tylenol took my level-5 pain rank down to a level 1 in about 15 minutes.

Still, I worried my pain would increase through the night. Maybe the adrenaline of the accident was still pumping through me, preventing me from feeling the extent of the damage that had been done. I didn’t know, and I did not want to find out.

My Room

The ER nurse, my husband, and the kids transferred me to my hospital room for the night. It was 12:30 a.m., and my kids were hanging in there. What troopers! After I was settled in, and as soon as my family was out the door, I was flooded with a wave of emotions.

Finally, the floodgates opened, and I started sobbing. The shift nurse came in to ask more questions. That poor nurse…I have no idea what she said.

All I remember is that I couldn’t stop thinking about what might have happened. What if I would have died right there in front of my children? What if I would have passed out? They would have been traumatized for forever. Or, what if I would have been paralyzed? Our lives would have been completely changed.

Thinking of all the what-ifs, including what if I would have hit my eye (and not my eyebrow) on the piece of metal trim at the threshold to our house, and all the other worse-yet-possible outcomes from my fall made my head spin. I was overwhelmed with horrible visions of what could have been.

All the while, the nurse was asking me questions. I suppose I answered them, but all I remember is crying through those crappy one-ply hospital tissues as fast as she could pass them to me.

For 20 minutes, she asked me questions and passed me tissues. When we finished, I was exhausted. She adjusted me in bed, and we decided that she would come back at 1:45 a.m. to give me my next dose of Tylenol. I was very concerned that my pain would increase, thinking: Better to stay in front of the pain than get behind it.

A Wave of Emotions

For a moment, I was fine. At least, I thought I was fine. I felt okay, took a deep breath, and completely fell apart.

Panic, anger, and self-pity coursed through my veins, and I started bawling. There’s nothing I hate more than having someone mess with my plans, and the Universe was messing with my plans in a big, bad way.

My whole work schedule was screwed. As a new yoga and Pilates blogger with a goal of posting once a day for a year, I saw my production schedule going up in flames. I couldn’t film the videos that I relied on for three posts a week, and I couldn’t teach classes.

Then, I shifted to anger. People sometimes don’t give anger the credit that it deserves, but anger can be a real motivator. Anger can be the kick in the pants that you need to persevere. That’s what it was for me.

I was angry that I had been foolish and let myself get hurt, I was angry that my whole summer was going to be ruined by this neck brace, and I was extremely angry that some unseen force was messing with my work schedule.

Nothing would get in the way of my publishing schedule. I vowed to look over what needed to be done and make changes.

Then, I had an idea. I decided to write about my broken-neck experience and share any thoughts or tips I discovered along the way. Resolved and content, I dozed off.

Snapped: A Helpful Guide for Broken Neck Recovery

cervical spine fracture
Here I am at home after my cervical spine fracture.

While my cervical spine fracture healed, I regularly journaled. I tried to note any emotions, insights, or tricks to make the healing process more manageable. Then, when my fracture healed, I noted what I did to have the best possible recovery. Finally, I compiled all of this into one helpful book.

Although my book is specifically about my experience with a cervical spine fracture, the information can be helpful to anyone who has ever had to recover from a serious injury.

Want to Read More?

If you’re interested in reading more about my whole experience with my cervical spine fracture, check out my book, Snapped: A Helpful Guide for Broken Neck Recovery. All my experiences, emotions, and tricks for improving life while recovering from injury are in this book. Get your copy today!

I want to hear from you! Have you broken your neck? Feel free to share your story in the comments below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi! I'm Sarah, and I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. When I'm not working with clients, I'm researching the best ways to get rid of pain. Do you want to learn how to practice yoga and Pilates safely in your own home? Or, do you want to know all my tips and tricks for pain relief? Join my mailing list and receive free goodies to help you.

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