“Living, Dying, and Everything in Between.”

It was the summer of 2005, I had been working in EMS for a little over 3 years but had just recently become a Paramedic, when I was dispatched to my very first active shooter scene. It was a strange time; an abnormal increase in violent ridden 911 calls and civil unrest. We were at odds with each other as well – many pulling for EMS uniforms fashioned after Police, with a few others (like me!) pushing for another style (ANY! other style) in order to create obvious separation between armed law enforcement and unarmed EMS. Majority rules in Union situations though and so there I was – wearing blue, with patches and badges – looking way too much like the Officer standing over me, as I tended to the patient on the ground, confirming his death.

I had been told the scene was safe. This is Rule #1 when working in EMS – “SCENE SAFETY” – especially in a scene like this. So, imagine my surprise (and my verbally unfiltered mouth) as I heard the scuffling of a foot chase coming from the second floor of this abandoned building and the policeman’s radio crackling: “Shooter on the roof! Heading towards the staircase!”. I looked up at the Officer standing over me, as he reached for his gun, and realized that I was on my hands and knees at the base of this building’s staircase.

“You told me this scene was safe!”, I yelled at him as my partner and I quickly gathered our equipment and started running for the exit.

“Well, it’s not anymore, so get gone!”, he yelled back as he took cover, in anticipation of the now certain confrontation.

As my partner and I ran for safety, we came upon a second victim outside the building and quickly extricated him, placing him in our ambulance. We utilized a nearby state trooper as our police escort out of the immediate area so that we could safely assess, treat, and transport the surviving victim.

It was later that night, as the rest of the world slept, that my partner and I talked about the situation we had been in and how it had all fallen apart so rapidly.

“I’m not afraid of dying.”, I told him, “I’m afraid of the in between. Being irreparably injured – stuck in the middle of Life and Death, becoming like many of our regular patients- unable to fully LIVE, yet unable to let it all go and simply die.”

This conversation ultimately led to EMS issued bulletproof vests and an increase in Police response to ensure adequate scene safety prior to EMS arrival. This did little to quiet my fears, yet I continually pushed those thoughts aside and continued in my chosen career path until the summer of 2019.

I’ve always been a bit of a “free spirit”. I don’t think so much of the “consequences” of things or of how they could go terribly wrong, as much as I do the thrill of the experience itself as it is intended when everything goes just right. After so many years of testing fate, choosing to face anything and everything that creates a sense of fear in me, it’s like I developed this sense of invincibility; like nothing bad would ever actually happen to me. So I continued to give zero thought to “the middle” or what it might mean to be stuck there. In my mind, it has become so simple- this or that, black or white, life or death. Recently, I have been forced to realize that it is not always so simple afterall.

One month ago, I crashed my parachute while skydiving. A rookie mistake, I misjudged my landing and stalled the parachute, dropping myself nearly 10 feet to the ground. I fractured my back and shattered my left wrist. I’m actually quite lucky – despite the significance of my injuries, they are able to be healed with surgery, physical therapy, and a hefty dose of time. Simple, right? Far from it. No one ever tells you how painful broken bones can be, even after they are “corrected” with surgery. Or how much you use your back and BOTH of your hands simultaneously to do even the simplest of daily activities – like sitting up, taking a shower, washing your hair, dressing yourself, or cutting up your own food.

I don’t mean to complain. I understand how much worse this actually could have been. In saying that, I don’t even mean death; although leaving my husband a widow and my daughter without access to me would certainly be difficult, becoming a lifelong burden to them is, in my mind, a fate far worse than death.

“You just do things. You don’t stop to consider the dangers of what you do or what it means if and when it goes wrong. I don’t think you realize exactly how bad this could have been. It could have been your legs or your hips…your ability to ever even walk again!”

On the front of the helmet I wear when skydiving is a sticker, “FLY or DIE”, it says, and I was so proud to apply it there. In skydiving, there is nothing more freeing than the feeling of flight and if you die while doing something that you love so much… well, in my mind, what better way is there to go?

Yet, here I am, living proof that it’s not always “this way or that” – and, while I consider myself quite lucky that I am not worse off, I am now faced with the realization that I am, in fact, NOT invincible and things do go wrong, very quickly and very easily.

“That’s no reason to quit,” my heart tells me, “You’ve just gotta get better at it.“

My head argues back: “But it’s not worth the risk to yourself, your family, your friends, your coworkers, or your ability to live a fully functional life unhindered by injury or permanent disability.”

I don’t know where this road to recovery will lead. My future endeavors are as uncertain as the prognosis of my hand/wrist regaining it’s dexterity and range of motion. Or how my back will be able (or unable?) to ever handle running the 26.2 miles in a marathon again?

What I do know is that I am listening. To my husband, who wants to live happily ever after with his chosen wife. To my daughter, who simply wants her mother to be here with her. To my coworkers, as they compensate for my currently injured state and constantly find ways to adapt and overcome. To my friends, who shower me with love, support, and the dark, twisted humor that our past experiences have caused us to appreciate.

You see, I am not afraid to live my life; nor am I afraid to die. It’s “the middle” which scares me most – to be “alive”, yet unable to fully LIVE, is a fate so much worse than death.

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun

“Love Yourself – Lessons Learned in Transformation.”

“I’m not exactly sure what Life is trying to teach me, but I’m pretty sure it involves detatching myself from anything and everything that I cling too tightly to.”, I said to my counselor today as we discussed my most recent skydiving injuries. (A complicated arm/wrist fracture and compression fractures in my spine.)

“Transformation” is the word he left lingering in my mind as we parted ways at the end of today’s session. And he’s right – he’s seen me transform my life many times over. Beginning with my previous marriage – which ended in divorce but, ultimately, paved the way for a new, everlasting love to take root and bloom. Breaking free of a religion which never did sit well with my soul, enabling me to clear my mind of prejudice and indoctrination. Changing my profession after nearly two decades of fulltime work, allowing me the time and space necessary to heal from years of heartbreaking and traumatic experiences. As well as, hours upon hours spent over the past four years, counseling me through a very complicated grief process and subsequent existential crisis until I could finally begin to “see the sunlight” again.

Most recently, I have transformed my running from an unhealthy obsession back to a simple passion – with less attachment to the results, and more love for the actual movement itself. My finances, from paying out too much on lingering balances or spending on frivolous things, to paying off those balances and spending only on things I need or that benefit myself and/or my family with their experience. My job, by being more open and honest about my desire to escape “the grind” – working part time in order to live fulltime. And my home; decluttering every room, every closet, every drawer in our private space in order to discard useless or broken things and items which stir up negative emotions in me; donating or selling many others which no longer prove useful or add any value to our lives. It’s such a cleansing practice, the art of letting go.

In doing all of these things, I have opened up so much more time and space to see and do all of the things that matter the most to me – from spending more time with my husband, to reconnecting with old (& meeting some new!) friends, to exercising and running on a daily basis simply because it feels good and I enjoy it! Exploring this world we live in – from the small “mom & pop shoppe” businesses in our local communities, to planning much bigger travel adventures to look forward to.

It was during one of my more recent workouts (when I needed to modify, while the majority of other participants did not) that I came to this astounding conclusion:

“Love yourself for what you can do rather than hate yourself for what you can’t.”

Perhaps you don’t get why I call this “astounding”. It really is such a simple concept… and if you are someone who has done this all along, I applaud you – but it has taken all of my 42 years upon this Earth for me to realize this for myself.

Now, here I am, one week post surgery to repair the damage done to my body from crash landing my parachute in an otherwise perfect skydiving jump – completely unable to run, jump, or even walk much for any significant length of time… and you’d think I’d be distraught? The “old” me would have been riddled with anxiety and tension, shedding many tears for what would have been or could have been – but Dr. Michael is right – I’m different now. I’ve transformed.

So will I ever actually run the Boston Marathon as a qualified runner?

Will I continue my skydiving endeavors once my body has healed?

The answers are yet to be known, even to me.

I used to be so uncomfortable with ambiguity; but now I find it beautiful. 🦋

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun