When my husband, Jim, announced he was cleaning the roof of our two-story house two days before we were scheduled to leave for Switzerland, I responded, “That’s not a good idea,” which turned out to be a monumental understatement. I told him I’d be gone all day at Pilates, a hair appointment, lunch with a friend, and shopping. “No problem,” he said, “I’ll get Brian to help me with the ladder if I need him.” Our neighbor, Brian, also had other plans that day.
When I got a text from my stylist to tell me she was running late, I decided to stop at home for a quick shower after Pilates. As I was getting into the shower, my phone rang. In a dazed voice, Jim said, “Where are you? I don’t know what happened.” Buck naked, I ran to the window, looked out, and saw him lying on his back under the tree. WTF? Grabbing a robe, I raced outside.
After successfully cleaning debris from the roof, Jim decided to attack a branch that annoyed him on the Russian olive tree. The ladder apparently rotated and he fell 12-14 feet (3-4 meters), knocking himself out. Fortunately, he had his cell phone in his pocket which he used to call me. And fortunately, I was unexpectedly at home.
We argued for the next half hour about whether I should call an ambulance. When I tried to help him up, he howled in pain, and begged, “Just give me a couple more minutes.” We repeated this dance of suffering at least four times while in between, I texted my stylist to cancel my appointment and went into the house to get dressed. My patience finally ran out and I took charge and called 911.
A police officer who Jim knows was first on the scene and they chatted, Jim flat on his back, while we waited for the ambulance. Jim insisted he was fine; he could move his fingers and toes, arms and legs; he just couldn’t get up. That didn’t sound fine to me.
The ambulance transported him to the hospital and I followed in the car, calling my friend, Lori, to cancel lunch. After a long wait in the Emergency Room, lots of drugs, a cat scan, and sincere apologies for ruining our trip, we learned Jim fractured his T12 vertebra. He was moved to a hospital room for overnight observation and I called our two sons to inform them.
That evening our son, Brian; his wife, Abi; and our son, Michael, arrived to visit Dad in crisis. That’s when Michael dubbed him Broke Back Mountain and the name stuck. Jim, of course, joked if he’d known it would be so easy to get them home, he’d have fallen off a ladder sooner.
All joking aside, we discussed our trip while we waited for the neurosurgeon to tell us whether Jim could travel. We had planned to travel to Switzerland for a week, then join my friend, Lori and her daughter for an 8 day Viking River Cruise on the Rhine River from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands. I told Jim we had several options. We could cancel, I could go alone and meet up with our friends, I could delay the trip and travel with them, or we could go together if the doctor allowed it. My one condition was I didn’t want Jim to go and complain the entire time that I made him go and he was miserable.
Since the fracture was stable, the neurosurgeon, Dr. David Beck, pronounced Jim fit to travel with restrictions. Jim was game to go well-armed with an industrial strength back brace and pain medication. We would slow our usual break-neck pace (no pun intended), I would manage the luggage for both of us, keep track of Jim’s meds, and make sure he followed doctor’s orders.
I immediately called the airline to arrange for a wheelchair to meet us in Chicago. It was a little complicated because we had two partner airlines to deal with, but it was a godsend because Jim was moving so slowly at that point. We checked our bags through to Zurich, a new experience for committed carry-on luggage only travelers. When the airline announced they would first board people who needed extra time on the jetway, we looked at each other and chortled in unison, “That’s us!”
Please check back for more tales from Broke Back Mountain as we travel through Switzerland, Germany, France, and the Netherlands.
Based on events from October 2017.