The Slip That Nearly Broke Me

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Spending two weeks in Guadeloupe together with a group of friends and Robin had been paradise so far until an incident occurred on our last day. It was quite the dramatic one to say the least. You always hear about these kinds of crazy things happening around the world but somehow you never really think it's going to happen to you. And even when it does, it doesn't seem real but I wanted to share because maybe it can help someone else save this from happening to them. Trust me when I say that nobody else needs to experience free falling from waterfalls! ;) 

On this particular day I'm speaking of, we had booked a canyoning trip. We were recommended to a particular man who organises them and chose for the most advanced track. A few of us were hesitant to take this one since two of us (myself included) were beginners but as a group, no one thought it would be a problem since we are all very sportive.

Early morning, we met the guide. He told us this track isn't for anyone who hasn't done canyoning before, yet he knew two of us hadn't but didn't find it a problem to let us go anyways. After a two hour hike through the luscious Caribbean first, we reached our first waterfall that we would descend. I remember feeling fear as I looked down at the height but at the same time, the beauty of it all made me feel like I was in an episode of Planet Earth. Natural, beautiful turquoise pools waited for us at the bottom and I was looking so forward to swimming in them once getting there. We enjoyed some lunch while being surrounded by nature and then changed into our wet suits and gear. The guide didn't explain much but did say it was just the same as descending during rock climbing, which I've done plenty of times. Three of my friends went down first and started to swim in the pools. Then it was my turn. The guide strapped the rope onto my belt and down I went, step by step. I eased my mind by repeating to myself to have trust. Trust in the equipment, in the guide, in the universe, and most importantly, in myself.

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 Just a few steps before my slip

Just a few steps before my slip

With my right hand, I had control of the rope and needed to let go of it little by little as I went down for it to allow me to descend. I got just about halfway down when the rocks started feeling very slippery, with which my no grip Nike shoes didn't help much. I kept going down bit by bit though. With the water coming down, the moss on the rocks, & my slippery bottom shoes, the next step I took was the last. My foot slipped. I tried to keep the other stable but it also joined the other. With that, my right arm holding the rope went straight into the rock in front of me. I don't remember exactly but I believe when that happened, my hand let go of my grip. My body twisted and the last thing I remember is seeing shocked looks on the faces of my friends below and then hearing the sound of the rope let me go. I tried to grab it but it went at such a speed that there was no possibility to actually get it. 

It all happened in what felt like a second and it didn't even feel real. During the fall, it was as if I was in a bad dream or some kind of video game and would soon wake up.  I fell a few meters, hit some rocks on the way down, and then the final fall that stopped me ended up being right on my left knee. With the water coming down on me, I ended up sliding a bit but somehow managed to get in a sitting position to stop myself from falling down into the pools. In that moment I couldn't process what happened. It was as if a massive shock came over my whole body. I'd never felt pain like that before and all I could do in the moment is scream and cry so hard that my jaw stayed tightly clenched. Everything around me froze and felt like it was happening in slow motion. I looked down at my knee and half of it was just not there anymore. I tried to wiggle my toes and felt a massive rush of relief when I could still feel them & see them move.

My three friends who had already came down and witnessed the whole ordeal happen rushed to me. I am so thankful for these people. My friend Robbe just held me and told me I'm okay & everything was going to be okay. I can't explain how good this felt. The pain didn't go away but having them next to me, holding me calmed everything and made me feel safe again. I sat there with them with the chilled water continuously coming down on my skin. I couldn't move. I just felt completely and utterly frozen.We all knew I had to move though since I would start getting more cold in the water. There was a dry rock just to the side of the waterfall so with my friends carrying me, I managed to get there.

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Apart from the pain, I felt so so incredibly mad. I thought, WTF universe?! I trusted and faced fears and look what that did. Seriously?! What did I do wrong? Why didn't the guide inform me better? How didn't the rope catch me? How did this happen to me?

But then a voice came into my mind saying 'you are ok'. This is the mantra I kept repeating to myself as I tried to focus on my breath to take my mind away from the iscrutiating pain. 'I am okay. Everything is okay. I am okay.' Then I turned around to look back at the waterfall I had just tumbled down like a rag doll. I looked around and in that moment, as mad & in pain I felt .. all I could see is beauty. I looked at my friends who were all there caressing my ankle, holding me, giving me water, talking to me, and making me laugh with silly jokes (a speciality of Robin who still even after something like this manages to put a smile on my face .. but I had to ask him to stop because it hurt everytime I laughed). And despite the situation, I felt lucky. I felt (as cheesy and crazy as it may sound) grateful. Grateful to have such people in my life. Grateful that I survived and that I'm still okay. Grateful that I could still feel my whole body. Grateful that I had a voice inside telling me I'm going to be okay. Grateful that I had such a beautiful scenery around me (there are worse places to get injured than on a magestic waterfall in a tropical forest in Guadeloupe, right?) And for some moments, those things helped to forget about the pain and situation. I remembered my meditation practice and started focusing on the breathe coming in & out of my nostrils. Don't get me wrong though - I was still completely terrified with thoughts of wondering if I would ever be able to walk again and if my leg would have to get amputated. But in the several moments that I was able to focus on gratitude and breathing, those fearful thoughts felt less important. 

Since I couldn't stand up or walk, we had to call a helicopter. Yep, never thought I would get airlifted but here I was. This wasn't as easy though since we had limited phones & no signal (as you can imagine when being in the middle of nowhere forest). Robin tried to send the GPS location but since it wasn't showing the exact one, they couldn't find us. We saw it pass by twice but since the area is completely surrounded by trees, it wasn't easy to see us and eventually they had to go back to for fuel. Finally in the second tour and after 3.5 hours, they found us.

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Paramedics and a doctor came down to wrap my leg & hook me to the airlift. This was so painful because everytime the leg moved a tiny bit, it sent distress throughout my body. But despite my best efforts, it was nearly impossible to keep my leg straight while being dragged up. Finally when they got me into the helicopter, a whole sense of calm came over me. I could see below where I've spent the last hours and all the pain I endured there. It was a big world while I was down there but from the top it was just a speck. Since my knee was so swollen at this point (literally became the size of a soccer ball), I couldn't feel so much anymore unless I moved it. I could finally look up, forget about what has happened for a moment, and enjoy the helicopter ride to the hospital. It's not everyday you get airlifted so might as well enjoy it, right?! Apart from admiring the crazy gorgeous scenery, I just felt so happy to live in an age where technology & skilled people like the ones who helped me exist. They risked their own lives while being dangled down from a helicopter (with even landing into a tree the first time) to help mine.

After arriving at the hospital, one of the first things I saw was a man who had two legs amputated and I thought to myself 'oh geeze, a sign of my fate now'. And then a long hallway filled with others in bad shape. So many things ran though my mind. What if I loose my leg?/What if this?/what if that? .. but nope, I had to get back to my mantra 'I'm okay' to quiet out the monkey mind. But seeing all these people who seem to have spent a lot more time here than me made me realize how often I take health and a strong body for granted. I then got cut out of my wet suit and had a series of x-rays done. Turns out I broke my patella into two pieces pretty badly and an operation was needed. 

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Luckily though, since I was supposed to take a flight the next day, the surgeon agreed to only put a cast on me so I could get the operation back home in Luxembourg. We only later learned that we wouldn't be allowed on that flight since I needed a special seat/bed for my leg. But after a few days, we were finally able to take a flight to Paris and then from there an ambulance drove me to the hospital in Luxembourg.

I was finally able to have my surgery 5 days after the incident and I am happy to say that everything went very well. I can't say the same for the pain that lasted 10 hours after surgery once the anaesthesia wore off but that's a whole other story. Everyone that helped take care of me in the hospital told me how lucky I was. Apparently canyoning accidents are quite common but most people don't end up as lucky as I did. If I fell differently then that could have been it for me. I heard stories of how other patients ended up and it all brought chills down my spine. I realized that angels were really watching over me that day and how I had been given another chance. Yes, it's going to take about 4 months for me to get full mobility back. Yes, I will have to wear a cast all summer and not be able to do many things. But honestly, that all stopped to matter. I have my life still. I will have the ability to walk again, run again, and do everything that I was doing before again.

 My beautiful French family came to visit! :) 

My beautiful French family came to visit! :) 

So yeah, that's how it all went down.. quite dramatic, huh? Looking back now, the whole experience honestly felt like something you would see out of a movie. And somehow it all still feels surreal. I feel content now though. Not because the situation was a great one or the fact that I have to wear a cast for 4 months is how I wanted to spend my summer but because it has helped to open my mind to a different perspective of life. It's been a painful experience that has taught me a whole lot of patience, self-love, perseverance, and faith. So apparently, even in the dark moments when you're wondering 'why me', something very good can come out of it and can push you to become stronger than you thought you were. While my fall down might have been an accident, staying down is a choice and I'm choosing to use this experience to grow. We never know how exactly we're going to handle a situation until we're in it but no matter how tough it is, I believe these situations are here to teach us more ourselves and to remind us that this life truly cannot be taken for granted. 

With love,
♥ JJ