Healing From a Fall, Mine and My Horse’s
Miraculously, I escaped the accident with only three fractured ribs, a minor vertebra compression fracture and an accumulation of blood and air in my left lung cavity that had to be drained with a painful chest tube and left me with nerve damage.
It began on March 19, 2017, when the horse Glory reared up unexpectedly, throwing me to the ground—and then fell on me before rolling over. Glory was injured so badly she had to be put down on the spot. I was helicoptered from my friend’s Texas ranch to a trauma center 40 miles away. My friend said, “It was Glory’s time, not yours.” I was lucky: She could have landed on my head or spine.
Since my fall—followed by an eight-day hospital stay, a return to the ranch, a road trip back East and even a trip to Thailand—I have searched for ways to find relief from pain and trauma and to restore wholeness. My openness to different strategies of healing enabled me to cherry-pick what works and what doesn’t, to try something new when that other something wasn’t working.
Healing is a full-time job, sometimes without an end date. Mine began when my head rested on my husband, Adam’s, knee as we waited for the emergency medical service to arrive. I could barely breathe; any movement caused insufferable pain. In those early moments, I started tapping into things I knew—shallow, steady yoga breathing; a gentle calm learned from a Chinese Qigong master; and saying the Shema, as Jews do when in trouble. I also pictured movies and television shows where medics on helicopters flew in to treat the patient. It was surreal that I was starring in this real-life drama, but the good news was that once I was given medication, I was not in a lot of pain. The only distressing thought occurred when they started cutting off my clothes and I was too sedated to object, “Not the Levi jeans!”
Throughout my adult life, I have toggled between Western and alternative medicine, including traditional Chinese medicine and homeopathy. I have also used meditation, drumming and chanting, and have spent many hours in workshops led by rabbis learning to quiet my mind through a deeper connection to God and prayer.
As I lay in my hospital bed, I knew I needed a prayer circle. That need is both in my DNA and reflected in Jewish liturgy, where many prayers use the first-person plural pronouns. The Aleinu, for example, says, “It is our duty….” A hospice rabbi who had visited my mom before she died on March 19, 2018—exactly a year after my accident—equated the power of communal prayer with barbecue charcoals. “Look how much more heat is emitted from the group of charcoals than the one sitting off by itself,” she said.
I have had an eclectic religious upbringing in the Conservative, Reform and Renewal movements—in that order. Being Jewish has always defined who I am. So what does a now unaffiliated Jew do in her hospital bed far from home? She uses Facebook to send out the call for friends to join a virtual circle.
“I had a pretty big (horse) accident yesterday,” I typed. “My spirit is strong, but if any of you have experienced this, please contact me!” Within seconds, I had created a congregation and was receiving heartfelt missives from people across the globe. Rabbi Vivie Mayer, formerly of Congregation B’nai Israel in Danbury, Conn., which my family used to attend, said my Facebook distress call was very “shofar-itic.”
During my recovery, one of my “staff members”—my husband’s term for the physical and occupational therapists, doctors, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, acupuncturists, pharmacists and visiting nurses who attended me—said to focus on a positive outcome. She suggested that I “pay attention to the things I could do, rather than what I couldn’t.” So I set small goals for myself and celebrated even minor victories. Measuring how far I walked was easy. I took a few baby steps at the ranch and months later zoomed to 15,000 steps when we visited New York City. It took me six months to walk without pain. It turns out that fractured ribs are extremely painful and difficult to heal because you are always breathing, so it was a huge victory when I could sleep on my stomach and side instead of being propped up in bed.
One of the biggest challenges was weaning myself off Norco. I wanted to get off the narcotic quickly, fearing the opioid crisis headlines. The doctors and nurses told me to reduce Norco by replacing it with Ibuprofen 600, the equivalent of three Advils. That made sense, but soon I was having problems with my kidneys because of too much Ibuprofen. After six weeks on Norco, I was at a scary standstill.
The solution came from my sister’s Rite Aid pharmacist in Maryland, where we were staying for a short while on our drive east. He told me, “Rather than reducing the dosage per pill”—that is, cutting the Norco in half, which is what I had been doing—“stretch out the frequency. Wait six hours before taking the next pain pill, then make it eight hours, until finally, you are taking one pill every 24 hours.” I followed his strategy and was off Norco within a week. A few days later, I celebrated by driving alone in the car.
I learned firsthand that posttraumatic stress disorder doesn’t just happen to soldiers on the front lines. My trauma physician in Texas, my primary care nurse practitioner as well as my acupuncturist and reiki healer all diagnosed me with PTSD.
One of the things that terrified me was being in a car. So when my daughter, Lili, FaceTimed me so that I could watch her exuberant puppy, Oscar, play in the dog park while Adam was driving me away from the hospital, that video chat was a well-timed distraction that helped me endure the trip.
When we traveled to Thailand this past April, Adam, our son, Kasey, and I rented motorbikes to tour the island where we were vacationing. When I got on what was actually a mini-motorcycle, I felt like I was back on an out-of-control horse, and was unable to ride.
Both Western and Eastern doctors had helpful suggestions to quiet my anxiety. One physician advised me to practice deep breathing hourly with a spirometer, which opens the lungs and prevents pneumonia. An acupuncturist told me to be aware of my tongue placement. When we are in fight or flight mode, the tongue goes on the roof of the mouth. She urged me to move my tongue gently down to the back of my front teeth, and my whole body would relax.
I’ve done many things intuitively to stay positive, like practicing daily meditation using an app called Headspace and tuning in to the live, weekly Kabbalat Shabbat service of Manhattan’s Central Synagogue. I also used EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) “tapping” to help with the pain. Like acupuncture and acupressure, EFT uses the body’s energy median points for healing. I also took Chinese herbs to prevent blood stagnation and religiously drank ginger and turmeric tea, which are natural anti-inflammatories.
Rabbi Emeritus Alvin Sugarman, who was the spiritual leader at The Temple in Atlanta when I was growing up, told me after the accident: “Life should be lived as a thank you note to God.” My most powerful healing strategy has been expressing gratitude, beginning with the caring love of family and close friends. My ever-growing list also includes Medicare and supplemental health insurance, azaleas, sunsets, playlists and, most important, finally being able to thank Glory for not harming me even more in her last act on Earth.
I reached another benchmark when, a month after the accident, a friend started teasing me about getting back on a horse. Humor had helped him recover from prostate cancer, but I wasn’t ready to appreciate a joke yet. A few weeks later, however, Adam and I were out shopping when he saw a kid’s mechanical horse and said, “Jump on. I’ll take your picture.” I did, and later that day I posted the photograph on Facebook with the caption, “This horse is more my speed, or should I say, steed!”
At that moment, with my sense of humor back in play, I knew I was going to be O.K.
Patricia Giniger Snyder is a freelance video producer and writer. Since selling their home in Pound Ridge, N.Y., in December 2016, she and her husband have been on the move, living in places for a month or more at a time.