What having an injury taught me about vulnerability

 

Reliance on others is often associated with getting older. For most fortunate people, dependency is only an issue to be considered sometime in the future. For an otherwise healthy 28-year-old writer living in Melbourne, it came as a potent side-effect of an unexpected accident. BETSAN JONES shares her story.

If someone had told me, this time last year, that within the next six months I would suffer two broken bones in my neck and recover completely, it’s safe to say I would have balked at the idea. I broke my neck fainting at home. A night-time trip to the bathroom resulted in me, collapsed in a heap in my hallway, half a tooth missing, a hefty dent in my nose from where I’d hit a bowl on the way down, with two broken bones in my neck.

Of course, I didn’t know this at the time. Unsure of the extent of my injuries – and knowing the cost of an ambulance ride – my housemate helped me into an Uber and shuttled me to the nearest hospital.

The nearest hospital happened to be a private hospital. Comfortable surroundings and attentive staff greeted me on the way in. An ideal situation, had it not been for the fact that I had no health insurance. A British resident living overseas, all I had to offer was a reciprocal healthcare agreement and a Medicare card.

Although I was transferred to a public hospital for the remainder of my treatment, the accident resulted in hefty and unexpected bills. The 24-hour virus that made me black out taught me to expect the unexpected (and the importance of ambulance cover). It also taught me how to be vulnerable.

Vulnerability is something I’ve struggled with in my life. It takes a very brave soul to be emotionally vulnerable, and most of the time I’m fiercely independent. Most of the time.

With a broken neck, I wasn’t allowed to be. Thankfully, the stability of my breaks meant I didn’t need surgery, so instead, I wore a neck brace for three months following the accident. Awake and asleep, even in the shower. It meant not looking anywhere but straight forward. This put my vulnerability into sharp focus, as I wasn’t able to look away.

I got by on a little help from my friends. Despite my protestations my friend put me up in her house, in her own bed, because it was comfier than the futon in the spare room where she and her partner relocated. They devised a cardboard wedge for the sofa so I could sit upright without straining my neck. In the beginning, my friend helped me to eat. Later, she helped me to wash myself. All of a sudden, I felt old and frail and dependent, and overwhelmingly grateful. All barriers and all defences were down. I needed other people to survive.

I learnt it’s not bad to need people. I discovered that friendships deepen and your life becomes richer in so many ways when you allow yourself to lean on someone else. Sometimes it takes a big life event for this to happen, but it could be just about opening your heart a little, and often, to see where, and to whom, it takes you.

 

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