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‘The Girl Who Fell from the Sky’: How I Survived a Skydiving Accident

“I was so excited when I set off from my home in Canberra, Australia to go on a three-month trip around Europe with a friend. I had planned all sorts of bucket-list-worthy things, including doing a skydive over the Alps in Switzerland. I’d always wanted to do it in that exact spot so I couldn’t wait to get up there.

I’m an adrenaline junkie, so I wasn’t nervous at all. I went first, diving out of the plane with an instructor strapped to my back, and it was exhilarating. We fell fast, but because I’d never done it before I couldn’t tell anything was wrong at first.

The photo that makes people cray haha. So this was taken about 10 seconds before I jumped out of the helicopter… Meaning I’m about 1 minute away from paraplegia. – Isn’t it incredible how life can be one thing and in a single moment it becomes something entirely different. Like one second I’m this carefree girl traveling the world, who worries about a boy and what I’m going to have for dinner later and if I’m going to look like shit in my skydive video and the next second, I’m not her anymore. – I watched a movie on time travel last night (no idea what it’s called) but the point is that every time the guy went back and changed something from the past, the entire future was different, not just for him but for everyone. Every tiny thing we do has an effect that ripples throughout the course of our lifetime and even beyond that. Sometimes when he tried to correct the past by altering what he believed to be a bad situation, it actually made the future worse than it would have been otherwise. – So the question is… If you could go back in time and change the bad, would you risk taking away the future you have now? Or do you trust that is was all for a reason and that you’re exactly where you are meant to be?

A post shared by EMMA CAREY (@em_carey) on Mar 10, 2015 at 3:46am PDT

After a while I noticed the parachute hadn’t opened up, so I asked my instructor what was going on. I got no answer, but the wind was loud so I assumed he couldn’t hear me. We kept falling, plunging straight down at high speed, and there was still no sign of the parachute. ‘Why isn’t he answering me?’, I thought. When I turned round to look at my instructor I realised it had all gone terribly wrong.

As it turned out, both the normal parachute and the emergency one had come out of the backpack at the same time and had become tangled. One of the cords had wrapped around my instructor’s neck and strangled him unconscious.

I panicked. He obviously couldn’t untangle the parachutes, and I couldn’t do anything to save us, so we just kept falling, really, really fast.

“I was certain we were about to die”

I was certain we were about to die. We were going so fast; how could it be possible to survive something like that? It seems obvious, but all that was going through my head was, ‘I really don’t want to die’. Until that moment I’d never really appreciated my life. I had just taken it for granted.

We continued plummeting, and it felt like forever. We were dropping at speed, but I had so much time to think. And then, we landed.

PART 1 – Why are we going straight down? The ground is getting closer and the parachute is below me. I know nothing about skydiving but I know this isn’t right. We’re falling so fast and the ground is right there. He’s not answering me. I don’t know what to do. Why isn’t the parachute above us? Holy shit. I’m about to die. I’m actually going to die. I wonder what being dead feels like. The ground is right there. This is the last thing I’ll ever see. I wonder if I’ll even know I’m dead. Why won’t he answer me? I wonder if they know I love them. 3, 2, 1. Here it is. #tobecontinued

A post shared by EMMA CAREY (@em_carey) on Feb 15, 2017 at 4:06am PST

 

I hit the floor first, with my instructor still strapped to my back, and all I could feel at first was shock. I’d survived. How had I survived? I felt such gratitude to still be alive.

We’d landed in the middle of a field, just metres from a concrete road – the paramedics later told me if we’d landed on the road we’d both definitely have been killed. My mouth was full of blood and my whole body was in the most intense pain I’d ever felt, but I knew I had to try to get help. The instructor was still on my back, and I thought he was dead (though he somehow survived too) so I tried to roll over to get him off me. That was how I discovered I couldn’t move anything from my stomach down – not my legs, not my toes, not my abs – I couldn’t even roll over.

I couldn’t move anything and I couldn’t feel anything, and it was the most devastating realisation. A minute ago I had been totally fine; now I was paralysed and probably wouldn’t ever be able to walk again. It was horrible. I remember feeling in that moment like I just wished I had died in the accident.

A short while later, the friend who jumped after me landed with her instructor. They must have seen what happened and followed us down, where they rang for an air ambulance and I was airlifted to hospital.

“I was telling the doctors and nurses to kill me”

I had broken my pelvis and shattered my teeth. I broke my spine in two places and suffered a spinal cord injury — that was why I couldn’t move the lower half of my body — but on the outside I barely even had scratches.

I can’t remember it because I was on such strong painkillers at the time, but during my first week in hospital I was telling the doctors and nurses to kill me. My mom and sister had flown over and the consultants told us I was a paraplegic and was unlikely ever to walk again. I was beside myself, I didn’t know how I would cope living life in a wheelchair.

Story time. I got sent an email yesterday which made me cry. It was from my nurse in Switzerland who looked after me the first few nights after my accident. She randomly stumbled across an article of me and recognized me even though we haven’t seen or spoken to each other in nearly 3 years. It really means a lot that she contacted me because I’ve always wondered what I was like emotionally during that time (I don’t remember much from the first week because I was put on so many drugs and my memory is patchy). She said so many beautiful things to me but also reminded me of how miserable I was in those first days. The reason I wanted to share this with you guys is so you understand that things weren’t always how they are. There was a time when I absolutely hated my life and genuinely wanted to die. When this picture was taken, I had been told I was a paraplegic and was under the impression I would never walk again, I had been dumped by someone who meant the world to me and to top it off I was in a foreign country where most of the doctors couldn’t speak English. It’s so easy to look up to people and forget that they weren’t always ‘inspirational’ or ‘positive’. There was a time when their struggles weren’t beautiful and uplifting, they were just plain struggles. My point is.. if you’re going through a traumatic time and it feels like your world is ending, there is still so much hope for you. Your worst moment could end up becoming the beginning of the most incredible journey of your life, but only if you let it. Things don’t just happen, you have to MAKE them happen, and that’s what people tend to forget. Imagine if someone told me 3 years ago when I was back in that hospital bed that I would be sitting here today; happy, in love, back on my feet, typing out this message to thousands of people who support me and look up to me… I have goosebumps because I wouldn’t have believed them at all. Don’t ever let an event define you. Create your own reality and remember that no matter what happens you are always responsible for writing the rest of your story. I am so much more than what happened to me and so are you. Never forget it 💛 #iammorethan

A post shared by EMMA CAREY (@em_carey) on Jan 19, 2016 at 2:43am PST

 

When I came off the painkillers my attitude started to change. I was still devastated, but at the same time I thought, ‘this is what I’ve got to deal with, I’ll find a way to make it work’. I didn’t have a choice, I was just going to have to do what I had to do and get through it.

After a month in hospital in Switzerland, I was allowed to fly back to Sydney with my family where I stayed on the spinal ward of a hospital for another three months. I did physio every day to try to improve what little movement I had and somehow, very slowly, I started to see progression. Over the course of the following year, I began being able to move my feet, and then my knees, and eventually my legs. I couldn’t believe it.

“I don’t know how or why I learned to walk again, it was a mixture of luck and determination”

I stayed positive and began walking with a walking frame, and it all went from there. Soon I was walking with two crutches, then just one, and miraculously one day, with the physios right behind me, I took my first steps on my own. Everyone on the ward was there watching me, and we were all just shocked. I don’t know how or why I learned to walk again; I think it was a mixture of luck and determination.

Two years ago today was probably the best day of my life. It was the first day I walked again after being told I never would again. It was only a few steps with crutches and it was sooo hard but I remember I was just so so happy 😊💭

A post shared by EMMA CAREY (@em_carey) on Aug 1, 2015 at 4:51pm PDT

The lasting effects of my accident are permanent, though. I walk with a limp because some of the muscles in my legs still don’t work, and I still don’t have feeling from below the level of injury, so I can’t feel my legs and my pelvic region at all. I get tired easily, but the biggest change I’ve had to adapt to is my loss of bladder and bowel control. I have to use catheters to pee because I can’t make myself go at all, and I have a lot of accidents. It took a long time to get comfortable with, but I’ve got used to it now and it’s just become the new normal.

All my friends and family know, and I pretty much tell people within about 5 minutes of meeting them. If I was embarrassed about it I can’t imagine how hard it would be to live day-to-day – I can go 10 times a day peeing myself. I’ve never been ashamed of it, it’s just something I have to live with, so I started being open about it online and the response I’ve had has been amazing. People with the same problems have got in touch saying thank you, that they’ve been embarrassed about it, but that they’re going to try telling some of their friends because there shouldn’t be anything to hide.

Where relationships are concerned, it’s definitely is hard for someone new to adjust. I’m very different to the average 24-year-old; I get sick a lot, I’m in hospital a lot, I can’t do a lot of things other people want to do, so it can be harder for people to adjust to that. But dating hasn’t really been on my radar yet. I feel like I’m very focused on myself at the moment.

“I missed having a body that worked the way I wanted it to work”

For the first year after my accident, I was really positive, but there have also been some down times. When it really sunk in that the injury was permanent, that it would be with me for my whole life, that was hard. I wouldn’t say I got depressed but it struck me how real it all was, and all the emotions I probably should have been feeling that whole year just hit me at once. I missed having a body that worked the way I wanted it to work, and I missed feeling 20-years-old — I felt so old.

I’ve had to grow up fast over the past four years. I had originally planned to go on my big holiday around Europe and then come home, go to uni and get a job. But when I came back everything changed; I couldn’t work, my whole life was about recovery, going to physio and getting better, and I lost a lot of friends in that time. It sucked, but in hindsight it was good to see who would be there in a hard time and who wouldn’t.

 

Despite everything that’s happened, so many positives have come out of my skydiving accident. I’ve been able to travel again – completing the trip I never got to finish last time – and my beliefs and my perspective of the world totally changed. I appreciate everything so much more.

Miss me? 😜 sorry I’ve been a bit quiet on here for the past month but I’ve been out enjoying the real world. I know it should go without saying but there is a whole world out there beyond social media and we can sometimes get caught up and forget that. It’s so important to be able to enjoy a moment for what it is without feeling the need to perfect and share it. Traveling the world is probably the most obvious time to get my camera out but funnily enough I’ve barely taken a photo this entire trip. Don’t get me wrong, I normally love vlogging and capturing moments for you guys but it’s been a really nice change to just see the world through my eyes rather than through a camera lens. If you find yourself endlessly scrolling, try going a week without social media and see what changes. Look up from your phone, make real connections with the people around you and soak up your surroundings. But most importantly… don’t forget to spread good vibes in real life and not just online 😉

A post shared by EMMA CAREY (@em_carey) on Jul 25, 2016 at 5:19am PDT

One of the main things that has changed is the way I view my body. I used to just think of it as an object, something you look at for physical appearance only, but now I think about how my legs can take me from place to place, and how my arms enable me to write and draw. I think of all the things our bodies do for us rather than just how they look.

I don’t really let the little things bother me anymore. I feel a lot calmer and happier, and everything seems a lot clearer, like nothing really matters.

Things I’ve learned since experiencing crazy health issues the past few months… 💭 – The people who love you will be there in a heartbeat and you’ll quickly learn the people who don’t. – Dead feet smell so bad it’s actually revolting. – Happiness is not circumstantial. It’s completely possible to be ridiculously happy even if life is screaming at you not to be. – Pain is so valuable. If I was able to feel the pain in my foot/bum when I was hurting myself, I wouldn’t be in this situation. Notice the pain you feel physically and emotionally, and know that it is your body and heart telling you that something isn’t right. – You know your body better than any doctor ever will. – Any form of mobility is a blessing. Even sitting in a wheelchair is a luxury and until a few days ago, this is something I never even thought to appreciate.. – Time heals all wounds (buuuut massive holes in your feet tend to take a little longer than most). – Laughter is the quickest way to put your body in a state of healing. Surround yourself with people who can make you laugh so much your face hurts, because their friendship is stronger than any medicine. – Don’t forget to learn. Bad things don’t just happen for the sake of being bad, they are here to teach you a lesson. Don’t let them go to waste.

A post shared by EMMA CAREY (@em_carey) on Feb 22, 2017 at 3:08pm PST

I remember so clearly thinking in the hospital how I had a choice: I could either dwell on all the things that I lost — that I can’t run or feel my legs anymore — or I could just think of all the things that I still had. I still have my arms; I still have my eyesight. I can still do so much, and that’s incredibly lucky considering I could so easily have lost my life.”