Ok, ok, yes, that was a total link bait headline. I didn’t fall from grace. I’m not lucifer. I fell off my roof on Wednesday and I wanted to blog about it so you don’t also fall off your roof. Or something.
Our 75-year-old house sits directly under a sprawling live oak and a towering pecan. You can’t even see the top of our house on Google because of these glorious trees that keep us cool in the hot Carolina summers. However, because of the trees, which are each deciduous, I’m on my roof at least a dozen times a year clearing debris. Yes, I’m always careful. I have never had any desire to fall from the roof.
On Wednesday it was unusually windy. The kind of windy that normally accompanies spring storms. Sometime during the morning I heard something crash onto the roof. I went outside to find a massive limb had broken off of the pecan tree. With a line of severe storms breathing down our necks in Charlotte, I decided to go up to clear it away and check to ensure that it didn’t puncture the shingles before the rain hit.
So I grabbed my long ladder, placed it against the metal ladder guard I installed on the edge of the roof line above my back porch (put there to protect the gutters), and climbed up. Because of the wind, there was debris everywhere. I cleared everything off, chucked the massive branch onto the ground, and started my descent on the ladder when the next thing I know I’m in an ambulance wearing a neck brace.
What the …
“Sir, do you know what month it is?” a large man wearing latex gloves and glasses asked me.
“What month, sir?”
I was wearing a neck brace. What the fuck?
“Sir, do you know your name?”
“What month is it, Jim?”
I had no idea. “I think it’s autumn.”
He started talking to other people through a radio and stuck my left arm with a needle.
“I’m in an ambulance?”
“Yes sir, you fell from your ladder and hit your head.”
I reached up with my right hand to touch my face. I was holding my phone. WTF? I took a selfie to see what damage had been done. Because I didn’t have my glasses on, I couldn’t tell from the photograph. I just knew there was some blood. And the top of my head was on fire.
Sirens. Bouncing. Bouncing. Pain in my back. More bouncing. Fucking potholes. We need new infrastructure, I thought. What month is it?
I arrived at Carolinas Medical Center a few minutes later where they wheeled me into an examining room and proceeded to cut off my tee shirt. “Do you really have to do do that? I love this shirt.” I said. They removed my pants. My God, how bad was I?
“Jim, this is Doctor Somethingorother,” a handsome man in his thirties said to me as he shined a light into my eyes. “Do you know what day it is?”
“Do you know who the president is?”
“Someone I think I like.”
There was chatter all over the room. Even some laughter. Beeping. They attached things to my skin.
“Get him stabilized and get him into CT, stat.”
“Are you in pain, Mr. Mitchem?”
Morphine. Less pain.
“Your wife is here. She’s in another room.”
“Can she see me?”
I gave a thumbs up like a pitcher being wheeled off the field after taking a batted baseball to the head.
I was then wheeled through the hospital where I sat waiting for a CT scan for what seemed like hours. Every time they moved me from gurney to gurney, the pain in my back flared. But I knew it wasn’t structural. I just knew. I was having muscle spasms. As I waited for the CT scan, I moved my feet. That’s good, I thought. Spasms. Spasms. Pain. I pushed the red button. A nurse ran in.
“I need something for pain.”
“We can’t give you pain meds here, sir.”
“I’m very thirsty.”
“We can’t give you any water here, sir.”
“What’s the point of the button then?” I asked.
“In case you pass out.”
“Really?” I asked with some irony.
After the CT scan, I was wheeled back to the ER room where my wife was waiting. She took a look at me in a neck brace and started crying. Then I got worried.
“I’m fine, honey. I can move my legs.”
“What hurts?” she asked.
“My back. My neck. My head. My knees.”
There were cuts on my head, but nothing worthy of stitches. Likewise with my knees. A few minutes later my doctor came in.
“Well, I have some good news. Amazing, actually. You fell fourteen feet. Head first. And the CT scans all came back clean. No brain damage. No spinal damage. You’re a very lucky fellow, Mr. Mitchem. You’ll be sore, but it’s nothing you won’t recover completely from.” He removed the neck brace.
“February.” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “That’s right. You blacked out from the concussion. Everything will start coming back to you shortly.”
And it did.
Except for the fall. I remember putting my foot on the top rung of the ladder when the ladder’s feet slipped. Then I was inside of the ambulance.
My wife drove me home from the hospital. We got Chipotle on the way. I devoured it. I was sore as shit. They gave me Valium for the pain and I was told to rest for a couple days with limited screen time because of the concussion.
Before I fell into a deep, Valium-induced sleep for the rest of the afternoon, my mother in-law, who lives in an apartment above our garage behind our house, came over to check on me and proceeded to tell us both what had happened.
“I heard a crash. I ran outside. The dogs were all crying and licking your face. The ladder was caught between the brick steps and the deck. Your left leg was tangled in the rungs of the ladder. Your face and chest were on the ground. You were passed out. I hurried the dogs inside so I could determine how bad you were hurt. By the time I got back, you were standing, leaning on the deck. I walked you to a chair and you texted Tina. I asked what day it was, and you couldn’t say. Your eyes were foggy. I called 911. They arrived five minutes later.”
I don’t remember any of that. Zero. But I looked at my phone later and sure enough, I texted my wife before the ambulance arrived.
I spent most of Thursday laying low. But laying low is hard for me. So I cleaned up all the debris in the yard, cleaned up my house, had lunch, and popped a couple of Valium before falling asleep watching Full Metal Jacket. But not before my friend Maya from down the street came by with a couple dozen warm oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Concussions have their privileges.
Nearly two days later I’m still sore as shit and there are these big, amazing bruises all over my legs, torso, and arms. But man, do I realize how lucky I am. I attribute this physical resilience to my Scots-Irish DNA, but really I know that Ethan was looking out for me yet again. I hit my head on the metal roof guard and lost consciousness before I fell. A free fall, dead weight. Had I fallen a few inches to the left, my head smashes into the 2×4 railing of my deck. A few inches to the right, my head smashes onto the concrete patio. A few inches the other way, brick steps. You get the picture.
The storm that blew through while I was in the hospital resulted in another big branch on my roof. My OCD wants it down now, but it can wait until the weekend.
I don’t think there’s any moral to this story. Maybe just to check and ensure the feet of your ladders are secure. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just to be grateful for every breath. No, that’s too simple.
Thanks for all your kind words and support these past couple days. My friends are everything. And thanks to the amazing first responders and staff at CMC. I was in and out of there in less than 90 minutes.