Horseback Riding Accident + Pelvic Fractures
For the past 10 months or so, I’ve been horseback riding every Friday morning here on the farm. It’s become one of my favorite activities and I look forward to it each week. Riding has been the best pandemic hobby and I’ve even started showjumping lessons twice a week with plans to compete later this year.
Friday, 9 April, I woke up really excited for my ride, and unlike most days when I wake up tired, I remember feeling really energized. The ride was going great and I was feeling strong and confident on the horse. Until I wasn’t…
My riding instructor and I were galloping about a kilometer away from the house and nearing the end of the ride when my horse saw something out of the corner of her eye and got a fright (I later found out it was water troughs). She spooked to the left, jerked her body quite hectically, and I got thrown off.
Since I’d started riding, I’d never fallen off a horse. I was quite happy about that fact, but people kept telling me that it had to happen for me to be a “real” rider. Or at least, if I rode long enough I was bound to fall off eventually. So, as I started falling off the horse, I had the brief thought, “Well, this is it. I guess this is the time that I finally fall”, and I was accepting of the fact. I really thought it wouldn’t be a big deal and I was just ‘getting it over with’. Once I hit the ground, I felt differently.
The moment I landed I was in agonizing pain. I immediately started screaming, “HELP, HELP!”, and begging for my riding instructor to help me.
I had the weirdest reaction to the pain. I had an intense impulse to move. I felt like I had to crawl, so as I was screaming for help, I just started crawling and rolling around in the dirt and grass. My riding instructor raced over to me and told me to sit still, but I kept saying, “No, I need to move!”. I tried crawling, rolling, crouching, but nothing made the pain go away. My mom thinks this was my fight or flight response kicking in and my reaction was flight (or in this case, crawl). I think, in my mind, crawling was going to make the pain go away and prove that I was okay.
You know how sometimes when you get hurt, the initial pain is quite bad but after a moment or two, the pain goes away and you start to feel better? Or when you get the wind knocked out of you and you think you are going to die but a few moments later you start breathing normally again and feel totally fine? Well, I kept hoping that would happen. I kept thinking, “This is just the initial shock. The pain will start to go away in a moment”. But moments passed and the pain never went away.
I told my instructor to call for help, so he called the woman who owns the stables and the farm. Luckily, he had his phone because I never ride with mine, and if he didn’t have his, he would have had to ride back to the stables and leave me alone, writhing in pain on the ground.
If you are wondering what happened to my horse after I fell, I too was curious. In the moment, I only briefly thought about it, but I later asked my instructor and he told me what happened. Apparently, after Lady spooked and I fell off, she kept galloping and eventually slowed to a walk. And then… SHE WALKED HERSELF BACK TO THE STABLES! For some reason, when I was told this, I couldn’t stop laughing. I find it hilarious to think of a horse walking herself back to her stable in full kit after her rider fell off. Just casually sauntering back like, “I didn’t do anything. This is normal. Nothing to see here.”
Apparently, the boys at the stable saw Lady walking back and panicked. They thought my instructor had fallen off the horse but quickly realized that I was riding Lady.
Okay, back to me lying in the dirt and grass in severe pain. Eventually, once help was on the way, I stopped crawling and moving. I was laying on my right side with my knees bent. This was the only semi-comfortable position I could manage. The most intense pain was in my lower back – it felt like my spine had been compressed – which was extremely worrying. I tried moving my toes and kept asking my instructor if he could see them moving. He reassured me that they were, which calmed me down a lot.
I was still in a severe amount of pain and trying to breathe through it. Something to know about me is that when I am in pain or scared or just overall not feeling great, one of my coping mechanisms is to hold hands. There are some hilarious pictures of me on the top of a bridge about to bungee jump begging the guide to hold my hands. Anyway, as we waited for help to arrive, I desperately asked my instructor to hold my hand and we sat there for what felt like an eternity.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone standing nearby holding the reins of my instructor’s horse. I later found out he is a worker on the farm and had been nearby when the accident happened. I assume he heard my screaming and came over.
Once the owner of the farm arrived and assessed the situation, she asked me if she should call Alex. I told her that Alex was out of town (he was at a lodge in the Lower Zambezi for work, but only about 4 hours away) but instead to call Val, Alex’s mom. I could hear some of the conversation but zoned out for a lot of it. I heard her ask Val to call an ambulance and Val said she was on her way.
As I was laying waiting for the ambulance to arrive, a lot of people started to show up. Overall, 10 people were there trying to help me as I was moaning through the pain and begging for relief. I remember consciously trying to be polite and kind to people despite the pain I was in because I know how easy it is to yell at people when in pain. I tried saying ‘thank you’ as often as I could and apologizing every time I screamed when the pain was too intense.
MOVING to the ambulance
It took about half an hour from the time of the accident to the time when the ambulance arrived, and then another half an hour from when the paramedics arrived to when I actually was put in the ambulance. It took so long because every time they wanted to move me, I was in so much pain I begged for them to stop.
Once the paramedics did an initial assessment of my injuries, they could tell that my pelvis was most likely the most damaged. They put a brace around my pelvis (yeah, that hurt) to hold everything in place for when they eventually moved me.
The main paramedic gave me some morphine drops in my mouth, which marginally helped with the pain, but when he tried giving me an injection of morphine it felt like the needle was touching my bone so I screamed, “GET THAT OUT OF ME!” (and then quickly apologized haha).
The half an hour between the ambulance arriving and getting into the ambulance is a bit of a blur, mostly because of the amount of pain I was in. I remember people asking for my house keys and then asking me where my phone, insurance card, and passport were in the house so they could collect my belongings for me. I remember asking people when the adrenaline would kick in so the pain would go away or when I would pass out (I desperately wanted to be unconscious). I remember being told that it was a good sign that I could feel the pain and that I was conscious. I remember someone telling me that the morphine shot would make the pain go away (this was after I screamed to get the needle out). I remember my instructor holding my feet up for 30 minutes because when they drooped down out the car door, it was extremely painful.
Since moving me was proving impossible, the paramedics decided to start an IV drip and gave me morphine through the IV. Once that kicked in I was still in pain but it was much more manageable. They were able to use a “scoop” – it’s a paramedic device, kind of like a stretcher cut in half that they put on either side of you and connect underneath – and they were able to get me into the ambulance. I was still on my right side with my knees bent because my lower back hurt so much, anytime they wanted to roll me onto my back, I begged them not to.
the emergency room
The ambulance ride was about 30 minutes. They didn’t use the sirens, but I wasn’t in as much pain, so I wasn’t upset about it. I was alone in the ambulance with the paramedics and I chatted with them a bit. Val and her husband, Johno, planned to meet me at the hospital. All in all, it was about an hour and a half between the accident happening and when I finally arrived at the hospital.
I was taken to the ER where I saw the doctor and he did a brief exam. I saw so many people and doctors during the few hours in the ER, I’m not sure which doctor I saw and when. Because of COVID-19, Val and Johno weren’t able to see me in the ER. The doctor ordered a CT scan since I was in too much pain and it was too difficult to put me in position to get an x-ray. I remember the CT scan was a bit delayed because there was debate about whether or not I was registered with the hospital.
I had my CT and on the way back to the ER, I was able to chat with Val. She said that she had left a message with Alex, but since he was in the Lower Zambezi with little cell service, she hadn’t talked to him. She asked if she should call my mom and dad, but I said to wait until we knew the results of the CT scan, especially because it was the middle of the night in the States.
I remember asking every ER doctor and nurse if I could have water but they wouldn’t give me any because I might have needed surgery and my stomach had to be empty. I don’t remember how long I waited but eventually, my doctor came in and said the standard, “I have good news and bad news”. He said that I had multiple pelvic fractures but they were stable and I didn’t need surgery. I was not shocked at all. With the amount of pain I was in, I would have been shocked if nothing was broken. I asked him if Val could come in and he could tell her the diagnosis as well. Val was allowed to come in and the doctor told her the news. He said I would need 6 weeks of total bed rest but no surgery. Val said that was good news. I was less convinced.
An assistant actually came in and said that my tailbone was broken and a piece was floating in my body and I would need surgery to get it removed. When I asked my doctor about it later, he said the assistant mistook my IUD for a piece of my tailbone. How funny is that?
The doctor planned to admit me to the hospital and I would have to stay a few days. He said the first few days of a pelvic fracture are the most painful and he wanted to monitor me and give me the good pain meds (which I couldn’t get at home). However, he also said that because of COVID-19, I wasn’t allowed visitors while I was in the hospital. This would prove to be almost more challenging than the actual fractures. Val dropped off my bag with my ID, cell phone, toothbrush, pajamas, and a few other things and then went home. I waited in the ER a while because I had to get a COVID-19 test before I was transferred to a room in the main part of the hospital.
Interestingly enough, my next-door neighbor, Jess, was also at the hospital at the same time. Jess had broken her elbow about a week before and was at the hospital for an appointment. She actually left for her appointment about the same time that I was waiting for the ambulance. Apparently, she had offered to drive me to the hospital before she realized how serious it was and that I needed an ambulance. She also tried to see me when I was in the ER but wasn’t allowed.
Alex eventually got the message that I was in the hospital and he immediately left the lodge and started the drive to Lusaka.
Anyway, I think this blog post is long enough. I can write a second post about my 6-day hospital stay and another one about what’s it like being home if you are interested (let’s be honest, I’ll probably write it anyway haha).
Thank you so much for your support during this time! For more updates on my injury and recovery, check out my Instagram @MorganThroughALens.
I also made a YouTube video about the ordeal, which you can watch here:
If you have any advice for healing from a pelvis fracture, let me know in the comments. If you are suffering from a pelvis fracture and have any questions (or if don’t have a pelvis fracture, but are just curious), leave them in the comments section!