A version of this story recently featured in Radio Nationals Life Matters (Thursday June 28) on ‘Life in 500 Words: Life Changing Experiences‘.
How could I look so happy?
The car crash that left me with a sardine-can car and a broken neck happened seven years ago. I thought I had avoided cameras for the three months I was in that Minerva brace. Until this photo arrived in my inbox —–>
The plaits and the huge grin make me look like an ageing schoolgirl.
I can explain the plaits: the wearing of a device that extends at the rear to the top of your head plays havoc with long hair. I recalled the first time I washed my hair (or rather my daughter got into the shower and washed it for me). Her attempts to comb out weeks of knots from the bird’s nest on my head caused us both so much distress, I nearly asked her to shave it all off.
The grin is not so easily explained.
I’d been a prisoner in that contraption for nearly ninety days when this shot was taken. The shapeless tracksuit was two sizes too large for me, to accommodate the metal girders around my torso. Probably closer to three sizes by the time this photo was taken. I didn’t know I was shrinking underneath the weight of my cage until we parted company.
A Minerva brace doesn’t allow you to turn your head or tilt it back to drink.
It forces you to sleep straight-backed and pillowless. It only loosens its grip for five minutes every fortnight, when a nurse comes to change the linings. Every two weeks I would lie—naked but for the brace—on my towel-lined bed, hair wet from its fortnightly shampoo. Eyes closed, I would feel the bands around my torso loosen and the wet linings make way for fluffy new linings. The sheer bliss of that five minutes of freedom was akin to the pause between contractions. Compared to the before and after, it was a kind of ecstasy.
So how could I look so happy?
Because I was The Girl Who Lived – to see her children grow up, to say good bye to a failing marriage and to experience the enormous capacity for kindness of family, friends and consequential strangers. And because I had an empty piccolo of prosecco with a straw in it on one side and my squad on the other.