In 2013, when Emma Carey was 20, she went on a European summer holiday.
She still finds it strange how normal she felt that Sunday morning in June, when she decided to go skydiving in the Swiss alps. Even those first few seconds, as she was free-falling from 14,000ft, felt “incredible”.
Then she noticed something was wrong. Her tangled parachute hadn’t opened fully, and as she saw the ground coming, she was certain she was going to die.
Em landed on her stomach, fully conscious. She couldn’t move her legs, and she couldn’t get up. She had broken her spine and her pelvis, and doctors said she would be confined to a wheelchair for life.
Now, five years later, Em has just returned from a very different kind of European holiday. For the first time, she revisited the place of her accident.
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So here is it… welcome to the spot where I landed. I’ve learnt on this trip that you never really know how things are going to make you feel and there’s no point in even trying to anticipate them. I went here ready to feel whatever I needed to but surprisingly nothing came, and I felt completely fine. As I looked around, all I could think was how the heck did we survive? How on earth were we lucky enough to land on grass?! The field is surrounded by alps, trees, cliffs, lakes, buildings… yet we landed right here, 2 metres away from a hard, asphalt road. That’s when I realised… this ground didn’t break me, not at all. It caught me. I learnt very early on in this whole journey that your happiness in life is based on one main thing and that’s perspective. Whether you see the glass as half full or half empty. Whether you see a skydiving accident as lucky for surviving, or unlucky for happening in the first place. Whether you can forgive and find compassion, or hold anger and spend your life in hatred. Whether you are thankful for landing on grass, or resent that you didn’t land on your feet. Whether you are grateful for walking, or are ashamed of having a limp. People often ask me how I choose the glass half full option and to me it’s simple… I would prefer to be happy. This place changed my life in ways I’m still learning even five years on, but how lucky am I that I got to stand here today… STAND. On the same two legs which stopped working in this very spot. My friend once said something to me which summed it up perfectly. He said ‘the ground was hard enough to change you but soft enough to keep you.’ I like that a lot. PS. Sorry for the last photo… I couldn’t not ????????♀️???? PPS. Anyone else notice the difference in the sky?
Back in Australia, she’s determined to share the reality of what it’s like to live with a spinal cord injury – something she knew nothing about five years ago.
On Wednesday, the now 25-year-old posted a series of videos to her Instagram story, documenting the details of living with her injury.
“When I woke up, I saw someone did a post saying it’s World Spinal Cord Injury Day, so I thought what I would do is I would film my day today on stories, and show you some parts of my day and my life that are injury-related that you might not know about, which are just daily things,” she said.
“Obviously you need to remember that every spinal cord injury is completely different, some people have certain symptoms and problems that other people don’t have… so I’m just going to be showing my personal issues that I live with.”
Filming from her bed, Carey explains that she typically sleeps around four to five hours a night due to pain, and also because she stays up late to do her last catheter.
“Every morning when I wake up, I’ve weed, so I’m wet right now and I really need to get up and shower,” she says. “So I sleep on… a washable pee-pad thing, and obviously I also wear the incontinence pads.”
Carey's spinal injury means her bowels don't work, leaving her "completely incontinent".
As soon as she gets up, Carey does a catheter, which involves "sticking it in your bladder, and draining it into the toilet".
Then, on this particular day, she goes to the gym. "I'm lucky that I'm at the point where I can just use a regular gym and the regular equipment, but obviously I have to monitor certain exercises," she says.
"For me personally, one of the biggest things I struggle with in the gym is balance, because apparently, you use the feeling in your legs to... tell your legs where they are in relation to your body."
Carey works out with her friend Bec, who she lives with, and who also used to be her exercise physiologist, so understands the exercises she can and can't do.
Back at home, Carey describes that while she was sitting on the floor filming for ten minutes, she peed, so now has to change. She says that one of the comments she receives most often from people about her incontinence is, "why don't you use incontinence pads?"
"Well, let me tell you..." she says.
"I am, I always do, they're really big... a lot bigger than a regular period pad. I've tried a heap of different ones and these are definitely the most absorbent ones I've found, and I wear them literally 24/7, but there's only so much they can hold."
Carey continued filming on Thursday, after "so many things happened injury-wise" on Wednesday (apparently involving lots of poo in a very public setting).
"So the next thing I want to show you is probably the thing that people really dislike the most about this injury, which is doing a number two," she says.
"Because I no longer have any control over my bowels, that means a number of things. First of all, I can't feel when I need to go, I can't push... like I honestly don't even remember how you do that, and thirdly I have a lot of accidents because I can't control if it just starts happening."
"But the thing that I do, and most people I know that have a spinal cord injury, is an enema every morning, and that kind of helps you control it a bit more... because then you're less likely to have stuff in your bowels later on in the day that's just going to come out with no warning, like yesterday. Mate, that was bad."
Carey describes getting into a 'bowel routine,' because if you do an enema at the same time every day, your body becomes accustomed to it.
These are aspects of life with a spinal cord injury that many of us know little about.
But by sharing her experience, with honesty, humour, and authenticity, Em Carey is doing us all a service. And it's one that deserves to be commended.
Follow Em on Instagram here.