The Night Nick Broke his Back

Foreign Service LifeMalawi
May 18, 2017

Last night Nick and I were on the way to a party for Norway’s National Day. It was 6 PM when we arrived, which in Malawi means that it’s pitch black (streetlights are few and far between here and often, even when installed, they aren’t on). We got directed to park by a parking guard. I was driving, so I stepped out onto the road (remember, we drive on the opposite side of the road here). All of a sudden I heard the most horrible guttural moaning and realized something had happened to Nick.

I ran to the other side of the car, turned on my phone light and found him face up in a four-foot deep ditch.

Some quick background info: the roads here suck for the most part. They repair them infrequently, so there are lots of potholes and the edges start to crumble. Add rainy season to that and much of the ground next to roads gets swept away to form deep trenches. And that, my friends, is exactly where I found my husband staring up at me from.

I managed to calm myself enough to call the Embassy and was fortunate enough to get our Health Practitioner immediately. He  promised to be there within 10 minutes.

As we waited for the doc to arrive, we became surrounded by half a dozen police and parking attendants, all of whom wanted to move him. Cue the crazy woman, as I start shouting, “Step back. Do NOT touch him. We have medical help coming.”

True to his word, our Medical Officer arrived about 10 minutes later. I was crying by this point and so worried about my poor husband. He threw on his headlight and jumped down into the ditch with Nick. He did some assessments in the ditch and determined he was okay to move.

One CT Scan later (a steal at $300) we learned that Nick had fractured his T8 vertebrate in a compression fracture to his thoracic spine.

When he initially stepped out of the car and found no ground, he tried to land on his feet, but then fell backward. He curled up his head, neck and upper back and hit the ground flat on his back. Unfortunately, there was some large concrete slab there, not just soft grass and dirt, so the impact was intense.

The fracture should heal over time and for the near future we’ll be focused on pain management. The doctor estimates it’ll be 3 months or so to fully recover. He’s taking the first few weeks off of work and we’ll be playing it by ear from there.

The one big hitch is that we’re just a few weeks away from our big trip to Europe. He was supposed to do a one week live-aboard dive trip in the Red Sea, which unfortunately won’t be happening anymore. We are still hoping that he can do the remaining three weeks of the trip though. Probably would’ve been a good idea to get trip insurance for our four-week trip to Europe. Alas, hindsight 20/20, right?

Please send prayers and healing love our way. He’s going to need it. Also, much gratitude to our amazing Embassy community who has offered to help in a multitude of ways, including taking over the two events I was scheduled to run this weekend. It’s so much easier to get through the hard stuff like this with good support.

Stay tuned for more updates. For now, we rest.

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