Dying to Fail or Failing to Die
Dying to Fail or Failing to Die
In September 2016, I was commissioned by a friend to photograph a product, which he had grown into a hugely profitable entrepreneurial venture.
It was the longest, fastest Zipline in Europe. Over 1 mile in length with top speeds exceeding 100mph. The top quarter-mile contoured the slope of a slate mountain and mine, and then as the grey slate steepened, the ground fell away, and the Zipline swooped four hundred feet over a turquoise lake left by the old quarry, it is gorgeous.
Almost everyone in the United Kingdom knows of this Zipline. It's called "Velocity," and carries two people every fifteen minutes all day, every day, all year round.
It's booked well over a year in advance, and participants pay about $100 a ride. I got mine for free.
I do extreme sports, and this is the closest thing a person without training can get to an extreme mountain experience. When I rode it the first time, I remember taking a little gasp at a particular point in the ride. I would get to know that spot intimately later.
After some discussion and essential planning, we decided to test the line with a photographer (that's me) and one participant (the owner), so we could get a feel for it before using "Talent" later. I felt like I did my part. I was thinking, "low to the ground at a known distance from the subject; I could shoot at a 125th or even a 250th and get a good sense of ground rush. Obviously, the closer you are to the ground, the more potent that feeling is. I think you will agree I did prove the method to a certain extent.
The Image is strong and looks adventurous. If only the subject's expression were of unmitigated excitement and joy instead of dread, it might be better. Personally, I don't mind the terror, it's genuine, and I like talent to look as though they aren't trying too hard, the work should look natural. I like them to believe the illusion we are creating if they believe it so will the viewers. Anyway, back to our hero's expression: In this case, it informs me that we might have a problem.
Technically there isn't much I'd change. Better light would have been nice, and depending on the direction of the sun perhaps a little fill, but seriously, @JimmyChin, sometimes you have to let go of the fill. Not literally mind you, what I mean is don't even bother with it, it will just slow you down, and you'll lose that spontaneous moment. HDR can save you a little, but you have to be judicious in its use.
After "getting," the shot, I struck the mountain with my right knee and then simultaneously both elbows. My advice to anyone planning an accident is to ensure you're going to break the joint surfaces of your limbs. It makes your recovery so more of an experience, and as we know, what doesn't kill you makes you damaged. You'll want to spend time in recovery practicing mindfulness. I know I did. You'll need a good bit of luck when the slate and your bones are meeting and turning to dust.
After day three in a "Socialist" hospital in Wales, which gave me free, I repeat free, and excellent trauma surgery and free pain medication and repeat prescriptions, I was moved by ambulance to a private hospital in Manchester for the nerve graft replacement surgery. The private hospital was nicer, but it was not free. It was expensive, and the people who dealt with the financial part were rather rude.
The surgeon's notes stated that my elbows were "decimated." I wouldn't disagree. My right elbow was in about six pieces and my left four, so they used various plates and screws and twisted wire to make sense if them again, but as I mentioned, sizeable parts were missing leaving gaping holes. My right patella was in two pieces, and the lower half had detached, hanging about on the end of a thick ligament (thickened I am told by all the ultra running I do). You never know when you'll be grateful for all the hours of lonely plodding that you have accumulated.
All the injuries were "Complicated." This term means that the bones and or foreign bodies had broken through the skin, contaminating the wounds. There was a mixture of rock debris and moss and a sprinkling of lichen in them. This led later to a pseudomonas infection (not great, Google it), which in turn led to a phone from a doctor instructing me to go immediately to a hospital for four more days whilst a PIC line was inserted into my right bicep. The line ran in a vein that popped out in the atrium above my heart. This meant I was mainlining antibiotics, into the mixing station directly above my heart. From here, antibiotic infused blood coursed throughout my body, reaching every cell and killing off all manner of microbial infestation, whether healthy or not. That was in hospital number three. I was then packed off home after the weekend to administer the twice-daily intravenous injections myself. (Google it). This most recent schedule I had to stick to for 18 days total and involved some four syringes per session. When the infection was beaten, I was free and clear to go for surgery numero cinq-o. It's hard to keep track.
I have had 22 hours of surgery in four different hospitals in three different countries on two different continents. When you give yourself a "hi-speed polytrauma," expect severe damage to your limbs and nerve grafts from the one uninjured limb to beef up the damaged ones. Also, make sure you have a producer on the job who knows their stuff. Have insurance and have a contract. It's all worthwhile. Forget about the friendly favor thing. It can mess you up. I'd undoubtedly follow that advice in the future.
Six weeks later, after being nursed by my lady, Susan Robohm, for all that time (remember, I can do nothing for myself, nothing), we returned to the USA and found the best elbow specialist on the planet. Dr. Robert Hotchkiss at the Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC. He's on call for the Giants or is it the Mets or the Knicks, anyway, they are an American sports team, and they don't play soccer, so obviously Dr.H ain't no slacker.
Dr. H is the most remarkable human being I've met in a white coat. He is the proverbial sh*t. I had a couple of surgeries on my right elbow with him over a couple of years, and that was hospital numero quarto. After our first surgery together, I had to endure a medieval dungeon-esque rehab process involving a six week, four hours a day, routine strapped into a mechanical chair. Its sole role was to whirr as it bent and then straightened my right arm more than felt was right and for which I needed to take Oxycodone.
I've left a lot of this out. It has not been fun, and I have permanent damage, but by God, I'm maybe a little less than I was, but I sure am still more than many. I'm still friends with the chap whose job was to "keep me safe." There aren't too many people in this life whom you love and whom you choose to make your family and who love you back warts and all. So I continue to love those people, the interesting ones. The interesting ones are not usual.