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Still Me

by Christopher Reeve

Still Me by Christopher Reeve X
Still Me by Christopher Reeve
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  • First Published:
    May 1998, 324 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 1999, 255 pages

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I often think of my friend Tim Murray, who went sailing one day in November 1994 and drowned. Why? He took the Styrofoam flotation out of his boat because he was working on it. He went out on a windy day with no life preserver, and he and his friend-both expert sailors-raised the spinnaker.

Normally this wouldn't present a problem, but two miles offshore waves were building up, it was blowing twenty-five knots, and the boat swamped. The water was forty-eight degrees, and there was no way they could make it to shore. They both drowned, for all those reasons.

My friend Robbie Robertson, an exceptional pilot, won the national championship in soaring. Right after he came home he went gliding at a different airport than usual. It was a very gusty day, and he forgot to tell the tow pilot that he needed to be towed at eighty miles an hour because he was carrying a full load of water ballast in his wings. So he was towed at sixty-five, the normal speed for low-performance canvas gliders, and they ran out of runway. As the tow plane released and climbed away, Robbie tried to pull up. He went up about one hundred feet and stalled. The glider went straight into the ground. He was killed instantly.

So I come back to my own situation, approaching that third jump on May 27. I may have moved forward before I should have, which is an easy mistake to make. On the other hand, that shouldn't have been enough to cause Buck to stop. But I've learned that to speculate endlessly about what happened serves no purpose other than to torment myself. Regardless of exactly what happened, I know now that I can't relive the event forever. If I made a mistake, I've got to forgive myself for being human. I'm in the process of doing that now.

I only fell a few feet, but I shattered my first cervical vertebra as I landed on the top rail of the jump. The second vertebra was also broken, but not so badly. Then I was fighting for air like a drowning person. It's possible that as I twisted my head and fought for air the shards of my first vertebra and the broken part of the second vertebra were cutting and damaging nerves in the spinal cord. I was probably my own worst enemy at that point.

By the time the paramedics arrived at the scene, I hadn't breathed for three minutes. They stabilized my head and managed to keep me alive by squeezing air into my body with an ambu bag. Apparently I was still conscious; later they described me as "combative." I'm very lucky they reached me so quickly, because after four minutes of not breathing, brain damage begins. They managed to hold my head still enough to put on a collar that immobilized my neck. After I was loaded into the ambulance, they drove off the field extremely slowly, so that the rough terrain wouldn't cause further damage.

Several months later I called these paramedics and told them how grateful I was that they had saved my life. They were very matter of fact, saying that it was just part of their job. I was deeply moved by their quiet, understated response. In keeping with EMT policy, they never even told me their names.

Dana was always there when I competed, usually stationed at the more difficult jumps. Often she would videotape as much of the ride as possible, and I would spend countless evenings running the film backwards and forwards, looking for ways to improve. But this time she was still back at the Holiday Inn, where Will was having a difficult time waking up from his nap. Suddenly the phone rang. It was Peter Lazar, one of our group, and the first thing he said was, "Now, don't panic." Dana asked, "What happened?" She's a doctor's daughter; in emergencies she is pretty steady. She immediately assumed that I had fallen. There would be no other reason for Peter to call and say, "Don't panic." When he said, "Chris had a spill," it occurred to Dana that this is the kind of language people use to minimize situations. (Dana's sister once crashed into a tree in a skiing accident, broke her nose, and lacerated her face: her other sister called up and said she'd had a "skiing mishap.") Then Peter added, "I don't know why, but they had to take him off the field on a stretcher."

Use of this excerpt from Still Me by Christopher Reeve may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright© 1998 by Christopher Reeve. All rights reserved

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