Friday, March 20, 2009

Better Safe

from Jacqueline

I’ve never been one for so-called “celebrity” news, and I find the comings and goings, the affairs and sillinesses of many of those in the film industry about as tedious as it gets, though I can appreciate talent along with the best of them (the closest I came to being a pain in the neck in this regard, was when Sean Penn parked next to me at the grocery store, and I had only seen “Milk” the night before – I so wanted to tell him that I thought he was brilliant ... but what kind of numpty does that when someone is struggling to get the contents of their cart into the back of the car?) So, there you have it, no big celebrity swoonings from me. But this week I have been glued to the news, following the accident and fate of Natasha Richardson as if she were kin.

I doubt if you missed it, but if you did, the quite lovely (“luminous”) Richardson fell while skiing in Canada on Monday. She and her two sons had been with her husband, Liam Neesom, while he was filming in Toronto, then she took the boys off skiing in Montreal. It wasn’t a big fall, just the sort of spill that many of us who ski have experienced time and again, but it eventually killed her. By Tuesday night she was dead. And if I Googled “Latest on Natasha Richardson” once, I did it hundreds of times. I knew the accident would claim her life, but I hoped against hope that it wouldn’t.

My interest wasn’t due to some hero worship of the Redgrave clan, or that she has always been my favorite actress – though I thought she was a wasted talent in movies such as “Maid in Manhattan” and “The Parent Trap;.” It was that bump on the head. I felt, again, that I had cheated a terrible fate. You may remember my post about my fall from Oliver – my young horse – last July. It was a nasty one – I was really knocked silly, saw stars and had various headachy symptoms for days. My trainer insisted I went to the emergency room where they x-rayed me, gave me a brain scan, kept me in for several hours and only let me leave when both my husband and I had read through a list of symptoms and signed a form to the effect that if I had even a hint of one of those symptoms, then I should come back immediately. My husband was instructed to watch for certain symptoms and behaviors, as I might not be aware of them – which is why I was woken up every two or three hours with, “You OK? Jackie, talk to me.” Talk to him? I could have killed him! But these were the basic precautions, because you don’t mess around with a head injury.

Richardson’s family are probably wishing so hard, playing back the events, trying to turn back time so that one of them could have been there to say, “Don’t tell the ski-patrol you’re OK. Don’t laugh it off. Just get in that ambulance they’ve ordered and go to the hospital. If you have to put up with a few paparazzi, then so be it – get yourself some medical attention.” But she didn’t. She said she was fine – and she probably thought she would be fine – but when the ski-patrol accompany you to your hotel and then stay with you to make sure, it’s a good idea to trust their training. She had even signed a form to say she did not require medical attention. I wish she’d had my trainer there, Kim would have said, “Don’t argue with me. Get in the car and open the window if you want to throw up.” Actually, Kim didn’t have to order me into the car – I know enough about head injuries to know – repeating myself here – you don’t mess around, you go to the emergency room.

But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there? We all take chances – I’ll ski again, and I still ride young Oliver most mornings (I’ve come off once since that July spill – young horses can be a bit unpredictable), and I’ll still ride my bike. But I do all of those things with a helmet, even though I prefer not to have hat hair every day of the week. I take as many reasonable precautions as I can, because life is precious. The people who love me are precious, and my husband will probably have a heart-attack if he gets another call from an emergency room.

A few years ago, when I had my really, really bad riding accident, I met with the orthopedic surgeon who I later came to hero-worship, he was that good (and such a laid back guy). I asked him, probably with a dramatic edge to my voice, “Will I ever ride again?” He rolled his eyes and shrugged. “We all live with our own level of risk,” he said. “We all do things we know might land us in the hospital. The whole idea is to minimize that risk.” (Then, I confess, he said, “But no one in my family rides horses or motorbikes”). I should add that he and the other surgeons in his practice work with the US ski team, so I reckon they know a thing or two.

So what am I saying in all of this? That life is precious. It’s not so much having a bucket list, as appreciating the fleeting nature of our time on earth, and that it all could be gone in an instant, even for a healthy woman with two boys, a husband who adored her, and a family who are now torn apart with grief.

About sixteen years ago, I had some funny rhythms going in my heart and the doctor sent me for a slew of tests, and while being prepped for one of them (those sticker things all over my chest and along my ribs – what a performance!), I had a long and rather deep conversation with the technician who was wiring me for sound. She said she also worked as an emergency room technician and had a long experience in that job. “I’ve come to believe something,” she said, “that we all come date-stamped, and when you’re up, there’s no getting away from it.”

None of this means that we have to wrap ourselves in cotton wool, but I think it means we are tasked to find grace in every day, that we make each day the very best day, and that we give thanks, morning and night, for this one precious life. In an interview following her husband’s motorcycle accident several years ago (Mr. Neesom hit a deer), Richardson said since the accident she had woken up being so grateful for each day.

Bless her.

Have a good, safe weekend. Tell the people you love that you love them. Smell some roses and if you go out on your bike, horse, skis, rollerblades, motorbike – for heaven’s sake wear a helmet! It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it could save so much heartache.


  1. Well, that's the dangerous thing about hematomas, you really do feel fine for a while. My grandmother had one, no one knows for how long before she started showing signs.

    Fortunately my grandma got to the hospital in time (your brain shrinks as you age so the blood has more room to accumulate before you're in danger), but quite a few people die from hematomas every year.

    And I feel just awful for Liam Neeson and the rest of the family.

  2. When I heard the news about Richardson, I thought about all the dangerous things I did in my youth and wondered how I ever survived. I am thankful my date-stamp hasn't expired yet.

    I was saddened by her death but identified with her plucky refusal of help. It was the wrong thing to do, but it's what I would have done in her shoes. Ingrained stoicism.

  3. those poor boys having to grow up without a mother now!


  4. from Jacqueline

    Thanks, all for your comments. Norby, I didn't realize that being older helped you a bit if you're hit on the head - probably just as well, because I reckon I'll still be riding my Oliver until I'm seventy-five or so.

    And Patty, yes if course I can certainly identify with that stoicism, after all, no one wants to be a pain in the neck - but the fact remains that more women die of heart-attacks because they didn't want to be a bother about a bit of indigestion and some dizziness. My trainer says that, especially with the head, it's best to weather a bit of embarrassment in the emergency room (you came in for that?), than go home and end up in dire trouble. In fact, when I went in after my fall, I was apologizing right left and center for taking up valuable time, then the doctor said, "Don't apologize again - it's your head, your brain is vulnerable, and you did the right thing in coming here - we want you walk away with nothing wrong, but we want to know that we can do something if you've got a problem."

    I know, Sybille, those poor boys ...

  5. I take many less chances now a days.

    Too many stories liike Ms. Richardson's.


  6. I agree with everything Jacqueline said, and I would go a step further.

    When I tell people I love them, I always wear a helmet.

  7. from Jacqueline

    Paul, you crack me up - and are the people you love wearing helmets when you tell them you love them?

    Jim - I think I of the same ilk. I'm not wrapping myself in cotton wool, but I am trying to be a bit more careful (young horse notwithstanding).

  8. This was a horrible, horrible thing to have happened. Something so innocuous, something that happens to everyone over the course of their lives. I remembered the time only five years or so back, when I leaned over a desk to plug in a network cable, forgetting the small shelf above, and when I stood up, *WHAM!*. The world actually grayed out for a moment, and yes, there really were stars. I said the "F" word more than once with a lot of spirit, went back to my office, swallowed a couple of aspirins, and that was that.

    I believe I'd have a quite different reaction after this....

  9. If that ever happens to me again, I'm heading for the E Room. Eons ago, when I was about 5, I turned over a front porch swing and landed head-first on a concrete sidewalk. Knocked me out. They kept me awake for hours after that, but people didn't go to Emergency Rooms back in 1930. I figure I've used up my quota of good luck.

  10. William and Chester - I think we've all learned a bit of a lesson with Natasha's death. On the one hand you don't want to bother the ER staff, who are usually swamped anyway, but frankly, I'd rather that than have a neurosurgeon saying, "If only she'd come in four hours ago ..." Better safe than sorry.