A few weeks ago, I incurred an injury while out in nature with my camera. I was stepping over a short wooden fence (less than a foot high) and my leading foot caught on the fence. Down I went, falling on a flat stone walkway with my camera around my neck. I wasn’t paying attention. I was looking ahead to where I was going to shoot from next. It could have been so much worse than it was. Two weeks later, I’m almost completely healed from all the sprains and bruises (no broken bones!). I am very thankful and grateful that it wasn’t any worse than it was. It was an eye opener, though. Although I had some things in place to help deal with a fall like this (a first aid kit), it wasn’t enough.
Picking Myself Up
I lay on the pavement for a minute or two, my camera underneath me, and I evaluated the extent of my injuries from such a hard fall. I determined that I hadn’t broken my neck or any limbs, but the heel of my right hand hurt quite a bit. I slowly got to my feet, slowly wiggling the fingers on my right hand and rotating the wrist a bit. No immediate sharp pain. For a few seconds, I actually considered shaking it off and continuing along on my morning photoshoot adventures. My vehicle was only 50 yards away, so I slowly walked towards it. I placed my camera on the passenger seat and managed to get a cell phone shot of the damage. At the time, I thought the entire 400mm lens was broken. I later learned that only the glass on the $10 UV filter had broken. I was only vaguely aware of the sound of breaking glass when I hit the ground.
I used the remote to open the tailgate, but I had a lot of trouble getting things out of the first aid kit. In the few steps to the car, my right hand was starting to hurt even more and I couldn’t get a grip to open the clasp.
And then even less strength to pull the bag (one-handed) of supplies out of the outer case of the first aid kit! I was able to get it out by putting it under my right arm and pulling it out with my left hand.
Unfortunately, there were two items not in this brand-new first aid kit – no instant ice pack and no pain relievers! We had just purchased the first aid kit and had removed the pain relievers because (1) I need to ensure they’re gluten-free and (2) they usually expire in the first aid kit before they’re needed anyway.
In the first five minutes since my fall, I knew I’d have to head back home to have my wrist looked at and it was going to be a long drive. I was 1.5 hours away from home!
The Long Drive Home
As I started back, I intermittently pressed the heel of my right hand on the cool glass of the driver’s side window. The aching and sharp spikes of pain settled in fairly quickly, though, so I drove with only my left hand on the wheel and just rested my right arm on the center console. I could no longer unscrew the cap on my water bottle, so at a stop sign, I finally tossed the cap aside and just used my left hand to lift the bottle.
When you’re in pain, a car ride of 1.5 hours is a very long time. I couldn’t change the stations on the radio anymore, so I ended up just listening to whatever channel it was tuned to. The worst part of the trip was coming down the mountain with just one hand on the wheel. I took it slow and easy, and was very thankful for power steering. It also occurred to me how lucky I was to have an automatic shift vehicle. If I’d driven the stick shift Miata that I used to own, I never could have made it.
On the way home, I called my doctor’s office using the fabulous hands-free technology in my vehicle. They were open for Saturday urgent care appointments, but they did not have any x-ray equipment. They told me where to find the nearest emergency room and urgent care facilities in the towns that I would be driving through on my way home. By this time, I was fairly certain that my wrist was broken as I could not move or bend it without extreme pain. Still, I decided to go back home to get my husband to drive me to urgent care.
Numerous x-rays revealed first class sprains (no ligament tears) on my right hand and wrist as well as sprains to my left knee and left big toe (that’s what caught in the fence). I got lucky in a big way! I had bruises on my chin from hitting the ground, but my Canon EOS 80D and Tamron 400mm lens broke my fall. Everyone said that it was a miracle that I didn’t break a bone.
They wrapped my right arm and wrist with an Ace bandage and then put a huge splint on my arm, isolating my right thumb. It was rough getting that splint on, but once it was in place, the pain in my injured arm and wrist eased back considerably. Before that, I was cradling my injured paw against my body to minimize the jarring pain of the slightest movement. I was told not to use my right hand for a week. No problem! I was thankful I didn’t need a cast that would have put me out of commission for 6 weeks.
The Camera and Lens
As a photographer, my camera is my livelihood. When I heard that tinkling glass breaking and when I glanced at the camera when I got back to my vehicle, I figured the camera was broken. The day after the fall, I had a closer look at my equipment. At first glance it did not appear that the lens glass was broken. A miracle all in itself considering the impact to the stone sidewalk.
My husband was able to pry off the UV filter by actually cutting through it. The outer rim with the threads was slightly bent and the filter wouldn’t come off any other way. He took some test shots with the camera and lens and everything seemed to be working properly. Amazing!
My Canon EOS 80D is relatively new and I was only 6 months in to a 4-year protection plan (Square Trade through Allstate). I filed a claim and sent it back to them to check for any internal damages. They returned it a few days later with a checklist indicating that no problems had been found. Amazing! There was a tiny dent and scratch on the top of the built-in flash, but they replaced that piece and noted that the flash was working properly.
My 400mm Tamron lens is much older and the protection plan expired, but it seems to be in working order. You can see the dust from the pavement on the lens filter edge. Talk about quality builds with both Canon and Tamron to survive a fall like that and not have any real damage!
Helping Prevent Further Mishaps
The Walking Stick
The next time I go out into the field for a photoshoot, I’ll be much better prepared to help prevent something like this from happening again. One of the first things I’ve done is invested in a sturdy walking stick. One of my friends who hikes has recommended this many times. I’m fairly certain that my fall would not have been as bad if I’d had a walking stick with me at the time. The walking stick would have been planted on the other side of the fence that I was stepping over and would have provided me with at least a little more support when my leading foot caught.
A More Complete First Aid Kit
I now have a better stocked first aid kit in my vehicle and one that I can open easily with one hand. I have added gluten-free pain relievers and made a note in my calendar to replace them every few months to ensure they’re fresh. I also have at least one instant ice pack. Most first aid kits are geared towards bandages and stopping bleeding, which is vital, of course. But it doesn’t hurt to have an instant ice pack or two in your kit.
A Filter on the Camera Lens
The purpose of a filter is to protect the glass of your lens. They’re inexpensive and easy to replace if you accidentally drop your camera. I have several filters, of course, to enhance my images depending on light conditions – circular polarizer, neutral density filter, etc. But during photoshoots in early morning light, I almost always keep the UV filter on the lens. I sometimes have to adjust my exposure to account for the extra pane of glass on the lens, but not often. A filter also comes in handy when shooting in inclement weather. The lens and camera might be weather-resistant, but why tempt fate – a filter adds another layer of protection from moisture getting into the lens.
When I fell, I was alone on the path, no other people around. The road was within sight distance, though, and cars were passing by on a regular basis. If I had broken my leg, I wouldn’t have been able to shout loud enough for a passing motorist to hear me. My brother suggested carrying a whistle with me – that sound travels much further than the voice of a weak and injured individual. I now have a whistle attached to my keyrings and camera bags. One of my friends also suggested sounding the alarm on my vehicle as a way to summon passing vehicles. That was something I hadn’t thought of. Of course, that only works if you’re within range of your vehicle.
As a landscape photographer, I’m often in areas where there are no cell towers. This was the case 2 weeks ago. I couldn’t have called for help if I wanted to. I did, however, have the ability to send a Facebook Messenger message as I’d just been communicating with my friend before my fall. I was telling her beautiful the light was for my shots. While she could see my words, she could not see the images that I had uploaded to her. In case of emergency, try texting someone to see if you can get a signal to transmit that way.
All’s Well that Ends Well
As I’ve mentioned, I was extremely lucky in many different ways. I’ve made adjustments to help ensure that if something like this happens again, I’ll be more prepared to handle it. I’ll do what I can to be more careful when out in the field, particularly if I’m alone. Lessons have been learned.
This image is one of the last images before my fall. The light was utterly fantastic and even without leaves on the trees, the scene at Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway was breathtaking!