CHAPTER SEVEN: “BREAK A LEG”

Why do we wish someone luck by saying “break a leg?”. It’s a statement that’s never sat right with me. When you think about it, what part of breaking your leg is lucky at all? Why would you want someone to break their leg and be handicapped for a couple of months? It just doesn't make sense to me but apparently everyone else thinks that it’s a great way to wish someone luck.

I’ve always been pretty bad at saving. I just loved spending money and going to do little things that would create temporary highs. But in 2015 I spontaneously made a pact to start saving and do something extravagant and bucket list worthy in 2016. So one morning whilst pulling a sicky from work I booked a trip to America. With only just being able to cover the cost of my flights, I knew I had a lot of saving and planning to do, but the foundations were there which meant there was no turning back. I was heading over to meet two girls I’d met over Twitter, they had been almost like pen pals to me for a couple of years, and would soon become my best friends and travel the world with me. But first we decided to meet and travel around the West Coast seeing Ellie Goulding play a couple of shows. To some people that concept seemed really strange but to us it seemed like a lot of fun. What better way to make friends, travel and see cities than to dance the nights away to one of our favourite artists. It seemed ideal. With only five months to prepare and save I went into full lockdown, I slaved away at work and became less social to make it work.

And it paid off. The end of March came around and I was sitting at the Airport waiting to board my flight for a five week dream-come-true trip. In between the six Ellie Goulding shows I had booked I was also seeing Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Carrie Underwood, The 1975, Rachel Platten. I was going to the opening of Harry Potter World, Disneyland, attending an Ellen Show taping, and spending a dreamy week in New York. My nerves were ultimately all over the place but I had a strong feeling that this trip would be life changing. After all, I had worked so hard to make this a reality I felt like I deserved it. With the wheels lifting off the ground and the plane taking to the skies I had the biggest smile on my face. ‘Here we go’, I thought.  

With tears filling my eyes, I landed in Los Angeles before a brief connection to Seattle where the trip would truly begin. Arriving into the rainy city I was greeted by blue skies, blossom trees, and a beautiful boy I had met in Sydney the year before who agreed to show me around and help me settle in. After a little tour I met up with Devon and Ashlyn who I had now been talking to online for three years. This was either going to be the most awkward meeting or it was going to be fate. And luckily it was the latter. It was like we had known each other our whole lives and whilst that may have been cheesy, it was true. We talked non-stop and laughed as we walked around the city and ate pizza. We gushed about our plans for the five weeks and already started talking about future trips as I tried to convince them to come to Australia. The next couple of days flew by as we did some sightseeing around Seattle, saw our first Ellie Goulding show and I headed to Portland for a quick little solo trip before flying to Los Angeles to meet up with them again.

Flying into Los Angeles two days earlier than the girls, I had scheduled some time to explore and go to the opening of Harry Potter World at Universal Studios. As I arrived I was welcomed by the notorious Los Angeles traffic which turned a 25 minute drive into 80 minutes of torture. Finally pulling up to the hostel I was staying at on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame I ran inside to drop my bags off and head to a drag show in West Hollywood, I was really interested in seeing just how a real drag show was meant to witnessed. The guy checking me into my room was trying to convince me to go on a club crawl with everyone else from the hostel and for a moment I considered it. I had this little gut instinct that was telling me to go with the flow and make some friends, but I was stubborn and really wanted to go to a drag show and have a quiet night as I didn't feel like having a boozy one. I politely declined, but asked about activities for the rest of the week that I could participate in and ran down the boulevard to find a burger place before heading to the club. As I made my way into the club I grabbed one drink before sitting down to watch the live airing of the current Rupaul’s Drag Race episode. With a little intermission happening in between the TV show and the actual show, the crowd started dancing on the stage because the dance floor was decked with seats for the performance. With the DJ hitting play on Ellie Goulding’s “Something In The Way You Move” I took that as a sign to get up there and show them how an Aussie can dance. So I made my way onto the stage and joined the others dancing, the crowd’s attention quickly turned to me as I was lip synching along and giving the song my everything. It was all a bit of fun until a slightly intoxicated patron decided to show off and do a flip down the catwalk which knocked me over. As he hit me I fell to the back of the stage, one of my legs fell underneath the stage as there was not staging behind the glittery curtain. With the impact of the fall and the drunk person falling on top of me, my leg snapped in half.

I felt the bone break apart.The shooting pain in my leg triggered something in my brain, and I instantly knew what happened. In that moment my fight or flight instincts ignited and I managed to crawl my way across the stage to my original seat where I immediately asked the guy and girl next to me, who I had previously befriended, to get me out of the club and to call an ambulance. Looking at me distressed, the guy  tried to de-escalate the situation and told me that I had probably just sprained it. I looked at him with full confidence, calmness and urgency and told him that sadly he was wrong and I had in fact broken it. Looking at me as if I was being dramatic he decided to believe me for a moment and asked me to try stand up. With no luck and a whole lot of pain he carried me across the stage and to one of the bouncers who asked him to put me down. The staff freaked out when I explained that my leg was broken. They carried me to the front of the club and offered me some water, which I declined, I knew that if I needed emergency surgery that night I couldn’t have any food or water in my system. They were shocked by my coherence, probably expecting me to have been drunk off my face. I showed them my passport, told them I had travel insurance and explained what happened. I asked them to call an ambulance but they kept telling me they had to speak to some people first. The manager of the club came out and was asking me a lot of questions about what had happened and what I had taken that night. I explained that I had never done drugs in my life and that I’d only had one drink after having a massive meal, so would be way under the limit once they took my blood tests at the hospital. Luckily someone had captured the moment I broke my leg on camera, so we showed the club owner and proved it wasn't my fault. I wasn't being reckless. I wasn’t intoxicated. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and just wanted to go to the hospital. Before calling the ambulance they rolled up my jeans slightly so they could see the damage. I looked away as they confirmed that it was definitely broken, and a couple minutes later they finally called an ambulance. When it arrived at the scene they lifted me onto a stretcher, gave me some pain killers and took me straight to Cedars Sinai Hospital, which is the most boujee hospital in Los Angeles. It’s the hospital Michael Jackson passed away at, the one the Kardashians all go to, and I was even put into a room on the same wing as Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, who were giving birth to their son. With all the adrenaline fading away, I broke down into tears as I realised what had actually happened. I started stressing out about the rest of the trip I had planned and how I was going to afford everything, as I looked around the hospital waiting room I realised it wasn't going to be cheap.

When I was initially booking the trip my travel agent questioned me about travel insurance. Insisting that I probably didn't need it she reassured me that I should definitely book something in case of an emergency. Noticing that I was always on my phone and worked at a phone store, she queried me what would happen if I lost my phone overseas. I looked at her stunned and admitted that I wouldn't know what to do because I was relying on it for maps, the camera, tickets, and everything. She looked at me and smiled, “what if you also broke a leg or something? You definitely want to be covered in America” and I agreed that she was right. In that moment I told her to add insurance to my booking and felt relieved that I would be covered if something was to happen to my phone.

 As I was laying on the hospital bed waiting to be seen by a doctor, I couldn't help but feel relieved knowing that I had a premium travel insurance policy and quickly called my travel agent to find out the steps I needed to take. Naturally freaking out, she immediately sent me all the information I needed to lodge the initial claim, and get the emergency team to contact me to start the long process that would turn into a bit of a fight.

After a bunch of x-rays and scans the doctor confirmed what I was dreading to hear; “You’ve cleanly snapped your tibia and your fibula bones in half. We are going to need to perform surgery on it tomorrow morning and get you into a boot”. Asking what that meant they reassured me that whilst the injury was really bad, the way they were going to fix it would allow me to be really mobile and finish the rest of the trip if I wished. Making me feel a little better I knew my trip wasn't going to be the same, but was glad I didn't need to immediately fly home. Realising I hadn't called my mum yet, I decided to send her a little text message incase she saw anything on social media as I didn’t want her to worry. “Hey Mum, just wanted to let you know that I’ve broken my leg in Los Angeles but I'm in hospital and okay. Will call you soon”. My phone immediately buzzed, she wasn’t happy with my casual message. I calmed her down and told her I was okay. She was freaking out and saying that she was booking the next flight to Los Angeles and was going to come look after me. “Mum, I’m okay. You don’t need to do that. I don’t want you to use the money you’ve been saving to come look after me. It’s not fair on you. I will be okay”. My family didn't have a lot of money, so I knew that if she was to come  it would create a massive dent that she wouldn't be able to recover from. And instead of using the money she had been saving on herself, she’d be using it to look after her son. And I didn’t want that. She finally calmed down and agreed to let me do this on my own. She felt reassured that Devon and Ashlyn were arriving in two days, as well as my friend, Tori, from Australia that I was meeting up with in Las Vegas. So it wasn’t like I was going to be alone and handicapped.

After I went into surgery and spent the next two days recovering, I was finally released into the care of my friends, on crutches and in a wheelchair. My self confidence was a little shaken, but my determination to make the trip work lit a fire deep inside of me. Over the three weeks that followed the accident I trekked around theme parks, bopped along at concerts, and explored cities whilst recovering and trying to rest whenever I could. I finally got to Disneyland after dreaming of going ever since I was a kid watching virtual tours of the park with my Aunty. What was meant to be a joyous time was heavily impacted because I was stuck in a wheelchair. I wasn't able to run around and explore like I’d imagined, but I was still grateful to be there. My exhaustion levels varied day by day depending on the itinerary, but I felt accomplished and happy. I wasn’t going to allow some drunk guy to ruin my whole trip all because of an accident. But as the end of he trip crept closer I realised I wasn’t logistically going to be able to make it to New York. As much as it broke my heart I decided that it was more important that I put my safety and health first, and not push my body too far. I tried not to let this over shadow my achievements. After all, I’d managed to do three weeks of travelling in a moon boot and a wheelchair, so I felt pretty impressed with myself. But before I was allowed to head home I had to go back to Los Angeles to have a meeting with the insurance investigators.

What started off as a simple enquiry into what happened that night turned into a three hour interrogation. They had me break down every second of my day before, during, and after the incident. The probing questions felt a little ridiculous to me because it seemed like an easy, open and close case. They revealed that the club had turned around and claimed I was intoxicated, under the influence, acting dangerously, and refusing to hop into the ambulance. I felt sick as I was hearing their claims. When I told the investigators they were lying, they said I was within my rights to take legal action against the club. For a brief moment every part of me just wanted to say “Okay, let’s sue them”, because it frustrated me that they were blatantly lying. I wasn't trying to get extra compensation or try to turn it into anything more than what it was, I just wanted to get my full medical costs and trip changes covered. So I decided to continue with the claim because I knew I was innocent and that the truth would eventually prevail. I knew the toxicology results would show I had no alcohol or drugs in my system, I had witnesses that saw me crawl myself off stage and ask for an ambulance, and that video footage would show that it was actually an accident. Conveniently the security cameras didn't seem to be working that night, but what the club didn't count on was that someone had actually captured the exact moment on Snapchat. It was at that moment I decided I loved social media. It proved that I wasn’t endangering myself and that it was a complete mistake, which was the supporting evidence I needed. 

As we finally wrapped up the interview they asked me again if I wanted to sue the club or the guy that did it, but I politely said no. I didn't want to ruin someone else’s life. I had an idea just how expensive it was going to be and I didn't want to put that on a stranger. It was an accident that had no motive and putting the blame on someone wasn't going to magically fix my leg. So I left it in the insurance companies hands and waited a few weeks until I finally got the phone call. “Hey Thomas, we just wanted to let you know that your claim has been approved and you wont need to pay anything”. I sighed with relief as the panic left my body. “Would you like to know how much the medical and cancellation claim came to?” they enquired. “Yes” I asked nervously. “The claim came to $140,000” they blurted out. My stomach fell deep into my gut as my thoughts started to race. “What if I didn't have proof and had to pay that? What would have happened to me?” I was freaking out even though I was proven innocent, the thought alone was overwhelming.

Over the three months of recovery, my legs strengthened and I found myself attempting to walk around the house without the moon boot regularly. After a bunch of doctor and hospital visits I was told I was super healthy and well advanced for my injury. I was told I didn’t need to go to a physiotherapist and to just continue my walking. Looking back at it now I wish I had gone, the strength in my leg is compromised and still ceases up every now and then. 

When people wish someone luck they say "break a leg", and to be honest I never understood why we say that. Why would you want someone to break their leg and go through months of recovery and pain? But after my accident I took on a new understanding of the ideology. I did see breaking my leg as lucky because it forced me to grow up and evolve, and pushed me into a situation I would have never dreamed of. I became a stronger person because of it, and was finally ready for the next chapter of my life. I would need this strength to deal with the heartbreak that was to come.