Author: Hannah Salt
Script writer – Assistant Producer BBC
This photograph is one I couldn’t bear to look at, years after the event that caused the injuries it reveals.The list of injuries for the record: 7 broken ribs, front and back including a flailed section, broken in several places. A cracked sternum, the protective breastplate, in 2 places.
The chest, so broken here, belongs to my Mum.
Around 7.50am on the 24th September 2015 a 5 tonne truck, the driver of which would later give the excuse of having the low winter sun in his eyes, collided with my Mum’s stationary car at the speed of 50 mph. She was in traffic on her way to work, at a hospital.
She was cut from the wreck by the fire service, lifted from its makeshift sunroof, and taken to her original destination, in the back of an ambulance.
I got the call at 10am in work. You know the call? The one you dread the most but never expect? It tsunami’d through my family. We all got the call.
The human flotsam and jepsam from the crash was heart-breaking. My Sister and Dad, holding their shit together better than I could at the time, visited the wrecked car at a police station. They recovered my Mum’s little lunch box of cereal she was planning to have that morning, her comfy driving shoes, her CDs of cheesy musicals we’d always sing along to. No one is prepared for that.
My Mum survived against all odds. A radiologist, unhelpfully impressed, told my sister when my Mum was inside an MRI tube that he’d never seen injuries like hers before on anyone still alive.
In the A&E resus room, I brushed tiny shards of broken windscreen glass from from her hairline. They looked like diamonds I told her, as I kept noticing new ones and brushing them off. I’ve never felt so rudderless and utterly lost, in any crisis gone before my instinct would be to call my Mum, to give me the right direction out of the mess.
After the speed of the accident, and the terrifying days that followed, like a breath held for too long, my Mum was moved from A&E to an intensive care ward, to a ward, and finally to home. A year later, still living with life changing injuries, she decided to seek out a surgeon willing to operate on a hole in her sternum that would never naturally repair. There was one brave surgeon, but it was going to be an experiment, and it was going to be risky.
Kintsugi apparently meaning ‘golden repair’ is the ancient Japanese art of mending broken, everyday pottery with seams of gold and silver. It elevates, even celebrates accidents and misfortunes, transforming a smashed ceramic into something beyond its former self. The scars make each one precious, each one unique.
Made whole again with liquid gold, the craft brings shattered pieces closer together, making them even stronger in the process and more beautiful. The philosophy behind this (wabi-sabi) is about embracing imperfection, and understanding that the cracks are part of the history of the object, part of its story, and that as such they should be honoured.
After a 4 hour surgery, the hole in my Mum’s sternum was pinned and secured by 9 Titanium nails and an improvised plate. Never losing her humour or strength my Mum joked to the surgeon about inscribing Man United over her heart forever.
I can look at the photograph now, and x-ray of her successful surgery. Because it deserves to be recognised, not covered over or for me to continue to pretend nothing happened, and everything was going to be the same as before the crash, because it isn’t.
My Mum is my north star, the whole family set our courses to her and god knows she’s guided us all through some choppy seas. She’s funny, strong and unwavering in her ability to play down the whole thing as merely a shuffle step with Death, not the whole Tango.
I asked my mum before writing this article, to make sure she’d be ok with it, she was but said she doesn’t know why anyone would be interested in it.
‘Because it’s a miracle’ I wanted to say. Now I have.
We have a Mum with a Titanium star over her heart, and for all the scars we are all closer and stronger and more beautiful than before.