One second, the ground beneath Marissa Labate's feet was there. The next, she was sliding headfirst down the slope of a cliff toward a pile of jagged rocks below.
Thus began a life-changing journey for Labate, a critical care nurse at Sharp Memorial Hospital, who was seriously injured during a June 2016 hike through one of San Diego's canyons. Labate — who struck her head on a rock, shattered her shinbone and broke her wrist in a 20-foot fall from the top of a waterfall — suddenly found herself as a trauma patient in the same hospital where she works.
Throughout her grueling yearlong recovery — during which Labate endured three surgeries and had to relearn how to walk — she launched the blog "Lipstick and Lifesaving" as a way to reflect upon and heal emotionally from her experience. She soon discovered she also enjoyed sharing her passions of travel, beauty and nursing.
More than 75,000 readers found Labate's blog in the first four months, including many nursing students seeking her professional advice. On the blog, Labate shares practical tips for new nurses, including how to write a great resume, start a job in an intensive care unit (ICU) and pass certification exams — information she was looking for during nursing school a few years ago. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses took notice and now shares Labate's nursing posts among its thousands of members.
"It's been an incredible experience," says Labate, 25. "Through the blog, I've connected with nurses from all around the world. I never expected this."
Labate wasn't sure what to expect when she gained consciousness following her fall. Blood in her eyes and on a nearby rock confirmed she had struck her head, but it took a few moments for her to realize the extent of the injury to her right leg — and feel the pain.
She was evacuated by a medical helicopter to Sharp Memorial, the closest trauma hospital. Labate says it felt surreal to be greeted by a trauma surgeon with whom she works in the ICU.
She spent five days in external fixation, where pins were inserted into her leg to stabilize the bone and soft tissues. The pain was unbearable, and Labate admits it made her a difficult patient. Surgery followed. Labate left the hospital eight days after her fall.
That's when the most challenging part of her recovery began, she says. Labate spent six months in a wheelchair, relying entirely on family and friends. She also experienced medical setbacks, resulting in additional surgeries. Labate didn't return to work at Sharp Memorial for 10 months and is still rebuilding her endurance more than a year after her accident.
Labate believes the experience helped her become a better nurse. She understands what it means to be a critically ill patient and how recovery doesn't end when someone leaves the hospital.
"As a nurse, you empathize with your patients and their families as much as you can, but you can't know what it's like until you're that patient in that bed," Labate says. "I love my job, and now I feel even more dedicated to what I do."