Friday, October 22, 2021

 

Survival Day 16: A Year of Loss and Discovery

This year, Survival Day began at 1:45am when a searing phantom pain disrupted my precious sleep. Awareness dawned before physical reaction and I was able to clamp down on the rising scream before it erupted into the night. Irena still slept beside me. I propped myself up on an elbow, wondering if that was just a single pain, or the beginning of an onslaught.

Within seconds a follow up pain, more intense than the first, burned through the space where my lower left leg should be. I buried my face in my pillow hoping to muffle the moan that was escaping my clenched jaw. When it passed, I took off my cpap nasal mask and gulped down some water and two Percocets before the next pain hit. This would be an onslaught.

Irena is always aware when I suffer through a night like this, but I still try my best not to wake her. An onslaught of phantom pains will be random and intense, and tends to stretch out over a long period of time. If it was just one or two minor pains I would stay in bed and try to find what ever nerve is causing the attack to massage it away...sometimes that works...but when it's going to be bad I need to leave the room and give my wife a chance to sleep through what remains of the night. The next wave of phantoms began their assault as I reached for my robe (Jedi...bathrobe).

Unseen flames licked at my phantom feet as I pulled my robe around me. The Force was not dispelling this phantom menace; in fact, it was paralyzing. I collapsed on the end of the bed, breathing heavily, unable to form a coherent thought much less transfer safely and quietly to my wheelchair. Fifteen minutes of continuous phantom burning later, my breathing had intensified enough to rouse Irena from her sleep. She placed a gentle hand on my back and asked if I had taken the Percocet, as she knows I resist turning to the narcotics as much as possible in an effort to avoid addiction.

"I've already taken all I can." I reply through clenched teeth. Moments later, the pain subsides enough that I can transfer to my chair and leave the room. I tell Irena that I love her, and to try to get back to sleep, as I leave. I go to the garage and watch the nocturnal activity of our quiet street from the open garage door, mindful of our neighbors as I still try to control the urge to release the pain in the loudest screams possible. This is not how I wanted to begin my Survival Day.

It has become a holiday for me, like a birthday of sorts, as it is the anniversary of the day that I didn't die. That's actually minimizing all of the days following the car accident that I also didn't die; the weeks spent in a medically induced coma until my body was strong enough, and my injuries healed enough, for me to begin to return to the world of the living. But October 22nd, 2005 was the date of the event that started me down this path. In the early days this was a day that loomed over me while I fell into depression and aggravation as the date drew closer, but in time it became a day that I look forward to. A day of introspection, a day of reflection, and a day of survival.

Looking back on this past year, that survival has become all the more precious. There has been a great deal of loss this past year. We have lost family, friends, family of friends, members of our congregation and community, and even a beloved pet whose presence somehow made dealing with all of the other losses more bearable. Covid stole my friend Scott from us right after I had to put my 21 year old cat to sleep; the first pet who came to live with me after I lost my legs. Hobbs' absence somehow made the loss of Scott Isenhart all the more unbearable. Something I am still struggling with.

This past year has also been a year of discovery for me. Through both my outreach consulting work for a local non-profit, and my step-son's high school athletic career I rediscovered skills that I had long since thought lost or inaccessible to me due to my disability. (People often ask how long it takes to adapt to acquiring a physical disability. Well, as of today we're sixteen years down the road and my family and I are still learning new things. I say "we" because my family acquired my disability right along with me). In the course of my outreach consulting work I connected with a virtual exercise club whose workouts reminded me of the types of warm up exercises we did when I was a teenage kid taking Karate lessons.

I earned my first black belt in Shorei Goju-Ryu when I was sixteen years old; I earned my second black belt before I graduated from high school. At the age of 46, there aren't many left in my life who were present to witness those achievements. When I lost my legs due to burns sustained in a car accident caused by a teenage driver, I felt like all of the time and effort that I put into those two black belts was a waste of my youth. As I began learning to use prosthetics during that first year after the accident though, I realized how much I was actually drawing on the body awareness that I had developed through the effort earning those two black belts to now adapt to walking with artificial legs. The time spent in my youth was still useful, vital, in fact, to my adaptation but I was certain I would never again practice Shorei Goju-Ryu.

Through connecting with that virtual exercise club I wound up helping one of their members, a young woman with Downs Syndrome who lives in Georgia, to complete her senior project on martial arts. For the authenticity of her video project I ordered a new Gi (karate uniform) and belt that fit around my body...a body that seems to have expanded considerably since I was 18. I drew some of the young man I once was back into present day to demonstrate punches and count in Okinawan, but truly performing the martial art was still a thing of the past.

Around the time that I completed my virtual work with the high school senior in Georgia, my youngest step-son, Cade, qualified for the National High School Track Meet in Pole Vaulting. Not only did this create an opportunity for Cade to have a rare end cap achievement for his senior year of high school, but it also, quite literally, flung him off the top of a pole into his college career at UIndy! Regardless of my disabilities...and I have acquired more than just one as a result of that car accident 16 years ago...Irena and I were not going to miss the opportunity to watch our son compete at Nationals, which was held in Eugene, Oregon. So, with barely three weeks notice, we had to figure out how to get me, and all of the equipment that has to travel with me because of my amputations, and sleep apnea, etc, across country on short notice without going broke.

The answer, of course, was to face another one of those activities that I had long ago told myself I would never be able to really enjoy again because of my disability. Camping. In this case, driving across country, pitching a tent on the ground each night, sleeping in a sleeping bag on an air mattress, cooking over an open fire, camping.

It was absolutely wonderful! At Theodore Roosevelt National Park we fell asleep with a clear sky full of shooting stars over our heads, and woke up with buffalo eating their breakfast in a field less than 50 yards from us. We discovered that I can still camp, and that with the right equipment (for example, the off-road wheels that accessABILITY recently purchased on my behalf...I would have been far more mobile if I'd had those on the trip) it will be even easier.

We also discovered that you can buy a set of hand controls that you can temporarily install yourself into most vehicles, for less than $160 on Amazon. You need to know how to use them, of course, but they are very secure, functional, and can be installed or removed in under ten minutes. Sixteen years ago, when I was trying to return to my old career managing the operations at the Walden Inn and Conference Center on DePauw University's campus, I went through Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation Services to have a set of hand controls permanently installed in my Honda Civic (new at the time), so that I could drive to and from work independently. It took a year and a half from the time I made the appointment to the day that the hand controls were installed. Indiana paid a little over $1000 for the hand controls and professional installation. It cost us $150 and took one day of shipping to add hand controls to Irena's Santa Fe.

The year of discovery didn't stop there. Shortly after we returned from our travels I received a message from the Sensei (Teacher) who worked with me the most when I was learning Karate. His schedule had opened up and he was ready to re-start my training in Shorei Goju-Ryu if I was still interested. (I had reached out to him over the summer before I had agreed to work with the young woman from Georgia on my own, but he had not been available). Rather than approaching it as if I were a new student, for the last month we have been working to modify the martial art to my "new" physical form. So, tomorrow, the day after my 16th Survival Day, I will have my third Karate lesson in almost 30 years!

This is new territory for my Sensei and I. We're certain that I cannot be the first bi-lateral amputee to attempt this, but I've checked with the manufacturer of my Power Knees, Ossur, and their representative said that he is unaware of any Power Knee users who are actually utilizing them in martial arts. We've decided to approach my training by focusing on Kata (form) first. First walking the pattern of the Kata without worrying about strikes, kicks, or even stances (some of the mechanics of which are simply not possible with my prostetic legs), and then rolling through the pattern in the wheelchair. As the patterns unlocked memories covered with 30 years of cerebral dust, we gradually began adding in the strikes and approaching the stances as closely as my legs would allow.

After our first session I immediately called my Prosthetist because I had over rotated my right "ankle" and the foot was not snapping back into proper position without manual manipulation. After a diagnostic visit he determined that both "ankles" (each 7 years old) were worn out. New "ankles" have been ordered, but the old ones still provide enough stability for me to practice. Please watch the videos below to see both of our current modifications of Pinan Shodan, the first Kata in the Shorei Goju-Ryu style of Karate.



Tomorrow we will begin modifying Pinan Nidan. I wonder what new discoveries will unfold in my seventeenth year as a double amputee and burn survivor?

Feel free to ask questions, and please let me know your thoughts in the comments section. I will try to respond to comments at least once a week. If you wish to contact me directly, or would like to learn more about me, I can be reached through walkingspirit.org. All recent and future blog posts can be found on the blog page at http://www.walkingspirit.org.

Please visit and share https://gofund.me/b689d4ee to support the family of my friend Scott Isenhart, who still need our help.


Friday, August 20, 2021

 

Hobbs

It's funny how so many things are impacted by one moment in time.  Some things that one would feel are totally unrelated are in fact just one or two ripples away from that defining rock hitting the water that started the ripples in the first place.  Was the accident that took my legs at all related to the death of my cat Cleo, less than 6 months after I returned home from the hospital?  No, it certainly didn't cause her death, but the accident was the rock and the ripples move outward in circles, not in a linear pattern, so that moment has an impact on my perception of the world moving in all directions from that moment in time.  One of those ripples was the arrival of Hobbs.

I mention Cleo because she was the cat that I had found in Corpus Christi, Tx while I lived there in 1998.  She had moved with me from there to Fort Worth and then home to Indianapolis.  She was a constant companion and was that cat who wouldn't leave the bed until I got out of bed.  While I was hospitalized she had been taken to live in an apartment with a friend.  When I was finally healthy enough to move back into my house and live on my own again, she wasn't there.  We moved her home once I felt that I could care for her, and she died tragically less than 6 months later.  (That story can be found in the archives under September 2006).  I was heartbroken, felt utterly betrayed by the universe, having lost my legs less than a year before and then suffering her loss while I was trying desperately to find some normalcy in life again.  I was done with pets.

Then, along came Hobbs.  Several months after Cleo had died, Jamie, my roommate at the time asked if I would consider getting a new cat.  He had a friend who was moving and couldn't take her cat with her.  I wasn't thrilled with the idea, but agreed to give it a chance.  (This is where the ripple stems back to the stone of the accident.  If the accident had not happened, Jamie would not have moved in to help me live independently.  If that had not happened, he wouldn't have been there to ask me to take his friend's cat).  The night that Hobbs was introduced to our household, which then consisted of myself, Jamie, and his dog Teaka, I was reluctant to connect with the five year old gray tiger striped cat.  His green eyes showed very little intelligence, and he didn't appear to know his name, but as he sniffed his way around the house he eventually came across the back of the couch to where I was sitting and head butted me in the back of my head.

Within a few days he had taken to sleeping curled up near my stomach or on my residual upper legs.  He also became the cat who thinks he is an alarm clock and began waking me at feeding time daily by climbing all over me and rubbing up against my face.  He also had an interesting habit of climbing up onto my shoulder, where he would perch and actually ride around as I moved through the house.  He had health issues and appetite issues; there were times during those first several years that I thought we were going to lose him, but he was so sweet and loving, and so received the best care that I could give him.  That said, it was a struggle to keep him alive, especially because he wanted to graze and come to his food when he wanted it, but after his little sister Jasmine arrived, that food would be gone if I didn't put it up where she couldn't get it.  I had a constant battle to keep him at a healthy weight while also keeping her from becoming obese.  This battle went on for years.


  Most of his health issues were tied to his appetite, many of which were resolved after Jasmine had kidney stones.  I had to put her on a special diet, which also meant changing Hobbs food because no matter how attentive I was, she always managed to get some of his food.  Hobbs loved her special diet and, aside from still wanting to graze, most of his appetite issues were resolved.  

Hobbs was the cat who would wait at the door for me to come in.  I would hear his "meow" long before I made it to the ramp to get inside.  Once in the door he was quickly in my lap and would clearly get annoyed if my lap was already full of groceries, packages, etc.  Whether I had my prosthetics on or not, he wanted to be in my lap and would find the easiest route to get there.  If he wasn't in my lap, he was following me around the house until I would settle, at which point he would claim my lap.  If I was outside on the deck, he would sit inside and stare at me until I came in, at which point he would claim my lap.

Despite the occasional accidental roll over a poorly laid tail, Hobbs became very comfortable with the wheelchair, even to the point of simply riding around the house with me as I went about the day. Stretched out on my lap; his upper body propped up on top of my residual right leg while his lower body stretched across the wheelchair cushion and occupied the space that my shorter residual left leg does not.  He was truly the emperor of this household.  He had tall pointy ears that made him look slightly Egyptian and definitely royal.  He also had a snaggle tooth fang that was usually on display.  

He was so very loving and attentive.  When guests would arrive he would stand on the coffee table and approach them with a demanding Meow to simultaneously say both "hello" and "you must pet me now."  He had a habit of getting up in the night and I think forgetting where he'd left me, as many nights he would meow from the living room until I would call out "where's my Hobbs?" and he would come running.  He always came when I called out that question, no matter where I was, or he was in the house.  

Not only did Hobbs open me back up to care for new pets again, but after my parents put their cat to sleep and my dad no longer wanted to suffer that loss again, Hobbs worked his way into my dad's heart while they cared for him while I was out of town.  About a week after I had returned home, mom and dad got a new kitten, who fills their home with love too.  

As our household changed, he adapted.  Eventually Jamie moved on and it was just me, Hobbs, and Jasmine who is 6 years younger than him.  She was a 3 month old kitten when she appeared on our deck and claimed us as home a year or so after Hobbs moved in.  He slept next to me every night and would throw a fit if he couldn't get into the room where I was...which we learned after Irena came into my life.  He loved her too, and came to love her children as they became my step-children and our household expanded...including a dog, Macckus.  Macckus is a 60 pound Mountain Cur.  

Hobbs was 16 when Macckus became his three year old canine step-brother.  Hobbs showed that dog who was boss more than once, but actually loved Macckus and would get very affectionate whenever he was near.  Macckus was a bit freaked out by this, and would eventually move away, which would typically draw several swats from Hobbs for rejecting his love.  Hobbs would rub all over Macckus' back, which the dog didn't mind, until Hobbs ultimately decided to shove his face into Macckus' ears for a good cleaning.  That generally was the last straw for the dog.  Hobbs would slap him as he walked away and then return to my lap.

Hobbs was about 18 when we moved into our new house.  He adapted to the new environment well, even showed that he knew enough to stay close to the house when he accidentally got out.  It was here that he started sleeping in the crook of my right shoulder.  Over the last two years he developed a habit of coming to bed with us at night, getting up and going out to the family room where he would sleep in Irena's recliner until about 4am and would then come back to our bedroom and force his way up by my chin & shoulder...to the point of nudging my chin out of the way until he could lay where he wanted.  He was very particular about which direction I would be laying as well.  If I was on my left side, facing east, he would walk behind me and pull at my CPAP hose until I woke up and rolled over.  Once I was on my right side, facing west, he would walk in a circle a few times, rubbing my chest, chin, and arm until he had positioned himself where he wanted, usually with his head and snaggle tooth fang resting against my shoulder or bicep.  He would stay in this position until morning.

This last year has been difficult for Hobbs. He adapted to my step-son's young cat joining our household, and though he accepted young Freya, it was clear he was still king.  His age has been more and more apparent, as he started missing jumps and moving stiffly.  During the last year I know that I've personally watched three of his nine lives pass before my eyes.  At the age of 21, I don't know how many have passed when I wasn't present, but I've known for some time now that my time with him was coming to an end.  Though his appetite was still pretty good (despite his desire to graze and the ongoing battle to keep Jasmine out of his food) his weight had begun to diminish a year or so ago.

In March, just days before my birthday, he began peeing on the bed and he pretty much stopped eating.  We have a barn door on our bedroom that doesn't have a lock.  No matter what we did to keep him out, if I slept in the bed he would find his way to me around 4am and ultimately he would pee somewhere he shouldn't.  So, while I tried to come to grips with putting him to sleep, I moved into the office, where his litter box is, and slept on the couch for about three nights, so that I could save the bed and protect Irena from being peed on too, until we got through the weekend and I could connect with the vet.  

This, of course, was during the one of the coldest weeks of the late winter.  The progression was quick and his eyes soon glazed over during that weekend.  I discussed putting him to sleep with the vet as soon as I could reach her office.  In the wee small hours on the morning of my birthday, I told him it was ok to go if he needed to, that I didn't want him to be in pain, but that I wasn't ready to let him go and would appreciate it if he could give me more time, at least through my birthday.  That day he started eating again and his eyes cleared up and he returned to peeing in the box.

He gave me five more months, and would have probably hung on even longer if given the chance.  For several months his health continued to defy the odds for such a senior feline, but his weight continued to decrease.  Then, in June, just before we left on an 8 day cross country drive, his health turned south and he stopped eating well again.  I didn't want to risk him dying while we were gone, thinking I had abandoned him, and the vet convinced me to try an appetite enhancer.  This worked, and he improved a bit in my step-son Cameron's care while we were gone.  In short order, Irena and I were off again for a week in Michigan and I had the same concerns, but he was sleeping in Irena's recliner when we got home and he immediately opened his eyes, meowed accusatorily..."where have you been, pet me now, I'm glad you're home"...and walked onto my lap as I approached in the wheelchair.

We had about a month of the normal routine, waking up each morning with his furry form under my chin, before he started peeing on the bed again...then the new couch.  This time I moved out to the family room to protect the bed, Irena, and the new couch.  For about a week the laundry machines were running almost constantly.  The vet checked to see if there was some medical explanation for his behavior beside old age, but there was not.  The appetite enhancer was barely working.  

Even with me sleeping on the couch he still insisted that I sleep on my right side so that he could curl up against that arm from about 4am until I decided to get up...some nights he was there from the point I went to sleep until I awoke the next morning...for the past several months he had stopped trying to wake me up at the normal feeding time and was more content to lay on my shoulder facing the west.  Last Wednesday morning, on August 11th, we put him to sleep.

Against our vet's advisement, Irena and I brought him home to lay him to rest in our yard.  Though he was an inside cat, he did like to go out when he could get away with it.  Macckus was really good at herding him back toward the door whenever this would happen. but over the last several months he's been so happy in my lap that I could take him out on the deck with me and he would be content to stay with me for about 20 minutes at a time, but he wasn't outside enough to have a favorite spot.  When we got home the boys had just finished digging a grave that we had picked out the night before, and had taken the time to make a bouquet of flowers they picked from around the yard.  Cameron turned on music appropriate for such a great feline's funeral, and they and their mother supported me as best they could as I held him and felt his fur on my skin for the last time.  We placed him in a garden just north of the deck off our bedroom, facing west, as he would lay each morning with me.  I miss him terribly.

In the room where he was put to sleep, an exam room at our vet's office that is decorated specifically to be a peaceful and comfortable environment for a beloved pet's last moments, there is a poem about life for our pets on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.  A place where our pets are young, whole, and healthy again.  A place where all their needs and joys are met except for one...they are keenly aware of their human's absence, until that day when their preternatural senses tell them that we have arrived and they are reunited with our souls.  

I found this comforting, as I believe all of our souls are eternal universal energy, and that when we shed our corporeal forms we become one with the divine power that permeates our universe, and thus we are able to be closer to our living and deceased loved ones than ever before.  Still, I have struggled with his absence since last Wednesday.  Last Saturday, as Irena and I were listening to the opening performance of the Dave Matthew's Band at Deer Creek (Ruoff Music Center), Irena pointed out a rainbow that was shining off a silvery cloud shortly before sunset.  As Dave Matthews sang his opening number I found myself watching the Rainbow Bridge and feeling some peace that Hobbs is there, hopefully having found Cleo by now (though she passed before he came to be with me, her scent and her spirit were all over our old home), waiting happily for the rest of their family to come join them, where they can each be in my lap once again.  For now they will have to be content with the lap, or shoulder...as the case may be..., of God. 


ps. for future posts, please go to the blog page on my website at walkingspirit.org.
    

         

                  

   

   


Thursday, October 22, 2020

 

Survival Day #15 - Year of the Pandemic

What has happened to our world?  (Part of me just wants to leave it there, that question, unanswered, and go back to bed).  Fifteen years ago an almost 6 week medically induced coma was a wonderful way to escape from reality.  Though not my intent when I climbed into my Jeep after a long day of work at the Walden Inn on DePauw University's campus in Greencastle Indiana to start my hour long commute back to Indy, the long nap that followed allowed me to kick the habit of smoking cigarettes and it brought my loved ones together in ways that only traumatic events can.  It also sent me into a dream world that maybe, just maybe, you'll all get to read about soon.  (Please understand that "soon" is a relative and somewhat aspirational word...at least in this case).

In many ways we've all been living through one long traumatic event that has dominated 2020.  That dream world, which was full of nightmare experiences interspersed with beautiful imagery, thrilling moments, and awe inspiring revelations seems far more inviting now than at any point in the past fifteen years.  If I could just go to sleep for a while...for a long while...maybe when I wake up all the madness will be over and my family and friends will all be able to gather together once more and hold each other in loving embrace without fear of unseen, potentially lethal, viral infection.  But, alas, I have not voted yet, so no such restorative nap is imminent.  For truly, now more than ever, our collective votes may be the only chance we have of flipping the script and putting an end to all of this absurdity...so I will stay awake.

The year has been strange and challenging for all of us.  While in a strange way the conditions of the pandemic has led to improved health for me, I also had to stand witness as my wife, step-children, brother & sister's-in-law, and all of their family suffered through the loss of my father-in-law.  He was an amazing man who led a long and fantastic life.  Alzheimer's afflicted him before I ever really had the chance to know him, but I have fond memories of him as I came to know his family and love his daughter & grandchildren.  In the years that he was a part of my life, we had one day where we were together throughout the entire day and he was surprisingly lucid all day long.  He shared personal stories with me about himself, the love of his life (my wife's mother), and his family history.  I will treasure that day and his stories always.  Sadly, he was among the first in his nursing home to contract Covid-19 from an asymptomatic nurse who didn't wear a mask when she entered his room.  (In all fairness to the nurse, this was early on when our nation's leadership had not embraced the concept of such simple protective measures...though it was months after they knew better and were still hiding many truths from us).  He fought the virus longer than most, for nearly two months, as we all came to terms with what this really looked like, and in the end he showed us how to leave this earth with a legacy of family and history and the impact of all of his many good acts in life.

For me, the growing reality of the pandemic began on my 45th birthday.  I had broken my tailbone during a bad fall the week before and was laying in a reclined position on our bed with an ice-pack under my butt, watching the news as lockdowns were being reported all across our state and the horrors of overwhelmed healthcare systems were being reported from New York and countries abroad.  Irena was working in the living room...day one of what has now been an eight month continuing exile from her office.  Colleen was in her room sleeping after we had made her get up early for a school bus that never came (our bad for not checking our emails before we went to bed on March 12th).  After several days of watching the world shut down I couldn't sit on my bruised rear-end in front of the tv any longer.  So, I put an inflatable donut pillow in my wheelchair (not easy to balance on with no legs, but it probably did wonders for my core strength) and headed outside to begin building a garden for Irena and her sister to maintain.  

I dismantled the sections of a privacy fence we had removed from the middle of our yard on day one of our ownership of this property.  For over a year it had leaned against the back of our storage shed and now, due to the pandemic, I had motivation and inspiration to put the lumber to good use as raised garden beds.  I went a little overboard, had several arguments with Irena about how big she wanted the garden to be and the number of cedar bushes I would have to remove to make space for it (fyi, for all the married people out there, we weren't arguing about the garden or the shrubs, we were stressed and hurting and didn't know how to deal), and ultimately had a summer and fall with a lot of zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, and some mystery vegetables & herbs that we don't remember planting on the menu. 

When the garden was done I threw myself into whatever outside projects I could find.  While my tailbone continued to heal I built a new ramp for the storage shed (which also doubles as a new roof with attic space for a warren of chipmunks that I couldn't bring myself to kill).  I started swimming laps three days a week again, and laid a new patio with bricks that a neighbor was kind enough to donate, in an effort to improve my mobility outside.  As the outdoor projects dwindled I began to recognize the need to stay active and so began looking for work.  I also dusted off the half completed manuscript of a book that I walked away from four years ago and started the editing process on the only completed portion of it.  With Irena's support we created an outdoor office space where I can focus without being a distraction for her while she works in the living room turned office space, or disturbing Cade or Colleen while they work in their respective home spaces turned classrooms.

Conversations with old friends and mentors ultimately led to a new relationship with an old organization from my past.  I began doing outreach for a non-profit that helps people with disabilities live as independently as they want.  This introduced me to the world of Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms...a challenge for a semi-robotic luddite, but I'm learning.  Beginning this work has also reconnected me with peers from the disability community whom I had not communicated with in years.  I'm actually now going in to an office one day a week, which gives me a reason to regularly use my prosthetics again.  During the pandemic I have actually improved my health and expanded my circles of influence...a five year plan is beginning to take shape.  

While there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the world...including our personal world...there is also a lot of positivity.  We have been lucky, and every day I'm reminded to count our blessings.  Irena has been able to adapt her job to work from home and has only become more valuable to her operation.  She had major surgery on her hip in the middle of all of this and has safely recovered with more energy and mobility than before.  While many are laid-off or furloughed I have been able to find work that is both rewarding and purposeful.  Our children have stayed healthy and have been able to maintain a semblance of a social life, while also continuing their education.  

In the middle of all of the sickness, economic instability, racially & socially driven violence, and death that has dominated our past year it is easy to feel the hate, anger, and uncertainty in the world and let it take control through depression or intimidate you to hide from it all by going to sleep for as long as possible.   If you're struggling with that, take a step back, meditate or pray if need be, but focus that meditation and prayer on allowing your eyes to open to the good things in your life, the blessings...your blessings, and the hope that is still very much alive in our world.  If you still struggle to see it, then I would encourage you to take a long hard look at what you don't like or what obstacles are in your path and then take action to change your situation.  Maybe it's placing a call to a friend, a doctor, or an organization that is there to help.  Or, if the challenges that confront you are more global and less personal, then vote to change our leadership across the board and give the world around you a new chance to improve and evolve.  If you're not satisfied with your current situation, or the state of our world, change is the only way to bring about improvement.  It can be scary, but change doesn't have to be bad, especially if you take an active role in it.                       


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

 

Survival Day #14

It's been fourteen years.  I see no need, this year, to rehash what happened 14 years ago.  A fleeting thought passes through my head that I wonder what's happened to the girl who caused the accident.  (I last saw her shortly after I had returned to work, over a year later...that was, in fact, the only time that I saw her; we hugged it out and that was mostly it for our interaction).  As I said, it was a fleeting thought...I've now spent more time on it and her than the thought actually resided in my head.  I hope she is well, I hope she has made something of herself, I hope she has moved on.

Time has moved on.  By the very ebb and flow of its nature we are all carried with it.  My life is vastly different now than I ever would have expected.  Just as it is easy to tie every previous negative moment or adversarial relationship to the event that took place on this night fourteen years ago, thus allowing me to logically lay the blame for an event that forever altered my life at the feet of people and events that are in no way connected to what occurred fourteen years ago, it's easy to give credit for every positive moment that has come since to the results of that car accident...but who's to say?

Have I moved on?  I like to think so, most of the time, but a series of horrible phantom pains can wipe away fourteen years and put me right back in that moment.  The past week or two has been difficult...phantom pain filled, most likely due to changes in atmospheric pressure and other weather related science stuff.  I try to stay positive, to stay polite, to be mindful of the needs of others around me...and as time has moved forward there are a lot more people regularly around me now than there were in the first nine years or so...but there have been a lot of sleepless nights lately and the nerves (both physical and emotional) wear thin.

I have moved forward, without a doubt.  There was no way to avoid it, as time inevitably moves us onward.  This past year, as with every year, has been full of lessons brought on by change.  We moved into our new home just before Christmas last year (though we purchased the house in August it took until the middle of December to be barely accessible enough for me to live there...and I do mean barely).  We "renovated" my old house and sold it in February and then continued to work on our new home throughout the year.

I learned how to install a hard wood floor and also a vinyl plank floor...the vinyl plank was much easier.  We completely updated the kitchen with new counter tops, appliances, refaced cabinets w/new hardware and pull out shelving, the afore mentioned vinyl plank floor...I still need to do the lighting in there but otherwise that was the last area of the house to need a major project.  We built a new deck...mostly during one of the rare rainy weekends that we had this summer, but that was when help was available...with ramps to access the yard and garage, and laid a new path with re-purposed pavers from around the yard.  I used the scrap from the deck to build a rack for our firewood.  My father, step-son, and I repainted the entire house in a week.  I've added dimmer switches and updated lighting throughout the house.  Irena has done a lot of preliminary landscaping and has made a valiant effort in the beginning of an on-going war to reclaim our yard from the wilderness that is forever encroaching on us (this wilderness consisting of the 4-5 foot wide border of thick vegetation and small trees that runs along our neighbor's fences).  I "restored" an antique table (as best I could) belonging to Irena's family that had been in storage for as long as I've known them.  Now it sits proudly in our entryway.  Irena and I escaped to French Lick for our third anniversary, but have largely been close to home this year.  I have learned new skills and become re-acquainted with skills I forgot I had...some that I honestly can't recall ever having learned before.  But have I moved on?

Though I have had extensive physical, emotional, and cognitive therapy, and will probably have more down the road, right now I'm not sure how to answer that question.  In truth, I feel like a rubber-band with one end forever physically anchored to that spot, while the other end is steadily drawn further and further away.  No matter how much I move forward, no matter how I augment myself to overcome the challenges presented, no matter how much I evolve and adapt, no matter how much I add to my life, my legs did not move on from that moment and I am confronted by that daily.  It impacts every aspect of my life from waking up and getting out of bed, to bathing, to getting dressed, to everything I do during the day...not even sleep is unaffected...and inevitably, in those moments when I'm so enjoying myself that I dare forget and it all melts away, a phantom digs its claws through the negative space where my flesh and bone legs belong and holds my absent feet in a fire that has been burning for fourteen years now.

While working on the two houses I came to realize how much more effective I was without my prosthetic legs and crutches, either in the wheelchair or on the ground, whether working with tools or paint, I was more functional without my legs on.  As a side effect of this and the amount of time I was spending working on house related projects, the amount of time I was using my prosthetics diminished dramatically.  Similarly, the amount of time that I spent playing guitar while hanging out at home diminished dramatically.  The result was that walking became far more challenging, and I forgot how to play a lot of the songs I had learned.  As we have finished the major projects at home (I do still plan to build a dog house before the weather turns much colder) and life has begun to normalize, I have been wearing my legs more and am controlling them better, and I have brushed up on the guitar a bit and am now learning to play my own arrangement of Hotel California.  The lesson...just like with a musical instrument, I have to practice walking and climbing stairs, curbs, etc. to stay adept at it.

Have I moved on?  I don't know that it's ever going to be possible for me to fully move on from a moment in time that so changed me physically, but recognizing that helps me to understand how important it is to live in the present and plan and hope for the future.  Now, I'm going to stop ruminating on the past and go live in the present...on the couch, in front of the TV, with a guitar in my lap, and I'm going to kiss my wife when she gets home, and probably figure out a way to use Halloween decorations to scare my step-daughter...because that's the life that I have now, fourteen years later, and I wouldn't change it for the world.              

Monday, October 22, 2018

 

Survival Day 2018, 13 Years Forward

So, thirteen years ago, on this date, by this time of night I was probably being loaded on to Life-Line, if not already in the air on the flight from the Walmart in Greencastle, IN (it was the closest place to the rural accident scene where the helicopter had room to land) to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.  My long nap was just about to start and medications had already been administered that, in addition to keeping me relatively calm and helping to dull the pain, probably had some impact on my lack of cohesive memory of what occurred after the initial impact.  While I was about to go to sleep for almost six weeks, the real world nightmare that my family and friends endured was just starting.  Recognizing this day annually is as much a testament to them and those who supported us all during that time as it is a celebration of the day I didn't die.

I am still here.  Though greatly changed physically (bi-lateral above the knee amputations, prosthetic legs, additional body mass...really long hair), emotionally (far less tolerant of trivial complaints and far more accepting of the differences that make each of us unique), mentally (can't come up with an example...but that in and of itself is probably indicative of how I've changed in that area), and even spiritually (far less questioning and more grounded in my personal faith), I am still here.

Thirteen years makes a tremendous difference in one's life.  I'm married now and Step-Father to several brilliant individuals.  This past year saw my 18 year-old Step-Son, who has lived with us for the past two years, graduate from high school, start college, and move into the dorms...I'm regularly amazed by the young independent adult that he is becoming.  This past year also saw a change in custody and my two youngest step-kids (13 & 15) now live with us full time.  In addition to those big changes, we also purchased a new home.

Renovations at the new house to make it accessible enough for me to live their, including a new master suite, are well underway and we are hoping (fingers crossed) to be fully moved in by Thanksgiving!  Renovations are also underway at my old house to get it on the market as soon as possible.  As a result of this I've been blessed to have a lot of time with my dad as we've been working on various projects...most of them involving paint...at both houses.  I've also been blessed to spend more time with mom, as she comes by regularly to check on our progress and ensure that we are eating lunch or at the very least stopping for an afternoon snack.

With all of this going on, it's no small wonder that today crept up on us like any other normal day.  Last night, as I was getting ready for bed I decided to check my calendar hoping that I would have nothing to do today, as I really needed a rest.  Shortly after midnight was when I became aware of today's date.  My immediate thought was "wow, that's today."  I would've missed it completely if I hadn't looked at the calendar.  Irena sent me a message shortly after her work day started asking why I hadn't reminded her of the day's significance.  I replied that "it's just a day"...a day that I prefer to do as little as possible and interact with people as little as possible, but it's still just a day.

That said, when she asked what I wanted for dinner I didn't hesitate to ask for a Vampire Slayer Pizza from Just Wing'n It.  The kids aren't big fans of that particular restaurant, but that's what popped into my head when she asked the question, and as step-father to this many kids my opportunities to get what I want are few and far between, so I figured I better take the chance while I had it!  It may be just a day, but it's still my special day, and I aim to enjoy it!    

Sunday, October 22, 2017

 

Survival Day 2017 (12th anniversay)

Today marks the end of 12 years living as a bi-lateral above knee amputee and the start of 13.  Having been born on the 13th of March, thirteens typically hold a lot of luck for me...so maybe this is the year my prostheses get hover jets...please!  I'd also accept hover jets on the wheelchair...the wife keeps putting the junk food up high where I can't reach it.

Year 12 has been crazy to say the least.  10 months ago I received a letter from the US government informing me in bold letters that I "have overcome my challenges and no longer have a disability".  This decision led to the Social Security department mistakenly cutting off my health care for a month, and nine months of me sweating an appeal of their decision, which ultimately got reversed when they received confirmation that I still need two crutches to be able to ambulate...which I know was included in all of the paperwork they received from me and my doctors, but the first reviewer must have overlooked...or simply didn't believe to be consequential to the decision.  During this year I was also seriously asked by several people to consider running for public office...a concept that I have been exploring and weighing the impact such a change would have on my family.  Irena and I found time to attend a friends wedding in Buffalo NY, and took the opportunity to escape into Canada for a few days and enjoy the majestic power of Niagara Falls...and a pitcher of sangria while sitting next to a vineyard for an afternoon.  Given the political trauma our nation has been continuously suffering since last November, we found it quite tempting to permanently stay with our neighbors to the north, but ultimately decided that being with our family was worth the constant turmoil coming out of our White House.  In August we both took rejuvenating trips to see the totality of the total eclipse with some of our closest friends.  We've already got our spots picked out for the 2024 totality!  There's such power in that silver ring in the middle of the day twilight sky...truly felt like we'd been transported to a different planet for three minutes.    

The first message of the day was a "happy anniversary" text from my friend David.  I responded with a "happy anniversary" back to him, as on this night twelve years ago I was supposed to be attending a Halloween party with him at a swanky midtown penthouse apartment, but never made it.  David, and our friend Jamie (whom I was planning to pick up for the party on my way home from work that night) upon getting word of my accident, went to my home and searched the house to find a phone number for my sister Sarah, because our employer (David and Jamie worked with me during that time) could not reach my parents and mom and dad didn't have cell phones way back in 2005...the rest of the world did, but apparently mom and dad were waiting for a family tragedy to join the rest of us in the digital age).  This is David and Jamie's anniversary too...they played an important role that night, as did my sister.  Sarah was the only immediate family in the city and she had to identify me at the hospital (I arrived as a John Doe), sign off on all of the initial medical decisions, and bear witness to the destruction of her brother...we didn't know it then, but she was also bearing witness to the birth of the new man that I would become as, like the phoenix, I would rise from the ashes of that vehicle fire far stronger than I had ever been before.  This is their anniversary too, as we all survived the trauma of that night and each of them, and many others, experienced it in their own unique way.  From then 33 year old Sarah, sitting in a low lit hospital waiting room and telling her best friend over the phone "there are no adults here" to mom and dad having to make arrangements to return to Indy after just arriving in Atlanta, not knowing if their youngest child would still be alive when they got home.

As many of you know I prefer to spend this day in seclusion, contemplating the previous year and indulging in fantasies of the year ahead.  However, about a year and a half ago I made a decision that, by its very nature, means including others in this day.  Irena is with me, supporting me as I move through the emotional nature of this day and, honestly, the days leading up to it.

The kids are on their fall break, and we've been blessed to spend the majority of the time with them this year.  There have been overnights with friends and cousins, a day trip to pick apples in an orchard, and eat elephant ears and sip apple slushies while sitting by a sparkling lake (my favorite part of the annual orchard day).  We've spent days together as a family, and I'm struck by how foreign all of this would seem to the man I was twelve years ago.  As it stands, its still an adjustment, but one that I'm thrilled to have made...and to continue to make year over year.

I'd love to say that this weekend is on track with how I planned to spend the anniversary, but fate had other plans.  On Thursday night Irena took the kids up to Purdue to spend a few days with their older brothers.  We had a lovely date night on Friday and enjoyed a wonderful meal at a local steak house.  She was stunning in her multicolored dress...it would give Joseph's coat a run for the money.  On Saturday she went to get the kids and the plan was that I would spend the evening gaming with my best friends, while she and the kids, their cousin, her sister and brother, would enjoy a fire and carve pumpkins.  I was a bit torn between the two...wanting to enjoy the fireside time with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law and watch the kids enjoy such a traditional part of childhood...and being with several of my closest friends, many of whom came back into my life as a result of the accident.

Fate chose for me, whether it was a bout of food poisoning, or a severe anxiety attack, I cannot say for sure, but a little before 5pm yesterday my stomach decided to get rid of all of its contents...a process that lasted several hours and incorporated multiple emptying methods.  When not in the bathroom, I laid in bed watching the fire through the window and listened to my family.  The laughter of the children, the conversation of the adults, the activity of the dog, Irena checking on me frequently and bringing me water to stay hydrated, and to be honest, it made the physical pain and discomfort that I was experiencing more tolerable than if I had been alone.

I awoke this morning with an empty stomach...looking forward to an applesauce breakfast.  Irena had slept in the living room, so as not to disturb me in my suffering, but came in to check on me shortly after I awoke.  As I type this, the house is quiet, the children are sleeping, and my wife is laying next to me wearing an adult raccoon onesie...yep, you read that right...and again I'm struck by how foreign this would seem to 30 year old me.  I'm so glad I lived to see it.

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