what made the difference?

This past Saturday evening, Scott Adsit and I were recognized at the Eastside Runners holiday party for our inspiring recoveries.

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Scott is a longtime ESR guy, and is a really good runner.  When I would drag my lazy butt out to the Wednesday night track workouts, I’d see Scott running with the fast group – making me feel like I was standing still. 

This past spring, Scott had just finished doing an 800 meter interval, when he collapsed on the track.  He had gone into cardiac arrest.  Scott’s heart stopped, and he was revived by fellow runner Larissa and the EMTs, who arrived minutes later. 

I spent some time talking with Scott at the dinner, and we’re both feeling very fortunate to be around, and to be doing what we love (among other things, running).  It was interesting talking to Scott about recovery.  Both of us were under orders not to overdo things for a while, and had to make the best of it.  And both of us feel a new appreciation for life.  I told Scott that he’d inspired me – he was back at the track within weeks of his episode, and I remembered that when I was in physical therapy, or walking miles when I wasn’t supposed to run yet.

When it was my turn to accept my award, I stammered something out about having many people to thank, that I definitely did not do this alone.  I was genuinely overwhelmed, and could not summon eloquence.  But I really meant what I said. 

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how much of my good fortune was luck, how much was my determination, and how much can be attributed to the love and support I’ve received in abundance.

Short answer – I have no idea.  There’s no way to control blind luck.  But determination and support are very interrelated.  I think it’s impossible to separate them.

Life can truly be a game of inches.  One of my lesser injuries was a fracture in the outer spur of my C5 vertebrae.  One inch to the left, and I’d be dead, or a paraplegic.  Another stroke of fortune is that the accident occurred close to Harborview Hospital, the premier trauma center in the Pacific Northwest.  Top-notch medical care was nearby.  And I’m definitely lucky that my brain injuries were not significantly worse – the frontal lobes are responsible for much executive function, logic, and emotional control. 

While I had good health and determination working for me, the encouragement I got every step of the way was huge.  Whenever I started to feel discouraged, a family member or friend picked me up and helped me focus forward.

My wife functioned as an incredible medical advocate for me, starting during my stay in the hospital.  She made sure I was well-cared for, and that I knew what was going on.  Even more important was the difficult month she spent acting as my caregiver after I came home.  I was mostly bedridden.  She looked after me, and made sure I took my medicine.  More important were her late night jogs after me when I’d get out of bed without donning the helmet which protected my partially ‘deboned’ head.  She attended to millions of other things too – like making sure I was seeing good doctors.  There was a lot of effort expended there, and no way I could have done that on my own.

My children experienced something I never did when I was their age.  They nearly lost their dad, and were very aware of that.  Their fear of loss has proven interesting to talk about with them.  They also helped out at home, when Kris needed to focus a lot of her time on me.  That’s asking a lot from a six and eleven year old, and they did beautifully.  There were smaller things that they did too, such as weaving me friendship bracelets to let me know that they were thinking of me.  And although they wouldn’t have awareness of this, my desire to become an active, contributing father again was one of my biggest motivators.  I’ve never taken such joy in making them breakfast, driving them to school, or helping them with homework as I do now.

My parents were incredible through all of this.  They moved to be near their grandchildren about four and a half years ago, and having them close by while all of this has been going on was a huge help.  First of all, my mother was the one who picked the kids up from camp, and had to deliver the news about the accident to them.  Additionally, she made many trips to the doctors with us, and also did research to find doctors (including some I continue to see now).  My father was the first person I saw when I woke up.  He spent lots of time at the hospital with me.  I remember when he would come to be with me just after I’d finish physical therapy so tired I’d fall asleep, with him rubbing my feet.  They’ve taken the kids often, and have also ferried me to appointments on short notice too.  The list goes on too … I can’t thank them enough.

My brother spent much of July and quite a bit of August up here.  He spent lots of time with me in the hospital, and also walking with me when I began recuperating in earnest.  And apparently, he’s going to complete a marathon too.  According to a number of witnesses, he committed to doing this when I was in the induced coma, provided I recovered.  All other things aside, were he to do this and enjoy himself, it would be an incredible gift to me.

Kris’ parents came to be with us in early September, and they proved great company and a huge help to us as well.  I rode with her father as he took Rachel in to school for the first few days of the new school year.  I enjoyed spending time with her mom, talking about all kinds of things.  They were there right around the time I began recovering more quickly, and it was very special having them here with us as that happened.

Beyond family, friends did so much for me.  The crowd at the hospital those first few days provided incredible comfort to my family, when it wasn’t clear whether I would wake up.  Once awake, I benefited from caring support for most of the month I spent at Harborview.  I actually had company with me day and night, so when I woke up there was always someone to talk with.

Some of the conversations were humorous too.  John and Nathaniel and I had a conversation about going outside and enjoying the sunshine.  I was unaware that it was actually 3am. 

Mostly, friends provided great comfort. 

Landy and his family provided wonderful support to me as I recovered.  Katie and Jason posted signs around our house, reminding me to stretch or move around before trying to stand.  Landy was great company, and often provided encouragement and positive energy just when I needed it.  He also arrived at the hospital within minutes of my family.

My friend Ben was one of the first to the hospital, and continued dropping by to talk well after I’d returned home.

Two childhood friends were instrumental too.  My friend Pierre came by several times and (as he always does) drew me into great conversations.  My friend Doron visited me in the hospital, and got me pay off on a longstanding bet about the 2001 American League Championship Series.

My friend Brian videotaped our kids performing in a play, while I was still in the ICU.  I’ll add that Brian’s daughter was not performing – so this was entirely kindness on his part.  Watching the DVD later was much better than missing it.

May, Randy and Lynn were with me one night when I wanted more than anything to get up and talk to the doctors about some surgery due to take place the next day. 

Bob and Amy were with me when I wanted to get up and out of bed, despite having safety restraints on my hands and feet to prevent me from doing so.  They also spent time watching our kids while Kris spent some well-earned time out.

Jim was there when I collapsed one morning, trying to walk from the bathroom back to bed.  

Kim came from doing the STP ride to staying with me the night I tried to remove my feeding tube.

Gilman came by, and we enjoyed talking about how work was going.   He also helped set up the signup site for folks to sit with me at all hours, and handled the communication with my team at work.  Gilman was also one of the initial points of contact – directly or indirectly from Harborview.  He was kind enough to notify my good friends Landy and Ben that I’d been in an accident.

Sam, a coworker who had also spent time at the Harborview ICU a few years ago, came by and provided great comfort by simply listening to me, and empathizing. 

Simon came by the hospital with some great tomato soup.  We had the others in the room rolling with our banter back and forth. 

Susan, a running friend came by and visited, sharing some great food, and catching me up on her sister (who was involved in a serious bike accident some years back).

Often,  I’d get a huge boost from being able to talk to visitors about things not related to my medical condition.  I really enjoyed talking to Trish about how her son was doing (and then visiting with him).

I enjoyed visiting with people from work and kibitzing about work stuff.  I mentioned to Kris the other day that I’d often scour my injured brain for topics other than me or how I was doing, and she pointed out that finding these connections may have played a role in my recovery, as it required exercising memory and association.

I’m not even mentioning the folks that made my family food, so they could focus on being at the hospital.  Or the Seamster’s Union at Northlake Unitarian Universalist Church that made me a beautiful quilt that I love.  The folks at the July Eliot Institute camp provided great comfort and diversion to our kids.  Our good friend Jenny and her daughter brought the kids to the camp, and stayed with them.

In fact, the longer I sit here writing, the more of these wonderful things I remember.  The list goes on … I worry that by not mentioning all of the other stories, I’m not properly appreciating everyone’s friendship.

My point is that every bit of this support, all the small things sum to something very big and substantial for the patient.  It feeds our soul, and confidence just having people who care around.  It helps us focus forward, on recovery, rather than trying to understand "why has this happened?".  Every positive, caring voice makes a big difference. 

All of this helped me to trust myself to recover, and to rely on my own determination to overcome barriers.  The story may be inspiring, but I definitely could not have done this alone.

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