Monthly Archives: January 2011

the vulnerable user bill–another try

An act relating to negligent driving resulting in substantial bodily harm, great bodily harm, or death of a vulnerable user of a public way.

– From the Washington State Senate Bill Report on SB 5326.

For the past two years, Washington State has been considering a law that fills the gap between simple traffic tickets and crime, where the driver’s actions maim or kill someone.  Last year, there was a Senate bill that made it out of committee.  It didn’t make it to the floor before the deadline for house-senate debate.  The technical term is that it apparently “died on the calendar”.

This time around there are very similar bills progressing through the state house and senate.  These are SB 5326 and HR 1339.

I was contacted by Cascade Bicycle Club about joining them in Olympia for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill.  So – on Friday January 21st, we found ourselves ready to share our stories in support on SB 5326.

You can find the video here.  Discussion of SB 5326 begins about 31 minutes in.  Testimony by families and accident victims begins around 59:50.

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Four of us who were affected by negligent drivers got the opportunity to speak.  Melissa Brulotte shared her account of how a negligent driver hit and killed her two year old daughter.  Melissa herself was hit and injured, and her other children witnessed this terrible thing.  Colleen Zakar shared her account of losing her nephew Kevin Black to a negligent driver – and told us a bit about the conversations they’d had with Kevin’s children about this.  Their stories are incredibly stirring.  They also establish a real connection from a driver’s actions to the people affected.

I shared this statement with the members of the committee :

Mr. Chair, and members of the committee, I am Paul David from Kirkland. I am a very fortunate survivor of a negligent driver, representing myself before you today to discuss the Vulnerable User Bill.

On the morning of July 1st, 2008, I kissed my wife and two daughters goodbye, and set out to ride my bicycle to work. It was a nice morning, and I was travelling within the bike lane in line with the rules of the road, when the driver of a Ford F150 Truck suddenly turned in front of me. The driver had seen me, and thought he’d be able to make it in front of me – he was in a hurry you see.

I struck his truck just behind his passenger door and rolled under. His rear wheel actually passed over my head. Biking helmets are generally not designed to support the several thousand pounds that an F150 weighs. It is fair to say that I’m lucky to be alive and speaking before you.

I sustained a collapsed lung, and many broken bones. I had a fracture to my c5 vertebrae – had this been one inch over to the right, I would have been killed or rendered a paraplegic. I suffered loss of vision in my left eye. Most seriously, I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury. A hemorrhage required that a flap of skull bone be removed to permit my brain to swell, then heal.

I spent a week in an induced coma in the ICU, and month in the hospital. I wore a helmet to protect my head for two months, until the bone flap was reattached to my skull. I spent much of that time unable to walk much, and requiring full-time care. I needed help with such things as bathing and getting to the bathroom. I was unable to be an active, engaged parent to my girls. I was unable to work (or drive) for nearly six months.

In contrast, the driver who hit me was able to drive off that very day, and return to life as usual.  He faced a $500 fine. It only would have been about half that, but he was also uninsured. Consider that for a minute. He exercised very poor judgment, nearly costing me my life. But he was able to simply drive away afterwards. In fact, he did not have to show up in court. Just had to drop a check in the mail, and be done with it.

Think about the positive effect that sentencing this driver to community service in a trauma center might have. He would see the consequences of his poor driving judgment up close, connecting people with his own actions. I imagine he’d remember doing something like that longer than writing a check and dropping it in the mail.

Laws need not be punitive, but they do need to encourage people to practice their driving privileges with good judgment and with careful attention to others on the road. They need to understand and to remember that they are operating machines that have the power to take lives, or to profoundly alter them. This is possible with the passage of this bill.

Thank you very much for your time.

The senators are optimistic that the bill will pass this time around.  Last year, it was passed by the judiciary committee by a 5-3 vote.  This time around the hope is that the vote is even more decisive.  If you watch the video, you’ll note that there’s very little debate that the bill is a good idea in principle.  The central point of debate was around the delineation between “reckless” and “negligent” driving (intent), and about whether they should consider making Negligent Driving II a criminal offense (verses an “enhanced violation”).  Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles shared her story about being cut off by a truck while she was doing the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic some years back.  She’d been very lucky – she was bruised and rattled, but not too seriously injured.

An ironic footnote here is that Rodney Tom, our own state senator failed to support this bill last year.  Cascade tells me that he’s on board this year.  I have letter out to him, and to Ross Hunter and Deb Eddy (our state reps who supported this bill last year) to confirm their support now.  I would encourage my fellow Washington State voters to contact their senators and representatives as well.

Engaging in the political process as a means to work for change is – interesting.  I strongly believe that in this case, the real goal is both to hold drivers accountable for their actions and to build awareness that there’s a problem in the first place. 

Taking this approach defuses the argument that victims want punitive laws.  Having thought about this a lot, I know very well that a new law won’t erase what happened to me, nor would it even be applied to my own situation.  But it will help prevent what happened to me from happening to others.

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visiting san francisco

This past weekend, my two daughters and I flew to San Francisco, to visit my brother and his partner Patrick.  This was the kids’ first time there since my parents moved up to the Northwest back in 2004.  The younger one didn’t remember even being in California. 

Traveling with them is interesting.  The three of us have some different interests, so I’d been forewarned by them that they weren’t interested in going to a bunch of museums.  And, there’s the dilemma of how much to plan verses how much relaxing time to allow for.  Also – we’ve got a bunch of food allergies, which makes finding restaurants a challenge. 

I got lots of grief about the trip in the days leading up to it.  There was lots going on with school, homework to attend to, and an event missed at the younger one’s school the day we were leaving.  They didn’t have friends there, and were skeptical they’d enjoy themselves.

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The skepticism persisted right up until departure.  Things did get better when the plane had entertainment systems built into each seat though.  And things got better immediately after meeting my brother and his dachshund Coco at the airport.  We went to his place, before heading out for Mexican food. 

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One of the highlights of the Mexican food was getting to try out the salsa bar.  It included selections along the full range of spiciness.  Naturally we all had to sample the super-hot Habenero sauce.  It began mildly enough, with kind of a fruity taste – and then exploded – sending your eyeballs shooting out from your head, and causing sweat to pour down your face.  I’m exaggerating, but only a little.  The pictures above are of the girls each trying to quell the fire taste in their mouths.  We capped the afternoon with a drive up to Twin Peaks.

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We played games for a while, then headed out for some great Indian food.  The highlight there was someone getting to enjoy a Dosa that was longer than their leg.

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I visited with a good friend from Cal Poly the next morning.  This was very special to me.  We hadn’t seen each other in about seventeen or eighteen years.  She’s married, and has two wonderful kids.  I enjoyed hearing her stories of her adventures since we’d last seen each other – she told me about spending several months on a road trip in the Southwest, about she and her husband living in El Salvador, and we swapped stories about our kids. 

Last summer, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which (as she stated it) has turned things upside down for her.  I learned things about courage and about the ups and downs of living in the present from my friend.  I’m still thinking about our conversation a lot. 

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The next day, we did brunch with some long-time family friends.  My eldest took charge of cooking the pancakes, and did a great job.  I’d lived with these people for a few months when I was a teenager, and found it amazing to share stories about my own children with them.

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That afternoon, we met another friend from Cal Poly at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.  He was there with his daughter, who was close in age to my eldest.  They hit it off marvelously.  My younger daughter and I visited the Planetarium, the Aquarium, and the rain forest – and really enjoyed ourselves.  We extended the visit into another great Mexican meal (with more Habanero sauce), and some time spent playing games at my brother’s place.  By the time things wrapped up, the two older kids were plotting a visit at our house near Seattle.

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We visited Alcatraz the next morning.  Parts of this weren’t as much of a hit, but I’m still glad we went.  In addition to getting out to the island (I’d not been before), we got a chance to ride a vintage trolley along the waterfront, and to enjoy the best commercially-available root beer and burgers at the Ferry Building

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By then, it was just about time to head home.  We got a little down time at my brother’s, and then it was off to the airport.

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I found the time with each child amazing in different ways.  They have pretty different personalities and some different interests too.  Getting out of the house, and away from your routines forces you to listen to each other differently, and you get to appreciate different qualities in each other too.

My brother and his partner were excellent hosts.  They’d done some great footwork to find restaurants that would provide options for us (very challenging), and allowed us to spend nice time at their place – playing with their Wii and with Coco.  And they’d found us a nice place to stay close to their place.  As we left the place we’d stayed, Lynn (the woman who rented us a great one bedroom apartment) told me that one of the girls had said “I’m so lucky to have two uncles here”.  Warmed my heart so much to hear that.

The younger one’s already planning our next trip down.  I’ll take that as a good sign. 


reflections on survival

This past Sunday I had the good fortune to share my story and my thoughts on survival with the good people of Northlake Unitarian Universalist ChurchRev. Marian Stewart was doing her sermon on what helps people survive in life-critical situations, and invited me speak as part of this sermon.  Marian introduced me to a fascinating book on the subject, Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales.

The basic question posed by Gonzales is what things make the difference between people who survive verses those who don’t.  He cites examples of people in situations such as plane crashes, climbing accidents, getting lost in the wilderness.  The survivors he writes about include some people who manage to defy the odds in very unlikely ways. 

Some of the situations involve sudden turns of events, such as reacting to roped climbers tumbling down Mount Hood, people in rafting accidents, or pilots in trouble.  Some of the situations involve people getting lost – in several senses of the word.  They get lost geographically, as well as losing their mental map of where they are.

Preparing for this talk was an opportunity for me to consider my own situation in July of 2008.  In my case, the question was less about instantaneous response (like the climbers, rafters, or pilots), and more similar to someone getting lost.

In a number of cases, the people who survived were not the ones you’d expect to have.  They don’t necessarily have much training to prepare them, nor did they necessarily have essential equipment.  So what makes the difference?  It seems to come down to a couple of different factors. 

  • There’s the element of luck.  These are circumstances you have no control over.  How did I survive rolling under the truck’s wheel?  Why wasn’t damage caused by my TBI worse?  How was it that the fracture in my c5 vertebrae didn’t cause damage to my spinal cord (causing death or quadriplegia)?
  • The type of response from the subject often has a large bearing.  Gonzales cites examples of people taking their fate into their own hands, rather than waiting to be rescued.  This response can be determined not by the subject’s logical response (from the brain), but rather the ability of their primary emotional response (fear or despair) to be managed by their secondary emotional response.  These are the connections that allow you to govern a primary response with a subconscious, trained, logical response.

The feeling of losing your mental map is very frightening.  I’d never imagined feeling completely helpless and dependent, and I could not have imagined what having a seizure-type episode would be like.  Perhaps more profoundly, not having a clear sense of what a true prognosis was for my cognitive recovery or even my true ‘baseline’ for comparison (to measure my recovery) filled me with fear and despair.

The factor that I cited as making a huge difference for me was the gift of hope I received from those around me.  The degree of love and support I received was truly amazing, and it had the effect of redirecting my mind from fear, and towards recovery.

The miracle of hope allowed me to construct what Viktor Frankl refers to as the “will to meaning”.  In his excellent book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl describes how discovering one’s “will to meaning” helps them navigate from any current circumstance to their goal.  Frankl explains this as a tension that drives our search for meaning, which can be discovered in three basic ways :

"We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering."

Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning

My “will to meaning” required understanding who I was and what was most important to me.  As I lay in bed for those first months after my accident, more than anything else I wished to be a father to my children, a partner to my wife, and a strong and active person again.  Given how distant these things felt, the gift of hope was essential to me. 

I’d read and been very inspired by Frankl some years back.  It’s fair to say that I did not actively contemplate his work while laying in my hospital bed.  As I thought about the contributing factors in my recovery, “will to meaning” was best means I found to explain my motivations at that time.

For me part of this is continuing to share thoughts about this with others.  From time to time a fellow trauma survivor will stumble across one of these blog entries, and drop me a note about their experiences.  We’ll swap some thoughts and reflections, which seems to help both of us a bit – there’s definitely power in discovering commonality – particularly since trauma can make you feel very isolated.

I’m still reading through the Gonzales book, but as I progress though, it’s becoming more interesting.  In the middle chapters he talks about what’s “inside the right stuff” – what motivates people in bad situations to proactively pursue survival, to expend your valuable energy very consciously, and he talks about things that cause you to get outside of yourself.

This is where he believes things like faith and helping others come into the picture.  And consistent with Frankl’s work, this seems to fuel people’s “will to meaning”.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory…."

Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning


just another mile marker – ringing in the new year

People celebrate the new year in different ways.  For a number of years, I’d done this the more traditional way, involving staying up late with friends and champagne.  Then about seventeen years ago, I participated in a 5k that started at the stroke of midnight.  I love this form of unconventional fun, and had been hoping to find a similar thing since.

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photos taken by Takao Suzuki

Several weeks back I ‘d signed up for the Last Chance Marathon in Bellingham, run on New Year’s Eve morning.  I considered trying to double up for the first time, by doing the First Call to Run Marathon the following day as well.  Doing a double had been a long-term goal of mine, and I figured it wouldn’t ever be easier than now.  Both of these events are without easy driving distance of home, and are small and well-regarded.

So the day after running a pretty good race in Bellingham, I found myself heading out to Bothell Landing for First Call.  I felt pretty good, but still had trouble pushing doubt aside.  I’d been uncertain enough that I’d refused to commit out loud.  I’d set my running clothes and fuel out the night before, but made it clear that I might choose to sleep in.  The expression goes that the hardest part of doing a race is getting to the start.  Indeed.

It was cold, as it had been the day before – about 25 or so.  Another long-tights marathon.  I donned my red Eastside Runners shirt, over a warm long sleeved shirt, and wore my cross-country ski gloves for good measure.  We lined up at the start and headed out at eight AM sharp.

The sun was just starting to peek out over the trees, and it was another beautiful day.  As I stretched out during the early miles, I kept reminding myself that cold is a very effective analgesic, and that being out doing this might be sort of similar to sitting in an ice bath nursing my fatigued legs.

Similar to Last Chance, this was a double out and back course.  We ran south on the Sammamish River Trail from Bothell Landing down to northern Redmond, ran back, and then repeated it.  This flat, fast course is actually part of the old Seattle Marathon course.  It’s a good place to cover miles, but can tend to feel a bit monotonous too.  Fortunately, I was out there with some friends.  And given the double out and back, you got to see people several times, even if they were keeping very different paces from you.  And just before I completed the first half, I caught sight of a big bald eagle, perched high in a tree over the river.  I took this as a good omen – remembering that I’d enjoyed seeing another while doing my first marathon, up in Alaska back in 1998.  This helped settle my doubts a bit.  I rounded the first two turnarounds at just under a four-hour pace.

However, as I began the second half reality started to sink in.  I’d suspected my legs would feel tired enough to effect my pace (they did), but hadn’t anticipated how much pain I’d feel in my achilles tendons – both of them!  During mile 14 and 15, I considered dropping out and calling today a half marathon.  My quandary there was figuring out which I’d regret more – running the full (completing the double, and potentially ravaging my achilles), or quitting (missing out on the double, but mitigating the potential damage). 

In retrospect, it probably would have been wiser to quit.  Time will tell whether or not I’ll pay a high price for being determined to finish.  Whether that’s the case or not, it’s also a privilege to dig deep sometimes and see what you can muster from yourself.

I’d settled into a nice visit with my friend Eric as we headed into the final turnaround, just over nineteen and a half miles into the race.  I hung on with Eric for a while, but had to introduce minute-long walk breaks each miles after running about twenty one miles.  I felt fine aerobically, and other than a bit of (understandable) fatigue my legs felt fine.  But the pain in my achilles had continued to get worse.  And starting to run again after each walk break was especially hard.  I actually felt like screaming.

By now, the sun was up and bright, and the temperature had warmed into the high thirties.  There were people out there riding their bikes, families walking together, and some 50k runners heading back the other way to do their final five miles or so.  And I saw another eagle as I ran north along the Sammamish River, with two or three miles to go.

There’s lots I could say about digging deep for that extra something which helped me finish, but it didn’t really feel like that.  It felt more like I’d simply decided to keep moving.  So when I crossed the finish (in just under 4:10), I didn’t kick too hard, and didn’t really even think much about covering two marathons in two days.  It felt more like I’d passed another mile marker in the big scheme of things.

And that’s my hope.  As we pass into another year, I’d like to keep moving along, not to get distracted by doubts, to see some eagles and enjoy the sunshine along the way.  Here’s wishing everyone a very happy new year.

Chart and Graphs for Running Geeks

Time wasn’t a real goal of mine this time around – but the chart tells the story of how I felt.  Not sure it would have been better to start slower this time – chances are the wheels would have come off at about the same time.

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