Monthly Archives: February 2011

the vulnerable user bill advances

Got word yesterday that the Vulnerable User Bill has passed a floor vote in the Washington State Senate (as SB 5326).  Now it’s on to the House, and the companion bill HB 1339.

Having taken several trips to Olympia over the past two in support of these bills, it’s nice to see positive change.  Being a part of this has been a way for my family and I to apply our own experience with a negligent driver two and a half years ago and hopefully prevent what happened to me from happening to someone else.  Channeling positive energy into this has been a great way for us to continue our healing process.

Watching the coverage of the floor vote in TVW’s Weekly Legislative Review allowed me to see some impact that the testimony we delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee had (the segment on SB 5326 begins at 12:10).

Senator Adam Kline speaks first.  In addition to being the Judiciary Committee Chair, he was the primary sponsor of the bill.  The second speaker was Senator Cheryl Pflug.  During the hearing, she’d asked several questions about whether civil action wasn’t a viable avenue for victims to secure recourse from the offender.  Several of us spoke to this point directly –in my case, the driver was uninsured and unemployed.  Additionally, pursuing civil action means subjecting one’s family to a legal process fraught with emotional consequences.  Senator Pflug incorporated this into her message today as she spoke in support of the bill prior to the floor vote.  I’ve already written thank-you note to her for this. 

If you are interested, you can see the debate and vote here (discussion of SB 5326 begins at 31:00 and is less than seven minutes long).

Watching how the legislative process works has been an education.  It has taken three years to get this far, and given my experience last year – I’m definitely encouraged to see things come together like this.  The biggest lesson for me has been that legislating is a lot more like sausage-making than making software.  The end result might taste okay, but generally you don’t want to visit the kitchen and watch it being made.  On the positive side, it’s been a great way to show the kids how bills become laws :

The Cascade Bicycle Club folks have posted the below diagram on their advocacy blog to help explain where we are now :

The diagram doesn’t show that the Senate bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee today, and that it is scheduled for a public hearing next Wednesday, March 2.  There are just a couple of weeks left in the session to get this done.  With all of the focus on fiscal issues, there’s the possibility that even with the apparent support behind this bill, it will get left by the wayside.  This effectively this happened last year in the Senate, when the bill died “on the calendar” (did not come to a vote prior to the imposed deadline).

Washington State voters should contact their legislators and convey support for HB 1339 – it definitely can’t hurt.

an important note to the associated press about TBI

I appreciate the article this morning about the father and son who are both TBI survivors.  This story is important – people need to understand the risks and sacrifices our people in uniform face.  The following quote caught me by surprise :

Traumatic brain injury is a mysterious ailment that can cause mood swings, forgetfulness, paranoia and can strain any family. The mental wound afflicts an estimated 10 percent of troops returning from today’s wars.

The writer has mischaracterized Traumatic Brain Injuries as mental injuries.  According to the NHI it is “a form of acquired brain injury, occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain”.

Naturally there are mental and/or emotional symptoms that can result from the physical injury. My concern is that calling it a “mental injury” allows people to believe it is addressable purely as a mental health issue. This is often not the case.  This might seem like a petty distinction, but it is not.  Omitting the physical root cause from the equation allows people to potentially dismiss this something requiring a simple round of psychotherapy.  Of worse – something that is beyond the realm of medical science.  In other words – it allows people to cop out.

So – AP – please be careful to check your facts before employing medical definitions such as this. The distinction is very important to TBI survivors such as myself.

more perspective on survival–living at stage four

Here, through the looking glass, in the back of the beyond, there is no normal. There is no certainty, but that’s true in the old world as well.

Katherine Russell Rich, from “Turning a Death Sentence into a Passport for Life”

Several weeks back, while preparing for a talk on survival, I had the good fortune to read Laurence Gonzales’ fine book Deep Survival.  His distillation of what helps people survive was fascinating.  Each time I revisit my recovery, I learn something new about it.

A week later while down in San Francisco, I was visiting with a good friend of mine from our days at Cal Poly.  We’d fallen out of touch for a while, and have enjoyed reconnecting.  I’ve really enjoyed swapping stories about our adventures and our kids.

Last summer, she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.  The cancer is into her bones.  She’s into her second course of treatment now, and is facing some daunting odds.  The American Cancer Society gives five-year survival rates of about 20% for stage four breast cancer patients.  At stage four, the focus seems to be more about extending life rather than curing the cancer.

As we walked, my friend talked about the paradox of feeling fine now.  She’s taking care of herself, and is active.  She talked about spending time with her kids, and taking on some projects for work.  But at the same time, she doesn’t know what tomorrow will bring.  It’s difficult to tell how she will respond to treatment, difficult to anticipate whether or not she’ll be physically able to fulfill professional commitments, or to do volunteer work at the kids’ school.  It’s difficult to live beyond the present.

As we spoke, I found myself offering clumsy optimism.  Despite my good intentions, it’s difficult to be optimistic sometimes.  My frame of reference on survival is limited to my own experience – which is different from my friend’s situation.  Dealing with the basic conflicts of currently feeling pretty good, the probability that things will get worse, the desire to be positive, and the frustration of feeling in limbo has got to be incredibly hard.

A couple of weeks back, there was a segment on NPR’s This American Life with Katherine Russell Rich, who has lived with cancer for twenty-three years, eighteen of these at Stage Four.  She has written an excellent memoir of her life with cancer – The Red Devil : To Hell with Cancer and Back.  I’m most of the way though this now, and hearing her perspectives on life is very powerful.  Her experiences with doctors, treatment, work, and everyday life have been an education. 

Beyond the the fact she’s defied the odds so much, the thing that caught my ears and eyes about Russell’s story is that she tells us that it took her fourteen years to come to terms with the fact that she’s still here.  In her words – she finally feels “like there’s not plexiglass between her and the world”.  I would highly recommend listening to the This American Life segment on Kathy.  It begins 44:30 into the program and is definitely a worthwhile twelve minutes.

January 15th is anniversary of her stage four diagnosis.  On that day this year, she posted the note below to a discussion board on, saying “I’m still here”.  Despite the daunting odds that people living at stage four face, she wants them to know that it’s possible to live.  Each year, she debates whether or not doing this will have the intended positive impact, or whether it simply draws attention to Rich being a statistical anomaly.  In reading some of the threads on Kathy’s posts, I have to believe that hope makes a difference.



I’m writing from India to say that as of today, I’ve been alive 18 years with Stage 4. If someone had told me then that I’d be in India–or anywhere–18 years down the road, I’d have thought they were deluded or being cruel. As I’ve mentioned before, there was no hope when I was rediagnosed, and then somehow there was. Just as cancer can take some unexpected  bad turns, it can take some unexpectedly good ones too.

This computer’s going to go down any minute, so I’ll end here, but not before saying I wish everyone the most unexpected year, in the best way.

Much love,


a post from kathy36 on the discussion board of

to the state house for better negligent driving laws

This morning I was one of several people to testify before the Washington State House Judiciary Committee in favor of HB 1339 – the Vulnerable Users Bill.  This is the companion to Senate Bill 5326.

You can find the video here.  Reading and discussion of the bill begins about 0:47:30 minutes in.  Testimony by some of us affected by negligent drivers begins at 1:11:00.

This is the third year the bill has been considered, which demonstrates that it apparently takes time to debate and consider a legislative equivalent of motherhood and apple pie.

I was impressed with how well-organized the Cascade Bicycle Club folks were.  We met prior to the hearing, talked about what we needed to accomplish, and decided on an order for testimony.  Last time, the folks who had lost family members went first.  This time, they wanted the testimony related to cycling accidents to go first, with the pedestrian accidents finishing. 

Some people apparently feel that cyclists are too reckless – a feeling that shows up in just about any conversation about cyclist-motorist accidents.  It’s immaterial, because as David Hiller of the Cascade Bicycle Club testified, a motorist is only charged with negligent driving if there is not “contributory negligence” on the part of the cyclist.  In the Senate hearing, one of the members seemed to require this rudimentary reminder.

Hearing the stories brought tears to my eyes.  Simple cause, with big effect.  In the pictures below, the caption “concerned citizen” really means “person who lost someone because of negligent driving”.

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Stricter laws will not bring Melissa Brulotte’s daughter, Colleen Zakar’s nephew, or Nancy Norton’s father back.  What I do like about the proposed penalties are that they attack a root cause (negligence) with better awareness, and better education.