Category Archives: recovery

seven years

 

One second. That’s how quickly it happened.

https://paulcdavid.wordpress.com/pauls-bike-accident-and-recovery/

Seven years ago this morning, I was riding my bike to work. A driver who was lost and late for a job interview, turned his F150 right in front of me. I hit the side of the truck and rolled under his rear wheel. Many injuries – most seriously a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that threatened my life and livelihood.

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by the outline the police drew of my bike, 10 weeks after the accident.

A week in the Neuro ICU – much of it in an induced coma, a month in the hospital, and nearly six months away from work. I had people with me 24/7 for the scary and difficult first few weeks. All that love and support from family and friends helped me focus forward, one small step at a time.

I’m probably the luckiest person you’ll ever meet. I’m able to do the things I love, with the people I love, and am very grateful.

Going from running marathons and earning my living with my brain, to requiring full-time care in the space of a second forces perspective on things. I learned a lot about what it means to be human in the space of those months. And I try to remember these lessons every day.

Hug the people you love this morning. You’ll be happy you did.

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our kids visiting me in the hospital, three weeks after the accident


six years past …

On July 7, 2008 I woke up in Harborview Hospital in Seattle.  I’d been in an induced coma for six days, after being in a bad bicycle accident

I reflect on this each July, marking the anniversary of the accident itself on the first by riding my bike into work.  I take the same route I took that morning six years ago.  The first time I visited the site after it happened, you could still see my bike’s outline painted on the road.  That’s long since faded.  

Each time I ride towards the site, I hold my breath a bit, like I’m diving into water.  When I pass, it’s relief.  Strange ritual –but I do this each year to show myself that I can. 

When the accident comes up in conversation now, I’m struck by a sense of distance from it.  That’s good.  Over time our scars fade – even if they never quite completely disappear.

When I reflect on those days in 2008, I feel appreciation for the love and support from my family and friends that pulled me through this.  My strange ritual is a reminder to appreciate these things every day.

I wouldn’t have chosen this particular adventure, but I’ve been given a great opportunity with it.

Reflect, hold your breath, then dive in. 


five years

Five years ago, we’d just gotten back from a nice trip to Minnesota, where we’d spent a week visiting Kris’ family.  We’d spent time with our friends just east of the Twin Cities, and the kids played together a bunch.  Our younger daughter learned to ride a bike on this trip.  We celebrated our eldest daughter’s 11th birthday.  We took a family picture outside Kris’ parents’ cabin that I have up on my office wall. 

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visiting the northern woods of Wisconsin, the week before our lives changed.

Memories are funny things.  I remember these things very well five years on, probably because of what happened next.

At about 8:30 on the morning of July 1, 2008,  I was hit by a pickup truck while riding my bicycle to workReading the police report tells me that I’m probably the luckiest person on the planet.

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two days after the accident – it would be another four or five days before I’d wake up.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about what happened five years ago.  The first few months were very tough.  Beyond the physical pain, it was very hard to reset my own goals and expectations.  Within a few seconds, I’d gone from being a marathoner who earned his living (with his brain) as a software engineer, to needing help doing the most basic of tasks.  With recovery, there’s often no clear roadmap.  That’s hard to wrap your mind around.

Taking one step at a time, so much is possible.  I had the benefit of good health and a runner’s mindset before the accident.  Most importantly, I have family and friends who gave me the great gift of hope.  They seemed to believe in me – which made it much easier to believe in myself.  This gift of hope is the most powerful thing we can give each other.

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visiting Harborview’s Neuro ICU in December of 2009

Last week I was at Harborview Hospital, visiting a friend  who had been hit a car up in Woodinville last week while commuting on bicycle to work.  While I was there, I dropped by the Neuro ICU, where I’d been taken immediately after my accident.  I told these people working at the premier trauma center in the Pacific Northwest just how much it meant to me that I’m around to see my kids’ cello recitals, and school musicals.

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visiting Redmond Fire Station #12 back in 2010

And on July 1st I stopped by Redmond Fire Station #12, the first responders who answered the call.  I rode the same bicycle, along the same route I’d taken five years before.  I thanked all of them for what they do.  I told them how blessed I feel to be able watch my kids grow.  The lieutenant looked up the accident report from 2008.  The language was succinct : “bicycle v. pickup truck”.  He was thoughtful enough to look up the crew members who answered the call, and let them know that I’d come by.

The quick response and care I received saved my life, and prevented more profound damage to my brain.  It’s an amazing experience to visit these people, and say “thanks for everything” and to really mean everything.


run in peace bridget

Below is an article I wrote for the Marathon Maniacs newsletter.  It’s a tribute to my friend Bridget Waldron Steele, taken from us on 3 October by breast cancer.  Some quick notes on Marathon Maniac lingo used here :

  • the asylum is the list of all people who have qualified for and joined the Marathon Maniacs club.
  • the main maniacs are the three founding members of the club – Steven “Prez” Yee, Chris “Hollywood” Warren, and tony “tp” phillippi.

bridget - myrtle beach

Early in 2012, the Marathon Maniacs awarded MM #5000 to Bridget Waldron Steele. Her path to the asylum was incredibly challenging. By all accounts Bridget was an amazing woman.

When the Main Maniacs announced Bridget’s “Maniacism” to the group, she told us that “the MMs have inspired me to use running as part of therapy in my war on stage IV cancer. In a strange way I feel like I’m running from it”. Her story really drew me in.

In her article Healing is More than Science, Trish Kinney tells us “Even Hippocrates hinted at this powerful connection when he said that he would rather know what sort of person has a disease than what sort of disease a person has. He also said that natural forces within us are the true healers of disease”. Bridget said that “fighting (cancer) on my own emotional terms (was) instrumental in helping me heal … and to resolve a conflict that runs very very deep”.

In 2011, Bridget put this to work in a big way, running four marathons to qualify for the Maniac Asylum – running in the Richmond, White Rock (Dallas), Louisiana (Baton Rouge), and Myrtle Beach Marathons.

I had the good fortune to meet Bridget and her husband Chuck in August over dinner in Colorado Springs. She had invited me to get together so I could learn a bit about the Pike’s Peak Marathon course, which is what brought me to town. Their friend Amy shared some stories about the course, including just how tough those last miles of the ascent can be. You’re above the trees, and you can see runners ahead of you on the switchback heading up an unrelenting climb. I brought along a copy of the Marathon Maniacs book, signed by the Main Maniacs, and included a note about how our stories are the things that get us to keep running, and how much I admired her story.

But by then, running had become difficult for Bridget. She was in lots of pain, but talked about how determined she was to get back to it. Running was vital to her sense of well-being. Chuck reflects that “It is amazing she ran Richmond, Dallas, Myrtle Beach, Baton Rouge, and half of Pittsburgh in the last months of her life”, and that this was “her best defense” against the cancer that would take her life at age 42.

When I learned of her passing on 3 October, it made me very sad – this amazing woman had left us all too soon. I learned some important things from Bridget about running, and about life. She did things with fierce determination, a wickedly irreverent sense of humor, and to push her limits.

Earning her maniac stars was something that fed her soul. When we run, for the most part we do so on our own terms. We choose the events and the level of challenge. Running marathons helps us to do things beyond a single race.

Run in peace Bridget … we miss you. 

Paul David – MM #989

Dr. Chuck Steele is working with folks at West Virginia University to establish a scholarship in Bridget Waldron Steele’s name.

——

I qualified for the Marathon Maniacs myself when running the 2008 Green River Marathon, which turned out to be my last one before I had a near-fatal run-in with a pickup truck while commuting to work on my bike.

While recovering, I ran to heal. This was my own way of putting physical and emotional distance between myself and what had happened to me on that day in July of 2008. When I read Bridget’s story about running marathons to put distance between herself and cancer, it spoke to me, and to some friends of mine also living with cancer.

In 2013 I am will run an event as a fundraiser to fight cancer, or (better yet) to stop it before it starts.  – pcd


four years …

Four years ago this week, I nearly lost my life.  I reflect a bit on this every day.   And when the first week in July comes around I think about just how fortunate I’ve been. 

When I was looking for something in our garage last week, I came across the the bicycle helmet I was wearing. It was not designed to withstand a run-in with that red Ford F150 truck. Yet somehow it did.

Here’s the journal entry Kris wrote about that first day :

Written Jul 2, 2008 8:56am

Paul was hit by a car while riding to work yesterday. He sustained severe damage to his head. He had some internal bleeding in the area over his left eye, so they performed an operation to relieve the pressure on his brain. He currently has a piece of his skull removed and the brain has expanded into the opening. They are keeping him sedated and monitoring him to watch for more swelling. They will be putting an IV into a main artery into which they will put a 3% saline solution. This will help draw the fluids away from his head and into the rest of his body where they can be flushed by his kidneys. The next 48-72 hours are a critical time where the primary focus is to reduce the swelling. After that, we will be able to start assessing whether there is any brain damage.

The most helpful thing you can do right now is send all your thoughts and prayers to Paul.

Thanks,

Kris.

And here’s the journal entry from six days later when woke up (I remember many of the things Kris writes about) :

Written Jul 7, 2008 10:06pm

Wow, what difference a day makes!

In the morning, Paul was able to tell the doctors his name, and respond to commands in a more definitive manner. When the doctor told Paul that Hal was on his left, he turned to look at him. And when the doctors asked if it would be okay to put an intravenous line in, he said no. At one point, he said “Out!”, which is what Kayla used to say when she wanted out of the jogging stroller 😉

When I arrived around noon, he was once again awake and the nurse was asking questions. He was able to say his name, where he was, and the year. He also was able to put up 2 fingers on each hand, wiggle toes, and squeeze the nurses hand.

When the nurse was done, I went to his side and started talking to him. He told me he couldn’t hear me, so I talked louder. At one point, he asked me to kiss him, so I knew he was feeling a lot better!

Throughout the day, he continued to engage in conversation in between periods of rest. He was shocked when I told him he’d been there for 6 days, then asked me what was broken. After I listed all of his broken bones, he said something that can’t be repeated in this forum 😉

At around 3pm, I asked him if he’d like to see the girls, and he gave me an emphatic YES! I immediately called the people who had picked them up from camp, and they brought the kids to the house so that Matt could bring them to the hospital. They arrived around 4:30pm, and I showed them a picture of Paul and talked about what they would see.

The girls were shy at first, but they both talked with him a bit, and they we let him rest. While he rested, the girls filled out a “About My Family and Me” chart that the hospital gave us, and then we went to dinner.

When we came back to say goodbye, Rachel told Paul and old family joke about a duck in a bar. Paul’s face lit up and he gave us a huge lopsided grin!

I remember nothing between the first and seventh of July 2008.  The journal Kris kept has helped me understand more about what those first days were like for me medically, and for my family as well.  She included notes sent by people who stayed with me too.  Some of these entries are inspiring.  Some of these are scary.  And some of them are amusing. 

In the two months following my accident, I was completely dependent on others for care.  I required help standing, eating and everything else.  To say the least, it’s humbling to go from running marathons to requiring help getting to the bathroom.  As humbling as this felt sometimes, having someone with me all the time proved to be a source of hope as well. 

I cannot express how much it meant to see familiar faces and to hear familiar voices. I laugh when I think about some of the conversations that happened while I was drifting in and out of a medicated dream-like state. And I smile when I think about how many of these visits helped me redirect my fears about what might lie ahead and instead focus on enjoying the moments we shared, and on the things I could do. I still read about them sometimes.

In addition to spending time with me, our community brought food to my family, took care of our children, and offered rides when they were needed. 

Later this week I will visit the first responders at Redmond FD Station #12 (I’ve done this several times before).  I’ll also go by the Neuro ICU at Harborview Hospital (have also done this several times before).  I’ve had the good fortune to have met some of the people who treated me that morning.  It’s important to me that these folks know that what they do matters so much. 

These powerful gifts of hope I received four years ago were absolutely essential to my recovery.  And I think about this every day as well.  And for this, I say “thanks for everything”.

The original version of this post included a a reference to my helmet and head passing under the rear wheel of the truck that hit me.  Witnesses to the accident told the police that this is what they saw – it is included in the police report.  It seems more plausible that my head injuries were the result of my collision with the truck or with the ground.  I’ve revised my post to reflect that.


the long run : the story of matt long’s recovery

When I used to feel stress at the firehouse … I had the simple solution : Throw on a singlet, put on the shorts, lace up the running shoes and do a hard six miler in the park. Every run solved a problem or reduced its significance. I liked to say a run cleaned the chalkboard of life.

A big source of inspiration for me, as I was recovering from my bike accident in 2008 was New York City firefighter Matthew Long.  He’d been struck by a bus while riding to work.  He suffered extensive internal injuries.  Matt was initially given a 5% chance of survival.  Yet three years later, he lined up at the start of the New York City Marathon, to run the race of a lifetime.  His is an amazing story.

I survived because I had trained my heart to do the same. Becoming an Ironman had kept me from becoming a dead man.

Matt’s book The Long Run is available in paperback now.  It’s a worthwhile read – particularly for those dealing with life-altering injuries.  You can check out his interview with Jon Stewart, talking about what he was up against, and some of the things that made a big difference for him.

It seemed that with each conversation I had with a doctor, the longer my road to recovery became.

I’d first read Matt’s story in the New York Times, just before he ran the 2008 New York City Marathon.  I was nearly four months from my own adventure with a negligent driver.  Reading about Matt making it to the starting line again gave me a glimmer of hope that I might do the same.  Reading and seeing his path to the finish line in Runner’s World in early 2009 was a transformative experience for me.

While in my own recovery, one of the things I struggled with the most was setting my own expectations about when or whether I’d get back to where I’d been before the accident.  Recovery from a serious injury such as a Traumatic Brain Injury does not have a straight path.  There aren’t timelines you can count on.  In a situation like that, it’s hard to figure out what a reasonable baseline of expectations is – at work, running marathons, or with life in general. 

“Matt, come on.” she snapped. “Look how far you’ve come” But I didn’t want to look back. And I couldn’t look forward. I had always lived in the present. I used to wake up every morning expecting to make that day more fun than the day before … Then I got run over by a bus and I couldn’t do anything or see anything. I couldn’t see that last week I had walked 30 feet down a hallway, and this week I walked 60 feet, and next week I might walk 120 feet. I didn’t see that things were doubling. I just saw one thing. Me in a damn wheelchair with a damn colostomy bag hooked to my side.

Matt’s story illustrates this difficulty very clearly.  Prior to his accident, Matt had completed several marathons – including a personal-best (and Boston-qualifying) 3:13 weeks before the race.  He’d also completed Ironman Lake Placid in a very respectable 11:18:01.

Everything changed on the morning of December 22, 2005.  He had to retrain his body in order to become independent again.  In order to start running again, he needed to walk.  In order to walk he needed to stand up.  In order to stand up, he needed to convince himself that he could do it.

“I am very confused about how I feel about my accident.  I ask “Why?” knowing that is a question never to be answered.  I ask to have a full recovery, and that will only be answered in time.  I find myself negotiating with God day in and day out …”

Talking about what it took to stand up again only scratches the surface of the degree of challenge Matt faced.  Coming to terms with some of the consequences of suffering extensive muscular and nerve damage in his core took several years.  Matt’s ability to talk about this will ring true to anyone who’s faced an uphill recovery – focusing on rebuilding both body and your spirit takes incredible determination, and (as Matt tells us) – and incredible amount of support – family, friends, and faith.

[The physical therapist] finished by writing, “If you want to run, all the better.  I would never tell anyone they couldn’t do what they wanted to do”.

One thing to remember is that determination takes many forms.  Sometimes it’s digging deeper to run faster or longer than you thought you could.  Other times it’s dealing with setbacks and not giving up on yourself.  Knowing that if you can’t run today, you’ll try again tomorrow.

The power of Matt’s story for me is how he focused on “I Will” instead of feeling defined by what he couldn’t do.  It’s the gift of hope.

Check out his book The Long Run, or the Runner’s World profile of him.


three years and thankful

I nearly lost my life three years ago today.  You can read about that adventure here if you’d like.  Not a day goes by that I’m not reminded about what happened.  Not a day goes by that I don’t feel fortunate to be alive, and active.

For the past two July the firsts, I’ve visited the fire station that answered the call for my accident – Station #12 in Redmond.  Getting to thank people for saving your life is quite amazing. 

The first responders have a code they try to adhere to – called 7-7-7.  That means no longer than seven minutes to get to the scene, seven minutes readying a patient for transport, and then seven minutes to the hospital.  For Traumatic Brain Injury patients like me, time is of the essence.  Taking longer can jeopardize the patient’s life, or leave them vulnerable to sustaining brain damage.

Perhaps from their standpoint, the cyclist hit on Old Redmond Road near Grasslawn Park at 8:30 that morning posed no special challenge to them. Perhaps they simply did their job, making sure I was stabilized, and made it safely to the trauma center at Harborview Hospital in Seattle.

But it’s clear that what first responders like those that helped me, are true heroes.  What they do really matters – as it did to my family and I that morning three years ago.

They invited me back into the firehouse, and we talked for a while.  They asked how I felt, whether I remembered anything about the accident, and whether I’d spoken to the driver at all (I haven’t).

We talked about efforts to create stricter negligent driving laws, and I told them about some of the people who shared their stories in Olympia in support of the Vulnerable User Bill (signed into law by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire this past May 16).

And then we were interrupted by a call they needed to answer.  I stood by my bicycle and waved as they left, thinking about how they’d done this for me not too long ago.

In many ways, I’m happy to leave these memories behind me, and simply move on.  But remembering this anniversary by saying “thank you” is a reminder of just how blessed I am.