Forced Introspection (Part 2)

If you missed Forced Introspection (Part 1) and you want to read it first, click here.

After my impromptu 3 mile run, my mind felt more calm. I jumped in the shower and tried not to give the accident I just witnessed any more thought. I still needed to drop off the folder, and get to school to pick up the kids. I got dressed and hopped in the car. I debated going the long way so I could skip driving by the accident scene, but told myself, “I can’t just not drive that way the rest of my life!” So I turned left out of my road. All the emergency responders were gone and the truck had been towed away. All that was left were the broken branches and muddy tire tracks. Unless a passer-by knew where to look, he would never have known that there was a bad car accident, that closed down the road, only an hour earlier. It was no longer an accident scene, it was back to being a 55 MPH undivided highway. Life had moved on, at least for most people. Life certainly hadn’t moved on for the man who was in the accident. He was in the emergency room of some hospital. I am sure the police officer left with the responsibility of writing up the paperwork was still working on getting it finished. Maybe the other witnesses of the accident were still thinking about it like me? Well, probably not like me. All I could think about was how it effected me to see it. To experience it from my perspective…

As I pulled into the pick-up line at the kid’s school my cell phone range thru my car Bluetooth. I didn’t recognize the number but answered it. It was a woman who went to high school with Tonia and me. I had seen her a few weeks earlier when I gave a talk at my parent’s church, back in our home town. That was the first time I had seen her in almost four years. The last time we talked I was a patient on her floor at Pinnacle Rehab. I had asked her if she still worked at the rehab? She was still there. We talked a few more minutes and before we parted company I told her that if there was ever anyone at Pinnacle whom she felt would benefit from meeting me and talking, she should just reach out to me. Today she was reaching out.

I tried to focus on her words as she told me about a patient who had just arrived at the rehab a few days ago. “He is about the same age as you… He’s married with one kid… He was in really good shape when the accident happened… He had a side business removing trees… A tree fell on him… Broke his back… Both his ankles and feet were shattered… He’s really depressed about his condition… Do you think you can talk to him?”

I think the first thing out of my mouth was “yes”. I know the rehab route so my question was “What time does he go to rehab in the morning?” When you are in rehab, going to rehab is your job. When you are not actually in rehab, you are resting so you can go back to rehab. His started at 10:30 AM. Wednesday morning wasn’t going to work, but Thursday would. I asked her to email his name and room number to me, and to let him know that I would stop by at 9:30 in the morning on Thursday, if that was OK with him? We said our good-byes and hung up.

Just like that my mind-set had changed. Just then I realized that I was so caught up in how witnessing the accident affected me that I lost sight of what really mattered… the injured man. What I have lived through makes me uniquely suited to talk to people just like this guy. It is one of the major blessings to come from our accident and my recovery. This is what I do. Now all I had to worry about was walking thru the front doors of Pinnacle Rehab for the first time since being wheeled out of them just under 4 years ago….

It took me almost 3 years to walk back into Manor Care nursing home, which is located in my town. Not because I didn’t want to see my nurses, aides and therapists, but because I couldn’t get over my fear of being back there. The ironic part was that my office moved across the street two years after the accident. For a year I stared out my office window and looked into the window of my old nursing home room. One rainy day, about a year ago, I decided I would get up, walk across the street, and go into the nursing home. I made it to the front door and then turned around and walked back. I couldn’t do it. I sat back down at my desk and looked out the window. Two hours later I got up and tried again. It was raining even harder. This time I made it into the lobby. I was about to turn around and walk out. Just then one of my old therapists walked into the lobby pushing a patient in a wheelchair. She noticed me right away and that was it, I was sucked in. I stayed in the therapy room and people came to see me. I didn’t walk back to my old room. I didn’t want to visit the halls and rooms. I wanted to see the people. I wanted to say thank you… I didn’t have as many “difficult” memories from Pinnacle to overcome, so I felt like I could at least get in the door…

Thursday morning I got up at 6 AM to exercise. I needed to clear my mind from a rough night of not sleeping. A little hardcore cardio work did the job. I dropped the kids off at school, took a shower and headed to Pinnacle. Ironically, it was raining. I pulled up out front, took a deep breath and got out of my car. I had told myself on the 45 min ride over that I wasn’t going to stand there and over analyze my feelings about the whole thing. “Just get out of the car, walk to the elevator and push the button for the 2nd floor. Don’t wuss out, someone is counting on you!” I told myself. As I got off the elevator and walked toward the room, I realized he was in my old room! The number didn’t ring a bell when I read it in the email, but I knew where my old room was located. (There aren’t that many private rooms.) “OK this is a little more pressure” I said out loud. When I walked into the room he was being transferred to his wheelchair. The first thing I noticed was that he had a Boston Clam Shell brace for his back, just like I wore. He also had a high back wheel chair that allowed him to be laid back a little, just like my old ride. He still looked strong, even though it had been almost a month since his accident. I sat down on the edge of his bed and he sat in his wheel chair. We talked about his accident and the things I went through with mine. I shared some of the things I learned throughout my recovery and what he might be able to take from it. In many ways he was ahead of where I was when I arrived at Pinnacle Rehab. He wasn’t going to have as much time to lose muscle and strength before therapist started trying to put it back on. I had spent 10 weeks in the hospital and nursing home before ever arriving there. Because I couldn’t be upright, I had time to heal, but I also lost a lot of weight. Most of it muscle. He on the other hand, was healing as he was rehabbing. He was frustrated with his progress, but his left foot and ankle were filled with metal rods and pins and his right foot was crushed so badly that there wasn’t enough good bone to put in pins. He had a long battle ahead of him and I told him so. I also told him that just like exercising, you don’t get instant gratification. “Daily hard work now, builds the base that leads to long-term gains.” We talked until it was time for his physical therapy. I gave him my contact information and told him use it. “There is no reason to learn things the hard way. You might as well get used to relying on help from others, because the reality is that for the forseeable future, you will need it. I made mistakes, but I also figured a few things out along the way. Call me when you have questions.” We shook hands and he left for rehab. I hung out for a few minutes longer to talk to a few of the nurses who heard I was there and wanted to hear my story.

I got in my car and just sat there for a few minutes. I said a little prayer thanking God for getting me through the past few days. Four years after the accident I still battle surgeries and frightening memories, yet I feel incredibly blessed to be alive to fight for the great things I have been given.

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Forced Introspection (Part 1)

Very introspective week so far. Tuesday I was a witness to a bad car accident. It was close to my house, on a 55 MPH undivided road. A pick-up truck, driving two cars in front of me, swerved into on-coming traffic. It crossed the on-coming lane and went up a bank along the shoulder of the road. The truck passed the on-coming car on its passenger side, while driving on the 45 degree bank. No break lights were coming on. It then swerved back across both lanes and onto the bank on the other side of the road. There the truck hit an out-crop of rock and rolled. It flew into the air. When it stopped rolling, the truck was upright but facing the other direction. The car in front of me slammed on its brakes. I slammed on my brakes. I heard the tires of the car behind me squeal. We all jumped out of the car, simultaneously dialing 911. I ran down to the truck. There were parts of the truck, and the contents from inside, thrown all over the ground. The driver was an old man with a long gray beard. He was bleeding but conscious. I asked him his name and if he was OK? He wasn’t sure where he was on what had just happened. He tried to open his door but I told him to stay where he was until the ambulance got there. (It turned out all his doors were jammed from the roof being smashed and he couldn’t have gotten out.) First on the scene was a cop followed by two fire trucks, two ambulances, two additional police cars and 5 or 6 cars with volunteer EMTs. There were lights flashing and people running every where. It felt like controlled chaos running in slow motion. The fire fighters cut open the doors. The EMTs crawled across the passenger seat with a neck brace and back board in tow. Other fire fighters checked for gas leaking onto the ground. I moved out of the way just in time to avoid being tripped by a fire hose being drug to the truck. My chest started to tighten. I was having trouble breathing. “This is what it must have been like at our accident,” I thought to my self. “Only more emergency responders… and Life Lion… and Hagerstown Hospital’s helicopter…” I started feeling dizzy. “I think I am going to throw up.”

A police officer walked over to me and asked if he could get a statement. I told him what I saw and gave him my cell number. He gave me his card and walked away to take another witness’s statement. I looked for my SUV. All I wanted to do was to get to my house. It was the middle of the day and I was just running home to get a folder I left on my desk. Now, if I could just get home, I might not leave my house again. But, I couldn’t get out. My SUV was blocked in by all the emergency vehicles. I stood and watched as they moved the driver, strapped to a back board, from the truck onto the gurney. I just stared as they lifted it into one of the waiting ambulances and drove away. Then I realized that the space the ambulance used to occupy was large enough for my SUV to slip through. I asked a fireman, who was standing there, if he would help guide me out. I got into my car. It was still running. I backed up, pulled forward, backed up some more, then slowly drove between two fire trucks. I was out. The road was empty because both lanes had been shut down. As I approached the road block, the flat-bed tow truck was driving through it. I thought about the photo of our car sitting at the garage. “I have got to keep my damn head clear or I am not going to be able to drive.” I went through the road block and turned onto the detour. As I weaved through the back roads I gripped the steering wheel so tight that my knuckles were turning white. Every on-coming car caused me to ride the shoulder. “I just need to get home… I just need to lay down a little…”

I pulled in my garage and turned off my car. I couldn’t move. “I’m home”, I told my self. For some reason it didn’t help. Getting home wasn’t going to make the nausea go away. Today, for the first time, I thought about what it must have been like at the scene of our accident. This one was pretty crazy and ours would have been worse. I had never really given it much thought. I don’t remember it so how could I have pictured it, or even written about it. I couldn’t wrap my head around why it bothered me so much. The first responders did a great job today. I know they did a great job at our accident. They helped save my life. Where was all the anxiety coming from?

I got out of my SUV and walked inside my house. I called Tonia. I told her what happened and that I was a little shaken but I would be OK. I walked into my bedroom. I looked at my bed and then at the floor. My running shoes were laying there. I picked them up and set them on the bed. “The old John would run to clear his mind”, I told myself. I changed my cloths, put on my shoes and headed outside. I was too afraid to leave my dead-end road, so I just ran laps up and down the street. Two miles later I was starting to feel the pain of running and the release of the images in my mind. “How many aspects of the accident have I not thought about? How many more demons did I still have to face and beat?” Little did I know I would be facing another in just two days…

(to be continued)

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Things are about to change…

The holidays are over. Things are slowing down. Cold weather has finally reached Central PA. ( I do miss the unseasonably warm 50+ degree days of December.) Last year I struggled with the cold and shorter days. ( Motivated to do nothing?) This winter I am aware that my body will not feel as good. I expect it, but I don’t like it. I really don’t want to slow down. I ran for the first time in November (Running from nothing…).  I was told after the accident that I would probably never be able to run again. I have worked hard for the past four years to prove them wrong.  Since that first run, I’ve built up to 4 miles. On Thanksgiving I  ran the Carlisle YMCA 5K Turkey Trot.  A race I walked the past three years.

Turkey Trot 2012

Running more than 2 miles really hurts, so I try to only run long once or twice a week. (“Long” use to mean 15 to 20 miles. Now it is 3-5 miles.) The rest of the time I ride a stationary bike or get on the elliptical. It is not the cardio that is holding me back. It’s the pounding. I want to build up my distance, but the only way to do that is to run. I need to work through the pain. Now that the cold weather has set in, the only way I can handle jogging is to get on the treadmill. BORING! I hate (Tonia doesn’t let the kids or me use that work so I will say, “I really, really dislike”) running on a treadmill. I can hope for a few 50+ degree days, but I figure I am destined to be indoors for the next few months.

Running, really running, has become my new goal. So much so, that I plan to make it a big part of my recovery and my motivation. Over the next few weeks, I will be making some changes to my blogging. I plan to share my “running journey” and my quest for “A Perfect Run” with my readers. I hope to document my successes and my failures. So much of what I have blogged about so far are lessons I learned through the process of writing a book. Writing down my experiences early on gave me the opportunity to go back two years later and really start to identify and define the lessons I learned. I didn’t really do that when I went back to the gym.  As I begin this next stage of my recovery, I want to document it. You are all welcome to come along on the journey.

I hope to use not only the written word to tell this part of my story but also video posts.  In December, ABC 27 did a 3 minute story about the accident and my desire to run again.  It was really well received and a big reason why I am thinking of using videos in my blog. You can watch the video here:

2012 has started with a lot of momentum.  Not only did the ABC 27 story air,  but I was also in the NYC studios of The Catholic Guy Show on Sirius/XM satellite radio to talk about my recovery and discuss how I helped the hosts improve their health.  I helped Lino Rulli add 20 lbs of muscle and Fr Rob Keghron lose over 50 lbs of fat.  They have become good friends and it was a lot of fun hanging out with them on the show.  The other reason I was in NYC was to meet with my new agency.  That’s right, I now have an agent. Movable Type Management now represents me.  They will be trying to get me a publisher, sell movie/documentary rights, arrange speaking opportunities and find product indorsements.  Sounds crazy, right?  I interviewed with a few other firms and I really liked MTM.  They are aggressive about adapting to the changing media world and can manage more than just the book part.  For the book, I will be working with Michele Matrisciani.  After talking to her a few times, I could tell that she understood why I wanted to do my book and was willing to give me a lot of advice and help, long before I agreed to work with her.  Before becoming an agent, she was an editor for a number of big publishing houses.  She has edited best-selling books. Lord know I can use editing help!  I really believe she will be able to get the best possible book out of me.  I am excited for Michele and I to get to work, but also a little nervous.  Thank God I now have running to deal with the added stress!

As you can see, there is lot going on right now.  Expect to see my first training blog soon.  I am still working out the format, but I think I am close to having it finished.  February 15th is the day that Rare Eagle with announce the winners of the Rare Life Award.  I can’t thank all of you enough for taking time, every day, to vote for my story.  I ended with 5158 votes, making me the 5th highest vote getter out of 126 stories.  Getting some money and recognition for Carlisle’s YMCA would simply be one more positive thing to come from our tragedy.  I think I will have plenty to do while I wait for the outcome…

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I am not a victim.

Four years ago today, my family and I were in a horrific car accident.  I almost died.  My wife and kids could have died as well.  The driver of the other car is dead.  My family was shaken to the core.  Everything we knew was turned upside down in an instant.  I have spent the last four years trying to recover everything I lost that day.  I have experienced great pain and suffering, but I am not a victim.  No experience but death could have prevented me from taking my current situation and  moving forward.  I could not control where my recovery started, but I could choose where it went from there.  God has given us free will, and free will is very powerful.  I can only be a victim if I allow myself to be one.  If I choose to let the pain and the setbacks identify me, than that is exactly what I am doing.

On Thanksgiving I ran the entire 5K Turkey Trot.  Just under four years ago, I laid in my nursing home bed, paralyzed, and told my family and friends that I was going to run it.  I am not sure how many people believed me.  I know my doctors didn’t think it could be done. It took me a lot longer to get that goal than I had thought, but by the grace of God and through perseverance, I succeeded.  It was a massive struggle to get there, but I learned so much about myself through the experience, that it was actually a blessing.

I am not a victim.

This blog is now one year old.  I wrote my very first post last Thanksgiving.  What a strange process all this has been.  Between the blog, magazines articles, TV interviews, newspaper articles, and speaking engagements, I have had the chance to share my family’s story with well over 1 million people this year.  This fact is very difficult to wrap my head around.  These opportunities have given me the chance to talk to many wonderful and inspiring people.  By simply giving a little of myself, I have received ten times in return.

I am not a victim.

I have come a long way over the past four years.  The first few months after the accident, I would think that all of it was just a bad dream and that I would wake up.  Now I feel like the time before the accident was the dream.  I remember those months right after the accident like it was yesterday, yet time has moved on.  Time is a funny thing.  It seems to go by so slowly on a day-to-day basis, but at the same time you question how your little babies grew up so quickly and why your hair is turning gray.  Only time will tell where my road to recovery will take me.  All I know for sure is that I will preserver. My family will always motivate me to overcome any adversity.

I am not a victim.

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Running from nothing…

When I was in a coma right after the accident, I had many strange visions and dreams.  I have put them into writing and I hope to one day share them as part of my book.  In one of these “dreams”, I was running down a country road. It winded through the woods and there was a small brook to the left of the road.   It was an early fall morning.  The air was crisp, but not to cold.  The leaves had begun to change and the morning sun was shining through openings in the canopy.  I could feel my heart beating heavily, but my legs felt as light as a feather. When I looked down I could not see my feet.  I knew my feet were there because I felt the road beneath them.  As I ran, I kept wondering where this road would lead?  I had never seen this road before, but it felt like the perfect place to run.  Eventually, a deer ran across the road in front of me.  It was a doe.  I wanted to stop and look at it, but I couldn’t.  My legs just kept running.  My body didn’t seem to mind.  I felt no pain or shortness of breath.  I just felt cool air in my lungs and could smell the wet leaves.  I was very content and happy…

This past Monday, I did something that some doctors said I would never do again.  I ran.  This run did not stop at 200 yards because the pain and swelling was so bad, as it had with every other attempt I had made.  No, I ran a mile in 12 minutes.  Before the accident, I was able to run a mile in under 6 minutes, but still I ran.  Words can’t express how happy I felt.  I could have gone farther but I think I was so taken back about running a mile that all I wanted to do was bask in my glory!   In just a matter of 12 minutes I had overcome another adversity.  Not with months of slow progress, like my other goals, but with almost instant gratification, I ran.  I waited to wake up from the dream…

Running has been a very important part of me for most of my life.  Running was the one sport I truly excelled at in high school.  I chose the college I attended because of their track team.  My trauma doctors would tell you that running played a big part in me still being alive.  I was running 40 to 50 miles a week at the time of the car accident.  My heart and lungs were strong (both were very damaged in the accident) and my body fat percentage was low.  Not since college had I really cared about running to win.  I was happiest when I was running by myself.  Even before the accident I found joy in testing my limits of pain.  I have always believed that running prepared me to not only survive the accident, but also, had taught me to deal with the trials and pain of my recovery.

I have missed not being able to run.  To have it still taken away from me after hundreds of hours in the gym rebuilding my body, was a very bitter pill to swallow.  Knowing that the surgery at UNC on my left leg has given running back to me, is nothing short of another gift from God.  The emotions that I felt after running for the first time in almost 4 years are impossible to describe.  I have worked so hard, for so many months, to get aspects back from my old life.  Getting a gift like this, so instantaneously, is almost too much for me to understand.  It truly feels like another miracle.

Just like a kid with a new bike or an adult with a new car, I need to test this new leg, and figure out what it can do.  Tuesday I was back running on a treadmill and I ran 1.25 miles.  My pelvis and back hurt, but they always hurt.  Both my ankles and knees hurt. These were new pains, but I knew that they were from running on Monday.  All my lifting and elliptical training didn’t prepare my joints for the pounding of running.  I wanted to do more, to go farther, but I knew I shouldn’t over do it.  I needed to rest my legs, but I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold back.  Thursday at lunch I was back at it.  I decided I would try for a mile and a half.  The first half mile was pretty painful.  My nerve damage in my left leg was fighting back and I had noticed earlier that day that the muscle fibers in my thigh were not loosening.  At the half mile mark, I was just hoping to at least make it a mile.  But by the time I hit the one mile point, I was in “the zone”.  I use to hit the “zone” somewhere around mile six before the accident.  The “zone” is the point when you are no longer thinking about running,  your breathing is controlled and in rhythm and your heart beat seems to be in perfect cadence with your stride.  Before the accident, when I was in the zone, I could knock out ten or more miles without even realizing it.  When I looked down again, I was about a quarter-mile short of 2 miles.  The thought of running 2 miles was too much to process.  All my focus was gone.  I sped up the treadmill and I ran as fast as I could.  I didn’t want my body to give out before I finished.  In my mind, running faster meant it would be over sooner.  In three days I had doubled my distance.

Will I ever be a distance runner again?  I don’t know.  (I am sure I won’t be a sprinter again!)  Part of me keeps waiting for something to go wrong. For another setback to stop me.  By my standard, this has been too easy.  At the same time, if I find out next week that I can’t run anymore, at least I now have “real” memories of running after the accident.  I would, however, like to find that road from my “dream”.  I really would like to know where it ends…

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Surgery (again…)

(This post is a continuance of the post Rebuilding and Making Progress, published last week.  You can click here to read it.)

Tonia and I drove to UNC Chapel Hill on Monday, October 17th.  I was at the hospital a little before 11 AM on the 18th for surgery.  The plan was to put 3 to 4 stents into my vein through my groin and then keep me overnight to start me on blood thinners.  The 3 hour surgery went as planned.  Dr Marston put in 3 stents (about 4″) into my femoral vein.  He told us that it went very well and that I should begin to see immediate improvement. I was sore and tired but happy.  Tonia looked very, VERY happy. It was a rough night.  Between failing IV’s, (I have had so many that they fail in hours instead of days.) nurses and aides coming in to take vitals and a noisy neighbor (I thought the guy was going to die during the night.), I got very little sleep.  After spending the morning taking in a few more IV bags of Heparin and starting Coumadin and Lovenox shots, Tonia took me back to the hotel where I slept for the afternoon.  That evening Tonia and I went to a restaurant down the street from the hotel with friends who lived in the area.  I didn’t eat the hospital food, so a nice meal was welcomed. We arrived back in Carlisle on Thursday night.  I was still pretty sore and was bruising a lot more than I might have normally from all the blood thinner, but my leg felt pretty good. (At least the parts of my leg that have feeling.)

While we were at UNC, the October issue of Central PA Magazine hit the news stands with a featured story about my family and our recovery.  This story was written by Carolyn Kimmel, the same women who wrote the article about us for the Patriot News a few months back.  She was asked to write a story for Central PA Magazine and she wanted to do it more from Tonia and the kid’s perspectives. She has spent a lot of hours talking to us over the past year and I truly feel like she “gets it”.  I also like that some of the attention is off me and more on our family’s recovery. The link to the article is here.

Tonia and I got back in time to be at a special event that I was really looking forward to attending.  We had been invited to be guests at the 25th Anniversary Celebration for LifeLion held under a big tent by the hanger at Hershey Medical Saturday night. This was going to be my chance to thank all the people involved with LifeLion and to meet members of the crew who saved my life.  A State Police officer, shot in the line of duty, and I were there to represent patients saved by LifeLion.  We spoke to TV and newspaper reporters and met with doctors, nurses, pilots and administrators.  I was glad that I was feeling well enough that Tonia and I could attend and proud to be able to share the important role that LifeLion plays in saving lives.  It was a special night and one I won’t forget. You can read the Patriot News article here and watch the WGAL 8 coverage and my interview here.

Sunday morning I found myself back at Hershey Medical Center.

I was about to go out the door around 9:00 AM for Katie’s soccer game when I got a severe pain in the left side of my back.  I couldn’t breath deeply. The first thought was blood clot. Tonia called my doctors and then put me in the car and drove me to the emergency room at Hershey.  The doctors thought that I might have a clot in my kidney or lung.  After x-rays and CT scans, they didn’t find anything, but the pain was just as bad as it had been at my house.  Actually, they said my CT scan showed all kinds of problems but that they were all from the accident.  hernias, calcium build-up, scarring, fractures and torn cartilage and muscle, just to name a few of the issues. I was refusing to take narcotics for the pain. I had a physical addiction to them for a year and a half after the accident. When they gave me them at UNC in my IV right after surgery, I realized my leg, pelvis and abdominal muscles didn’t hurt and I kind of liked not having the pain.  I know taking narcotics would really help my chronic pain, but I also know that long-term, they didn’t help my mood or my memory.  The thought of taking them when my pain is at its worse, like it was a that moment, has crossed my mind many times.  But, I am afraid to open that Pandora’s Box.  The “tricks” I leaned to manage pain would have to work for this new pain as well.

After some more tests and scans, the only thing the doctors could come up with was that I have shingles.  “However, because none of your nerves run to where they should anymore, you could be feeling severe pain in you back and the problem could be in your big toe.” the doctor informed me.  They sent me home with the peace of mind that I didn’t have a blood clot in my lung or kidney and told me to watch for a rash to begin on my back over the next two days.

Over the next two days, my pain remained about the same.  Tonia would check twice a day for a rash to appear on my body, but nothing real obvious appeared.  I was getting plenty of black and blue marks from the IV’s, needles, and shots to my stomach, but no rash. I saw by family doctor Tuesday to see how my blood thinners were working and to follow-up about my shingles.  Since all other “things” seem to have been checked, he felt it was probably shingles, but had some concern since with shingles, that the pain normally builds up, and doesn’t just instantly start.  I would have preferred a more definitive diagnosis, but I would have to wait and see if I got a rash or if something else happened, that would give the doctors a better clue.  I also found out that I would be doubling me blood thinner and continuing shots for another week.  I guess I was going to get a lot more black and blue…

It seems I am starting to be known as much for my many setbacks as I am for my recoveries.  I was really looking forward to getting back to the gym this past week after two long weeks off, to continue to work on said recovery.  I will be there tomorrow.  My back pain hasn’t gone away completely, but it is a lot better than last Sunday.  I have three more days of shots to my stomach.  The good news is that my left leg is not swelling near as much as it had been for the past year and the bruising and pain from the surgery is about gone.  Perseverance….  God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.

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Rebuiding and Making Progress

I turned 40 on Sept 14th.  My wife Tonia had a big surprise birthday bash a few weeks before my actual birthday.  (We celebrated it as hurricane Irene hit the east coast.)  It was a great party, attended by lots of friends and family. Many of my friends attended from out of the area and I hadn’t seen them since right after the accident.  I was truly surprised.  It was a very emotional evening.  Not because I was about to turn 40, Lord knows I shouldn’t have even seen my 40th birthday.  I can’t really complain about getting older, it comes with being alive.  What made the night difficult was seeing the slide show of photos up on the wall.  These were photos from birth to just a few weeks prior to the party.  There were photos of me with my childhood friends (many whom were there) and photos of my brother with our parents when we were kids.  There we photos of Tonia and I when we first started dating 22 years ago and when our children were born.  There were lots of photos of us on vacation and spending time with our friends.  There were also photos of me right after the accident and during my recovery.  100+ photos of the past 40 years of my life.  If you had told me prior to 4 years ago that I would be the person I am today, I would have called you crazy!  It was like I was looking at two different people. Two different families.

“Sometimes, we have to be broken down so that we can be rebuilt into what we are actually meant to be.”

I started my actual 40th birthday at the LifeLion hanger in Carlisle meeting with the crew and presenting them $2000 in honor of my birthday.  (You can read the news paper story here.) Tonia had asked the people attending my birthday, who wanted to give me a gift, to make a donation to the LifeLion Fund instead.  It was a special moment for Tonia and me, as well as the crew.  If it wasn’t for the LifeLion helicopter in Carlisle, I would not be here today.

I have had a lot of chances to share my family’s story. Recently, I had a pretty exciting one. In the beginning of October, I flew to Las Vegas to speak at Hearts on Fire University.  The theme of this event was “The Secrets of Life”.  The CEO of the company, Glenn Rothman, writes a blog by the same name.  This was a special anniversary year, not only for the company, but also for its founders, Glen and Susan Rothman, and they went all out to celebrate and share.   I, and 1000+ other people,  had a chance to listen to Magic Johnson and the Tuohy family, whom the movie “The Blind Side” was based on, speak.  I have really started to analyze how other public speakers present themselves now that I am  a “public speaker”.  It was a great opportunity for me to speak and learn and I am grateful to Hearts on Fire, and Glen and Susan Rothman, for asking me to be a part of University.

When I returned, I made a trip to University of North Carolina Medical Center to meet with a doctor specializing in venous disease and limb retention.  I had a pretty rough summer trying to get the swelling in my left leg, and the ulcers that opened up, under control.  I had spent 12 weeks in a “cast like” wrap, trying to get the ulcers closed with no success.  I was getting really frustrated with the fact that my “team” didn’t have a plan for beating this problem.  It was also keeping me from being able to get any cardio exercise and slowing my recovery.  Dr Marston, at UNC, is considered one of the best, if not the best, when it comes to damage to veins.  It was my hope that he would come up with a plan to help me save my leg and get me out of those annoying casts.  It turned out the my femoral vein in my left leg was 70% blocked, through my pelvis, from clots and scaring.  He believed that he could open up the vein with angioplasty and stents.  My issues with the damaged flaps in my deep veins can’t be fixed at this time, the science isn’t there yet, but he believed that opening the blockage could greatly decrease my swelling and pain.  I signed up to have surgery on October 18th, but first I needed to make a trip to Montana to spend some time fly fishing with my dad and brother.

25" Brown Trout

While on the trip, my brother caught the biggest fish I ever saw landed on the Missouri River.  The guide said it is the largest fish he had seen caught all year. My brother is the best fisherman in our family.  Our father and I could only hope to be half as awesome as he is.. Blah, blah, blah, BLAH, BLAH… Love Ya Bro! Consider that the end of the discussion…

On the Sunday that I returned from Montana, the Carlisle Sentinel published a story about my use of the Carlisle YMCA for my recovery.  The story was about how a Carlisle United Way supported agency was making a difference in people’s lives.  I was more than happy to do it. I find that when I can help those people and groups that helped me in my recovery, it has deeper meaning to me.  My son James also got to be there for the photo shoot and the paper used a photo of the two of us which he always things is “cool”.  (You can read the article here.)

I spent only about 16 hours home with my family before leaving for Chapel Hill, NC.  I was certainly a little nervous about having to have yet another surgery.  (Number 27, if we have been count properly.)  But, also was happy to have a plan.  The hope that I might be able to be even more active and have less pain was enough to push me back into another hospital.  The drive south was very pleasant.  A lot of people think it is strange that a guy who almost died in a car crash would love to drive on long trips, but I find it much more relaxing than flying.  Tonia and I arrived at UNC around 7 PM. In time to have a great dinner and bottle of wine before I was to stop eating and drinking.

(To be continued…)

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