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I was at a cardiologist a few months ago for an exam, and we began chatting while she was going over my chart. Her first personal question to me was, “what did you do before your injury?” A doc would normally ask about the present – what I do for a living, hobbies, am I married, etc. , but she completely overlooked the radical idea that I might actually have a life despite being a quadriplegic. In her defense, she seemed ignorant on a number of other topics, not just that.

Around the time of this posting, it will have been exactly 10 years since I last walked. I was at my home BMX track, getting in some practice laps, and on what I had intended to be my last run of the night, I lost control over a simple rhythm section. I never felt impacting the ground, though I was conscious through all of it. Before I’d stopped tumbling, I knew what had happened – though certainly not the full ramifications of it. Paramedics flew me out on a medevac and I can remember clearly praying to God to strike us down if I was going to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. Much like the ignorant cardiologist, I couldn’t comprehend a decent life in a chair.

Looking back, I’m glad that we did land, because I managed, to not only scrape a life back together, but an enjoyable one with few complaints. It hasn’t been the smoothest trip, but it has been an adventure that has introduced me to amazing people and opened up my mind about disability, mortality, and the underlying goodness of people. In a word, I’m grateful – not for the accident – but for what I’ve gained from it. 

Over the past ten years, there have been many people who were strong when I was weak, and who loyally held on while I tried pushing them away. On this, the anniversary of my accident, I want to thank everyone who’s been there for me. I’m mentioning folks in “order of appearance”, so if I leave anyone out, I may not have been in the best shape at that point in time to remember, so, sorry in advance.

First off, my parents who took on managing my health and, well, everything in the beginning, and have been a source of strength over the years. While I was in the hospital, my mom stayed in Atlanta to be with me every day. After moving back into my parents’ home, my mom, day in and day out, cared for me. I physically couldn’t and emotionally didn’t want to do anything. My mom found doctors, scheduled appointments and got me to and from them. When I broke down, it was her shoulder I cried on. My dad took on managing the shutdown of my business and the bills, insurance, and finances of an individual who wasn’t very organized to begin with. In the years since, I had various health crises, and my dad has been my rock and my best friend, and always there for me.

Matthew B. Moore and Lynn Witherspoon, stepped in to keep my video production business afloat among many, many other things immediately following my accident. We were halfway through producing a TV series for the city of Greensboro at the time, and Matt worked many, many long days fulfilling various obligations and keeping the company alive at a time when we believed I might return.

Thank you to all the friends who wrote and visited while I was down in Shepherd Center in Atlanta. I was so isolated while in the hospital in Atlanta, and so far away from home, making visiting difficult. The letters kept me going and reminded me that I had plenty of people who missed and cared for me.

Corey Tatum was a former employee of mine who had moved to Atlanta. We hadn’t spoken in a while, but on one particularly rough night while in the hospital, I looked down the dark hallway, and Corey emerged from out of nowhere. It was one of the best, most unexpected surprises of my life.

When I left Shepherd, I came up to Northern Virginia to live with my parents. I was physically weak, had been dumped by my girlfriend, and was 300 miles away from what had been my home for 10 years in North Carolina. Julie Sink made the 4 hour drive regularly to visit and spent many hours talking to me on the phone. It was the first flicker of a normal life I’d seen since my accident.

Six months later, I was at Woodrow Wilson Rehab Center in Virginia to rebuild some strength and learn how to regain some independence. While there, Kelly Lum was my OT and she worked with me on fine motor skills, getting dressed, and transfers. Ed worked with me in the gym to build upper body strength and he taught me how to negotiate obstacles in a chair. When two people teach you the skills that you’ll use daily for the rest of your life, you’ll never forget them, especially when they’re as wonderful and compassionate as Ed and Kelly. A year later, I would return to WWRC and Mary Breister would teach me how to drive and help me get my drivers license. She was wonderful and made the trip up here to help me get a van with the right equipment. 

While I was at Woodrow Wilson, I was often visited by Jeff Wirick, who had been a good friend since college. He coincidentally was covering the Burlington Indians game for his paper, just a few hundred yards away, at the time I had my accident. He came to visit while I was in ICU and made the drive to WWRC several times to visit. He’s been a great friend and whenever we get together, things are just like they’ve always been.

For a time early on I was living in a nursing home (which is no place you or your loved ones ever want to end up), and I’d take public access to Silver Spring and hang out with Carrie Lancos, a college friend. I’ll never forget the time she reluctantly helped me up an escalator in my chair when there was a perfectly good elevator. We neglected to realize that, while we were briefly stuck at the top, a few people were piling up behind us.

Tracey Stark, a good friend from school who was living overseas, frequently called while I was in the nursing home, and his wit and filthy sense of humor helped me forget about my situation and where I was.

While in the nursing home, I met Sahid Karmara, who worked as a CNA at the time. When I moved into an apartment he became my live in aide, and as I became more independent, he moved out and became a part-time aide. He has been my aid for most of the last 8 years, and during that time he’s become like a brother. He’s caring and dependable, and one the hardest working people I’ve ever known. There’s no way I’d be where I am if it weren’t for Sahid.

Christine and Don Pazsko, owners of ATL, were clients before I was injured. They kept in touch while I was in rehab and helped me ease back in to work, sending projects my way, and allowing me to work at my own pace. They are two of the most generous people and business owners I’ve ever met, and always fun to be around.

In 2008 I got on twitter and got a black lab named Sadie (also on twitter). I never could have foreseen the impact both would have on my life. Twitter got me in touch with hundreds of people and took me on a trip to New York for a party. But most importantly, it’s how I met my girlfriend. I wasn’t looking for love at the time, but I found it in Lori. Never had I known anyone who fit me as well. She’s smart and funny, and accepts me for who I am and is able to relate in so many ways. I had a medical crisis that lasted for about 18 months, and I wouldn’t have gotten through it without her love and support. 

Since I got Sadie, she’s become a service dog – picking things up for me – but she also gets me out and active. Without her, I’d never have coincidentally bumped into Dave Jordan, who happens to own her sister. Over the past couple of years, Dave’s become a good friend and we often get together with the dogs.

Lastly, I have to thank everyone in the quad community. Every one of them has their own story of loss, recovery and acceptance. It’s those stories and experiences that newly-injured people can take comfort in and learn from. 

Shortly after I was injured, I met with a counselor who was a quadriplegic going on 30 years. I asked him if he thought about his accident every day – after all, at that point, I thought of mine every ten minutes. He said that he didn’t - something I couldn’t comprehend at the time. But, after a couple of years, I eventually found myself thinking about my accident less and less. 

It isn’t that I’ve forgotten. It’s that in all the pain and struggle over the years, I’ve met people, had experiences, and discovered new things. 

Nowadays I step back and look around at the people, experiences, and new things I have and realize it all starts to resemble a life – something I never thought I’d have again – and I’m grateful.

Oswald acted alone

Reprinted from my old blog:

Monday - September 18, 2006

I’m always on the lookout for interesting things to read. Sometimes my choices are very predictable such as: The Third Chimpanzee, or The World is Flat. Sometimes they’re less than predictable, such as what I’m reading right now: the Warren Commission Report. That’s right, I’m reading the hottest thing printed in 1964. I didn’t expect to get far into it before being bored out of my mind, but here I am 200 pages into it and I can’t but the thing down. It’s damn fascinating.

I should start by saying that I’ve always believed that Oswald acted alone and that the conspiracy theories were all a bit far-fetched. After watching the movie J.F.K. - which is an amazing and entertaining film - after reading scores of articles over the past ten years or so; and now after reading 200 pages of the Warren Commission Report, I’m convinced that my long held belief is correct: Oswald, a crazy man, acted alone.

If I hadn’t read anything, there would still be two things that I’d not be able to get over, which would be death knells to any JFK conspiracy theory.

1. If your goal is to assassinate a president using three or more gunman, it would be very difficult to expect to be able to pull it off in such a way that a single gunman could be framed for it. I mean, it would be awfully difficult to pin it all on Oswald if gunman two or three missed one of their shots and it hit a couple of bystanders, if extra bullets were found, or if blood were to spatter bystanders from an odd angle.

2. Secrets are very hard to keep, especially in this day in age where a book deal exposing the truth could make a multimillionaire out of anyone involved if still alive. If it was a conspiracy, one of this magnitude would insure that there would be possibly as many as one hundred people or more involved.

Conspiracy theories are entertaining, I admit that. It’s much more interesting to believe that a great man was brought down by factions bent on controlling the world rather than a lone nut. It’s more interesting to believe that the Bush administration orchestrated the events of 911 (as a recent survey shows as many as 15% of Americans do) in order to justify an attack on the middle east for its oil rather than accept it as an attack of religious fanatics. It is more interesting to believe that the news media is out to destroy the republican party, Christian beliefs, and aid terrorists in their war against us rather than accepting the depressing facts and ugly images they present to us every day. It may be more interesting to believe that the United States faked the moon landing in the Nevada Desert to win the space race against the Russians rather than… Well, my jury is still out on that one (kidding of course).

What it all comes down to is information, or the lack thereof. Conspiracy theorists tend to throw around all sorts of facts and anomalies to support their case at the expense of ignoring the mountains of evidence to the contrary. As I’ve been reading the Warren Commission Report, I’ve been amazed at how thorough it is. The number of corroborating witnesses and pieces of evidence is astounding. For example, bullet casings found at the sixth floor window of the school book depository not only matched the gun (we’ve all heard that) but had apparently been loaded and unloaded into that gun several times previously, as if one had been practicing rapidly loading and unloading, which was necessary in order to fire the three shots in seven and a half seconds.

How about the autopsy? Conspiracy theorists like to point out how Kennedy’s body was rushed from Dallas without an autopsy required by Texas law. They like to point out how the body was manipulated during a military autopsy to remove the evidence of multiple shooters. What they don’t point out is that such an arrangement would require two teams of military doctors at two separate bases in on the conspiracy - National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda and the Army’s Walter Reed Hospital in Washington. Why two? Because those overseeing the conspiracy could not have foreseen which hospital would be conducting the autopsy. The choice was up to Mrs. Kennedy, who chose the National Naval Medical Center because of her husband’s service in the Navy. And why did the body leave Dallas without an autopsy? Because Lyndon Johnson refused to leave Dallas without Mrs. Kennedy, and she refused to leave without the body of her husband - another unforeseeable development.

As I said, it’s all about information. The first 200 pages of this report have an astounding amount of it with very little room for holes. I’m amazed by how thoroughly conclusions are reached and even how the report documents dead ends in parts of the investigation and witnesses whose memories aren’t reliable enough to include as part of their conclusions.

I still have another 500 pages to go. Alas, I fear that my opinion is not likely to change. I know how this book ends. While not the happiest of endings, while not the most exciting of stories, I find it to be a gripping tale none-the-less; one that is closer to the truth. The real question is: can we all handle the truth or is it easier to live in a world we create for ourselves in order to feed our imagination and soothe our fears?

The post where I talk the GOP’s “personhood”

As part of their official platform, the GOP has sworn to protect the life of the unborn regardless of circumstance. Like what most of the GOP does nowadays, this plank of their platform is purely rhetoric designed to appeal to the far right of their base.  The unstable right.

I can understand their opposition to abortion. I may not agree, that’s fine. What I find particularly concerning is the lack of practicality considered when making statements that life begins at conception and that from that point, the embryo is a legal “person”.

There are many facets to the issue, but what I’m interested in is what they plan on doing with the tens of thousands of frozen embryos in in vitro clinics in the US that were never and will never be implanted.  If they all are given legal status as “persons”, will the government seek to:

A. Implant all existing frozen embryos.

B. Leave them frozen indefinitely in a limbo state - alive but imprisoned in a freezer.

C. Have them destroyed.

Embryo adoption tends to be the standard pro-life response.  That’s a great solution for hundreds of frozen embryos.  But there are tens of thousands of frozen embryos out there. How will legislation handle them?  If defined as persons, I would think the law would require them to be implanted in order to give every embryo a chance at life.  Maybe the legislation should outlaw IVF until every existing embryo is adopted out. Talk about big government.  That would be a legislative nightmare.

Speaking of the legislature, if the frozen embryos are deemed “persons” would they be included in the census? And, if so, would states with a larger population of frozen embryos get to have a larger number of congressional seats?  Would counties with IVF clinics get more municipal dollars? I can already see how politicians might try to game the system. Maybe a state might pass a law requiring fertility doctors to create more embryos per couple.

It could become quite ridiculous. The sad part is that the far right knows that this stance is untenable, yet insists on having it be a part of their platform.

Where have I been for the past eight months?

Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)


When I went into the hospital, my main concern was the issues with my blood pressure and, increasingly, weakness in my hands. Apparently I had gone years with my old pump slowly leaking, to point that it required 1200mc/ml of baclofen to keep my legs under control. That’s a lot of baclofen. When they fixed the leak they had no real idea of how much baclofen I should be getting. Eventually I would learn I only need around 600mc/ml to keep my legs under control.  At the time, I think that they left it at 1200mc/ml. This excess amount made me increasingly weak and my blood pressure dangerously low. I struggled to sleep at night. I could barely sit upright and began losing the limited function I have in my hands. I remember thinking as I left for the hospital that this might be it, the last time I see my home or my dog. They didn’t know how dire my thoughts were, but my parents tried to comfort me as I broke into tears.

While I was concerned with my blood pressure and my weakness, my doctors became increasingly concerned with something else – infection. During my first week in the hospital they would tinker with my pump settings, adjusting the level of baclofen. I pretty much dismissed any talk of infection. They had me on antibiotics and I figured that would take care of it. I was wrong. The infection was MRSA - a highly resistant strain. My new pump would need to come out.

Removing it would be no small task, given the amount of baclofen it fed directly to my spine. Removing it without preparation could put me in a coma from withdrawal. So the doctors spent a week slowly turning down my pump dosage while increasing oral methadone, baclofen, dilaudid and Valium. By the time the pump came out, I was spaced out on drugs. The nurses were amazed that I was still conscious given the quantity of drugs I was getting. I was conscious, but I had trouble holding thoughts in my mind and absolutely no attention span. Writing an e-mail to someone could easily take me three hours, two and a half of it spent staring vacantly at the wall or out the window. Days just seem to pass. I was, however, in a great deal of pain as well. Despite the drug cocktail my legs would seize up like never before - muscles would fight against one another spontaneously. For the first time, I could fully appreciate what my baclofen pump does for me.

It would be three weeks before the hospital’s infectious disease doctor gave the ok to put a new pump back in - this time on the left side of my abdomen rather than the right. Fortunately the surgery was successful and I healed up without it getting infected.

By now I had spent about two months in hospitals.

To be continued…

Where have I been for the past eight months?

Part 1

I wish I could say I was doing something important or nobel, like building houses in South America or helping cool nuclear reactors in Japan, but I can’t.  I’ve spent the past eight months battling two consecutive unrelated health problems that ended up putting me in the hospital for 3 months each, with little more than a 2 month break in between.

As I know most of you already know, I’m a quadriplegic subsequent to a bicycle accident nearly 7 years ago. Because of the way my injury is, I had terrible spasms in my legs that began emerging a month after my accident.  They were bad enough to pull me out of a wheelchair when triggered (usually by a light touch), bad enough that I couldn’t do rehab, and so bad that no amount of oral medication (baclofen) could control them. Then I learned of the baclofen pump. It’s an implanted device that sends micro doses of baclofen directly to my spine to keep my legs under control. Every three months I get it refilled with a needle.  A small price to pay not to live a life bedridden.  Every five years it needs to be replaced completely before its battery dies. A year ago, I was due for a new pump.

The operation couldn’t have gone easier. I went under, they took the old pump out and put a new one in. Two hours after the surgery, I was on my way back home. Fortunately, the area of my abdomen where the pump is placed doesn’t have much pain sensitivity, so the surgery hardly hurt at all.

So, I went back to my life. After a couple of months, I began to have increased spasticity in my legs and back.  I finally went to the hospital when my blood pressure dropped suddenly. It turned out that my pump tubing either had a leak or had one created when the pump was replaced. One way or another, I had to go back in for surgery. Again, no problem.  I was in and out the same day.

But, the following week, my blood pressure would skyrocket and plunge and I literally thought I was going to die. I briefly wrote out a living will and instructions for my family and friends.  I was hospitalized again, during which time, they discovered that the pump had become infected. 

This meant that I would have to have it removed and go for weeks with nothing controlling the spasms in my legs besides heavy doses of oral baclofen, Valium, methadone, and intravenous dilaudid for pain.

In this would be the start of my eight months of hell, during which time I would physically suffer more thanI did following my spinal cord injury nearly 7 years ago. 

To be continued…

I don’t believe in stem cells

I know, reposts are lazy, but in light of the recent injunction against NIH funding stem cell research, and the fact that, as a quadriplegic, I supposedly have a vested interest in the research, I thought I’d repost this entry I wrote last year.

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I know a couple of people who have spinal cord injuries who wholeheartedly believe in the potential of stem cells to magically cure them someday. One of these people has been injured since 1996 and has pretty much resigned himself to doing nothing other than watching TV and playing video games until the cure arrives.

Another is the son of a doctor whom I see. He was injured a week before I was when a wave crashed into him, driving his head into the sand, while at the beach. His injury is about an inch above mine and impairs him to a greater degree. He is active, but he and his father both believe there will be a cure someday.

Almost everyone who is newly injured insists that there will be someday. I don’t question the new guys, but I do question the lazy ones, specifically the former one I mentioned above. He happens to be kind of a jerk, so I don’t feel so bad when I ask him what he has read about stem cells. Many of those waiting haven’t read very much. They seem to take the promises at face value and block out anything to the contrary.

I should begin by saying that I do believe that stem cells could have a vital role in the treatment of diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. But I can’t bring myself to believe they can repair a severed spinal cord.

The spinal cord is very complex, like a twisted bundle of fiber-optic cables. If you sever through that bundle, you’re going to have a mess of disconnections. If you’ve compressed several inches of your spine, that would be the equivalent of removing an inch or two out of that bundle. I just don’t believe that stem cells could reconnect things without running the risk of misconnecting and possibly leaving someone with greater disability or terrible nerve pain. Now that’s just my opinion.

What is actually proven in the laboratory with mice and dogs is that stem cells seem to provide a miraculous recovery in the days and weeks that follow an injury. After 13 months post injury, they’ve been proven to no longer have any success. Add to that the fact that the spinal cords of mice and dogs control walking in a much different way than the human spinal cord does. For them, walking is a more automatic function within the spine than it is with humans.

So what do I hold out hope for? Nothing much in the way of cures. I certainly wouldn’t be the first person to line up for them, due to potential side effects. For other spinal cord patients, I hope that there becomes more success in treatment within the minutes and hours following a spinal cord injury. When the spine is traumatized, swelling kills off many of the nerve cells. There is also a phenomenon in which the immune system actually begins attacking the spinal cord. In the future I hope that trauma can be limited to the initial damage and not spread.

Here is a sad fact for those holding out hope. Spinal cord injuries are very rare, about one in 300,000 people will suffer one in their lifetime. There are currently many more very good outcomes, meaning mortality, than there ever have been. People can suffer an injury, be stabilized successfully, receive necessary physical therapy, get a proper wheelchair and reenter society more so than ever before. This all means that there is very little financial incentive for developing a cure for such a rare disease. There is also much more money to be made in the lifelong treatment of people with severe spinal cord injuries than there is in curing them. This is the case with many other ailments where there is more money to be made in the ongoing treatments or medications than there is in a cure.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. That’s just the way business is. It’s the reason that much of the funding for such things comes from grants and charity rather than an R&D budget.

I remember when I first read about the mice and the 13 months. I had been injured about 11 months at that point. It shocked me to my core and literally knocked the wind out of me. I think that was the first time that I began to lose hope that I would ever walk again. It hurt so much at the time, but at least I was willing to take in the information rather than staying willfully ignorant and sitting around waiting. It also may have kick started me to begin looking at things a bit differently. If this was how things were going to be, I’d damn well better find a way to make it work. And so that’s what I do and that’s what I continue to do.

Anne Rice is an idiot

Look, I wouldn’t consider myself close to even being a devout Christian, but Anne Rice is an idiot, leaving Christianity for its supposedly being: “anti-gay,” “anti-feminist,” “anti-science” and “anti-Democrat.”

Basically, she’s over-generalizing and intolerant towards millions of Christians who don’t feel that way, like my mom, for instance.  You know who also over-geralizes and is intolerant toward millions?  The “anti-gay,” “anti-feminist,” “anti-science” and “anti-Democrat” folks you claim to be against…

Also, Hitler.

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