We all know that everyone has problems, that in no way diminishes the particular problem that another individual faces, but I think it’s very healthy to take the problems we face and make sure we put them in perspective. The importance of that was presented to me in stark reality this past weekend.
My friend Dean, who has taken me fishing a number of times in the last two years, sent me an email that his boat had broken. Dean is a professional fishing guide here in northern New York and has trips booked well into the fall. I don’t know exactly what had happened, but as you can see from the picture; his boat seems to be taking on a fair amount of water. He did mention he was concerned for his safety until the boat was back at the dock.
Shortly after Dean’s email, I got an e-mail from my friend Andy in Utah. I am sure most people have no understanding of all the secondary issues that are caused by quadriplegia. Without a doubt the most dangerous is Autonomic Dysreflexia, which is a life-threatening condition that can develop extremely quickly.
Autonomic Dysreflexia is a potentially life-threatening medical emergency that affects people with spinal cord injuries. It indicates over-activity of the autonomic nervous system — the part of the system that controls things an able-bodied person doesn’t have to think about, such as heart rate, breathing and digestion. A noxious stimulus (would be painful if one could sense it) below the injury level sends nerve impulses to the spinal cord; they travel upward until blocked at the level of injury. Since these impulses cannot reach the brain, the body doesn’t respond as it would normally. A reflex is activated that increases activity of the sympathetic portion of the autonomic nervous system. This results in a narrowing of the blood vessels, which causes a rise in blood pressure. Nerve receptors in the heart and blood vessels detect this rise in blood pressure and send a message to the brain. The brain then sends a message to the heart, causing the heartbeat to slow down and the blood vessels above the level of injury to dilate. However, since the brain is not able to send messages below the level of injury, blood pressure cannot be regulated. The body is confused and can’t sort out the situation. *Wikipedia
Although it was after 8:00 PM when Andy went into Autonomic Dysreflexia, he was able to contact a neighbor who took him to the hospital. Many emergency room physicians have only limited or no knowledge of Autonomic Dysreflexia, or more importantly what to do about it. Fortunately for Andy, his body was able to work its way through the problem and he was able to return home around 2:30 AM. Several days later he developed a urinary tract infection because of a procedure done in the hospital where they failed to maintain a sterile environment. While Andy was frustrated he was, as always, able to regain control of his emotions and the situation.
Over the weekend two friends came to visit. I had worked with them years ago in the 1980s. I can’t remember exactly when, but I had become disheartened with teaching and took a job with the New York State Division for Youth which is New York State’s juvenile prison system. It was in a minimum security facility in Syracuse, NY and my job was an Education Coordinator. The program was looking for someone who could set up a lot of nontraditional educational experiences for these mostly inner-city youths. The staff of the school facility, where some of the neatest people I ever had the privilege to work with, were down for just about anything. We did a lot of off-the-wall kinds of activities including overnight experiences in the Adirondacks where we would go mountain climbing, hiking, canoeing and camping. We referred to it as, “Taking the Hoods to the Woods.” The two fellows who came to visit were members of that staff. The one fellow Tom and I have kept in touch over the years and we are good friends. The other guy Allen, who is around 60, and I had drifted out of touch, although I knew he had eventually left DFY and was also teaching emotional and behavioral problem youths in a public school. Tom wanted to get the two of us back together. Allen is the type of person you can be separated from for years and years, but then when you connect it’s like you just saw him a couple weeks ago. However, what I didn’t know is that he had a very rare form of inoperable cancer and only has a few months left to live. He is happily married and until a year ago thought he pretty much had an ideal life. He has always been a fellow who was fun to be around. Allen is extremely intelligent, thoughtful and perceptive. When he found out he had cancer, both he and his wife immediately quit their jobs and began traveling the United States. While they were here Tom kind of hung with my wife so Allen and I could talk. We can only try imagining what he’s been through, but his strength and determination are absolutely unbelievable. He talked about his struggles, coming to grips with his situation and his determination to make the most of the time he has left. He is an inspiration and an amazing example of the power that exists in every one of us to handle even the most dire situation a human can be faced with.
It seems to me when I look at the experiences of this weekend, it just cries out to be told. We all know that everyone has problems and that in no way diminishes a particular problem that an individual faces, but I think it’s very healthy to take the problems we all face and make sure we put them in perspective.