Category Archives: Personal Safety

Welcome To Our World

Earlier this week

Earlier this week

In the blog Andyticipation I wrote Andy comes to northern New York because it is much “easier” for him to travel than it is for me. The word “EASIER” was in quotation marks because it is a relative term. At 6′ 4″ 260 pounds, it is usually a disaster when I travel, but it is far from “easy” for most individuals with disabilities to travel any distance.

Andy left here August 24th around noon to return to Utah. He flew from Watertown to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to Phoenix and then finally to Salt Lake City. When he got to Phoenix there was a weather delay, so his flight was canceled until Thursday. I’m sure if you stop and think a minute it’s fairly easy to realize the tremendous inconvenience this would be for a man with quadriplegia. The airline decided to put him up in a hotel in Phoenix. Andy got into a taxi and headed for the hotel. He told me the taxi driver was going like a bat out of hell. When arriving at the hotel the taxi driver slammed on the brakes and Andy was thrown out of his chair breaking his leg. He was pretty sure his leg was broken, but it wasn’t until Thursday afternoon he was able to get to a hospital in Salt Lake City where they put on a soft cast. The cast will stay on from 4 to 6 weeks. Imagine what it will be like to be in a manual wheelchair with one leg straight out in front of you for that length of time. How do you get close to anything? Andy, however, is approaching it with his usual determination to make the best out of a bad situation.

Welcome to our world.

LBJs Make My Days

My sister, who lives in Bismarck, North Dakota, usually visits a couple times a year. She is the one that coined the term LBJs. LBJs, according to my sister, stands for Little Brown Jobs. A generic term she uses for almost any bird, but the ones that seem to fit her description the best are the sparrows that live around our house. I’ve talked before about the efforts we have made to encourage wildlife to frequent the area around our home. We spend a lot on bird food, but consider it an entertainment expense since we enjoy seeing the birds year-round. With the exception of the male cardinals and the blue jays most of the more colorful birds head south to avoid the cold temperatures and food shortages that accompany winter. A major exception to this rule is the sparrows.

We have placed a post with several feeding stations right outside the window in front of my computer. A number of times during the day the LBJs provide me with amusement and continuing respect for nature. I think there must be close to 30 or 40 living in the evergreen bushes which line the front of our home. If we open the door to go out they fly away and perch on the roof gutter, the peak of the roof or quite often the railing along the side of the ramp leading to our front door which explains the pile of guano underneath the railing. I so enjoyed them. If they become alarmed while perched the entire flock will dive into the evergreen bushes and disappear. While they are at the feeders, they fuss and squabble over positioning at the various stations. There are always some flying in and some flying out. What a joy to have such a simple pleasure in my everyday life. Rain or shine, summer or winter I look forward to seeing them every morning when I arrive at my computer.

I’m Fat and I Know It, Clap Your Hands

Fifteen Years LaterMonday, February 17 was the 15th anniversary of my “accident” on the island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands. Last year, around this time, I wrote a blog entitled Lessons I Have Learned. Recently, I received a stark reminder of something that I hadn’t learned or at least had refused to acknowledge. The last blog I wrote was about a dog sled ride I took February 1st. It was a beautiful ride and a wonderful time, but in the context of that ride, I finally acknowledged that I had lost control over my weight. Not only was it affecting my wife and my caretakers, but it was also affecting my enjoyment of the things that I love to do. As I have stated so many times in my writings control is a major issue for me and probably almost anyone who has a disability. I prided myself on the way I had taken control of many of the frustrations and limitations that were placed on me by my quadriplegia. I knew I was overweight, but I had found reasons to excuse it. Such as, my condition limits my ability to exercise or I have greatly limited my food intake from what it was prior to my accident or eating is something that I can do that I really enjoy. But in reality all of these were excuses!

Summer before my accidentPrior to my “accident” I was very physically active and 6’5″ tall, which allowed me to consume a great amount of food and maintain a body weight between 215 and 220 pounds. During my struggle to survive, my weight plummeted to around 180 pounds. When I returned home after six months of rehabilitation I was still under what had been my normal weight. In the beginning, there was no need for me to curb my appetite. Quite the opposite I was being encouraged to regain the weight that I had lost. My weight began to creep up, but I was unable to hold it in check even though I made a serious effort to control the amount of food and portions I ate. Over a period of years my weight grew to over 260 pounds. A couple times I made an effort to restrict my caloric intake but was unable to maintain the effort for any length of time.

The problems I encountered on the dog sled ride caused me to realize my situation and make a mental commitment to change my lifestyle, reduce my weight and increase my physical activity. In other words, take control. This must be a change lasting the rest of my life and I know it. With the mental decision made I turned to a weight loss app I have used before.

Lose It, which I wrote about in an earlier blog Have I Got An App For You is already helping. While not designed for people with disabilities it is easy to adapt for people in unique circumstances. My activity level is increasing and my weight has begun to drop.
There is a great difference between talking about doing something and making the mental commitment to do it. \
Lose It

Reexamining Risk

Risk is part of the daily fabric of our lives. Generally speaking, I think people have done a great job convincing themselves that life is safe and that they are secure most of the time. Changes since 9/11 have awakened people to the reality that we are not as free from harm as we would like to believe. However, I think most people still believe risk only affects our lives when we do something out of the norm. The poem below hung on the wall in my classroom as long as I can remember, and I think it does a wonderful job reminding us of the role risk should play in our daily lives.

Author Unknown

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach for another is to risk involvement.
To expose your ideas, your dreams,
before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To believe is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken, because the
greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The people who risk nothing, do nothing,
have nothing, are nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow,
but they cannot learn, feel, change,
grow, love, live.
Chained by their attitudes they are slaves;
they have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.

~ from page 147 of the book “Addiction by Prescription” by Joan Gadsby

Most members of the disability community are much more aware of the role risk plays in an individual’s daily life. Many of us have become disabled as a result of the unforeseen consequences of risk; not the risk of skydiving, swimming with sharks, or making a mad dash to beat a train across the railroad crossing, but rather by being negatively impacted by risk in our daily lives.

As a result of this acute awareness of the ever presence of risk and its consequences in our lives, many of us, I believe, try to limit the amount of risk to which we expose ourselves. Risk is more obvious for an individual on crutches, in a wheelchair, with impaired vision, and the like, which leads to the question of how then do we enjoy ourselves and at the same time limit the amount of risk in our new lives. Do we allow the possibility of risk’s negative consequences to dictate what we do and how we enjoy the life we now have? I once saw a movie about professional surfers who wanted to ride the ultimate wave. One famous surfer from Hawaii said, “To enjoy the ultimate thrill we must be willing to pay the ultimate price.” Now I am not trying to encourage risk to that extreme, but rather to avoid letting the threat of risk take living to the fullest away from us.

Andy in his tipped over ATV

Andy in his tipped over ATV

This past weekend my friend Andy, from Utah, reminded me of enjoying life in spite of its risks. While driving his adapted all-terrain vehicle on sand dunes near his home, he was going sideways on a dune, lost momentum, and ended up rolling the ATV part way down the hill. Fortunately, he was strapped in, remaining in the vehicle while it was rolling, and he was unhurt. A friend who was with him was able to get some nearby help, and they were able to right his vehicle. In a recent email, Andy explained his ambivalence about what had happened. Several years ago I found myself in a very similar situation when I flipped over in my kayak. Since I was also strapped in, it was only do to the quick intervention of a couple of my friends that prevented me from drowning. I, too, did a lot of soul-searching as a result of this incident.

My kayak tipped over

My kayak tipped over

As we try to adjust to this new life our disability has thrust upon us, the challenge is how do we balance risk? What immediately comes to my mind is the Christopher Reeve quote:

“I refuse to allow a disability to determine how I will live my life. I don’t mean to be reckless, but setting a goal that seems a bit daunting actually is very helpful toward recovery.”

For individuals who have been physically active in their pre-disability life, the thought of eliminating the activities which provided them with quality of life can only compound the restricting nature of their new circumstances. Risk is a part of life and is no doubt heightened by our disability, but as the poem might be edited to include, only a person who takes “sensible risks” is truly free.

They’re Coming

Emergency Helicopter

Emergency Helicopter

They’re coming, I thought to myself. Even though I was very heavily sedated, the sound was unmistakable. It was one of those noises; once you hear you never forget. Like geese on the wing or coyotes howling in the dark, one just knew what was making the noise the minute one heard it. The deep eggbeater sound was made by the rotor blades of a helicopter. The chopper passed directly over my room, landing on the heliport of the hospital connected to the rehabilitation hospital where I was. As soon as one landed, another one came. It was only later that I learned they were bringing in wounded individuals. I’m sure you’re wondering where this was. Was it Vietnam, the first or second Gulf War? No, it wasn’t any of these; as a matter of fact, it wasn’t even a war zone. It was April 20, 1999, and while I didn’t know it at the time, the helicopters were bringing in the students that had just been shot at Columbine High School. Kids who thought they were just going to have another day at school had their lives altered forever by the firing of a weapon.

I had been waiting for almost 2 months for a stage four pressure wound to be clean enough for major surgery. On April 28, the doctors were finally ready to operate. Then after spending five weeks in bed waiting to heal, I was at last able to begin my rehabilitation therapy. Craig hospital only treats individuals with spinal cord injuries or brain trauma. Three of the students who had been shot at Columbine were now going through rehabilitation with me. My heart went out to them. Their situation was so different than mine. At 55 years old, I had my wife of 37 years by my side and a large support system of family and friends who were already reaching out to us since my accident had happened. The Columbine students were still teenagers who, more than likely, the day before the shooting had been struggling with the same personal and developmental problems as any other adolescent. I had a vast amount of life experiences that I could draw on to help me deal with the overwhelming demands and challenges of my new life. What resources did these young people have to draw from? Adjusting to a new life, we knew we would have unbelievable challenges overwhelming us at times. What would it be like for these young people?

Looking back now, Columbine was the beginning of a terrible new trend in our society. You gain a very different perspective on the personalization of tragedies like these when you watch the victims struggle with not only the physical adjustments, but the psychological impact as well.

The shooters at Columbine had semi-automatic weapons. For one semi-automatic pistol there were three magazines or clips which held 52, 32, and 28 bullets respectively. It is impossible not to ask why? If you have read my blogs or visited my website, you know what an avid hunter I am and the struggles I had to overcome to adapt to the challenges of my quadriplegia, including switching to a semi-automatic shotgun. The shotgun I use can hold five rounds but we never put in more than three. Why do we need assault rifles and large capacity magazines?

Newtown School Bus

Newtown School Bus

Why do we need these weapons, with the high capacity clips available to members of the general public? People can go hunting and enjoy target shooting without this massive potential firepower. Anyone opposed to limiting the availability of high capacity clips, at the least, should try imagining themselves in the position of the victims of these heinous crimes. The scars these people and their families bear, both physical and psychological, will be with them every day for the rest of their lives. How can we do less than limit the availability of these weapons and magazines? For all the victims, family members, relatives and the millions of Americans who supporting sensible gun control laws, we can only hope THEY’RE COMING.

Goliath versus Disabled David

Don't Mess With The Big Boys

Around May 18 I started having problems with my landline telephone. Since I am often home by myself I have a Lifenet necklace that I wear all the time. Over the past 12 years I have had to call Lifenet a number of times because I found myself in situations that placed me in different degrees of vulnerability. Lifenet has always responded immediately providing whatever service I required, so I called Verizon explaining my situation and what I believed were my special circumstances. They provided me with a protocol which I followed, with the help of my wife. After following their directions it looked like the problem was with the Lifenet unit.

I called S.T.A.T. Communication, the parent company of Lifenet. They were here within the hour. They could not be sure the problem was with their unit but replaced all the equipment to be on the safe side. For a brief period of time the phone worked okay, but shortly the same problems began cropping up: no dial tone, in the middle of dialing the line went dead, not receiving calls and similar problems. My wife called for technical support but could not get a live person. The automated machine informed us that a repairman could not come until June 1st. I refused to accept this and called Customer Assistance. They told me I had the wrong department and connected me to Technical Support. After waiting 20 minutes I finally got a “real” person who assured me someone would be at my home in the morning.* No one showed the next day. When I called in the evening I finally got a “real” person who said the service slip was lost*. He then promised* me again someone would be here first thing in the morning. I was up and ready for the day around 10:30am, but no one had come. I called Verizon and after quite a run-around was told* a serviceman would be here in the afternoon. I’m sure you have guessed by now that no one came. At this point I called Customer Service and asked to speak to a supervisor. Making an effort to remain as civil as possible, I explained my situation and the treatment I had been receiving. When I finished she asked me what I would like her to do. DUH, I told her she just didn’t get it and hung up. Undeterred, I called Technical Support again and, after a while, was told a repairman would be here in the morning. Fat chance of that I thought, because the next day was Saturday. I really need to apologize, how could I have doubted the word of this corporate giant. However, the repairman arrived and was wonderful, explaining to me he just received the work order that morning. After working on the transformer by the road he told me he thought he had fixed the problem.
Since Saturday was the beginning of Memorial Day Weekend I waited until May 31 to call Verizon to explain the disgraceful treatment I had received. I called the number of the Department for People with Disabilities. After listening to music for 20 minutes I got a supervisor who was very understanding of my plight and frustration. Imagine my bewilderment when she told me Verizon does not have a Complaint Department or even anyone you can file a complaint with. A pretty clever Verizon idea I thought. She explained my account did not have a medical emergency tag; it used to but for some reason it no longer did. She offered to connect me with the people who could rectify the oversight. I thanked her and dutifully waited on line for about 15 minutes. The new associate listened to my story for about 10 minutes before informing me she could not help me because she was in California (another Verizon joke, I assured myself). She offered to get me an associate in New York, where I live, who could help me. Another clever idea I thought. The fellow who answered must have been aware of the time I had been waiting, so in 5 minutes said he would send me a form I could fill out.

But, I was not done; I called the Better Business Bureau in New York to file a complaint. Prior to speaking with a “real” person you must fill in certain information on line. The company you are complaining about must be in their data base. Can you imagine my surprise when neither Verizon, nor the Verizon Phone Company nor Verizon Communications were in their data base! Now I WAS done! After all what do I know about the workings of a large corporation like Verizon, I thought FiOS was a dog.

* I don’t want to use the term lied

When Will We Ever Learn?

For the most part I live, by choice, in a small world. I have always been a very private person. Of course that changed quite a bit 12 years ago when I became a quadriplegic. I have a nurse that comes in every morning for 2 ½ to 3 hours. She helps me with my morning hygiene, gets me dressed and in my chair ready for the day. I retired seven months prior to my accident and the greater majority of my time was spent pursuing my love of the outdoors. I still find time to continue the recreation activities that I love. But almost anything I do now has to involve others and it’s still hard for me, at times, to ask for help. Much of my time now is spent on the computer writing blogs and placing information on my website. My wife calls me a “mouse potato”.

Last week I got an e-mail that awakened me to a harsh reality. The sister of a friend had given my name to a friend of hers, who had a friend, who in turn had a friend whose husband had broken his neck while in the water off a beach in Hawaii. He had been stabilized and they were looking for information about rehabilitation hospitals on the mainland. I did all I could, giving information, sending information and offering myself as a resource. I was shocked to find out their insurance did not cover an air ambulance flight to return them to the mainland. If she could secure a large amount of money the plane would come then. His wife was overwhelmed, struggling to try and get the money together and make the decision of selecting the best rehabilitation hospital.

This event awakened some frustrating and painful memories for me. I also broke my neck while standing in waist deep water. I had to be transported by boat from the island of St. John which had no hospital, to the island of St. Thomas. As I fought for my life in the hospital my wife was in shock trying to make arrangement for my return to the US mainland. The air ambulance refused to leave Florida until my wife had $15,000 in hand. We had a Visa card with a line of credit of $5000. We always paid our entire monthly bill on time and saw no reason for a higher line of credit. Even though she contacted the emergency number on the card, they were unwilling to increase our line of credit after hours. If we had had a platinum or gold card the plane would have come right away. If you get nothing more from this blog, know that you should not leave the US mainland without a platinum or gold credit card. Thirty-six hours later I finally arrived at the hospital in Syracuse New York. The next six months until we returned home remain like a foggy dream to me.

Shore Break Sign

Unknown to most vacationers there is a condition that exists on many islands and some mainland beaches called Shore Break. This hazard is created by the configuration of the ocean bottom leading up to the beach. When conditions are right, such as wind direction and wave speed etc. waves can break very close to the shore and in a vertical (straight up and straight down) direction. Anyone caught in that type of wave risks the possibility of serious injury. This condition exists on many of the beaches in Hawaii and a law in Hawaii requires warning signage be posted on all beaches where Shore Break exists. One of the dangerous things about Shore Break is that it is undetectable by the untrained eye. There are several beaches in the Virgin Islands where no signage warnings exist. If you were going to be in the surf make sure you research your beach before you go.

The terrible experience of this husband and wife I’d never met was a gut wrenching reality check for me. Scenarios like this are taking place a umber of times every day. Why must all these additional demands be placed on somebody who is already facing a catastrophic challenge? We live in the United States of America. Why must anyone want for assistance at a time like this? Members of our government would never find themselves in this situation. Why should anyone else? Why shouldn’t every person in America have the same care available to them that is available to our members of Congress? Why should anyone far away from their home who has suffered a catastrophic accident have such additional demands placed on their shoulders? What are we missing here?