Being lifted into place
Looking down at the floor of the roof in front I saw some items that, even though it had been over 20 years, their names came rushing to me. Prussik loop, spectra cord, a Figure Eight on a bight and a couple of daisy chains. These were things I had used extensively in the 1990s, when I ran a challenge course for the local school district where I taught. My mind began drifting back to that time. Climbing and rappelling were part of most days when I would be hosting one of the grades from the school. I could remember the feelings of freedom, self-control and exhilaration as I controlled my descent to the ground. Suddenly a loud voice broke my daydreaming and I was quickly brought back to reality. It was June 9, 2018 and I was being prepared to rappel off a 16-story building in Watertown New York.
Three years ago, my good friend and colleague, Steve Robinson had gone Over the Edge (OTE) as part of an annual fundraiser for the United Way of Northern New York. He dedicated his fundraising efforts to me because he knew I would be doing it if I could and nobody thought I would ever rappel again. His effort got me thinking and I began to wonder if maybe I could do it. I knew there would be lots of issues and lots of reasons to say no, but I decided to try. To my surprise the two major organizations involved, the United Way and the people from Over the Edge, were very receptive. Over the past 19 years I had become used to people telling me there was no way I could do this or that.
The rappel today was going to be different. Not only was there new hardware like the RIP descender, but I was going to be doing it in my wheelchair. I felt this was an opportunity to pay back to the people of the community that had given so much to my wife and I over the past 19 years. The United Way donates money to a number of charities and local groups. I also hope my going Over the Edge would remind everybody that we are all capable of doing much more than we think we can. That lesson has been driven home to me time and time again since I became quadriplegic.
Rappelling down Midtown Towers
Family members and most of my friends truly thought this was crazy. Why, many of them asked, place yourself in this risky situation? None of them realized the risk was totally perceptional. My descent would be one of the safest things I have ever done. With the help of several skilled professionals and soldiers from the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club from Fort Drum I was prepared and placed into position for my descent. Because of my limited range of motion another person would be going with me to help facilitate a smooth descent.
As I began my way down I happened to glance a few blocks away and notice an individual sitting in a wheelchair watching me. I could only wonder what they were thinking, but I found myself wanting to yell to him “It all starts with a dream.”
In closing, I would like to recognize the people who helped make this possible Bob Gorman of United Way, Robert Pitkin of Over The Edge, Les Brook of Marra”s Homecare, Bruce Wright of Guilfoyle Ambulance, my good friend Steve Robinson and all who donated the United Way of NNY.
Posted in Ability, Adapting Equipment, Adaptive Technology, Attitude, Behavior, Community Inclusion, Determination, Disability, Education, Friends, Friendship, Observation, Reality, Recreation, The Struggle
Tagged adapting, control, life lesson, outdoors, physically challenged, Recreation
If you’ve been watching the news during the recent invasion of arctic air deep into the United States, you’ve probably seen or heard of iguanas in Florida falling out of the trees seemingly frozen to death. However, wildlife experts cautioned against making the mistaken assumption that these animals are dead. While there seems to be no respiration or heartbeat they are alive and if the weather warms up in a few days they will come back to life and resume their normal activities. What is causing this phenomenon is a condition known as poikilothermic. Poikilotherm is a characteristic among most reptiles in which their body temperature is determined by their environment rather than by their body’s ability to produce heat. They are cold blooded. When the iguana’s temperature drops below 30 degrees they can no longer carry on normal activities including holding on to a branch. We, on the other hand, are members of a group of animals who are known as homeotherms (warm blooded) meaning our body temperature is controlled by the body itself regardless of the environment we happen to be in. Being able to regulate body temperature is a major reason humans are found all over the world regardless of climate type.
Frozen Iguana in Florida
Iguana fallen out of tree
Quadriplegia brings many changes to the body most of which able-bodied people are totally unaware of. One of the most serious is that our body loses the ability to control its temperature. This can lead to an extremely serious condition known as Autonomic Dysreflexia which can be life-threatening very quickly. The body of someone who has become severely paralyzed loses the ability to sweat or shiver. Each of these body functions is critical in helping to regulate body temperature. For a person with quadriplegia on a warm day their body cannot prevent its temperature from rising. Worse than that is the individual has no idea that his temperature is reaching a critical point. This threat forces many of us to spend much of a beautiful sunny day indoors. A cold environment causes a lowering of body temperature which is just as serious. Unfortunately, the temperatures do not even have to be extreme for these conditions to occur.
Another effect of this phenomena is that a person with quadriplegia is almost always cold. Even on relatively warm days unless they are in direct sunlight their bodies give them the sense of being cold. Probably 360 days a year I can be found with a knit hat on my head and at night when I go to sleep, I always have a small hand towel draped over my head. It’s hard to understand how a body which is supposed to have little actual feeling can have the sense of so much phantom feeling and pain.
Soaking Up The Sun
Normally when iguanas wake up in the morning they make their way to a spot that has direct sunlight and remain there until their body temperature rises high enough for them to pursue their effort to secure food. Just like iguanas when I first get up on a warm day I go out and sit in the sun and rejoice as my body warms up. While you will not find quadriplegics dropping out of the trees on a cold day you can bet they are always struggling to stay warm.
Life As An Iguana
Posted in Behavior, Community Inclusion, Disability, Education, Nature, Observation, Personal Safety, Reality, Sensitivity, The Struggle
Tagged adapting, Caregiver, life lesson, lifestyle, natural environment, outdoors, physically challenged, quadriplegia
The light, from the full moon, was twinkling off the water as we slid our kayaks into the lake. We had paddled here many times before, but there was always something special when paddling under a full moon. The small little lake hidden off an old road in Jefferson County, was absolutely beautiful. It was probably close to midnight when we loaded the kayaks back on the truck and headed for home. Little did I realize that the time it would be many years before I would return.
After my accident in 1999 I wondered if I would ever go back and paddle on this lake again. In my mind, I set it as a goal not knowing if it was even realistic. In the rehabilitation hospital in 1999 I read a quote in a book written by Christopher Reeve. It had a tremendous impact on my attitude toward my own rehabilitation. Reeve said:
“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.”
I began kayaking again in 2003. We had to start from scratch. No information was available on quadriplegics kayaking. Progress was slow. It took a group of people for me to go at all; as a result, I only got out a couple times a year. So improvements and adaptions were slow. Once I even tipped the kayak over and since I was completely strapped in and my hands strapped on the paddle would have drowned if it wasn’t for the quick thinking of two members of my “entourage”. Despite all of that, progress moved ahead, first pontoons, next a stadium seat whose back was raised by a local machinist, chest laterals were added and after much additional tweaking during my one paddle last year I decided everything was stable enough to go for my goal. Through all these years I was paddling on a large pond owned by good friends of ours. But in the back of my mind always was the dream to return to Payne Lake.
Steve fishing for bass
Yesterday, I awoke from the dream, many times in our lives, we imagine certain events happening and when they do they fall far short of the scenario that had been created in our mind. Yesterday the experience exceeded everything that I had hoped for. We paddled for several hours. My wife and I together on the water for the first time in over 18 years. The lake whose aesthetics I could only dream of were more imposing in person. By sheer accident, I paddled up on a heron, which I was unaware of, until I was almost on top of her. We watched her fly from spot to spot and even saw her catch a small fish. My friend Steve, without whose help I would not do half of the things I do, had a bass launch out of the lily pads to take his lure, but it slipped the hook during some aerial acrobatics. I live for opportunities like this.
What a special day.
The moral of the story is don’t stop dreaming. Dreams really can come true if you continue to work on them and refuse to give up.
Posted in Ability, Adapting Equipment, Adaptive Technology, Attitude, Behavior, Determination, Disability, Education, Friends, Friendship, Love, Nature, Observation, Reality, Recreation, Sensitivity
Tagged adapting, Caregiver, life lesson, lifestyle, natural environment, outdoors, physically challenged, quadriplegia, Recreation, using your mind
The song Simple Gifts is a hymn written in the 1840s by a member of the Shaker Community. The Shakers were a religious sect that migrated to America from England in the late 1700s. Their religious principles focused around being satisfied with the simplistic existence and the natural environment. The community produced a lot of very simple items which they sold to maintain their existence. The items stressed simplicity and functionality. You may have even heard of Shaker furniture which is still prized today by many people.
Every season seems to bring with it particular “simple gifts”. This spring was no exception. I have been struggling with an extended period of depression, but with the arrival of spring came certain “gifts” that I always look forward to. One of the earliest is, after a long, cold winter, just sitting in the warmth of the sun and feeling my body warm. (Sitting In The Mornin’ Sun)
Another of nature’s simple gifts is the arrival of the birds which have migrated south for the winter. Many of those returning are notable because of their beautiful colors such as the Baltimore oriole, the Rose Breasted Grosbeak and the Indigo Bunting. Being confined to a wheelchair encourages one to spend more time bird watching than when able-bodied. Two of my favorite species to observe are not brilliantly colored, but are enjoyable to watch because of their fascinating behavior and their willingness to live close to man. Since my injury, we have done much to encourage birds to share our environment with us. Every year swallows, set up house in the same nesting box. I have written about them before too. I love to watch them in flight because of their ability to change direction instantly darting left and right as they pursue insects. It’s hard to watch them fly and not believe they are enjoying every second of their lives. While the female is sitting on the eggs the male, who I have named Captain America, sits on top of the eagle on the top of the flagpole and will defend the nest against all comers.
Baltimore oriole at our feeder
The birds, however, that I enjoy watching the most are the House Wrens. Last spring my wife went out to hang some clothes from a clothesline. She reached for a clothespin and realized there were a bunch of sticks protruding from the bag. She slowly opened it and saw it was a bird’s nest with three eggs nestled in the sticks. After some searching on the Internet we discovered it was the nest of house wrens and spent much of the summer observing their behavior. This year, being unable to find the clothespin bag we hung out a <a that I had made during the winter in the exact same spot and were not disappointed as the wrens quickly began building their nest in it.
A female house wren bringing in a sack of spider eggs into the nest. It’s believed that when the spiders hatch, they eat some of the mites that have been brought in by the adults and then when they get bigger they are eaten by the growing wrens.
With both the wrens and the swallows, the males participate in the raising of the young. Below is a video I took last year and last week, which looked like the final day of nest building. The female is now sitting on the eggs while the male spends much of his time sitting on the laundry line poles waiting for the eggs to hatch. Once hatched both the male swallow and wren are totally involved in feeding the chicks and protecting the nest. We have no way of knowing if these are the same birds from last year.
What I enjoy so much about watching these birds is their devotion to each other, raising the young and their seeming enjoyment of life itself even though it’s hard work and demanding. While we humans are ever striving to modernize our lives and gain more possessions, the habits and purposes of these birds have changed very little over time. I think we could all benefit by not being so quick to adopt change for change’s sake to improve our daily lives and be happier with the simple gifts. And, oh yes, the time spent observing and videotaping the birds goes a long way to improving my outlook on life.
*All of the pictures and videos contained in this blog were taken on our property
Posted in Ability, Attitude, Behavior, Birds, Community Inclusion, Education, Nature, Observation, Reality, Recreation, Sensitivity, Stuggling
Tagged control, depression, life lesson, lifestyle, natural environment, outdoors, physically challenged, Recreation, society, using your mind
Andy arrived on the 17th of August and left yesterday around noon to fly back to Salt Lake City. Our week together is very special to me. He is much more involved with the disabled community than I am. He is much more outgoing and gregarious than me. Many of those who know me would be surprised by the fact that basically I am quiet, shy and retiring. Having been an educator for over 34 years I am at ease speaking and interacting with groups, but on a personal level I tend to limit myself to a few close friends none of whom are disabled. Andy’s visit is much more unique for me than I believe it is for him. Since we share the same injury level, a very similar outlook on our situation and the love of all things outdoors we are closely bound together.
We always do some different things while Andy is here. This year he went with me to the Outdoor Adventure Day at Fort Drum (the home of the 10th Mountain division) where we manned a booth for Handihelp which displayed many of the adaptive equipment we have made and a lot of pictures of what those adaptions have allowed us to do. It’s always enjoyable to speak with the people who stop by and have questions about our lifestyle and things we’ve done.
With Smokey the Bear at Ft. Drum
One thing we do every year when Andy comes is participate in the Annual Quadriplegic Fishing Derby. In reality, it’s just Andy and me going fishing with our friend Dean of Dean Meckes Charters
and my buddy Steve Robinson or my son Mark. We caught a few fish, but that’s not the real reason we go. The time spent on the beautiful St. Lawrence River and the solitude of being out there is irreplaceable. The other annual happening is our visit with our friends Maia, Maddy, and Tonya Chamberlain for ice cream. It’s a chance for Andy to spend some time with Maia.
Andy with a bass
The most meaningful part of Andy’s visit for me is not the activities that we do, but rather the downtime at home when we can just talk about our situation, lifestyle and the mental and physical challenges we must deal with. This is the only time that I get to talk with someone who truly understands the ramifications of the challenges I face. While I do talk to my friends and my wife Marge at times, no one understands all the nuances that go along with being a quadriplegic. So, the time Andy’s here is like no other.
Andy comes to northern New York because it is much “easier” for him to travel than it is for me. However, we have begun discussing the possibility of my going to Utah and spending a week with Andy and his friends. The idea of it is very seductive.
Finally, I would like to thank Marge for her role in making this week possible and the others who helped make this week so special.
Andy, Maia and me
Posted in Ability, Attitude, Community Inclusion, Disability, Education, Fishing, Friends, Friendship, Nature, Reality, Recreation
Tagged fishing, Lake Ontario, lifestyle, natural environment, outdoors, physically challenged, quadriplegia, Recreation, relationship
At Craig Hospital, where I did my rehabilitation, they talked about how people would react to me, post injury. They said there would be former friends who would fade out of my life and others who would step up and assume a much more significant role. I didn’t realize at the time how true that would be. While some have virtually disappeared, several people have assumed a significantly greater role and others who I barely knew or didn’t know at all have helped facilitate the return of my quality of life. As a C6 quadriplegic my life is one of dependency. I may like to kid myself into believing I have a lot of independence, but the truth is I don’t. I’m dependent on others for my food, hygiene, dressing, even getting into and out of my wheelchair. My wife Marge and my nurses Rhonda, Char and Kelli see to those needs and at times do much more.
Me in the old days
One person, in particular, has really stepped up. He is not the only one, but Steve Robinson, a former coworker has stepped up like no other. Steve takes me hunting, to lacrosse games and does so much more. What would my life be like without friends like him I can’t imagine? Thankfully, I don’t have to.
Does Steve realize the important role he plays in my life? Does he understand what my life would be like without his unselfish generosity? Does he have any concept how impossible it is to find the words to help him to understand how much his stepping up affects my quality of life?
Steve with Andy and me at Blue Mountain Museum
Steve and I dog sledding
Now I have a chance to do something for him. Steve and I worked together on the school’s outdoor adventure course. On September 17th the Northern New York United Way is having a fundraiser called Over the Edge. Steve is going over the edge. Steve wrote “Over 20 years ago a good friend and a former South Jefferson colleague introduced me to the power and excitement of a ropes course. I know that if he could, he would have been one of the first to sign up for this United Way fundraiser. I will be doing the rappel in recognition of my friend and mentor.”
I would like to take this opportunity to ask my friends, if possible to consider making a donation to Steve effort. If so you can go to Steve’s Home Page to donate. Thanks to Steve and all of you.
Celebrating Steve’s retirement with my first beer in over 25 years
Posted in Attitude, Behavior, Birds, Disability, Education, Friends, Friendship, Love, Reality, Recreation, Sensitivity
Tagged life lesson, outdoors, physically challenged, quadriplegia, Recreation, relationship