Rehab, My Road To Recovery


Last fall, I was inspired by the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Month to write down in detail the incredible journey I had after sustaining a cervical fracture at age 17 that left me paralyzed from the chest down. 


(If you work with a rehabilitation facility, I would like to connect with you by email or on LinkedIn.)


I spent six months in a Central California rehabilitation facility where I found a purpose and path to rebuild my life. Doctors, nurses, therapists, my coach and people from all parts of my life came together to create a team, build hope and help me celebrate wins every day.


Yes, a 10 part blog series is a LOT of reading but I think you might get pulled in to my compelling story, especially if you or a friend or loved one have experienced a spinal cord injury or if you work in rehabilitation.



Rehab, My Road to Recovery


Part 1:  This is a tale as old as time...

It was forty years ago, but could have been yesterday. I can still smell the sterile rooms throughout the hospital and hear the beeps of the monitors, the groans of the sick and injured, and the bustle of the people that were everywhere. Still, it was the loneliest I ever felt and the fear in a 16 year old football player who was now being called a quadriplegic after a crazy water skiing accident was off the hook ...


Part 2: The truth about pain

I went head first into a boulder at 45 m.p.h. at Millerton Lake in Fresno County, California. It didn't kill me, but it sure as hell didn't make me stronger. Somebody commented once that the paralysis was a blessing because I couldn't feel any pain. True, I had no feeling from the chest down, but my broken neck (three places) and massive head injury reminded me every day of where I now lived; intensive care at St. Agnes Hospital ...


Part 3: Suddenly, I'm not in Kansas Anymore

There was no magic about November 5th, 1977.  I didn't pass any test, no recovery milestone occurred, and I wasn't feeling better.  Regardless of my situation, a room at Fresno Community Hospital opened up, and it was mine to take or lose forever.  So without fanfare, a team from American Ambulance showed up and I was off to rehab. Ready or not, I was leaving the darkness of Post Intensive Care ...


Part 4: No doubt in my mind, rebuilding your life is a team sport
In the first six weeks of my adventure, I learned a fascinating truth.  The world is resilient and it just keeps turning.  My life was shaken to its core, but they didn't close school down, nobody canceled football season, and my circle of friends got back to their lives.  My greatest fear, and the reason I stayed in Fresno in spite most experts recommending L.A., was if I left for 5 months, people would forget about me ...


Part 5: The Fishman Cometh

Being lost at life is a trip.  The realization the wheels have come flying off and you have no idea or, scarier yet, desire to fix it leaves you buck-naked lost.  I didn't have the emotional maturity to find any sense of myself in these early days, but I didn't have to.  Miraculously, 2 men came into this journey who saw good things for me that I couldn't see for myself ...


Part 6: My new "friend," Ms. Tilt-o-Whirl

When I was young, I remember seeing a dude in a wheelchair at a concert and thinking he was screwed.  I certainly was no student of Spinal Cord Injury, my knowledge was limited to the idea that not walking must suck.  Little did I know that when I got to rehab, walking wasn't even a morsel of conversation.  As my therapy plan was unveiled, I learned that paralysis had engulfed me from head to toe ...


Part 7: The Cavalry Came Dressed as a Football Coach

I met Jack Bohan as a skinny freshman center who showed up late to my first weight training session with the high school. 4 or 5 of us got about ten yards from the practice area when Coach turned and screamed at us louder than I've ever heard the human voice project. We never broke stride, and we got the hell out of there as fast as we could. The yelling guy was our legendary office line coach, teacher, and leader ...


Part 8: Lessons from Little League

Trying to win every day made sense. Hey, as a young athlete, I was all about the game. I would do anything to put myself in position to win, regardless of the situation. In sports, though, I understood the rules. For football, I knew if I lifted weights, ran, and practiced, I'd get better and contribute to my team winning. I was self motivated, but I really caught fire when my body was starting to show the effects of my efforts ...


Part 9: Forty One Years Later, The Work is Unfinished

As I write this, yesterday was October 2nd, 2018. On this date 41 years ago, I made my dive into the rocks at Millerton Lake and obliterated the course of my very existence. In a stroke of mercy, The Big Fella Upstairs doesn't allow me to dwell on that anniversary. Instead, on that same day in 1991, my daughter Noelle made her way into the world. My baby's birthday has taken over that day of infamy and it's a day of celebration ...


Part 10: A Final Thought

What a trip this was for me. I went to places I had never discussed before and it was cool and weird at the same time. I had put this out to generate potential conversations in the medical/rehab community that might bring me in to speak. I got some interest, but the reward was much greater than that. I heard from numerous friends and family members who were there and didn't realize some of things going on behind the doors ...



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