And so begins the “Road to the Climb” as I wake from my coma, get reoriented to the world and begin the rebuilding process.
– The Road to the Climb
– First Challenge for me is to get off life-support as while I’m awake I still have the tube in my throat. Doc explains that a “tracheotomy” is best option, I agree, but really I had no concept of what people were saying… I was incredibly confused, later diagnosed with “ICU psychosis”, and I had a tube in my throat so I couldn’t ask questions.
– By agreeing to the “trach,” which involves placing a device in my throat to help me breathe on my own again, I thought that I would never speak again. But couldn’t ask to confirm.
– Tuesday, August 24th, 1999
– “trach” is cancelled 30 minutes before procedure…
– The previous evening I was told that if I could get myself breathing without the use of the ventilator I wouldn’t need to have the operation. I remember my Mom explaining to the Doc that “you need to tell him again, he needs to understand exactly what you want him to do.”
– My doc, or someone, turned the monitor that was monitoring my heart rate, my blood pressure, and my oxygen saturation levels (SAT’s). It was my SAT’s that were the main issue.
– My Ventilator was set on “manual assist”, which means that as long as I was breathing on my own the machine would do nothing, but if I missed breaths it would breathe for me. My goal was to keep my SAT’s above 90% by breathing on my own.
– With my SAT monitor turned so I could look over my left shoulder and see it I stared at that screen and focused with everything I had on my breath. I feel asleep a lot, and got woken up by the alarm the machine made when it would kick in. But by the time the morning came I had made enough progress to have the Docs say “hold on a minute.”
– I went from having my throat cut open in 30 minutes to having my tube pulled that morning. My voice would return much later that day.
– Still Tuesday, August 24th
– Second day awake was more frustrating than my first as I was getting a little more aware of what was happening, but as I look back I still had no idea what had happened or where I was. But as I worked through that second day my family and I finally figured out a process for me to communicate.
– It took a long while but eventually we had a printed sheet of the alphabet and I would spell the words by row and number within the row. I can’t do the story justice with words, written or spoken, but let’s just say it was one of the more frustrating times in my life. My family were always used to me making the rules, which I love to do, but this time I had no way to communicate what I wanted the rules to be. We eventually worked it out, and I have some very good advice for anyone who’s in a situation similar to mine – get a whiteboard and dry erase marker!
– Just so you know I was too physically beaten to use a marker but the ability to write words down and have me give the “yea vs. nea” was very valuable.
– So my family eagerly awaited at my bedside as I worked with them to spell out my first sentence. I think it took about an hour – or a minute that seemed like an hour – but I finally got it right… “I want a root beer.”
To which everyone responded “ohh we know you do.”
– I didn’t get my root beer!
– My second sentence which followed shortly after was “I want to go home.” Also followed with “ohh we know you do.”
– The latter I would tackle much quicker then previous as I would leave hospital on September 3rd, 1999.
– Thursday, August 26th, 1999 I made the move from ICU to more familiar territory on 4 North A of the hospital. Still incredibly confused I adopted one goal when I arrived on the floor… get my ass home as soon as I could.
– Now I don’t mind telling you that I’m a bit of a Mommy’s boy and after 4-5 days on 4 North A my mind could not tolerate being there. A main reason was that I was afraid to sleep by myself… in my mind the last time I went to sleep I was out for over 3 weeks and no amount of convincing could get me to believe that the same thing wasn’t going to happen that night.
– I didn’t spend a night along for the first month I was awake.
On Tuesday, August 31st I looked at my mom and said “Mommy I want to go home.”
– Magic words they must have been, because my mom was possessed to make that happen. All the red tape and hospital policy was worked through in 3 days and on Friday September 3rd I went home to my Mom’s house to my make-shift hospital room in the downstairs TV room.
– The smile on my face was as big as it’s ever been that day… and once home I quickly moved to my next Challenge… getting back on my feet.
– September 3rd – 20th, 1999
– My strength was shit and I had to rebuild a new foundation so that’s what I did. My early work-outs consisted of lifting up the head of my hospital bed and then pulling myself upright with my arms using the rails on my bed. I would see if I could hold myself upright, which wasn’t possible for a few days, but I worked at pulling myself up and slowly was able to lower my bed more and more ultimately pulling myself up from a flat position.
– Finally I was able to swing my legs over the side of my bed and use my walker to push myself upright in a standing position. Major progress!!
– I had a couple of walks with that walker but I hated it from the start and of course it was too small for me!
– And then on September 20th, 1999 I swung my legs over the side of my bed, pushed myself to my feet and took this huge 5-step journey from my hospital bed to my couch.
– And that was the beginning of the RealTime Cancer Climb.
Every year since 1999 I have climbed Signal Hill with a growing group of supporters. 170 of us in 2000, in 2001 there were 400 Climbers and then last year there were over 600 on Signal Hill with me and another 100 all over the world climbing sets of stairs in hospitals and hotels, on hills and mountains.
If you believe in miracles, if you know that it’s never over until it’s truly over, if you understand that percentages and statistics are made up from what’s happened in the past not what will happen in the future then I hope you will find something to climb this Saturday. If you can be with us on Signal Hill in St. John’s or are on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, in the Branch-St. Brides area or are in Halifax I hope you will climb. Wherever you are from Newfoundland to Japan and whoever you are with, a big group or by yourself, I hope you will climb this weekend.
Live life. Love life.