17 May 2015

Check Out My Latest X-Rays :: Bruce Snyder's Status

On Friday, I paid a visit to my neurosurgeon and I have x-rays to show off! 

My neurosurgeon was happy to see me because it was the first time that he had seen me walking. He happily greeted me at the front desk which doctors almost never do, he just happened to be there when I walked in. It made me feel pretty good that my surgeon was so happy to see me. After all, this guy sees lots and lots of people who have had surgery. He said he was happy to see me walking because when I last saw him in November I was still in the wheelchair. 

Below you can see the two sets of x-rays -- one from the back and one from side. From both vantage points, you can easily see the hardware that was inserted. Even though I can feel the hardware in my back, it's still crazy for me to actually see it. Especially when I see how deep the screws go into each vertebrae. In the view from the back, you can also see the curve in my spine because the hardware is crooked. Oh well, I've been told that spinal surgery is more art than science -- sounds like writing code. 
Also, if you look closely you will see some little dots in between the L3 and L4 vertebrae. This is a plastic spacer and the dots are metal so it will show up in an x-ray. It's typical for the surgeon to insert a spacer in between the vertebrae in place of the disc that had to be removed (the disc was so badly damaged that they had to scrape it out). The spacer keeps the vertebrae the proper distance apart as the bone grows and fills in the space. According to the surgeon, the bone growth between the two vertebrae looks really good.

Based on  my recovery and the state of healing in my spine, the surgeon told me that he doesn't want to see me for a year! He said that he feels that I'm ahead of the curve and that I should keep doing everything I'm doing. Yay! 

09 May 2015

One Year Since My Spinal Cord Injury :: Bruce Snyder's Status

On April 24th, my family and I marked one year since my spinal cord injury and I was so totally shocked and very humbled by the surprise that Janene arranged for me. What an amazing wife!

We had made plans to go to a friend's birthday party at a place here in town. That afternoon my youngest daughter had a track meet and afterward I had to pick up my oldest daughter from her school in Boulder. These activities kept me busy until just after 6pm when I showed up at the location for our friend's birthday party.

As I crutched to the door and opened it, I saw my youngest daughter holding a big sign for and a huge crowd of our friends from the community screamed, 'Surprise!' It took me a second to realize that all of these people were here for me. I was so shocked by this thought that I almost lost it right there. Even now I get emotional thinking about it. I was so humbled that all of these friends showed up for me. I have been on the giving end of such support for others in the past, but I have never been on the receiving end.

It's hard for me to believe that it has been a whole year since this horrible accident took place. Early on, my good friend Greg, who has experienced two spinal cord injuries in his life, said to me:
'Just make it through the first year and everything will seem so much better.' 
He was right and this advice was poignant, though it took me a long time to really put it in perspective.

At the time, this seemed so far away that it was difficult to imagine. For a while, I even had this perception that I would actually return to what used to be normal for me. But, over the last year, I have come to realize that I need to get used to a new normal. The most difficult adjustment is my inability to run and cycle like I used to do so often.

Current Status

At this time, I am still paralyzed below the knees but I am hopeful that my body will continue to heal. I have so much more feeling in my feet after one year and I'm very hopeful that I will regain movement over time. Because of the paralysis, I wear leg braces to be able to stand and walk, and I also use arm crutches for balance. I am lucky enough that I can get around at home without using the crutches and at I have even started using only one crutch in places that are level and familiar to me.

Most people have no idea that a lower spinal cord injury like mine (L3-L4) often affects a patient's bowels and bladder function. Your digestion slows down due to the nerve damage and your ability to empty your bladder on your own can be affected. I still deal with some issues in both of these areas, but not to the extent that I did through the first eight months. I'm lucky that my body has healed the way it has and that there is medication to help things along otherwise.

For some time now, I have been riding a stationary bike, doing lots of leg presses and walking much longer distances. I still see a physical therapist, but only for guidance and direction. All of the PT related activities I do are driven by me alone. I have experienced the need for PT previously from knee injuries so I already understood how it important it is to have the drive to push forward on my own. Luckily, all of these activities have helped me to recover from a fair amount of the muscle atrophy that took place from being stuck in a hospital bed and a wheelchair early on. But I still have a long way to go.

Riding a Bicycle 

In addition to riding the stationary bike, Janene recently purchased me a 3-wheel bicycle. While it's not the same as riding a road bike or a mountain bike like I used to do, it is very similar and it allows me the freedom of being on a bicycle. Strangely, we had a difficult time finding a shop that was willing to assemble the bike for us. I guess lots of shops aren't familiar with them and each one can be so different that they cannot predict the time it will actually take. Luckily, the Bikesmith in Boulder came through and was happy to do the job.

While riding, I do have a hard time keeping my feet in the proper place on the pedals, so I am thinking about putting some toe clips on there. Also, the seat is not very comfortable on my sit bones due of the muscle atrophy in my butt. I'm also hunting for some other seats to help me tolerate not only sitting for a longer period of time but also the bumps on the streets.

As I mentioned it's not the same as riding my road bike and climbing steep mountain roads like I used to love doing so much, but it's the best thing I can do at this time. I'm so grateful that my wife is encouraging me to do something that I love, even if it isn't exactly the same as it was before.

30 April 2015

Traveling to ApacheCon :: Bruce Snyder's Status

Several weeks ago I traveled to ApacheCon, the annual conference for the Apache Software Foundation, and it was the best experience I have had traveling since my accident almost one year ago.

For the last 10+ years, I've done a lot of business travel. I've been through many cities in the US, Canada, Germany, Poland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, UK, Spain, France and Japan. Traveling was always difficult both mentally and physically unless I was with my family or just my wife, and this only served to soften the blow. But compared to what I experience now when I travel, all of that previous business travel seems to have been a lot easier. 

Even almost one year after the accident, it's still difficult for me to sit for a long period of time. When I say long period of time I'm referring to a span of two plus hours. I have taken several flights of 2-2.5 hours and I can achieve these without too much difficulty. But I have not taken a longer flight yet, especially a flight to Europe. I'm hopeful that I will have an opportunity to do this soon.

Dealing with life in a hotel room for several days certainly presents some challenges, but nothing that I was not able to handle. This is still a new experience for me because I have never been presented with such issues for all the years I've been traveling. For example, when I am at home, I still use my wheelchair when I get out of bed to the shower. This is because I am not yet wearing my leg braces (which allow me to stand and walk) at this time in the morning. So I either muscle through this situation by either using just my crutches and going very slow or I use the wheeled office chair in the hotel room. Another example, in the shower I need to use a padded bench. Getting a bench seat in a hotel isn't a problem as long as I plan ahead and make the proper arrangements, but I do not travel with my wheelchair at all anymore.

Making it to ApacheCon was a good experience to get out of my comfort zone, hang out with some old friends and even make some new ones. I was struck by the opening keynotes on the first morning of the conference because they were so overtly driven by vendors. One vendor even stated that it was starting a new software foundation and charging $1000 for other vendors to join. This was quite a surprise given how community driven the Apache Software Foundation has been since the beginning. But I suppose the realities of financing a software conference at a pricey hotel in a large city has driven ApacheCon in this direction.

I'm very happy that I was able to attend ApacheCon this year because it was only three weeks after ApacheCon 2014 when it took place in Denver, CO that I experienced my accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury. So for many people, this was the first time that they have seen me since last year's conference. At any rate, it was great to see friends and prove to myself that I can get along outside of my comfort zone. 

05 February 2015

A Re-Evaluation of My Spinal Cord Injury

Recently I had to go back at Craig Hospital for a re-evaluation of my spinal cord injury and the news turned out to be pretty good.

Last spring when the accident occurred, I really had no real idea what I was in for with regard to experiencing a spinal cord injury and the very long recovery to follow. And honestly nobody knows what will truly happen with regard to the recovery. The doctors have told me that I have all the good signs of healing and regaining movement, but only time will tell if my body can truly heal itself. 

The re-evaluation consisted of five days worth of inspection by many people looking at your body from every angle. I know it probably doesn't sound like much fun, but after you've already been through everything associated with a spinal cord injury, experiencing a little more inspection isn't a big deal. In fact, I was even eager to hear the results myself because the bottom line is I'm still a patient who relies on the professionals who have helped many others through this devastation many times before. 

The bottom line is that there is still no movement below my knees yet, but I have gotten some feeling back in my feet. My doctor tells me that this is a very good sign, especially in under a year since the accident. I still have a very long way to go but this is definitely good news. At this point in my life, after all I've been through since the accident, I'll take any bit of positive news I can. 

07 January 2015

Continuing Recovery, Ditching the Wheelchair and More :: Bruce Snyder's Status

In the last quarter of 2014, I made considerable progress with my recovery from the spinal cord injury. The physical therapy has made a big difference in the last three months to fight back against the muscle atrophy.

Physical Therapy

Recently I purchased a Total Gym which has helped the muscles in my hips and butt tremendously. It's really crazy how difficult walking can be when the muscles in your hips and butt (the gluteal muscles) have atrophied so badly. The thing that the Total Gym helps with is doing one legged leg presses without lifting the entire weight of my body every time. Because the Total Gym is at an incline, I can do many more leg presses with each individual leg and focus more on my form on each side. This has made a big difference in a short amount of time. And because the stationary bike and the Total Gym are both in the basement, I'm also doing stairs much more to get down there and back up which also helps.

Every day I'm doing a variety of physical therapy including walking on a treadmill, riding a stationary bike and now I'm also doing leg presses. Some of the main workouts I'm doing involve walking on the treadmill for 60 minutes at a time, riding the stationary bike for 30 minutes at a time and doing four sets of 25 leg presses on each leg. When I'm not doing this work I have many other exercises I do that include much smaller movements that are focused on a specific task. Slow, steady progress is the name of the game.

Ditching the Wheelchair

I have not been using the wheelchair much lately and just this week I stopped taking it to work at all. I'm only using the arm crutches and my leg braces. There are some difficulties with the crutches, however, like carrying things. Although I can carry small things when I'm just waddling around without the crutches, bigger and/or heavier items are still a problem when I'm using the crutches. I have been using a backpack when I'm using the crutches and, although it's kinda awkward, it works for many things.

I'm certainly not ready to run a marathon, but the recent progress has allowed me to walk around the house now even without using the crutches. I rely heavily on the braces that I wear on my lower legs because my feet are still paralyzed and that's fine for now. I definitely waddle like a penguin without the crutches, but that will change over time as I continue to rebuild muscle. I can now go up and down the stairs several times a day without the crutches.

Continued Positive Thinking

I've been keeping in touch with many friends since the accident who have all given me tremendous encouragement. My friend Simone advised me from his experience how important it is to do anything necessary to keep my morale high. He suggested remembering good times, watching movies you enjoy, spending time with friends and indulging in anything you can enjoy -- basically whatever it takes to stay positive. I have found this to be very true in my situation as well. In fact, I'm reading a book about this very topic right now.

You Are The Placebo is a book about what causes the placebo affect in the human body. It's essentially a publication about the author's research and experience using the power of deliberate meditation to willfully bring about change to the genes and therefore healing to the body. The author used this himself many years ago to heal his own spinal cord injury by tapping into the forces that create the placebo affect inside the human body. This the second book I've read on the topic of epigenetics and it is extremely fascinating because this area of research has demonstrated that human genes are not as static as we have been lead to believe. I'm still working through this book, but I'm learning a lot about the topic.

Traveling to Celebrate the Holidays

I have not traveled on a plane since August which was quite difficult for me at the time. Sitting on the plane just for that two hour flight from Denver to Chicago was very difficult because my body was in a very different state back then. The muscles in my butt were so atrophied that sitting on anything but the cushion on my wheelchair was very difficult. In fact, sitting on that same cushion while in the plane was OK but it made me realize how much I moved around during the day even in the wheelchair. Sitting in the same seat with minimal movement for two hours was very difficult.

Contrast my experience four months ago with my experience traveling to Illinois and back last week to visit family for the holidays. Not only was sitting on the plane for the two hour flight not a problem, but I also was able to use a thinner cushion this time. This was definitely a test of the progress I have made in rebuilding my body from the ruinous side effects of the spinal cord injury. I'm happy to say that a two hour flight is not a problem at this point. However, I don't believe that I could do a 9-10 hour flight to Europe yet. (Prior to the accident, I traveled for business via a direct flight from Denver to Frankfurt, Germany and then on to Munich, Germany to my company's headquarters. Needless to say, I have not been able to make any trips to Europe since the accident. I am hopeful that by the one year mark in the second quarter I will be able to start this travel again.)

Although the two hour flight was much more manageable this time around, the four hours of delays in the airport due to weather were no fun. It meant that we didn't land in Illinois until almost 2am. Originally we were scheduled to land about 10:30pm. Enduring the delays was worth it to see family. I had not seen my brother or my parents since July when they left Colorado to return home. It was wonderful to see them all and they were very impressed by the progress I have made since they last saw me.

Janene and I are lucky that both our families live about 20 minutes apart. So when we travel to Illinois to visit we get to see them both. This is because we began dating way back in high school some 26 years ago. We have been in Colorado for 20 years this year and not once have we missed traveling to Illinois to visit our families for the holidays. But even with the short distance between our families, the schedule we adhere to when we are there doesn't leave much room for relaxation because just about every day we go back and forth between both houses. Still, we have a wonderful time visiting family and celebrating the holidays.


The resiliency of the human body continues to amaze me. Comparing the state of my body today with the state of it back in the spring of 2013 just after the accident is quite remarkable. But I will say again that I am very lucky to not have sustained worse injuries. As I was told by many doctors, most people who get run over by a car don't live to tell about it. I know people who were at Craig Hospital for spinal cord injuries when I was there who are not as fortunate as me and who have had numerous other complications after leaving the hospital. My heart goes out to the them because my situation was bad enough the way it was, it's so difficult to think about everything being worse. I'm just very thankful for all the compassion and support I have received from friends, family and otherwise. 

02 December 2014

Halloween, Thanksgiving and SCI Recovery :: Bruce Snyder's Status

(I wrote this post in early December, but I forgot to post it, so here it is!)

Halloween and Thanksgiving are standard American holidays and they are definitely a good way to mark the progress of my recovery. They seemed to so far away for so long and yet they flew right by this year.

When you have kids, Halloween is a pretty fun time for them. From picking out pumpkins, to carving jack-o-lanterns, to jumping into big piles of leaves, to various Halloween parties leading up to the evening of trick-or-treating. When my girls were younger, they would get so excited for Halloween. They loved picking pumpkins right out of a pumpkin patch and couldn't wait to carve them. We would get out Halloween decorations for the house and carve our pumpkins together. They would really get into it with elaborate designs that they would trace on the pumpkins and require some time investment to carve whereas I would always carve simple, silly faces on my pumpkin that took no time at all to complete, but would make everyone laugh. Well this was the first year where my kids were not into Halloween very much.

This year I was on my own to hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters. Janene was away on a business trip and both my girls were with their friends elsewhere in town. Although I've been mostly walking with the crutches at this point, any time I need to carry something I still need to sit down in the wheelchair to do so. It was too difficult for me to hold the door open to greet the trick-or-treaters while holding the big bowl of candy, so I sat in my wheelchair. It was still fun though because I was down low enough to see all the kids at their eye level and they instinctively helped to hold the door open as I put candy in their bags. Many of the kids know me from coaching soccer, volunteering at the elementary school, etc., so they talked to me about how my recovery is progressing. It was nice to see them all.

Janene's folks came into town for several days to celebrate Thanksgiving and it was nice to have some family around for a while. They participated in our Thanksgiving traditions of fixing a big meal, going to see a movie and playing games afterwards. We also took the girls to see The Nutcracker ballet in Denver (as we have done for many years now) and afterwards we had dinner at a wonderful sushi restaurant. They also helped us put up Xmas holiday decorations around the house including all the outdoor lights. Janene and I have always done this with the girls but there's no way that I can climb a ladder and be on the roof in my current state so Janene's dad helped with that part.

I continue with my recovery from the spinal cord injury. I continue to walk on a treadmill just about every day during the week because we have a couple in the fitness room I'm building at my work office. I've worked up to about 40 minute sessions walking at about 2.5 miles per hour. Although this is not much by normal standards, it is really helping my body to recover quite a lot.

I also I got a stationary bike recently so that I can ride it on a regular basis. It is already help to rebuild the muscles in my hips and butt. I'd love to just put one of my bikes on my trainer an spin like I used to do, but there's no way that I can sit on a regular road bike seat at this point. The stationary bike has a wider more padded seat that allows me to ride for about 20 minutes at a time with a small amount of tension. Although it's a very different ride, it still feels good to be pedaling again.

I continue with physical therapy appointments in Boulder twice a week. These sessions are important because my physical therapist shows me many exercises to do and is continually checking my progress, but most of the recovery is my responsibility. I have to keep doing the work every day and stay motivated to beat the muscle atrophy that has transformed my body so much. Because I have been through muscle atrophy almost 30 years ago when I had one of my knees reconstructed, I know what the hard work is all about. I also know that physical therapy is what can save you from a major injury. And so, I fight on.

05 October 2014

How to Test For the Shellshock Vulnerability and Upgrade Bash Using MacPorts on Mac OS X 10.9.4

Given all the hype recently over the bash Shellshock vulnerability, no matter what operating system being used, any affected version of bash should be patched and/or upgraded immediately.

You can quickly test your operating system to see if your bash version is vulnerable by following instructions on the Shellshocker website. TLDR, here is the command you need to run to test bash on your machine:

Note that the version of bash in my path (the newer one from MacPorts) is not affected by the vuln. Now I will test the version of bash installed as /bin/bash:

Notice that I piped the script directly to /bin/bash instead of relying upon the version of bash in my PATH. Because I have already installed Apple's update (noted below), /bin/bash is not affected either.

Apple Update 

Apple has already released an update containing a patched bash version, so it's very easy to update the standard bash version located in /bin/bash. But, if you are like me and you are using MacPorts to manage many binaries within Mac OS X, you may not be using the version of bash installed by Apple.

Use of MacPorts to Upgrade Bash

I have used MacPorts for years and I continue to get grief from people who love Homebrew. I must say that I do like both, but for some reason I have always kept coming back to MacPorts. Anyway, if you are using MacPorts then upgrading to the patched version of bash is especially easy. Below are the commands to upgrade bash: