22 June 2014

Back Home, X-Rays From the Accident :: Bruce Snyder's Status

This past Tuesday I was discharged from Craig Hospital and I was finally able to come home after eight weeks of healing in the hospital. It has been so great to be home again with my family, but it's certainly not without its challenges.

Because I am not able to move my feet, I am in a wheelchair. Such a change presents problems when you live in a multi-level home. So currently I am confined to the main level of our home. Janene and her mother Susan worked with the neighbors to move our bedroom from the second level into the room where my office used to be on the main level. She also installed ramps so that I can get in and out of the house, our family room and the front porch. I'm very grateful that we did not have to go through a giant home renovation to accommodate a wheelchair.

It feels comforting to be back in my home with my family, but it also feels strange to be at such a lower level. When I stand up I am six feet tall and this is the perspective from which I have always known my wife, my children, my parents and in-laws and my home. Being in a wheelchair changes that perspective instantly. I now have challenges trying to do just about anything in the kitchen. Doing laundry presents some issues, but I'm lucky that we have a front-loading washer and dryer. Because I'm still wearing the back brace, I'm prevented from bending over completely and reaching anything that falls on the floor. For this situation, I have a reacher-grabber. I will be very happy to get rid of this back brace, but I still have four weeks of it left (it needs to stay on for a total of 12 weeks).

Still, even given these challenges, the mental boost from just simply being home again is much needed. So much better than being alone in the hospital every night. I feel like I'm not in this alone anymore, like my family is here with me.

I had forgotten that Janene had some photos she took of a 3D digital rendering of the fractures in my spine and an x-ray while I was in the ICU in Boulder Community Hospital. The 3D rendering shows the dislocation and fractures in the L3 and L4 vertebrae. I hate to think about what the surgeon had to do to manipulate my spine to reset that dislocation. In the past, I have seen videos of spinal surgeries and it's not pretty. But I'm told that my surgeon is extremely talented and sought after for spinal and neuro surgeries.

The x-ray shows my spine after the surgery. Not only did they insert two rods and eight screws to fuse the L2-L5 vertebrae, but they also had to clean up all the bone fragments from various other fractures of the transverse process bones that occurred in the accident. When my pain meds fully wear off I can feel the hardware in my back and it's not fun. I'm still on pain meds for the next month, but it's a fraction of what I was once using. I'm worried that once the pain meds are done that I may deal with chronic pain, but I will have to cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I'm still trying to get used to sitting up in my wheelchair for the full day without a rest.

I also have photos of some of the road rash from the accident. I will spare you the sight of these because they are gruesome. But I can tell you that I had horrible road rash along the left side of my torso, both up and across my back as well as down my leg. Additionally, I had a nasty laceration about six inches long on my left hip that had to be stitched together. There were other spots of road rash on my right side and other various places. My right ankle got pretty banged up in the accident. So much so that they x-rayed it to see if it was broken but they believe it only sustained soft tissue damage. Of course this is all in addition to the incision scar from the surgery that is about eight inches long. Even a week after the accident when I was finally coherent, the wounds looked pretty bad. When I was admitted to Craig Hospital, they took photos of all the wounds. Several weeks after I had been there, I saw the photos and almost dropped them when I first saw them. They were so bad that it was shocking to think that this was my own body. Thankfully, it's all healed up now and all that is left are lots of scars.

The muscles in my lower back are extremely tired by the time the evening rolls around. I'm told that they probably did not cut through them for the surgery, but instead they probably split them along natural lines. I won't know for sure until I have a follow-up appointment with the surgeon next month. At any rate, my lower back muscles are really tired and sore by the end of the day.

Every day I have to stretch out the muscles in my legs because they get so tight for not using them full-time. I also stand for various periods during the day to get my body used to having the full weight on it again. Even though I cannot stand for more than about 20 minutes at a time, I remember when I couldn't stand for even one minute. The healing continues to progress and I continue to be hopeful for a recovery that includes some movement in my feet. For now, I'm happy to be home and surrounded by the love of my family.

17 June 2014

Discharge From Craig Hospital :: Bruce Snyder's Status

Today was my last day at Craig Hospital. It's hard to believe that it has been six weeks since I transferred there from Boulder Community Hospital after the accident. I have never been away from my Janene and my girls for this long. I can't wait to wake up in my own bed and see my family every morning.

But by no means is this journey over. The acute healing was just the first stage in this long road of recovery. I'm sure there will still be many ups and downs, but my hope is that being home with my family will bring me much needed comfort and mental relief.

Although I am excited to go home and be with my family, it is bittersweet to leave Craig Hospital. Because Craig is a non-profit hospital that specializes in Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), everything is tailored to people in those two categories. Everything at Craig Hospital is wheelchair friendly, everything is reachable for folks in wheelchairs, all the people who work there are trained to deal with all the uniqueness of these two injuries, etc., etc. But most of all, the hardest part was leaving the friends I have made during my stay.

Even though I will be back at Craig to begin out-patient therapy next week, it was difficult to say to goodbye to my friends. These are the people with whom I laughed and cried, who I helped keep going when things were tough and who helped pick me up when I needed it. It truly brightened my day to see my friends make advancements in their healing and their therapy. In a strange way I will miss being with these people every day. Not only did this accident change me but these friends I made while at Craig changed me. I will miss them.

Over the last several days I have watched more TV than my entire stay in the hospital because of the World Cup. I spent the weekend watching the games in my room and a community room at Craig that has a big screen TV. I don't have a favorite team so I'm not rooting for any particular team. I just love to see a good match and boy have there been some excellent matches!

But the best thing about this day was actually coming home. My family really worked hard on transforming our house so that I can live on the main level. My in-laws cleared out my office and our neighbors helped move our bedroom furniture from the second level into it. My wife had ramps installed and a neighbor helped my father-in-law and Dad build a platform to help with one of the ramps. And this is just a few of the many things that they did. But pulling into the driveway really made me smile because they had put up banners and balloons across the front porch and even one huge one across the driveway! As I got out of the car, I realized that many of the bunches of balloons were tied to various jars of Justin's nut butters, a product for which I had developed a huge affinity right before my accident. I used to eat it with a spoon right out of the jar and finish off a jar every few days. But I have no idea how I'm going to eat THIS MUCH nut butter! It was truly a wonderful welcome. The best part of it all was hugging everyone in my family and knowing that I get to stay at my own house and sleep in my own bed for good instead of going back to the hospital at the end of the day.

14 June 2014

Injury Details, Healing and Friends :: Bruce Snyder's Status

The last couple of weeks have been my best since the accident. Last week I began walking with the aid of braces on my lower legs and a walker. I am able to walk further and further every time. By no measure is it easy and I move very slowly because I have no feeling or control in my lower legs. At least the braces keep my feet stable so I can stand on them. This feels so amazing each time I do it that I am usually grinning from ear to ear. These experiences walking have made it pretty clear that I will be able to walk eventually, but it will be very different than how I walked before the accident.

There are so many things that I have learned about spinal cord injuries (SCI) since I have been at Craig Hospital in Denver. For example, the spinal cord can heal for up to two years or more! I met a guy who was a patient here at Craig 12 years ago and was a quadriplegic. Through the years, he has regained use of his entire upper body and even some of his lower body and legs. I was absolutely floored when this guy told me his story! This just goes to show how long it can take for spinal injuries to heal.

The spinal column consists of four regions as depicted in the image on the left-hand side. When injury occurs within a particular region, it can result in damaged nerves in that region and therefore impairment of certain body functions that are controlled by those nerves. If an injury is severe enough, the result can be paralysis of everything below the injury site.

Since I have been here at Craig, I have seen all sorts of different injuries in people. Some folks who have complete paralysis below the spinal injury and do not have that function return while other folks who have had a Cervical level injury who are able to walk again after sufficient healing. This is a good illustration of how unique each injury can be. There are so many variables that influence the situation that doctors cannot predict exactly what will happen to any single person. They have certainly seen many different injuries and can generalize about what functions they think might return after sufficient healing but there seem to be so many cases where people have had seemingly miraculous recoveries.

The spinal cord actually stops in the Thoracic region and a bundle of nerve roots known as the horse's tail (or cauda equina in Latin) continue through the Lumbar and Sacral regions of the spine. Because my injury involved fractures to the Lumbar region (L3 and L4 were fractured) it affects the horse's tail of nerve roots. This also means that there could be damage to the nerves below the injury site in the Sacral region. Among other functions, these nerve roots control the legs. This is why I lack control and sensitivity in portions of my lower legs and my feet. I have been told by my doctor and physical therapists that these nerve roots can take quite a while to heal so I will need to be very patient. This is basically a wait and see approach to my healing. In other words, it may take some time before we know if any of the functions that I have lost will return to any degree.

The fact that I am being released on Tuesday is very welcome. It has been just over seven weeks since my accident and just over five weeks that I have been at Craig Hospital. I am eager to get back to my home to be surrounded by my family and friends (and my dogs) on a regular basis. It's difficult to describe, but my friends here at Craig agree, although time seems to fly by, you also feel like you are standing still and that the accident was just a few days ago.

I have really made some wonderful friends while here at Craig Hospital. What we all have in common is the total experience of a spinal cord injury. But more importantly, all of the little experiences that go along with it, both good and not so good. Although we all started out as strangers and we are from places around the US both far and wide, we all quickly learned to comfort one another. It's a strange thing to make so many new friends when you are in the most vulnerable state of your life. This is how I learned the true meaning of compassion. For this, I will be forever grateful. It's the little encouragements every day from your friends that keep you going. These friends are both the people who are here to help you as well as the other patients to whom you have grown so close. Seeing their progress really boosts your mood and you never forget to tell them so. We have all had good days and bad, and it's these people who help pick you up and keep you moving forward. I never dreamed that a hospital could be such a positive place. But a hospital can also be a rather lonely place at times, too.

Although alone time can be a good thing for learning to heal your mind and to accept the injuries that changed your life, but being alone for too long can be difficult. As your loved ones continue to live their lives, you are alone in the hospital focusing on your injuries and your healing 24/7. Someone asked me the other day, 'So what is your other job?' and I laughed immediately because I knew what she was asking. Her implied notion was that you are doing rehab to focus on healing your injuries and that is your full-time job right now, but what is your real full-time work outside of here?

Healing in and of itself is exhausting, let alone when the PT starts up. And depending on your overall state of healing, adding the rigors of PT to the mix can nearly send you over the edge of what you can handle mentally. Thankfully I have had excellent doctors, nurses and techs while at Craig Hospital whose skills and experience have helped to speed my healing process. Add to that family and friends who have visited quite frequently and I have experienced an extremely speedy recovery and discharge. I have been told that rarely do they see someone heal so quickly and be released. All the medical professionals I have seen have commented about my health, physical fitness and positive attitude because these are the biggest factors in my healing. Who would have thought that what my oldest daughter calls fitness crazy is what healed me so fast?!

04 June 2014

Why I am Thankful :: Bruce Snyder's Status

In previous posts since the accident, I have thanked many people who have helped to get me through this very difficult time in my life. This accident has changed my life and changed my of view the world.

When I arrived at Craig Hospital, my doctor was reviewing my case with me and he mentioned the collapsed lung, the chest tube and then he told me that my other lung had deflated as well but somehow it re-inflated. Then he referred to me telling him I was gasping for air between my screams of pain as I lay in the street after the accident. He told me that my gasping probably is what re-inflated the lung and saved my life. This statement really shook me to my core. It was the first time I think that I realized I really could have been killed. That night the nightmares stopped and the next day I awoke with this feeling I had never felt -- I was absolutely elated to be alive. At that moment, my life changed again. No longer was I trying to figure out this whole experience, all I could think about was the fact that I was alive and I could still be with my family and friends. My next thought was that the accident could have been so much worse. And since that day, this has been my mantra for everyone -- it could have been so much worse. For this reason, I suddenly became extremely thankful for all the things in my life.

Below is a list of items for which I am thankful that help to describe how I'm feeling since the accident:
  • I am thankful to be alive. I may not ever walk the same as I did before and that's alright. If I'm meant to be in a wheel chair or walk with braces, so be it. I accept that this terrible accident took place and I have chosen to move on with my life. 
  • I am thankful for the friends and family who have kept me in their thoughts. I have had so many people reach out via email, text, phone, tweets, hospital visits, etc. to let me know that they are thinking of me. I was especially moved by these messages because they have helped me more than you will ever know. 
  • I am thankful that my injuries are not worse. I am in the Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) unit on the third floor of Craig Hospital. Down on the second floor is the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) unit. I see many people on the second floor whose mental existence will never be the same again. I have meditated on this many times and I have so many things to look forward to because I was spared a head injury. Even if my feet remain paralyzed, I am thankful that I still have my head, my hands and my heart intact. 
  • I am thankful that I can still do the work for my profession. Because I have my head and hands, there is nothing stopping me from eventually returning to my work. I have many people in the office who will assist me with difficult tasks, but for the most part I can continue after I have healed. 
  • I am thankful for compassionate people in this world. I am so grateful that Gareth acted so quickly to help a stranger in distress. None of the other folks standing around me got down on the pavement to provide me a calming voice. This is probably the biggest overarching lesson that I have learned from this experience. Without compassion and love for your fellow human beings, people would not exist. 
I encourage anyone who reads this to take the time to show some compassion to the people in your life. My family and friends, the folks here at Craig Hospital, even some people who I have never met all demonstrated to me that compassion can help to heal many wounds, both physical and emotional.

03 June 2014

Regaining My Indpendence :: Bruce Snyder's Status

Last week I got to escape from the hospital for a few hours to attend my youngest daughter Bailey's continuation ceremony from fifth grade to sixth grade. I really had a wonderful time. I got to see Bailey with all her friends who have grown so close over the years and teachers who we have known since Jade attended Louisville Elementary some years ago.

I also was able to see some of our friends from the Louisville community who have offered my family so much support since the accident. I'm so glad that I chose this as my first major goal in getting back home because it was like an end of an era for many families in Louisville. We are not the only family in our circle of friends who watched their youngest finish up at Louisville Elementary. There's a whole group of kids who are the youngest sibling in their house just like Bailey and they are all friends. This whole experience made me really want to be back in Louisville with my family and friends again.

As I get closer to my discharge date from the hospital (June 17), I can't help but think how far I've come since the accident almost six weeks ago. I've had my good days and not so good days, but through it all the constant has been such amazing support from so many family and friends. I cannot say thank you enough to all the family and friends who have offered support. Just hearing that someone is thinking about me really helps. It's these simply things that really lift my spirits when I'm not having such a good day or when I'm feeling tired from the physical therapy. I was truly amazed that two friends from Los Angeles, Amelia and David, flew in on Thursday and Friday just to visit me. It was so great to see them and to have their positive spirits around me. This just raises the question again: how do you repay such tremendous support? I am just stunned by the compassion people have shown me through this experience.

Speaking of my discharge date, the closer I get to it, the higher my medical team raises the bar for me. This week I began doing the various physical therapy classes from 8am - 4pm every day. This is just exhausting. The good news is this hard work has allowed me to begin to sleep at night without a sleeping aid. I used to challenge myself with personal records from all of the cycling and running I did, now I'm challenged with everyday tasks like putting on shoes or getting out of bed in the morning. Before the accident, I always took for granted all the simple things in my daily life. Who ever thought that those easy tasks would ever be such a challenge?!

I'm also learning that I need to plan ahead for everything I do. Even for such simple tasks as getting out of bed in the morning. Before I get out of my wheelchair and take off the back brace in the evening, I need to pick out the clothes to wear the next day. This is so that I can reach them while I'm lying in bed before I put on the back brace. At least I do have more independence now. I can get up in the morning by myself, I can shower by myself, I even drove a car for the first time today. I'm beginning to feel like I am regaining my independence. The next big tasks are adjusting to life at home and getting back to work. But I still have a couple of weeks to prepare for these changes.