08 August 2015

Vacation in Germany

At the Neuschwanstein Castle outside of Munich
Last month my family and I traveled to Germany for vacation and had a wonderful time. With so much history to see and things to experience, there was no shortage of activities to keep us busy.

We started in a city where we had never been, Berlin. With a population of 3.5 million people, Berlin has an incredible number of activities to choose from which made it difficult because we only had a few days. We took a hop on/hop off bus tour around the city which was challenging for me but nevertheless pretty fun. When we realized that buses were basically staying in the same general area, we just decided to walk around the city and had fun checking out the city. We saw many sites around the city including Brandenburg Gate, the Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe, the Topography of Terror and much more. One day we took the train and bus across the city to Waldhochseilgarten Jungfernheide. This place consists of a ropes course high in the forest that you climb and traverse while wearing climbing gear so that there's no chance of falling. Janene and the girls really enjoyed this adventure while I took many photos from the ground beneath them. Although it was very hot and we stayed in a hotel with no air conditioning, we still had a wonderful time relaxing and letting our curiosity drive us to sites and cafes all around the city. After Berlin, we took a train to the city of Halle about 1.5 hours south.

Halle is where our au pair from about 10 years ago named Henriette and her husband Franz were both born and raised. We were lucky enough to spend some time with them and their little boy Gustav and also attend their wedding where we met many of their friends. We had such a good time and were so happy to see their wedding in-person rather than only view the photos after the fact. We also visited many historic places in Halle. Of course, no visit to Halle is complete without a visit to the oldest chocolate factory in Germany, the Halloren Chocolate Factory. Not only does it have amazing chocolates but it also has an interesting and varied history. We even ate döner kebab for the first time and even though we are not big meat eaters it was pretty delicious! We were also able to visit a friend of Henriette's named Franzeska, her husband Daniel and their little boy Johann. Franzeska was an au pair for some close friends of ours while Henriette was with us and so we got to know her during that time as well. After several days in Halle, we took a train about five hours south to Munich.

At a cafe in Berlin
After a long train ride we arrived in Munich, a city with which I am somewhat familiar being that my company is located there. Munich is such a different city compared to Berlin and we were told by many people that this is due to the differences between the old Eastern vs. Western Germany. Just as in Berlin, Munich is full of things to see and do. One day, we took a bus tour south of Munich to see Neuschwanstein Castle -- and Linderhof Castle, both of which were incredibly opulent and somewhat amazing for the time in which they were built. We did a tremendous amount of walking on this day around the castles. Despite my leg braces and using both arm crutches the whole time, I kept up with the tours pretty well. We also spent time in Munich just hanging around the city to see the sites. This also involved a lot of walking but I actually didn't mind it. I took breaks when I needed to and enjoyed the sites. One night we took the train across the city to the Osterwald bier garten in a different area of Munich to meet a friend for dinner. It was wonderful to see her and visit for the evening.

Osterwald bier garten in Munich
There is nothing like a true vacation where you unplug completely, forget about all of your responsibilities and don't worry about anything. This was one of those vacations. 

After my spinal cord injury, it was really difficult for me to enjoy very much for a long time because I was so uncomfortable all the time. Taking this vacation was a true test for me both physically and mentally. I am happy to say that I did not feel left out, though I was jealous that my family got to spend one afternoon taking a bike tour around Munich. Still, this made me think that I can do many things that was not sure would be possible. Yet again, I feel so lucky to have the love and support of my family who have always stuck by me.

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. 

16 March 2015

New Leg Braces :: Bruce Snyder's Status

Recently got some new leg braces to replace the old ones that kept breaking repeatedly.

Every week to two, I would need to schedule an appointment to get the old braces fixed. I visited two different locations of a huge orthotics company and was told by folks both locations that they had never seen someone break the braces as often as I did. So they were always asking me what I was doing and my response was that I was just walking. But when they started asking me how much I was walking they began to understand why the braces kept breaking.

Below on the left you can see the old braces -- they have a plastic food bed and calf support with aluminum struts along each side. The new braces are one continuous plastic mold.

Old Braces New Braces

The new braces have absolutely no flex to them whatsoever. By contrast, the old braces had enough joints that the large amounts of movement had kind of worked them somewhat loose giving them the feeling that there was at least some flex. In fact, with the old braces, I even broke the aluminum struts ... twice.

The first break of a struts involved a big chunk of the aluminum just popping out while I was out on a walk around my neighborhood. This meant that the ankle on that side was free to move which my body was too weak to handle and I had to ask a neighbor for a ride home. The second strut break occurred while I was out walking and it just snapped in half. Although it took me a while, I was able to hobble home on my own. But then I had to cut a ruler in half to splint the strut and wrap it with a bunch of duct tape so that I could keep walking until they could order a new strut. These two breaks really surprised the orthotists!

Now I am learning to walk in these new braces which is quite a challenge. I have more stability with the new braces but they are much more rigid. So the motion is different. At any rate, I am already happier with the new braces because they don't feel like they are going to fail at any moment.

I am so thankful that I am fortunate enough to no longer be in the wheelchair, that I can actually walk, even if it is with arm crutches. Small improvements every day amount to big improvements over time. This is now my goal -- small, continuous improvements.

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.