I will warn you this letter jumps around, and at times is probably hard to follow, but it’s important to let you all know how I am doing. First of all, I never stop thinking about everyone’s support. Knowing you are on my side truly makes life better.
A lot has happened since my last newsletter. I am finally, back in Los Angeles. I returned to continue therapy at Project Walk. The therapy is going great. The trainers are telling me that my hip flexors are considerably stronger then before. I’m chalking that up to all of the walks I took in India. Each step took quite a bit of effort, and I relied mostly on my hips to get each foot off the ground. That’s great - I’ll take what I can get, but I’m much more interested in progressing in a way that will allow me to use leg muscles for each step – leading into more good news out of PW. Apparently, when I was doing side line hip flexion and extensions the trainer could feel my quads firing and making an effort to pull my knee to my chest and then push it away again. The exercises allow me to try making a leg bending movement while lying on my side; that’s easier for me, because I am competing less with gravity. Hopefully, I can continue to work on this, and eventually muscle my knee into bending and rising for steps. Also, my balance has greatly improved. I think this is just a default condition of sitting all the time; relying on my abdominal area to keep me upright. So, it’s all good, as far as my therapy goes. I am considering buying new leg braces, because the braces from India are difficult to put on properly. Most of the time, they twist my legs in or out, making my steps even more difficult. Plus, they do not break at the knee. If I am to improve on my steps, I will need to bend my knee.
I am living near Eagle Rock, in a friendly neighborhood north and a little east of downtown LA. The house I am living in belongs to my friend Sameena. I got to know her about six years back when we both designed and built furniture for a children’s room at a battered woman’s clinic in Compton, California. She is very talented and I am fortunate to have her as a roommate. Sameena’s house is all one level, but it steps up about 24" at the front patio. To make it work, I needed to build a ramp at the front of the house. My friend Tony went with me to Home Depot to help load the material. Tony tried to get me to buy enough material to make the ramp somewhere around 32’ long. That would have been crazy…. although, it would have made the daily climb pretty easy. Anyway, we delivered the material, and I began building the next morning. The ramp took two days to complete. I broke the ramp into three sections. So, working on it would be much easier. I built each part of the ramp in the street. The house next door was having some minor repair work done on its foundation, and the guys doing the work were nice enough to carry two of the bigger frames up to the front of the house and place them into position. Afterwards, they bought me an ice cream cone. I’m pretty sure it was some kind of payment for entertaining them with my wheelchair-bound-building performance. On the second day, another friend, Skylar, stopped by in the evening and put the last frame in place. Skylar’s great, he also helped cut and set the top sheets for each frame. You can check out the ramp in the pic above. The whole process made me feel more confident about my abilities. I am determined to not let this chair handicap me.
Shortly, after getting moved in, it was time for me to leave again. This was not hard for me to do, because I haven’t had a whole lot of stuff to pack since the accident. It was the first week of February and time for my re-evaluation at Craig Hospital. But, before returning to Colorado, I went home to Kansas to help my family butcher hogs. They do it every year, and it’s always been important to me to help. Although, my role in the process has changed I think I was of some use to them. Mostly, because my dad built a standing frame for me, and customized it with a shiny cutting surface that slides on rails. If you look close at the picture above you will see me standing and cutting in the background – more importantly, check out the fresh cut and stacked pork cutlets in the foreground…pretty sweet. This year was extra special, because some of the pork was set aside for people who had the winning bids on an online auction, conceived and organized by Rita Haudenschild. Thanks again Rita, you are unbelievable. We finished up on Sunday and my brother Tim, and his son Brennan, drove all night to get me to my appointment in Colorado on time. Then, he immediately drove back to Kansas. Tim did about 16 hours of driving in 24 hours.
All in all, the re-evaluation went pretty well. The doctor and therapist seemed to be fine with my new abilities and general health. In the end, the visit was just a chance for them to reinforce the advice given six months before, and for me to ask a lot of new questions.
So now, I am back in Los Angeles, again.
Los Angeles has never been a bike friendly city; even for an able body. I sold my truck just before my last two semesters of Architectural School to guarantee the funds to finish. Consequences, that left me commuting LA’s streets on my speedy, yellow Cannondale – oh, how I miss riding that bike. On that bike, I had bottles thrown at me, was chased by thugs, grabbed by passengers hanging out car windows, head-butted by pigeons, run off the road by bus drivers, and even hit by cars - one time the loser, literally, lost consciousness and three teeth; one time the winner, taking the mirror from his car door as a trophy. That as my yardstick, I can imagine the trouble that would find me if I tried to get around these streets on a hand-bike. Hand-bikes are extremely low to the ground, which is compensated for by a pretty embarrassing flag pole on the back of the bike. This means without the flag, the average LA driver would unknowingly mow me down while texting their friends about how hot the Latte they’re holding, in the other hand, is. And, with the flag, the average LA commuter would probably knowingly run me down, while texting LOL over and over to their friends about my silly, but sensible, orange flag. So, for sure the hand bike is trouble for anyone who dare ride it on the streets of LA. However, the great thing about LA is it has a network of canals and abandoned railway corridors that bisect the city. I have always had my eye on them as car-free commuting arteries. They reach out into just about every community. I am trying to find a map of them. Then, it’s only a matter of getting through the fence.
What re-sparked this stream of thought was riding in the 14th Annual Acura Bike LA ride early last Sunday morning. My friend Joe, who I sometimes carpool with to Carlsbad, turned me onto the event. That’s Joe and his crew in the picture below - to the left of me is John the animal who left me in the dust. I was out of bed at 2:30am to prepare, and rolling into the starting area around 5:30am. Even more incredible then being surrounded by 11,000 bike riders in Los Angeles was running smack dab into my friend John who I met while undergoing rehabilitation at Craig Hospital. John drove out from Colorado just to do the ride. I rode with him for about the first 8 miles, but that must have been so we could catch up, because going into mile 9 he turned it on and left me very far behind. In the end, the day was a success, because I was once again riding the streets of LA. It reminded me of what it feels like. You’re hyper-aware of everything around when you’re not surrounded by glass and weighed down by the need to weave through a constant line of cars ahead of you. You can sense the thresholds of each community; like seeing a graffiti layered parking lot wall at a Korean Methodist Church and knowing I am somewhere just east of Mid Wilshire, or hearing TuPac pumping from behind the bars of an apartment window and realizing I am somewhere near South Central’s edge, or smelling the early morning aroma of pastries from another Panaderia and knowing that I am over the river and pedaling thru East LA, or feeling the burn in my arms as I climb another hill just west of Downtown and recognizing during the ascent and descent the contour driven division between the upper and lower class. All in all it was a good day.
I want to end this letter with mention of my Aunt Kathy. Earlier this week she passed away. Her children were there for her continuously during her last days. I can imagine that their presence must have brought her much comfort. I remember the last time I saw Kathy. It had been awhile since we had seen each other, and she cried, because my injury made her sad. It was very touching. Her tears, in a way, let me know she understood some of my pain. I bring this up because, now, when I think back to that moment and remember her sadness, it is like she’s holding my hand. Life can be very fragile at times and seem hopeless. Still, life has to be lived. So, it is important we remember that everyone is in it together – hopefully hand in hand.