Pedaling Into the Future – Triking Across America (diagonally)
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
Catherine (Cat) Brubaker, a 43-year-old perky, young woman, is on the ride of her life. She is getting a second – no – third chance at life.
Catherine’s life changed in an instant in 2010, when she was assaulted. The assault resulted in a traumatic brain injury and the implantation of a heart pacemaker. A year after her first TBI, Catherine was in a head-on collision, which caused her to have a second TBI. The result of both injuries took away Catherine’s freedom. She lost her independence in the world.
In an article, Catherine said, “ … I lost everything – my ability to work, drive, talk and function independently.” But what Catherine did not lose was her drive – her ambition to take back the reins of her life. But, it wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen all at once.
Catherine not only lost her independence, she also lost her partner of 14 years when they parted ways. This, along with the increasingly difficult life she now faced as the result of her disabilities, sent Catherine into a deep slump. When her mother passed, Cat almost went over the edge. She found it difficult to understand why she was here on this earth. She contemplated ending her life. To Cat, it seemed that everything had been stripped away.
It was around that time that Cat bought a recumbent trike and found that the trike allowed her the freedom to get out of her house. Because Cat has issues with balance as the result of her brain injury, it was difficult for her to walk unassisted. Also, she was not able to drive a car because of the many issues related to her TBI. Her recumbent trike gave her the independence that she so missed and so greatly desired. It made her world bigger. Cat rode her trike in the parks near her home. There she met Dan Zimmerman, a stroke survivor, on his recumbent trike – the very same model that Cat was riding (Catrike 700). (Cat said she was attracted to that trike not only for its performance, but also because of its name.) Dan and Cat began to ride together, and Dan shared his plan of pedaling his recumbent trike across America to raise awareness for stroke survivors. He also hoped to spread the word of the benefits of cycling. Cat thought this a great idea, and soon she was in training to accompany Dan.
Initially Cat rode her trike to escape the four walls that seemed to hold her prisoner, but she soon realized that she was riding for others too – for those who can’t ride and those who may follow her lead and discover the joys and freedom of the recumbent trike. But most of all, Cat rides to offer hope to her fellow traumatic brain injury survivors.
On June 29th, the pair – with their riding team of Bill and Dana Brown (owners of Sign Me Up Tours,) and David Babcock (photo-journalist, driver, and all-around “chief cook and bottle washer”) – set off from the northwestern corner of the United States at Anacortes, Washington, on their way to Key West on the tip of Florida at the southeastern part of the USA. Cat and Dan will ride a total of 5,200 miles on their ocean-to-ocean trip. They plan to finish in late November.
Check back often to see photo updates of Cat’s (and Dan’s) progress.
(Photos compliments of Cat Brubaker.)
As a writer for children, I never intended to write a book for adult readers – other than those adults who read picture books to their children as the stars fill the night sky. But, circumstances changed in an instant when my husband, David, suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury in 2005. I didn’t know what a “TBI” was. I had never heard or seen those letters together before. But, they would soon become a permanent thought in my head.
As David stumbled into our bedroom, his hand covering his right eye, I knew something was drastically wrong. As his pain intensified and the paramedics transported him to the emergency room, I didn’t know how seriously our lives were about to change. The man, my lover, and my best friend, disappeared.
After three brain surgeries, a new man emerged. He looked different. He sounded different. He was severely disabled. He couldn’t speak beyond guttural sounds. He couldn’t walk, dress, brush his teeth, feed himself, or take care of personal hygiene without assistance. At first it seemed that he didn’t even know me, which nearly broke my heart.
David’s TBI has caused us to travel many long and bumpy roads.
We still do nine years post-TBI, but it is a journey we take together. I met David when I was 16 years old. I knew in an instant that he would be my life-partner – for better or for worse. We’ve had the better. We’ve had the worse. We are striving for the better once again.
Though I lost the “boy/man” I fell in love with, I have fallen in love all over again with this new version of David. Though he may look and act differently, he is still the most caring, gentle, intelligent man I know. His physical disabilities did not deter him from returning to his laboratory at Columbia University a year later to oversee his and his students’ research, to write scientific papers, to become the editor of a book of research articles from scientists from around the world, and to be awarded a grant for his research.
Our journey is not over.
I’ve written David’s story, PRISONER WITHOUT BARS: Conquering Traumatic Brain Injury, to share our journey with you, my readers. It is a story of tears and angst, of stress and confusion. The story will make you cry. It will make you laugh. It will make you wonder in disbelief just how this man is able to accomplish so much with so little. The story chronicles David’s strength and persistence, his tenacity to build a new life, and to get better against all odds. David’s story is a story of hope and inspiration.
I wrote the book between my caretaking duties of David, my teaching first and third graders, and when I was not sleeping. It is currently being considered by a literary agent, and I hope that it will be published soon so you can read the inside story of how David fought and is conquering Traumatic Brain Injury one unbalanced step at a time.
As I say after each post:
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(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)
I never dreamed that David and I would ever dance again – outside of our lessons, of course. But, in a recent trip to Westport Massachusetts, to spend time with my son, Jared, his fiancé, Emily, and her family, we found ourselves staying in a mansion … only feet from the Atlantic Ocean (but that’s another post). Our host, Susan, was beyond gracious, concerned about our every comfort. On our second night there, she threw a big family party on her extensive patio and even more expansive grounds overlooking the ocean; and she invited us. We stopped in about midnight.
The partygoers were huddled around the fire-ring … music still blaring. Jared and Emily began to dance on the patio. I swayed. David sat in a tall patio chair. Then the unthinkable happened. David asked me to dance. I hadn’t expected that. David can barely walk – dancing had not been on his radar for more than seven years (outside of the studio). I looked at him expectantly. Was he kidding, being facetious? No! With a huge grin, I answered, “Yes!”
We didn’t Cha-Cha or Swing, as we had learned in our Ballroom dance classes. We didn’t attempt the Fox Trot or even the Waltz, though Paula, our dance instructor, would have been proud of us if we had. But, we did our own dance. We swayed back and forth – never moving our feet. We called it the “TBI Sway” (Traumatic Brain Injury Sway). We swayed with my head resting against David’s shoulder and his hand gently placed at the small of my back. We swayed with him holding on to me for dear life … for balance. We danced under the stars with the sounds of ocean waves lapping the shore, with smiles on our lips and remembrances of days gone by … and the promise of our days ahead.
Please leave a Comment by simply clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.
Feel free to Like my post.
You can also Vote for my post by clicking on a star.
If you enjoy my blog, please pass it on to all your friends and they to theirs.
If you hate my blog, go ahead and send it to your enemies. I won’t mind.
(Clip art compliments of Bing.)
Eight years ago this evening I received a phone call. It’s the kind we all dread. My brother, Jack, and his wife, Carol, were on the other end. It was hard for Jack to get the words out, but when he did they took my breath away, too. His twenty-four-year-old son, John, my nephew, was in the hospital fighting for his life. John was known for his happy-go-lucky – light-hearted self. He could easily make you smile. He was an imp – a loveable imp. What was he doing in the hospital? That was much too serious a place for him!
John was supposed to be at a party that evening with friends – a holiday party, I guess, given the season. For John a party was around every corner. He always sought out the fun in life. It was odd that he opted out of that party. He said he wasn’t feeling well. His friends went.
Fortunately one concerned friend returned to check on John. She found him in distress. Soon his parents, Jack and Carol, arrived and John was quickly transported to the hospital. He had suffered a (TBI) Traumatic Brain Injury. No one knows why. We’d never heard of TBI, but we’d soon become experts.
For several weeks John teetered on the edge. His doctors gave him a small percentage to live. But he did live and he still lives with a gusto for life. His life is drastically changed. It’s not the life he wanted nor what anyone had expected he’d have, but is it his life and he continues to live it to the fullest. He calls it “A little speed bump in life.” That’s one heck of a speed bump. And one heck of a good attitude! We are all very proud of John and so glad he fought to stay with us.
Hugs and ♥♥♥♥♥.
Love, Aunt Donna
(Photo compliments of ME.)
I guess that warrants an explanation of sorts. But I will have to retrace my steps a bit – about seven years worth – to the source of what has changed me into a replica of an energizer bunny with her head in the sand.
Today, January 13th, seven years ago, David, my husband, suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). If you have been following my blog, you already know this. If this is your first visit, you can learn the sordid details and do a cram course by reading the following posts. Or … you can just read on to get the Cliff Notes version.
TidBits About Donna #41 Living Nightmare — TBI
Musings by Donna #39 TBI – Traumatic Brain Injury – One Size Does Not Fit All
Musings by Donna #28 Bittersweet is Today!
Musings by Donna #38 A Day at the … Hospital
Musings #23 A Fork in the Road to Recovery
This morning I woke with a start – at precisely 7:05 – the exact time, seven years ago that David and I began the journey of our new and unexpected life. Seven years ago we did not know what was in store for us. We didn’t even know if there was going to be an “us”. This morning, as I do each year on this day, I relived the moments of David’s TBI. From excruciating pain to a wild ambulance ride, to signing on the dotted line to taking a saw to my husband’s brain (I didn’t do that – the surgeon did.) to talking incessantly on the cell phone – arranging, arranging, arranging – flights, accommodations, squeezing David’s hand and promising him he would get better – when I wasn’t sure that he would, threatening that I would never forgive him if he didn’t fight to stay with me, telling the story over and over and over … of how he stumbled into our bedroom, his hand clutching his eye – then falling into a coma as the paramedics strapped an oxygen mask over his face.
After seven years I would have expected the intense memories to fade, but they remain vivid – with maybe just a few blurred edges. I remember many of the names of the nurses and caretakers. I remember the unwanted words of the doctor. I remember how family and friends converged on the hospital at all hours both day and … well into the night from all corners of the United States. I remember the day was one of intense fog both outdoors (and inside my brain). The outdoor fog caused airline flights to be delayed. The fog inside my brain insulated me from the tragic reality around me.
That same fog has dulled the pain over the years of watching David struggle to dress himself, to learn to feed himself again, to walk and talk. That fog blurs the hurt of seeing him hunched over his keyboard painstakingly tapping each key as he prepares another paper for publication or works on a book he’s editing for an international scientific journal or sends detailed instructions to his technicians in his lab about the next experiment to do. I welcomed the fog as I not-so-patiently waited for David to recover from a recent eye surgery.
I marvel at this man I call my husband. I’m proud of his accomplishments both before and after his trauma. I admire his patience, his persistence, his positive attitude as I watch him tackle life in the “hard” lane. He does it with grace, with no complaint, and with gentle optimism.
So, there is an “us” after TBI, though it’s a different “us.” We are not the same people we were before David’s trauma. I miss the before TBI “us.” Traumatic Brain Injury seriously changes the victim, but it also alters the spouse. TBI can rend marriages. It can tear families apart. Or it can make you stronger. See the New York Times article from January 9th 2012, When Injuries to the Brain Tear at Hearts.
David’s TBI tears my heart everyday, but each day, too, it gets glued back together with a kiss, with a smile, with a hug, with a laugh – but no tears. No, NO tears.
(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)
There are several books published about Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Of course there is Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, which is amazing. It took Jill nearly eight years to regain her near-normal self after suffering a stroke. She has been a speaker about this subject for TED talks. Her talk, called How It Feels to Have a Stroke, is worth every minute of the nearly twenty minutes. Dr. Taylor is a neuroanatomist, a scientist, who studies the nervous system of the brain.
There is also a book by Valerie Greene, another stroke survivor called, Conquering Stroke. Though doctors told her she may never walk or talk again, Valerie had other plans. Her determination, and about ten years, propelled her to writing her book to raise the awareness of stroke and giving hope to stroke victims and their families.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was written by ELLE editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby who survived his stroke with a totally paralyzed body. His only functional part was his left eye. With this eye and a system of blinks, (ex.: 2 blinks for A, 3 for B) he wrote the account of his stroke. He died shortly after his book was published.
Lee Woodruff wrote In an Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing. It’s a book about her husband, Bob Woodruff, a news corespondent for ABC News, the TBI he received while on assignment in Taji, Iraq when a bomb struck the tank in which he was riding, and his journey to regain his life.
There are other books out there, but these are, in my opinion, the best. A new book, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, will be published later this month by Mark Kelly, Congresswoman, Gabrielle Gifford’s husband, which will recount Gabby’s struggles after being seriously injured by a gun shot to her head near Tucson, Arizona in January 2011. I am eager to read this book.
And if this is not enough, then wait for my book to be published. My book, title to be announced, is an account of my husband, David’s, traumatic brain injury, his fierce dedication to recover, and his return to his Columbia University lab – all the while living as normal a life as possible. I am within site of the completion of the second editing of my book. Copy editing to follow – then on to the tedious process to locate a publisher. Wish me luck!
I hope that my account of David’s determination, perseverance, and healing in style and with grace, will stand proudly on the shelves of libraries and book stores around the world. I hope that it will be an aid to others who suffer from or will suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury, for their families who tenderly care for them, and for the thousands of professional caretakers in hospitals and nursing homes who daily tend to the needs of their brain injured patients.
Neuroanatomist, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor; Businesswoman, Valerie Greene; ELLE Editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby; ABC News Corespondent, Bob Woodruff; Congresswoman, Gabby Giffords; and Columbia Professor of Microbiology, Dr. David Figurski share a commonality … the will to live and the determination to do it well and with grace.
I salute each of you.
I woke up a few weeks ago with an astounding revelation. (Aren’t they all?) But, this one really was. Though trying to sell my brilliant idea to my husband, David, would take some fancy footwork.
As our family and friends know, David is still on the long road to recovery after suffering a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) more than five years ago at 7:06 AM on January 13th, 2005. His TBI left his body compromised. His recovery is a balancing act – literally.
Though David’s balance has improved somewhat through the years, it is still seriously impaired. Each step David takes is deliberate, well-planned, and thought out. He is consciously adjusting his balance at every footfall. His brain constantly generates new neurons and reconnects the old in an attempt to reestablish alternate pathways to help him relearn what he already learned easily and quite well when he was a mere fourteen-month-old toddler. It’s amazing how those little tykes can balance atop their plump, squatty legs. Even more amazing that they can move them from place to place – but they do. And if they can do it … well so can David – right?
David works hard every minute of every day to relearn to walk. It’s not as easy as the two-year-olds make it look. So I had an idea to make the process easier – at least, I hope it will.
The germ of my idea was unwittingly sown in October 2009 when I first began my salsa lessons. I admit, it was a slow-growing seed, since it took six months for it to finally hit me over the head.
On a recent morning as I pondered my first days of salsa, I recounted how difficult it was for me to make my feet and my body go where my instructor guided. He made it look easy, and I wanted my mind to comply, but my feet simply would not cooperate. I tried and tried, but the only thing I was successful at was tripping and stumbling over my own feet – not to mention my dance partner’s feet. I felt like a total klutz. I was convinced I would never be able to do the steps. I would never learn salsa – let alone become proficient at it. As the weeks went by and my instructor introduced the right and left turn, the hammerlock, and the cross-body lead, my mind went into swirl. No, I would never learn – I was sure of it. But, as more weeks passed, I did learn. It took time and it took practice, and after six months I can do each of those steps and I’m not too bad at it. I have even moved on to the advanced class.
What I understood on that morning of my revelation was that as I concentrated so intensely on learning each step, nothing else occupied my mind. I was entirely focused. During my lessons, it seemed that my brain rewired to accommodate the strange and foreign steps I was being asked to do. Realizing this, set the light bulb flashing. I reasoned that if my mind could overcome my dance challenge, why couldn’t David’s overcome his walking challenge?
That’s when I had my astounding revelation. It made sense to me. I had to choose the perfect time to present my idea to David, though I knew no time would be good. I knew that as soon as I uttered the words, I want you to take dance lessons. David’s immediately answer would be, “NO!”
So, I started my conversation like this … David, I have a really, really good idea. (I thought two reallys might be more convincing.) I need you to listen to my whole idea before you say anything. I don’t want you to make up your mind before I finish.” He looked skeptical. Well anyone would with that opening, but he nodded and I went on. “David, I want you to take dance lessons.” His immediate reply was “NO!” No surprise there.
I presented my ideas. He listened. One by one I ticked off all of the reasons that I thought dance lessons would be beneficial to him. He listened. I explained how I thought that the process of intense concentration might help him to overcome his balance issues as it had helped me to conquer my dance steps. He listened. I threw in the neurons and the brain-rewiring ideas. He listened. Then I told him I wanted to speak with my instructor to arrange for private dance lessons. I held my breath as I waited for his reply. He said, “Okay!”
It took a few weeks to set the lessons up, but last Monday night David had his first dance lesson with Oscar. I took the lesson with David. As we clung to each other, (He was holding on to me for dear life.) we waltzed around the room 1, 2, 3.- 1, 2, 3. Okay … so we didn’t really waltz around the room. We stayed in about a three-foot square. But at least it is a start!
When the lesson was over, I figured David would bolt. So I was really surprised when he asked to schedule the next lesson. He actually liked it. Yeah!
(Clip Art compliments of Bing.com)