TBI 2

TBI 2

If you prefer to listen, I've created a podcast link above.  *Note:  don't miss the photos and video included in the written article that help tell the story.

 

I sit here over the computer with my head in my hands.  Do I want to do this again?  Do I want to explain myself?  Is it worth the time?  Does anyone even care?  Then I remember how therapeutic it was to write, refine, and finish the last article.  If only for my own therapy, I decide I will, but my hope is that this helps someone at some point with what they are going through, be it a traumatic brain injury or otherwise. 

 

TBI life continues.  I say “life” because recovery has turned into a fifteen-month process so far.  As frustrating as it is, I am doing my best to embrace the challenge and live my life amidst the pain that ensnares me.  Looking around, it’s quite clear we each have pain and struggles we all deal with on a daily basis.  Brain injury is just the one that I, personally, am dealing with.   

 

In my previous article last October, I was progressing and began feeling better only to enter another valley of pain, symptoms, confusion, depression, and physical difficulties.  I visited family over Christmas and struggled through intense migraines.  Noise and light still bothered me, which was an indicator I was still dealing with concussion symptoms.  Joining people in group settings or large social gatherings was challenging and more times than not, I declined.  While back in Michigan, I had to ask my family to keep the lights dim and the noise to a minimum.  The clanging of silverware on a plate, the sound of wrapping paper during gift opening, the sound of shovels on snow/ice, it all sent my brain into chaos and then pain/symptoms followed.  I wore earplugs a lot of the time.  I cried a lot.  In one sense, crying was somewhat relieving, yet it hurt my head at the same time.  The stress and anxiety sent my upper back, shoulders, neck and head into a tight mess.  I couldn’t stay relaxed.  It was great to spend time with family, get some of my mother’s love and home cooking, and pay a visit to our family cottage. Throughout this injury, I’ve realized the importance of location and how it can mean the difference in recovery and neuroplasticity - the healing of the brain.  

Cottage life.  Interesting how location continues to play an important role in TBI recovery.

Cottage life.  Interesting how location continues to play an important role in TBI recovery.

 

Upon returning to Seattle in January, I had been anticipating an appointment with a new neurologist that was recommended to me.  I had already met with many others, so I admittedly went into it not expecting much.  I took my seat in the waiting room half guessing what injuries the others might have sitting around me.  Things are quickly put into perspective when you see people that deal with more serious medical issues and depend on others to function.  It’s all part of being around hospitals.  “Looman… Daniel?” the nurse called with a raised eyebrow.  Into the small room I followed noticing the patient table adorned with a fresh piece of pickle paper.  The feeling of sitting or lying on pickle paper is annoying, let alone the sound.  “The doctor will be right in”.  “Yeah, sure”, I thought.  I might’ve even said it out loud.  I did.  In case I’m not the only one who thinks this is annoying, each time I’ve had a medical visit I’ve asked the Doc to remove the annoying paper and they obliged.  I had already done my homework on this Doc and saw he was a newer neurologist and had not been at it that long. 

After checking my vitals and doing a few neurological tests, the neurologist sat back in his chair and asked me what my passions were.  I smiled and asked why.  Speaking of things I loved which I couldn’t currently do wasn’t high on the list of things I wanted to talk about.  “What activities bring you joy?” he questioned.  “Snowboarding” I said with a half smile.  It was the first thing that came to mind, especially since there were storms in view that would deposit a lot of fresh snow in the northwest.  “I’m going to suggest you get out to enjoy some snowboarding.”  The earth stood still for a moment.  “Wait, what?” I asked.  A million things raced through my brain at once. 

The neurons were firing.  He went on to explain some of what I had recently read regarding how much the brain can be affected, and in some cases even heal itself, when people experience joy doing the things they love.  Doctors and neurologists had originally suggested taking at least a year off from snowboarding or any other activity where I might sustain another concussion while I was still healing.  When they threw the word fatal in there, it made me listen a little more closely.  This suggestion by the neurologist seemed absurd.  I leaned forward and put my elbows on my knees in anticipation of what this meant.  He continued, “You’re past most of the concussion symptoms and I think if you’re cautious and not out there riding the steepest runs through the trees and putting yourself in risky situations, you’ll benefit from the experience.”  I’m not sure I heard anything else he said in our meeting.  I’m joking.  Admittedly, I judged him without knowing much about him at all.  It wasn’t so much what this neurologist did, but what he said that encouraged me.  He handled himself differently than previous Doc’s.  He listened.  I felt like a friend that he cared about, not just a number.  He instilled a confidence and hope in me that was lacking for some time.  He was also the first to encourage my efforts to address my brain injury and depression with what others in the medical field had thrown a pill at or laughed off.  I’ve learned there is protocol that many neurologists follow.  Patients have to jump through many hoops before they will consider recommending the treatment you actually need.  This is how the insurance companies make their money. 

 

Unsurprisingly, I acted on the advice of this neurologist rather quickly.  That same week, the storm delivered between fifteen and twenty inches of snow to Mount Baker.  My buddy Chad and I ventured to take advantage of all the powder.  The morning weather report showed the sun might make an appearance, but anyone that lives in the Pacific Northwest knows, you can’t believe weather reports.  Baker was all that and then some.  It was one of those days where you can feel the energy in the air while everyone around you is gearing up in the parking lot and the sound of huge bombs exploding around the mountain as ski-patrol does avalanche control.  The anticipation was building.  As we rode up the lift, the sun came out and untracked fields of goodness lay before us.  The emotions ran high.  I started crying.  I didn’t think this moment was going to come for a long time and here it was; a chance to strap in and slide sideways through some pow and take a step forward in recovery.  I can’t explain what this did for my confidence, let alone the joy I felt in the moment and in the days that followed.  My head hurt with increased heart rate, but calmed down again as the heart rate did.  My body felt weak.  I had lost a lot of weight and my muscles had atrophied.  Yet, I had a new found hope that I was going to be okay. 

The views around Baker aren't bad either.

The views around Baker aren't bad either.

My friend Chad sliding through some Baker powder.

My friend Chad sliding through some Baker powder.

 

I continued studying Neuroplasticity.  Neuroplasticity is “the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.”  By reading about neuroplasticity, I began to understand a lot more about the importance of brain recovery and what things I could be doing to help the recovery process. 

Here’s an excerpt taken from a book I read: 

“Most of the interventions make use of energy – including light, sound, vibration, electricity, and motion.  These forms of energy provide natural, noninvasive avenues into the brain that pass through our senses and our bodies to awaken the brain’s own healing capacities.  Each of the senses translates one of the many forms of energy around us into the electrical signals that the brain uses to operate.”  The book goes on to “show how it is possible to use these different forms of energy to modify the patterns of the brain’s electrical signals and then its structure.  The doctor/author shares a few examples that are incredible:  sounds played into the ear to treat autism successfully; vibration to the back of the head, to cure attention deficit disorder; gentle electrical stimulators tingling on the tongue to reverse symptoms of multiple sclerosis and heal stroke; light shone onto the back of the neck to treat brain injury, into the nose to help sleep, and the slow, soft movements of the human hand over the body to cure a girl, born missing a huge section of her brain, of cognitive problems and near paralysis.  All of this had me excited to try some new things with my TBI recovery.

 

I began using a Ten’s unit:  Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.  It does exactly what the name says; give electrical stimulation to the nerves.  Think about those comics that have people’s fingers in an electric socket with their eyes popping out of their face and their hair gone afro.  Well, maybe not that strong, but TENS pack a punch!  This small device has not only helped relax my nerves, but the muscles as well. TENS help stimulate neurons and studies have shown they can reduce chronic and acute pain.  

 

I changed the food that I was consuming.  I added more brain foods; omega-3 rich items such as avocado’s, nuts and seeds, wild salmon, blueberries, and beans.  Research shows that the omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and lower risk of chronic diseases.  Omega-3’s are highly concentrated in the brain and are important for cognitive and behavioral function.  I all but gave up gluten and most dairy.  For those of you that have completely given up gluten, I’m happy for you, but let’s not get carried away.  You know a BLT or a pizza with extra gluten sounds good every once in a while.

 

I began listening to classical music.  Studies have shown it can lower blood pressure, induce relaxation, and reduce anxiety.  I’ve never been a fan of any classical music.  I never understood how anyone could listen to that garbage.  I can remember days back to high school when I would pick up my buddy Ian and a Metallica tape was purposely stuck in the tape player blaring through twin six-by-nine speakers of my old 1978 Honda Civic.  I think my frustrations in high school were released in the Honda listening to Metallica and other similar music.  Fast-forward to current day and Chopins piano rifts fill the air at my place with sounds that feel, dare I say, healing.  My high school Humanities teacher, the late great, Mr. Rybarczyk, would be stoked to learn of me finally figuring it out and appreciating classical music.  It just took my brain being slammed to figure it out. 

 

Aromatherapy.  Quoting University of Maryland medical center, “The smell receptors in your nose communicate with parts of your brain (the amygdala and hippocampus) that serve as storehouses for emotions and memories.  When you breathe in essential oil and molecules, some researchers believe they stimulate these parts of your brain and influence physical, emotional, and mental health.”  Lets be real, anytime you can stimulate your amygdala and your hippocampus, I think you’re in for good times.  My friend Kylie brought over some frankincense oil one day and I began using it in a diffuser.  I honestly don’t know for sure if it works, but it seems to have calming, relaxing properties and I don’t mind the smell.  I figure if one of the wisemen brought some to the manger scene as a gift when Jesus was born, it has to be good for something, right?

 

Capturing a thought.  A struggle throughout this injury is trying not to think about the pain and the downward spiral of thoughts and emotions that follow.  During a visit with one of the shrinks I met, he challenged me to try something.  He shared, “each time you have a negative or depressive thought, address it, acknowledge it and move on.”  He emphasized not dwelling on it.  I laughed when he told me, because it seemed like common sense, but then tried putting it into practice.  It worked.  It allowed my brain to quickly move on to something else that kept me out of the downward spiral of thoughts and emotions.  I also began countering those thoughts with gratitude; thanking God for anything and everything I could think of.  You can imagine how that would change your perspective even to the point of smiling and being joyful for what you have, where you’ve been and the journey you’re currently on.  This leads to the next thing that has helped me tremendously; humor.  

 

I found that keeping humor and laughter included in my daily life lightened my attitude, thoughts, and mood.  I have a longtime friend named Paul from my high school days that sent me Far Side cartoons to keep me laughing, specifically through the more depressing, mentally challenging, tough spots in my TBI journey.  At random times during the week, I received a text and these jokes would pop up on my phone and invoke a smile that had me laughing almost immediately.  If you know Gary Larson, the creator of The Far Side jokes, you know he’s a good one.  There are others that try, but personally, I don’t think anyone can touch his stuff.  It’s like Seinfeld to comedy TV.  People still try and make comedy TV shows, but Seinfeld is the measuring stick that all other shows are compared with.  A few of my favorite episodes are Kramers adopt a highway, Vandelay industries and Shrinkage. “When you smile, you throw a feel good party in your brain.  It activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness.  The feel good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin are all released when a smile flashes across your face.  This not only relaxes the body, but it can lower your heart rate and blood pressure.”

I’m going to try to throw a feel good party in your brain now. 

 

Jokes: 

A young boy enters a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer. ‘This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it you.’ The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, ‘Which do you want, son?’ The boy takes the quarters and leaves. ‘What did I tell you?’ said the barber. ‘That kid never learns!’ Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream store. ‘Hey, son! May I ask you a question? Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?’ The boy licked his cone and replied, ‘Because the day I take the dollar, the game is over!’

You know how catholics get holy water?  They just take tap water and boil the hell out of it.

What do you call a dog with no legs?  It doesn’t matter, it’s not going to come.

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator says "Calm down. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says "OK, now what?"

 

 

Massage and accupuncture.  This meant more awkward waiting room interactions in addition to all the other appointments I continued to struggle through.  I remember being a few minutes early to a massage one day only to be graced with a conversation between Gertie and Hattie.  I was somehow sandwiched between the two and it was clear they hadn’t adjusted their hearing aids and didn’t mind talking over, or, through me as it felt.  My brain went to mush.  It was barely the waking hour for most people and Gertie must’ve polished off a can of red bull for breakfast.  “How did I get here?” I thought to myself.   “Ah, that’s right, I’m here for a tuina massage.”  Tuina is a chinese manipulative therapy using hands on body treatment including brushing, kneading, rolling, pressing and rubbing affected muscles.  The practicioner used a variety of motion, traction and stimulating the acupuncture points.  My brain injury caused constricting of my jaw, neck and back muscles.  As soon as the masseuse put hands on my back she commented she had seen tension before, but this is another level.  “Yeah”, I said “I’m hoping your hands can remedy some of that; lets get to it”.  Initially there was only temporary relief, maybe a day or two, max.  But, after a number of visits I began feeling progress.  The clinic where I was getting massages done was in an oriental medicine graduate school where massage students were practicing along with an instructor next to them to help them hone their skills.  There were three patients matched with three massage grad students and one Instructor.  Each patient was separated by rice paper wall partitions, so the instructor could jump around and advise.  During one visit as I sat in the waiting room, there was a guy in what looked to be his mid-twenties.  I could tell by looking at him he wasn’t feeling at home in this setting.  One of the female grad students opened the door and with a cute smile called his name, much to his delight.  She introduced herself as Genevieve.  As he stood, he blurted out “I really like your bangs”.  “Dude, what?!” I thought to myself.  If he had convinced anyone before hand that he had been to a masseuse before, he had just blown his cover.  Even the guy scheduling appointments behind the counter looked up with his eyes, wrinkled his forehead, and cracked a smile while shaking his head side to side.   Only a couple minutes later I was in the same room getting worked on. You could tell he had quickly developed feelings for her.  The ohhh’s and ahhh’s he began oozing out as she massaged him were comical.  At first I thought he was joking, but it didn’t take long to figure out he wasn’t.  We could all hear it and it was obvious he wanted us to.  Another masseuse jokingly commented, “hey, what’s going on over there?”, which was met by a few chuckles.  Moments later, my masseuse had me sitting up and unbeknownst to the weird guy, we overheard him telling Genevieve, “I’m not sure about you, but I’m feeling a connection here I’ve never felt before”.  I wanted to say, “dude, where are you feeling that?”, but I kept my mouth shut.  I was cracking up and my masseuse was too.  To her credit, Genevieve handled it professionally and shrugged off the comment.  His massage was cut short and I overheard the instructor inform him he wouldn’t be welcome at their clinic anymore.  Haha.  The visits to the clinic loosened up my muscles and released tension and tightness that bothered me.  I enjoyed each visit and the humor was a bonus.

The acupuncture was something entirely new to me.  I had dry needling done for a back problem years ago, but never a proper acupuncture session.  Initially, I didn’t notice any change, but after three or four visits combined with the massage work I was having done, plus some minor stretching, progress was evident.  Being treated like a pincushion was interesting.  I had needles in my toes, ankles, lower/mid/upper back, neck, and head.  It was relaxing and it helped the tension throughout my body.  Studies have shown acupuncture can help musculoskeletal problems, nausea, migraines, anxiety, depression, insomnia and infertility.

 

Over numerous points in this journey, I had my blood drawn to check for anything that might be of concern.  One specific time I was asked to sit in a chair with a custom armrest specifically built for the purpose of taking blood.  Impressive, I thought.  I had seen the heavier set fellow in his official lab coat with his back to me when I was brought over to sit in the blood giving chair right around the corner from him.  Knowing the medical field a little, I bet they shorten blood giving chair to BGC.  “Send over this patient to the BGC and prepare them for a BSN (blood sucking needle).”  Anyway, back to the fat guy.  He had one other nurse in there with him as well.  Since they hadn’t seen me led to the BGC, they didn’t know I could hear their conversation.  He was asking her if she wanted to try the BSN on me.  Albeit affirmative, I heard hesitancy in her answer.  As he came around the corner and saw me in the chair, he started into some super convincing campaign about having me give permission to his nurse-in-training to draw my blood.  Before he could go any further, I interrupted him and said, “what you’re saying is, you want me to give permission to this young nurse, who doesn’t exemplify any confidence or experience, to stick a needle in me and poke around until she finds a good vein?  Nah, I think I’ll pass.”  He laughed a short breath and replied, “I understand” and asked the nurse to watch him do it once more.  I could tell by her deep interest in his procedure that sticking needles in people wasn’t her A-game.  As he wrapped the rubber band around my arm, I slapped the inside of my elbow and made a fist once or twice. “No, no, no, Mr. Looman, we don’t need you to do that.”  It was something I have seen in movies that invoked my actions, but I guess it wasn’t necessary.  He sucked a couple needle’s worth out of me, put that cheap piece of cotton into my elbow crease and folded my arm to keep it there.  “You can do the next one”, he said as he looked over at the nurse next to me.  “Yeah, if they only knew what was coming from Nurse Pokerama”, I thought to myself.

 

Biofeedback.

Through a facebook page for people struggling with TBI, I met Carolyn.  She found and read my first TBI article and was kind enough to reach out and encourage me.  She also offered some insight on what had and hadn’t worked for the TBI recovery of her 13 year old son, Spencer.  Spencer had been experiencing similar symptoms, headaches and frustrations.  Struggling with the lack of help and knowledge the doctors were giving her, she had stumbled on Biofeedback.  Biofeedback is a process whereby electronic monitoring of a normally automatic bodily function is used to train someone to acquire voluntary control of that function.  In my case, this therapy was used to treat conditions, including migraines, tension, and chronic pain.  Once approved and into the first therapy visit, it was apparent the muscles in my head, neck, and back needed to be trained to relax again.  My therapist, a skinny Dutch guy with an accent and pleated dockers pants, helped me regain control of my brain and the connection to the muscles that were tightening without me even realizing it.  With wires hooked up by small suction cups all over my back, we could monitor what muscles were firing involuntarily and address it with breathing, mindful relaxation, and exercises I could do at home between therapy visits.  With time, the combination of biofeedback, massage/acupuncture, and breathing/stretching began to work and in turn the number of migraines I was having decreased.

 

Next up was a headache specialist that I had waited month’s to see.  She began with various neurological tests; tapping my elbows and knees, rubbing her fingers together next to my ears, having me follow her moving finger with my eyes, etc.  After passing most tests, she proposed an injection into the back of my head to try and localize where the headaches and pressure were coming from.  If I experienced a change in the pain level, there was hope that treatment would be minor.  The injection felt like a wasp was pissed at me.  Unfortunately the painkiller she injected didn’t change the pain level, so she knew I needed to be sent on to a Physiatrist.  “He gives the deep injections into the nerves along the back of your head.”  “Great”, I thought.  Just what I want is someone giving me an injection needing the guidance of an MRI machine to help steer the needle.  If it meant relief of some sort, it didn’t matter.  I was ready for anything.  We waited for insurance to approve and I was scheduled to have an Occipital Nerve Injection.

 

The consult visit with the physiatrist, his protégé and a nurse was interesting.  They probed the back of my head with their fingers to localize the pain.  “This procedure has a pretty high success rate for your symptoms”, the doc said so fast I could hardly understand or respond.  I then responded by asking why this wasn’t considered before now. The nurse dropped her chin a little and responded truthfully.  “Look, I’m sorry you’ve had to jump through a lot of hoops.  You’re not the only one.  Insurance and western-medicine both require that you try a number of other things before you’re considered for this procedure.  It’s sad really.”  She understood my frustration and had obviously seen it in others that came through their office.  After explaining the details of the procedure, she asked if I had any other questions.  “Yeah, can I have a friend or one of your team photo document the procedure?”, I asked, not sure if I should grin or not.  She grinned and hesitated.  “I’ll have to ask and get back to you on that one.”  I already knew the answer was no, but thought it would make a nice addition to this article.  A week later, the procedure was approved by insurance and I was scheduled within days.  Funny, nothing seems to happen within days unless they’re getting paid big bucks by you or the insurance company.

The day of the procedure I was calm.  The nurse walked me back to a waiting room where there were three chairs for patients set against a wall.  Ron, a stout and weathered looking man in his 50’s was getting an IV.  The room had that sterilized smell.  Even though I had declined the sedation, I was given an IV by the nurse “in case there were complications with the procedure”.  I adorned that really cool hospital top, answered fifty medical questions and signed my name a few times.  It became clear they were doing a series of injections one after another, starting with Ron, the guy sitting next to me.  Turns out Ron has had back surgeries and horrible pain ever since.  He was to receive an injection in his lower spine.  About the time he and I began exchanging small talk, Harriet was wheeled into the room to join us.  Harriet’s gray hair gave away her age.  She spoke loud and had some sarcasm to her game.  When handed the hospital top, she responded quickly to the nurse, “now you don’t want to see me without a bra, I’m telling you that much!”  Ron and I shared a quiet laugh trying not to add a visual with the commentary.  Harriet went through all the same questions they asked Ron and I, including the list of meds she was currently taking.  As she began listing all of them off a phone started ringing with the most annoying ringtone and at an audible level that seemed someone had paid extra for.  “Oh, is that mine?”, Harriet questioned, only seven rings into the call.  Again Ron and I chuckled.  The nurse leaned into me, smiled, and said, “this, is what you have to look forward to”.  It was Ron’s turn and they walked him back to be sedated and begin the procedure.  It seemed like only a couple minutes later and it was my turn.   I went facedown on the table with my head nestled into the padded opening so I could breathe.  Just like the masseuse, I thought.  If only this was going to feel as good.  The doc walked in and tried to make small talk by commenting on my tattoo.  I could hear him stretching on some new rubber gloves.  “Alright, so you’ve opted out of having the sedation, huh Daniel?”  “That’s right.  Anything to keep from having more meds pumped into me and feeling like shit for days”, I responded.  The injection was deep and it did hurt, but I’ve experienced worse pain.  The steroid they were injecting took a couple minutes.  I could feel him moving around the needle and as he did, one of the nurses stroked my arm attempting to distract me.  It worked.  When the needle was removed, I could feel a large spill off the side of my neck, which was quickly toweled up by one of the nurses.  They wheeled me into the next room where Ron was having his vitals checked.  I couldn’t feel a difference in pain in the back of my head, but half of my head was numb.  Weird.  A fair-skinned, freckled nurse named Shannon checked my vitals and we somehow got on the topic of traveling.  I think it was a good distraction on her part to get my mind off from what just happened.  It makes sense.  Anyway, Shannon’s family is from Ireland, but she doesn’t like Guinness.  “Wait, what?”  I excused her.  She quickly interjected “But, I do like Harp beer”.  “Alright, I’ll let it slide then” I responded with a smile.  She offered me some graham crackers and cranberry juice, which sounded like steak and wine after not having eaten all day.  She checked my vitals and released me within thirty minutes.  It’s been a few weeks now since the procedure and I have noticed some improvement.  I still experience pain, throbbing and some migraines, but not near as intense or as many.  It’s as if the pain has been “muted”.

 

I’ve been back to the Physiatrist for a check up and was made aware that I can receive more Occipital nerve injections every three months if needed.  For now, I continue with all the things that have helped me recover thus far and am slowly reintroducing the physical activities I enjoy so much, albeit with some pain.  

 

I am grateful and indebted to friends that have prayed, brought over meals and books, and insisted on helping.  If I am honest, I can say you learn quickly who your real friends are and the ones who disappear when you need them most.   

 

I encourage everyone to fight, believe for good, and be vulnerable with those around you.  A lot of times, it’s more about the journey than getting right to the destination.  It’s in the journey that we sometimes experience pain and suffering, but they can develop into much more beautiful things if we let them.  There’s a quote in a really good book I like that says “We should be stoked in our trials and suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because we know God loves us”.  Am I thankful that I have to go through all this?  No.  But, I am grateful for the ways I am changed; physically, mentally, emotionally, physiologically and my faith that has been strengthened as a result.  My injury pails in comparison to what others deal with on a daily basis and my respect, appreciation and compassion are increased to encourage, love and pray more for those same people. 

Traumatic Brain Injury

TBI

 

Each year, between November and April, I monitor storms approaching our area and potential snowfall amounts.  The technology we now have to stay on top of news and weather updates is incredible and I was watching another storm that was going to deliver the goods to our local mountains.

 

It was a few months into the winter season and we already had many deep powder days snowboarding.  In addition, after five years of entering the lottery, my name was called and I was fortunate to experience my first LBS (Legendary Banked Slalom) up at Mount Baker in February.  To read about that experience, you can visit my previous blog post entitled "To Be Legendary".

 

Only two weeks later, on March 2nd, I had called my buddy Jesse to let him know about the big storm approaching on the 3rd.  It was mid-week and that meant less people at the mountain and more opportunity to make fresh tracks through deep powder.

 

Once to Alpental mountain, we geared up at the car and made our way to the base area.  The report said 14 inches of fresh snow on top of 10 inches the day before, so we knew it was going to be fun.  When we got to the upper chairlift, things went on hold.  The ski patrol hadn’t been able to bomb for avalanches over upper parts of the mountain yet, so we waited in anticipation.  Most days I try and make it a point to ride with others for safety reasons and more so on deep powder days.  It’s hard to let off the gas pedal when it’s deep, because everyone wants to charge it and get in as many runs in as possible.  In the end, I’ve known too many others that have been a part of or witnessed accidents on the mountain when other people needed medical attention or even multiple hands to pull someone out of a tree well (an area around the circumference of the tree that remains hollow and without snow.  They can be so deep people disappear on occasion and aren’t found until it’s too late).   We heard the blasts and knew the time was near to ride up and experience another great day.  Once cleared by the ski patrol, some hoots n hollers filled the air along with the lightly falling snowflakes. 

Jesse making his way up to the base area at Alpental.

Jesse making his way up to the base area at Alpental.

The view going up the chairlift at Alpental.

The view going up the chairlift at Alpental.

This is one of those moments when I can hardly contain myself; riding up the lift, looking down at all the runs without any tracks.  When the snow gets that deep, it feels more like snowsurfing.  The first run was super fun.  People all around were grinning ear to ear.  Jesse and I shared high-fives and made our way back up for the 2nd run, one that would significantly alter the proceeding 8+ months and counting, of my life. 

untracked snow, but not for long.

untracked snow, but not for long.

 

I remember riding part way down the mountain and meeting up with Jesse to rip through our favorite section of trees, where more times than not, the snow was even deeper.  I took off first descending rapidly into the trees, making huge powder turns throwing snow everywhere, hooting and hollering as I plunged down.  It could not have been more perfect.

looking up near the section of trees where I went down.

looking up near the section of trees where I went down.

making my way through the dr. seuss trees.  photo:  jesse

making my way through the dr. seuss trees.  photo:  jesse

What I remember hearing next sounded a bit like Charlie Brown’s teacher. I began hearing my name called repeatedly and felt someone moving me around, but I couldn’t comprehend what was going on.  I struggled to put together where I was.  Once I came to, I was sitting upright and felt ready to ride down the rest of the run and stood up to do so. 

 

Jesse cautioned me.  “Dude, you alright?” 

 

Yeah, I responded, “What’s going on?  Why are you asking?” 

 

After explaining I was knocked out cold and snoring, he pointed out where he had pulled me out from beneath two large ponderosa pines.  I still couldn’t remember anything.  Based on my tracks in the snow and the blow to the back of my helmet, we figured I had caught an edge, flipped over backwards and whacked my head, knocking me out.  After a couple minutes of breathing, shaking my head and sputtering incomplete sentences, I felt ready to go. 

 

Jesse is a fireman with excellent medical skills and I could see his concern.  A little woozy, but I felt like I could ride, plus there was deep powder to be had.  I made a few turns to the bottom where a ski patroller was just passing by.  Jesse flagged him down and thought it wise to speak to him and clarify if there was anything wrong with me.  I obliged.  The first 3 questions he had for me I couldn’t answer for some time; “what’s your name, your age and who is the president?”  I was in denial.  I felt fine, but I couldn’t even answer simple questions.   “How many runs have you done so far today?” he asked.  Without hesitation I confidently answered, “That was our first run”.  “No it wasn’t”, Jesse interrupted.  “Dude, that was our 2nd.”  I could remember some of the run, but I was foggy and couldn’t put simple answers or sentences together when I spoke.  “I think you’re done for the day and maybe the season”, the ski patroller shared with a grin and a pat on my shoulder.  He wanted to take me into the clinic and run some tests on me.  I unbuckled out of my board in disbelief thinking I’d pass the tests and return to the fresh snow in no time.  I told Jesse to go and make some turns, but being a good friend, he joined me.  I think he knew something wasn’t right.

 

My vitals checked out okay, but the clinical staff suggested I go to a hospital for further tests.  Based on advice and wisdom from the ski patrol clinic, it is important to be closely monitored for at least a couple days after any concussion.  Being an independent, sometimes stubborn person, I refused to go to the hospital.  I didn’t think it was necessary and I felt fine.  It couldn’t be that big of a deal.  Jesse drove my car as we descended back into Seattle.  We agreed I would stay at his place for the day, so he could monitor me.  Hours passed at Jesse’s and I insisted I was fine to drive home, so I left.

Roadside view driving back down the highway into Seattle.

Roadside view driving back down the highway into Seattle.

 

Over the next couple of days a lot changed.  I was having intense migraines and sensitivity to any noise and light.  I wore sunglasses most of the time and that didn’t do much to remedy the pain.  I noticed when speaking with people, mid-sentence, I would lose track of what I was saying or fumble to come up with words.  I isolated myself and depression came on strong.   I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone because the concentration and effort it took to describe my situation and the pain I was in would bring on symptoms and throbbing/pulsing migraines. Sitting up in bed made me nauseous and unable to stand for a few minutes.  When I did, it brought on the migraines in the back part of my head that hurt so bad, it brought me to tears.  Normal voices and laughter seemed loud and annoying.  When I was in an area where there was more than one conversation, I couldn’t focus on the person speaking to me; I was hearing all the conversations around me at once. This made me isolate myself more and brought on more depression. Trying to make a decision about anything became frustrating and difficult, even knowing what or how to make a meal.  Decision making on the basest level was taxing. Everyday tasks became exhausting mentally/physically/emotionally/psychologically. 

 

I finally decided to call my primary care doctor and set up an appointment to be evaluated.  She recommended that I receive an MRI to see about possible brain damage from the accident.  Once to the MRI center, I had significant anxiety about climbing into that “tube” for an extended time.  I know from experience the MRI machine isn’t that big of a deal, but with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and the noises that machine makes, I worried.  I closed my eyes and prayed through the entire episode.  The results were sent to Harborview Medical Center where I would meet with TBI specialists and begin my concussion analysis and recovery.  My memory was mostly intact, with the exception of the two minutes before the actual accident.  My cognitive skills were okay, but my sentences were repetitive, incomplete and erratic.  I learned there is cause for major concern if patients are feeling nauseous, vomiting and/or can’t remember thirty minutes or more before the concussion. 

MRI image.

MRI image.

 

Doctors and nurses thought I would make a full recovery.  I was prescribed ibuprofen for the headaches, as needed, and told to rest a lot.  As an active person, I sensed the seriousness of my injury was settling in and realized I might not be doing much of anything for months to come.  I began seeing a physical therapist to help with rehabilitation.  After TBI, it is vital to reintroduce physical activity, which stimulates blood flow and healing.  At the same time, it is important to increase heart rate and physical exertion very slow.  The first week, I was encouraged to walk two times a day on flat surfaces, no hills, for seven minutes, at a slow pace.  As the concussion (throbbing/pulsing in my head) symptoms came on, I was to slow the pace.  Though I still didn’t feel right mentally/physiologically, I showed quick progress physically.  

 

It is a challenge for me to walk slowly without raising my heart rate very much.  I usually have only two gears; fast and faster.  Where I live, I am surrounded by hills, so there is only one road I can walk down and back.  I quickly became familiar with things in the neighborhood I hadn’t before; cracks in the sidewalk one might trip over, where the elderly woman with the two ugly dogs lives, where a homeless friend named Rich lives, and where dogs relieve themselves.. land mines.  I felt like I was Bill Murray in “Groundhog’s Day”.  I told myself I could get through this one day at a time.  The mental game is real.  I started taking time to smell the roses.  Not my favorite smell, but it helped slow me down.  The second week I improved and was able to do two, ten-minute walks at a slightly faster pace.  Six weeks went by and I was walking hills and raising my heart rate significantly.  I even got out with a few friends to chase around the frisbee at the park.  Though it was difficult for me to engage socially, being at the park, doing something, anything, was helpful.  The doctors and physical therapists were happy with the rate I was progressing.  I felt like I would return to normal within days.  I still struggled with noise and light sensitivities, couldn’t read or concentrate well and felt isolated/depressed, but my body seemed to be recovering physically and that gave me some hope.

 

All through this, I struggled with hope to make it through a day, let alone weeks and months of recovery that I knew were in front of me.  The reality that others have greater struggles gave me inspiration and filled me with empathy.  It drives me physically and motivates me to pray for those around me that I know deal with disease, cancer, and things that effect their health every day of their lives. 

 

Then, two months in, I had a setback.  The doctors explanation was, “setbacks can happen during TBI recovery and last anywhere from six weeks to two years, depending on the person.”  I was at a loss for words.  I wept.  I went from walking hills for up to thirty minutes before feeling symptoms to not even being able to stand up again without symptoms returning.  It was demoralizing.  After my next visit to the hospital, they recommended more rest, minimal short distance walks on flat ground with only a slight raise in heart rate, and gave me a prescription for a synthetic pill that would help with recovery and the migraines.  I was skeptical.  I am very healthy.  I eat well, I’m active and I’m mindful of what I put into my body.  It was a stretch for me to consider ingesting these pills they were recommending to me.  I researched, spoke to friends about the pills and based on what we could find, it didn’t seem like it would be that big of a deal.  One of my best friends and I agreed since I was being seen by Harborview medical center with some of the best medical care in the world, I should trust their medical advice.

 

“F***”, I yelled when I walked in the door and slammed it behind me.  I lost it emotionally.  I wasn’t able to work, think, move, listen, read, or do anything without symptoms and pain returning to the back of my skull.  The migraines were intense.  Days spent in bed with the blinds shut and no noise turned to weeks and months.

 

 I am generally a laid back person, but my frustration was getting the better of me.  I was angry and it seemed like none of the doctors or specialists knew much of anything.  Time was precious.  After I awoke, I only had an hour or two that I could spend on the computer reading and researching about TBI, it’s effects, and how to manage migraines before my brain seemed to malfunction.  My mind went foggy, I couldn’t concentrate and then the migraines came on strong for the rest of the day.

A self-portrait I took of my computer screen.  At the time, I felt it depicted my 'fogginess' well.

A self-portrait I took of my computer screen.  At the time, I felt it depicted my 'fogginess' well.

These “anti-depressants” made me more uncomfortable, depressed, isolated, frustrated, anxious, and physically nothing changed.  If anything I felt worse and in a fog all the time.  I began having nightmares about family members being killed and would wake up with symptoms and migraines.  In one dream I found a guy sitting on my Dad and hitting him over the back of his head.  I jumped on him and beat him to death, blood flying everywhere, and woke up sweating, unable to breathe, with a heavy, intense migraine.  My head/neck/teeth/jaw hurt from straining during these intense dreams and it would take hours to fall back asleep.  I prayed.  It’s the only way I knew how to calm down.  I took slow and deep breaths.  Sometimes I would call a friend crying my eyes out and sometimes I would lay there alone and pray that my life would end, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with TBI anymore.  Even crying or laughing made everything hurt more.  I considered suicide and realized I had the means to do so right in my apartment.  This was not surprising to the specialists I was seeing.  The more I researched, the more I became aware of so many athlete’s that have ended their own lives because of TBI and concussion symptoms.  They just couldn’t deal anymore.  I can relate.  I completely understand how people would want to end their life. 

 

At the next check up with the doctor, I expressed my experience and frustration with the synthetic pill she prescribed to me and admitted my thoughts about suicide.  They reminded me again that TBI is still a new science and doctors are still researching and learning about the effects of concussions and migraines and what helps and what doesn’t.  I trusted the doctor’s wisdom and begrudgingly agreed to try a second synthetic pill she thought would help in my recovery.  In addition, they scheduled me with a psychologist. 

 

My meetings with the psychologist seemed comical.  I tried to comply without laughing through our sessions.  She would have me close my eyes and start talking to me in a hypnotic voice.  The only thing missing was the Enya music in the background and some candles.  It felt a bit like the scene in “Good Will Hunting” where multiple psychologists are trying to "get to" Will.  In order to keep calm, I instead continued meditation/prayer, stretching, and doing breathing exercises in the quiet of my own apartment.

 

Only days after I started taking the 2nd pill, the same things ensued; dizziness, drowsiness, feeling in a fog, blurred vision, loss of balance, crazy dreams, etc.  I stopped contact with almost everyone, didn’t answer phone calls/texts from friends or lied about how I was because I couldn’t deal with people.  I had a hard enough time having a normal conversation with a doctor and that was only once every week or two.  Phone calls to doctors, therapists, psychologists, and specialists became overwhelming.  Communication with administrative assistants was horrifying.  They talked too fast, spoke unclear or treated me like a number instead of a person.  My patience was tested every call and my symptoms worsened while concentrating on listening and explaining everything.  I began breaking things in my apartment out of frustration that I couldn’t understand or hold a conversation.  Each sound on the phone became annoying, specifically the music they play while you’re on hold.  That music sucks anyway, but with TBI, it felt like hell.  People that choose the on hold music for any medical office should all be fired.  They suck at their job.  And why is it so loud?  The speakers in my phone can’t even handle that many decibels.  If I could’ve reached through the phone and destroyed whatever machine was playing that music, I would’ve. 

 

 

I continued to get outside to walk 2-3 times a day and showed no improvement for weeks.  I was determined, yet continually frustrated.  On one walk, I only made it two blocks before I noticed a raven on the streetlight above me.  I gazed up at it and kept walking.  I could tell by the noises it began making that I was mistaken for someone that had attempted to end his life the previous day.  He began calling for reinforcements.  “Caw.. cuh-caw.. CAW!”  I was doomed.  I laugh about it now, but in the moment, with TBI, I felt like my life was in jeopardy.  Two of them began dive-bombing me.  My brain was literally freaking out.  Hard drive malfunction.  I was laughing, crying and blurting expletives all at the same time.  This only intensified the symptoms and pain I was already experiencing.  I walked down the rest of the street backwards for what seemed like an eternity and eventually I was left to retreat for home.  Here's a video I think will help you better visualize the moment.

 


More depression, frustration, nightmares, and migraines led to suicidal thoughts – I would be better off, I wouldn’t be in pain anymore, etc.  I continued researching what helped previous TBI patients on medical websites, personal blogs and anything else I could find.  I spoke with a family member who has been through TBI and received a lot of helpful insight.  I needed to ask for more help.  Again, my independent nature would be challenged.  It was recommended that I should ask for help with grocery shopping, meals, cleaning, phone conversations and appointments.  Too many of the every day tasks I was doing may have been inhibiting recovery.  I reached out to a few people and asked for help.  I had a plan in place to continue more naturopathic recovery.  Part of this plan included taking natural supplements that some patients had prior success with fighting migraine headaches; magnesium, riboflavin, turmeric, and fish oil.  I was eating many different “brain foods”, including but not limited to avocado, walnuts, and fish.  Unfortunately, nothing seemed to be working.

I can't explain how good it felt to get rid of these pills that sent me to the dark side.

I can't explain how good it felt to get rid of these pills that sent me to the dark side.

 

I started reading medical research that showed CBD’s were effective in fighting migraines with some patients.  CBD’s, or cannabinoids if you’re not familiar, are an extract from the cannabis plant.  Cannabis breeders have changed the dynamic of the plant to contain more THC these days.  CBD’s, when taken in pill form have shown to reduce headaches and migraines in TBI patients.  Before the next appointment with my psychologist and doctor, I printed out some information explaining what I found and asked what they thought.  They laughed.  Somehow I expected that response.  Anything natural from a plant couldn’t work.  It HAD to be these stupid synthetic chemical pills they prescribed.  I responded with frustration explaining it was ludicrous that they were ok with pushing synthetic pills across the counter treating me like a lab rat, but when I came up with research that showed something alternative and natural may actually work, they laughed.  After hearing my frustration, the doctor had the nerve to ask me, “Have you been meeting with the psychologist regularly?”  I wanted to punch her in the face.  This says a lot about western medicine.  No offense to my friends that work in the medical field, but a lot of this doesn’t make sense.  Frustration does not begin to explain how I feel about western medicine, it’s practices or what doctors deem a remedy for anything, including TBI.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out doctors, multi-million dollar pill manufacturers and insurance companies are in cahoots.  They are making millions of dollars off people that don’t know any better.  People, educated and uneducated, rely on the wisdom of doctors for help.  More times than not, whatever the doctor says goes and the insurance companies back their word all the way to the bank.  Ever wonder why naturopathic remedies are not covered by insurance or recommended by most doctors?  People, generally speaking, take whatever pill is prescribed to them without researching or knowing what they’re ingesting.  Once there are side effects from the initial pill, doctors prescribe another pill to counter those effects and so on and so on.  A lot of western doctors don’t seem to care what people are putting into their bodies.  I’m betting a lot of them don’t because their paycheck depends on it.  We’ve all known about this, but to be amidst it while fighting for good health and gaining frustration with every appointment is scary.  I had to continually be reminded no one knows very much about TBI and setbacks.  Stress, anxiety, frustration, depression, none of it help in the TBI recovery, let alone any other injury.  Needless to say, it was crazy to deal with the medical rigmarole that overall, only exacerbated my symptoms.

 

My frustration led me back to my primary care doctor asking for a follow up MRI and a second opinion.  She set me up with a neurologist at Swedish medical center, another excellent medical facility and group of doctors, or so I’m told.  The wait was six weeks for an appointment.  How is this possible?  Six weeks wait for someone with TBI?  I had a trip to Michigan planned during those six weeks.  Per the advice of my doc’s/specialists/psychologists/family/friends recommendation to go, I decided to get away for a while.  I had anxiety about flying, but a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones shut out all the background noise, literally and figuratively.  Mellow music helped keep me relaxed.  For months prior, I wasn’t able to listen to music at all without being annoyed and/or bringing on symptoms.

The view of Mount Rainier on the flight out of Seattle.

The view of Mount Rainier on the flight out of Seattle.

Self-portrait walking through Chicago airport listening to "Ricky's Theme" by Beastie Boys.

Self-portrait walking through Chicago airport listening to "Ricky's Theme" by Beastie Boys.

I believe the three weeks in Michigan away from everything was crucial to my ongoing recovery.  My friends and family looked after me by cooking, playing cards, telling jokes and keeping track of how I was doing.  In moderation, I began swimming, riding a beach cruiser and continuing prayer/meditation plus stretching/breathing exercises.  I know from experience with all my injuries that physical movement and blood flow is important in recovery.  Honestly, I likely side a little too much on pushing the boundaries of what I “should” be doing physically, according to the doctors anyway.

 

I enjoyed riding my old 1967 refurbished Schwinn cruiser bike, but with the slightest uptick in heart rate, a migraine would throb and pulse.  I would stop on the side of the road and hold my head until things calmed down.  Swimming was the same.  I could tread water, but if I exerted myself, the pain started.  Each time these migraines occurred, I heard noises like I was in a cave and echoes of voices and noises bounced off the walls unexplainably loud and intense. 

My mom and I out for a ride on the cruiser bikes.

My mom and I out for a ride on the cruiser bikes.

 

While back in Michigan, I spent two of the three weeks at my family’s cottage on a small lake.  It is one of the most peaceful places on earth.  Most days, herons, kingfishers and a bald eagle are the main traffic on the lake.  Kayaking and fishing brought me out on the water away from the noise and even felt therapeutic.  Other times, I would just sit on the top deck overlooking the lake taking in the peace and quiet.  I debated extending my stay, but decided to get back to Washington in time for my next appointment with the Neurologist. 

cottage life.

cottage life.

Fishing on the lake with my Dad.

Fishing on the lake with my Dad.

I was happy that I was going to be seen by someone else, but my guard was up.  I had a lot of questions, thoughts and ideas ready to ask the neurologist.  After running a series of neurological tests, he thought I was okay.  He recommended time and rest, plus getting another MRI because he was worried about the intense migraines/pain and lack of progress I was showing.  So, back I went into the annoying metal tube for more testing.  I was given an IV for a dye solution, Gadolinium, they would inject to help see about possible tissue defects, disease, or abnormalities more clearly.  The cold sensation through the veins upon injection was interesting to say the least.  I felt more comfortable this time through the MRI “tube test” and looked forward to receiving good results, which came the next day.  I was relieved to hear there wasn’t anything that happened during the injury or something they missed on the original brain scans.  I was encouraged to continue resting, exercising minimally, stretching/breathing, and giving it more time.

 

 

__________

Thoughts from my friend David:

Looking from the outside it I didn’t really think much of it. I don’t remember how soon it was after the accident that I talked with Looman.  Usually we don’t go much more than a week without checking in, but this may have been longer.  Where Looman would reach out occasionally by an innocuous text or a mail forward I wasn’t getting much. I thought it was time to check in.

 

What he related the accident to me it left me somewhat spellbound.  More so regarding the providence that he was snowboarding with someone else, that the other person was behind him and that he wanted to continue snowboarding afterwards.  That’s Looman, that is the gritty, I am hurt, but I am having a hell of a time attitude that I would expect.

 

The word concussion is almost omnipresent nowadays regarding sports. You hear it during every football game and so many other sports.  Kids aren’t supposed to head the ball in soccer anymore.  I recently learned there is a protocol after particularly hard hits in football and referees can single out a player to be examined if they suspect something may be wrong.  Despite all that media attention the majority of people aren’t really attuned to the magnitude of what a concussion means.  I wasn’t, and, unless you experience it yourself, you won’t be.  Therefore, not really having much context, I wasn’t aware of the severity.  When we first talked I don’t think Looman did either.

 

Not only was I inexperienced with concussions in general I couldn’t relate well to how debilitating a migraine could be.  The closest I have come to a migraine was a headache (which was probably a migraine) that came on so quickly and so severely that I left work in the afternoon and slept for the next 48 hours.  Then it was gone and I have not had anything similar since.

 

Thinking back though, whatever I had dealt with 20 some odd years ago, was beyond words terrible.  It felt like something was being physically drilled into the back of my skull.

 

As the weeks progressed and my calls to Looman continued there seemed to be a general decline in acceptance and patience.  This I can understand knowing him. If there is a day that goes by when he isn’t out doing something active, snowboarding, surfing, biking, hiking, or even frisbee in the park, then something is wrong.  I have not known another human that spends more time outside.  That I can’t even understand because of other responsibilities that keep me busy.  However, I know when I need to get out and run my motor.  I know when I need to be physically aggressing, exerting loads of energy and exhausting myself.  Looman wasn’t able to do that for months and it was wearing on him.

 

Conversations with him were filled with as much encouragement and prayer as I could give.  The lack of trust in doctors/medicine was a conversation we had a number of times. And as misguided as it may have been to say trust the doctors, it became something that I think he needed to hear to move him from his fixation, whatever that may have been that day.

 

Grown men don’t cry.  I learned though, that anyone dealing with a concussion is going to cry.  Mental capacity is already challenged when dealing with a concussion.  The cacophony of emotions becomes overpowering.  I am probably not far from the truth when I envisioned Looman laying in the fetal position at various times, probably multiple times a day.

 

It was difficult looking at it from the outside in not knowing what to do.  I called often, encouraged in what ways I could.  But I didn’t know how to best help and not being near, I don’t know how I could have.

 

Hardly anybody wants to admit they are struggling with something.  Furthermore, when it adds fuel to the flames of a migraine to explain why you might need help I can understand why Looman didn’t do it until much later with the prodding of a concussion sufferer.  That being said, if it were to happen to someone else that is close to me I wouldn’t offer help, I would insist.  I offered to go visit Looman and didn’t.  I should have, but still didn’t comprehend the storm that had descended on him.  If I had gone to see him, being physically present probably wouldn’t have helped as much as just being able to care for him.

__________

 

 

All throughout my injuries, my mind always seemed to wander to: how long is this going to take, what can I be doing to improve the recovery, why did this happen, should I quit doing the activities I enjoy, what is God trying to teach me, etc.  I usually end up taking life lessons from each injury.  Obviously I don’t take health for granted and am grateful for every day I get to live.  I may not know for a long time what the reason for this injury is, but I trust in one way or another God has my best interest in mind.  Shit happens, but it’s how we respond and what we learn through trials and circumstances that matter.  God works in all things for the good of those who love Him.

 

Healing and recovery from this injury is obviously super slow.  TBI and its effects can last years.  Thankfully, I am getting better and have been able to get out and walk, bike and even jump in an alpine lake.  With increased heart rate, I still experience minor migraines, but I can tell the threshold is changing and I am able to push myself more each month.  I do have minor sensitivities to noise and light and have slowly been reintroducing myself into social settings.  To those of you that have helped with work tasks, food, money, visits, phone calls, texts, encouragement, love, and prayers, I cannot say thank you enough.  This is one of the most difficult things I have experienced and I couldn’t have made it through the hard parts without you.  

 

Not being able to do the activities I love for a while has been challenging, but it makes it that much better each time I'm able to get out again.  As the seasons change and our local mountains are seeing white stuff fall from the sky, I'm anticipating more deep powder days, the ride up the lift, feeling the cold air on my face and putting a lot of frustration behind me as I blast through some powder turns with friends.  Yewwwwwwww! 

Another view above the clouds on a good pow day at Alpental.

Another view above the clouds on a good pow day at Alpental.

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cliffs of karst, china

I'm not a climber.  I once climbed, but that was enough.  It may have something to do with the fact that my friend took me on a 5.9 multi pitch climb my first time.  Since then I have a new appreciation for heights and people that climb.  Couple climbing with National Geographic and good photographers and it's usually a good combo.  Case in point; this recent video clip from China is pretty incredible and worth your time.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIO2MEJCD9k

new camera

Recently I purchased a mirrorless Fuji XT-1 camera.

Here are a few of the first images.

Kai


seattleville

rest break

I-90 bridge looking southeast

framed invitational

I got an email a couple Friday's ago from a guy asking if I wanted to take part in a photo competition up in Leavenworth, WA.  Not knowing if I could even pull it off, I responded immediately.  Yes.  I'll do it.  Only after sending the email did I realize I had a lot to do in 3 days if I was going to be able actually go and be involved.  I finished the work I had to complete over the weekend and drove over Stevens Pass into Leavenworth on Monday and spent the week there photographing locals doing what they love; for work and play.

Framed is a photo invitational put on by the Leavenworth Mountain Association and supported by the local chamber of commerce and local businesses.  It brings together people for an event which includes slideshows from the 5 invited photographers, art, beer in art form, a raffle, and live music.  It was an honor to be invited.

The idea for the slideshow was to give a feel for the town of Leavenworth.

Here's what I put together.  Though I didn't win anything for this, it was already a win for me meeting and connecting with so many cool people in Leavenworth.  They are the ones in the photos and to them I say thank you, again.

I hope you enjoy it.

https://vimeo.com/91224269

day of days

 

Bam!

“What was that?”, I thought to myself.  It was just after 4 am and I was awakened by what sounded like someone slamming their shoulder into the front door of the apartment building.  No, it was just someone throwing a rock at the door.  No, it was just in my dreams.  I lay there with my head slightly off my pillow so I could utilize both ears.  I was waiting for the next noise.  Nothing.  I lay my head back down and thought for a minute or two.  The Seattle Times Sunday edition newspaper, all ten pounds of it.  The paper boy had walked by with the Seattle Times and put a little extra umph into his throw.  Now I was up and immediately I thought about checking the snow report for the day.  My anticipation grew, like that of Ralphie on Christmas morning hoping for the Red Rider BB-gun.  The day before brought 9-13” and the overnight totals might add another 12-18”.   All it said on the opening page of the website was “Powder”.  The excitement set in and there was no way I was going back to sleep.  I got out of bed, made some breakfast and packed a bag for the day.  As I walked out the front door of my building, my buddy Trevor was lifting the hatch of his forerunner with a big grin and we both nodded, thinking the same thing.  We knew this would be one of those epic days.

 

I had been watching the snow report for many days, catching the weather on TV, monitoring the “storms stacking up”, as the meteorologist described it.  My curiosity and anticipation began.  How big will these storms be?  How much snow will we receive?  

 

I was sick with a horrible cold all week.  The flu?  I don’t know.  People always ask me that when I’m sick.  “Did you get the flu?”  I don’t know.  How do you know if it’s the flu?  When I get sick, I just call it sick.  My sleep patterns were all over the place the last 7 days, yet all I could think about was getting healthy enough to go snowboarding on the day when all the stars aligned, the storms delivered and all the deep powder lay before me in glades of goodness.

 

The first storm came through and minimal amounts of snow fell on the mountains.  The temps were a bit warm and the snow was less than ideal.  I heard multiple reports that it was fun, but the snow was heavy with a consistency like cream cheese.  I decided to skip it, rest up and continue drinking mass amounts of hot tea, sucking down lozenges and filling puff’s lotion tissues.  The next storm was huge.  It would bring many inches of snow, but the temps warmed quickly and the snow turned to rain.  I was holding out for the day of days.

 

It was not long into the drive and the rain began.  The further into the drive, the harder the rain fell.  And then the moment when you pass an elevation high enough where the rain turns to snow and everything is covered in it.  The tree branches holding more snow than one would think possible.  Beautiful.  A string of red lights in front of us all with the same thought; powder day.  One driver a little too amped for the day spun his 4x4 out and slid across the road into an embankment of snow, which rested in front of a guardrail.  Recognizing he was nearly free from the snow bank, we continued on.  The snow was falling hard and everyone wanted to get to the mountain.  Once we made it to the parking lot, there was plenty of evidence that the storms had delivered the goods.  The chairlift up quickly confirmed it would be a day to remember.  Deep powder covered the mountain and cast cool shadows across drift lines that had yet to be destroyed by snowboarders.  

 

It was a day of days.  The powder was deep everywhere.  We slid over and through many stacks of snow and left our mark all over the mountain.  The chairlift rides are always a hoot, literally and figuratively.  Meeting people from all walks of life while they are so stoked on life and being in that exact moment.  Lance, a guy who had spent the night in his RV was just waiting for someone to ask how he was doing.  We had all we could do to get a word in the rest of the lift up.  He shared about his last two runs and also how his ass was all black and blue from a hard fall he had taken a couple days before.  Thanks Lance.

 

We hiked to a steeper run once off the chairlift.  We made some big pow turns amidst the trees.  This was one of my favorite parts of the mountain.  I looked up, opened my mouth and let a few fresh flakes hit my tongue.  Silence.  Intrigue.  I smiled.  These are the moments where I sense God the most and stand in awe of His creation and thank Him for many things.  The moss on the trees covered with snow gave the trees an aged look, like the living giants they are.  I picked my path through the forest and continued down.  At times, the hard falling snow blew sideways with strong gusts of wind.  This left only those dressed to ride in a storm factory actually dry.  It’s all part of the experience of snowboarding in the northwest.  Storms keep people from coming out at all, and at the same time, draw others whom enjoy the elements.

 

Until the next day of days, we scan the weather reports, wait in expectation and share stories and laugh’s about this crazy sport where we slide across the snow down mountains.  

short film shot in UK/Ireland

this is a well deserved, award winning short film shot in the UK and Ireland.  the collaboration of poetry, music and images are well done.  i hope you enjoy it.  put it on the big screen if you have the option.  https://vimeo.com/74274439

seattle sky

a couple weeks ago, my friend dave flew into SEA from michigan.  this day, we cruised the city on bikes and ended at volunteer park huckin the frisbee and taking in some sights.  if you were around SEA and witnessed any of the fog in and out of the city, you know what i'm talking about.  WA is one of the most beautiful places i have seen on the planet.  i snapped these with my iphone, because the best camera to have, is the one that is with you.

dave lookin over the 5

fog over seattle

SEA cityscape

noguchi's 'black sun' sculpture.

seattle and south lake union covered in fog with olympic mountains in the background. 

rat tale

i have a bit of a war going with some rats at the apartment building that i manage.

i was thinking about anti-freeze soaked nuts, but that means they will die somewhere, likely in the walls of the apartment building and then i have a bigger problem.

they are coming in beneath the building; i found one of their holes and plugged it and i didn't see or hear from them for a bit.  but, as you can probably guess, they found another entrance.

a couple month's ago they bit a hole through the drywall under/behind my sink and were coming in there. 

they were also getting into the wall of the apartment downstairs, which wasn't a pleasant surprise to the tenant down there.  surprisingly, she wasn't happy at all.  apparently she saw one of them in her kitchen. 

my thought was if i could keep them coming to my apartment, i could contain them and go to war with them and keep them from going to other people's apartments.

as per the property management company recommendation, i called to have an estimate.  a fat guy with a clipboard came out and surveyed the building, both outside and in.  he had a firm handshake, which was a good start, until i received the estimate the following day: $1400 for 3 month's of rat control.  i called and asked what this entailed and he explained.  "well, we come and put a lot of traps in the building and vacuum up the rat poop, so we know where they are living/crawling and then put more rat traps down."

the estimate was sent to the apartment management email address which the building owners have access to.  they have never responded so fast to an email.  they wanted to make sure i wasn't going to sign this guy up for rat control.  c'mon, i'm not that dumb, i thought to myself.  i decided "for a fee" i would take this matter in my own hands.

i made a trip to the hardware store and bought them out of rat traps.  16.  i then proceeded to put about 5 traps in the cupboard under my sink and didn't catch a single one.  i put the remaining 11 traps downstairs in the maintenance room and got 1 over the last month.

they kept coming.

there are nights where i'm in my room and i can hear him come in under my sink.  i sit there waiting for the trap to go off and ... nothing.  i was hearing what i thought was sounds of a plate, or a glass and i knew there wasn't either of those under the sink.

i then noticed there was a wrapper in the cupboard under the sink from some food that was in the cupboard next to the cupboard under the sink.  "you little rat bastard!" i thought to myself.  actually, i think i said it out loud.  yeah, i did.

i couldn't see where they were gaining access to the next cupboard.  there it was... way in the back corner they had gnawed through 3/4 inch board.. a hole big enough to crawl through.  they were into my almonds, jerky, etc.  i was flustered already, but now they were into my choice foods.  it's time to pay, bastards.

i grew more frustrated still.

i sorted through the packages that were not affected and put them in the cupboards above and threw out the packages that were torn open and eaten out of, which included a 5 pound bag of almonds and a 1 pound bag of jerky.

i broke up a few almonds and strung along a crumb line to the back corner of the cupboard under the sink where they were entering..  in the next cupboard, right at the entrance from the kitchen sink cupboard i put a trap, with a couple of pieces of almond on it.

a few nights ago i snuck over to the kitchen because i thought i heard one.  i shined the flashlight back into the hole under the cupboard where i noticed a tail slowly making its way up the wall right behind the drywall. 

i came home last night and that little ****er fell for it.  let's just say he went out with a big head ache.  we'll just have to see if there are other family members that know about the same almond stash. 

game on.

 

stay true

it's time i write something again.
for those creative, there are things that make you inspired.
being creative is inspiring.
doing 1 thing creative can lead to another and so on and so on.
if you don't start or don't use your creativity, those 'juices' become stagnant, like old discolored pond water.  in this case, old discolored pond water sucks.
after a series of circumstances and reminders from people and media, i am inspired,.. once again.
it is nice to put the creative tools down every once in a while, but i don't like becoming stagnant.  i don't want to give up what i know is/are things i 'need' to do.  if no 1 likes my creativity, who cares; i should want to do it anyway.  it's what makes me tick and there is always the satisfaction of doing/creating what i thought up in the 1st place.  we shouldn't be creating things for interest or affirmation of others anyway.  do it because you love to do it.  if you can't make a living at it, do it in your 'off time' and be okay with it.
these 2 kids are a good reminder of that (do yourself a favor and watch the video clip):  http://www.theavantgardediaries.com/en/article/311/UNLOCKING+THE+TRUTH/Unlocking+the+Truth
also, thanks to my good friend spencer for sending along this link.  it was inspiring.. in many ways!
i hope it is to you also.
be inspired and get after it.
stay true to who you are.


washington winters

a few images from this last week.
thanks for checking out my blog.
appreciate the feedback and forwards.
i hope this inspires and motivates you to get outside and enjoy the white fluffy stuff.
cheers
!
















playin in dr. seuss' backyard

there have been some choice outings in winter wonderland this last month.
the cascade mountains are easy to stare at and exploring them is even better.
some days look like something out of a dr. seuss book.

thankful for toys to slide snow, good health and great friends to enjoy Gods awesome creation.


 snow lake
 backcountry snowshoeing
 stevens pass hiker access
 earning pow turns
 stevens pass
 making a flying friend
 dr. seuss-ville
 deep days at stevens
 1 of my favorite runs at stevens pass
 backcountry at stevens pass
taking it in 

christofferson wedding


i had the honor of shooting the wedding of 2 great friends, josh "offers" and his wife danielle.
love you guys!
big props and thanks to leah dankertson, the 2nd photographer, for all her great work!
cheers!



























wallace, not willis

thankful for days off work, especially mondays..
i took advantage and did a hike to wallace falls with some good friends: bettis, rachel, and erin.
the power lines carry 345,000 volts, which is enough to give your family a permanent orange afro.  i declined from climbing the towers for this reason alone.





















dcc baptism

to those whom were baptized from dcc last night.
you know who you are.
thanks for sharing your stories and how your life has been changed.
each 1 impacted me and i was privileged to be a part of the experience.
God bless