Sunday, July 3, 2011

Connect To Purpose

On Wednesday, June 22, Dr. Blake Ohlson and I gave a short presentation at a Roper St. Francis Healthcare (RSFH) event. Dr. Ohlson had asked me to speak to a nurse's group in August 2010, by far the largest audience I had the extremely nervous pleasure of speaking before in my life. This group was larger yet, and oddly enough, although I was a bit anxious, I did not fear I was being tossed into a lion's den where my voice would fail me.

The prior week I had been to ProCare to get my new walking prosthesis, and I mentioned this talk to my CP Stephen Schulte and how I wasn't as anxious. Stephen said something like, "Well, you do know your subject well since you lived it." Indeed. Rarely a day go by that something in these past two years does not float up in the pool of memory, sometimes a small detail that is not small at all. I had been thinking about my roommate at Roper Rehab, a man one year younger than my dad. That he was there with me as my life was changing. As I thought of this, I wondered how I could keep the raw emotions in check as I told my story.


I met Leigh Darby, who was working with Dr. Ohlson and me on our presentation. She had sent us an idea of what we would talk about, first Dr. Ohlson would speak about the Ertl procedure in less technical terms and how the team concept is essential in this surgery and recovery. To underscore the team concept, he managed to work this video about lack of team cooperation. Funny, I once had a cat named Pinky, a white female short hair who was probably smarter than me...and I don't hear any disagreement out there.

While waiting our turn, I also had a nice chat with Dr. Ohlson's PA, Kate Eden, who assisted in my surgery. She is now training for a half marathon, perhaps the same one in Savannah that Jennifer and I will be doing in November. I got a chance to talk to the Rock Doc himself, something I really like doing outside the professional confines of the medical office. We chatted about running shoes, music, and I got a preview of the Pinky video.

Things were running a little long and I tried to gather my thoughts for my part of the talk. I had printed out the timeline of my blog so I wouldn't get flustered on remembering the significant dates I wanted to mention. Other than that, I had no detailed notes, and wanted to speak from my heart about the procedure I went through with my surgeon at Roper St. Francis, my recovery and return to running.


Leigh gave us an introduction, mentioning my first visit to Roper was when I was 5 or 6. I wrote about this in a prior post here. The short version is as a little boy I was trying to catch a bullfrog in a neighbor's drainage pipe, slipped and cut my right big toe. My parents had to take me to Roper's ER for stitches. After my talk this became more personal, as I will write about later in this post.

Dr. Ohlson gave an engaging presentation, being an Assistant Professor Orthopaedic Surgery at MUSC as well as an outstanding musician, he has a personable stage presence. As I listen to him I found myself thinking in slight amazement about the journey that brought me to this place, today, one of the least likely public speakers I know, who happened to be me. I was nervous, but as my wise wife Jennifer has said somehow I can speak 'outside' of myself. I think it's true as otherwise I'd be a wreck.

My talk was much of what has been written on this blog: my injury, my life before my ankle went south, my talks with Dr. Ohlson and my surgeries, the care I received at Roper, my return to running culminating with the Charleston Marathon this past January. As I prepared my thoughts for what I wanted to say in the days leading up to the talk, I knew it would be impossible to keep my emotions in check.

And impossible that was.


Afterward as we left the stage, I had several people shake my hand, I was completely overwhelmed and stupefied from my talk. As I approached the exit, a woman said: "Hi you know who I am?" At that point I may not have recognized my own mother, but she told me her name, Beth Bevins, who was a childhood friend and next door neighbor. It was their driveway pipe I was trying to catch that infamous bullfrog, the one that sent me to Roper to get my big toe stitched up over 50 years ago.

Beth now works at Roper.


Until the end of my days it I will always be grateful to the people who took care of me. My transition from able-bodied runner to sitter of the couch to a runner again did not happen without this medical army working together to fix a good way! :-) I am sure at times they have the worst job in the world, caring for those human beings who cannot come back to us. Yet is it the worse, helping us in our greatest time of need? I hope the successes, however large or small, help them to know this: what would we do without you? The suffering would be never ending. At times I hope you know you have the best job in the world and you can see it, the difference you make, in this one life.


Card I received from Diana Topjian, VP of Nursing, among some other treasures: my 1997 Chicago marathon shoes - two of them! - Old Glory and trophy from the All American 5k,  and Cure FOP bracelets
So much of my life has changed, it is hard to believe, and it seems destined to continue to come into this new light. I suppose we all feel or have felt that some special destiny awaits us. I tend to believe it does, and recognizing it may not be anything what we imagined it would be.

There is one thing I hope I communicated but not sure I did in my talk. We all know there are no guarantees in life, that things can and will happen for which there is no "fix," nothing than can make life better or, at times, save it. We all face a certain destiny we cannot avoid. This in itself will not stop us from trying, from research and searching for cures, from easing the pain of others, from doing what we can do. When we think we are at an end, look and search again. Dr. Ohlson, the doctor who told me: "dude, I think your running days are over" is the very surgeon who removed my pain and set me flying again, along with all of the healthcare professionals and allied services that stitched this broken wing.


As I write this a network television company has contacted Ashley and me about the possibility of doing a show about our story. At once I am terrified and humbled and stunned where this life has taken me...that this would never have happened had I not decided to pursue the passion in my life, and had that not led Ashley to contact me after my operation. With such exposure this will help bring FOP into national recognition at a time when there is a promise that a drug can be developed that can arrest the disease and stop it in its tracks. Not a cure, but immediate hope that those with FOP can know it will go no further; that those diagnosed may have lives largely unaffected by the disease until a cure can - and will be - found.

It is impossible for me to say why my largely introverted and shy life has taken an opposite tack into the wind. All I know is I would change nothing, that no matter how hard it is for me to do some things, that I am willing to do them because I must. We will not stop, we will not quit. Lives depend on us, every single one of us.

Let the amazing be seen every you.

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