How Could This Happen

On the last post I talked about the unbelievable rush that had come over me from my presentation in Lancaster. Then reality came crashing with full force and I was not prepared for this. This may be the worst post for me that I have ever written.

The Friday after I returned from Lancaster I had a total brain meltdown. Nothing that was running through my mind made any sense and I could not figure out why. It all started because I thought about my lost Gulf War boonie hat that I have had for 24 years. I have kept that hat close to my heart and have an invisible bond with it. That may seem ridiculous, but it is my reality. I have torn my house and garage apart multiple time in an effort to find that damn hat. I want to be buried with that hat and it is now missing. I cant deal with that in any reasonable way.  That is just the beginning. My mind was on overdrive, there was nothing short of smashing into a brick wall that would slow it down. I could not sleep, I could not focus or concentrate on anything and I would just drift off into an unexplained place that I had to call home for that day and the next. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did and did in a very harsh way.

On Sunday morning at 3:00 a.m. my fire dept. was dispatched to a structure fire. This is nothing out of the normal. We attacked like any other fire that that we have faced and 8 hours later we had it wrapped up and was beginning to break down equipment.

I know full well that I have signed up to this job that can be devastating at times. In the emergency services we see things not fit for human eyes so others don’t have to. This is our job and I do not regret one day of my 19 years as a firefighter. I have had a very rewarding career with its ups and downs but nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.

We were pulling all of our tools and hose and ladders from the structure. My best friend of 15 years was handing me the nozzle end of hoseline that as still full of water. He slowly lowered it to me like we have done 100’s of times before. As soon as I put my hands on that hose with my arms stretched out the hose kinked. It kinked right over his hand trapping his hand inside the kink. The hose started to bow out towards the edge of the roof and he could not shake his hand free. My best friend was coming off that roof in front of my very eyes. I heard him yell “no” then watched as he fluttered his arms trying to stay in an upright position. I remember vividly the look on his face as he fell towards the ground. The man on this Earth that I would take a bullet for came down for what seemed like minutes. I was 5 feet from him as he hit the ground on the concrete with more force than I have ever seen a human hit. He landed on his feet, his head hit the concrete and his side hit a stair rail so hard that I thought it was going to bend him in half. For the very first time in my 19 years as a firefighter I froze. I was 5 feet away and took me at least 5 seconds to come to his side. Fortunately another firefighter moved very quickly and kept his head from hitting the concrete  for a second time. His helmet was still on his head  for the first hit, it came loose on impact and fell off his head before the second hit. Another firefighter was able to get his hand beneath his head before it hit the concrete. Here is my best friend laying crumpled on the concrete with the sounds of horrendous pain coming from his mouth. I could see just by the look on his face that this was not good. This is one of toughest bad ass firefighters that I have ever met and here he lays unable to get to his feet. The ambulance crew came and we began preparing him to load on to the ambulance. When he was nearly ready to be placed on the stretcher he said to me “Mike you need to call my wife.” All I could think at this time was that this fall was because of me. My hands touched that nozzle and the rest was a nightmare. I told him that I was going to go with him and stay with him until I was kicked out by ER staff. He lives close to where the fire was and I went to his house to pick up his wife. I was scared to death to look her in the eye for fear that she would automatically think the worst. I guided her into my truck and we went to the ER. When we arrived we went directly to the ER room that he was in. I am very thankful that no one was trying to slow us down. That would not have been a good outcome for those who would have attempted that. There I am in the ER with my best friend still in incredible pain. Every time I looked at him I wanted to break down. I had to stay strong for him and his wife.

The staff was coming in and out of the room to do tests and give him pain meds and wheeling him off for tests. He was out of the room at one point and I looked at his bunker pants laying on the floor covered in black soot from the hard work that he had just done. I am thinking to myself that he may never be able to where that gear again and do the job that he loves. I picked up those pants and his boots and carried them out to my truck so I did not have to look at them any more. That was also my excuse to spend  a moment alone. I climbed into my truck and finally let out what I had been holding in since this nightmare started. I cried for my friend and his family and for me. I wanted my friend to be himself in the worst way. I would have gladly taken his place. I have already had my worst day and I could handle this if it was me instead of him. He is a tough guy and he proved it that day. He told me time and time again that it was not my fault. I only believed him partially. He must have seen the pain in my eyes. I never left his side for the time he was in that ER until he was released to go home.

I am feeling selfish because I did not know how I was gong to handle this and now my attention focused on me. I could not close my eyes all night or the next night because every time I did I saw him falling and saw that look in his eyes.  I heard the pain in his voice. He thought his ticket was punched as soon as he left that roof.

I slept for very short times because my mind would refuse to let me stay awake any longer.My  best friend  thought his ticket was punched as soon as he left that roof and I felt guilty about it. I told him when I left his house to call me if he needed anything. I knew in my heart that his pride would not allow him to that. I called him twice that night and first thing in the morning. He told me that he was doing fine and it was ok to stop worrying now. That gave me the relief that I needed just to survive. This story ends well.  His injuries were not critical and after some rehab and healing he will be rejoining the ranks of our dept. as one of the best and baddest fireman I know.



What a Rush

This is going to be a two part post. Part one is AWESOME and part two sucks!!

I was very fortunate by being asked to do a presentation about my TBI and the experiences from it. This presentation was at the Pennsylvania Brain Injury Association state conference in Lancaster, PA. Originally I was just going to go in there and be myself and tell the story the way I remember it. Then I thought that the people I would be speaking to deserved a lot more than that. I prepared a power point presentation and drove 4 1/2 hours to Lancaster on the day that I was to present. I have talked in front of a lot of people in my career as a firefighter. I am a State Fire Instructor and a PA Fish and Boat Commission Water Rescue Instructor. I am no stranger to speaking in public.

I started my journey really early in case I hit construction or traffic on the way. Once I arrived I had no clue where I was going. I drove aimlessly through Lancaster which is a very beautiful place. After all I saw the whole place while driving around. I searched for a firehouse so they could lead me there by giving me directions. It is great to know that wherever I go there will be a group of guys willing to show me the way and welcome you into their station. We talked for awhile and I told them why I was there. They wished me luck and told me how to get to my destination.

Once I arrived at the conference center I was a little overwhelmed by the number of people in the main room for the annual meeting. What did I get myself into. I am fortunate to have people in my corner that were positive that I was going to do a great job and gave me the confidence to take on this task that was very important to me.

I was getting ready to speak to TBI survivors, caregivers, medical professionals and counselors. Everyone in that room was going to expect a professional presentation and I was nervous to be doing it. I am very passionate about speaking to anyone about my injury. I am going to speak to the same people who know where I have been and can understand the pain and the happiness that comes along with TBI. The caregivers see the pain day in and day out caused by this hidden injury. There were three of us that were speaking that day and a panel style question and answer was to follow.

The time has come for me and I could feel my heart racing as I was plugging in my flash drive. I started out a little timid until I finished the about me portion and felt the crowd starting to warm up to me one at a time. I turned on the turbo after that. I told my story with confidence and passion. I held absolutely nothing back. Those of you that have read this entire blog know that i wear my heart on my sleeve. I could feel everyone in the room listening and looking at me from beginning to end. I rocked that presentation and the question answer portion that followed. In the hall after the presentation I had numerous people want to speak to me. I took the time and talked to each one of them not caring how long it took even though  I was going to drive 4 1/2 hours back to my home town. I had a wonderful woman from a support group that I am in on Facebook come up and tell me how AWESOME  I did. I had a young lady ask to see my tattoo that I showed in the presentation after I was asked how i bring the subject of TBI. I wear that on my sleeve as well.imageThis was the very first time since my injury that I felt like the Mike that I was before my injury. It was an amazing feeling. On my way back home I thought about what just happened and was so excited for what I just accomplished. I could not have done it with being told by my family and friends that I could. I also could not have done it without the open arms of the audience that had taken their time to sit and listen to my story. I had a much needed break from the everyday reality and I got it. I am a very very lucky man.

Reality comes screaming back full force in the next post……tune in