I call it like I see it

I had been back to work for awhile and most of my worries about being able to my job properly were gone. I still haven’t had the really big one that would test me to the limits physically, and I was ok with that. I would rather never fight another fire for the rest of my career. I don’t say that because I am afraid or because I don’t want to, I say that because like I have said before, when we are doing our job, someone else is having one of the worst days of their life. This job is very rewarding to the soul, but at the same time it is very hurtful to the heart. There are things that we see that are unfit for human eyes. We do this not because it is fun, we do it so someone else doesn’t have to. I know that if any firefighters are out there reading this you may say out loud “can you believe this crap?”  I understand that because I have lived it for many years. The big bad firefighter is not phased by anything. Well that is not true. Some may be better at putting those memories deep in to their brain’s storage so they don’t think about them often, and others may just have a better coping mechanism than others. What I do know for sure is we all feel this in one way or another. I come from a small career fire dept. and have the utmost respect for the larger city departments that deal with these type of calls multiple times a day.

The point that I am trying to make is that after I got back to work I found that I had changed in such a way that I said what was on my mind. Sometimes it is a good thing and sometimes it is a bad thing. I am no longer going to fall in to the stereotypical fireman while on the job, and I was no longer going to allow statements and unprofessional actions to slide by with just a “well you know you should have done this”.

I did not make the change over night because I knew that it would not be accepted very well. Instead I slowly began to correct someone when they were saying something about someone else or another shift. I would tell them that if they have a problem with something that is going on to man up and tactfully address the problem with the person that you think is causing it. The other quote that I started to say alot was “It’s not my business so I stay out of it.” If it was my business, you be your butt I would be in it, if not I would stay out of it.

It took some time to see if any results were coming from this new found way of thinking. I know some of the guys were probably calling me all kinds of nice things when I wasn’t around, but I don’t care about that. I was put in the position I am in to right the ship when it starts to tilt, and that is what I am going to try and do.

The down side to this was that my word filter or sentence filter if you will had not returned all the way to my brain. It still hasn’t to this day, but for the most part I can say only the things I want to. There are still times to this day that I know what I am going to say may not be the best way to say it, but it cannot be stopped until it comes out. It is by far one of the weirdest things that has happened to me in this entire journey. Imagine speaking a sentence while in your mind you are literally saying it in another way. Unfortunately you cannot change your word mid sentence. I guess the best way to describe it is looking into the sky at a thunderstorm or snowfall coming tour way. You can see it coming to you, but there is no way that you can stop it from happening. i am not saying that I say inappropriate things, I just say things that I would like to say a little differently. All in all it just makes me feel embarrassed because I feel like I sound stupid. Most of the time it is so minor that it goes unnoticed  by anyone but me. Either that or everyone is good at playing it off as if they didn’t. My Fall to Life still has some challenges, but the hurdles are getting shorter.


Go ahead and test me, I am ready

I have made it through the first test in my mind by being subjected to some medical calls similar to mine and now I am ready for the big test. I do not wish bad things on any person, however my job is usually about bad things happening to good people. It is not a fun thing to go to a house or a business knowing that the owner and family is watching their dreams literally going up in smoke. You hear that firemen love to go and fight fires. We do in fact love to do our job, but with that being said if we truly loved to fight fires, we would be loving to see utter chaos and destruction. What we love is being able to go and mitigate the problem and save as much as possible while doing so. I sometimes get borderline angry when I see all of the T-shirts and the bumper stickers bragging up “We fight what you fear.” We fear it too. The difference is that we are trained on how to interfere and make it go away. We are given the proper equipment and technology to enable us to cause that interference. A fireman without his equipment and training is nothing more than the civilian standing on the street watching it burn while we work. Any fireman that says he is not afraid of going into a burning building in some way, is in the wrong line of work and is asking for trouble. Anyways back to the topic. My rant is done.

I needed to have that test for me to see if I was ready. The Dr’s. said that I was and I believe them completely. I just needed to know how was my body going to react. Was the vertigo going to come to me while crawling through a smokey room looking up to the ceilings? I didn’t know because I haven’t done it yet since the injury.

I think even more importantly I needed to prove to my co workers that I was back and, I was back better than ever. I was working out as much as possible while I was off in my home to make sure I stayed as fit as I could. During those two weeks that is spent on my back I had lost about 12 pounds and a good portion of muscle mass. I have never considered myself to be “The Incredible Hulk” but I am not built like a stick figure either. I can still get in the push up position and whoop the young guys in push ups, and sit ups as well. I know that my co workers had to have questions whether or not I was still able to do this job the way I did before.

Those first couple of fires I went out of my way to be sure that if a task needed completed I would not just point to a couple of guys and tell them what was needed accomplished. If I was not the officer in charge, I would tell them what was needed grab the equipment and tell them to keep up. Of course they did. We have very good and well trained firemen. I climbed up a ladder to a roof one day and was using a pike pole to pull down some ceilings. I looked out the window while I was straddling the sill and there were 3 guys watching me do what I was doing. One half of me wondered if they were watching and trying to get the nerve to tell me to get down because I wasn’t supposed to be there, and the other half was wondering if they were watching just to make sure that I was ok. Either way I was going to accomplish the job. I was elevated yes, but i was in a seated position in a safe place doing my job. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

A few more tests that I would need to face would eventually come my way, but one of the big ones was gone and successful. I know that it was partially a sense of pride for me knowing I could do it and proving to the others that I could do it.

My physical abilities have been proven to the crew. My mental status would be tested next. In a good way I guess. I was no longer the tight lipped guy who would let the little things slide by without saying too much. THAT ME WAS GONE. My Fall To Life was taking another turn for the better in as far as my eyes could see.

Finally going back to full duty.

From this entry on I am going to keep the latest post at the top. The main part of my story has been kept in chronological order starting with “The Day Before.” It is getting harder and harder to keep placing them in order and not fair to those who may be following this to have to wade through the rest of it to get to the latest post. I hope that this will not be received poorly by anyone.

It is finally time for me to go back to full duty as a fireman. when the day came that my six month license medical suspension came I was on the phone with PEN DOT while the Dr. was faxing the paperwork to them. I talked to a very helpful woman on the phone. She told me that she was looking at the paperwork as we speak. She told me that I would be reinstated by the time we got off the phone. This was great news. I cannot do my job without being able to drive a fire engine or an ambulance. As soon as I received the fax back from Penn Dot saying that I was in fact re instated I went straight to the city manager’s office to give him that document. There was just one thing that I was not allowed to do yet. I was not allowed to be on elevated platforms. I was still having positional vertigo which made me dizzy when I looked up and to the right and when I looked down to the right and left. I was sent to occupational therapy because of this to see if they could help the crystals in my left ear go back to where they were supposed to be a little sooner. They also had me doing lunges, and crawling on the floor, lifting things off of shelves and putting them back up. I did squats with no weights, and bounced balls on the floor.

The best way to describe what was going on my ear is this. The ear has little crystals inside that act like marbles to give you balance, I  hit my head hard enough that my little marbles flew out of their bowl. Until those marbles made it back to the bowl, my brain could not make sense of what my body was doing. Normally if a person does a somersault the body can react because of these crystals and keep you balanced. If these crystals are not in their proper place your brain can’t keep up with what your body is doing. Therefore when you are done with your somersault your body thinks that it is still doing it which gives you dizziness. Pretty weird, but also pretty neat if you really think about how smart the human body is.

I got through this therapy and the dizziness was going away at a pretty fast pace thanks to the staff. I was feeling pretty damn good about where I was right now, and ready to tackle anything that came knocking at my door. Then I had a reality check of what my friends, family, and co-workers went through on Nov. 11th 2011.

Within the first two weeks of coming back to work we had a couple of very severe medical calls. Both of them were head injury patient s that were going to be flown by helicopter to  a trauma center. On the first, one the patients spouse met the ambulance at the helicopter landing site and just missed him being loaded in to the aircraft and flown away. We assured her that her loved one was in caring hands.

The second one was a little worse of an accident where the patient fell down some stairs and had a head injury. The patient’s family was on scene. I was doing my job as a medical care provider and it was very very hard not to be distracted by the cries of the family asking us if she was ok and if she was going to make it. That is an answer that I never give in the field because I am not a doctor and I do not diagnose. I told the family that we are doing everything possible and their loved one will be very well taken care of. Fortunately for both the outcome was good.

I have been doing this job since January of 1996 and I have seen some very bad things and have been on some very hard incidents. These two weighed very heavily on my mind for quite some time. There were days when I went to work wondering if this was still the job for me. The other side of me said that there was no way possible that after fighting so hard to get back to this point that i was going to give up because of a couple bad calls. Of course it was going to hit me hard, it hit very close to home. Something good would come out of this as well.

I have always seen myself as doing the best job possible when it comes to caring for patients. What I have learned though is that I feel like I have  become better at caring for people with head injuries or seizures. I think that maybe this is because now I can empathize with what they are going through better than I could have before. I know they are confused or do not know what is going on at all. I have a little bit more personal knowledge that I carry with me now. It doesn’t make me better because I have learned alot about this type of medical call. It makes me better because I am more compassionate to this type of medical call. Once that patient is on the way to a facility I always try to console a family for 2 or 3 minutes while they are getting ready to head to the hospital. I take great pride in this. It makes me better at my job as well as a better person. My Fall to Life was beginning to have more plus sides than down sides

If you suddenly woke up in a hospital

English: A CT of the head years after a trauma...

English: A CT of the head years after a traumatic brain injury showing an empty space marked by the arrow were the damage occurred. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you suddenly woke up in a hospital after 5 days with a nearly fatal traumatic brain injury what would you think? What would you remember? Where would you go from there?

I am going to tell you my answers and many others in this blog with the intent of helping others that cannot see a bright light ahead of that very dark confusing tunnel

The Day Before

Today was normal, I worked at my part time job at the pizza shop before heading in to the firehouse for our Thursday night monthly training. I really can’t remember what our training was about that night but we finished up a little early. A few of us decided to head out for a beer before we called it a night. We went to Foxtales which is our favorite place to go when we decide to have a beer. We stood around and talked about the department and probably some government mess ups. At about 10 o’clock or so we placed our glasses on the bar and headed home for the night. I got to the house and talked to my wife. She is a telemetry nurse for the local hospital. This would be very beneficial and harmful down the road. Knowing that I had to be to work at 0730 hours, I hit the sack ready for whatever the next day would bring me. At least I thought that I was ready for the next day. I woke up the next morning at the normal time of about 6 o’clock and got my stuff ready to head to the station to begin my shift. This was November 18th. I arrived at the station grabbed a cup of coffee as usual jumped into my uniform and polished my boots. I probably should polish my boots more often, but that usually leads to a weird day. Consider it superstition. In the first half hour to hour of our shift in the department we spend our time looking at the local newspaper and relay information from shift to shift. Today was no different. We checked our little weather station for the National weather service which is sitting in our yard and looks like a little spaceship sitting there in the grass by itself.  Next we did the daily Engine check. Today is Engine 34. It is the first out Engine in our department for any call that is within the city limits. It carries all of our rescue gear and cutting tools as well as firefighting equipment like any other Engine. We finished that up after about 45 minutes to an hour or so. All though it was still pretty early to begin thinking about lunch, we decided that we were going to have sausage grinders and i was going to head out to the local grocery store to pick up the things that we need for lunch. I am usually tasked with the cooking, because I am pretty good at it. I learned a few tricks while in the US Army and serving in the first Gulf War. I also did some cooking once I left the military before being hired at the department.I jumped in the pick up truck and headed off to the store. I arrived at the store, parked the truck and called the dispatch center to let them know where I was at. That is normal day to day operations at our department. I hooked my radio microphone to my lapel and went into the store. I headed straight for the produce to grab up some onion and peppers to put into the grinders. I remember having and onion in my hand. This is when I had my “My Fall to Life”.

The morning of

This post will be mostly from facts told to me or by medical transcriptions that I have from the incident.  The last thing I remembered doing is having that onion in my hand. I fell and hit y head on the floor of the store which caused me to go into seizures. Since my fire department is medically certified this meant that the very people I interact with daily would be coming to my aid. Police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel always respond to these types of calls. I was transported to UPMC hospital which is the hospital that my wife works at. She was not on duty that day. My chief attempted to contact my wife on my cell phone but could not get through the password. Eventually the phone calls come in to my wife and children and they come to the hospital. I wish that none of them had to be there in that Emergency room with me in the condition I was in. Later testing showed that I had a 3 1/2 cm. skull fracture near my left ear. I suffered a subarachnoid brain hemorrhage a cerebral bleed and 3 concussions. I was sedated and intubated in the Emergency room  because I was still seizing at this time. The neurologist that my wife works for was in the ER with me and my wife. it was decided that I needed to be flown to another hospital by helicopter. Before being placed on the flight I was medically paralyzed to help stop with the seizures for the flight. I was flown to a UPMC facility in Pittsburgh, PA. The medical transcripts from the receiving doctor state that he was there for the initial resuscitation. To this day I do not know if that means that I was brought back to life or if I was taken taken off the drug that paralyzed me for the flight. I would be kept in a sedated and intubated state for 4 days. When I woke up I can vaguely remember being surrounded by my wife and other family members. I think there was a couple of friends there as well. I was very confused and wondered where the hell I was at and how did I get here and why. My wife told me later that the first words out of my mouth were ” I am going to lose my job.” I don’t remember that but I believe it. I do remember having tremendous pain in my legs below my buttocks region and I couldnt figure out still what had happened. My wife said that she explained that i fell and had a seizure and I was now in Pittsburgh hospital. Not being a real happy camper at this time I immediately wanted to go home and was not afraid to say it. The best way that my wife could describe it was that I had lost my “voice filter.” Ann had never left my side the entire time that I was in that state. She doesn’t believe me, but I know that in some way she kept me alive throughout this first phase of My Fall to Life.

Still no memory

I am still writing here today mostly from stories told to me after I was at home and recovering. They may not be in the best of order, but what can I say. I had a small conversation with my family today who still has a hard time talking about these things with me, but they do it to help me write this blog. Most of it I have been told before today and I remember some, but a lot of it still escapes my memory. The last post I said that my first words were about losing my job. turns out that I cried like a baby when I said it. I have been corrected since my last post. My wife had left the hospital to return home to make sure that my 2 girls were ok with food and that they did not need anything. With the neighbors and friends that we have as well as the family we were ok in that regard. She was not in there when I woke up and I was very angry at her for that. When she walked into the room is when I told her that I was worried that I would not return to work. At some point on this day I was laying in the bed with a towel on my head. I looked out from under the towel and told my family “man my hair is so powerful.” I have a head that is shaved bald. I have shaved it like this since 2003. Where that quote came from I do not know. The neurologist that works at UPMC in my hometown was heading out of state for vacation which has nothing to do with this story other than the fact that he had given my wife his cell phone number and told her to call if she needed anything. He is one of the best in the business and has more qualifications than any man would ever need. I used that to my advantage, or so I thought. Where this comes into play was every time I was taken away for testing or the Dr. said something that I did not agree with I would either tell the Dr. or my wife that I was going to call Dr. M. I do recall two situations that I did say this to a Dr. The first one is when they had me sitting on a table in a freezing cold room and laid me down rather quickly with my head tilted to the side. The dizziness that I felt was something that I did not know was possible for the body to feel. I was not too happy. Wondering why in the hell they would do that to me I told them that I was calling Dr. M on them. It is pretty funny looking back on it. The other time was during the second admission when I was given a lumbar puncture. Damn did that hurt. When I said that I was calling Dr. M the Dr. looked up from what he was doing like he knew I meant business. In retrospect he was surely thinking I was crazy and my threats were not doing me any good. My daughter tells me how excited I would get when my friends would come down to see me but I have no memory of them being there ever. The only thing that I would eat while I was there was chocolate snack pack and fruit cups. I would pick the pineapple and grapes out of the fruit cup and that is it. The rest may as well have been poison to me. I apparently was very good at trying to get the nurses to allow me to home. Since my wife works on a telemetry unit and we are friends with cardiologists, neurologists and a neurosurgeon I thought that it would be ok. On more than one occasion when I was trying to get myself released I had told my wife that her and I were a team and if she did not agree with what i said she could go the hell home. I also said that to my mother when she had told me not to speak to my wife like that. Being a former airborne paratrooper in the US Army and a firefighter now i can say a few choice words. I do not speak to women that way ever. I was quite ashamed of myself when I was told that I had talked to them that way. So far this TBI ( traumatic brain injury ) was not working out well for me.  My Fall to Life was off to a rough start.