Due to the evil perpetuated against me by my sister, Kathy, and and my dad — evil described as physical and emotional abuse — I stayed away from my home as often as I could. This would occasionally bring me into other dangers.
But as an inquisitive child, I got off to an early start …
This has nothing to do with being placed on restriction, as that would be a bit odd for a toddler. This is about that other ground, the ground that electricity always looks for. Based on my size and the layout of the house, this has to be one of my earliest memories … which also could have ended my race before I ever got out of the gate.
I was crawling on the floor in our family room alone, and I happened to squeeze in behind an overstuffed chair and the wall. There, in front of me, were two things that seemed to go together, at least based on my limited-life experience.
Hence, while sitting comfortably at eye-level with the outlet, I proceeded to spread the bobby pin open, and slide it in.
From what I know now, that was my first time cheating death. An electrician once told me that more people die from standard 110v than the higher 220v. With 220v, the jolt is so powerful that it will literally throw someone across the room, thus breaking the connection. On the other hand, he said, 110v locks you on. He described it just as I remembered it.
The entire right side of my body had completely locked up … I was holding on to the pin tighter without the ability to let go, open my hand, move my arm, or make a sound. I cannot even guess how long it was before the connection somehow broke, but the bobby pin was red hot when it hit the floor, and I badly burned two fingers and my thumb.
I figured anything that hurt that bad was not something I should have been messing with, so to avoid the trouble that I would surely get in, I kept this ordeal to myself, as I learned to do with most things that hurt.
Increasing my Pain Threshold
I have suffered with physical pain as long as I can remember. Even before my injuries, I often got headaches, which I just assumed were like everyone else’s headaches. But I realized that other people were able to walk around and complain about their headache, yet I couldn’t even move with mine … unless I became nauseous, which then forced me to move.
They were migraines. The light-sensitive, sound-sensitive, nauseating, with the feeling of a nail-driven-in-just-above-my-eye kind of migraines. I could get them often, too, which I guess were cluster headaches … sometimes 3-4 in one week. Occasionally, I’d go a few weeks without one.
At that early age, I began to question the true knowledge of many medical practitioners, i.e., doctors. For years, I was told I was not getting migraines, because I did not get the aura (don’t ask me, I never got one).
I was told an aura can manifest itself in different ways, and one friend told me she would get a big spot right in the very center of her vision, blocking the majority of her vision. I’ve also heard of tunnel vision, floaters, and all before the pain begins. I’d just get the pain.
In my mid-20s, I came across a medical research team’s white papers on migraine research that concluded … get this:
I was fairly young when I accepted that no one would be as tuned-in, aware, or as interested in my health and wellbeing as I was. So, I began studying anything affecting me, even diagnosing what was ailing me, so when I went to the doctor, I would ask for the medicine I determined would be best. I don’t believe I was ever refused.
I’ve known my migraine triggers, and they’ve changed over the years: bright light, loud noise, certain foods (of course, all my favorites) as well as food additives, such as MSG. And when I was a kid, there was a product — and still may be — in a red shaker, called Accent. Pure, powered MSG to sprinkle on anything, and not knowing anything else at the time, we sprinkled.
But I wonder if my migraines have also been affected by some of the following injuries.
NOTE: it seemed as if I was always recovering from at least one bicycle or skate board crash, resulting in nasty road-rash. Now road-rash wasn’t usually life-threatening, but even so, road-rash hurt like hell. That’s where you slide on the pavement and end up with raw meat where skin used to be.
So, to keep this to a minimum, I’ll avoid the majority of injuries and include only the few which contributed to my skirts with death, and my condition today.
I remember being with friends at the top of a long, steep driveway, and waiting for my turn to ride the “Flexi” down the hill (a Flexi is similar to a snow sled you’d lie on, but with wheels).
The next thing I remember is that same woman helping me out of a car, and when I looked up, we were in front of my house. My grandmother was standing on the porch, as if she was expecting us. The lady helped me up to the house, where my grandmother told me just to go lie down in my room, which I did. My folks were on vacation and my grandmother was babysitting. The most pronounced memory of the event was how confused I remained … it was as if I was in a thick fog even at my house.
Days later, I remember asking friends what had happened to me that day. Apparently, I went down the hill on the Flexi, turned sharply uphill, which caused it to flip into the air, with me still holding on.
Our initial impact with the asphalt was completely inverted, meaning the Flexi was on top of me, resulting in the initial blow to my head. I was told I flipped a few times, came to a stop, and didn’t move. And of course, with my grandmother there, I received no medical attention.
Unconscious Again, and Not Breathing
My pal, Randy, and I were out riding bikes on a nice summer day. We had ridden up into Woodland Acres where there was a fairly large, dry creek bed, with a very high and long rope swing. Just to get to it, we would need to climb onto another tree, pull a smaller rope to get the big rope, so as to begin a swing. The velocity was truly exhilarating. And even at that age, I was drawn to those two words.
For some reason, Randy got bored and wandered off to explore, probably no more than 40-50m away. I remember I was able to see him when I was on the tree, and just before stepping off to begin a swing.
There was a piece of wood, a 2-by-4, on the bottom of the rope. I remember grabbing it differently than I had (which provided me the impending crash-course on the importance of thumbs — pun intended). I stepped off the tree, and began another fast, exhilarating decent. But as soon as I got to the bottom of the swing,
Time plays strange tricks. First, I felt no fear, and that could have been because I felt as if I were floating, not falling. Thinking back to everything that went through my head, it would seem that I hovered for 5-10 seconds, though it could not have been more than a fraction.
Rejoining the Real World
The harder I tried to inhale, the more intense my chest pain got. As the seconds passed, I truly thought I would not be able to get a breath in time. It seemed like an eternity, which makes it very difficult to know how long it was before I got my first very shallow bit of air. But after the first small inhale, they slowly became larger.
From Randy’s Perspective
From what Randy said, it could have been up to 2 minutes or more before he got to me. He said he heard a dull thud, but not a sound he thought I had made. He looked over, and couldn’t see me. He said he called out a few times, and with no answer, he decided to get up and walk over — that 40-50m. He, of course, had no idea what he was about to face.
Due to all the oak trees, he did not see me on the ground until he was almost on top of me. He remembered clearly he saw no movement, my eyes were partly open, and then he realized there was no indication I was breathing. Right then,
He did the only thing that came natural: he yelled my name but got no response.
2 years after the Long-Forgotten Fall, a Discovery.
My freshman year at a Jesuit prep school. I was on the Judo team. After arriving home from a Judo practice one day, I began experiencing very acute muscle spasms throughout my back.
In a short time, the spasms became so intense that taking anything more than a shallow breath was quite painful. Within the hour, both my mom and dad took me to the hospital.
I easily recall how much I was struggling with the pain, I sort of remember having the x-rays taken. But from the time we were called back by the radiologist to view the x-rays, my memory is very clear.
As we entered the room, the light boxes were mounted on the wall to our right, and there were four or five films on display. But my focus didn’t get past the first film, since on that film, one vertebrae was obviously different than the others. Instead of having that squarish look, this one angled down on one side, so the right face was shorter than the left. It had been crushed. I recall being baffled as to what could have caused that in Judo. I noticed that in the first couple seconds, before the doctor had even said anything. I did not take my eyes off that vertebrae.
The first thing the doctor did say was
I still laugh when I think about what happened next. Both my parents, in a simultaneous, choreographic move, rotated and looked down at me almost as if I were to make a statement. I was completely bewildered … as well as speechless, so all I was able to do was smile back.
It must have taken me days, if not longer, to place the rope-swing event, from over two-years earlier, as the cause for the damage to my spine. Two years, for a kid, is a lifetime … that rope-swing event had long become a non-event. But undoubtedly, that was all it could have been.
I was referred to a orthopedic surgeon, and was under his care for the next 5-6 years. I try to see something positive in everything, and with this, I saw a 4F status that would keep me from being shipped off to Vietnam.
A Gush of Wind on a Still Night
Based on the fact that I was out after dark, and riding my bicycle, I must have been 15 years old.
I was returning from a friend’s house when I rode into a think fog bank. My bicycle had no lights as I usually did not ride at night, but the fog made it that much more dangerous as I could barely see the front of my bike.
I begin to climb a long uphill where there were no business or houses, so I felt somewhat safe as I sped along at my usual 18-20 miles per hours. The hill was not steep, but I was certainly climbing at speed. I knew if I saw a car coming, I would get off the road before it got too close, but no cars came.
And since I couldn’t see anything in front of me, I gauged my ride on watching the gutter to my right, and kept about 5-6 feet away from it. I knew that way I wouldn’t ride off the road. Riding like that had a slight calming effect on the situation, but I was very cold and wanting to get home fast.
Then, without warning, I was hit with a huge blast of wind head-on, without seeing anything, but hearing a metal sound to my right, immediately after the wind. It didn’t take more than a second or two to realize what had just happened. Another bicyclist without lights, traveling fast downhill in the opposite direction, was riding on the wrong side of the road. More precisely, he was riding between me and the gutter. We literally avoided a head-on collision by inches. We were obviously both shocked, me speechless, and he yelled out, “Holy shit!”
This was before the days of bicycle helmets. If our trajectories were just a few inches off, we would have had a relative 40 mph head-on collision, and no pun intend, it would have been head-into-head. We likely would have been found dead due to blunt-force trauma, and fractured skulls. Just as an aside, death can result from a mere 6 mph blow to the head.
Teens and Twenties
As a life-long bicyclist, when it was time for us to get a driver’s license and a car, I got my license and a motorcycle. I began racing motorcycles by the time I was 20, and once during a race, I was hit by another competitor, immediately found myself sliding down the asphalt at about 70-80mph, and while I was sliding, I rotated around and saw what was happening behind me.
To my terror, someone else’s motorcycle was cartwheeling — front wheel over rear wheel over front wheel, etc., — in the exact same line I was sliding in, but moving much faster and gaining on me. My attempt to stand-up and simply get out of the way failed miserably since I was likely still sliding along at 40-50 MPH — but I remember feeling as if I would be able to do it. The motorcycle did land on top of me, but I was able to absorb some of the bike’s weight and velocity with my legs. That certainly was not the only time I crashed.
I also joined a speed-skating team, and probably did more damage to my back on skates than bicycles and motorcycles combined. From my teen years, I have never been without back pain, as it only got worse as I got older. No one told me I wasn’t indestructible, but I was told you only live once.
Sitting at a stop light in Los Angeles on a nice sunny Saturday, I was taking my future ex-wife’s car in for a tune-up. I glanced into my rearview mirror just in time to
He was looking down at something on the passenger seat, and completely unaware that cars were stopped in front of him. He drove into me at around 40mph. To add insult to true injury, he fled the scene. And if I was ever able to focus on a small object disappearing in the distance, it was his tag … and somehow, with nothing to write it on, I remembered it.
Every time I got into my ex-wife’s car as a passenger, I would always have to raise the headrests up, since she said they messed her hair or something. Unfortunately, I did not notice that day from the driver’s side that the headrests were again lowered all the way down, which was at my shoulder level. The way my head snapped back, I thought it was going to rip off. If it were a cartoon, my neck would have been an accordion.
Fifteen years had slipped by, when out of nowhere, my 1986 whiplash came back with an extremely dangerous and nasty attitiude …