Bicyclists’ “Blackbox”


Wow! Great article with an amazing outcome (apart from the cowardly driver who left the scene).

I was struck 08-20-2009 by a motorist. A Blackbox camera would’ve been a great forensic resource.

As it turned out, the guy who hit me stuck around but had embarrassingly meager automobile insurance, so it was my own (yes, mine) automobile policy’s uninsured motorist coverage that benefited me. My outcome was C7 tetraplegia (paralysis from mid-waist down), and I dutifully joined the wheelchair brigade.

I urge all cyclists to buy and wear a good helmet, ride with your heads on the swivel, ears open, and to look closely at your own automobile (yes, automobile) insurance policies. Add or increase your uninsured motorist coverage ($500K min.).

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Five Years On


A year ago, on my 4th “Accidentiversary,” and just three days after my daughter’s wedding, I wrote a quick ditty because ditty’s should be quickly written on significant annual occasions. On that day (the written-ditty day), I regretted not having done anything that involved precision event planning, caterered sterno-heated foods, lots of people, happy jocular toasting, and tears. That day, friends and loved ones made their post-wedding exits, and work encroached. That night, I resolved to mend my ways next go-round. See:

All of which brings me to today – my 5th “Accidentiversary.”

At the risk of disappointing my host of “followers,” all eight of you, who are all wondering where their invitations are, I regret to inform you there will be no event extravaganza. However, a luncheon with sweet, heroic Alice is in the works.

Feeling compelled to write something – because dittys should be written on significant annual occasions – I do so, but find my thoughts are more than just a bit jumbled. So, in scribbling, let me simply proclaim my gratefulness – perhaps a bit more potently today than at other times – for an immense company of friends who have supported and encouraged me and mine through challenging times in ways, both visible and unseen (both equally significant): Alice, Auntie Sue, Auntie Di, my eight children, one daughter in law, two sons in law, and two grandsons, the John and Betty Marvin extended clan, the Clans Smith, McFadden, and Familj Jaderberg – domestic and abroad, Uncle Sonny and Aunt Chris, the WCHS Bulldogs, Virginia Cavaliers, FCA-ers, Virginia-Beta Phi’s, Cedar Brook Academy, Joni and Friends, Bowie PCA and Wallace Presbyterian families, CRPC family, Shepherd Center and Kennedy Krieger Institute, HCGH Wound Care Center (eewwww?) – Larry and Dr. Leuthke, most notably, Facilities PLUS and Merrill colleagues, Montpelier, Elkton / Trent Road, Sandy Cove and America’s Keswick communities, and so many others.

Thanks for all you’ve prayed, endured, put up with, given, done. Impossible to catalog. Of inestimable value. Especially you, Ooli.

I thank God that He has not broken this bruised reed, He has not quenched this smoking flax. He is with me, at work to banish dismay, strengthen and uphold me with His righteous right hand, and infuse pluck and vigor through the realm. All this, despite my callous, complaining, ungrateful inclinations.

And I thank God for you all. Believe and know how grateful I truly am.

My love to you all.

Nellie and Me After PT


Stand-DogThirty-five minutes in the “Stander” (imagine being seated, then unfolded, slowly raised to a standing position, and clamped into a Nordic Track ski machine). Now resting with Nellie supervising my warm-down. A picture of me standing not likely, as my britches tend to head south in a hurry. More like a Nordic De-Pantser. Modesty prevails. Well, OK . . .

See how I get in and out at (G Rated)

Watched Stage One of the Tour de France — ridden today in the U.K. So, my 35 minutes hardly a speck in comparison to four+ hours in the saddle, but, hey — it’s how I roll now. Allez!

“Woof!” (Nellie)

Fearfully and Wonderfully Broken


On August 20, 2009, four years and five months ago, I enjoyed my last two-wheeled bike ride and experienced a real life-changer. Now a C7 tetraplegic, paralyzed from the mid-chest down, I have grown in my appreciation for God’s grace and mercy (after all, I could’ve been killed or much more profoundly injured). I have also tasted the richness of family relationships, other relationships established through the years, and the many shades of encouragement and support these friendships have borne. Living in a broken earth suit with limited physical abilities was at first very difficult as my identity, purposes, style, calling, and significance rested heavily on my abilities. I’m persuaded that independence can isolate, and that what amounts to diminished pride can be a good thing. My new normal has been characterized as a peculiar stewardship. My needs and dependence have deepened relationships with those who are close to me. And, they have brought me closer to those I knew well long ago but from whom I had grown apart. I appreciate, and can empathize more genuinely and experientially with, others who have met with deep difficulty. While I hope and pray for improved neurological function, this momentary light affliction is changing and refining me as I look to the Lord, endeavor to trust in Him, and live patiently in the “new normal.” Having once stood 6’4″, life now happens at 55 inches. Life, while at lower altitudes, is still very rich.

Father of the Bride Toast — Heidel-McFadden Rehearsal Dinner


Heidel-McFadden Rehearsal Dinner
Maggiano’s, Tysons Galleria
August 16, 2013

I was asked by Allie a few weeks ago to offer up the Father of the Bride Toast at tomorrow’s wedding reception, and had already been thinking of what I might say on this rehearsal dinner occasion.

In order to avoid being branded and ill-prepared and unoriginal public speaker, I resolved to come up with something fresh. But, some things, they say, never change and so having borrowed a bit from past rehearsal dinner remarks, I offer up my apologies in advance to those of you who were present to hear those.

Among many immutable laws of nature is this: Chuck in front of a crowd, making remarks = high probability he’ll cry. To those of you who will be unsettled by this I apologize again in advance.

This is the second opportunity I’ve had to attend a Heidel rehearsal dinner and wedding since Chip and Ellie were married and I was only a few months into life in a broken earth-suit. It was splendid to be a virtual participant through the magic of cell phones, video and Skype. Four years on, I find myself not often looking too far ahead with great certainty. So, it is doubly sweet for me to be here with you all in spirit and body, appetites at the ready.

When I first met Kenneth (a.k.a. Ken-Ken, or Ken-Ken McFab-Fab, or K-K McF-F as he later came affectionately to be known . . . even if behind his back), he struck me as a somewhat introspective, quiet man. It could have been that he landed in the midst of the Heidel mob during our mealtime tsunami. It wasn’t long before he seemed at ease, working the crowd warmly — both young and old. I observed him to be questioner and a listener. I was impressed by the range of his relationships, and his ability to dial-in to those relationships on a variety of constructive levels. More than the obligatory surface “Hey — How are you?” As he and I had opportunity to talk, I appreciated these qualities more.

In time, I came to learn Kenneth was a Virginia Tech Hokie. Perhaps not surprisingly and taking some license, in light of Isaiah 11:6 (. . . the VT Hokie laying down with the UVA Wahoo . . .), that proved to be no impediment. He even politely listened to my cover of the Univesity of Virginia Pep Band’s 1979 rendition of a Hokie-fied Ballad of Jed Clampett. See me offline if interested.

I appreciated — if only vicariously — his love for the outdoors, being active, clinging like Spiderman to sheer vertical rock faces, hurling himself out the doors of perfectly fine airplanes, and wandering around the Alaskan bush without enough bread crumbs. I noted these were things he and Allie enjoyed in common.

On one or two occasions we spoke about career alternatives in the Christian camping realm, and I appreciated his wanting to understand and carefully consider that world. I also came to see and appreciate his love for Christ and his desire (put in into action) to influence his many Burke Community Church minions accordingly.

In time he and I spoke about his affection for in Allie and his interest in having that relationship advance. I had some experience evaluating daughter-suitors. One or two of those evaluations went a bit rough early on, no doubt due to my youthful (merely) book-learned zeal and inexperience. When Kenneth and I intersected, we spoke very candidly, openly, and warmly — right? (looking directly at Kenneth) — and it was the case that his interest and intentions were in line with my paternal expectations. His respect and deference meant a lot to me then, and it was plain to see his treatment of Allie was that of a servant, not a self-server.

These conversations weren’t convenient either, as Kenneth circumnavigated the Beltway several times during or heading into rush hour traffic. He had to work hard getting to Laurel to have them.

Our culminating conversation calendared, he secretly met me in the neighborhood and drove us both to Long Horn where we enjoyed appetizers and a beer. I asked him what he wanted to talk about. He told me he loved Allie and wanted my permission to ask her to marry him. I happened to be looking down at that moment (having dropped my nacho), and raised my head to look him in the eye, and I replied, “No (emphasis on “No”) . . . prrrrrrroblem whatsoever.”

Kenneth’s face blanched a bit before regaining its ruddy swarthy color. We laughed . . . OK. Maybe only I laughed.

Our conversation then ventured in a number of directions — all at least semi-serious topics, even the smaller print “In sickness, and in health” possibilities. I appreciated those exchanges (even though he left me with the check), and was again grateful for his viewing this prospect as a servant, not a self-server.

It is sometimes true that you can judge a man by the company he keeps. So might it be said that you can judge a man by the parents and family he comes from. Recognizing the limitations of human agency, but that God ordinarily achieves His ends through means which are sometimes relationships, as Alice and I came to know Bill and Carol better, and have learned of (and now met) the siblings, I appreciate Kenneth even more.

Now onto Allie. When I first met Allie, she was very close to her mother . . . .

It wasn’t long before we were very good friends though, and her creativity, fearlessness and athleticism began to bubble up.

Hair like a Muppet, thunderous thighs, fearless in the face of stampeding chickens, consultatively pushing the envelope in play house, sandbox and dirty laundry closet hygiene, creatively combining free-fall with salad-plate landings. Later a tumbling aerialist with prehensile toes that could wring the balance beam before flipping, spinning, catapulted landings were “stuck.” Able to shag to Carolina Beach Music. A talented car radio in the driveway air guitarist and or lead vocalist (best songs were Don McLean’s American Pie and Elton John’s Funeral for a Friend). Disciplined, hard-working, and a player-through-pain. Able to adapt to circumstances: gymnast and piano student gone abroad, turned ballet teacher and church pianist. Tenacious. Dutiful: surrogate mother to 4 younger siblings while Alice and I were in Atlanta the better part of three months. A lover of Christ and the relationships He finds for her.

Through high school and off to college, her artistic abilities were honed and developed as photo-journalism met Helen Keller, River Citeeziens (Music Man), and Ariel (The Tempest).

Having grown up in a Christian family, many of her presuppositions were put to the test but emerged tempered, not torn to pieces.

And, young men began appearing on the radar.

As Allie’s father, believing I had a role to play in her relationships with these “friend-boys,” I insinuated myself into those relationships. Sadly, my involvement wasn’t always appreciated. Many times I feared that what had been a treasured father-daughter relationship would be hopelessly unraveled. But you know, God is good. He kept both of us soft. And our continuing friendship has proven to be a very favorable climate in which we would later ponder an ever more serious relationship with a certain Hokie.

Kenneth, I appreciate your determination, perseverance, respect and friendship. And I am grateful to the Lord for his work in your life. I trust and believe you will lead and care for Allie tenderly, taking as your model Jesus Christ who gave himself up for His bride, the Church. Ephesians 5:25-32

Allie, I love you and am delighted for you to marry Kenneth. I have no doubt you will adorn him wonderfully. Ephesians 5:22-24

God bless you both.

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man.

Dominoes, Pigs, Vacuums, and Providence Unfolded


An adaptation of some early December correspondences, and a follow up to our January 7th post of a similar name.

In August 2013, I learned that a long-present (since the Spring of 2012) sacral-coccyx (think rear end) pressure sore, to which we wheelchair-rangers are especially susceptible, had deepened to a critical point. I had been trying to manage this independently (not always effectively) before finally seeking professional wound care. In January 2013 I was prescribed Prednisone, an immuno-supressive steroid, for another condition. Over the months, the sore remained uninfected, shallow and generally “healthy.” Doctors hoped a gradually tapering dose of Prednisone, along with pressure management, would permit healing — even if slowly. Given a combination of these and other factors, several of which are mutually complicating, and despite my attempts to relieve pressure on and around the area, skin graft surgery was set for December 9th.

There were in fact three surgeries. The first was a reversible diverting colostomy, the second a same day skin-fold prep procedure, and the third, on December 17th, a final skin fold procedure. I now euphemistically refer to my surgeries derrière as a two-stage life style lift, complemented by a holiday bonus colostomy (nervous laughter).

I must tell you I was, have been, and am still occasionally quite anxious about all of this: procedures, recovery, possible complications, recovery, healthcare administration, insurance, things back home, returning to work, colostomy management, etc. Suddenly, all these anxieties, certainly understandable, were considerably louder than my oft’ proclaimed confidence that, until my time is up, God will uphold, care for, protect, preserve, heal, and deliver me. Positions easily asserted are put to the test when placed under the knife.

God, knowing our weaknesses inspired Paul who wrote to Peter Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.. And to the Philippians “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.. Centuries later, The Westminster Assembly would craft its Shorter Catechism (with which some of you may be familiar): Q. 98. What is prayer? A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.

And so, I have prayed. Others have prayed and wished well. For God’s grace and favor on surgeons (two), nurses, and medical staff administering care. That there would be no surgical complications. That wounds, incisions, etc. will heal quickly, and for freedom from infection. For contentment during a long (for me) period of inactivity – away from home and during the Christmas season. That my time away from home will provide Alice rest and refreshment. That the full outworking of all these plans, events and variables will result in greater independence (self-care, mobility, effectiveness at work, etc.). That I will be back to work in January, as planned.

And God has graciously provided. Procedures have been carried out without complication. I have spent five weeks post-op in hospital and skilled care facilities convalescing. The food, though experimental, hasn’t killed me. House is still standing. Lovely heroic wife is more lovely and heroic than ever. Kids and dog are in good health. I was able to use accrued leave, so as to avoid filing for Short Term Disability. My homecoming date, once scheduled for January 15th, has been pushed back to the 18th. And, my return to work date is tentatively projected (aggressively but hopefully) as January 20th.

Hoping you’ll have found this ramble to be encouraging.

Dominoes, Pigs, Vacuums & Providence — Musings, Mutterings & Meditations on Wound Care


I recently watched the televised tipping of a single domino whose toppling triggered one of those mesmerizing extended clickity-clickity chain reactions. I thought to myself, “It took some extremely patient guy with extremely steady hands eighteen hours to set his dominoes in place, only to see them reduced to rubble in under three minutes.”

Many of us seldom give a thought to our health. When synced and operational, all systems are go. Each system like a domino, deliberately designed and placed. Their collective arrangement a yet more complex system. Each domino has a designated numeric value, a specific shape, size, weight, and occupies space in relation to all the others in an intentional, intelligent way. We may go years convinced that our physiological dominoes, intelligently designed and placed, resting on their narrow short edges, balanced with precarious centers of gravity, are somehow or another immovably anchored to the floor. In no danger of upset. Ever. During these days of wine and roses, these seasons in the sun, we are like a domino designer who doesn’t realize or who will not admit that the slightest instability within, or any energy randomly and disruptively introduced from without (an intruder), will send his finely tuned complex system into (perhaps sudden) decline.

A spinal cord injury (SCI) patient’s essential physiological dominoes are skin, digestion, respiration, circulation, and the immune system. Wound care (think skin-domino) is an ongoing concern for SCI patients. A wound’s onset is usually associated with sustained pressure and resulting lack of blood flow (think circulation-domino) to a particular area — pressure sores. Wounds can also be caused by the skin coming in prolonged contact with an unpleasant erosive, such as diarrhea — incontinence sores (think digestion-domino).

Not infrequently, wounds are located on SCI patients’ “posteriors.” Having been able to adapt to my injuries, and return to work, most of my day is spent in my wheel chair, seated. For this reason, I affectionately refer to my posterior as the “money-maker.” Over the past four years, I’ve sustained both types of wound. More recently, I’ve been on a year-long wound care quest to manage one of the second type, located in the coccyx region where the sun don’t shine. Its onset in August 2012 was in a particularly yucky way in a particularly tricky location.

After several months trying to self-manage, this rank amateur admitted the need for professional help and began to frequent the nearby wound care center (not surprisingly, my lovely heroic wife was miles ahead of in this awareness, and greatly relieved when help arrived). And, under professional care, the wound began to show signs of improvement.

Things became a bit more complicated in January 2013, when I was diagnosed with temporal arteritis, an acute inflammatory condition affecting the temporal artery (think circulation-domino), which left untreated can lead to blindness. A biopsy of my left temporal artery confirmed the diagnosis, and required an incision along my left temple where Johnny Quest met Hogwarts. My graying, rakishly Race Bannon-like hairline was soon complimented by a sporty Harry Potter lightning bolt scar.

Temporal arteritis is treated with Prednisone, an immuno-supressive anti-inflammatory steroid (think immune system-domino) of which my rheumatologist grumbled, “At its very best, Prednisone is a horrible drug” (not exactly a ringing endorsement). An intruder in my case, though the lesser of other evils, one of Prednisone’s side effects is its retarding the body’s normal healing processes, and so my wound grew no smaller. Neither, thankfully, did it grow larger. Visit after visit, the professionals would exclaim, “That is one good looking wound!” while taking a picture for the record. Over the months, my Prednisone dose tapered from the initial elephant gun 60 mg. dose, to 50, to 40, to 30, to 25, to 22.5, to 20, to 15. And so, my wound began again to grow gradually smaller.

My impression of the professionals is that they’ve never met a wound whose treatment they didn’t want to “innovate” (translated: mess around with for research and notoriety). I once had a pressure sore treated with electrical stimulation. Yes sir. Two electrodes, left buttock, on either side of the wound. To improve blood flow to the area and speed up the healing process. My picture made it into the ranks of medical text book photos. I knew I should have gotten that gluteal tattoo of a 53-tooth chain ring with “CFH Loves AMH!” in the middle.

My current wound has been filled with acellular porcine (as in pigs) skin tissue that is intended to encourage the further closing of a wound. Like a rehydrated pork rind, it was characterized as a scaffold onto which the wound bed tissue can grow and be supported. The results weren’t “Ba-dee, ba-dee, ba-dee . . . That’s all, folks!” Porky Pig fine. But I did start to snort when I laughed, couldn’t wait for truffle season, and had a strong urge to sit on a frying pan.

After unsuccessfully treating the wound using reconstituted bacon, more advanced dressing combinations and changes were the order. Even after rededicating myself to obsessively dutiful weight relief and position shifting throughout the day, these did not achieve a desired result. And so, technology took center stage.

The woundcare experts next referred me to the makers of a negative pressure pump that marries vacuum physics with an airtight seal bandage. The pump exerts negative pressure, creating a vacuum which, by way of a flexible hose connected to a specially engineered, heart-shaped bandage, draws increased blood flow (think circulation-domino) to the wound area.

I received this high-tech hickey unit on St. Valentine’s Day. Present for the reveal were my new best friends, Dave the pump sales guy, Mable, the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) R.N., and Beenie, another VNA R.N. specializing in wound care. Beenie was cheery, portly, of Asian-Indian descent, raised and educated in the U.K., and sported an East End lilt. We all paraded into my bedroom with eager anticipation. I transferred from wheel chair to bed, rolled onto my side, dropped my shorts backside to half-mast, and clinically exposed the wound. As the professionals took their places bedside, I imagined myself the subject of a new reality series “Wound Care Nannies,” or perhaps a medical drama, “SCI – Wound Care.”

Upon seeing my sacral coccyx wound, and as we discussed a wound care plan, Beenie declared, “Mr. Heidel, we’ll determine the best strategy. We will heal this wound. From your behind to my mind. A true butt-mind meld.” Her declaration, confidently spoken at the time with an evangelical tent meeting fervor, in fact has not yet come to pass.

And so, we soldier on waiting for my Prednisone dose to be further tapered, and discussing ever more seriously surgical options, followed by a weeks-long period of flat in bed recuperation. While convalescing under severe ergonomic constraints, working little if at all, and tempted to worry much, may I . . .

. . . (T)hank God and marvel I am fearfully and wonderfully made. His works are wonderful — I know that full well. I have also seen and know that one can be fearfully and horribly broken. Not what I’d have scripted. But, His ways are beyond my full comprehension. Like Aslan, He is not safe, but He is good. Though He — the Good Shepherd — appears hard to me at times and for seasons, I know He is not only good, but the fount and measure of goodness. In this season, I will seek Him, look to Him, and having failed at times, I will return to Him. Though He may have injured me, He will bind up my wounds. Though I be torn to pieces, He will heal me, for He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalms 23; 139:14; 147:3; Job 5:18; Hosea 6:1; Philippians 4:12,13; Westminster Confession of Faith 5 (Of Providence):1,4,5

Scalp Treatment


Have been spending a few weeks off the clock. First class accommodations at County General and a nearby skilled step down facility where a strategically placed skin graft takes hold and I become acquainted with my surgical bonus colostomy. Yay!

Aaaany-hooo . . .

It’d been a while — a long while, actually — since my last true, non P-sss-sss-sst dry shampoo, scalp cleansing. That was remedied this morning. I’m pleased to tell you the slick was contained quickly, and the entomological analysis of my rinse water showed no signs of head lice. There were indications, however, that a clandestine regional Annual Ladybug Picnic just getting underway, and the much awaited though unsanctioned Big vs. Small Critter Football Championship were both washed out. Sadly, the Ladybug Picnic Knock-Knock Joke-Off was cancelled on account of flooding, as were the sack races and jump rope contest. Last year’s Knock-Knock Joke Champion, Dot, was “not there.” And, two Small Critter All-Star centipedes, who are known to take an unusually long time to put on and tie their cleats, narrowly escaped their stadium locker room as water levels rose to historic levels. Both players (and one-hundred pairs of cleats) were soaked but otherwise unharmed.

The wash was invigorating and it is expected that my head won’t suddenly slide off the pillow anymore.

See you next year.

Stink Eye


Most days, after undergoing a very involved morning routine that begins at 7:30 AM and ends at about 9 AM, whose details will remain undescribed, I roll into my executive handicapped bathroom to brush my hair, shave with my Norelco electric razor, and brush my teeth. Having acclimated to the calibrated use of Coumadin to keep clotting factors in line, I took a bold step and bought a shaving brush, two round cakes of shaving soap, a mug in which the soap is lathered-up, and a Gillette razor with real nick producing (potentially) blades. I tolerate a not so close electric shave most days. More like a whisker thatching, really. About once a week, for a true close shave, I lather up and raze the face.

On my countertop, in the corner, there are three bottles of Cologne and aftershave that stand like little soldiers. My wife got me these. She researched this scents, got samples, and gave them to me on special occasions.

For months after returning home from my first rehab experience, these manly scent containers were absolutely ignored. After all, most days I dressed in athletic stretch pants, a T-shirt or possibly a polo shirt, white support hose and knockoff crocs. Not exactly making any fashion statements. I only made appearances at places like Target, or when I went on trips around the neighborhood in my manual wheelchair. None of those were reasons to smell fancy.

Sundays were different, as I got to dress in real khaki pants, a button-down shirt, black support hose, real Docksider shoes, and my navy blue Duluth Trading Company presentation jacket, before heading off to church. Until one fateful Sunday, my visits to church, like any other day, were non-scented occasions.

On that predestined day, in a surreal moment, I heard one of my bottle-soldiers speak to me through his suddenly articulatable atomizer-mouth. “Pssssst!” I turned to my right and heard him say while at A-Ten-Hut! “Requesting permission to speak, Sir!” I granted his request — you’d have done the same. “Go on. Smell good, Sir!” I couldn’t believe it! So, with my right hand, I reached over and began to push Lieutenant Christian LaCroix Noir in my direction. Before pushing him off the edge of the countertop, I clamped him between my right and left palms, and removed his top with that other useful appendage: my teeth. This revealed his atomizing spray pump which I aimed in the direction of my neck. Cradling him in my left palm, I began to push his atomizing spray pump with my right palm. One, two, three, four, . . . . Nothing. I put on my cheater glasses and squinted at his now silent atomizer hole to see if it was clogged. As far as I could tell it was in perfect mist-emitting condition.

So I moved him back onto the countertop, aimed his atomizing spray pump to the left, and pounded it with my right palm. Success! A perfect Underwriters Laboratory mist was emitted. So, I held him once again in my left palm and prepared to push his atomizing spray pump with my right palm. The muscles in my neck, right shoulder, right triceps, right forearm tensed for an instant. In the blink of an eye, I forced his atomizing spray pump down. With the velocity of a speeding bullet, a textbook mist was emitted . . . directly into my left eye.

Its autonomic, reflexive blink was not fast enough and for a moment, I was disoriented, fearing I was going to be half blind. I waited. Did a systems check. Determined my vision was not significantly impacted. Sent Lieutenant Christian LaCroix Noir to his barracks — all leave cancelled.

Off to church we went. And, despite the burning and watering, my eye smelled great.

Mind the Gap, Pops


He sat compactly folded in his wheelchair on the Greenbelt Metro platform — his joints rigidly articulated at knee and hip. Though seated, it was clear, were he a literal, fully-unfolded pedestrian, he would stand six feet plus. It had threatened rain earlier but was still just dry and overcast. “So far, so good,” he thought. He was hunched slightly forward, and his arms hung loosely placing his hands just below the rear wheel hubs. He wore odd looking bright red fingerless gloves made of leather with an inlay of some “secret-sauce” material on each palm. This material, when dry and pressed against the plastic that coated the chair’s outermost push-rims, would grip and not let go. When wet, the glove-rim reaction was Slick-50, but on a dry day, the wonders of shear-friction took over where his hands — which had no real grip strength — left off. His fingers were along for the ride, but of no real help. Still, with his bright red fingerless secret-sauce friction gloves, he was able to get around.

He could often be seen striking up conversation with an exotically tattooed and pierced part-time University of Maryland student who usually brought her bicycle aboard. Bicycles, actually. Sometimes she’d bring a sleek thoroughbred Specialized Roubaix road bike. Other times a sturdy quarter horse Felt cyclocross. This morning’s pedaled steed was a lime-green-framed “fixie” with liberally applied Florida Gator orange and blue accents. Its front rim was orange. Its rear rim was blue. Spokes were white. Tires were yellow. Shear understatement. She worked for Washington Express as a bike courier, and during her workday could be found executing perfectly balanced track-stands at many a DC intersection, waiting for the light to change or for bombastic drivers (who seldom seem to change) to clear out. Her name was Delia Spinoza, and they’d first become acquainted when he complimented her on her choice of frame accents years earlier. Each asked about the other’s origins, line of work, families, etc., and she was shocked upon first learning he had eight children – apparently, her ecological sensibilities had been offended. He calmly told her to relax, because they recycled, only bathed twice a month, and had solar panels on their roof. Later on, they both began turning up regularly for the area cycling club’s Wednesday evening group rides, and predictably Delia would take pleasure pointing him out to newcomers as “’Pops’ who has eight kids.” He loved thinking back on those days. April through September, 50-60 riders of all ages, shapes, and sizes, 30-40 miles depending on daylight. Leaving together from the Marriott parking lot, the large group (peloton) would soon split into a half-dozen smaller bicycle-trains known as pace lines, each pace line maintaining average speeds of 20+ miles per hour thanks to that magical 30+/- percent energy-efficiency boost from drafting. Each rider was expected to take his or her turn “pulling” at the front before “drafting” behind. He loved and could still “hear” the distinct siren whirrrrrrrr of properly lubricated spinning and enmeshed chain rings, chains and rear clusters. Wednesday regulars became known for their pace line utility. Delia was pixie-like  and could zip up hills. He was a 225-pounder who could rocket downhill, and motor full-bore on flats for miles. “Hammerheads” were seriously fast, raced competitively, could do it all, and were bitterly envied for it.

Their first meeting on the Greenbelt Metro platform in over a year and a half was warm. Delia’s confusion upon observing Pops was now riding a wheelchair was cleared away, albeit sadly, upon learning he’d been hit by a motorist, suffering complete paralysis below the chest. Speaking of pedaled steeds, his “Old Paint,” a smashed up Specialized Allez Elite, still hung on a garage wall bracket. He planned one day to strip it of any parts or accessories others could use. He’d already peeled away a few parts that now occupied prominent spots as desktop memoir-paperweights. Other parts yet to be harvested might ride again, once gifted to former pace line cronies, but he half expected there’d be no takers due to “bad mojo.” Since that reunion, no longer in the peloton, he appreciated their platform discussions more and more. Each looked forward to speaking bike, and she offered up the latest cycling club gossip. Desperately wishing he was back there, talking about there provided surprising solace.

This particular morning and hour, the platform crush was not too severe. He had attempted earlier subway commutes, but at those times, platforms were not just full. They were seething mosh pits of impatient, nervous, moody, hostile (late) metro-suburbanites whose erectly-postured, tunnel visioned lines of sight were easily a foot and a half above his head. His cruising altitude was 55 now inches — and quite below their radar. He’d been walked into, stepped on, tripped over, and profanely greeted (an added bonus) enough times to persuade him that non-prime-time commuting was the trick. Even so, wheelchair commuting was a daily slog. Boarding and exiting subway cars was precarious at best. Time being “of the essence,” he would have to quickly move through the opening of subway doors that remained open for too brief durations, flanked both sides by impatient pedestrian boarders, while battling the contra-current of equally impatient off-loaders afoot. Waiting anxiously at each subway line exchange, he would jockey to a spot he hoped would be dead-center in front of the subway doors. As the subway pulled in, his face took on an intensely competitive expression. His daughter had once been an adrenaline-amped elite gymnast. She would stare down the runway at the “horse,” before sprinting and stomping precisely on the spring board, taking flight, careening off the horse, twisting and spinning in space, and sticking her landing. As the subway doors opened he began his sprint. Picking up speed, bent slightly forward at the waist, when just inches in front of the platform-doorway gap, he abruptly and with an additional burst of strength pushed his rear wheels down and forward. Timed well, at speed, and with proper  “gap-minding” technique, his wheelchair’s front casters would rise and sail over the gap, and the rest of the chair behind and hauling him would bump aboard.

The same intense, time compressed anxiety would be replayed each time he exited the train. Perhaps to an even higher degree. On his first attempt at subway wheelchair commuting, his hands in an atrophied condition, when popping over the gap, his size 12 wedding band slipped off his size 10 ring finger and bounced ding-ding-dingingly away down the platform. He couldn’t see it. He could only sit and listen as its ding-ding-dinging grew ever more faint. Hope revived when a stranger stepped in front of him and asked with startling disinterest, “This yours?”

Over time, awash in a sea of adaptive challenges, he’d come to be a more confident wheelchair commuter. Technique and timing were honed and more instinctive. Entering subway cars from approximately the same platform spot each time had proven helpful as well. He usually posted-up near the front of the train where the operator would see him when craning his head out the side window (no doubt looking for flailing limbs caught between closed subway doors). Turned out a lot of commuters post themselves at favorite spots. It seemed many “regulars” had lost their appetites for the mosh pit, were far less hostile, had re-calibrated their sight line radars to capture 55-inch high rolling “bogies,” and increasingly were overtly helpful. His and their familiarity engendered something akin to community, and in an odd way, he was beginning to enjoy the ride again.