Friday, July 31, 2009

Twitter Translator

Since my first 3 posts were pretty long, and at least one of my forthcoming posts might also get hefty, I thought I'd break it up with at least one shortie.

I joined the Twitter phenomenon just over a month ago. The highly interesting thing is that just a short time before that I could be found venting and ranting about how I thought Twitter, and microblogging, was super cheesy (i.e. I don't care how delicious your lunch was today). But after looking deeper I realized that tons of lawyers use it to exchange a lot of interesting legal related content. So I joined before the ship passed me by.

In general, I mostly utilize it as another tool to stick in my "lawyer toolkit." I also post and pass along a lot of disability related information. Moreover, I'm the only person regularly posting stuff about handicapped parking issues that I've seen so far (I plan to develop and post a "handicapped parking manifesto" later on). At the least, it's put me in touch with a lot of folks in my various areas of interest that I would not have otherwise.

Anyway, as you can see, I have a tool to the right that displays my most recent Twitter posts just in case people find it interesting. Because I've already had a few questions from friends and family regarding the wonky language I thought I'd throw out a quick, helpful Twitter translation:

First of all, in Twitter Land your posts can only be a maximum of 140 characters. Thus, most of the language wonkiness results from making everything as short as possible. So @shawnrdean or @whoever is just shorthand for the username. "RT" is shorthand for "retweet" which is analagous to a forwarding an email message. The or "tinyurl" thing is a way of shortening your internet url. Again, only 140 char. per post, so you don't want to clog it up with a webpage's long url. Thus becomes I think someone should have come up with that idea years ago. You don't need to be on Twitter to use it either.

So maybe people didn't care either way, but at least now those interested can follow my Twitter posts a bit easier.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

July 12 (Part II: 13 and Counting…)

As of two weekends ago I have been a spinal cord injury quadriplegic and full time wheelchair user for thirteen years. Based on what I broke down in my previous post, each July 12 definitely exhibits a significant blip on my radar screen. And thus each July 12 brings with it a natural spike in emotions. With each given year my thoughts typically run along a fairly similar spectrum: Mentally trying to go back and stop myself from ever diving (or at least not as hard). Reflecting on my 4.5 months in rehab and subsequent re-assimilation into society. Reflecting on all my struggles related to my disability during the preceding years. How I felt that my senior year in high school was stolen from me: I was physically fit, a swim team captain, out going and pretty well liked by my peers, coming into my own as a pretty well rounded guy, looking forward to the chance to look out for my freshman sister, set to take at least 3 A.P level classes, looking forward to going to parties, dances, and sports/social events with my friends, being a target of and targeting the ladies, and just in general ready to enjoy the prime year of my high school career. Instead I was hospitalized until Thanksgiving and practically became an outcast and an after thought, at least in comparison to my pre-accident social calendar. Life as a one of two high school students in a wheelchair was very, very hard, and it still probably remains the hardest year of my life. Ditto for college where, despite my fair share of good times here and there, I often look back with near equal frustration for missing out on a “normal” college career. Throw in a little bit of tempered anger over why my life had to lead down this path. And most importantly, I’ve tended to dwell the most on what my accident and all its after affects put my family through all these years. Things of that nature.

In addition to those thoughts, for the first 8 or 9 years post-accident I made myself make a pilgrimage back to the beach where said event took place. Kind of like my own version of returning to the scene of the crime. And I tended to do so in a fairly ceremonial fashion to boot. First, I would bring a Mountain Dew with me to drink near the beach because that is what we were drinking that night. The other thing I always did was play “You Don't Wanna F@%K Wit These” by Ice Cube on the way because that is the song I was playing as I drove into the beach parking lot after returning from dinner with my family that night. It was the song with the most bass in my truck’s disc changer and I wanted a tune to “announce” my presence back at the BBQ with some panache. In fact, as a constant, subtle connection to that fateful evening I always kept that cd in the disc changer of my van, and when my van’s disc changer crapped out it was one of the first cd’s I transferred to my iPod. Although despite the effort I typically only listened to it once a year on July 12 on my way to the beach. But I honestly haven’t listened to it in a few years now.

The first year I returned to the beach was a little awkward because I needed my girlfriend to take me because I wasn’t driving myself yet. I didn’t get out of the van and with her sitting right next to me I didn’t quite get the indefinite solo reflection I sought. I think we were barely there for 5-10 minutes. By the second summer I was driving on my own so I could make the solo mission. I got out of the van and took the walk path all the way down on the beach to within 6 feet of the water’s edge and within real close proximity to where I thought my accident occurred. I sipped my Dew, reflected, had a very brief cry, placed my Dew can on the beach in remembrance, and then went home. The third summer I only remember that I felt that I had to try pretty hard to get the waterworks going, there wasn’t much, and that was the last time I had a July 12 cry. Generally, I tried to go early in the day when no one was around so I could spend some time alone without drawing attention to me and my wheelchair. So the next few years varied as to how close to the beach I got or if I even got out of my van at all. At the least, I would park where I could get a view of the accident site and drink my Mountain Dew. How long I sat there and reflected got less and less as the years went by as well. If anything, after awhile I just did it for the sake of doing it.

Once I moved to Minneapolis to start law school I broke from the pattern of my annual visit. Of course the obvious intervening factor was distance but I think my desire to make the special trip had started to wane as well. The summer after my first year of law school I took a summer class that I'm sure overlapped with July 12. So at the most I might have made a visit to the beach while home during the next closest trip home to Eau Claire. But I probably haven’t been back to that beach since 2003, and I'm ok with that too. Just a few years ago I remember saying something to my mom about how it had been a number of years since I had made my annual trip to the beach, and she said something to the effect of “And that’s just fine too.”

And that raises an interesting point that I only discovered a number of years after my accident: how in such high disregard my family held that location as well. For example, it was something like 7 years later that my family was invited to a graduation party at the community pavilion at the park area that was in close proximity to that beach. I didn’t plan to attend for obvious reasons, plus it was one of those deals where feelings weren’t going to be hurt if I didn’t go so I wouldn’t have gone anyway. But my dad was quite adamant about not setting foot on the property then, or ever. My sister got there first but then called my mom and waited for my mom to join her before entering because she was too shook up to do it alone. The way it was relayed to me, my sister apparently clutched my mom’s arm the whole way in. I told my mom that it’s not like they knew exactly where it happened (which was approximately 120 yards away) but she said it didn’t matter because it was still emotional.

Along the way a few anniversaries stick out: the first was the first. The second was my first real trip back to the beach. The fifth through seventh were tough at the time because when I had my accident they said a cure for paralysis was 5-7 years away. That never happened (and we’re still waiting for it). The tenth anniversary had a few things going on: a decade of being a quad, the passing of another supposed prediction of finding a cure, and I officially became "at risk" for future bladder cancer having had an indwelling catheter for over 10 straight years, and counting. All together it was kind of sobering. I think the next standout date will be the 17th July 12 post-accident when I will surpass being in a chair longer than I was able bodied.

To a certain degree I think with each passing year the impact of another July 12 lessens a bit. In the last few years I’ve just made July 12 a “day of me” by not studying, watching a fun movie of my choice, cooking a pizza, having a few beers, maybe a quick Mountain Dew at some point, etc. It won’t ever become just another day, but I will admit that just a few years ago I was working on an email before dinner, saw the date, and went “Oh yeah.”

But this year there was a little extra buildup in contrast to a handful of years past. The seed was planted on July 10th. That Friday was just one of those days where it’s rough to be a quad: My wheelchair started making squeaking noises that morning. I had a hard time grabbing a few items at the grocery store. As I left the checkout aisle a little girl saw me, grabbed her mom’s leg, pointed, and said “Mom look.” I'm at a point in my life where I tend to ignore that kind of thing, but it bugged me that day. Then I proceeded to go out into the parking lot and drop my keys on the ground by my van. Normally I’d just bend down and get them (after cursing first) but I had two bags of groceries on my lap. As I was very carefully trying to shake the valet key out of my wallet a senior citizen was eying me up as she got of her car. She then asked if she could help me, presumably with my bags, but I just asked her to pick up my keys instead. It was nice of her but as she walked away I was a little bit pissed off because a) she had no doubt assumed that a guy in a chair couldn’t handle his groceries on his own and b) the fact that I was a smart, well adjusted lawyer probably never came close to crossing her mind (i.e. I was probably stereotyped by my disability on both accounts).

So as I was stuck in traffic on the way home those retrospective gears started churning in my head. On top of contemplating thirteen years worth of being a quadriplegic, frustration about where I am in my life right now started to get layered in as well: single going on eleven years (even though I humbly self-recognize that I'm a catch); an unemployed, job searching new attorney; in desperate need of a new van that I can’t afford, with mine currently 138,000 + miles and growing rust spots; still using my 12 + year old wheelchair because I don’t like my new chair (too big and unfunctional for my lifestyle); and no real immediate solution to any of those issues on the horizon, despite my best positive outlook. In other words, I went down that “woe is me” path just a little bit, feeling like a disability cliche. Then that night I found myself wide awake until almost 4 am thinking about all that stuff together even more. Getting heavy chested thinking about much more emotional issues like my family’s direct reaction to getting the message about my accident. Because instead of arriving home from a run of the mill Friday evening dinner outing to go on and do run of the mill Friday evening stuff my parents got a message that their son that they had just seen at dinner an hour or so before had a bad accident and was on his way to the hospital. They didn’t deserve such an unexpected shock, or everything that ensued, and my guilt for that night has barely waned over the years. But then at some point I fell asleep after the somewhat calming affect about how much we’ve overcome as a family, embraced it all, and moved on took hold.

On this July 12 I did not hold a day of me but rather an afternoon by the pool watching my niece and nephew, two and one years old respectively, swim and play around the pool deck, which honestly has been the best way to get my mind off that difficult day up until now. I didn’t even think about grabbing a Mountain Dew at any point either.

Like many post-SCI folks out there who live with significant paralysis I’ve put up with a LOT of crap and had to overcome more than my fair share of adversity over the last thirteen years. Looking back, I'm very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in the preceding years despite living with a disability (staying true to myself and earning a law degree chief among them). And in the end I think I should really learn to start dwelling on those points a little more come the next July 12, and beyond. This year on Twitter I simply posted “Today, practically as of this very hour, marks the 13 year anniv. of my paralyzing diving accident. Always a strange day. But I forge on.” A very poignant analysis indeed.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

July 12 (Part I: Memoirs of a Life Changing Day)

This past Sunday, July 12 was a weird day for me. In fact, it is perpetually and perennially a weird day for me. To the vast majority of folks out there the 12th of July is just a meaningless date stuck in the middle of the month. If anything, it marks the halfway point of the summer. To a good friend of mine, July 12th signifies his wedding anniversary. To some lingering disco and/or savvy sports history fans out there, July 12th is the anniversary of “Disco Demolition” at Comisky Park in Chicago—this year being the 30th year hence. But to me, July 12th is a date that will always live in infamy, because it was on July 12th, 1996 that I had the paralyzing diving accident that forever changed my life.

The day itself started off like almost every preceding 1996 Eau Claire, WI summer day: I woke up to warm, partly cloudy, mid 70’s weather. My only thoughts were on mowing a few clients’ lawns, as me and two great buddies had a summer lawn mowing business. We only planned to put in about a half day’s worth of work because we had been planning a “company” beach BBQ at a local lake with our friends on that particular Friday for weeks. Regardless, I left my bedroom on my way to “work” that morning without a scintilla of a thought that my life would be catastrophically and forever changed before I went to bed that night. Instead, it would be the last time I would ever roll over and sit up in bed, stand up, feel the full sensation of a full body stretch, go to the bathroom unimpeded, shower unassisted, dress myself, let alone walk, etc. Moreover, I would never see that bedroom again.

Flash forward to around 5 pm that evening at the beach, when our typical 17 year old BBQ was in full swing: copious consumption of Mountain Dew, burgers and dogs, the throwing back and forth of friendly smart talk, and the sharing of good times overall. In a pretty short timeframe I myself probably chased 3 triple cheeseburgers (with 4 slices of cheese each) with damn near a six pack of Dew. (FYI, I do NOT have that appetite anymore…but kinda wish I did.)

Somewhere around 7 I had to change from my casual beach garb into some more dress casual clothes, leave the party, and meet my parents at our country club for dinner. I had made it clear that I would be eating—a lot—before our family dinner and thus meeting them for dinner would be a wash, but my mom was insistent. Leading up to that Friday I had been grounded by my dad for staying out past curfew, so it was agreed that if I took the time to leave my party and join them that my dad might hand me my get out of jail free card. So in the end I gladly followed through. As soon as everyone else’s dinner arrived I was allowed to return to my party. As I departed my dad told me to “come home when I wanted” which was code for “you’re ungrounded,” and also to have fun but “use my head.” Unbeknownst to them, my departure would be the last time my family would see me as a fully functioning, able bodied young man.

Back at the beach, the start of the undoing occurred when the football a few friends were tossing around landed in the lake. Since it floated out too far it meant someone would have to go in to retrieve it. Having been on my high school’s varsity swim team, and a bit of a waterdog in general, it didn’t take much for me to volunteer to do the job. In retrospect, I’ve always considered that Mistake #1 (i.e. that it wasn’t my damn ball, why the hell did I get wet for it?). At that point in the day a pretty thick cloud cover had rolled in and the weather had cooled off quite a bit. Indeed, it had become downright gloomy. So the fact that I still decided to go for a swim despite that it was no longer decent beach swimming weather I’ve always considered retrospective Mistake #2. Hand in hand with that was Mistake #3: that I didn’t have any swim trunks with me because swimming was never included in our BBQ party plans. Rather, the closest thing I had to a swimsuit was the khaki shorts I was wearing before I changed for dinner, so I changed back into them. One of my all-time best friends Andy decided to take the dip with me, and he just so happened to have his swimsuit in the trunk of his car. That being said, history clearly shows that at that point I could have easily bowed out and just dispatched Andy to fetch the ball by himself, but by then I was all caught up in the moment (i.e. Mistake #4). Besides having just been released from my punishment, on top of that a few of our female friends had recently arrived and I suppose part of me wanted to show off my new beach bod a bit (side note: a personally disappointing junior swim season, a recent heartbreaking split with a girl, and recovery from a month and change old June 1996 lung collapse surgery had all highly motivated me to hit the gym harder that summer). Regardless, not my football + bad swimming weather + no swimsuit + caught up in the moment should probably not have equaled going for a swim that night. But I did, and my future was dramatically changed in an instant.

As for the fateful dive itself, we approached the water like any other excited kids going for a swim in the lake: ran out until the water got so high up on our thighs that we couldn’t run anymore and then dove head first into the water. Happens every day, no big deal. But when I dove into the water that day two factors immediately worked against me: 1) where I dove, 20 or so feet from the shore, it was much more shallow than I anticipated/it should have been (not so fun fact: they dredged the beach shortly after my accident became publicized); and 2) my swim team instincts took over in the moment and I essentially did a tightly tucked chin, racing style, shallow dive (i.e. Mistake #6). Combine those two factors and disaster ensued. Since that kind of dive generally generates a lot of force, the impact of my head hitting the bottom of the lake instantly broke my neck, shattering a few of my neck vertebrae in a few places. Most of the damage occurred at the sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae (side note: essentially, if you tuck your chin to your chest the sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae are the most prominent bones that stick out on the backside of your neck.) In the very same instant, one of the larger broken pieces got pushed hard into my spinal cord and paralyzed me immediately.

As for me as a whole, the direct result of the diving accident left me face down in the water. All these years later I can still vividly remember the greenish hue of the water, the scratch of the microscopic sand granules as they worked their way behind my contacts, and how the sand felt strangely numb on my hands and fingers. At that point I still had enough neck and shoulder strength to keep my face above water so the fear of drowning never even crossed my mind. My immediate instinctual attempt was to get back up but, as mentioned, all I could move were my head, shoulders, and arms a little bit, so simply getting up did not happen as intended. Even then it hadn’t registered that something was seriously amiss. It wasn’t until Andy, immediately sensing something was wrong, was right there beside me and called for help. Now much more aware that something was definitely wrong I still remained calm knowing that the rescue was under way.

What did get scary, however, was when part way back to the beach one of our friends, who had no idea something was wrong with me, thought we were horsing around and started dunking me in and out of the water. Had I not been in good shape and trained in the water so well that might have gone worse than it did. Anyway, he was quickly corrected and the rescue continued unimpeded. (Side note: I think he always felt really bad about that and thought he was a primary reason for landing me in a wheelchair, but that’s nowhere near true. Moreover, I’ve never had any ill thoughts towards him or blamed him for his actions; it was simply a mistake. You could possibly argue that the extra jarring to my neck affected some of my functional returns, but I’ve always been of the mindset that the major extent of the SCI damage was done upon impact with the lake bottom.)

Once we got me onto the beach and it was obvious that I wasn’t getting up the paramedics were called. My buddy Josh (one of my best friends and at the time “business” partners) tried to keep the mood light by giving me sip of Dew and a drag off his cigar. After a few minutes a few middle aged gals observing things from down the beach arrived on the scene. One was ex-military in some form or something and she immediately began telling some story about how one of her friends had a bad diving accident a few years prior and that he was still just starting to recover. Thanks for the crappy timing, Ms. Captain Buzzkill. I mean who sees a scared kid lying flat on his back on the beach mere moments after an accident and immediatly begins to rant about how messed up he’s about to be? Really? Between me and my friends we essentially told her to take a flying “F” and she went off in a “he just doesn’t grasp the seriousness of the situation” huff.

Rather, it was quite to the contrary. People may not believe this about me, but I began dealing with my physical plight while I was still lying on my back on that beach. Between both my real world awareness and my Boy Scout lifeguard and safety training I was familiar enough about issues of paralysis to see the real early warning signs. Moreover, Christopher Reeves had just had his highly publicized accident just a year before, so that thought had already crept into the back of my mind as well. My fears were further solidified when after the paramedics arrived I could not wiggle my toes on command. Also, at one point soon thereafter I asked one of my friends about the positioning of my feet: were they lying flat on the beach next to each other? Rather, the answer was that one ankle had been crossed over the other which was contrary to the “feeling” I had about their positioning that whole time. For whatever strange reason, it was at that point that I knew for myself that I would be up against a serious, potentially long term battle with paralysis. And I started dealing with it right then and there: before the cervical collar was put on, before the flat board was brought out, before the ambulance trip was underway, and before any medical diagnosis.

Arriving at the hospital was like entering an area of controlled chaos: multiple medical personnel occupying a small space; IV’s and catheters going in; clothes getting cut off (specifically including my favorite khaki shorts and boxers); getting asked a series of routine, yet menial questions like: What’s the Year? (1996), Who’s the President? (Clinton), Do I have contacts? (yes), Had I been drinking? (no), Was I allergic to anything? (no), etc.; getting set up for X-ray and MRI and other medical exams; being presented with the medical diagnoses; getting put into traction to keep my neck and spine straight; etc.

Of course my most vivid memory of that night was when my parents arrived at the ER. The second I saw them my dad's parting words “use your head” came flooding to my forefront, and in that instant I was immediately heartbroken for thinking that I let them down by not listening (i.e. that ending up in an ER was not using my head). All I could mutter was a quick "I'm sorry" before I burst into tears. That would remain the only time that I cried about my ordeal during my whole rehab period, and a significant amount of time thereafter. And it wasn't even a result of my own pity party, but rather for feeling so guilty about what I was putting my family through.

Still, most of what happened in the ER, etc. went by in a blur. I don’t recall the order of things or how long I was there before they moved me to my room in Intensive Care. I just know that by the time I finally fell asleep, presumably past midnight, it had been one LONG ASS day. The wait through the weekend before my neck fusion surgery would be longer, going in and out of sleep, mostly staring at a dark ceiling, and not knowing if it was am or pm. The two week recovery in ICU after vertebrae neck fusion surgery would be real long too.

Subsequently, I would go on to be hospitalized for the next four and a half months: 2.5 in Eau Claire and 2 at world-renowned SCI rehab facility
Craig Hospital in Denver, CO. I was diagnosed as a C-7 incomplete quadriplegic having sustained a catastrophically traumatic spinal cord injury (“SCI”) (more on the details of that in a later post) and would be wheelchair bound for the next 13 years, to this very day.

This post got longer than intended but it’s pretty much the first account about the day of my accident I’ve put out there from my perspective. At the least it might fill in a few gaps for my family and friends. At most, a larger audience might find it interesting. Either way, just writing this kind of stuff down is always personally cathartic. In fact, FYI this is essentially an excerpt from the book I'm writing based on my life’s post-accident experiences (it’s been a work in progress for years). So I'm going to split up my July 12 breakdown into two posts. Check out Part II for some of my thoughts on dealing with thirteen years and counting of “July 12.”

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kicking Things Off

So consider this my unofficial kickoff into the blogosphere. Admittedly, something I never thought I would do, but here we go nonetheless.

About me: My name is Shawn Dean. I am originally from Eau Claire, WI but I currently reside in Minneapolis, MN. By trade I am an attorney. I am technically a solo practitioner, but I am also actively job hunting for much more secure legal employment. I am mostly focused on a career practicing disability law. The main motivating reason for that is that I have a disability myself. Almost thirteen years ago I sustained a spinal cord injury in a diving accident that left me partially paralyzed from the chest down and requires me to use a wheelchair. Medically speaking, I am considered a C-6/7 incomplete quadriplegic (more details on that in forthcoming posts). After seeing and experiencing the things I have as an individual with a disability, my professional interests naturally levitated towards wanting to find work in that area of law. So in that regard, I am a bit of an atypical lawyer with a unique view on disability law related work (and of course, life in general). I am also a disability related consultant and advocate.

The rest in a nutshell: I'm a super sports fan (rooting for the UW Badgers, Green Bay Packers, Colorado Avalanche, and follow the rest of the sports world pretty closely), movie buff, aspiring autobiographer (based on my life’s events after the aforementioned paralyzing diving accident), Eagle Scout, and proud uncle. Lastly, I am single. Incredibly and indelibly single in fact. But I remain steadfastly hopeful that my looks, charm, optimism, and hairline don’t fade away before I partner up with my dream girl.

About this blog: I decided to start
One Man’s Access in July 2009 because based on some of that that described above I think that I might be able to share a unique, personal perspective: that is to say chronicling the adventures (and misadventures) of a single, job searching, new attorney with a pretty significant disability. It smells like a niche thing to me. In light of that, calling the blog One Man’s Access was originally devised as a cute play on of the word accessible. But I quickly realized there was more to that notion of access: one man’s access to an accessible, or putting it much more accurately, an inaccessible world; access to the legal world and ultimately a rewarding, burgeoning career as an attorney; access to romance; access to (fill in the blank); etc. Through my insight I hope that somewhere along the way people discover that, like many folks with disabilities, I am just a regular guy who does not let my particular disability define who I am. Moreover, by implication, maybe along the way a few folks will learn more about spinal cord injuries and even pick up a few good tips about interacting with people with disabilities. But only by implication, as I hope to never–well, hardly ever let’s say–turn this into a personal holier than thou or sympathy solicitation forum.

So we’ll see what happens from here. At the least, I promise to get better at this as I go. Thanks for taking the time to drop by.