Sunday, July 25, 2010

Congrats to Craig Hospital

I wanted to take the opportunity to throw out a quick congratulations to Craig Hospital who recently was picked as one of the best hospitals in the country by U.S. News, coming in at #7 in the rehabilitation category. As I’ve mentioned here and there in past posts, I did an eight week rehab stint out at Craig in Denver, Colorado from around September 25 to November 24 (I flew home the day before Thanksgiving) 1996.

Immediately after my six hour neck fusion surgery (three hours on both the front and back sides of my neck sandwiching a few vertebrae from a cadaver between two plates), my neurosurgeon told my parents that they were going to want to send me to Denver, Chicago, or Minneapolis right away. In other words, to facilities that had much more expertise with spinal cord injury rehab than the Eau Claire hospital I was at (Sacred Heart).

When my parents brought up that notion they essentially got a real quick “Hell no!” back from me. It was inside a week since my diving accident so it was obviously still a tense emotional time. But even if in retrospect I might have been better off in terms of more quickly advancing my recovery and achieving my post-SCI rehab potential, the last thing I wanted was to be away from my family for a few months. To a lesser extent the same line of reasoning went for my then girlfriend as well. Having them all nearby in the early stages was invaluable to my initial recovery and emotional health.

But once late August/early September rolled around it was becoming increasingly apparent that I was reaching my hospital rehab program’s SCI specific limits and made the difficult, life changing decision to transfer to Chicago or Denver. So in the subsequent weeks my parents went on scouting missions on my behalf. The Rehab Institute of Chicago (which to my slight surprise was #1 on the aforementioned list) came highly recommended and my parents went there first. On the plus side it was within driving distance, but on the downside it was apparently in an “interesting” part of downtown Chicago that made my parents nervous. For example, a security guard escorted my parents from the facility to the nearby parking lot, which from what they were told was common protocol just to be on the safe side from sketchy neighborhood behavior (i.e. muggers). So my parents were left with an uneasy feeling about me being there.

A weekend trip to Denver came next. The tour of Craig Hospital went quite swimmingly. My parents liked the facility, location, and would have access to an apartment building right on the property which was designed for visiting families to stay near their loved ones/patients. So we had a winner. They even took a day trip to Golden, CO to tour the Coors Light brewery and to Boulder to score me a University of Colorado Buffaloes t-shirt, which you could find me wearing in physical therapy every week thereafter.

A bunch of details had to be hammered out first, but we flew out on September 25th with my favorite rehab nurse Kim in tow in case something medical happened to me midflight (e.g. my catheter balloon burst inside my bladder due to the increased air pressure). Within an hour after arriving at Craig I had met my physical therapist Mitch, who was a burly ex-Navy SEAL of twenty-six years, so it was pretty badass. He gave me a quick look up and down and just said, “Eight weeks, huh?” because a typical Craig SCI patient was there for a minimum of twelve weeks. Then he said, “Ok. Let’s get you a chair, I’ll be right back” And just like that I was in a sporty Quickie manual wheelchair, as compared to the much less functional E&J chair I was using at Sacred Heart. So that immediately set the stage for the next era of my SCI rehab, and away we went thereafter.

I can go on about my time at Craig for pages and pages, so at this point I’ll just refer people to the relevant portions of my book whenever it comes out (I’m getting back to work on it soon). But I will say in short that although it was very difficult being so far away from my family and friends for two months, deciding to go to Craig was the best thing I could have ever done at that stage of my life. It is undeniable that my overall rehab program got boosted to new levels as soon as I landed in Denver. Simply put, I owe much of the independence and physical well-being that I’ve gained over the years to that facility.

Plus as it turned out my family was as close as they could be anyway. My dad stayed for the first two weeks to act as a transitional buffer (his job allowed for it, my mom’s teaching job didn’t); and before I even transferred out to Denver my parents found a great airfare deal of $96 round trip from Minneapolis to Denver, mapped out who would fly out on which weekends, and bought between thirteen and eighteen round trip tickets for them, my sister, and my girlfriend. So out of that eight week rehab stint out in Denver there were only two weekends that my family didn’t visit. And by then I was adjusted enough with the whole situation that I felt comfortable being on my own around the facility for the weekend. By that point I was participating in a lot of local weekend field trips anyway.

Although I have no regrets about going to Craig, I do look at the RIC being #1 on this list and wonder how things might have been different had I gone there. Not to mention that it would would have been closer for my family to visit. Then again, if things went smoothly, by the time they drove from Eau Claire to Minneapolis, flew into Denver, and then got to Craig it practically covered the same six hour road trip from Eau Claire to Chicago. The interesting thing along that line of thinking though are the facilities here in Minneapolis, which is obviously much closer to Eau Claire than the rest. I lived transitionally at the Courage Center for three months before I got an accessible apartment and I still work out at their Fitness Center every Friday. So that could have worked out too I suppose.

But I could care less what the rankings technically are, because as far as I’m concerned Craig Hospital is in a class of its own. Great location, great world renowned rehab facility, great rehab staff, always on the cutting edge of SCI science and research, etc. Craig provided me with a great overall rehab experience. And along the way Craig also provided me with a handful of life long connections, including fellow graduates I’ve stayed in touch with, becoming a super fan of the Colorado Avalanche NHL hockey team, and Denver has since become an adopted city to boot. I just wish that I lived much closer so that I could visit more often. Like I said, I’ve got a lot more that I can say about all of that above, but you’ll just have to stay tuned.

My sincerest congrats to Craig Hospital, your high ranking is well deserved.

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