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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ruggerfest, a Car Accident and a Head Injury: How My Wife and I ended up in Los Angeles

While I was on Facebook the other day, I saw some pictures posted of a couple of Metropolis RFC Old Boys at Ruggerfest in Aspen, Colorado.  In looking at the pictures of Pedro and Super Joe, it got me to thinking about when I was out at Ruggerfest 4 years ago
At the Aspen Ruggerfest in 2010.
, and what a bittersweet weekend it was, and how the events of that weekend lead me to where I am writing this posting: Los Angeles, California.

While I was having a good time in Aspen, my wife, AKA, "Da Redhead" was going meet some of her friends with a Twins Cities group of Star War Aficionados at the Birthday party for a child with cancer who was hoping to see some Star Wars Characters. (My wife has costumes as an Imperial Officer and a Jedi)
Da Redhead in her Jedi Robe welding a light saber
My wife never made it.

While in route to the party, she was at a stop light on Highway 169 in Maple Grove, Minnesota. A driver in an SUV did not notice my wife stopped at the light in our minivan. His car hit my wife's car at about 55 miles an hour, it knocked loose all the seats in the back of the minivan, and my wife got tagged in the head. She was brought to the hospital via Ambulance, treated and released. Somehow during the assessment by paramedics and the ER doctors, they missed the symptoms of head injury. My wife had really no other visible marks. She told me about the accident by phone. She sounded very tired and somewhat vague about the accident.  The accident was on Saturday. I got home late Sunday and to be honest, we did not say much to each other before we went to bed, because we were both pretty exhausted.

On Monday morning, I got up-before my wife, which does not happen very often. When she got up and was starting to get ready for work and she was talking to me, I was dumbstruck: My wife was making absolutely no sense in what she was talking about. She was speaking random words, and was not able to really keep track of conversation. As a nurse who has worked in neurology and spinal cord units, I was very concerned about symptoms of head injury and concussion-and shocked that nobody really noticed this on Saturday. My only explanation is that in the time after the accident, she might have had some inflammation of the brain that was making the symptoms finally surface. Needless to say, I brought my wife over to the emergency room to get assessed again, where they gave her the diagnosis of a concussion from a closed head injury.

In the meantime, It became apparent that the affects from the head injury were going to keep my wife from working in her job as a funeral director. It's a job where you have to have an eye for detail and multi-task. My wife was in no condition to do her job. She was still officially on the books at work, but the funeral home she was working at needed to hire another director. 

With a head injury, there is no exact time table of when you are going to be healthy and functional.  Many times, you have to deal with "The New Normal". 

At the time, I was working as a nurse on a spinal cord unit at the VA in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I liked  my job and I liked my co-workers, but here I had a wife who was now unable to work and the brutal Minnesota winter was going to approach very soon…The thought of my brain-injured, unemployed wife being homebound in the long Minnesota winter was more than I could bear. I did a little research and found out that the VA health system has a travel nurse corps, to do temporary assignments at VA Medical centers throughout the USA and Puerto Rico. One day I discussed the topic with my wife and I said "Sweetheart, you can be unemployed in a warmer climate".  Since our kids were now adults, I thought that trying to do some travel assignments in some different areas of the country might be helpful in my wife's healing process. I thought checking out different parts of the USA while my wife's melon healed would be a way to make the best of a bad situation. 

I was hired in the VA Travel Nurse Corps, and my first assignment was in Dallas, Texas, where I worked on the Spinal Cord Unit at the North Texas VA Medical Center. 

We were set up in a great apartment in downtown Dallas, that was within walking distance to the light rail so I could get to work, the Uptown area of Dallas, and some great restaurants right in our neighborhood. No doubt that I worked hard in Dallas, but in my off time, we played hard.
At Toulouse, my favorite French Restaurant in Dallas with Da Redhead.
At this point, she was starting to get better-there were still some issues with focus and my wife had a harder time in multi-tasking, but while I was at work, she was able to keep track of the finances, deal with the bank and essentially be my secretary. 

With Kne-Bah Montano at her Kinaalda near Gallup, New Mexico
While in Dallas, I was able to save per diem money over the 9 months I worked there, that allowed us to make a great trip to Australia and New Zealand in September of 2011, where we ended up seeing 3 Rugby World Cup games in Wellington and Nelson.
Before Australia-USA at RWC 2011 in Wellington, New Zealand


When we got back to the USA, we packed our gear and our Bulldog Buddha and headed off to Wilmington, Delaware. It was tough work in the nursing home unit, and to be honest, Wilmington was kind of a dive-BUT, it was close to places that were cool like South Philly, New York City, and Washington DC.

During that winter of 2011-12, I really did not want to extend in Delaware, and the VA did not have anything interesting for me, so I took a job at the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock, New Mexico. It was an interesting time working on The Rez, and we were really enjoying the lifestyle in New Mexico. 

One of the constants of the moving around is that rugby helped us meet people in all of the different locations: The Dallas Harlequins, Wilmington RFC and the Albuquerque Aardvarks made us feel welcome at a variety of games and get togethers. Rugby helped me meet Wally Minoli and his place "The Gecko" in Albuqurque, and Chee and Timaris Montano and their family while in Farmington-I even had a chance to get a run in a game while I was in New Mexico with the San Juan Silverbacks.
In Farmington, New Mexico
While we were in New Mexico, my wife and I were really enjoying he lifestyle. We liked the high desert and we thought the people were really nice. It was becoming apparent that my wife's health was improving. I felt at that point she was at about 90%, and was getting enough focus back, where I thought we could look at her getting back in the job market. But a funny thing happened to our plans on staying in New Mexico, I got a message from Linkedin that would change our lives.

I think everybody has gotten those scam emails where you are offered something that sounds too good to be true. Well, one evening I had a message in Linkedin about a job at  Children's Hospital of Los Angeles offering me a job in their "Access Center"-kind of an air traffic control center for getting kids transferred to CHLA and then keeping track of patient movement within the hospital. I almost deleted the message-my right index finger was literally inches away from deleting the message when my wife said "NO! WAIT!…Why don't you apply for it? It can't hurt to try."

Long story short, I interviewed for the job and was offered the position. My wife had finally gotten a settlement from her car accident, and we decided that when I was done with my contract in New Mexico, we would do a one month trip to Europe that included a stay in Barcelona, a western Mediterranean cruise, travel through Southern France, then finishing the trip in England, where I had a chance to go to Twickenham and the city of Rugby-the birthplace of the sport I love.
With Da Redhead in London, May 2012

When we came back from Europe, we packed our gear, and put it, along with our road-warrior Bulldog Buddha and drove from Minneapolis to Los Angeles.
Buddha, the Road Warrior Bulldog was a huge comfort to my wife while she was healing up.

You have heard of the expression, "one good turn deserves another"? Well, we had only been in LA for a couple of days. We were apartment hunting up in North Hollywood, when I noticed a funeral home across the street. "Hey Honey, let's go check this funeral home out…maybe they are looking for help." To say my wife was aghast would be an understatement. She was clad in t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops-hardly professional attire for any funeral director. I persisted: "Come on, it will only take a couple of minutes-you gotta start taking a look at the lay of the land here in LA for your line of work!'.  When we entered the funeral home, a man came out and asked if he could help us,  I explained to him that we had just moved to Los Angeles from Minnesota, but that my wife is a funeral director and wondering if they might be needing a funeral director. To our amazement, he said that they were looking for a funeral director, as one had recently quit. My wife ended up applying for the job. They called her for the interview, and they offered her a job. After almost two years of being unemployed, my wife was back doing what she loves: Helping people in their time of need. 

Well, we have been here in Los Angeles for two years now. My wife is with the same funeral group. I am still at CHLA, but now in the neurology clinic. We both love the lifestyle here in Los Angeles, and rugby has allowed me to meet some fantastic people in the LA area between the Pasadena Rugby Club and the Springbok Bar and Grill.
Yeah, life in California does not suck...

It's all hard to believe that the genesis of all of this was a head injury to my wife. I guess you can say that in the end, we made lemonade out of lemons and were able to overcome a really tough break in our lives.

2 comments:

  1. Odd how tragedies can lead to reinvigorations and steps forward. A lot of those can be chalked up to your loved ones' will to live. That is the most inspiring thing in it all, because it shows that some things can still be straightened and that life battles are far from over. Thanks for sharing that! All the best!

    Sabrina Craig @ Medical Attorney NY

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  2. What an inspiring post! It seems that the accident is one key factor that keeps your relationship solid. It's nice to know that your wife has already attained a settlement from that car accident. Thanks for sharing that lovely narrative! All the best! :)

    Kim Hunter @ KHunter Law

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