Calamity House Move with COVID and a Fractured Sacrum

Everyone has a crazy moving house story to share, but can you top this?Changing a domicile, never easy in the best circumstances, becomes an even greater challenge when unforeseen complications arise.

Due to an accident, illness and life-coming-at-you, our long awaited relocation became extremely difficult.

The first snafu arose when our moving company insisted they had only one day available to move us in 2023. Even if the house wasn’t ready by mid October, who are we to argue? We rescheduled 8 previous moving dates. No wonder he wants us out of his storage space. We can’t complain. For two and a half years our mover even stored our car during holidays and shuttled us from the airport.

As the move-in date approached, our anxiety increased. To de-stress, a few days before moving day, I walked our usual trail next to our Airbnb. The path wound through the woods, then down a steep slope to the train track. Ba-da boom! Whoosh! My feet slipped out from under me; I landed smack on my tailbone, walking sticks flying.

Luckily, I had my phone, so I called Gerald for help. Poor guy! How many times has he rescued me?

After my first misadventure, he fished me out of a river! My former college teammate, who played ball with me in Germany, always introduced me as, “My friend, who jumped off the cliff with me in France.” (Referring to our career ending car accident cascading off a bridge over the La Meuse outside of Verdun.)

Now I can add skidding down a mountainside to my escapades.

After I picked loose gravel out of my shoulder and forearm, I limped down the mountainside whimpering. When the trailed leveled out by the track, I staggered alongside the little red, two-car train that shuttles commuters up and down the mountain.

In a flashback, I relived my first spinal injury, which my best friend and coach surmised was the onset of my back problems.

“I remember we were playing pick up ball. You stepped in front of a linebacker to take the charge,” Phil recounted, “and hit the court so hard, I heard the crack.”

“`I prayed stay down Pat, stay down,`” he said, “but you popped right back up like one of those inflatable clown, punching bags.”

Does my body have PSTD? Reverberations of the past injury shot through my spine.

At the trail head, Gerald helped me to the car insisting we rush to the emergency room. I refused. I have been in one too many hospitals one too many times.

“Let me call Nic,” I pleaded, crawling in the backseat and curling into the fetal position.

Back at our Airbnb, Gerald texted our son at his chiropractic office in Warwick, England. Nic called back and after I described my fall and the location of pain, he tried to reassure me, “ I can’t diagnose you over the phone. Hopefully it is just bruised. You can wait a day or so to see if the pain worsens; if it’s broken, the treatment is the same. It just takes longer to heal.”

I laid on an ice pack, then took a warm shower while Gerald rushed out to find a donut pillow for me to sit on like Nic suggested.

The next day, feeling worse for the wear, I finagled an urgent appointment with my doctor at a hospital nearby. This sport and rehabilitation specialist, aware of my history, was already treating me for chronic knee and back problems. She checked everything thoroughly and diagnosed, “Contusion et fissure du sacrum.”

As if my accident wasn’t enough was to deal with, Gerald was battling a cough, sore throat, headache and fatigue. We called our daughter for advice.

“I am pediatrician. I treat kids, not geriatrics,” she said and chuckled. “I’d recommend that you start by taking a home Covid test.”

Bingo. Positive. Gerald slept, coughed and moaned for the next three days. Though I tested negative, I plowed ahead with an ever increasingly sore throat, burning trachea, inflamed sinuses and tightness in my chest. Two days later, feeling worse, I retested for Covid. Positive. Again. (And the second time around was worse than the first!)

On moving day, I couldn’t get out of bed, so Gerald headed to the house solo to help the movers figure out where to put stuff.

Moral of this story: in crisis call adult kids for reassurance, regardless of their profession, hearing their voice will give you a lift. And never move a house under the influence of Covid especially with a busted butt!

Rise Again An Inspiration

rise again in the Jury mountainsThis is the second year anniversary of my death. Only I lived. How do you process a near death experience, when you realized you could have, should have, would have died? Without the miracle of emergency helicopter transport, highly skilled neurosurgeons and endless encouragement of therapists, family and friends, I wouldn’t be here.

I feel guilty. Why am I still here when so many other younger, brighter, better people have died so senselessly in accidents, illness, war, COVID and other catastrophes?

I must use my time to do something meaningful for others. Why else are we here on earth if not help our fellow mankind? On April 10, 2020, I had an accident from which I am still recovering; but I had already lived over 6 decades.

A former student’s battle back from brain injury was eerily similar, but so much worse. Gordon was only 13 years old when he hit his head in a tragic ski accident. He spent months in a coma in Grenoble, France and then many more recovering in a children’s rehabilitation hospital in Zurich, Switzerland. He eventually returned to school. Now he is turning his tragedy into inspiration for other kids.

I can relate to every scene of Gordon’s honestly raw documentary as I relived memories of my hours of therapy. I stumbled down the hallways of my rehab center gripping wall bars, I repeated numbers and letters on flash cards and molded lumps of clay to regain dexterity in my fingers. I learned to lift my foot, swing my arm, hold utensils.

hiking the Jury

I scowled at my occupational therapist when she tried to reteach me things I’d learned as a two-year-old like wash my face, brush my teeth, wipe my butt.

In the basement hallway of the hospital I paced, stopping in front of the door labeled “Morgue,” giving thanks for my great fortune. I could be dead. I pushed through exhaustion, humiliation and hopelessness to heal.

In the aftermath of a brain injury, I raced against time to maximize a phenomena known as neuroplasticity. One can retrain the brain using different neurons to compensate for those severed in the brain from trauma.

After hours of occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and neuropsychology, I collapsed in bed falling asleep only to be woken minutes later by another therapist to take me to my afternoon sessions. I wanted to scream, “Go away!”

Instead I set goals - get outside the hospital, outside my broken body, outside the prison in my mind.

rise again in the Jury mountainsTwo years later, I can walk for miles, talk for hours and swim again. I must appreciate how far I have come and accept that my rehabilitation journey is ongoing with therapy, treatment, and exercise until recovery becomes my way of life.

Gordon, an inspiring teenage boy, who came back from the brink summed it up when he recounts what he learned on his unexpected journey.

“There is always something to be grateful for no matter how unlikely. Beauty surrounds us, but we have to CHOSE to want to see it.”

“Never compare yourself to others. Each person has their own journey.”

“Life is full of challenges; it is not always meant to be easy. It is not what happens to us; it is how we chose to respond to it. Goals happen only when we are challenged and this is opportunity.”

Before he even took his first steps, Gordon set a new goal - walk over 2000 meters up the Schilthorn Mountain in Switzerland.

He did it.

Here is his story.

I am turning 65, still alive and skiing again

After my car accident at age 25 doctors feared I’d never walk again, after brain surgery nearly 40 years later, they thought I would be lucky to use my limbs properly.

After countless hours of medical treatments, therapy and hard work, I cross-country skied again. I fell in love with the sport, inspired by my Scandinavians ancestors, who invented cross-country skiing centuries ago to circulate across mountains in winter. It reminds me of my forefathers born on the fjords in Northern Norway where reindeer run wild and Laplanders reign, where nature and its preservation is a God given right and obligation.

I was never an adept skier. I am even worse now. From a distance I look more like a wobbly stork than a Scandinavian savant. I huff and puff around each bend. I remove my skis when I can non longer duck waddle up the steep incline. My fear of falling defeats the fun of gliding downhill. I also take my skiis off to walk down any incline. At sharp bends at the end of slopes, I collapse sideways halfway down the slope. Better to fall gently, but awkwardly on my own terms, then crashing out of control.

I spend a lot of time putting on and taking off skiis. But that is the beauty of cross country. Everyone can go at their own pace.

When I moved to Switzerland, the land of ski, no one believed me when I told them, I don’t know how to ski. I have reached an age where I am afraid to try downhill, not so much due to my numerical age, but to my spinal age from years of abusing my body on a basketball court, a bike accident, a car accident left me ever feisty, yet fragile.

I can still remember the first time I went skiing with a teammate on the golf course of Illinois State University. I’ll never forget the wrath of my coach when I came to practice with a twisted knee after tumbling down the slope on the 9th hole.

Skiing for a DI basketball players may be taboo in Illinois, but not in Switzerland. The basketball season takes a back seat to ski season. When my star Swedish center insisted on hitting the slopes a week before our European championship, I went ballistic.

“Don’t worry Coach, “ she assured, patting me on the back, “I never get hurt. I was born on skiis. To me it is as natural as breathing.”

That maybe true for some Scandinavians, but to those ancestors of immigrants, it is still a challenge.

Yet, when I glide around another hairpin turn, my shoulders pull on poles propelling me forward, mountains whiz past in my peripheral vision, and I feel euphoric. As I weave through the fresh powder in forests full of snow sprinkled evergreen, I hear the call of a coyote and inhale the crisp, clear mountain air.

And I feel lucky to be alive.

Never mind that an hour later, my muscles will lock up from the pain of fibromyalgia. Knots will form in shoulders. My neck, hips and low back will ache. Knifes will stab my knees every step I take. I will lie flat - a hot water bottle on my upper back and ice packs on my knees - and close my eyes. I see a sheer, jagged mountain peek pointing toward turquoise skies, icicles hanging from the rooftops of red shuttered wooden chalets in an incredibly beautiful tableau of whiteness. I am blessed to be here in the land of mountains and water where the skies meet the heavens in Switzerland.

Finding a New Path – Beginning Again

The past 6 months have been a blur of pain, disappointment, anxiety, uncertainty and ongoing rehabilitation. I have been off line, out of touch, and unable to write due to doctors orders. I had to refrain from using my upper body while retraining muscle memory.

I am lost. Unbalanced mentally and physically.

My sister will remind me I have been in an existential crisis since age 13, but this time I am really floundering. The parameters measuring my identity disappeared. Studies by Bruce Feiler in his book “Life is in the Transitions, Mastering Change at Any Age,” upended previous beliefs that defined age in stages as popularized by Gail Sheehy 1970s best seller “Passages.”

Transitions never existed in a linear, set pattern, but our chaotic lives are more like a kaleidoscope of constant change. We go through 20 or more transitions in a lifetime and major ones every 3 to 4 years.

For stability we all need to have at least one of three things.

  • Purpose
  • Connection
  • Community

I lack all three. My purpose used to be teaching, coaching, writing, raising a family. My basketball teams and family were my connections; the international school was my community. But my children outgrew me, as they should, I retired from teaching/coaching and my family remains 4,000 miles away.

This summer, though I was so grateful to see loved ones, I felt as displaced as ever, at odds with my body, emotions running rampant due to the lingering after effects of brain injury.

As with any long term recovery process, setbacks, disappointments and false starts prevailed.

The skills I once performed effortlessly disappeared. I relearned how to do things for myself - drive long distances, pack the car, buy groceries, fill the tank, mow the lawn.

Finding a New PathI have been working so hard to recover from traumatic brain injury after a bad fall that wreaked as much havoc with my spine as it did my brain. Once stateside, I spent 6 months, moving between families’ homes in Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin and underwent intensive therapy for my back and shoulders.

Back track 9 months. Last April, we sold our house outside Geneva Switzerland and bought a place in St. Cergue in the Jura Mountains. The only problem - the new virtual house was not built yet. No worries, realtors assured us only a few months delay. Further snafus in building means we will remain without fixed domicile for another year.

Finding a New PathMid January we returned to Switzerland and landed back in time in our “Heidi hut.” a rented, rustic chalet, chiseled out of the mountainside and heated only by wood burning stove.

I feel completely uprooted, a stranger in my body, living in a foreign place, surrounded by people I don’t know.

Without a permanent address it is hard to feel grounded.

During my lowest point, at age 26 after my career ending car accident abroad, I thought I had nothing left to give, but I never gave up believing and went on to teach and coach and raise a family. In retrospect, I can see that I still had a lot left to offer and learn from others.

But now what?

This time around, in a later stage of my life without a real home, our rootlessness existence makes it so much harder to reinvent myself, accept my limited options and admit my loss of autonomy.

Yet, every morning when I throw open the shutters, the sun sparkles over the snow-covered mountain top daring me to step out the door on the next adventure.Finding a New Path

So here we go…

“One day at a time…remember all that lies behind you,
Believe in all that lies ahead”

Second Chance – One Year Anniversary Changes My Perspective

On the 1st year anniversary of my second life, I wonder where am I now? I still feel lost. A year ago, I remember standing in our living room, turning to my husband to ask a question, and then face planting on our tile floor.

Days later, I woke up in a hospital thrashing against my bed rail and shrieking “Let me out! What am I doing here?”

Second ChanceMy head hurt, my face hurt, my right side hurt. One side of my head was shaved. I reached up and traced the scar dissecting my skull from my forehead to my earlobe.

On the telephone, my husband tried to explain why my head was sliced open in a 5 hour surgery and why no one, not even him, was allowed to visit me due to the COVID pandemic.

And so began a long year filled with fear, self-doubt and hopelessness.

Recovery required a team effort - a neurologist, physical therapist, speech therapist, neuropsychiatrist, rheumatologist, chiropractor and psychiatrist.

But my front line family care team kept me going day to day.

At the same time 4,000 miles away, my 89-year-old dad fought a daily battle to keep moving.

Recently, he was released from the hospital after a series of health crises that created the perfect storm. Wearing a special therapeutic boot for an infected toe, he walked off balance, leading to sciatica. Unable to sleep due to excruciating pain, the combination of pain meds and lack of sleep led to hallucinations.

I relived my accident in hearing about his. Ever the coach, in his delusions, he called out, “Keep hustling team!” And shot a wadded up pillow at a wastebasket. Ever the athlete, in mine, I blamed the nurses for hiding my basketball shoes and stealing my uniform making late for the big game.

Second ChanceWith my daughter, nieces, siblings and dear mom, helping him regain mobility and self care, my determined dad learned how to push out of his chair and walk unassisted again. Just like I once I relearned how to tie my shoes, grasp utensils, and button my shirt.

When I got out of hospital, I couldn't walk 60 yards without sitting down, now I walk 6 miles a day.Second Chance

At first, I was so frustrated. I couldn’t grip my guitar and play chords with my left hand. My left arm hung limp like dead weight. Then Gerald told me about Melody Gardot, an American jazz singer, who was hit by a car while riding her bike at age 19.

She suffered severe brain injury, broke her back and pelvis and could no longer sit to play the piano, so she taught herself to play guitar lying in her hospital bed. Like me, hypersensitive to light, Gardot, still wears dark glasses too.

Without a voice, no longer able to sing, she hummed. Unable to remember words, she wrote them down. Eventually she composed and performed again.

After my accident, intubation during surgery and hours with a speech therapist, my voice was a whisper. On long distance phone calls, I asked my daughter to sing with me like she did when she was a child.

Inspired by Gardot’s story I picked up my old guitar, practiced in 5, 10, 15 minutes increments and hummed too. I dreamed of being able to strum and sing around a campfire with family this summer at Summit Lake.

Thinking about my dad and remembering my own accident, I am reminded of our vulnerability. No one knows how much time we have left. Or how long we will retain our capabilities.

The human condition is humbling.

Life offers no guarantees. Will I ever recover completely? Maybe not.

I may never drive again or ride a bike, but I can still play a song, type a blog, read a book, walk a mile and cherish a new day.

Don’t Give Up

ISUOne moment I was living my dream as a professional basketball player in Europe, driving past my opponent with perfect body control releasing the ball so gently it kissed the backboard. The next instance, I was spinning weightlessly through air when our car flipped off a 100 foot embankment into France’s La Meuse River leaving me clawing against an icy current.

The impact of the crash, broke me in half - cracked my sternum, compressed vertebrae in my rib cage, concussed my brain, blocked my intestines and ended my career instantly.

I was only 26 years old. I thought life was over.

In the long days of therapy I slowly regained use of my limbs while living 4,000 miles away from home. I wanted to give up. I had no purpose.

In pain and despair, I hung on, an hour, a minute, a second at a time.Lechaults on the Wolf river

I never ran or played basketball again, but I persisted and went onto to lead a fulfilling life.

I married the Frenchman, who stood by me as I struggled to carve a new identity in a foreign land. Together we raised 2 bilingual, bi-cultural kids, who grew strong, trained hard and entered helping professions, one as a pediatrician, the other as a chiropractor.

Swiss AlpsEilan Doran Castle. ScotlandI lived near the Eiffel Tower in Paris and at the foothills of the Alps on Lake Geneva. I stood on Mt. Blanc and the Acropolis in Athens. I rode horses on the beach in the Camargue and floated down the canals of Venice. I walked in the shadows of my forefathers at Scotland’s McKinzie Castle and along the Norwegian fjords of my Olson ancestors above the Arctic Circle.

When I could no longer play basketball, I thought I would never adjust to sitting the bench, but found my calling as a coach. In three decades of coaching and teaching I had the privilege of working with sons and daughters of diplomats and world leaders from around the globe from whom I learned as much as I taught.

NCAAI wrote a book that led to an invitation to speak at the U.S. Senior National Games, an NCAA Final Four basketball banquet and commencement at the prestigious International School of Geneva, founder of international baccalaureate.

During my lowest point, I thought I had nothing left to give, but I never gave up. In retrospect, I see that I had a lot left to offer and even more to learn.

Nearly 4 decades later, after another life threatening accident last spring, I struggled again to tie my shoes, walk the fields, write a paragraph, repeating lessons learned years ago. I wonder why am I here? I grapple with finding a purpose to continue.

At age 63, I am too young to put out to pasture.

Each day I lift dumbbells, walk the block, play memory games coaxing my body and mind to grow stronger in preparation for the next calling.

Coaching in SwitzerlandIn the meantime, I keep fighting to go on, pulling up someone else, pushing another forward. After all my struggles, this much I know to be true. We are in the game together.

No one gets this far on their journey without the love of family and friends, the kindness of acquaintances and the helping hand of a fellow man.

In this endless season of sadness, during one of world’s deadliest pandemics, we want to throw in the towel and call it quits. Our bones ache from the cold, grey winter, our spirits break from living in isolation and mourning lost loved ones, our minds spin with anxiety facing future uncertainties. We are each struggling with something.

Let my crazy odyssey serve as an example of hope. Take it from the kid who thought her life ended in an accident at age 26 and is still standing today. Don’t give up yet.

Better things lie ahead.

Hope. Have faith. Hang on.

Put one foot forward.

The sun will rise again.

Sunrise on Summit Lake, Wisonsin