Ok, enough about me ;) The following is a blog entry that my dear friend and big mountain skiier, Izzy Lynch, wrote on her website (https://www.izzylynch.com/) about her and her boyfriends incredibly inspiring story. Grab the tissue box for your happy tears...
If seven months ago someone told me by next ski season I would be leaving the place I had set down roots and called home for the past two years, driving to Vancouver eleven times in six months or walking away from a job that I loved I would have probably wondered why. If they said I would be helping the boy that I had just climbed across the Columbia River with -on underside of a train bridge – get in and out of bed, open his drinks and buckle up his seatbelt I would have been really confused. If I was told I would experience some of the most real and life changing moments along the way, I would have never have guessed they would go like this…
April 11th 2010 is the day that marks the beginning of this journey I never imagined for myself. It was the last day of the ski season in Revelstoke. Spring was here, snow was slushy and familiar faces gathered on the mid mountain patio in the late afternoon to drink beer and reminisce about the season past. I sat surrounded by my friends, ski boots undone, celebrating the sunshine. I distinctly remember the 6 foot 3 bear hug I got from one sparkly-eyed person in particular that afternoon…. Jeff showed up—as usual with a huge smile on his face dressed in his favorite three-piece denim suit and a giant belt buckle.
As far as I can remember the first half of April 11th was one of the best I days I had all season. The skiing was nothing to brag about but there was a buzz in the air and friends were a plenty. Late afternoon, the lifts were about to close and a crew of us went back up for a last few runs. The group was fast and we flew down the frontside groomers to make it in time for just one more. I raced myself down, slid into the corral at the chair and spun around expecting to see smiling faces right on my tails.
My last lucid memory of that day was a panicked scream from another friend to get the ski patrol because Jeff was hurt. No more than a hundred feet from the bottom of the run, he had gone huge off one of the rollers we had all hit countless times before. A split second decision to take the familiar air just a little bit bigger that resulted in a caught edge and the most gut wrenching words I imagine I will ever hear from a friend.
“I can’t feel my feet.”
I remember waiting in the hospital with a collective of concerned friends for hours and hours to get an update on Jeff. I had convinced myself that it was just a bad concussion and that sooner than everyone thought we’d be by his bedside giving him props and reliving the wild afternoon we had just had. Suddenly rumors of air lift to Vancouver, and spinal surgery whispered through the crowd. “Only six hours before his chances decrease significantly” we were told. Chances? Chances of what? I refused to let my mind wander to places that it wanted to go and instead went home, packed my bags, set my alarm and went to sleep.
The next morning I was in a car with two other friends driving to Vancouver. We arrived and reality slapped us in the face. One dislocated, two broken vertebrae, a damaged spinal chord.
It had been three days since I watched Jeff get hauled off of the side of the run and I was overcome with concern and had a million things to tell him. I wanted him to know we were all there and how commanding the love and support that had generated over the past few days was. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest when I was finally able to walk through those heavy ICU doors.. My first sight of Jeff was scary. He lay, tubes in and out of everywhere, swollen hands, and surrounded by burn victims and trauma. Flustered, I stood beside him and blabbed and squeezed his hand unconsciously, blinking back tears and trying as hard as I could to project all the positive energy I could muster. Regardless of his apparent discomfort and my inability to make any sense, he blinked and nodded and smiled behind the tubes in his face in response to whatever I said. I left exhausted from the intensity of those few moments…knowing I had just witnessed the fragility of our charmed lives… and suddenly things were going to be very different.
The big picture. Post surgery Jeff wasn’t moving, or breathing or swallowing on his own.
Looking closely. He was on a ventilator. He had pneumonia. He needed to cough, but couldn’t, so nurses were pounding on his chest in intervals to relieve his lungs of fluid. He couldn’t talk, but through blinks and nods and with the help of an alphabet board held in front of his eyes, he communicated his needs.
Now back up. News traveled fast and at a moments notice the waiting room at Vancouver General turned into a reunion of friends, friends of friends and family. People sat, and talked, caught up and reminisced, passing around books and rocks and pictures and stories. The hope and love and compassion in this room was powerful.
Back in Revelstoke people came together in incredible ways. Golf tournaments and fundraisers were being organized, resources pooled, care packages put together, t shirts sold. I started a new job forest fire fighting on an initial attack crew in Revy on May 3rd, a position I had been anticipating all winter. I applied mostly because I was inspired by stories of hard work, great experience and friendships from my friends who fought fire. Jeff had helped me prepare for my interview and gave me an idea of what to expect on the job. At first workdays were hard because I could not shake the thought of him motionless in the hospital while I was outside moving and talking and eating and working. I spent long hours on the fireline with nothing to do but replay the events of the past few weeks feeling very helpless and far far away.
Then, I met Jeff’s crew, and snapped back into myself. The crew, a twenty-person mash up of some of the most genuine life loving and selfless people I have ever met, had just been transferred to Revelstoke and timing could not have been more perfect. Before I knew it we were cramming every possible activity that we could into each day we weren’t on fires, climbing, bbqs,volleyball games, soccer, longboarding, cliff jumping, gardening, and dance offs. Jeff was missed and talked about regularly and it seemed like living for each moment and celebrating the sunny days was the most productive thing we could do while our friend was so far away.
Meanwhile in the hospital, Jeff was having a hard time swallowing. By a hard time I mean he couldn’t so every drop of water and saliva that entered his mouth had to be suctioned out by a device at his bedside. He was fed through a tube in his nose, and alternating suction and a wet swab in his mouth were simple things that kept him sane.
Jeffs family was together, every single day. Someone was constantly by his side when he needed water or suction. Day in and out they never dwelled on the struggles but instead lived for the little things like chewing bubble gum, listening to music, reading cards, looking at photos, telling stories and togetherness. Fire season was off to a slow start so on the weekends that I could make it back I went to hang out with Jeff and his family. Together with whoever else was visiting we did all that we could to celebrate simple pleasures and momentary relief. In the spinal ward I witnessed visitors who would enter Jeff’s room, devastated by the news of the accident but leave every single time with a smile on their face. I don’t know how he did it, but his ability to live in the moment and appreciate every person who dropped in was comforting to friends when they needed it most.
Jeff’s sister Linds was amazing and spent nine long weeks by Jeff’s side and relaying the events of every day to the rest of the world on facebook. Week after week, hope for news of any progress kept masses of people checking in religiously. On week nine I’m sure the six hundred members of the Feelin’ the love support group breathed a collective sigh of relief when we read Jeff had swallowed for the first time.
Conquering the swallow test marked a huge shift in Jeff’s recovery. He transferred out of the hospital and into GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre. Suddenly he was responsible for using the resources at GF to get back to life. He charged forward in every way he could and in a story Jeff just wrote he chalked up his experience at GF as “mind crippling, toothbending, muscle numbing, heartwrenching, hard work”. That and more. It is incredible thinking back to the first few weeks he was there, fifty pounds lighter and a bag of bones. A few times we sat blissfully celebrating our ability to swallow by eating ice cream outside in the sun. He would strap a spoon to his hand and every spoonful he would get into his mouth was another monumental victory. It only took a few bites before his muscles would fatigue and he would need help. He did all that he could to feed himself, but when he couldn’t he would smile and shrug his shoulders, open his mouth wide and wait for another bite….
There were times when I wondered if the frustration of relearning such basic things would get to Jeff, but he picked his battles wisely and never dwelled on silly things that were out of his control. When you live in an institution like GF a lot
of things are out of your control. This steadfast ability to focus on the present, hold on to his witty sense of humour, determined, calm and contemplative approach to life is what has blown my mind the most. Taking it one day at a time, he has overcome mountains of physical and mental challenges and wrung the life out of every moment that he could along the way. In almost seven months he has starting from scratch, regained the ability to brush his teeth, get dressed, feed himself , make pancakes, transfer himself in and out of his wheelchair, sign his name, hold a cup, he’s bought a van, camped out, partied onstage with Pennywise, roadtripped to Revy, inspired most of the town to cut mullets, taken over the streets with eight best friends in wheelchairs, bought a new house, won the hearts of nurses, doctors, physiotherapists and social workers in GF (and me!) and made some incredible new friends along the way….
To say this summer has been easy would be a lie. To call it a relentless string of invaluable moments marked by discoveries about life, the people in it, myself and what’s really important would not be far off. As challenging as it has been, this journey has fed my soul in ways I could have never imagined.
Change, is said to be the only constant in life. Seven months ago I was content as can be, skiing my life away, in a place that I loved, coaching an amazing group of kids with many opportunities on the horizon… I’m not sure exactly when the decision was made or precisely how it happened but in one week I will be living in a new place in Whistler with three amazing people I wouldn’t trade for anything. Winter is approaching as quickly as the last one ended and I am more grateful than ever for the privilege of being able to pursue my goals with the freedom of skis on my feet. I’ve always considered myself fortunate, but after watching someone I love endure nine long weeks without swallowing even a drop of water, lose function of everything below his chest, live in a hospital for months on end and still smile at me at the end of the day I realize how blessed I truly am. It comes down to being near the ones I love, friends and family, in order to feel truly complete. For now, Jeff is facing life as a quadriplegic. I cant help but be baffled by his strength and wonder how I would survive a day in his shoes the way he does… but as every blink of our eyes brings something new, I’m positive each day will build into progression and victories that we’ll all look back on and say.. “if seven months ago you told me……………….”
"Live for today" https://www.izzylynch.com/