What happened: Part One

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Extreme Bed RestTL;DR: Send me mail, or e-mail me your address so I can send you mail. After I finish my fundraising duties, I’ll be stuck in bed all day with not a lot else to do:

Nick Farr
Main 3474
Grand Rapids MI 49501-3474
USA

Trigger warnings: Images and descriptions of accidental self-harm, pictures of small rivers of human blood, experiences with Obamacare in New Jersey, depictions of prescription narcotic use, allusions to conservatives in a conservative town watching Fox News, completely non-sexual corset-like back braces, discussion of Burning Man, mandatory non-consensual bed rest.

Reason for visit: patient fell off shipping container about 10 feet. 
patient remembers falling, does not remember hitting the ground
patient woke up in ambulance 

Chief complaint: BRADYCARDIA, CLOSED HEAD INJURY, THORACOLUMBAR FRACTURE,
METACARPAL FRACTURE

This is the first blog post I’ve typed entirely with one hand. I’ll let that be the excuse to come back to, as if the rest of my injuries weren’t enough for you.

What happened? After about two weeks, I figure I better answer this question in greater detail. I still haven’t come up with a snappy answer to the question that always follows a glance at my arm and back braces.

Hearing a guy wearing a necktie and khakis say “I fell off the back of a shipping container” just prompts quizzical looks from doctors, physical therapists and TSA employees. Trying to explain that this was not a workplace injury creates more confusion, while adding that this was related to a Burning Man project usually gets people to stop asking questions altogether.

Many of you know I was working on a fundraiser for my Burning Man project. In addition to trying to get 70,000 people to send a postcard, I also bought a shipping container to serve as one of the three Post Offices at Burning Man.

The details aren’t important, but the container needed a lot of work. When I realized how much work it needed, I flew out to NYC and started spending a lot of late nights trying to get the thing into a serviceable condition, to make it so we could ship it out to Nevada and survive. (As far as I know now, it and all the contents within made it there OK.)

The forecast for Wednesday, August 6 called for thunderstorms. There were still quite a few fresh cuts in the container that I wanted to cover to protect the steel and let us to continue working on other tasks inside. Along with some paint and other supplies, I picked up two 16′x20′ tarps. I strapped one end of the first one down to one side of the container, climbed up on top of the container to stretch it out, then weighted it down. I bolted the second tarp to the first one, then began unfolding the second tarp by walking it back…

blood stain container

So, this is how far safety third got me.

What I thought was two 16×20 foot tarps turned out to be two 20×24 foot tarps. Granted, had I been paying closer attention, I might not have walked backwards off the container. That blood splat you see there is where the back of my head landed.

The last thing I remember was looking up at the sky, recalling how clear it was on a day that called for thunderstorms. Perhaps fittingly, they never came. The next thing I realize, I’m in an Ambulance being asked the standard questions I recall from more than my fair share of ambulance rides…

“What’s your full name?  What’s your date of birth?”

…and one I had not heard before.

“Wiggle your toes! WIGGLE YOUR TOES!”

Fortunately, I was not working alone. Mike heard the impact and summoned the ambulance that was now ferrying me to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey. I remember hearing him in the ambulance, he apparently said he was my brother and therefore got to ride along.

I remember being wheeled off the ambulance and whisked around while lying on a stiff backboard. I remember the 7 staples that went into the back of my head, wondering why they didn’t hurt a lot more going in. I remember having a CT of my abdomen and head done. I remember wanting to turn off the really bad TV that was in the room they stuck me in.

Around this time, I asked Mike for my phone. A few days prior, I had installed Facebook Messenger, which pops up little faces of the people you’re chatting with. A picture of my friend Doc, who I had been chatting with on an unrelated matter, appeared on my phone. Instead of tapping his face, I apparently tapped something which took me to update my Facebook status.  What I meant as a private message to him ended up getting publicly posted:

Hey doc plz call Wendy tell her I'm in st Joseph Paterson hospital. 
Feel off roof broke 7th vertebrae surgery tomorrow maybe 
on lots of pain meds plz keep quiet

I shouldn’t have been shocked at the 138 comments that followed.

The trauma staff said at the time that surgery was likely, but ended up getting overruled by the surgery staff the morning after I was admitted to the hospital. Two weeks after the accident, all the MDs, DOs and physical therapists I’ve seen have told me I’m pretty lucky to have survived a fall like that with the relatively minor injuries I sustained.

The next thing I remember is getting parked in the room I’d be in for the next 4 nights. I somehow ended up in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, as the Trauma ICU was full. I woke up sometime that night in some of the most intense pain I’ve ever experienced, on top of being insanely hungry.

All I got was more morphine and ice chips, as the powers that be did not entirely rule out surgery for another day. I do remember breaking a two day fast with a cheese sandwich, two packages of Graham Crackers and apple juice.

The next four days were somewhat hazy, even now. The cycle basically went, sleep for two hours then:

  • Wake up in agonizing pain, beg for more Morphine
  • Respond to messages on my phone
  • Eat…whatever was brought up to eat.
  • Have a 30 second discussion/examination with a doctor
  • Beg for more Morphine or Benadryl
  • Get Morphine and/or Benadryl
  • Wait for that to kick in, go back to sleep.

Pro tipp: If you just want to sleep, get Benadryl by IV. It makes the inside of your arm feel like it’s on fire for about a minute, but its totally worth it, it knocks you right out.

Wendy, my ex, was there every day I was in the hospital. She probably knows more of what went on than I did. I’m incredibly grateful to her for taking care of me the week I was in the hospital, and the 4 days it took me to be well enough to travel back to the family members caring for me in Grand Rapids, MI.

I only really remember three things that happened outside of this cycle of pain, sleep and incredibly contradictory visits by a parade of doctors that appeared and disappeared in minutes.

At some point on my second morning in, I remember confronting the intern who came to check on me twice a day.

“Hey…wait! Did you take an x-ray of my wrist?”

“Um…no, I don’t think we did.”

“Could you order that? My wrist is in incredible pain…”

“On a scale of..”

“11. As in, there’s something clearly wrong with my wrist and I would like you to image it.”

I got the x-ray at some point later that evening after repeatedly asking about it. Apparently, the time from order to action is roughly 8 hours at St. Joe’s.

Fortunately, it only took them 4 hours after the x-ray to put a cast on my arm. Due to the lack of care with which it was applied, this cast was replaced a mere two hours after stepping off the plane in Michigan.

Maybe on my second day in, my friend Adam and a bunch of folks who are now all at Burning Man came to visit. Unfortunately, they arrived just as my pain meds kicked in and I was out cold the entire time, save for two comments I remember:

“We could totally draw dongs on his face now.”

“Do you think we could wake him up to ask him about [something Burning Man related]”

Had I not fallen off the container, I’d be at Burning Man right now. Yes, it’s depressing not to be there…and honestly. at this point…I’m not sure if I should go back. There are a ton of signs telling me that the happy place I came to love and cherish during my first burn is no longer there.

To Be Continued….

What I learned from an unfortunate incident with the NYPD

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Did you know that Central Park has a curfew? I didn’t.

I was issued a summons for violating the 1 AM curfew back in October. I happened to be passing right by the Greywacke Arch just as a police officer was driving through it. I produced my ID as instructed, was told about the curfew in the park, issued a citation and told that as long as I made my mandatory appearance in court, the matter would be dismissed. All in all, the officer seemed somewhat apologetic and indicated through his body language that he thought this was a pretty farcical part of his job.

What does this have to do with my initiation into the stop-and-frisk club? I’ll get there.

On my way to the Summons Answer Part of the New York Criminal court, my train was delayed twice by “police activity”. The first time, the NYPD were called upon to remove a person who had lost control of their bowels. I myself had moved one train car down due to the smell and caught a glimpse of the hostile interaction between the unfortunate citizen and pair of transit cops. One tug, a slip and a few screams later the elderly lady was off the train and in handcuffs.

Further along, a fight broke out at the other end of the more crowded train car I fled to after the last incident. I heard someone nearby calmly calling it in on the intercom and continued to hear far more than I saw, right up to the point where I saw the four transit officers more or less throw everyone on that end of the train car out onto the platform. Only an instant after the scuffle poured onto the platform, the train doors closed and I felt dumbstruck with luck that I hadn’t been ejected.

The events of that morning, the circumstances of my own ticket and that unfortunate incident in Times Square with the NYPD on the eve of the Super Bowl left me with a greater appreciation of the horrible situation we’ve set out for the NYPD to deal with and how they’re responding to it is making it so much worse in the long run.

In the nearly six hours I spent in court on two separate dates, I saw around a hundred people plead guilty and pay fines for a variety of different petty offenses. Most people just did what they were told to do, as if they didn’t really have a choice in the matter. Some cases qualified for a thing called “ACD“, which basically meant one’s charges would be dismissed if they didn’t commit another offense in 6 months.

A select few were represented by attorneys, almost all of whom jumped to the head of the queue and had their cases dismissed. I managed to see one trial on the charge of urinating in public. While the magistrate established that the officer did not directly see a stream of urine, the really incompetent attorney representing the poor kid did a sufficiently good job of botching the cross of the officer and trying the patience of the magistrate. While the client was eventually found guilty, the attorney managed to eek out one obvious but prescient question:

Q: “How many citations have you written since you saw my client?”

A: “Maybe 40 or 50. We’re required to write 10 citations a month.”

Eventually, my case came up for trial. The court clerks indicated that my case was eligible for ACD and were somewhat shocked I wasn’t offered it when I was arraigned. As my “court appointed attorney” began to explain what ACD was at the beginning of my trial, I explained I had not been offered it. The only choice offered by the magistrate at my arraignment (along with about 50 other people) was to enter a plea, so I plead not guilty.

Why?

Lesson #1: Don’t let the justice system eat you up and spit you out. If you have a right to exercise, even if you’re “in the wrong”, exercise it. Great! Go me! I learned something from the 12 credits of legal topics I took, on top of the many tickets I got out of simply for showing up to court. However, what does this all have to do with being randomly stopped and frisked on the eve of the Super Bowl for responding to a really inappropriate comment about my beard?

The NYPD aren’t tasked with policing, the act of maintaining law and order. They’re tasked with writing citations, scooping up those who don’t comply with the court, engaging in systematic intimidation and picking up the problems that social services can’t cope with. They have a quota. They make it, or they don’t, regardless of what kinds of crime or lack of crime is present in their area. In my experience, the police handle this pressure much better than most of my peers could handle it. They’re largely good people charged with bad policing tactics.

Bad cops make quotas however they can. Good cops get pressure to do what bad cops do well. This leads us to the biggest lesson which I failed to take into account when I was asked, “Is that a Muslim or Hipster beard?” by a crew of three NYPD officers in Times Square:

Lesson #2: Avoid interacting with the NYPD whenever possible. If asked a question, focus on memorizing badge numbers, answer as minimally as possible and focus on ending your interaction with the NYPD as quickly as possible.

The main reason I didn’t file any kind of report or move forward at all was that I don’t have badge numbers. I don’t even know what precinct they were from. Not more than 30 seconds likely elapsed from the time I very unwisely said, “You can’t fucking ask that” to the moment that I was shoved back into a crowd of Super-Bowl’s-eve revelers. While I’ll never know what was on their mind, I’m reasonably certain that the interaction wound down rather quickly once they unzipped my snowboarding jacket, realized I had a tie on and sifted through my wallet enough to grasp the level of privilege my outer attire failed to communicate.

But wait! Bill DeBlasio is the mayor! Stop and frisk is over! Everything is going to get better right? Maybe. Hopefully. However, change is going to come very, very slowly. I had an unfortunate incident that’s been a way of life for the less privileged in NYC for years.

While I really, really would like to bring this all to a decent conclusion, something hopeful and revelatory, I’m really left with only one final lesson. I’m still struggling to figure out how to move forward on in my own life.

Lesson #3: Fsck the police. Fsck is the command line on xnix systems for “file system check“. While it’s an obvious word substitution for a popular profane phrase, I believe the twist of meaning carries precisely the feelings of action that I want to bring to my peers. What this means to me personally is something I’m still wrestling with.

In the mean time, as a recap:

  1. Exercise your rights, even if you’re wrong: Download the Stop and Frisk app. Learn the 10 rules for dealing with the police, especially the rules about keeping calm and never raising your voice. Get in the habit of looking for and memorizing badge numbers.
  2. Avoid unnecessary interactions. Don’t engage in crime and don’t engage officers even if they address you incredibly disrespectfully.
  3. Fsck the police. More on that later.

Care to comment?  Please see the discussion thread on HN.

Thanks to Wendy, Gabe and Todd for catching typos!

All my favorite bands have broken up

Katie+the+Pest+Picture+3
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NumbersGeorgie JamesSensual Armed ForcesThe Mighty NarwhaleKatie the Pest.  Just a list of obscure bands I credit for bringing me some of the most joyous, redemptive moments of my short life.  I believe that music saves lives, and at the risk of hyperbole, each of these bands has at one time in some way saved my life.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love newer acts like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Thao with the Get Down Stay Down.  While lovely, dancing with my girlfriend at home is not really comparable to getting thrown into the drum kit and liking it.

Stumbling upon these acts is a rare treat, while doing so exposes the conundrum of being, well…older. Hearing a new song by an old favorite is sort of like stumbling upon an ex you barely recognize while you know you’ll never forget them. 4-5 bars into a track spit out by a music service I brought up, I knew it was a Katie the Pest track I hadn’t heard.  How thrilling!