Doc Ernie's Blog

A time to laugh - Act 1

In this section, hopefully you may find a few good laughs from my experiences.  As said in Proverbs - a good word brings health to the bones.  Beyond even a good word, laughter just deeply feels so right.
  • In early November 2004, I was to be transported from the rehab facility in Silverdale to Seattle to see my spine surgeon.  If my neck and arms were found to be stable enough, I could qualify to be transferred back to Harborview for additional rehab.  I had thought we would take the ferry to Seattle, but it was not to be.  The ambulance transfer crew arrived late for my pickup with plans to drive around through Tacoma and up I-5 thinking it would save time.  We had to hustle to make the appointment, and heading north on I-5 across from Boeing Field in the HOV lane at 60+mph we had a left rear tire blowout!  The driver maintained control, but alas there was no shoulder.  So we parked it in the HOV lane and called for another ambulance as there was no possible way to change the wheel; the tread had somehow caught the rear bumper pulling it into the wheel rim.  All this time I am facing backwards, watching the rapid traffic come up from behind, thinking we were at risk for being rear-ended in the HOV lane and on a curve with limited sight distance.  Visions of my legs which were close to the rear window being thrashed in a collision seemed possible, with myself having no way to move them out of harms way.  30+ minutes later another rig arrived, the back doors popped open and one of the attendant rescuers was an off-duty ER tech that I worked with at Virginia Mason!  So timing my move with traffic, I was moved in the HOV lane of I-5 on a wheeled gurney from one ambulance to another.  In fact making it to my appointment only a few minutes late.


  • While there have been many episodes of bowel and bladder dysfunction, a few are perhaps worth mentioning, others not fit for publication.  Briefly, though everyone with a spinal cord injury has different levels of ability to control bodily functions, I was able to begin re-learn at least bladder control while on Harborview Rehab.  Given my lack of mobility this meant lying in bed using a urinal.  One particular day while lying on my hospital bed getting dressed, my nurse left me ONLY with the urinal and a small washcloth (yes, like 6x6 inches), and not a stitch of clothing on.  While awaiting the nurse's return, without warning my mother-in-law pulled back the curtain and walked in simultaneously announcing her surprise visit finding me there with only my bit of a fig leaf in place.


  • Though I went home wearing Depends, my control was gradually getting better.  Yet even to date I get very little warning of the impending fullness of my bladder, that urgency striking suddenly, so quickly I often have only minutes before risking incontinence.  Though by then I had graduated from Depends, in the summer of 2005 on a hot day Gwen and I were headed over the North Cascades Highway to Winthrop for a bit of a getaway.  The iced Latte I had consumed before the long stretch of mountain pass road suddenly hit my bladder, and I told Gwen that we must find a place to stop ASAP.  We both figured there would be a gas station or restaurant along the way as we were getting close to Winthrop.  But nothing appeared.  Our peace of the day, time together and the amazing beauty of the mountains now replaced by one thought - empty that bladder.  There were not even any indiscreet places to pull off for me to mark a tree or other object.  Finally, myself now in a full sweat with lap belt off to avoid any extra pressure, a side road appeared, though admittedly it was a little too late.  Gwen pulled quickly down the gravel road getting out of sight of the highway and I finished relieving myself amongst the shrubbery. Oh what relief!!  As we pulled out from the side road back onto the North Cascades Highway we both saw the road sign, we had turned down Dripping Spring Road - and that is just what I had experienced.


  • Since we are on the topic of water, I will relate my first swimming pool experience.  Weekly, Harborview rehab patients have the opportunity to travel to a community pool for therapy.  My first such episode involved getting from the wheelchair into the water by either a chair power assisted device, or via walking down steps to the water.  This was at a point in my rehab when I could not walk, and had not yet tried steps.  Yet my confident energetic African American therapy assistant was sure he could handle the steps with me and my 139 pound frame.  He was after all still a buff muscular ex-athlete.  The plan was to stand from the wheelchair arm in arm and face to face with Mike as he would support/carry me as he backed down the pool steps, I moving forward upright in his arms.  Problem was, I could not feel my feet, and my nylon pressure stockings were still on.  Once I hit the water and those tile steps, my feet and legs were sliding every which way; I had no control over them, nor could I even see where they were.  Yet I felt like, and Mike's face confirmed, we were on the edge of losing all control.  Desperate, I was looking for something, anything to grab onto - and all I could see were Mike's disappointing short and tightly curled chest hairs.  His strength and ability saved the day, but I'll never forget the loss of control I felt and the overwhelming desire to grasp at something, anything to achieve stability - with the only option being those black, short, curly African American chest hairs.  Mike and I had a good laugh over that.
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Ernie Franz, MD | Bainbridge Island, WA 98110