I broke my back

T-72 days

I thought today was going to be a good day. I even shot this time-lapsed video this morning to show you all how “easy” it is for me to get into bed by myself now.

For the record, it still took me eight minutes to get in bed.

But today it was decidedly a very BAD day. you know it’s worse than having a broken back? Having a stomach bug and a broken back.

I could only sit up for about an hour or so, and I was running — that’s a phrase that is irrelevant to my life right now — to the bathroom constantly. Even laying on my back I couldn’t get any work done because my head and stomach was killing me.

I will spare you all of the graphic details — mostly for selfish reasons because I am to exhausted to write much more.

T-72 days.

I am too tired to write more than thank you tonight. The links are at rayhollister.com. Love y’all.

I broke my back

Working vertical while horizontal

If it looks like that laptop is hanging precariously over my face, don’t worry! It is!

I know I’ve talked about it before, but my days are a series of transitions: lying down, sitting up, lying at an incline, sitting up, lying down, lying at an incline, sitting up, lying down, lather, rinse, repeat. Nothing tends to hurt that much at first; everything hurts a lot after a little while.

Before today, when I was lying down flat on my back I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t eat, read or work. I could barely even use my phone for extended periods of time. I was basically useless. 😕

I had hoped I would be able to find a bedside desk that would let me work while I was in bed, but all of them turned out to be too low on the bed, or they couldn’t turn all the way vertically.

The one I found seemed like the best option, but I still could only use it while I was propped up on my wedge pillow. Every time I was so worn out I had to lie down flat, I would just lose productive time. It could turn it almost all the way vertical, but it had no way to keep the laptop from falling off and smacking me in the forehead.

Last night Amber and I had an epiphany: we could attach the laptop to the desk! We tried bungee cords and we even considered c-clamps. Finally, I settled on two-sided VELCRO® brand hook and loop fastener strap. I was going to order a 10’ length when Amber remembered that we had leftover VELCRO® brand hook and loop fastener that we used in the garden to attach our tomato vines to the poles! I cut off a 3’ long stretch of it and wrapped it around the lower part of the laptop around the desk.

Then, I carefully turned the desk around on its pole until it was hanging above me ready for me to work on it. My hands rested exactly on the keyboard and touchpad where they needed to be.

I was able to get several hours of productive time in today while lying completely flat on my back. It was amazing!

T-73 days.

Thanks you to everyone who has helped out by supporting our GoFundMe. My follow up appointment with the neurosurgeon is next Wednesday. At that appointment they’ll likely make the plan for physical therapy going forward. It is immensely reassuring to not have to worry about figuring where the money is coming from to pay for all of that.

Thank you all for helping make this season just a little bit easier.

https://gofund.me/12e6322d

https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/oqrz21

P.S. If you’re wondering why I’m not just calling it “Velcro” like a normal person, this is why: https://www.velcro.com/dont-say-velcro/ 😂

P.P.S. Yes, I am that much of a nerd.🤓

I broke my back

My partner

I’ve complained a lot in these posts. Most of these days have been pretty rough, and today was definitely no exception. In fact, today was one of the worst. But I’d rather focus on something good today.

Amber has been incredible to me throughout this ordeal. She has been at my side caring for me, comforting me, and running our household all by herself nonstop with some help from her mom.

She’s tired, and I sure can’t blame her. She’s helping me in and out of bed — like literally pushing to help roll all 265 pounds of me over so she can put my brace on my back.

She’s walking with me, taking care of everything I need, and taking care of all of my chores: hauling out the trash, carrying in the water bottles, carrying in all the groceries, picking and shipping books from the bookstore, and bringing things down to and up from from the basement. All of that, on top of taking care of our three kids and the normal household chores.

It’s constant bending, lifting and never getting to sit down long enough to actually rest.

As much as I have complained about my sore muscles, she probably has just about the same amount of aches and pains as me by now.

You know that annoying thing how you remember something you need right after you sit down? It’s SO much worse when you’re not the person who has to go get it.

Constantly getting up and down to get something is hard on anyone, but it’s especially hard on her with her knees.

We have this routine that probably sounds like it was ripped from the pages of an Miller-Boyett family sitcom script:

She asks me right before she’s about to sit down, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I think about it, and then usually say, “No, I’m good.”

Then, right as she settles into the chair or the bed, my mind remembers the thing that I desperately needed 2 minutes ago.

I try to hide the thought from my face, but she knows and says, “What is it?”

I try to pretend I’m good, but it’s always something I actually need so she makes me confess, “Yeah, would you hand me my glasses, laptop, etc?”

We’re starting to get into a pattern in this new phase of life, so the sitcom routine doesn’t happen as often as it did when I first got home. And she’s started to get a little rest here and there as things have started settling down.

She’s an introvert and hasn’t had a moment alone in the past 19 days so it’s starting to wear on her emotionally. I’m pretty sure she’s not holding it all inside though. She’s had a few outbursts.

For example, my favorite moment was one morning when I was still in the hospital and she had just taken the boys to school. I begged her to get me a Sausage Egg McMuffin. She texted me from McDonald’s: “If one day I get shot in the face in a drive through line, you will know in your bones that I drove around a giant line of idiots that refused to use the second ordering lane.”

T-74 days.

Thank you to everyone that has made this season a little easier for both of us. Knowing that we have a little cushion against the bills that are coming our way has relieved a lot of stress in an incredibly stressful time.

And everyone that has brought or ordered food for us have been absolute angels. I can see the tension in her shoulders release and relief in Amber’s eyes when folks have shown up with a meal. Thank you so much.

https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/oqrz21

https://gofund.me/12e6322d

I broke my back

My little dudes

When it happened, Zachary (on the left) had no idea what the big deal was. When he heard the DJ call for him over the PA system, he just figured it was another Zachary they were calling for and kept on skating!

When they finally found him and brought him to me, he was totally chill. Even seeing the paramedics roll me onto the backboard and then lift me onto the stretcher and roll me out to the ambulance didn’t seem to faze him at all.

We were worried he would be traumatized, but when Amber got to the skating rink to take him home, he was just annoyed that he lost out on the chance to skate more!

We FaceTimed once from the hospital, and he was happy to see me, but he was just as happy to hang up and go back to playing Roblox with his brother.

Honestly, I was really glad how well he was taking it, even if he was being a little bit of a jerk!

I don’t think it was until I got home with my back brace and walker that he realized just how injured I was. He asked me if I would ever be able to walk without the walker again. I told him most likely I would. He asked how long it would be, and I told him it would probably be about three months. I watched a roller coaster of emotions wash over his face.

I asked him if he felt guilty over what happened, because if he did, he didn’t need to because it was not his fault at all. He said, “Oh no, I don’t feel guilty. I told you not to go out there skating!” 😳🤯🤣

Finally, after about 5 days of this insanely sarcastic and downright, hilariously rude treatment, he came to me, a bit teary-eyed and said, “Dad, I’m really sad. You wouldn’t have fallen and broke your back if I didn’t want to go to the birthday party that day. It’s my fault you broke your back.”

I hugged him against my turtle-shell, and we both cried for a bit. I told him it was ok, and we all feel guilty for things that are not our fault sometimes. But I told him again that it was not his fault that my back was broken. I was the one that decided to go skating, not him. I could have sat or stood on the sidelines. I took that risk, not him. Of course, I never imagined falling and breaking my back, but no matter what, it wasn’t his fault. Ever since then, we’ve been quite a bit better.

William, (on the right) on the other hand — who had been going through a season of defiance prior to the accident — has been a little angel from the moment I got home. Well, he’s had a few devilish moments since then too, but for the most part he’s been incredibly kind and thoughtful.

He’s always checking on me to see if I need anything, or if he can do anything to make me happy. He’s the one that said “I can’t hug you. I don’t want to break you more.” As soon as he found out how he could hug me without hurting me, he hasn’t stopped. I think he’s hugged me more in the past two weeks than he has in his entire life combined.

He’s hell-bent on planning a party for me for when the brace finally comes off. He talks about it nonstop. He says it’s going to be the “most epic awesome” party ever. I’m pretty sure he wants it to be Roblox themed though, which is of course, the most epic awesome thing he has ever seen. 🤣

I was worried that spring break being this soon after getting out of the hospital would be rough, but it’s been great getting to spend time with them and them getting to see me start the recovery process.

But, then again, William did pee on the floor tonight, so maybe my wife would disagree. 💀💀💀

T-75 days.

I continue to be amazed at how awesome my friends are. Thank you so much for supporting me and Amber through this by giving to the GoFundMe and helping out with the MealTrain.

I can’t tell you how amazing it has been not having to worry about what we were going to cook at night when we were already exhausted by mid-afternoon.

I’m still a bit terrified at what the hospital bill is going to end up looking like, but your gifts have already made a huge impact to help alleviate that fear.

Thank you all so much for your kindness and generosity.

https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/oqrz21

I broke my back

My office, my bedside

I think the most frustrating thing is how hard it is to do my job. It feels ridiculous. I have done much more physical jobs over the course of my life: pushing carts in the summer sun, standing for hours at a cash register, serving tables, washing dishes, slinging concrete and fence panels, and navigating drunk crowds with trays of drinks during St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras and Cinco de Mayo.

If I was doing any of those jobs, I would have to be on disability. So, I’m incredibly grateful that I can continue to be somewhat productive during my healing. But it is exhausting.

I try to put on a good face during my many Google Meet and Zoom calls, but every two hours worth of productive work takes three hours worth of energy. I’m able to do about one to two hours sitting in the chair. Then, I have to transition back into the bed with my wedge pillow. Then, I can get another hour or two of work done in the bed. Then, I have to get out of the bed. Each transition costs me upwards of an hour’s worth of time. But if I stay in one position for too long, I’ll be in agony by nightfall.

I’m grateful to have a job that is flexible enough I can just work late to catch up on the time I lost during the day. But again, it seems so ridiculous! I’m just typing on a computer! Why can’t I do that for hours on end? I did it before!

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not belittling mental labor. I’m just at a loss for why it’s so physically exhausting.

The bedside desk is super helpful, and I’ve found myself using Siri to dictate a lot of emails to save my arms from getting worn out, especially when I’m lying in bed, but as of yet, Siri is terrible at coding so it’s definitely arm day when I’m writing PHP, HTML and CSS. 🤣

And look, I’m not really complaining about working 10-12 hours to get 8 hours of work done. If I wasn’t working, or trying to get work done, I’d just be tinkering on one of my hobby project websites or watching TV which is just as exhausting! 🤯🤯😭😭

T-76 days.

Enough complaining. Time for some celebrating.

You all have been so unbelievably amazing and generous. I am endlessly overwhelmed and humbled at how you all have come out to help me and Amber. Thank you so much!

Being real raw and honest for a second, I recently came to realize that I struggle a lot with my self worth. I have a hard time believing that I am worthy of being loved or cared for. Seeing your help pour in has been truly worldview shattering.

I want to thank everyone who has contributed. I’m trying to personally say thank you to every single one of you, but if I haven’t said thank you yet, forgive me for being an jerk. I will eventually. Also, if I ask for your address, don’t act weird about it! 😂 Amber just wants to send you a thank you note. She’s analog like that. 🤣

I want to thank those if you who have helped us in ways other than on the MealTrain and the GoFundMe too. I cannot tell you how much I’ve appreciated it. I’ve literally ran out of adjectives.

Your kindness and self-sacrifice has made this incredibly tough season softer and easier for us, and I am forever grateful. Thank you.

https://gofund.me/12e6322d

https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/oqrz21

I broke my back

Stuck

Saturday was delightfully restful. We didn’t do much but sit around the house and lay in bed and rest. It was great and I felt pretty great at the end of the day.

Today, however, has been rough.

Apparently, as restful as it felt yesterday, I might have pushed myself a teensy bit too hard. My obliques — you know, those muscles that allegedly live under my love handles — were screaming this morning. The brace works by compressing my core to take the weight of my upper body off of my lower spine and distribute it to the rest of my core. So, a lot of my upper body weight ends up being supported by my obliques and my hips instead. And today, they were not happy about that.

I think it’s a “good” pain though. It’s like how you feel the day after a really intense workout at the gym. You feel like you’re gonna die, but you’re also ready to get back in there and do it again!

Fortunately, I’ve improved my turtle brace application speed. I’ve even put it on by myself TWICE today. I feel like my legs and arms are really starting to strengthen up to make up for the loss of movement of my back. Yay for silver linings!

I really want to go for a walk. That’s the next milestone I am looking forward to. I wanted to go for a walk today, but it looks like that is not going to be an option. I’m not quite ready yet. Maybe tomorrow? We’ll see.

Actually, I really want to go for a walk around the house and survey everything in the yard that needs to be done, but I think my first attempt is going to be a half block down the road and back. The level asphalt will be easier to traverse than the many craters and lumpy hills in my yard.

T-77 days.

Thank you so much to everyone who has shared what happened to me, signed up to bring us food on MealTrain and gave to the GoFundMe campaign.

The support has been overwhelming. Again, not to overshare too much, but I’ve been brought to tears several times seeing the support come in. Thank you all so much!

It makes a world of difference to us. This season is incredibly hard, and you’ve made a real impact on making it a bit easier for us. I am immensely, humbly grateful to each of you.

https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/oqrz21

https://gofund.me/12e6322d

I broke my back

Transitions suck

Walking around is relatively easy to do these days. I use the walker about half the time. Standing still is fine. Sitting still is fine. Laying in bed is mostly painless. But, transitioning between any of those things is agony.

Getting out of and into bed is probably the worst of it. We’ve managed to get the process down to about a 5 minute routine if everything goes perfect. But usually it’s about 10-15 minutes of log rolling onto my belly with my face shoved into the mattress, pulling out pillows, putting the back part of the brace on, log rolling into the brace, adjusting it, putting the front part on, getting it aligned, strapping it together, readjusting it, and then finally cinching it down. Then I log-roll upright, and sit there for a few minutes while the room stops spinning. Then I do this frog-leg, plié looking maneuver with my legs so that I keep my back perfectly straight while I stand up, just in case my brace isn’t on perfectly.

My muscles are all having to work in ways they have never worked before. My torso is on full lockdown inside the turtle shell. It does not contribute any effort at all — unless my brace is on even slightly too high or too low or slightly crooked, then a ripple of pain rolls across my body as it tries to engage, and then we have to readjust the brace again.

My legs are suddenly responsible for all of my body movement and stability, and they are not excited about it. My calfs, thighs and glutes are ready to go on strike.

My neck is constantly aching from being at funky angles in bed and from over stretching when I am in the brace because I can’t turn my body at all to look at someone or something in the room. The muscles in my upper back and shoulders are so tense if you hit them with little hammers you could play them like a dulcimer!

Heat helps relax my disloyal and tense muscles before they start a rebellion. I try to stretch as much as I can, but obviously there are limitations.

The irony is that I usually need to transition right about the time when my pain medicine has worn out, like early in the morning or late at night.

Of course, staying in one position for too long starts to hurt too. And, it turns out though that transitions are really important to the healing process. Building strength in my arms and legs helps my body recover from the injury and helps stimulate bone growth.

So, as much as it sucks, I am trying to transition more often. This whole thing is a transition. And apparently it’s a bunch of sucky little transitions along the way.

T-78 days.

You know what isn’t sucky though? All of the support that we have received on the GoFundMe that my friend Tom set up!

I cannot express how thankful I am to everyone who has contributed. There are literally not words to convey how it makes me feel. ❤️❤️❤️

Even if we hit the goal it’s not going to cover everything, but it will be such a huge help.

Thank you so much to everyone who has made a gift.

I broke my back

Yesterday, I almost blacked out in the shower

The doctors told me that I should be able take a brief shower standing up without the brace by this week. I carefully climbed in the shower, and Amber washed my legs. Then, I gently removed my brace and stood perfectly still while Amber helped me wash the rest of me.

I was doing great right up until I started washing my hair. The combination of standing, holding my hands over my head and the tingle of the Head and Shoulders was apparently too much to handle. I started to pass out. My ears started to ring, my knees went limp, the room got dark and my vision started tunneling. I held onto the top of the shower rail while Amber sprayed me down with cold water to help me recover. Then she got me back in the brace and walked me to bed. 

My hair and beard were still covered in shampoo, so after I stabilized, Amber helped me back to the shower, and this time she insisted that I sit in the chair. She rinsed and dried me off, and got me back in my brace. The whole ordeal was terrifying for me and Amber. It will be a while before I try that again, and I’m sure I’ll be in the chair to start next time. 

I was so worn out, I spent most of the rest of the day in bed and did several conference calls from my pillow. My coworkers have all seen my bedroom now! Fortunately, most of Amber’s fluffy pillows were out of the scene. 

T-79 days.

P.S. I’m terrible at accepting help, but a lot of folks have offered, and I am immensely grateful. A couple of our friends, Tom Braun and Melissa Aiuppy, have set up accounts on GoFundMe and Meal Train if that’s something you would like to do. 

https://gofund.me/12e6322d

https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/oqrz21

I’m so grateful for all of you.

I broke my back

It’s not from IKEA, but it might as well

This was me last night, sitting up in my brace — for way too long according to Amber — putting together a bedside desk that finally arrived yesterday, even though I tried to order it on Sunday when I fell. 

I sat on the couch while Zach and Will handed me each piece, and I put them together. It was nice getting to do something with my hands even though just sitting there was exhausting. Turning the wrench wore me out even faster. I can’t lift anything over 10 lbs. (Hmm, I wonder that that translates into wrench torque? Fortunately all the nuts in the kit were fairly easy to tighten.)

The sad irony was that I ended up spending most of today in bed. I’ll share that story tomorrow.

T-80 days.

I broke my back

Today was better

Today was better. Not great, but definitely a LOT better. It was all partly due to a really, really simple solution to a problem I didn’t realize I was having:

I wasn’t putting my back brace on high enough. It was about an inch too low. 

So, as a result, it was squeezing my hips instead of crushing my intestines. 🤣

Ironically, the latter is what I want right now. The core pressure keeps my vertebrae aligned and relieves the weight of my upper body from my spine. When it was just a little tiny bit lower, it allowed my back to move just ever slightly, which caused my muscles to engage and spasm every time I moved. Now that I am in the brace’s python death grip, I feel immensely better. I feel way more secure and safe.

I’ve been able to get much more work done today too, which is wonderful. Tomorrow I think I’m gonna try working down in my office again. I went downstairs and sat in my office chair. It was a lot easier to get in and out of than the kitchen chair and our folding chairs. And, the setup down there is much more ergonomic than our kitchen table. 

T-81 days.