(A few weeks back I mentioned a conversation I had with a wonderful gentleman and his wife, about the secret of a long marriage. Well, that man is Dr. Ray John, and he and his wife Maggie have been married for 49 years. Ray John has been a marine and a respected educator. He also ran the Good News Rescue Mission here in Redding, and the Haven Humane animal shelter. He is well-known as a man who turns struggling businesses around. He also went through a very personal struggle of his own recently, and wanted to write about it and his path back from an event that could have ended it all. I remember the day Maggie told us about the accident, and the moment he walked back in with that cane to join us on a Sunday morning again. Here is the story of Dr. Ray John’s struggle, in his own words.)
AUGUST 28, 2016
It was a typical Sunday morning. Maggie and I got up early so that we would be on time for the 9 o’clock Mass. Maggie went to take a shower and I went outside to see if the ground squirrels had done any more damage to the pool motor (they had recently chewed up some of the wires).
As I walked around behind the pool in my flip flops, I kept thinking about what a beautiful day it was.
The next thing I knew was that I was airborne. My flip flops slipped in the mud by the pool motor and I was falling. There was a huge boulder near me and I was afraid I would hit my head. So, I kicked out both legs so I could change the direction of my fall.
I landed hard in the mud and was in a state of shock. I couldn’t get my legs to work. (Later I would find out that I had simultaneously ruptured both patella tendons in my legs.) I was in incredible pain. I started screaming for help. It was like the TV commercial, “Help me! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” The problem was, Maggie was in the shower and the radio was on so there was no way she could hear me.
I knew I couldn’t lay there and expect help to come. So, I rolled on my stomach and crawled 15 feet to the pool.
After a while (it seemed like an eternity) Maggie came outside to see why I was taking so long. She found me on the ground in agony. I couldn’t stand. She called 9-1-1 and our neighbors.
I’m confused as to what happened next. There were several paramedics trying to lift me onto a stretcher as I screamed in agony. There was an ambulance, the hospital, braces locked at the knees and surgery-all seemed jumbled together.
The doctor who operated on me said my legs were in bad shape. I not only had ruptured both tendons, but I had torn most of the muscle tissue. He told me that he had only one other patient with this condition and that person died!
When I got out of surgery, I asked the surgeon how long recovery would be. He said at least 70 days. I figured I could handle that (maybe a week or two in the hospital and recovery at home.) Well, I was dead wrong. He meant 70 days in the hospital with both legs in braces locked at the knees.
It was worse than I had ever imagined. I spent 74 days in a rehab hospital. 23 hours of each day were spent in bed. So, my meals, my baths, and my bathroom needs were all conducted in my hospital bed. The only time I could leave the bed was when two nurses were available to lift me up with a sling and a Hoyer crane into a wheelchair with extended leg rests for my fixed braces.
To minimize the pain, I was given 12 Norcos a day. Needless to say, I was pretty woozy most of the time.
Maggie was incredible. She drove down and spent three hours with me every day. We both laugh now, but I would often just stare at the wall. The Norcos were doing their job!
When you are “incarcerated” for so long, you take a good look at your life. I was so grateful for the people who came to see me and those who took Maggie to dinner. I learned who my friends really were. I also learned about friendships I thought I had that never once bothered to see me or call me.
Days dragged on at the rehab hospital. One day, the head nurse came to see me and said he had a special request. A young man had been in a horrible automobile accident and was broken up pretty badly. The nurse asked if I would let the young man be my roommate. I finally had something I could do! Robert moved in and we quickly became each other’s protector. We were loud and lively. Most of the nurses liked us, yet some wanted both of us out of there. Our highlight was when we went wheelchair racing down the corridors. Robert kept me laughing and I did the same for him.
My doctor wouldn’t let me stand for several weeks so the only physical therapy I was allowed to do was to work on my upper body strength. Finally, my doctor gave me permission to walk in the braces. The physical therapist taught me how to stand and take a couple of steps. I also learned how to transfer from a bed to the wheelchair and back.
One day, they had me walk in my braces with a walker from my room to the physical therapy center. It was a long walk to the center of the facility. As I left my room, I saw nurses and staff lining the hallway. There were tears, smiles and applause. I felt like Rocky.
Eventually, it was time to go home. I came home with a wheelchair with leg extensions and a walker. We installed ramps so I could get in and out of the house in the wheelchair for my doctor’s appointments. We had to put banisters around the house and into the pool. We put in grip bars in the shower and a pole in the family room so I could hoist myself out of my favorite chair. I had physical therapy at home three times a week where I continued to strengthen my legs and relearn how to walk. Eventually, the doctor let me take the braces off for good. And in time, we got rid of the pole, the wheelchair and the ramps.
On August 28, 2017, I celebrated my one year anniversary since my accident. I “celebrated” because some thought I might not walk or be in a wheelchair for life. I walk with a cane now and my goal is to be cane free in another year.
Except for Vietnam, this was one of the toughest years of my life. I survived because of God, Maggie (married 49 years!), relatives and friends. I have a deep appreciation for all who helped me get back.
Moral of the Story: Don’t wear flip flops in the mud!