And then I Fell

Psychedelic Wheelchair-4 - Version 2

I am a lucky guy. I escaped a cage of poverty and ignorance and learned to fly a little. When needed, individuals appeared and magically steered me into opportunity. As long as I kept my wings open, life got better; better beyond my limited, adolescent dreams. I am a lucky guy.

This post has been a year in the writing and not yet right: too much me and too too long. I hesitate to whine but need to write this so I can get on to other writing. Let us get on to it:

December, 2013. I stumble into a nightmare of pain. Pain intensifies daily.

March, 2014. OFC meds fail to keep pain bearable. During a visit to my GP I realize my feet feel numb. My GP refers me to back and spine specialists. I enter the embarrassing labyrinth of U.S. healthcare and health insurance.

May, 2014. Back and spine specialists casually fail to discover cause of my condition. The pain increases daily and numbness expands to feet and ankles.

June 2014. Prescription opiates fail to manage the pain. I cannot sit for more than 10 minutes and stop working. Lack of sensation creeps up my legs to my knees. I stop driving because I can no longer find the gas, break and clutch pedals.

July 2014.  Reduced to lying in a semi-fetal position using maximum doses of prescription opiates. Numbness becomes partial paralysis and creeps to my thighs. I use a cane to walk. With difficulty. Back and spine specialists find nothing in MRI images of my lower and middle spine that might cause my symptoms but order steroid injections into my middle spine.


August 2014. Paralysis progresses past my hips to my navel. Opiates upset digestion. I am reduced to lying in a semi-fetal position and moaning like a wounded animal. GP and I discuss paralysis reaching my sternum and interfering with breathing. I see no light at the end of the tunnel and write obituaries for social pages and my out-of-the-office email message.

Then I fell. 

I fall in the bathroom,  get up but fall on my way back to bed. I fall again when getting up for another dose of opiates.

Falling changes everything. Prior I felt as if the specialists thought I was faking it. They could not find causes for my pain and paralysis, thus I must be a hypochondriac or addict scamming for opiates. 

I tell my GP I fell three times in one morning. He takes immediate action, sends MRI images of lower and middle spine to a surgeon. My GP calls the surgeon, explains I am falling. Two minutes later the surgeon orders an MRI of my upper, thoracic spine. 

Duh!. The back and spine specialists had ordered MRI imaging of my lower and middle spine. When they told me they could not find anything in the images I suggested MRI imaging my upper spine. The back and spine specialists told me it was unlikely that anything in my thoracic spine would cause my symptoms.


Yeah. Right.

September 2014. Arriving for the MRI, I ask for a bed while I wait; sitting hurts. They do not have a bed. 

Get into the machine and know something’s up when the 45 minute MRI session stretches to 90. Get out of the machine and nurses lead me to an improvised bed. Told to report immediately to my GP. My GP says they found a tumor in my spinal column. He delivers the news like a death sentence … I think “Yippie – finally a light at the end of the tunnel.” 


My GP referred me to an amazing neural surgeon at the Wisconsin Medical School in Milwaukee. Three days later he and his team performed surgery and successfully removed the tumor. Like most tumors of its kind, it proved benign.

The damage done by the tumor and the trauma of spinal surgery left me partially paralyzed from the waist down. Since the surgery, I have been confined to a wheel chair.

My little nightmare lasted thru 2014. In January of 2015 I decided a certain amount of pain preferable to prescribed opiates. A few days of withdrawal and I felt comfortable downgrading nightmare to ordeal. Today as I write this, I feel comfortable downgrading ordeal to major inconvenience. Like I said, I am a lucky guy. Not everyone gets to downgrade nightmares.

That is what this post is about. I lucky and yet I am in a wheelchair.

Thank you for reading. I feel this post too much about me and too little about the world but for this one time I hope it is okay.

11 responses to “And then I Fell”

  1. paul says:

    Audience of Ten, remember?
    I small group of people who genuinely care about what you have to say.
    On any subject.
    Especially you.

  2. Karl E May says:

    Thanks. Cannot always be sure.

  3. Anita says:

    Karl, it is good to hear from you again. I’m so sorry that the medical establishment was deaf to your status reports and your ideas, and glad that you are feeling much better – and that you are still with us.

  4. Karl E May says:

    Thanks. It was quite the ride … your probably know what I mean.

  5. Steve says:

    Bear, Thank you for sharing your story. It helped you. It helped me. During our next lodge I will again offer prayers/songs/well wishes in your direction. Deb and I send our love to you and Liz. Peace be with you my Brother.

  6. Roberta says:

    Karl, we write best when we write about us and our stories and this is your story in the last two years. Worth every word to be told. I feel like I might be intruding here but in a way, through Paul, I feel like I know a tiny bit of it. I hope we get to meet and that we can talk about this and all other things that are important in your life. I am honoured to have read your story. Thank you for sharing it.

  7. Karl E May says:

    Thank you bro. I miss the rock.

  8. Kurt Piersol says:

    Hey Karl, I am glad things have improved for you somewhat! I’ve been dealing with medical issues myself, thankfully a bit less severe than the ones you describe. Thanks for sharing, it gives me some hope for that light at the end of the tunnel myself!

  9. Karl E May says:

    Kurt, happy to hear your symptoms are less severe … I hope they stay that way. They sound a bit similar.

  10. Terry says:

    So glad that you are writing again! I love the way what you write about always provides food for thought!

  11. Allen says:

    So sorry to hear about this. The post is not a word too long, and I’m glad the chrome poet is back in business.

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