| 14 June, 2012 14:36
How does one go from normal, everyday chickie to a sculpture of twisted sanguinity and spirituality known as a "Pain Artist"? I'll tell you. First you survive a say like the one outlined for you below. next, you add equal parts outlandish love and coconut rum. Mix well and serve often.
The day of the Mad WIND
Radene Marie Cook
“WHY ME?!?” I can’t count how many times various “whys” have bounced off the walls of my mind since that day. No matter how many times I didn’t get an answer, I still kept asking until I finally reached the only conclusion that gave me peace: “Who gives a crap? Here I am. Now what?” My name is Radene Marie Cook. I’m a mixed blood American Indian woman who’s spent most of my life working in entertainment, 15 years of it in radio. I have an amazing family and friends, a cool mobility dog named Raja and I have learned more about life in the past nine-plus years since “the day of the Mad Wind,” than in all the years prior. I’ve learned about real pain, belief, love, and how profanity can be used as therapy! So can writing.
It was March 16, 2000. Another beautiful, smog filled day over the Los Angeles basin. I was an airborne reporter for a news station in Los Angeles. I loved having the view out my office window change every moment. Come on, this was LA: the unofficial home of high speed pursuits and low speed “chases.” Fall wildfires, spring mud slides, and summer movie shoots that can tie up traffic for miles. The free rollercoaster rides provided by the frequent Santa Ana winds weren’t bad either. I was always a bit of an adrenaline junkie and now they paid me for it. Yea!
But March 16th 2000 was not a thrill-a-minute day. No news stories, no nine mile back up. It was 2:55pm. I had three more traffic reports and it was quitting time. My pilot and I had just finished talking about the girl he met at church and was now going to marry –so cute! I turned my head to the left to glance at the East LA Interchange when the sky fell out from under us. A Microburst – an invisible wind shear moving about 200 miles an hour straight down – hit us. My aircraft went from horizontal to vertical in an instant and not politely. Our clamped headsets flew off and slammed against the windshield that was now squarely facing Interstate 5. My 25 pound broadcast pack rammed into the ceiling, shattering parts we couldn’t even find later but somehow managed to pelt our necks and shoulders before disappearing. Joining the rain of shrapnel were five map books, a pair of binoculars, and remnants from the last maintenance check. Every inch of the plane was convulsing while we lost altitude by the nanosecond. We got hit again by something we still couldn’t see and my head slammed against the window a second time before being thrown toward the freeway again. My pilot was doing everything in his power to keep us off the asphalt but the turbulence would not let go. Every physical sign around us said we were going to crash and crash hard. In the very next instant, our downward jettison turned upward when our nose got smacked from the ground by the same air that began this mess. Then… the most mad wind I had ever experienced… let go. No warning, no slowing the decent, and no making our bodies a part of the traffic jam. The bastard air simply let go.
It is a good thing that the very moment on which your life makes a 180-degree turn for the weird, it doesn’t give you warning. If it did, the average life expectancy of working adults would be cut by 60%. As I left the airport on that soon-to-be-fateful afternoon in March, I just wanted to go home and breathe again. Perhaps also take a few aspirin, because MAN, everything was sore! Maybe I won’t have to go to the hospital, I thought. Maybe… oh forget it, I just want to run to someplace safe and do my breathing there. I had a 4 o’clock salon appointment about 15 miles away (i.e.girl safe haven). I figured if I could get there in one piece, I’d be able to sit, call, cry, gripe or whatever to management about the accident and generally calm myself down. That sort of worked. Sort of.
The calls to my supervisors weren’t a problem. The problem came once I had relaxed the slightest amount and my body presumed we were out of danger. It was then that my body decided I no longer needed adrenaline. It turns out that fun little hormone was not only the world’s best painkiller but also the only thing keeping me fairly pulled together. So what does a normally intelligent, well-balanced woman do in this situation? I have no idea, because I, now being of really unsound mind and shaken apart body, did the dumbest thing imaginable: I TRIED TO DRIVE MYSELF HOME WITH A CONCUSSION! At least I didn’t take the freeway. I had to pull over several times when the nausea of the head injury took over along with the overwhelming urge to puke. I believed in Creator’s protection before this point, but after? WHEW – so much more. My ride home that day was physical proof that God is protecting all of us when I made it to my doctor’s Urgent Care office without causing the second crash of the day.
Being raised with manners ground into my psyche like pepper onto a Cajun steak, I did exactly what the sign in the waiting room asked of me without thinking twice. As I wobbled up to the receptionist, I told her that I had hit my head and that I was now having trouble seeing… and speaking… oh yea; and standing wasn’t so hot either. Compassion was seeping out of her little receptionist pores until I said the “words.” The words asked of me on the sign in the waiting room. The words that would make the next Mother Teresa run shrieking blindly into the night if she worked for the health care profession. Those infamous words were, “By the way, this all happened AT WORK.” Still in a slightly altered state of mind, I swear I could hear air raid sirens going off separately in each head behind the counter. I was sure a scene played out in their minds that involved men in full HazMat suits marching out to wrap me in sterile tarps and rush me to a DECON room, far away from the rest of these innocent people. “You can’t be here then! You have to go to the emergency room!” the receptionist barked, looking panic stricken. “Look, I barely made it here,” I said. “If the doctor could just examine me quickly” I said, looking for a response. “Perhaps he could make sure nothing is going to fall off?” I got nothing. “…then I’ll call someone to come pick me up and I’ll be out of your way.” “NO!” The receptionist shrieked “We can’t see you. You HAVE to go to the emergency room!” I thought the woman would break out a can of Raid next “Tell you what,” I said. “How about I just pass out here, OK? Can a doctor see me then? Because that’s exactly what’s about to happen!” It was a good argument in my mind, but apparently ONLY mine. ‘Sigh’.
“This is a Worker’s Comp matter, ma’am. We cannot see you without prior authorization” she now stated with authority. “This is an URGENT CARE room” I said. “… how many premeditated injuries do you get?” Hey, I had a concussion. That was as clever as I got. “I only told you I was at work because that’s what it said to do on your sign over there… in the waiting room… of an URGENT CARE.” Now the robotics kicked in behind the counter. “ If you have an injury sustained at work, you must go to an emergency room.” Blah blah, you’re a leper, go away, blah blah blah. I knew now that there was no way around it because I could feel “OW” in every bone. It was time to call in the Special Forces – my family – and go to the emergency room.
Emergency rooms, I’ve found, defy the physical laws of time. I had checked in, given my insurance card, filled out paperwork and sat down in the empty waiting room. My sister Sherry was there, but I was the only injured party to be seen. An hour passed. Sherry asked if the doctor was very busy back there. “No.” Said the kindly receptionist; “he should be with you in a few minutes.” Oh goodie. There goes another hour, and another. Good grief! I was about to have my sister take me home and just tell the office staff to page me when the doctor decides to work! Suddenly, like the Knight-in-Bloody Armor that he is, my husband Doug came rushing through the door when – at the very same time – a pair of scrubs came to the opposite door. “Marie-Cook? This way, please. The doctor will see you now.” And it only took 3 ½ hours. Wow. What a day of miracles.
The wait had been so long that once inside, I expected to see each bed filled with mangled, moaning patients who had tubes popping out of every orifice. Instead, it was like a visit to Calico Ghost Town without the cool gift shop. There wasn’t a patient in sight! The only voices we heard were the ones of the support staff giggling at the latest piece of gossip. If I weren’t still in shock, I’d be annoyed. Once seated on the bed, vitals taken and gray curtain pulled neatly across its track, we waited for the all-powerful ER doctor. And we waited. AND we –you know, I’m detecting a pattern here – waited! *NOTE: If this “Worker’s Comp” plan is any foreshadowing of the “public” healthcare to come, forget it! I’m moving to the Amazon. I may not get healed there either, but at least I’ll die eating mangoes. I like mangoes.
The curtain opened at last. In stepped a much rested looking doctor who is still laughing from the joke he heard from the attendant. “So, you had a little accident, huh?” He glibly mentioned, still half-laughing. I’m glad one of us can be happy about it. “Uh… yeah, something like that. But mine involved an aircraft and…” “Don’t tell me,” he said with an all-knowing smirk. “Your neck and back hurts, right?” as he pointed to the two mentioned parts… POINTED “We see it all the time.” “OK, but…” he cut me off again with a wave of his hand, “Eh,” he grunted. “Road, Air, whatever. It all crunches your body up the same. HA-HA…” His head leaned back for a big guffaw which made me want to punch his larynx. I relayed my earlier symptoms of headache, nausea, and slurred speech, thinking naively that he might take this seriously. “Hmm. You probably had a concussion, but it’s pretty good now.” Thank you, Captain Obvious.
Exam ends. No X-rays, No CT Scans. Not even a TOUCH, I got a POINTED AT like I was a pie chart for near plane crashes. In the next few months – through real exams – it would be found I had a cracked vertebrae, three weakened discs, one disc split in half and permanent whiplash damage at five levels of my neck. The next four years showed the reality of delays, rationing and pigeon-holed treatments (i.e., “Fail First”policies) all inherent in a bureaucratic system like Worker’s Comp. My injuries went from mechanical to intricate. All three nervous systems were made dysfunctional causing 35 different health issues, 12 chronic diagnoses, 5 of which cause some of the highest levels of pain. One, Adhesive Arachnoiditis, results in a spinal cord that closely resembles a Venus Fly Trap in its all-consuming stickiness. From that first day until my last, I will never again know what a body feels like without pain.
The End ...
of this essay. But the beginning of an adventure you'll barely believe!