Below is an interview I conducted with Lane over the summer. As a primer, I’m Lane’s friend, Ben, and I administer this website. I worked with Lane at SugarCRM and we quickly became good friends. One thing I’ve told Lane is that myself and others would be curious to know a lot more about his situation, his recovery, his mindset, etc. Given how busy life can be, I conveyed to Lane that it’s possible our efforts to support him and engage with him may not be what it could be if we knew more about how things were going with him and his recovery. With that in mind, he tasked me with interviewing him given our relationship and my profession working in media. I’ve broken up the interview in four sections because of it’s length as I imagine some of you will not read the entire thing in one sitting. I hope you’ll enjoy and more importantly continue to support Lane however you’re able to. – Ben
Lane: I guess the impetus from my trip was kind of quarter-life crisis, if you will. I was just kind of stuck in the nine-to-five rut of the cubicle job and had a friend that traveled around the world, and I heard about all her stories and adventures, and it kind of planted the seed in my head. Kind of what’s out there. So I quit my corporate job and went and thought it would be no problem finding a job when I got back.
LL: Did the trip deliver what you were in search of?
Lane: I would say it met most of my expectations, and I’ll circle back around on an unexpected result of the trip. Getting out, seeing different cultures and parts of the world, meeting a lot of fellow travelers is huge, I met people from all over the world, and since we were all like-minded individuals, it was easy to connect with people. What I got out of it that I was not expecting was an appreciation for work, which I was kind of surprised about.
LL: Do you remember the incident in its entirety or just portions of the aftermath? Does it ever replay in your head, or do you have dream about it? How vivid is that whole incident in your head?
Lane:. I remember everything that happened. I was never unconscious. But with what accuracy I remember… god only knows.
It’s not something I dwell on or haunts my dreams. It’s not really something I ever think about at all. It is what it is. It was the fault of my own. If I had been hit by a drunk driver or was shot by someone else’s doing, I definitely think I’d probably dwell on it more. It’s something that happened, and I’m moving on past that.
LL: How important was it to have people you know with you while overseas as this situation played out?
Lane: At the onset of the actual accident, I was fortunate enough to have a good friend of mine, Natalie, visiting. Because she was on the boat with me when it happened and above and beyond that, I was lucky enough to be on the same boat with one tourist who was a doctor. So as soon as the injury happened, a doctor kind of took over the situation because the drivers of the boat were just local guys who were mostly familiar with the local waters.
The doctor took over getting me stabilized and making sure my neck was good to go. Kind of jerry-rigging anything on the boat we could use to keep me stabilized. My friend Natalie was there assuring me everything was ok, other than the head. She was the one I kept asking questions to: “Why can’t I move? Why are my legs stuck in the air?”
At the time of the accident, I felt like my legs and arms were up in the air, so I kept asking her, but she was like “no, they are by your side.” So having her there from the comfort factor, somebody that I knew and having the doctor onboard who spoke English and kind of took control of the situation, was hugely beneficial.
I was cognitively aware enough to have them walk me through giving my buddy a call and that I had proper insurance. Natalie was able to handle all that logistical stuff. Once I made it to Bangkok to the actual hospital that I was moved to and my brother and mom came out. Obviously there are no words to describe what that does to you. Having those familiar faces that love and support. My brother kind of taking over the situation, speaking to the doctors and coordinating things back in the United States, dealing with all the difference resources that were going to be needed to get me out of the country, get me into the country and what happens when I’m back in the United States. Which allowed my mom to be a mom; she could just sit by the bedside and do her mom thing.
LL: What was your mindset at first while in the hospital?
Lane: That’s a good question. I still remember the doctor on the boat. I knew I was paralyzed, and the guy said, “Don’t panic too much, it might just be a spinal cord shock. You could be just experiencing some swelling around the spinal cord that is just pushing on it, and as that slowly goes down you might be back to normal.”
So I kind of had that mindset in the beginning when I was in the hospital. But as the days wore on and I finally got an MRI, that mindset quickly changed to, “oh, shit.” The doctors I had in Bangkok were extremely optimistic and very positive. All they kept saying is, “You are lucky to be an American. and there’s endless possibilities once you get back to your country with the technology and things of that nature.” So I think the doctors being very optimistic about what would happen once I finally made it home helped a lot. Also, given the fact that all the doctors there spoke English and the quality of care, I was never worried about as well. So I never really went into, at least from what I can recall, into panic mode. Obviously I cried and was sad and depressed, but I don’t think I was ever really panicked. And then obviously with my brother there handling all the minutia and the logistics, all I had to do was sit there and do nothing except let my body do what it needed to do to allow me to be safe enough to fly home.
LL: When did you feel that you had enough time to process everything going on? Or is that kind of an ongoing process?
Lane: Definitely an ongoing process. My real “ah-ha” moment was when I made it back to the States. I had just got out of surgery, I was in ICU by myself, and the resident came in and in his typical doctor demeanor and was like, “Your injury is very severe, and you are never going to walk again.”
That’s when I really let loose with the tears and cried. I was by myself with just the nurse who was not very compassionate. He was nice about it, but he said, “I don’t know what you were expecting. It’s been two weeks and you haven’t moved anything.”
Looking back and talking to more and more people, I can understand why they do that. They obviously want to give you that worst-case scenario to prevent you from having false hope, but also in my personal opinion, whether this is intended or not, with this injury to have the will to get better, it’s all about kind of proving the doctor wrong. To give that enemy or villain to fight back against.
Adjusting to physical limitations
LL: How would you describe suddenly going from fully-abled to having limitations physically? Are there things people wouldn’t understand that you can explain?
Lane: There are no words I have in my vocabulary to describe what that initial onset is like. I think the biggest misconception from the outside world, which I had as well before my injury, is that people with spinal cord injuries, our main goal is to walk again. I think that’s obviously everyone’s kind of big grandiose goal, is to be able to walk again. It’s all about walking, walking, walking, walking.
However, if you could ask pretty much anybody with a paralysis, whether they be a paraplegic or quadriplegic, if they could have one thing back, what it would be, I guarantee most people would say the return of bowel and bladder, followed by sexual function.
Those would be the top three things, and then depending on the injury it would probably go, if you were a paraplegic it would probably be walking after that. I know for me my big priority is getting my arms and hands to work again, because that translates into independence.
LL: What are simple things you missed from when you had full mobility that we wouldn’t think about?
Lane: Great question. The obvious ones are walking and feeding yourself. Those are the ones that anyone sees as probably the most noticeable. But for me, it’s being able to scratch an itch on my nose, to change the TV channel. I can’t fart. I love farting. You know, something stupid like that. Being able to cover your mouth when you sneeze.
Privacy is a huge one. There are no words to explain what the lack of privacy is like with this injury when you need someone around you pretty much 24/7. You hear a lot of parents say they don’t have time to themselves. Well you do. When you go to take a dump, or you go to take a shower, it might only be a minute or five minutes by yourself, but at least you have alone time. Or when you are driving home from work in your car, you have that alone time. I never have that alone time. If I do have that alone time, it needs to be scheduled. It’s ok, I’m home for an hour, whoever is with me is going to leave and they are either going to come back in an hour or the next person will be here in an hour. So my time to myself is very scheduled, and I guess that really leads to spontaneity is a thing of the past. I don’t even know what being spontaneous is anymore. And those that know me know I pretty much live my life very spontaneously.
LL: When did you realize that you were regaining some mobility, functions, sensations? When did you start realizing that some recovery was beginning to be possible?
Lane: When I was still in Bangkok, the first kind of big thing was my left big toe. Which was huge, because it was very weak but then opens up the possibilities at that point. I started to get stuff back very quickly, all things considered
The next big “ah-ha” moment was when I was home and I was being a smartass and someone poked me in my leg with a ballpoint pen, and I was like, “Do that again.” They poked me again, and I felt it. I think sensation is probably the one that I noticed the most as far as returning. Movement… I don’t know. And then obviously I know that two years ago I wasn’t where I am today, but the progression of those milestones are not things that I really paid attention to or journaled any of that.
LL: What is rehab and therapy like for you? Is it enjoyable? Do you look forward to it?
Lane: When I was initially back home starting physical therapy, I absolutely loved it. I enjoyed going, I enjoyed participating. I was all about it. It got me out of the house. It got me around like-minded individuals. It got me around people that understood this injury, that knew how to deal with it… that didn’t ask all the generic questions that typical people would ask, including myself probably. These guys already knew all those answers, so they didn’t need to ask. So that was really cool, and I really enjoyed going to the different therapies.
As time progressed, things weren’t clicking and things weren’t coming back as quickly as I had hoped. Initially I was very optimistic that I was going to be back up and going and this was only going to be a year or two. Once those returns weren’t as big or stopped happening as quickly, that’s kind of when it became more of a, “This is fun and I’m actually doing something,” and turned into a job, and I wake up in the morning and this is what I do.
The majority of Americans and probably around the world, for the most part, don’t wake up and say they are excited to go to work. as it’s just a paycheck, and that’s what they need to survive. So that’s kind of how I look at it now, as something I have to do. But just like any job, it’s monotonous, the same people all the time, the same trainers… but some of that initial stuff being around like-minded individuals that is definitely still a thing.
LL: So what do the doctors and therapists think about your recovery process up until now?
Lane: One of the worst things about this injury is the big, huge question mark that looms at the end of this road. This unknown. An incomplete quadriplegic that essentially means that early on I could get everything back or nothing back. I am where I am today most likely in the middle of that spectrum. The doctors say you just got to work at it and do your hard work, do therapy, and whatever you get back, you get back. There’s really nothing from the doctor’s standpoint that they can tell you. It’s not, do this every day for ten years and you’ll be back to normal. There’s no way they can predict those outcomes.
In the medical community, there has been a gradual shift towards learning more and understanding spinal-cord injuries in more depth and detail. You talk to people that are injured 20, 30, and even 10 years ago, and doctors would say, “You know, you have six months to a year, two years to get back whatever you can, and at that point what you have is what you have.” That thought process and mentality is definitely shifting towards this neuroplasticity, which essentially means your body… that mind-body connection is intelligent enough to figure things out well beyond whatever timeframe the doctors used to think. There are people that are 10 to 15 years injured that are still getting things back. Although that is a very popular question and a question that a lot of people ask, what the doctors are saying, what the therapists are saying, where are you going to be and what’s your prognosis? It’s really a big unknown. The only thing I can say is that from where I was to where I am now was definitely unexpected, and there’s not a single doctor out there that thought I would have made the returns I have given the initial injury and how severe it was and the location of it.
LL: Over time, do the limitations that you have right now, do they become less frustrating or more frustrating?
Lane: I think about my limitations almost non-stop every day. I can only speak for myself, obviously, but everything I see in the world is an example of something that I cannot do. Literally anything, like somebody blowing their nose or cracking their fingers. Obviously all the big things like walking, running, sports, and all that.
For me it’s all those small little things that I think about on a daily basis. Watching TV or watching a movie, seeing all those characters doing all these different things… I think about all that. The second part of your question, how that affects me, has definitely changed over time. I was in a pretty dark place… when I first got hurt and once I got home… I got home in June, and as September and October approached of that first year, all the little demons started to come in. I was in a pretty bad place. You really get an idea of what your limitations are because I can also guarantee for everybody else that has been through this is that suicide has definitely crossed their minds. For someone such as myself, the ultimate kind of “fuck you” is that if I did want to kill myself I had no way of doing it without any help. So that goes to show you how dependent and helpless you are.
Obviously as time goes on you learn to adjust, you learn things, you kind of get in your routine and then I no longer have those thoughts, but I still think about all the limitations I have.
How have things changed?
LL: You have this huge outpouring of love and support. How does that make you feel? Is it too much at times?
Lane: I do not enjoy being the center of attention. I don’t like to talk about myself, which has been a big reason why I really haven’t done much blogging. I don’t want to get up there and talk to myself. I don’t know if what I have to say people care about, if I’m just talking to vent. With that said, the outpouring of support initially was unbelievably overwhelming, but at the time, I didn’t really want to go on Facebook and read what people were saying. I didn’t want to read the comments people were leaving on the donation page. I didn’t want to do any of that. I just wanted to focus on the here and now, and rehabilitating and getting back on my feet. I didn’t really want to be connected to the outside world. If anything I just wanted to be in my whole, this is my daily routine… so that is where I kind of got sidetracked there.
Another reason why I haven’t done a very good job of keeping people up to date on my own is that of the posts that go up, I think I’ve only posted one thing since I’ve been injured. I think everything else has been done on my behalf. This interview is exactly to get my voice out there and let it be heard, but to have somebody asking those questions, but not necessarily talking about myself from my own personal opinion. It’s like, here’s the questions people have and let me address those. So my voice is out there, but not out there in any egotistical or boasting way or along those lines.
LL: How can people be a part of your life and be supportive in a way that isn’t going to overdo it or make you feel awkward? What are a couple things that could be helpful for people?
Lane: What I learned pretty quickly on is that I do have a large support network, which I am unbelievably grateful for. As I came back, people wanted to hang out, they wanted to participate, they wanted to do whatever they could. And anybody that is injured will tell you that the initial support that is there dwindles quickly over time, and I had that same experience. People bringing food over or wanting to hang out, that goes away very quickly. Being extremely social and putting friends on a pedestal was definitely hurtful and still is. I’d like to think I’d be that guy that would drive two hours or come swing by after work just to say hello or to hang out.
Now I can’t put all that on my friends because one of the issues with me is that, as I mentioned earlier, my life is very scheduled. People will say I want to hang out but you are just so busy. And it’s not that I’m busy, but I just need someone around the majority of the time, so everything has to be scheduled. So next weekend, two weekends from now, I might already have something scheduled, and it might just be going to see a movie or going to a friend’s house to watch a game, so it really takes a lot of planning to hang out with me, which I can understand would get a little frustrating for people. They try to support and try to help, but I just don’t have the time for them, so I get how that could wear on people a little bit.
To answer your question about what people can do, it’s really just kind of hanging out. You know me, I liked to go to sporting events, I liked to be out and about. Obviously I liked to party and have a good time, all those things. I definitely suffered, and I still do big-time, but before I could kind of, on a whim, do whatever the hell I wanted whenever the hell I wanted. Now I’m not able to do that. So again, when people want to hang out, it just takes a lot more planning. And when people are with me, I guess one of my biggest pet peeves is people thinking they know what is best. Let me give you a good example: On the Fourth of July, I was going to my friend’s house a mile and a half down the street. I was going to just drag myself down there in the chair. I get there and everyone is so amazed, they said, “Oh my god you came down here all by yourself? Were you scared? Will you be able to make it home ok? You better make it home before it gets dark.” Sometimes I feel like they treat me like this guy that just went on a trip around the world two years ago by myself, and now I need to be hand-held all the time. So that part is extremely frustrating and emasculating in a way.
LL: Has your situation changed any of your relationships or maybe changed your thoughts on life?
Lane: It’s drastically changed my outlook on the world and outlook on other people. Not that the little things ever really got to me. I’ve learned a lot about friendships and friends that I thought were close didn’t even reach out. Or maybe they reached out initially but I haven’t heard from them for a year or two years. Where other friends that I was maybe just an acquaintance with or saw here and there have really stepped up to the plate to help out.
I have also learned a lot about family and how important family is. As before I kind of put my friends before the family, and something I almost prided myself in was friendships over my family. Looking back that was probably not the best decision in the world to make. As friends are kind of moving on with their lives and do their own things, which obviously they are entitled to, but my family is going to be there no matter what, at least for the most part. I have made a greater effort to be involved in their lives and allowed them to be involved in my life.
Some family members I was very close to have been distant, which is surprising. while some extended family members I wasn’t very engaged with have been very supportive. So that kind of gives you an idea of the perspective of being in this position and looking at it to see some of the sacrifices people have made that were unexpected vs. those people I thought would be there for me, friends and family, that really haven’t showed up.
LL: When you dream, are you dreaming with limited mobility or are you able-bodied?
Lane: I hate dreaming. I guess the good news is I’ve never dreamed about being in a chair once. I’ve never had a dream about the disability. What I will dream is I’ll be dreaming that I’m not disabled, but I know that I am. So I know something’s not right. I can’t throw a baseball, I can’t play soccer. Whatever the dream may be, I know something is not right. But in the dream I appear to be able bodied and fully mobile. So it’s almost… it’s depressing because I am doing everything in this dream and then I wake up and, “Oh shit, I can’t move.”
LL: Let’s say you had 24 hours of full mobility via some dumb plot in a movie, what would that day look like?
LANE: Ohhhhhhhhh, great question! First thing that comes to my mind is obviously sex. I’m not bashful about that. There would definitely be lots of that hopefully. I don’t mean that immaturely at all, I’m being very serious. I definitely wouldn’t want to spend the whole day doing that by all means. Outside of that, I would definitely like to go on a run. Those are the kinds of big things I’ve been thinking about the question as you asked it.
Being able to pet a dog… I love dogs, I have a HUGE place in my heart for dogs and I can’t pet them. I don’t have the ability to not only have the dexterity in my hands to pet a dog, but to be able to feel the fur and all that. I’d definitely spend some time with dogs on the ground rolling around and playing.
I would definitely just enjoy being by myself. That would be a huge. Just go driving around listening to music and be by myself. Being able to shower, shit, and shave myself. Go have a really good meal somewhere and feed myself. I’d probably drink for a little bit too. to be honest. I haven’t drank since the day of my accident. I’d probably go have a cocktail somewhere and just sit back and enjoy. That was a very good question.
LL: So you told me you are planning on coming back to school. What are you going to be studying, and what was the motivation there?
Lane: I never got my degree, and I’ve resented that, although it has not hindered my success. I still think a degree is something that I would like to pursue, and now it’s kind of forced my hand to pursue that. The skills I have are in sales, really, which required a lot of computer use and a lot of mouse use, but that’s something I am no longer able to do. I need to go back to school to figure out something else for limitations that I would be able to do. I’m lucky enough to be able to, via taxpayers, so thank you guys. So now I am in the position where I have the time and don’t have to worry about paying for it, and I need that degree to do something in my life, and now would be the perfect time to do it.
LL: What is the biggest misconception you think people have about you?
I think the big one, and without rambling this one out, is I hate being referenced as an “inspiration”. There are two people that I can think of in two years as an inspiration, and I can follow that up with an example.
Ok so, I’m injured, and I’m obviously doing what I can to get back as much as I can. Did I inspire you to do anything? Did I inspire you to run a marathon or take the stairs instead of an elevator? What did I inspire you to do? So that word really annoys the hell out of me. But if someone can back that up with something, then it’s not a big deal. I’d actually love to hear how I’ve inspired people because the two stories I have makes me feel really good. I don’t fault anybody for any of these things because, god knows I’d probably be doing the exact same thing if the roles were reversed.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this interview with Lane. We encourage you to get involved and continue to support Lane’s recovery however you can!