Biographical Non-Fiction posted September 10, 2018

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Based on a true story

You Gotta Show Up

by Earl Corp

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Memorial Day 2016, sweat dripped off the end of my nose when I approached the starting line of the Human Race 5k. It was already 85 degrees at 7 A.M.. When the air horn signaled the beginning of the race I watched as the other 100 or so competitors started to leave me in the dust.

Feelings of frustration started to come over me and for a brief moment I thought about quitting. "Why am I doing this to myself? Who would know if I quit?" I thought, 'I would,' was the answer.

I then thought about what  brought me to this point that I could walk in a 5k race. The road had been long tto get here, over six years worth of blood, sweat, pain, and physical therapy. The real beginning of the story was Dec. 7 2010.

The Incident
I had been working as a newspaper reporter and on Nov. 29 while covering a reception for troops returning from Iraq, I leaned up against a cafeteria table which folded in the center and I went down on my butt. Initially it didn't hurt but by the next day I was in intense pain and couldn't stand up straight.

Within a couple of days I was hallucinating and holding conversations with people who weren't there. It was actually pretty cool, but it scared the Hell out of everybody else. When my balance ceased and I was falling regularly I was packed off to the hospital. The last thing I remembered was going to the bathroom in the Greenville hospital and falling.

I woke up three days later in Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh. I didn't know who I was, I didn't know my wife, and I couldn't walk any more. It took a couple of days to piece together what had happened. When I had fallen I cracked my L4 and L5 vertebrae. I already knew this because I had gone to the emergency room when I couldn't straighten up.

What I didn't know was I had some dormant bacteria left over from an infection. The bacteria attacked the injury site and caused a spinal cord infection. The infection traveled all the way up the cord until it got to my brain.

This is what caused the balance problems and brought on hallucinations. The doctor told my wife, Anna, that only 47 percent of the people inflicted with this got off the operating table. One of Anna's favorite sayings is that I've won life's lottery.

One of the doctors who operated on me came in the day after I woke up. During his visit he told me I'd never get out of a wheelchair. This was a defining moment for me; it also was the instant Anna knew I'd be alright. I sat up in my bed looked at the doctor and said, "You wanna bet?"
Realizing I had only one shot at rehabilitation, I made a vow to myself that I would do exactly what the therapists told me to do.

I was moved back to Greenville Hospital to begin my rehabilitation. I was wheeled in a wheelchair to the rehabilitation suite every day. There I worked on my balance and maneuvering with a walker. Meanwhile I was receiving antibiotics intravenously to combat the spinal infection. I was originally given Vanco mycin, which  an allergic reaction shut down my kidneys which cost me another month in the hospital.

As I got closer to going home, they started me working on going up and down stairs. Stairs were a challenge but eventually I could go up and down 12 stairs. One obstacle I couldn't overcome was getting up from the floor by myself. After working with me a couple of afternoons the therapist told me not to walk around unless someone was home with me in case I fell.

The Road to recovery
Once home I had to get signed up for physical therapy. This was to begin a four and a half year relationship with Momentum Therapeutics. The best thing about Momentum was they had a swimming pool. For 45 minutes I was normal I didn't need any assistance to walk. Within a month I said goodbye to the wheelchair and was using a walker.

Looking back on it, I had very grandiose goals: I wanted to not only walk, but I wanted to go back to work and drive again. I knew it was going to happen even though the doctor told me to get used to the walker and accept it as my "new normal."

Within a year, I left the walker behind and was now using Lofstrand, or forearm crutches. The next big milestone I hit was at the 23 month mark I was sent to Transportation Solutions in Erie for a driving evaluation.

Bear in mind I was being chauffeured everywhere by Anna. My whole social life revolved around Momentum three times a week.

The Transportation Solutions driving evaluation was no joke. I had to take a vision test, reflex test, a cognition test, the regular driver's license test, and then the driving portion. I had to drive through Erie, parallel park, then get on the Interstate and come back to the office. If I'd had to do all this when I was 16 I never would have gotten my driver's license. The evaluator told me when she observed me entering the building on my crutches that she didn't think I'd be able to pass the evaluation.

Taking My Life Back
I was now on the road and on the air. Next on the agenda was to get a job. This was going to be a hard sell to Anna who had balked at every milestone. I found a half day long-term special education substitute position at Sharon High School. I thought a half day position would be a lot easier to convince Anna.

When I interviewed I was told it wasn't a half day, after teaching in the morning I would be monitoring a computer lab for the rest of the day. That's how I became the Computer Lab Czar of room 222. Anna agreed and I was well on the road to independence.
Unfortunately, there wasn't a full time teaching position for me at the end of the year, so I became a news reporter for the Meadville Tribune. This is where my life took a big turn for the better.

My pain doctor had retired in July and I was meeting my new pain doctor in October. I just happened to mention that my hips were catching when I went from sit to stand. After trying to manipulate my hips she told me to go down the hall and get x-rayed. When I came back she said, "You need new hips buddy."

After having both of my hips replaced I was told in rehabilitation I might not need any assistance to walk, neither crutches nor canes. Upon hearing this I set a goal for myself, I was going to walk in 5k races and collect enough T-shirts to have a quilt made. Then I was going to take my woobie with me to see the doctor who told me I'd never get out of a wheel chair.

To date, I've walked in 54 5k races and finished dead last in 48 of them. The funny thing is I received  medals in 19 races. This made me think life is very similar to a 5k race, you don't have to be fast, just show up-and finish.

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This is kind of long but there's no way to tell it in a shorter format. Enjoy!
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