Christopher’s Story

Christopher KeyChristopher Key is a former fellow Salon blogger, and a friend. He’s a Vietnam War vet and the descendant of F Scott Key, who wrote the US national anthem. He was so unhappy with Bush he announced plans in 2004 to move to Canada and renounce his US citizenship. This, of course, earned him a fair bit of notoriety. Then we stopped hearing from him, and his blog went silent, and e-mails to him went unanswered. And then about a month ago, he broke the long silence with this astonishing letter to his friends:

An apologia, if you will.  As you may remember, I was a bit of a media star back in 2004.  National media in both Canada and the US were holding a bit of a circle jerk over the patriotic American who was ready to become a traitor to his country. Or so it seemed. I should know better than to announce my plans in public. Every time Iíve ever done that, fate has pulled the rug from under me and I end up with egg on my face. So it was this time.

I was blithely pursuing my plans to flee to Canada when I came down with a mysterious staph infection. Ordinarily, that sort of thing happens when you have been operated on in hospital or have an open wound. I had neither. I woke up one morning with a stiff neck, did some stretching to get rid of it and gave it no more thought. But it kept getting worse. Eventually, I went to the ER three times in excruciating pain, but they could find nothing wrong. I went to chiropractors, acupuncturists and Reiki practitioners, but nothing touched my pain. I was beginning to lose function in my arms and hands and my beloved Reiko had to come down from Canada to help me dress and take a shower.

Meantime, I pretty well disappeared off the map. My application for Canadian citizenship went by the boards. The national publications from which I had only recently begun to receive regular assignments must have been puzzled at my disappearance. Not so puzzled that they bothered to pay me for outstanding invoices, however.

Finally, I managed to convince the medical establishment that there was something seriously wrong. The trouble was, it wasnít showing up on X-rays or MRIs. By that time, the staph infection had pretty well eaten up three of my vertebrae (C5 to T1 for those of you who are medically sophisticated). I was operated on by a neurosurgeon at the local hospital and placed in a ìhalo,î a brace that is actually screwed into your head. I donít remember much of this, but am reconstructing events from what I have been able to discover.

I suddenly took a turn for the worse and the local neurosurgeon realized he was in over his head. It was serious enough that I was helicoptered to Providence Hospital in Seattle, where a surgeon much higher on the medical food chain took over. I had three more operations, resulting in a bone fusion and a lot of titanium hardware being placed in my neck. There were serious doubts as to whether I would survive. If I did, the prevailing medical opinion was that I would never regain the use of my hands and arms due to the extensive neurological damage. Total hospital time: two months.

I learned a lot about the industrial medicine model during this time. Of course, I was on so many drugs that I canít really trust my memories. Most of the time, I was suffering from horrendous hallucinations and couldnít even find the call button that was pinned to my pajamas. I know that I was seriously mishandled several times resulting in unbelievable pain. Once, when I was screaming for relief, a nurse told me to quit whining. The doctor had been notified and would release pain meds in a couple of hours. Those were long hours, my friend.

Once I was on the road to recovery, they took a very cold approach toward pulling me off the heavy meds. They basically strapped me down in a room and let me go through withdrawal on my own. I was shaking uncontrollably, vomiting and nobody responded for hours. Eventually, they took me out of the room, complaining loudly about what a mess I had made.

Finally, I was released from the hospital to an extended care facility. Fortunately, one of my close friends is administrator of such a facility in Bellingham. She and my daughter, who has my power of attorney, made sure I ended up there. I am very blessed in that the care I received there was both professional and compassionate. When I arrived, I had very little movement in my left hand and arm and none in my right. The prognosis was that I would never get it back.

I wasnít having any of that and neither were my therapists. I spent four and a half months in rehab and my therapists insisted on calling me ìThe Miracle Man.î OK, I had a kick-ass attitude about coming back, but it was their skill and enthusiasm that did the trick. In short, I have recovered almost completely. After three months in an assisted living facility and enduring two very nasty neck braces, I am finally out on my own again and living independently.

The medical bills added up to well over half a million dollars. I had insurance, but it didnít pay for everything. My kids sold off everything I owned in order to pay the bills and I am having to start from scratch. No complaints. Iím just happy to be alive and able to play the old keyboard. Of course, Iíve had to battle the state over benefits because I had the nerve to look for work while I was still on disability. Iíve had to retain an attorney in order to keep the state from punishing me because I tried to get off the dole. Go figure. The state will spend more money trying to defend its ridiculous rules than it would if it had just settled out of court. So now I have to defend myself in a hearing over my benefits. If I had just sat on my ass and done nothing, I could have been on the dole until September.

And hereís the kicker. When I started looking for work, I applied for unemployment benefits so I could pay for my car insurance, gas, etc. Some upstanding citizen in the local DSHS office reported me to the unemployment authorities as being unable to work. This despite having been cleared by my neurosurgeon. Government is a wonderful thing. So now, I am having to retain an attorney to represent me at a hearing wherein DSHS will dispute my eligibility for benefits that I told the social worker I didnít need in the first place. And Iím being investigated by the unemployment authorities because someone at DSHS made a false accusation with no basis in truth.

Thatís all irrelevant, however. Itís a continuing miracle that I am able to wake up every morning, take a shower and dress myself without help. I start work tomorrow for a company that allows me to work from home and I have a comfortable apartment where I can live independently. That may seem like a small thing, but I have learned to celebrate the small victories. Like being able to work a keyboard again, or making a fist, or making chords on my guitar.

I have thought of you often during this long recovery and wanted to get back in touch. I have learned some very important lessons: never take your good health for granted, always live life in the moment and never announce your plans in public. Life, at least my life, doesnít work that way. Thanks for listening to this rambling screed and I would love to hear from you. I have no plans to resume blogging since I donít have the time or the energy, but I have been proved wrong too often to predict what might happen. Blessings upon you.

Christopher Key

This entry was posted in Our Culture / Ourselves. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Christopher’s Story

  1. David Parkinson says:

    Sweet Jesus. I’m feeling pretty pumped about being able to type right about now.

  2. etbnc says:

    Wow.Thanks for sharing this, Dave.

  3. tim says:

    Holy cats. Half a million dollars !?!!?

  4. Vish Goda says:

    To think that all this misery could have been avoided, had the proper diagnosis been made early on. One expects everyone to be knowing what they do and doing their best as well, but you can never relinquish control. I cannot imagine the stand taken up by the Government. When a person, who has been a conscientious taxpayer all these years, is seeking disability benefits, you don’t question his intentions. Why cannot they apply discretion? Why is there so much indolence?Its not the system, its the people, its us – sometimes I think, we have taken up more than we can chew – and then refuse to acknowledge that – and mess up everything – even that which is working..

Comments are closed.