On Monday, September 28th, Mike set out once again from Ames for a long series of days working to help homeowners and their insurance companies identify and understand the damages to their property as a result of the Derecho on August 10th. While far from home on his first inspection of the day, he fell from the second story of a house.
Miraculously, Mike did not land on his head. He did not have a concussion. He did not break his hips. He did not break any of the bones in his feet or legs which helped to break his fall. The only major injury he sustained was a burst T12 vertebra. Which, admittedly, isn’t great - the vertebra was shattered. That, coupled with some bruising of the spinal cord and irritated nerves caused him a tremendous amount of pain.
The cover photo for this campaign is that brilliant smiling face we know and love - over four hours after the fall and with zero pain mitigation whatsoever.
Mike's first action upon falling, after being assured that the homeowner was calling 911, was to call me at work and tell me he "had a little accident." He managed to convey that the fall was bad without completely sending me into a panic. Within minutes, I left work, arranged care for our dogs, and started the 1.5 hour journey to the emergency room Mike was initially taken to. When I arrived, Mike was receiving the diagnostic imaging which confirmed that he would need specialty care beyond what the team there could handle.
After being transferred via ambulance to Iowa Methodist in Des Moines (pictured above), he was met by the best neurosurgeon Iowa has to offer. With the confidence that only experience can bring, we were assured that his broken spine, while acute, was perfectly manageable. Recovery not only seemed possible, but perfectly likely!
One of our greatest challenges during this time was our separation: Iowa Methodist is not allowing guests or visitors due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. With the exception of a few precious moments before and after surgery, Mike navigated the challenges of recovery in a hospital without his support network physically by his side. I am grateful for the advantages of modern technology which made the distance seem not quite so vast, but being unable to be his support in person was excruciating.
The surgeon devised a plan to address the shattered vertebra and the entire trauma team operated on Mike on Friday, October 2nd. Surgery was quick and smooth, lasting just under an hour. We learned that Mike has a particularly strong reaction to a certain anesthetic which caused an extreme bout of terror as he came to from the surgery. Even with that surprise, he soon was back to his normal ineffable sense of optimism, reassuring his entire family that everything was going to be fine. I’ve been told the nurses loved him for the kindness he showed them and the silly jokes he cracked!
He took his first steps in the hospital after the accident on Saturday morning, barely 24 hours after being on the operating table.
After a long weekend of recovery, and just over a week after the fall, Mike came home the night of Monday, October 5th. He arrived a little worse for wear and with a little “extra baggage” in tow. But, by that time, he was already able to walk with assistance and could even manage stairs for a short duration of time! His pain is intense but he is consistently working through it and improving every day. Using a walker, he is able to navigate the ground floor of our home. We are both sleeping on the couches downstairs, scheduling our sleeping and waking hours around pain management.
We have follow up appointments to help determine just how well Mike’s recovery process is going. It seems reasonably likely that he will recover to a majority of his previous functionality. He is growing stronger by the day and continues to make vast strides towards establishing mobility and improving his chances of a fuller recovery. We know that Mike is extremely fortunate to have made it through this accident as well as he has! He is able to be home and we are mostly able to manage his home care ourselves. I am not sure who was more excited when Mike finally returned home: him or the dogs!
This accident, as most do, came at an inopportune time. Mike has grappled with health problems for the majority of 2020, which led to him leaving his bartending job at Cafe Beaudelaire in February. Wrestling with unemployment and his sense of self-worth during the spring and summer months made it feel so much more of a victory when Mike returned to insurance adjusting in August. One of the downfalls of being an independent insurance adjustor, however, is that there is no employer to provide health insurance. Mike is uninsured.
Even before Mike went into surgery, we received medical bills for his care. We are expecting his medical bills alone to total more than $50,000. In addition to the mounting bills, I, his wife, have had to take time off of work to care for him. The costs for supplies for home care have been mounting as well. There is also the question of when -- or, realistically, if -- Mike can return to work. A minimum of four months is necessary for rehabilitation from this surgery. It is quite possible that he will never return to climbing around roofs again. (I would much prefer that he never set foot on a roof or ladder again!)
We never anticipated finding ourselves joining the chorus of uninsured people asking for help. We would usually never ask for help. Bills continue to arrive every day and the ongoing care Mike will need over the course of the next year as he recovers from this accident will be costly. The ever increasing debt is suffocating but we know we can recover from this horrible accident with a little help from our friends.
One of my favorite moments from this all is Mike settling in on the couch, doing his best to find the most comfortable position his body would allow him. He asked me to hand him my little parlor guitar and, though he hasn’t played in months, began to play “Hallelujah.” I have never heard a sweeter tune in my entire life.
Thank you for taking the time to read our story. We hope love and light find you in these uncertain times.
- Loren Zachary
- Olivia Hampton
- Michelle Smith
- Gary Munkvold
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