Charlie Cunningham Medical/Rehab
In early August, 2015, Charlie Cunningham, bicycle builder, inventor and all around amazing person, fell off his bike and sustained several serious injuries.
Charlie suffered broken bones, bruises, and trauma to his head. At the time, he didn't feel his head injury was significant. Unfortunately, seven weeks later, the head injury manifested into a subdural hematoma, a life threatening condition that resulted in emergency brain surgery. Having been about two minutes from death or complete vegetative state, he endured a hell period of about six months, beginning with two months in intensive care, followed by months of doctor's visits and rehabiliitation. His days of getting around by bike were over, or so we thought.
Currently, Charlie is at the "plateau" level. He has no sense of direction, nor much vision (his brain was affected, leaving the upper half of his visual field empty, as well as the periphery). But he is walking, speaking normally, with very little aphasia, and still working on learning the alphabet. he can read a simple news headline after about five minutes of careful study of each letter. We move about Marin on a gorgeous tandem, which will soon get a motor so we can go offroad, away from traffic.
His 'genius' resides now in his efforts to recover what most of us take for granted: balance, literacy and agency, the will to do things and make things, which seems to have disappeared when the brain bleed happened. Your donations will help to offset the costs of his rehabilitation and the visits to UC Berkeley Eye Clinic, and the weekly respite care visits. Thank you for your generosity.
A bit about the fund: it was dreamed up by Caroline James, a good friend of Charlie and Jacquie's since the 1987. She's an artist, web designer and was an early Wombat. Since the end of the first year of the fund, I have taken over most of the administration. Grant Petersen of Rivendell renown, and 1,200 donors like you have helped move us along, for which we're ever grateful.
Charlie and I just got a visit from Grant Petersen and his friends Doug and Jim two days ago. They have spent the last few months putting together a spectacular, comfy French blue "Hubbahubba" tandem with wide bars, flat easy pedals, artistic handlebar cordwrapping and silver puffy saddles.
We were astonished, and I surprised everyone by practically fainting after touching the bike. Looking up from the ground, I saw a bunch of concerned friendly faces, and hoped that this isn't a new development.
It might have been jet lag. I'd just returned from 10 days in New Hamp Shire and Varmint. Visiting old college friends and longtime pen pal Stephen W. of Farnum Hill Cider, located on Poverty Lane.
It was a dream trip.
Marc Elliott, a longtime fan of Charlie's work, took me in the first night, in Medfield MA, then up to NH, where he took his view camera shots of the apple barn and me, the future apple-doll of the biking set.
Charlie had lots of people coming by to help him pass the time.
His challenge these days is to 'make the time pass interestingly'....his executive function is still not there, but he responds beautifully to visitors, friends.
Yes, this means that he often can't read what he wrote. But for these last two years he's gone on solo walks, after carefully inscribing his notebook with a) where he's going b) when he left and when he believes he'll be back and c) if he's tacking on any 'extras'.
The other day he'd filled up his second "walk diary" and I took a picture or two to share with you before I recycle it.
If he's late, I walk down the street to find him (he hasn't any directionality, and truly he himself marvels that as near-blind as he is, and with such imperfect balance, he does these long, solo 2 hr walkabouts.
Charlie (for the first time ever) suggested we take out the tandem. This is "huge" (forgive the shopworn cliche)
because normally he's not initiating stuff.
But he's heard me on the phone with the folks at RAGBRAI (yes, we're going to ride the biggest bike ride across a deceptively hilly "flat state": Iowa, this summer. To see we can survive such a challenge, especially since Charlie 1.0 never ever traveled with me.
It happened to be a cool, half-sunny spring day. Wind defined it. The Nicasio Reservoir loop probably climbs a total of 1,200 ft, most of it right out of town up White's Hill.
As we twiddled in the tiny gear, motor traffic boomed past like a string of bomber airplanes one after the other. Then, a spell of 3, 5, maybe even 7 seconds of silence blessed us as we rode. Must be because of the traffic lights down in town, sending up pulses of noisemaking machines.
Around the reservoir, we cut through the wind like a dull knife cuts through a five-lb block of Tillamook medium cheddar. The blackish-green reservoir's surface had long white stretch marks running the length of the lake. Usually you see little transverse waves, but these 'corduroy' wavelets must be a result of strong wind...meanwhile, up on the farmland that curves high above the road, stripes of green alfalfa and gold chaff lay just like they do in England. We really do have it all here.
The long green grass was being tousled by the wind in gorgeous waves. Sometimes the wind took a breather, and the grass would come to a halt.
We twiddled on.
We're experimenting with gel saddle covers on TOP of gooshy gel saddles to relieve Charlie's crotchly pain.
I have been soldiering on, ignoring my whimpering pubic bones, and finally realized that a "Flite" saddle is not anything like the superb, very old and out-of-print saddles on each of my bikes (brand name not forthcoming).
Our friend Tasshi D. dropped by and I had him put my 'good' saddle on the Red Rover tandem, and I can't wait to try it out.
We've been on a roughly once a week riding routine, but since RAGBRAI is ahem seven straight days of about 60 miles (our loop is..ulp..32 miles) I figure I'll have to up it, and hope CC doesn't howl. He enthused about flowers ("is that a convolvulus?" he'd ask, as we whizzed past a little patch of pinkish white trumpets that were in fact convolvulus.
Today, when Charlie was on his walk, I saw a little wren tit or some wren-y (tipped up tail) bird flitting around the living room, smashing into the plastic sheeting that gives us 4 inches of dead air and keeps the house so cool in summer. I opened the doors, and within minutes the frantic thing, beak agape, made it safely into the cedar of lebanon outside.
When I went to type up a story, I saw a familiar long white-and-brown streak dribbling down my computer screen.
Harmless birdie do.
An hour later Charlie came home, his face aglow. As he struggled (fumble fingers is his New Normal) to undo the push button hat cord, he announced he'd spied a mountain lion on the fire road (Concrete Pipeline, his afternoon stroll).
"It seemed to hear me but not see me, so it trotted a bit, then slowed down and I just followed it for a couple of minutes. It was five-o-four o'clock or so. I forgot to look at my watch until ten minutes after it went downhill to the right, into the canyon where the horse stable is".
I gave him a big hug.
For the rest of the evening, he'd repeat: today I saw a lion!!
And we know how lucky we are to have 'em hereabouts.
Charlie is one of half-a-handful of modern bicycle geniuses and personal heroes of mine (and I am basically "anti-hero"). Everything I know about him, I love. Everything he's ever designed or made or innovated on his own personal bike, I admire and wished I was that smart. I'm so sorry to hear of this accident. Of course we all want him back on his superlight plastic saddle, held by the seat post that also holds a pump. Go, Charlie.
This is a tragedy and a wake-up call about head injuries and getting them checked out and monitored for a long time afterward. I was just thinking about Charlie last week; I was riding on Mt. Tam since 1981 at Thanksgiving when I rode it with Charlie and a number of other friends. He is creative genius, and a great human being to boot; I hope he gets his full faculties back soon. Get better soon, Charlie, and hang in there, Jacquie!
OMG! I am kinda the Cunningham FP, having provided care for Bruce, Charlie's fighter pilot and custom home builder dad, and his tiny book and social antiquarian mom Carol. As a late comer to the world of off road biking, and having been privileged to visit Charlie's shop, I just wanted to confirm the need for this kind of funding effort. For all the closed head injuries that our lifestyle generates, we have a very unsupportive neuro-rehab environment here in the US and A. Maybe the rising tide of reality about football injuries will help, but not in time for Charlie. Any contribution you can make will really make a difference in his recovery.
Jacquie, while I absolutely love his thoughts on greeting age, something many of us are currently doing, my favorite thing is when he talks about the "milky silver finish". This finish is what I always thought was SO beautiful about Campy (you should excuse the expression!) equipment. As far as your personal struggle with responsibility, most of us have been there...we travel a path that is comfortable for us, where we can make the most of our abilities, and then when the situation changes, radically in your case, the flexibility we all develop allows us to change directions. You can do it. You have your friends in your area, and hundreds outside of that. We are all breaking as much wind for you both as is possible. Actually, that's maybe not the best choice of words...
i can NOT wait to see that footage!!! I think of charlie every time i ride up Tam - and the other day i saw a gentleman with a cunningham racer - WALKING!! - i should have taken it away from him ; ) - still my holy grail of bikes - until then my 88 merlin will have to do - sending you love & strength
Yep. And "death-grip somersault " can be a lovely metaphor for how stuck we get in our own heads and fears, sometimes. Make that time to meditate, soak in a tub, walk in the woods, breathe, even write for 15 minutes or an hour: you've got to take care of YOU to be able to carry on. Peace and strength, Jacquie.
I shared the link to Deer Park's Nextdoor.com community to let people know what's going on in case they want to contribute/help. Some suggestions came back that you may already have heard of: Marin Villages: http://www.marinvillages.org/content.aspx?page_id=0&club_id=134956 Brain Injury Network: http://www.binba.org Memphis Center for Independent Living (not sure what their national outreach is, but they were recommended): https://sites.google.com/site/mcilaction/