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.
Small, significant steps:
Charlie occasionally speaks without prompting, which I welcome. It’s been a much quieter three years since the Event, as his brain first healed enough to form words and then thoughts and now, the still-rare Opinion.
Yesterday it was : “Sure glad we don’t live next door to THEM” (as we roll by a non-stop barking dog, en route to a summer picnic).
The day before that, he noticed the bathroom sink’s hot water faucet was loose.
Immediately I thought: plumber.
But he said “Get two screw drivers and some pliers. I can fix this.”
In the shop, there are two cups, one for Philips head ‘shrewd-drivers’, and one for regular flat-type slotted screws. Plus symbol on the former, minus on the latter, because they’re all jammed in nose-first and it’s nice to know they’re all the same type.
Couldn’t find the pliers (uh-oh…) so I brought the two screwdrivers and some needlenose pliers.
He fumbled with the needlenose tool, which could barely grip the 1 mm knurled edge of the cap at the front of the faucet, but it finally turned.
And inside the aperture, a big flat slot, so the regular shrewd-driver got handed over.
I have always been the Tool Holder, never the Tool User.
It felt really good to have him fix the slight play in the faucent.
We’re not taking any of this progress “for granite” (word play was another one of the things we shared endlessly coining Mondegreens, spoonerisms, malapropisms, etc) I can assure you.
In other news, I revisited a long-forgotten trail out on the spacious ridges near our house.
It had been constructed by unknown persons, and was eventually named “Nail Trail” thanks to the strategic placement of upward facing carpenter’s nails on the far side of a little log that was improved with a smaller roll-up log and a small roll-down log. The nails effectively pierced the rider’s front tire before they saw what they hit.
(Back then the solution was to carry the bike over logs in CASE of nails).
It had been 20 years since I’d been on the trail.
It was terribly rutted, one of the flaws of surreptitiously scraped-in trails. But it dives and swoops alongside a steep creek, passes through a fine golden meadow, and pops out on Kent Fire Road. I used to spend nights out in those redwoods, pretending, if caught, to be lost.
That’s nothing compared to the hippies that dwellt in the hunting lodge that Moose burnt down in the 1970’s when the vigilante MMWD ranger ‘took care’ of the porblem of unauthorrized use of quasi-public land.
I wonder if anyone knew those people, and how long they managed to live out there.
My personal peeve with MMWD is that they demolished--without any public notice or feedback--an 1875 or so barn in the parking lot at Bon Tempe Reservoir in 2003, mere weeks after I produced a 3-3-03 history picnic with three great historians of Marin County: Fred Sandrock, Jim Vitek, and Dewey Livingston. And worse: the movie I made of the event was confiscated by Casey May, the chief ranger and bike-loather.
Little peeves, in the big scheme of things. But they didn’t feel little then.
Charlie’s essay from 1969, UC Berkeley English 1-A
The Swamp ( a reminiscence of a 7 year old boy)
The swamp was in a remote place near the Potomac River in Virginia, hidden deep in the thickly wooded hills that were just south of the river. I discovered it one summer as I was following a small stream through the woods. That day, I was searching for box turtles and this stream seemed to be a logical place because it was cool and damp.
As I came upon the swamp I noticed that the stream diffused and trickled off among the many low-growing tuberous plants. The air was warm and still, slightly musty, and heavy with the smell of warm, black mud. The sunlight drifted in from the canopy of leaves and branches and formed warm splotches of brightness on the ground.
There were thousands of insects, buzzing and humming, flying lazily among the plants and flowers.
As I moved forward I tried to walk on raised bumps of ground and rotten logs so my feet wouldn’t sink in the mud. Eventually I came upon a large diamond-back wood turtle that had created a path of flattened weeds. It had a wide, strong shell, a bright orange neck, and a thick,, stumpy orange tail. I picked it up.
It hissed back into its shell, peering out with beady golden eyes. I started to carry it back home the way I came, but I hesitated. My mind projected to the turtle cage I had made and I imaged this beautiful, healthy turtle in the cage. Somehow it seemed incongruous. I didn't’ like the idea of its being trapped, and anyway it would be happier inhabiting the swamp. I decided to leave it.
I continued to explore the swamp. It was large and contained an endless variety of plants and animal life. The odor of rotting wood and the delicate aroma of eternal decay lay heavy on the air. Occasionally a garter snake slithered aimlessly across the surface of the shallow water. The low, twisted trees with misshapen trunks, the bushy ferns, and the unusual birds, and the wary green frogs all induced a feeling of being close to nature. There was a constant hum of life and activity. I left the swamp that day with the realization that I had found an exceptional place where all kinds of plants and animal life were concentrated.
I went back many times during that summer. School started again and I didn’t’ get many chances to visit the swamp because the trip took almost all day. Sometimes I found time on the weekends though, and I would leave very early in the morning with a lunch.
The swamp is gone now because a freeway was constructed through that very section of woods later in the year. It was a painful experience for me because all the life in that swamp was squashed so that people could pass through the area more conveniently in automobiles.
It was an abrupt and unfitting end to a place with such character. I began to have a more critical outlook on man’s disregard for natural areas. I noticed that the idea of “progress” was often used to camouflage destruction in other similar situations. For me, the loss of the swamp was tragic, but it made me more aware of the tremendous problems caused by man’s cancer-like expansion over the earth. There ware others swamps and forests, but they are rapidly getting scarred and ruined as man moves forward. Hopefully the trend can be stopped so that mankind will not lose ITS swamp.
I was surprised to fall back asleep at 4:30, and Charlie agreed to kill more time up in the treehouse--we came down at 9:30, to a cool grey smoky day.
After a breakfast of soup for me (from the chicken bones of last night’s music jam) and oatmeal for him, Charlie “rested & digested”-- a luxury he went without for all the of seven days of RAGBRAI, and indeed the other days we were in Iowa. His routine was abandoned, and it surely didn’t make the trip any more pleasant.
After learning from Gary Leo, our friend who knows everything you need to know about Apple computers, and a total science geek, that the air quality was ‘worse than they said’, we thought seriously about not exercising.
I’d done a hard 1 hr ride yesterday with the Over The Hill Gang...Tuesdays are my escape days. I am up at 6:30 and down the stairs.
Within ten minutes I’ve dressed, checked the fridge for oatmeal in the tupperware, rolled out my beater Breezer and rolled out toward the corner of Waverly and Bolinas, two towns away.
It feels like I’m playing hooky, my leitmotif.
Aug. 25, 2018 Instead of looking up the Air Quality Index on the computer, I rely on Gary’s expertise, and the machine he measures the air with at his home a mile away on Inyo Avenue.
His tool is a Dylos Air Quality Monitor model DC 1100 laser particle counter.
His numbers for today are 7000 ( particles smaller than 2.5 microns) and 45 for the particles larger than 2.5. They call those PM 2.5. I think our Bay Area Air Quality agency doesn’t show the different sizes, just the PM 2.5 reading.
And according to Gary there are LAYERS, which means he needs to haul the thing around with him, but it’s too heavy. The higher you go, the worse the air, at least today.
Thus. I roll out on the bike with a lighter heart and more information than last Tuesday, when I ‘suffered’ (the un-motorized Breezer is referred to as a suffer bike by the Over The Hill Gang).
Song on my mind from Hair: The Air, the Air, is everywhere.
The beauty of the day doesn't lure me out.
I made myself roll out the bike, my fine phlegm-green DeSalvo 29r...but then couldn't make myself ride it.
Instead I went to my desk to write.
Found a gorgeous bit of prose from Eric Bagdonas of Stumptown Printers in Portland:
"How better can you gain a sense of place than to wtiness its transformation from one feature to another, one pedal stroke at a time? How muchmore do you appreciate the beauty of a place when it takes some effort and time to get there? On the road, on the bicycle, youIre just there, almost static but keenly observing, as the whells silently pull the road toward and through you like film in a projector."
With that, I put down the triptych card upon which it was printed (it had a "hand-cut rubylith mask, two spot colors", and was a picture of Darin on his trusty Rivendell Atlantis, you can probably order this card by sending a fiver to Stumptown before Sept 1st)
and rang up Eric himself. I'd met him ten years ago at a particularly clique-ish music camp (Fiddle Tunes in Washington), and bonded as somewhat clueless banjo-learners in a fiddler's heaven.
Needless to say, he had news (the press, after years of successful printing, is being evicted) and we had a great old blab.
I'm sharing this with you as Charlie finished up his solo walk, which he vastly prefers to a spin on the tandem. This has been hard for me to accept, but he's willing to keep 'stoking' to make me happy...'maybe at some point it will be more fun' he says gamely.
The fact is, he isn't the boss on a tandem, and it's rougher to ride in the rear, any stoker will tell you that.
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/