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.
What to type on a sweltering (for us: 90 degrees) smoky afternoon?
How I throw a party.
Either with paper invitations and 3 months notice, asking for support to rent the Special Wombat Hideaway, or
with six phone calls four hours before sunset on the same day. Truly unprofessional.
But I never liked that term, and it never offended me because I’m not a pro at ANYTHING.
So here I am chopping a cucumber, blending yogurt and garlic, and wondering if three or four folks will drop by Offhand Manor to wish us a healthy next decade (we always made modular promises every ten years, choosing increments, rather than kidding ourselves about ‘forever’ ).
The RAGBRAI ride was so great, I can’t describe it yet. I’m still a rag broad, trying to firm up.
In the interim I have taught two Wombats, been hit by a car (very small one, but it was a shocker, and it was accelerating toward me), moron that later, and uh, not written the RAGBRAI talk I need to give at the Museum, since there didn’t seem to be a California contingent, and I’d like there to be one.
Because it’s cruel to withhold too much, let me assure you Charlie really did an impressive job of simply surviving each wakeup (4:30 am! More than three hours earlier than his usual, though with the 2 hr difference maybe his bio-clock didn't’ object much) and every flipping mile of the daily 65 or so we pedaled.
This weekend I hope to see if it’s replicable—65 “California” miles (I.e. with car traffic, rather than thousands of friendly cyclists cocooning us).
It's the day before. No panic yet, but last night we watched with increasing dread a movie called "A million spokes" , in which a handful of RAGBRAI riders are followed on their epic 7 day quest for ever more beer, after baptizing the bike in the Mississippi and riding with 20 or 30 thousand potential friend/crashmates. Bruises. Gashes. Divorces. The central character is the grieving boyfriend of a suicidal youngish woman named Cynthia whose last good time on the planet was this ride the year before. Heart-wrenching.
The emphasis on the booze though. Ulp. What's it like weaving through a 3-D hangover (other people's)?
Charlie was sitting next to me with the Corsons, who'd seen it before. I finally squeaked: "This is making me nervous" but we stuck it out to the end...
See you ....
Will this ever come to pass in foe-nirvana (Marin)?
An easy flight, and lovely bbq supper at Whatcha Smokin'? in nearby Iforget, Iowa.
Charlie is being as flexible as he can, and I'm scrambling to make sure he's got the steel cut oats, organic apple, even out of season, org. banana, purified water, never tap, and of course, eye-cover against the soft, musical five am dawn. I knew there'd be a dawn chorus, so I put on my noise gathering contraptions. In flowed birdsong that I never hear in foe nirvana, where our dominant bird seems to be the crow.
Twenty years ago it was the scrub jay, but they were edged out, methinks.
The Corsons are RAGBRAI veterans since nearly the beginning 45 yrs ago...and encouraged me to sign us up. Weather seems promising, right now it feels like about 78 or so, overcast, only 50% humidity (my guesses). The tornadoes that struck yesterday in Marshallville will leave decades-long memories, but I know that those things happen every summer. I had five childhood years in Kansas, so I get a visceral shudder when I watch the funnels swirl up the fields, roofs, churches, and drive hay straw through oak-bark. On TV.
If I'm lucky i'll find a thrift shop, purchase an Iowa-auntie sized very used brassiere (triple hook minimum) and affix some scraps to it and call it my RAGBRA. Us deaf folk make up a parallel world, as the hearing world narrates itself around us...
We've been out on tandem about 30 times, to practice for RAGBRAI 2018, but I doubt anything in this temperate coastal climate can prepare us for.....er...melting asphalt, wall-to-wall barbecue, rivers of beer (probably much of it good, too) and worst/best of all (the former for Charlie and the latter for me) 30,000 close personal future friends. How will I find the ones who speak 日本語？
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/