Bumps in the Road of Life

Mike and Libby's life has been happy, stable, and (mostly) trouble and pain-free.   They consider themselves blessed, as they and their daughters have been healthy and safe.   However, there have been a few difficult moments in their lives, including:  

  1. The Bike Accident: Head Injury
  2. The Tornado
  3. Cancer(s)
  4. "Blackout" Car Accident
  5. "Life Savers"
  6. The Blizzard

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The Bike Accident

In 1988, Mike was in excellent physical condition: he'd been playing tennis, was into distance running, and was biking as well.   He had taken up running and biking to increase his stamina, because he was losing some tennis matches he felt he should have won.   On April 4, he went out in the late afternoon for a "fitness bike ride" on the canal bank near his home.   He was well equipped, with large 10 speed bike, a quality helmet, riding gloves, and biking shoes.   After riding some distance (he can't recall how much), he was almost home and was crossing one of the city streets that intersected the canal every few miles.   Although it's unclear if he was riding or walking his bike across the (marked) cross-walk, he was hit by a car and thrown about 40 feet beyond the cross-walk.   This fact obscured some of the "fault issues".

All traffic stopped on this busy street...but this was before people had cell phones, and the area wasn't "commercial".   Remarkably, another driver had the presence of mind to turn around, go back to a nearby shopping center, and call 911 on a pay phone.   Response to this call was fast, and the EMTs scraped Mike off the pavement and took him to a nearby hospital...where Mike would spend a month in the ICU and inpatient critical care.  

Mike was taken to John C. Lincoln Hospital, and because he was carrying identification, Libby was contacted.   She rushed to the hospital, and as she entered the E/R door saw a police car parked there with a man in handcuffs - he was the driver of the car that hit Mike.   Libby didn't realize this as she entered to find Mike and see how badly he was injured.  

She was able to find an attending doctor.   Mike was unconscious and unresponsive, prompting the staff to run "coma scale" tests.   Libby asked the doctor if Mike's condition was serious.   He replied simply, "He could die."   She was shocked...and scared.

Mike was in ICU, unconscious, for 8 days, and was then sent to a private room for basic recovery.   He regained consciousness there, and it was the first time he was aware of his situation.   He remembered going out for the bike ride and recalled crossing the street over the canal...nothing thereafter.   At this time, he had a diagnosed serious head injury, broken ribs, broken left leg, and a crushed right shoulder.   Due to the obvious pain and head trauma, Mike wasn't making any sense in conversation and was very confused.

Further examination of his head wound revealed a subdural hematoma (blood collecting in the brain), a condition which required surgery.   This procedure, which involved drilling a hole in his head to drain the blood and relieve the growing pressure, was performed there.   Afterward, he was forced to lie on his back, head in a device to restrict motion, for several days while normal brain fluid returned around his brain.   During this time, he remained incoherent and confused.   Also, after he was back in a "normal" bed, he was violent and hard to control, getting out of bed and trying to walk away from the hospital.   The staff had to first restrain him in the bed and later put him in a "pen" constructed on the floor of his room.   It was a horrible situation for a while.   Fortunately, this hospital was close to home, and Libby could respond to many calls from the nurses when Mike was having difficulty with his situation.

After a couple of weeks, Mike calmed down and started to receive some physical, speech and language therapy.   He was then able to receive visitors, who, when they came by, found him breaking down emotionally and crying.   (Mike was to later learn that brain injuries often "amplify" emotions, which was certainly true in his case.) The physical therapy work was very painful, and the speech therapy showed he was still badly disabled.   The hospital wasn't equipped to handle the many of his problems, so Mike was released to home recovery (whatever that meant...).  

Libby was at a loss as to what to do for him.   Friends offered advice.   Most important was Ann Wallack, who suggested a program at another nearby hospital: The Adult Day Hospital at a world-renowned facility, Barrow Neurological Institute.   Although small and exclusive, Libby got help from Mike's employer, Honeywell-Bull, to cover the specialized treatment's costs.   Mike had to be "interviewed" to qualify for entry, and after about 3 months at home he started the program.   This turned out to be incredibly beneficial in his recovery, and it was probably a life-saver.

The Adult Day Hospital was, for Mike, a nearly 6 month activity.   Every weekday, he would take a bus (he wasn't ready to drive for almost a year) downtown to the hospital where this special facility was, for a four hour session.   The activities included neurological rehabilitation, physical therapy, cognitive training, and personal and group counselling.   He and his family were required to attend weekly sessions with the ADH staff, so that they understood what was going on and how he was doing.   His personal psychologist was Dr. George Prigatano, Founder and Director of the ADH.   Mike's lead therapist was Dr. Pam Klonoff, who he initially found intimidating, but as time wore on he developed a good working relationship with her.

Mike's success with this program was very much due to an intense "competitiveness" he seemed to have to get better.   In sessions he shared with another patient who was much younger, he showed remarkable desire to achieve "winning" results, a factor that drove both to succeed.   For a frequent exercise called "Word Fluency", Mike would read a dictionary while travelling on the bus.   Most activities there were scored, and Mike discovered an achievement that he didn't know he had.

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The Tornado of 2008

In 2008 Libby and Mike were living in one of the four penthouse suites of the Regency House, a 22-story high rise condo in midtown Phoenix.   It was on the southwest corner of the building and had an incredible view of downtown Phoenix and most of its valley.   It was also their second home on the building: they had lived on a lower floor in a different corner (an important factor in this story).

The building was old (circa 1956), and the windows were old.   Winds often rattled these windows, and while scary-sounding, no damage had occurred...so far.   On August 28, 2008, one of the frequent "monsoon storms" that hit the Valley every summer came from the East about 9:30pm.   Mike throught it was nothing special, but Libby insisted that it was a problem and that they should get out of the place and off the 22nd floor.   The storm's noise was particularly bad, and Mike agreed, both heading to the exit door.

Just as they did, a patio window and door on the northeast corner blew in, sending shards of glass at the sofa where Mike had been watching TV.   Then, all hell broke loose, as the 50' bank of 10 foot windows on the south side of their condo blew out, with very strong wonds whipping through and bringing in a torent of rain.!   Mike and Libby walked down the hall to the elevators, got on and rode down to the Main Floor Lobby...not really knowing how much damage had occurred.   Clearly, wasn't thinking clearly, when Libby cautioned him that taking the elevator in a storm wasn't a good idea, he do so anyway.   The situation could have been a lot worse...

Other residents were gathering in this lobby, comparing notes and wondering what was next.   One older woman. who lived on the 18th floor, was very worried.   When the storm seemed to abate, Mike went with her to her unit: it was a real mess, with furniture tossed around and damage throughout.   He began to worry about what had happened to their place...

Back in the Lobby, Libby was talking to Cindy Radke and Terry Eckhardt, friends living on the 20th floor.   From their balcony, they had heard and seen the storm ripping off the building's (new) roof and saw it "sail" in the wind onto newly-installed Light Rail power lines on the street below.   Obviously, this storm was a major deal, and many of the building's residents were facing big problems!

The Radke/Eckhardts accompanied Mike and Libby to their penthouse, all expecting the worst: it was that, for sure.   All windows were gone; standing water was 2" deep, with glass shards everywhere; furniture was damaged beyond repair; the TV Mike had been watching wasa destroyed.   Virtually eveything was destroyed or severly damaged.   Oddly, though, the power and Internet services in the building were never out, even though the buildings and houses below seemed to be without power.   After they all did some "triage" of the place, Libby called their insurance to report - they had people onsite in a couple of hours, boarding up the missing windows and bringing in many blowers to dry out the carpeting.   Mike and Libby were actually able to sleep in their bedroom that night.

The next morning, news media descended upon the building, announcing that the storm had been classified as a tornado with winds of 125mph.   Word got out that the Copelands' place had sustained the most damage, and TV reporters arrived to interview them.   Mike was interviewed by a local station, out on the debris-cluttered balcony (the windows were gone), where he tried to explain what happened and the minor injuries they sustained.   The event was for them mostly anticlimatic at the time, as they were concerned mostly with repairs and restoration.

Fortunately for them, they had excellent insurance, as well as a great adjuster.   Some others in the building weren't well covered, and many had long-lasting problems; some even had to sell and move.   Because Libby had the place photographed for an article in a local magazine, the "before" state was well-documented, so virtually everything was fixed or replaced - including a new TV to replace the damaged one.   Painting was redone and all carpeting was replaced.   Best of all, all windows were replaced with state-of-the-art windows, which were a major upgrade they couldn't have normally afforded.   All this took months, and they had to live with "plywood windows" and no view of the outside for 6 weeks.   Overall, many aspects of their place were upgraded, and when they sold it in 2012, they benefitted.

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Cancer Scares

Among the "bumps" in their lives, Mike and Libby have experienced several and various types of cancers - all Mike's.   For some reason he doesn't understand, he has had multiple occurrences of cancer: thyroid, prostate, and skin.   The first, in 1999, was thyroid cancer, which manifested itself in a lump he had for years in his throat.   It didn't hurt of impact breathing and eating, so he and his doctors ignored it as probably being a goiter.   The cancer was detected after one of his doctors learned that Mike had received a lot of radiation (dental and acne treatments) in his youth, and then scheduled surgery to remove a thyroid gland for examination.

Shortly after that surgery occreed, Mike got a (confusing) call to schedule surgery: he thought it was for the surgery he had just had!   However, his surgeon called Mike, upset that the hospital had not told him first, and eventually Mike was back for a second surgery to remove the other thyoid gland.   After that, Mike had to got through 2 years of RAI (RadioActive Iodine) treatments, which were actually worse than the 2 surgeries.   Now, more than 20 years later, the thyroid cancer is completely gone.

As he was finishing the RAI treatments, Mike was diagnosed with prostate cancer - which was most unsettling.   First, he naively thought the thyroid cancen was "his cancer", and that one was all he was "due".   Learning that he had a second major cancer was distressing, but dealing with it was scary: there were several options, but all had serious side effects.   There was the spectre of impotence, incontenence, or more cancers to come: all bad options...and no good way to evaluate them.

This was because prostate cancer isn't a subject men discuss, and doctors have a speciality-based bias.  

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The "Blackout" Car Accident

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The Blizzard

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Last Updated: February 20, 2021