A drive to Carcross, and an update about my brain injury

It’s now been 7 weeks since I’ve posted here – the longest break since I started the blog in 2007. This post will sort of be in two parts. The first will be the sort of thing you expect here – a photojournal of one of my wanders. The second part will be about the brain injury that has brought my very active life to a screeching halt for now.

I spend my days now in two ways now – going through old newspapers gathering information that I sometimes post in my Yukon History group, and browsing through my tens of thousands of photos. The photo-browsing got me to thinking that I should fly somewhere – anywhere, just to get some window-seat time, overnight and fly home again. To do that, I needed to test my ability to travel, so on Friday I decided to drive to Skagway. Being out for 6 hours or so, with winding roads, would be a good test.

We’re down to just over 7 hours of light now, so I was in no big hurry to hit the road. The temperature was -4°C when I left home, +1 in town when I fueled up 10 minutes later. The temperature was all over the map as I headed south – the cold spot was at Robinson as is often the case, at -7°C. A few miles further, it was +3 when I shot this first photo at 10:05. At Carcross a few minutes later, it was back down to -1. Crazy.

Winter on the South Klondike Highway
I stopped just south of the new Carcross bridge to get a photo of what I thought was a crew starting demolition of the old bridge.

The new and old Nares River bridges at Carcross, Yukon
Well, this was a surprise! There was no cell service there, but when I got back to Carcross I checked 511yukon and discovered that not only was the highway between Carcross and Skagway closed because of “black ice”, roads in the entire southern Yukon were under a Travel Advisory.

The avalanche gates on the South Klondike Highway closed to to icy road conditions

The avalanche gates on the South Klondike Highway closed to to icy road conditions

I decided to hang around Carcross for a bit and see if the highway would open. On closer examination of the work going on at the bridge, the crew was just taking down the last of the wooden framing around the new bridge.

The new and old Nares River bridges at Carcross, Yukon
There was some interesting light that allowed for some good photo ops, like the next one shot at Caribou Commons.

Winter at Caribou Commons in Carcross
Some of the long-abandoned cabins on the opposite side of the Nares River are always good subjects as they slowly fall apart.

Abandoned cabin at Carcross
The Tutshi memorial, built from the remains of the famous steamboat that burned on July 25, 1990.

The Tutshi memorial, built from the remains of the famous steamboat that burned on July 25 1990.
While the weather was quite pleasant in Carcross, it was certainly Winter right above us on Brute Mountain.


At 11:30 I drove back to the avalanche gates, but no luck – still closed, and there was no indication at 511yukon when that might change. By this point, though, it didn’t really matter. I was starting to get pretty sick, and getting home would be all I could manage.

The avalanche gates on the South Klondike Highway closed to to icy road conditions
When I start to “hit the wall” now, things deteriorate in a hurry. Within a few minutes, I really didn’t know if I would be able to get home without a nap.


By the time I got home, I was done. If Tucker and Bella hadn’t been anxiously waiting for me in the window, I would have gone to sleep in the car. It was all I could do to get in the house and to bed.

So, the test did not go well. I can’t drive very far (so I can’t fly anywhere – the point of the test), and I can’t walk very far.

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That was Part 1 – the easy part because most of it was what I’ve done here for many years. Part 2 is much tougher.

My regular readers know that I injured myself in a fall during a hike back on August 7th, and am still having a lot of problems. If any of the people who get paid a lot of money to know this stuff knows what’s wrong with me, they’re keeping it a secret. My neurology team “can’t put a name to it,” and the concussion therapist says it’s not a concussion. It’s a brain injury of some sort, though – perhaps exactly what doesn’t matter. It’s a very complex subject with each person having their own set of issues, and solutions.

Some people say that rest is important, but many more say that you need to work through it to whatever degree you’re able, and that’s the one I’m going with. My final neurologist said that while there’s no recommended treatment or therapy, “rest is not your friend.” Rest is my friend in one way, because that’s when I don’t feel too bad – activity soon makes me feel like shit. Three to four hours of anything is about my limit – then I “hit the wall” and need to go to bed. With brain injuries, you can’t work through it in the way you do sports or hard physical work. When you hit the wall after a brain injury, you’re finished.

Brain injuries are very often life-changing, as has been the case for me. Among the symptoms, they produce headaches, fatigue, dizziness, poor coordination, disorientation (stairs are awful for me), difficulty in concentrating and in processing complicated questions, difficulty in making decisions, impatience and emotional outbursts, and depression. Depression is a big part of it for many, and the suicide rate for people with brain injuries is at least twice as high as for uninjured people. That rate increases beyond double as the severity of the injury increases. I’ve had some extremely dark days.

For many, conversations are difficult, and avoided whenever possible. I’ve apologized on Facebook to the many people whose messages and phone calls I haven’t returned. Processing the thoughts is difficult, and even something about the frequency of the cell phone is annoying.

The dizziness, poor coordination, and disorientation make walking difficult. Some people say I walk like I’m drunk. I often use a cane – that will be the case this afternoon when I go to my concussion therapist because of the distance I have to walk, much of it on icy surfaces. When grocery shopping, the cart is my walker.

A support network is extremely important during the healing process. For me, that includes pets. Tucker is my nurse. He’s extremely intuitive, and demands that I join him in bed when I don’t feel good, most recently a couple of hours ago while I was in the middle of writing this.

I’ve joined a couple of brain injury support groups. While they both provide lots of information about people’s different experiences, they can also be quite discouraging. My neurologists said I’d get better “eventually” but refused to say whether that was weeks, months, or years. I see people in the groups who have been suffering for 4, 7, 10 years. One of the members posted a Brain Injury Identification Card that has a list of symptoms, to help people understand how to deal with the card carrier. She said “I received this card in the mail today. While it’s probably a good thing to carry, it feels like defeat. I have made a lot of progress, but I still struggle accepting this new version of life. All the things on the back of this card are true, but I wish they weren’t. Seeing it in writing makes it feel too real, too permanent. I cried and cried when I saw it. Even though I know it’s good to carry, it just makes me so sad that it’s necessary. I want to wish this all away.”

I’ve had people tell me that there are lots of people in much worse shape than me. That’s supposed to somehow make me feel better, that other people feel worse? This isn’t a contest.

For now, I have to embrace small victories – sometimes very small ones. I also have big events ahead that I keep focussed on. In April I’m going to drive the motorhome back to Vancouver Island for a few weeks, and I’ve recently booked a 22-day cruise in South America that includes 4 days in Antarctica. I WILL be better for both of those.

Motivational images are always around me now. Usually made by other people, but sometimes I make my own, like this one made with a photo shot from my Carcross cabin in early March 2007. That bit of blue sky off in the distance is very important to me.


I see we have some sunshine and some great aurora forecasts coming up in the next week, so I hope to have more photos of this amazing country to share with you soon.




Comments

A drive to Carcross, and an update about my brain injury — 35 Comments

    • Antarctica, Cape Horn, Beagle Channel, the Falkland Islands – this cruise goes to so many places that have intrigued me for pretty much my entire life. So it’ll be my reward for getting better, and for turning 70 ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. Great to hear from you, Murray. Every day I check to see if youโ€™ve posted and Iโ€™m so happy that you did. Please stay in regular touch even if you donโ€™t have much to say. Hang in there Murray! Take care๐Ÿ™๐Ÿ™

  2. Your travels, pics, and writing have always lifted me up through my own injuries and fallout depressions.
    Thank you for giving me hope in my armchair travels. I wish you a speedier recovery than possible.

  3. I love your post and site! Very good to see you are out & about & slowly getting better. Very interesting Carcross story with 7 hours of light, the bridge, black ice and abandoned cabins fading away. Thank You for your post and stories. A full recovery to you soon! Thank You TIM Laney

  4. Murray, it is mighty sweet to see you posting again as i have been checking in on you nearly every day, I knew things just weren’t right! I have been through thousands of pages on your site and never commented before, but i coudn’t let this post go by without a word. Keep working hard and fuel yourself with the love of Cathy and the dogs…this too shall pass. Looking forward to posts about the S. America trip!

  5. Wishing you all the best. I really enjoy your stories and was a bit worried given the time between the last post. I lived in Carcross way back in the 70’s and am visiting again next summer. Take care and enjoy the light

  6. Hi Murray,
    Gerda here, ex Yukon Tourguide..maybe you remember. I can’t believe you are going through the same thing that happened to me 8 years ago. The brain injury was the reason why I had to quit tour guiding, ski teaching, mountain climbing. 7 months after the injury I tried to go back to driver guiding and ended up in emergency in Ft.St.John. That was the end of life as I knew it.
    I don’t want to bore you with my story. I do understand everything you say and feel. The anger, anxiety, frustration, confusion, panic attacks, depression, exhaustion, hope, despair, all invisible to the outside. 3 years of in/out of hospital, visits to neurologist, psychiatrist, family doctor,psychologist,counsellor,acupuncturist, massage therapist. I found a neuropsychologist at the Vancouver Concussion and Neurofeedback Centre who eventually taught me how to keep living. If you hit the wall and wish to get to know him, or simply wish to talk to me, give me an email or call. koch@shaw.ca. 604 987-4344. I can offer you accommodation in Vancouver should you wish to see him.
    Me too resolved to booking a cruise…but I didn’t go because of anxiety to be trapped on the ship far away from help. I needed a “net” under me which was my doctors. I was in a dark place for a long time. Like you I would do “tests”… And in a way I still do. It is 8 years since the accident. I am 68. I am determined and a bit hopeful that I can still get a bit better and extend the time before I go into exhaustion. The less I do the better I feel. Totally contradictory to my (and your) personality and previous highly functioning state. Murray, consider this. Even if you do half as much as before, you still do more than a lot of people who are not ill. In all these years I learned many tricks to overcome my despair. I will be happy to talk to you or email with you should you wish to do so.
    Cheers,
    Gerda Koch
    former Yukon/Alaska Tour Guide 1977 – 2010.

    • Hi Gerda. I certainly do remember. I don’t think you’d told me why you retired, though. Yes, people say to rest, and it’s true that “The less I do the better I feel.” – but that’s not me, or you. I hugely appreciate your offers to help. I’ve quit talking to doctors of any kind.

  7. Very best wishes to you from Australia Murray. I have always appreciated your great photographs of The Yukon and surrounding areas, as well as the commentary on your trips. Whilst age and mishaps slow everyone down eventually, you have shown you have a large diversity of interests in your life and an adventurous spirit that will definitely enable you to work through this and overcome the current difficulties, and assuredly find peace with the level you manage to reach. You have no excuses for not trying to become an even more skilled photographer for example, particularly as Antartica awaits.
    Good luck in your recovery and travels mate and thanks for the great photographs you have posted over the years
    Best wishes
    Gerry

  8. Hi Murray,
    You don’t know me but I’ve followed your blog here for many years now (must be 15 or more!) I’m very sorry to hear about your fall but believe that you’ll be back to your regular adventures before long!
    Best,
    Erik White

  9. Its good to see your blog again.I know your progress is slow,but keep working at it you will get there. That cruise sounds wonderful and i love Vancouver island. Hoping you feel better soon and can get back to all your regular activity. Wishing you all the best.

  10. All the best on the recovery Murray. The positive I am getting from this (and please correct me if I am wrong) is that there is a way to work through this and come out on the other side. That is the big takeaway I have, because it means there is something you can actually do (as compared with something more troubling like cancer or a disease, etc.) to help this get better. I wish I could help, but perhaps the best thing I can do is think about you and wish you all the best with the recovery and with feeling better soon!

  11. Hi Murray, My sincerest best wishes on your journey to recovery, One never thinks that shit like that could cause anyone so much pain and anxiety,I love your photography and interesting comments, The Yukon in winter is Beautiful!!Hang in there Murray We are all wishing you the very best,

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