“I spent 18 years as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and Paramedic and not once did I think “that could be me lying there”. See, after a while when you think you have seen it all and then you see something even more amazing, be it good or bad, you begin to get the “that’s my job” mentality. I don’t want medals, I don’t want recognition, I just want to help rescue the family dog from the house fire, take the bad guy off the street, and give that family another chance to make the most out of the time they have together. That’s why we do what we do.”
Christopher Edgar reflects on almost two decades of a job he loved to do. Something that he did, not just for the paycheck, but because it was a part of him. Something inside that drove him to be there. A calling, as it were.
“All my life I was one that loved to help people. Most of us in the public safety fields will tell you that is why we do it. Okay, okay some of us are just adrenaline junkies. In fact most of are that as well. We spend years training and perfecting our craft so that we may save the lives of others and so that at the end of the shift we go home to our families.”
On July 3rd, 2010, Christopher was going about his duties – a day like any other – when he was called to respond to one of two accidents that were very close to each other. One was a road traffic collision, the other one of a child drowning. He responded to the latter and when arriving on scene, was greeted by the predictable, but unwelcome sight of bumper-to-bumper traffic around 2 miles long and two cars wide. In order to get to the scene, he took the median and with the ambulance in his rear view mirror, he was on his way to the scene. At that point, everything went black.
“I woke up in the ICU of the Trauma Center two weeks later, casts on both arms, IV in the side of my neck, Foley Catheter in place – the tube that goes into your bladder to release your urine – and unable to move my legs. I thought to myself, ‘this can’t be good’. My wife told me that I had been in a motorcycle crash that a truck had pulled out in front of me. I asked, ‘who won, me or the truck?’ She chuckled and started crying.”
“I asked what was wrong with me and that began a long conversation. I had fractured both my femurs, fractured my pelvis, fractured both forearms and 3 ribs, fractured and dislocated both wrists and the right elbow, had concussion and had been in a coma for 2 weeks. During which time I had a pulmonary embolism (a blood in the lungs) and pneumonia 3 times. It was a grim outcome for a while. I had undergone a 13 hour surgery to repair all my injuries, titanium rods in both my femurs, bracket and screws in my pelvis, plates and screws in my arms. I still think that Dr. Lee Leddy is the greatest ortho ever. He was the poor unfortunate surgeon on call that weekend.”
A driver in a pick-up truck had seen the ambulance responding and had tried to beat it across an intersection that came before the scene Christopher was responding to. Sadly, he did not see Christopher on his motorcycle and the rest, they say, is history.
Another 4 days was spent in a “step down” unit at the trauma center and eventually he was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital. A private room was set up and the hospital even arranged another bed for his wife so that she could stay every night. Trying to make light of his situation, Christopher resorted to doing sit ups in his bed and he wasn’t allowed to work any injured parts of his body. “Finally the six pack that all the women love! Never quite made it.”, he quips.
“Once I was strong enough to sit up on my own and hold myself up with just my abs we started working on the important stuff, sliding over to the bedside commode, which isn’t easy when you can’t use your arms and your legs are useless. The muscle loss that was experienced while comatose for 2 weeks was unbelievable. I was unable to support my own weight at all and needed assistance. Once I was able to move to the commode with the assistance of my wife they let me go home. I was still confined to a hospital bed that was set up in the family room and she slept on the couch next to me.”
Water therapy began immediately, albeit “without the addition of a Tiki Bar – that would have made it better”, that would target leg and head movements. Pool squats, bicycles and shuffling from side to side worked the legs. Once that was completed, he was moved to a recumbent bike and going right back to square one of learning to stand up using a walker and doing chair squats, walking with the walker, stairs and also wall slides. With time, Christopher moved on to improving his gait, balance and stamina. This ordeal took around an entire year, but this was just the beginning.
“There was also the issue of my arms which spent 8 weeks in casts – Washington Redskins red I might add – and the pins that were holding my wrists together. At least with my legs they were not in casts and we were working the range of motion to prevent loss of the range of motion. The arms however were a different story. When everything was removed there was a time that all we could do was work the joints back and forth to loosen them to begin strength training. This was a slow tedious painful process. Then the task of improving coordination began, jig saw puzzles, playing with putty, screw drivers, rubber bands, holding a pen. All used as therapy for my arms. After about 10 months of therapy I returned to work in EMS part-time light duty in the training office. It had become obvious that there was no intention to get me back to work the streets.”
Towards the end of his physical therapy, Christopher made the decision to change careers and moved to the emergency management department. One of the reasons behind this was that if he hadn’t, he would have been put on disability and had not only a limited income, but also that of a quality of life. This was not an option for Christopher who had already fought through so much. With 18 years behind him in the field, sitting behind a desk made him feel like “a caged tiger”, but he simply refused to live a limited life. Sadly, his story didn’t end there.
“My wife and I had been having problems before the crash and were very close to filing for divorce. The accident however seemed to bring us closer together and make us stronger, I thought. Turns out for the first 48 hours after the crash she was trying to decide if she was going to stay with me or leave. Turns out after talking to an injury attorney she decided to stay. The power of the almighty dollar. Things were actually good for a while but soon reverted to the way things were before and soon we separated and filed for divorce.
While waiting for the settlement from the accident we fell behind on bills and in order to protect the settlement I had to file bankruptcy. The settlement money was not going to be nearly what we thought and having taken a 1/3 cut in pay for the desk job there was no way I was ever going to be able to save the house. This was the absolute rock bottom of my life. I had lost almost everything I had. The only thing I had left was my son and that was going to change soon also. But before that I would have a medical set back that had me contemplating life.”
His cholesterol had unfortunately risen to a level considered dangerous and his physician had him put on a medication that would bring it down. Sadly, the medication brought upon rabdomyolosis, which is a condition that sees deterioration of muscle tissue including that of the heart. In the following months it came to a point where even walking the stairs in his house became an ordeal that would warrant taking a rest halfway through.
“I thought this was all related to the accident and was not sure I wanted to continue life like this. I was sleeping 14 hours a day, late for work most of the time and had no energy when I got home. Then someone at work pointed out that it was probably due to the cholesterol medication. I went and saw my doctor and yes it was due to my medication. I stopped taking the medication but the damage was done. I was almost as weak as I was when I first got out of the hospital. Physical therapy was about to start all over again, but know it had a cardiac component and I did not have any help. I started walking, a half mile a day at first and slowly worked my up to 2 miles over the next few months. I was not going to let this get the better of me and with support from family and friends I started a long trip back from total weakness.”
“My son had been my rock through this whole thing. Everything I did was ultimately for him. So we could still have fun together and live a good life. When it came close to graduating high school in May 2013 he made the decision to move to VA to live with his mother for a while. I knew this day was coming and it was a bitter sweet moment. My baby boy had grown up and I got to watch him grow into a wonderful young man. But now it was time to let him go. I had all kinds of time on my hands now.”
Christopher started reaching out to old friends, acquaintances and co-workers that he had lost contact with throughout the ordeal he’d been going through. One of these co-workers had been training for a Spartan Beast. Intrigued, he looked online to see what the furor was about. A mix of excitement and horror washed over him. The nervous excitement that one feels when danger beckons you to try.
“The more I thought about it the more I thought “well I have nothing better to do why not start exercising. In July 2013 I joined a boot camp with another friend, oh my god, what have I gotten myself into? At the same time while starting the boot camp I was stopping the narcotic pain meds from the crash. Bad idea. I found muscles I had not used since high school football. And what the hell is this burpee thing? Oh my god, it is from football. The next 2 days I was in agony. I hurt all over. I thought to myself “I am too old for this”, but I went back again and again. Yes, it hurt but it was a good kind of hurt. I started to feel better, had more energy, I was getting stronger. This picked up where the PT left off. I was telling my friend Cheryl – the one doing the Beast – about this and she said that kind of training is what they do for the races. I looked at the web site again and signed up for the workout of the day (WOD) many of the exercises I could not do at all. Unfortunately I stopped the boot camp after a couple of months. Another life altering event had occurred.”
Christopher’s father had unfortunately suffered a volley of strokes over the previous months and as such was unable to maintain his home on his own. He didn’t need – or want – to go into a nursing home, so Christopher decided that after his son moved to Florida, he would take care of his now 80 year old father. He quit his job, gave his house to the bank and moved to St Petersburg. By now it was November of 2013 and the Carolina Beast had loomed into view.
“I drove up to Winnsboro to watch Cheryl and 5000 other nuts run a 12-mile obstacle course. I could not believe this many people were doing this. As I stood at the start line (next to it not at it or behind it), I could feel the adrenaline in the air. After Cheryl went on her way I walked around and got a sense of what these people do and why they do it. It became obvious quite quickly. The sense of accomplishment, the competition and the brotherhood. The satisfaction and elation of having completed a physically and mentally demanding challenge that most people would not even consider doing and as I watched and waited, I saw him.
“Leading a unit of BDUs with gas masks and packs an amputee veteran came up the hill crossed the water and mud and headed for the 8 foot wall. With the help of his unit he was up and over and headed for the mud hill. And that’s when it hit me. If this guy can do this so can I. That night I started asking Cheryl about the race and what she did to prepare for it. She encouraged me to do the workout or the day and lots of cardio exercise. And after talking some more she had me signing up for the Tampa Spartan Special Ops Sprint. Again ‘what was I doing?’ Still weakened from the rabdomyolosis I found that doing any of the WOD was near impossible. So I started with simple cardio.”
Christopher’s epiphany at Carolina saw a new surge of energy wash over him. Beginning with walks of around a mile, he began picking up distance and pace. Another step forward was his joining a gym and seeing a personal trainer twice a week. It was this trainer that started his road to strengthening and consolidating what he already had. The walks of a mile progressed to three miles with some light jogging mixed in. More strength training and flexibility exercises followed and before long, he found himself at the start line at the Tampa Special Ops Race.
“Well I did it. It wasn’t pretty by any means, 2 hours 34 minutes. And it wasn’t just my teammates that pushed me to the finish, other racers stopped and helped drag my ass over obstacles, encouraged me as I was dragging on the stairs (those damn stadium stairs) and doing the burpees. It was the most challenging, exhausting and rewarding thing I have ever done. A special thanks to Cheryl Dunlop who always encouraged me and had faith in me even when I did not and to Wes Henley for being a true Spartan and not leaving a brother behind.”
“I encourage everyone to sign up for and complete a Spartan Race and see what this is all about. Nothing about this race is impossible when you set your mind to it. Everyone has 30-60 minutes a day to prepare for one of these races. Its not hard but it does take commitment. Put the soda and bag of chips down and get off the couch and do something. I can say that, because not long ago, that was me. Don’t let your life go to waste because of something that you can or even can’t control. Take the challenge head on and overcome.”
“There are no excuses. If wounded veterans can do this and if I can do this, if Chris Davis can do this, anyone can do this. Don’t be scared the only reason you don’t make it to the finish line is because you did not want to. Don’t ever give up. There are enough true Spartans out there that will get you through this if you want to.”
See you at the finish line…