Instead of taking opioids or ibuprofen for relief, a local professor exercises, stays busy, and talks loud—all coping efforts to override pain.
On a scale of 10, there are days when Patrick Rader rates his chronic pain as high as nine. A good day is a pain level of five.
The Eustis native and English instructor at Lake-Sumter State College has been living with discomfort since his near-fatal motorcycle accident on June 24, 1999, when at age 29 he accelerated through an intersection in Denver, his home at the time, in a hurry to get to a party.
“My own stupidity,” he says. “The sign said ‘STOP.’”
He has no recollection of being hit by a truck and thrown in the air from the impact. Denver General Hospital records revealed Patrick’s right arm was separated from his body and shattered his humerus bone.
His upper arm was snapped in two, splitting the bone in half below the shoulder. His shattered limb was completely torn from his torso, and six inches of his right leg was noted as “absent.”
His brachial artery, one of the body’s largest arteries that supplies all the blood flow to the arm, was severed.
“I have been told by my orthopedic surgeon, 95 percent of the people who sever this major blood vessel die. The remaining 5 percent lose their arm. I have beaten the statistical odds by keeping a relatively functional right arm following my injury. Never mind my survival in general,”
Patrick writes in his master’s thesis titled, “The Dedication of Strangers,” where he pays tribute to the medical staff for his care after he was wheeled into the emergency room as John Doe. His wallet with his ID was later found at the accident scene.
“I was a John Doe Frankenstein–an anatomical hodgepodge of surgical steel, titanium, rubber tubing, emergency tissue transplants, and more stitches than the sheets of my hospital bed,” Patrick says.
He endured countless surgeries and therapy sessions. Patrick also had to learn to read and write again.
While he was recovering, he went back to school and obtained his bachelor’s degree in creative writing, followed by his master’s in nonfiction.
“I had lost about 15 years of my memory with TBI (traumatic brain injury), and so all of the events were things I had to research,” he says, including facts about the accident from police and hospital reports.
As he’s gotten older, Patrick has found he wants homeopathic and natural ways for managing pain. “I hate chemicals,” he says, not wanting to get hooked on opioids or other addictive medications.
He manages his pain by keeping busy with his work, moving around, writing, serving as a baseball umpire, and talking loud—aiming to talk over his pain. He also uses the works of late journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson, founder of the gonzo journalism movement, to manage pain in what he calls the “Gonzo Way.”
“I’m working on writing what I do because, in retrospect, I have come to realize Hunter S. Thompson had a large influence on my writing in that I am definitely ‘gonzo,’” he says. “Pain is my authority, and pain says stay on the couch, pain says to collect SSI (Supplemental Security Income), pain says use a cane, use a walker, and I’m saying [screw you] pain. I own it, and that is what makes me gonzo—that decision.”
Patrick says Thompson lived a life of excess. “He failed so miserably in managing his pain. He had a series of hip surgeries and even in his suicide note, he talks about [how] the fun had stopped.”
Patrick celebrates the June 24 date of his motorcycle accident as “the rebirth of Patrick,” and he has no memory of his life before the accident.
“I went to my 20th reunion several years ago and found out I was the editor of the yearbook in high school, president of my senior class, and top 12 in my graduating class, and was student mayor of Eustis for a day,” says the 1987 Eustis High graduate. “I found out I did all kinds of cool stuff, and I didn’t know all that about me.”
He’s grateful for the special people in his life, including his physical therapist wife, Heather, of seven years, whom he met in rehab.
“If I was in the exact situation and I had the knowledge that I have now, I would run that stop sign and wouldn’t blink an eye,” he says. “Because the experiences that I’ve had, the people I got to meet, I wouldn’t change it, even with the pain.”
Patrick breaks out in a hearty laugher when he realizes the irony of his words. “Pain tells you to stop. I’ve learned nothing.”