The Story of EDD

I spent this past weekend in Winthrop, WA attending a conference for work. The intimate gathering, now in its eleventh year and my second, brings together some of the world's most accomplished neurosurgeons and orthopedic spine surgeons to discuss the latest spine surgery techniques. It's safe to say that I brought down the average IQ significantly in any circle of conversation I joined this weekend. Over breakfast, surgeons furiously took notes on lecture topics like Osteobiologics: Osteoconduction, Osteogenesis, Osteoinduction; Bone Morphogenic Protein; or Use of Teriperatide to Accelerate Fusion. Meanwhile, I was putting strawberry jam on my potatoes because I mistook it for an off-brand ketchup. 

The company I work for sponsors the event so I go each year with the singular goal of not embarrassing myself (jam incident aside). I love conferences, even when I have very little idea what the speakers are talking about. There's something about the collective energy of a group of people gathering purely out of love for their work and the opportunity to learn more; people voluntarily traveling thousands and thousands of miles to be amongst their peers who simultaneously challenge and encourage their efforts. My favorite part of attending conferences is hearing the keynote speaker. (I heard a great keynote speech from Terry Bradshaw last year.)

This year, Dr. Ed Farrar, a leading orthopedic spine surgeon from Washington State, was the keynote speaker. He began by saying his life was filled with "strange coincidences and hard lessons." Immediately I knew I was going to like this guy, mostly because he hadn't said osteogenic once. 

Dr. Farrar is an accomplished climber having scaled most of the world's highest mountains. He works at a hospital in Wenatchee, a small town of about 30,000, where for years he biked each morning to prepare for his next climbs. Each day he would pass the other other spine surgeon in town, also a cyclist, biking in the opposite direction. They would cross in about the same place, acknowledging one another with a wave. 

In 2008, on his way to an early morning surgery, he was hit head on by a car while riding his bicycle. Dying in the street, his spine almost entirely broken in half, his cycling spine surgeon friend arrived on the scene just in time to stabilize him long enough for emergency services to arrive.

Dr. Farrar, the doctor responsible for telling other people's families that their loved one couldn't be helped and paralysis lay ahead, was now lying on the operating room table paralyzed from the chest down. The same team of nurses that were supposed to be assisting him in surgery that morning were now assisting in the operation to save his life. 

Now a paraplegic, Dr. Farrar went on to share more of the strange coincidences and hard lessons life bestowed upon him from that moment forward. In the span of two years, he was hit by a car, went from being a leading spine surgeon to a paraplegic, divorced, fell in love with one of his caregivers, then, she, in some terrible twist of fate, became a paraplegic herself from a form of cancer that seemingly developed overnight. He became her caregiver, and she died eight months after diagnosis. He spoke about how disability, divorce, and death--the three Ds--almost robbed him of his life. Sitting there in his wheelchair, sharing his story with us, you could have heard a pin drop. This was only the second time he'd ever told his story. 

He offered to the room, filled with his peers and the brightest minds in the field, the simple truth that we are given two choices in life: agree to keep going or agree to give up. He agreed to keep going.

Today, Dr. Farrar still practices medicine although he is unable to perform surgery. Patients seek him out, waiting months for an appointment, to get an opinion from a paralyzed spine surgeon (who would know better how they feel?). He can't climb anymore, but with a custom bicycle, he still rides. 

Dr. Farrar--Ed--and his team of caregivers have formed a cycling group called EDD. They meet Every Damn Day.

Life is handing out both strange coincidences and hard lessons all the time. Like Dr. Farrar, my hardest lessons seem to be born out of those strange coincidences, those moments that feel remote or disconnected from each other until the picture better develops. Then they don't feel like coincidences at all; they feel like part of the plan, part of what had to happen to bring the student to the classroom. 

And just like Dr. Farrar's cycling group, we do this thing--living while the picture develops--every damn day. We find something to devote ourselves to--cycling, spine surgery, writing, raising children, whatever it is--and we do it We do it because we know if we didn't it would mean having agreed to give up. And people who are okay don't give up.