Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bad Omens: Part 2 of When Limbs Break a Tree Calls on It's Roots for Strength.

After being moved from Denver, I began to pray for three major things besides safety. The first was that my employer would let me go to my family reunion in Samoa. Second, my mother seemed closer and closer to dying so I prayed to be home when she passed. Lastly, because of all the moving around i hadn't been able to serve in my church so I prayed that I would be provided a job that would facilitate me serving my church. In fact I pretty much prayed that I would become financially independent that way I could spend all my time serving the lord.

Kremmling is a small town that lies in the mountains of Colorado, along the upper Colorado River. According to the 2000 census the population was 1,578. I can't imagine it has grown that much since then. The town has one super market, one hardware store, and a couple of gas stations.

Fortunately for me, one of my best line buddies, Keith, made friends with the owner of the hardware store's daughter. She rented me a room for $400 a month. The deal included all the small town hospitality I could imagine, so I was getting a pretty good deal.

As per normal (new man on the linecrew) procedure, I met the crew at the "show up". The "show up" was a place that is designated for crews to meet before the start of work. Usually line building material is stored there. This "show up" was actually located at the power company.

My foreman smoked a lot and talked slow and slurred but was very smart when it came to linework. He would say his opinion on how the work should be done but ultimately let the workers have the last say. His way usually was the better way and he would let you know through his mumbling, though from the bucket, the mumbling couldn't be heard. It seemed his method was to let the those in the air learn by doing. The only time he resorted to screaming was when something was going to put you in danger. Disappointment was expressed a simple shaking of the head.

The lineman on the crew was from southern Colorado. He talked frequently about leaving the crew, dragging up, to take a job closer to his wife because his relationship was on the rocks. For a lineman he was very patient and often would take the blame for my mistakes. Never once do I remember him blaming anyone for a mistake.

We had another hot apprentice, an apprentice qualified to work on energized lines. He was from Montana and engaged to be married and talked about his fiancé a lot. The other thing he talked about was his fifth wheel, or camper.

Everyone on the crew besides the foreman had at least one thing in common, we all wanted to get out of that town. Frequently they mentioned the other two linemen that left. One went back to Denver so he could spend more time with his kids and the other 'drug up' to take another job. The foreman couldn't work in Denver because he had been banned from Excel's, the power company in Denver, property.

The whole crew would leave town for their homes every weekend except the other apprentice who lived so far away that the expenses would outweigh the benefits. My linebuddy Keith would often ask when I would stay and fish with him on the weekend. The desire to play basketball at home in West Valley, Utah every weekend was addicting though and my desire to fish was nonexistent. I was at the peak of my game and the joy I found from being able to control a game was unmatched by anything at the time. In the back of my mind was a fear of never being able to play again.

Winter began to set in. Soon the lineman 'drug up' leaving us with a crew of three, one foreman and two hot apprentices. There were several incidents that could have been seen as signs from a higher power to quit the trade. I was enjoying life so much that I didn't think anything of them.

Besides this ever present fear way in the back of the mind of never being able basketball again, there was the knife incident.

On low voltage wire (120v-480v), there are three legs or wires. One of the legs is the neutral and the two other legs are energized. Each of the energized legs is coated with an insulating plastic. If the two legs touch it completes a circuit and electricity flows but there may be heat, melting metal and a numerous amount of things that happened when this flow is not controlled. At times it becomes necessary to strip the wire and connect new circuits.

This particular day, it was necessary to connect a circuit. The other apprentice and I were up about twenty five feet in the bucket. I was stripping one of the wires, with my blade stripping away from the body, when suddenly there was a loud bang, light, heat and smoke. My blade had went into the insulation of both legs at the same time. A chunk of the blade melted and because it was my foreman's knife, I owed my foreman a new knife.

There were the several highway slide-off incidents. The fastest and shortest route from Salt Lake to Kremmling is US Route 40. On that road, just after a town called Steamboat Springs, lies Rabbit Ears Pass. At an elevation of 9426 feet, it receives a lot of snow and can be closed at times.
Rabbit Ears Pass on one of my trips.
In fact I remember once approaching the pass in the dark of night. Snow was coming down sideways. I drove right by the tire chain-up area, thinking to myself, "I should put the chains on." Then I thought, "Nah it's too cold and wet outside." I remember looking at the dark road and thinking I had just began a journey on the Pass of Caradhras, from the movie and book The Lord of the Rings. My grip on the wheel tightened, knuckles white as the snow and palms sweating. 

There are two summits on the pass. I had made it over both of them and was headed down hill. My patience grew thin from driving 20 mph and I began a gradual let down of my guard. I coasted a little faster and pushed the brakes less. My speed increased to about 25 mph but a truck was riding my tail. I made the decision to pull to one side and let him pass. While slightly pulling to the right, I lost control of the car and slammed into the embankment.

I started to rock the car by putting it reverse and forward repeatedly. No dice, my car was stuck. I got a crazy idea that I could throw the tire chains on the tires while the car was in gear and hopefully it would get traction and move. With the car in reverse and the tires spinning, I jumped out and closed the door behind me. Unfortunately for me, the car door automatically locks when the car is in gear and the door is closed. 

There I stood, with snow flakes hitting my face, in a hooded sweatshirt, staring at this amazingly unfortunate scene. Suddenly, news stories of people burried in snow storms flashed through my mind. Adrenaline kicked in as I became irrationally delusional that this could be a life or death situation, when in fact it was highly unlikely that I would have died. I looked at the small triangle window, called the rear quarter glass (I had to google the name), and began to formulate a plan of action that included kicking in the quarter glass. Fully believing and visualizing the quarter glass breaking, I backed up and took two steps and kicked as hard as I could. 


The window remained in tact. My sweatshirt was beginning to become moist and cold. I slowed down and became rational. My mind reflected on the many times I had broke into my own car. I needed a long piece of wire. My eyes focused on the antenna and my mind thought of an old tv show called McGyver.

In McGyver the protagonist always comes up with a nifty way, usually involving chewing gum, to escape a near death and capture the antagonist. A plow came and stopped, the driver got out the truck and told me he was going to call the police and a tow truck to help. He stood there for a while, watching me trying to McGyver the truck. Unlike the tv show, this process must have been boring because the plow driver told me that he was going to go sit in his truck.

Eventually, I got that door opened and got pulled out of the jam. There were a couple more slide offs and other near misses but after each experience my resolve became greater and greater to become a lineman. Perhaps it was me being hard-headed. In fact, I know it was me being hard-headed as I remember my cousin from Hawaii urging me to quit the line trade and me insisting that a Matagi (my family name) is not a quitter!

Looking back at all those experiences, I laugh ,literally, out loud. As a child, we learned to laugh a lot after good times and bad. The important thing, I think, is not to laugh during the bad times but after, open that big Ol' bottle of laughter because like they say it's the best medicine.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

When Limbs Break a Tree Calls on It's Roots for Strength. Part 1

Sometime in 2008-2009, my extended family was planning a family reunion for all the children of Fatu and Puapuaga Matagi to be held in April of 2011. The reunion was an all expenses paid trip to Samoa for each of the children of Fatu and Puapuaga, my Uncles and Auntys. A generous Aunty and Uncle would sponsor the trip.

Fortunately for me there were clauses in the rules of the invitees. One of the clauses was that the spouses, if not willing or able to come, could be substituted. Another clause was that if the sibling was unable to attend, another person could be substituted. Like Charlie, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, my sister, Selesitila, and I fell upon the "Golden Ticket." I was excited about this trip.

I prayed that somehow I could get time off for it and thought out a way that I would be able to go. This plan involved me becoming a journeyman lineman by April 2010. An apprentice is pretty much owned by the apprenticeship. I was taught a good one doesn't take time off for anything. Meanwhile a journeyman owns his destiny.

As a seventh step apprentice, I had taken the Journeyman's exam and failed twice. The written exam had been a piece of cake for me but the pole yard test, a test of putting knowledge into practical use while climbing an actual pole, had turned out to be rather difficult for me. Although it is difficult, it is absolutely necessary to be tested for the safety of self and coworkers.

One problem was my lack of actual "hot time," working on energized power lines. At the time I took my first stab at the test, I had 157 hot hours out of 700 needed to become a journeyman. The more "quality" hours an apprentice generally had the more likely an apprentice was to pass the test.

I belonged to the Mountain States Line Construction Joint Apprenticeship and Training program (MSLCAT). They, MSLCAT, are over five states: Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and Utah. We, the apprentices, would receive assignments to anywhere in these states. If you lived in Utah, you could be assigned to Colorado Springs, Helena, Casper, or Timbuktu as long as Timbuktu fell in the five states. If you were what they called a "golden boy," you might magically be assigned to work in your hometown.

The line trade was a tricky thing for me because I didn't seem to fit in very well. I wasn't a "golden boy," I didn't buy beers for the foreman, nor was I good at brown-nosing so I didn't work much in Utah. When I did I usually worked with the 'misfit' crews aka the 'b' teams. The cliques seemed to be stronger in Utah and if you made one mistake, you could find yourself on the short list to be laid off.

Other than not working much near home, I didn't mind working with the 'b' teams because for one I have been on 'b' teams all my life. I was on the little league football team from nine all the way up to sixteen years old. In high school I would hang out at lunch with the 'b' team. I preferred in College to hang with the 'misfits.'

The second reason I didn't mind the 'b' team was that I always enjoyed being an underdog. I think I take it personally, when I am assigned to a 'b' team, to make that team compete with the 'a' teams of the world! Nothing delights me more than the underdog stories, teams and people coming out on top.

The problem with the 'b' teams is, during my apprenticeship, was that the 'hot time' was rare. When there are economic hard times, the power company in Utah pulls its distribution work, work done on the voltages coming from substations to the transformers that feed customers, from subcontractors in, to it's own employees and starts putting subcontractors on the building transmission lines, lines that transmit extremely high voltages from power sources to substations, and substations.

In short, I was 'b' teamer relinquished to building substations for most my apprenticeship. I failed my second test in Utah and the dream of passing the Journeyman's test seemed to be slipping through my fingers. At the time, I was working in Wyoming on a transmission line, of course I was on the 'b' team, and we would lay out materials, distribute the poles and components to each structure,  all day. There wasn't much learning going on. I almost felt like I was learning to be a trucker with all the semi driving I had been doing.

MSLCAT finally transferred me to Denver to get some hot time. The miracle of all miracles was that I was on the 'a' team. I learned a lot more than I had ever learned in my apprenticeship. My foreman was awesome and my lineman, a person certified to work on high voltage power lines, was green but good as well.

While in Denver, I asked my Uncle and Aunt, the same ones who were financing the Samoa trip, if I could live with them in their house in Boulder. Life was good, everything but the test was going as planned.

I reached about 400 hot hours and had been going to the Colorado classes. Although not required to attend, I wanted to pass the test so dearly that I was attending classes to get more familiar with the yard where the pole yard test would be and ask the instructors questions.

Testing time came. Again, I failed. I came back to my Uncle and Aunty's house and told them. I remember that my Uncle asked, "So what will happen to you now?" I remember I responded, nearly crying, "Either I'm gonna get kicked out of the apprenticeship or I'm not going to be able to attend the reunion because I'm not a journeyman."

I called my instructor and e-mailed the director that night because I felt that I had been failed unfairly. They had said I should have reported my pole partner for using a tool incorrectly and not using a rubber blanket on the arm. I had been taught that on a certain voltage, a blanket would not be necessary and using a tool incorrectly to me was not a matter of life and death and I was supposed to report my pole partner in matters of life and death. They both fought for me.

I began to think of the alternatives. I wrote a message to my brother and cousin who had been in the trade, asking each for advice. MSLCAT called me and asked me to appear before the disciplinary board, as they have done for all people who fail the test three times. The board decided I could stay in the apprenticeship and would not rescind the grade on my poleyard test. I would not be able to test again until I got all my hot hours.

I returned to work relieved that I was still in the apprenticeship. Soon after my foreman was informing me I had been transferred. To this day, I wonder if that was a disciplinary transfer. I found it funny that I was being transferred to the mountains, while everyone was trying to get out of there. The transfer happened too close to my protesting the test for me to not question it.....

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Audacity of Hip-Hop

When I was about eleven years old, one of the more highly regarded older kids asked me what kind of music I liked. I didn't know what to say. My parents usually had the radio tuned to the oldies station but I wasn't going to embarrass myself and say, "Oldies!" So instead I said, "Michael Jackson!" I still got made fun of because in Utah most kids were into heavy metal.
During my public education years, the diversity in Utah was nearly non-existent. I remember only two other Pacific Islanders that were my age in grade school. As a child I listened to music either according to what my parents or friends listened to but the music didn't really connect with me, I mostly liked it because of peer pressure.

My childhood and teenage years were a much different experience than nearly all of my peers and my musical tastes tended to coincide with those same experiences. In my life experience I really wasn't worried about love, cars, parties etc. My top concerns were helping my parents make enough money so we could eat. There wasn't any genre of music that related to that experience until I heard hip-hop.

Not only did the subject matter connect but the beats as well. The beats hit hard like life. Then if they threw in horn samples, I felt like Rocky when I listened to them.  Sometimes they had an eire treble to them which somehow connected to me because of how strange my life was. I used to subconsciously bob my head with them. While driving, people would constantly be staring at me bobbing my head in the next car. Sometimes they would even mock me by mimicking me.

I remember one day I had called my father and told him I wanted to go on a church mission for two years. He advised me that I should graduate college first. I couldn't disobey him and felt ashamed of all that I had done wrong in my life. I drove to First Dam in Logan and parked. Staring at the stars through the sunroof, I cried to God. The mix tape I was playing suddenly started to play 'Juicy' by Notorious B.I.G.

When Biggie, aka Notorious B.I.G., started rapping, "Yeah, this album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me I'd never amount to nothin'…
and all the brothas in the struggle, you know what I'm sayin'?" I felt like he was talking to me. Biggie continued on, "Born sinner, the opposite of a winner
Remember when I used to eat sardines for dinner." With all the sardines, or pilikaki as my dad called it, that I ate in my lifetime I felt like dis dude and I connected. Then the chorus came on:
"You know very well who you are
Don't let em hold you down, reach for the stars"

There I was staring at the stars, praying and this lady was singing to me 'reach for them.'

That song hit me in the right place at the right time. Over the years hundreds of different lyrics and hip-hop songs have connected to me like that night. I remember Nas saying, "that buck that bought the bottle could have struck the lotto." Those words said to me to have a positive attitude and not wallow in the sadness of a bottle. Wu-Tang had a song called 'Triumph' that most the rappers just bragged about their skills. I remember feeling their passion and feeling how I could triumph over anything. Phife Dawg, on the song called 'Wordplay', said, "cuz if I don't say I'm the best who the h@$# will?" After hearing that a young unconfident kid from West Valley started to gain self-esteem to the point where he could write to the University newspaper and express the unfairness that his hip-hop CD got kicked out of the weight room stereo for a 311 CD.

To me the old, true hip-hop is underdog music. I feel like my whole life is an underdog story. I find it hard to relate with the privileged, entitled or coddled. Hip-hop music, to me, is always at it's best when the artist is so hungry that all the passion and emotion comes out.

My father went to prison and I quit school to go on a mission. While working to save money my brother and I had previously both formed a hip-hop group, ATP or Afakasi Posse(we thought afakasi was spelled afatasi). Now we both wrote a lot and battled each other on the mic a lot. It will probably sound lame so I'm going to edit some in order to not get too preachy but here are some of the lyrics I wrote during that time of struggle:

Since the day I was risen/ pops had us under oppression/...
foolish pride had him wreckless/ he held the whole family strangled and breathless/
the media set forth a lifestyle/ of big money bling-bling and high profiles/
Had him captured in the chains of hell/ nearly dragged to an eternal fell
Taking down the family as well/ the youngest had courage to rebel/ as the heavens started to swell
With prayers and tears to fill wells/ ... My pops was soon alone in a cold cell
After the nuclear explosion/ and destruction by erosion
Rises the phoenix from the dust/ with eyes lowered and wings tucked
This constant opposition/ got my muscles ripplin'
An' I'm ready to start fire/ runnin' on straight desire

It might seem lame but to me it signified to me that even through the tragedy we would all arise out of it, like a Phoenix out of the ashes.

Fast-forward to February '11, without hands, driving down the street in 'Ol Betsy, I found myself in the toughest underdog situation I had ever experienced. One song that hit me hard was 'All of the Lights' by Kanye West. 
When this song came on my immediate thoughts were to tell everyone to turn their spotlights on me because I'm about to do something amazing. I'm about to make a comeback from loosing my hands. For the most part the words that stand out to me are, " turn on the lights in here babyTurn up the lights in here, baby
Extra bright, I want y'all to see this
Turn up the lights in here, baby
You know what I need, want you to see everything
Want you to see all of the lights!" I vowed while I cried right there to show everyone, just put the lights on me.

The other song that connected with me was 'The Show Goes On' by Lupe Fiasco. Most of the lyrics hit me but the third verse particularly:
"So no matter what you been through
No matter what you into
No matter what you see when you look outside your window
Brown grass or green grass
Picket fence or barbed wire
Never ever put them down
You just lift your arms higher
Raise em till’ your arms tired
Let em’ know you’re their
That you struggling and survivin’ that you gonna persevere
Yeah, ain’t no body leavin, no body goin’ home
Even if they turn the lights out the show is goin’ on!"

It says to me that the playing field may be unfair but the last thing I'm going to do is quit. Again, while tears streamed down my face I was inspired to keep pushing even when it got hard.
Hip-Hop's origin is that of coming out of adverse conditions and when it comes out there are sometimes diamonds in it. Those diamonds brang hope to a hopeless me and deserve partial credit for any success I may have achieved.

That is why, even when on my mission with companions that despised hip-hop, I defended it. It is why when a young man gets up in front of the congregation and says all hip-hop is evil, I instantly say to myself, "that kid doesn't know what the hell he's talking about!" It is why when I hear a prominent African-American, who sings in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, say, "99.9% of all hip-hop is bad!" in front of a large audience at the tabernacle, I
instantly reject that thought. Because sometimes hip-hop or music can give someone a power that, in my opinion, is second only to love, hope. That is one of the powers of music.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Car named 'Ol Betsy the War Machine

When I first came out of the hospital, my license was temporarily suspended, rightly so. In order to get out of the house I depended on rides. I became that annoying pre-sixteen year old or license-less person begging for a ride.

The first time my sister, Selesitila, asked if I would like to go to the supermarket to do the shopping, I jumped at the offer, just to get out of the house. Her driving was too slow for me. The shopping was too slow for me. Everything was too slow for me. To have to do everything at such a slow pace was saddening and maddening at the same time.

My life before the accident had become a scene out of the Jungle Book. I was Baloo the Bear. My mantra was found in the song 'The Bear Necessities.' Which reads like this:

Look for the bare necessities,
The simple bare necessities,
Forget about your worries and your strife,
I mean the bare necessities,
Of mother natures recipies,
That bring the bare necessities to life.

Wherever I wonder,
Wherever I roam,
I couldnt be founder of my big home,
The bees are buzzing in the trees,
To make some honey just for me,
When you look under the rock for plants,
Take a glance at some pantsy ants,
Then maybe try a few.

the bare necessities of life will come to you,
they'll come to you.

look for the bare necessities,
the simple bare necessities,
forget about your worries and your strife,
i mean the bare necessities,
thats why a bear can rest at ease,
with just the bare necessities of life.

now when you pick a paw paw,
or a prickly pear,
and you prick a wrong paw,
well next time, beware,
dont pick the prickly pear by the paw,
when you pick a pear, try to use the claw,
but you dont need to use the claw,
when you pick a pear of the big paw paw,
Have i givin you a clue?

In other words my life was easy. I roamed from here to there not to worried about much. All that seemed difficult had become easy. Self care was easy. I could fly across the United States with one carry on suitcase and not worry about a thing. Saturday morning basketball was a piece of cake.

After the accident, nothing was easy. Even grabbing the remote to turn on the television was extremely difficult.It was like I was reborn and had to relearn everything that had to deal with hands all over again but in a different way. The only thing different was that I had known what it was like to have had hands. This was the most frustrating part of the whole ordeal.

Learning everything all over was tedious. I had a new Occupational Therapist when I got home. His name was Marc Rosello and he was an A or red type personality. I have never gotten along with this type of person, ever. In fact his second time here, he made me cry. He was requiring all kinds of homework of me. When I hadn't done any of it, he began to say I need to keep track of every appointment in a red type personality kind of way. I told him I do keep track of it on my iPad. He said, "Well, where's your iPad?" I went to grab it and broke out in tears. My sister comforted me.

There were many things I did as an escape. One of them was a Superbowl party. The Greenbay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers were matched up for the Lombardi Trophy. There was some kind of avocado dip, candy, chips and oh yeah 'the Superbowl Explosion

We'll call it 'the SBEI' for short. It went down like this; My sister and I were watching the 2011 SB, when the doorbell rang. It was my neighbors grandson. He started to explain his story in nice manner, saying,"My girlfriends car had been hit and the scratch marks were white...." Up to this point I was calm.

Then out of the blue, he says, "Then I'm looking around and I see your car is white and all smashed up. So I want to know what the F#%^ is going on." At that point I started screaming, "WELL I WANNA KNOW HOW THE H%#£ I RAN INTO YOUR GIRLFRIENDS CAR WHEN...." At that moment, I was taking my prostheses off and spiked it in the ground and screamed, "I DON'T EVEN HAVE HANDS!" He shrunk away from his accusations and left. I walked in the house and started balling from all the emotions and frustrations coming to the surface. My sister comforted me again.

My older sister and I have a relationship where we protect each other. When I was one year and several months old, my sister who was nine months younger had somehow managed to crawl out on the roof. My mom says I went out on the roof and picked her up and brought her in. From that moment on we had each others back.

When my dad went to jail, I as the eldest would need to step up and help out financially. She stepped up for me and made it possible for me to serve a mission. I also believe there were higher powers aiding her but to this day I still feel the need to return the favor. When it was time to leave the hospital, I had the choice of living with both my other siblings but I chose her. Partially because I feel like I want to help her and partially because I feel most at home in her house.

Eventually Marc Rosello, the OT, and I got a driving ring. The driving ring is in the folloiwing video. He let me drive in a Driver's Ed car. I remember being so nervous that I was perspiring to the point of dripping armpits. It was just like when I first learned to drive with my dad at the age of sixteen.

I passed the driving test and started driving. My car actually has a name, 'Ol Betsy The War Machine, and a personality. Driving her was like reacquainting with an old friend. I remember one of the first things I asked for when I came into full consciousness was my car. The business director went and retrieved her from the city of Kremmling. I felt comforted to know she was near.

Driving was an incredible feeling because here I was, without hands, driving with everyone else. Nobody treated me any different than anyone else. In fact, one of the best things was that there wasn't too many people that could tell that I was any different than anyone else. I felt a part of the community.

My car was a lot like my sister. Even after 200,000 miles, she continued to want to work to get my back. We have at least a hundred adventures together. That same year, I thought there was no way to pass my inspections. Through a miracle I found someone to pass her and we had one more year of adventures. She is in the twilight of her years now so I made some tribute videos of her so you can check them out. One thing I know is that she will always have my back.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Somebody Stole DREAMLAND from a Supposed Bandit

Last night I went to a Utah Jazz game. This one was pretty special because my brother, my Uncle Molo and my dad came. It's always fun to watch my uncles interact. We stayed up way late and after I got home, I continued to stay awake until about 2:30 am. It was completely detrimental because this morning I had a training to be to that necessitated that I be up by 6:40 am.

The training was a long grueling 8 hours but I made it through that. My friends from the hospital asked if I wanted to eat and I had planned on stopping at McDonald's anyway to get my free Big Mac and so we hung out for another hour. I arrived home wanting to take a shower but too tired to do even that. I lay on the couch, the same couch that I had slept on for 4 months during my recovery from electrical injury, and fell quickly and soundly into a deep sleep.

Remember that dreamland, from when I first went into the hospital until now, is a place that I so longingly remember but could never get to. On special occasion I am able to reach it but for a long time the only thing I seemed to achieve was what I call 'the blackness'. 'The Blackness' is a deep darkness. I liken it unto being in the darkest cave you can imagine and then multiplying that by 100. 'The Blackness' was so dark the air was heavy.

The reason I longed for dreamland was it was an escape from reality. 'The Blackness' did not suffice for anything but to pause the phantom pain. Phantom pain is the phenomena of the brain still sensing the severed part of the body and at times the trauma that may have caused the need for amputation. In my case it feels as if I have slept on my hands and they are numb due to the loss of circulation. I can barely move my phantom hands and along with numbness they fill cramped up. There sometimes can be a burn and always they feel as if they are sweaty palms to the point of being wrinkly dish washing hands.

In the hospital I would wake up to the driest mouth on earth. 'The darkness', for having heavy air seems to be very arid. My tongue would be so dry that I would drink one glass of water that would be absorbed just by my tongue alone and one for actual thirst. This dry tongue continued as well for a long time.

After about 6 months, I have my first encounter with dreamland. I don't want to wake up because I have hands, as I am oft prone to do while in dreamland. Often I get kicked out of dreamland by phantom pain. As the dreamland fades away the pain fades in. The pain goes from non-existent to it's peak presence and then calms down once I get medicines in my body.

It seems that one of the aids in my ability to achieve dreamland is my level of non-medicated exhaustion. Today, with only four hours of sleep in a 32 hour period, I have hit that requirement. I sink deep into my couch and it seems to envelope me in a lighter form of 'the darkness.'

Slowly the darkness concedes to dreamland! I find myself in room with three men. The one says absolutely nothing and seems to be consoling the other. The other is Brin (names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty). He found out his wife has been cheating on him. I am in a counselor role. Why am I in a counselor role I ask myself?

The investigative reporter in me finds out that I was sought out because Brin knows I was formerly married to this woman, who we will call Kosy, and the same thing happened to me. Surprisingly to me, because I thought if offered the chance I would have tried to do the most vengeful things to Kosy, I tell Brin to forgive her and they can work things out.

Enter Kosy stage right. I pretend to be sleeping on a chair, reclined on two legs but not supported by anything but the two legs, that is suddenly surrounded by a curtain. I can see out of the curtain(which I now think it was odd to have been pretending to be asleep) but they can't see in. Kosy begins to grovel, at Brin's feet, for forgiveness. He accepts the apology.

She now enters the curtain with my leaning chair. I continue faking to be asleep. It seems she wishes she could say something but doesn't have the courage to do so. She kisses me on the mouth. I remain motionless and emotionless. Flashbacks of a watermelon gloss come to my mind.

Suddenly, dreamland takes me away to Brasil. I'm a missionary that's deeply entrenched in the mission. We meet up with old friends and discuss what is going on in the area. Then we go out to preach.

While with Elder Silva (name remains the same as while there it seems everybody's last name is Silva) I see this glimmer on the road. I run after it, up a steep hill. The hill seems to be the steepest road I have ever run up. I reach the glimmer and it seems to be a reflection of some sort. This leads me to the source of the reflection which in turn leads to another and another. I reach the top of the hill only to find out its all coming from a series of reflectors in the road designed to mark lanes at night.

Elder Silva catches up to me and says, "I was wondering when you would follow that." He points and we look across a valley and through a sandstone arch to see a very beautiful scenery of mansions and cliffs. I'm in absolute jaw dropping awe of the whole picture.

My mouth is open and dry. It's dark and the pain returns. It's 11 p.m. It seems like it had been years but I had only been sleeping for five hours. I write about the whole thing and now it's 1 a.m.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Mother's Love.....

Funeral Feb 25, 2012
In 1996 I was in my third year at Utah State University. I have no idea what I was studying. Neither did I have any idea what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Because of that I don't call it a junior year. It took meunix years to graduate so I call it the beginning of my sophomore year. The only thing I did know at the time was that I was a part of the Polynesian Student Union. PSU, as we called it, gave me a chance to serve. Perhaps it is no coincidence that it was through service that I met one of the most unselfish women I have ever met,Tuali'i.

L to R top row Tua, Anne Keiaho, Tonga, Sau
L to R Lisiate Keiaho, Kamilia (Sau's daughter) me
after performing for an old folks home in Brigham City
Back then, she was married to a man by the name of John Halloran. She worked at a dental office as a dental assistant, while her husband worked as an engineer. They lived in the most affluent neighborhood in the small city of Logan. Although they were very well-off, all were treated like a brother or sister to her. Tua, short for Tuali'i, had this enormous heart that allowed everyone in as a great big family. In fact, I had slept in their guest room many times and for some reason I don't doubt that many whom she called 'bro' or 'sis' have also recieved of her hospitality.

I have this uncanny ability to play practical jokes, tease, say the rudest and most sarcastic things to the point that people get offended or in the least get angry at me. Tua would just laugh and smile and say, "Shut up Sam!" I can only remember one time that she yanked my ear a little bit. Because she didn't ever do that it was way more effective than when others did it.

L to R top row Tua, Anne, Sau
bot row Samoana and Lisiate
at Sau's baby blessing of Mosiah
In 1997, somehow, the Polynesian Student Union and community in Logan saw fit to elect me as president of the PSU. I knew it was an undaunting task but I also knew that my two friends, Sau and Tua, who call me little brother, had my back 100 % and with their help I would not fail. Now they weren't the only ones. There were the Keiaho's, the Pauni's, Walter Mila, the Ka'ilis, Mele Lauti, Wayne Ngaluafe etc.

Somewhere during that school year, the Keiaho family joined in our little group and formed what I call the Logan family. The Keiaho's had two of their five kids super involved and the very youngest was super excited to join in when he got old enough. I still consider Sau, Tua and the Keiaho's family to this day.

L to R forgot her name Sau, Tua, Anne
performing at my family reunion
The club, with the most rookie of rookies as their leader, somehow managed to put on the clubs main event, a luau, by the skin of my teeth. At the same time Sau, Tua, the Keiaho family and I created a bond that was inseparable. Whenever one of these brothers or sisters in this bond needed help we were all there for them. They have come and danced for my family reunion, my sisters wedding, old folks homes, a troubled teens school, etc. With Tua being so well-off, she needed us least and in turn gave the most.

At the end of that school year, in 1998, I decided I wanted to serve a mission for my church. Tuali'i, who at the time was a member of a different church, supported my decision full-heartedly. I remember her giving me a check that amounted to more then everyone of my family members had given me. She was at the farewell and the gate for the airplane as I began my journey out of the country.

Sau, baby Mosiah, Anne and Tua having a sleep over at my
house with irons out to flatten hair
Of my Logan family, the one I recieved a letter from the most was Tua. In fact when I needed something from the states, I wrote to either my mom or Tua. One time the missionaries decided to put on a luau for a missionary activity. I was going to teach my fellow missionaries some dances and show a movie of other dances. It would necessitate a cd and a VHS cassette. I wrote to Tua. Not only did she send me all of the above but she went beyond and sent me an Aloha shirt.

My sister Selesitila and Tua at my little
sister's wedding
I returned from Brazil and she and Sau were there at the airport. Tua and Sau were always trying to hook me up with a girl. The first thing Tua did was have a party with some of the new PSU members, all with the aim of introducing me to a girl. I remember distinctly that there was food and drinks and even boos for those that drank alcohol. She was the greatest of hosts because she always thought of what the others wanted.

Her marriage to John ended and she moved away to Salt Lake City. In a couple of years she married Papu Enosa. She had a kid named Katelin Eventually she was baptized in the same denomination as I. I wasn't present for any of those events, which I regret.

I would see her occasionally at flag days, a celebration of the Samoan culture. We would chat for a bit and then be on our merry ways. The last time I saw her before seeing her in her deathbed was in the summer of 2011. She was taking care of her primary duties. We talked briefly, then she returned to her duties serving in the primary.

Later on I found out she was fighting cancer. Just like her to not even mention that she was fighting cancer. She was too unselfish to burden anyone with that knowledge. Tua would rather carry her burdens in addition to any other burdens her friends had. Rumor was that every night she was sick to the point of throwing up.

"Call ASAP", was the text message I recieved from Sau, on February 11, 2012. She broke some bad news to me, telling me that Tua was sent home from the hospital and that she was on her deathbed. We planned to visit her the next day.

It's a very humbling experience to visit someone who is going to die. What do you say? What do you bring? I wondered if she would even recognize me. Sau had told me she couldn't talk. When we went she talked to Sau a lot.

She looked at me, her eyes lit up. Her eyes lit up and she said, "Samoana!" We embraced. I asked her about the dumbest question you can ask, "How are you doing?" Obviously, she was not doing well. She gave me a long frown.

My guess was the long frown was her version of crying. At her funeral we had found out that due to dehydration the Doctor had said she wouldn't be able to cry. She, however, did later on cry one more last tear.

We found out she had allowed her significant other to go to the rugby sevens tournament. To me it showed that even on her deathbed she thought of others before herself. But it also made me mad and sad, as we left, to know this.

I visited again with some of the Keiaho family, my mother and my sister. To know that my sister and mom visited showed me how much she had done for my family. My sister is a homebody and my mom is pretty much homebound because she has dialysis three times a week. We all began breaking out with our fondest memories of Tua. I asked Tua if there was anything she needed me to do before she passes away. She kept saying no as if she had forgiven everyone on this earth.

The Divine Heritage Choir came to sing to her on Thursday. I regretfully wasn't able to go but had planned to go again on Sunday. Unfortunately for me, I didn't get to see her as she passed Sunday morning.

The funeral came the following Saturday. I attended with hundreds of other people. The gym was packed with people who's lives had been touched by the warmth of her love. There were touching testimonies of her love and selflessness.

One of her close friends shared, to me, the most touching testimony of all. She told of Tua's last moments on earth. Early in the morning, Tua started breathing fast. Her friend said she could tell that Tua wouldn't make it much longer so she grabbed Katelin, Tua's daughter, and brought her in front of her mom to see her last breaths on Earth. She said Tua's breaths slowed down to a very slow pace. Tua looked over at her daughter and with her last breath a tear came out of her eye.

Something tells me she had been saving that tear for her daughter. Although the Doctor, a learned man, and his years of schooling would say, "She will not be able to cry," the Doctor couldn't account for a mothers love for her child. Tua, a person who was selfless and always serving, ultimately spent her last breath serving.

I can't help to notice the similarity between Tua and my mother. My mother goes to dialysis three days a week. She has outlasted everyone of her colleagues at dialysis as they quit and pass on or just pass away in the chair. Dialysis is a grueling process that involves needles and bruises, the feeling of being light headed, sore bones, and throwing up. I feel like what drives her is her love and selflessness for her children.

Hopefully one day I can be found with that same love because I know it will be good with me in the next life to posess it. Moroni 7:47 47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Paradigm squeezing their "pair of dimes" to keep Zu“rich"

Paradigm: an example serving as a model; pattern

If you are in the business of helping injured workers, whatever you do, do not follow the example of Paradigm, my Workmans compensation insurance short-term provider. Or, for that matter, Zurich, my long-term Workmens compensation provider. Under these companies care I was nearly ready to overdose on my medication, jump off a bridge, or walk out on the highway in front of an eighteen wheeler.

My doctor wanted me to leave the hospital three days after I transferred from the University of Colorado Hospital to the University of Utah Hospital but I told him, "I cannot leave the hospital now. I will not have my mother and sister wiping my butt!" That bought me another three weeks in the rehabilitation department on the second floor of the University of Utah hospital. It also bought Paradigm and Zurich three weeks to make modifications in my house to facilitate my success in healing.

During rehabilitation, zero progress was made in the modifications that were recommended by my Occupational Therapist, Michelle Dincecco. It's funny because they seemed to argue about pennies. For example, one of the suggestions was to change all the light switches to a paddle style. This probably costs about five dollars each switch but they refused to do that. They refused to get push button lamps to replace the ones that have the rolling switches.

They extended my stay a little longer to give themselves more time. When I found out nothing had been done to modify the house, I started panicking. I even had a dream where I had hands. It felt sooooo real, I woke up in a sweat and reached to turn on the lights, as if my hands were still there. "SWOOOOOSH," was the sound I thought I heard as my stumps completely missed the light switch. I began to sweat, the walls started feeling like they were closing in on me. The retaining walls on my hospital bed were up. I had a difficult time trying to escape the bed. I got out and started to roam the hallways in an effort to get some air.

My PT came to my room, where I had returned just in time to meet her, and took me downstairs to workout. Usually I joked around a lot but today she noticed I had a pale complexion and didn't smile or interact at all. She asked if I was OK. I whimpered, "No," and began sobbing in front of everyone in the gym. She asked if I wanted to go back to my room. I whimpered, "Yes," and sobbed some more. She excused me back to my room. A little while later a group of the rehab doctors came to see me. I sobbed some more and they recommended I see the psychologist, Justin MacKenzie.

Later on, after sleeping most the day, Justin came to see me. We talked and he went through this breathing exercise. We discovered that my anxieties were coming from the feeling of going home into a trap. The walls closing in were representative of my time in the hospital ending and the capability to call on nurses for help was coming to an end. I used the breathing exercise more times thereafter and it helped out a lot.

I believe I came home Friday, January 28, 2010. There were no modifications done. Somehow the nurse case manager happened to get a hold of zero contractors. Luckily, my OT recommended the nurse case manager try Home Depot. Home Depot came and installed the bidet on Saturday. In the meantime my mother had to wipe my butt once. At this time I would not wear underwear in order tom facilitate the toiletting process. Home Depot explained that they were doing a free service for me and that they could only do the little stuff. My thoughts were, "Wow Paradigm is trying to use voluntary workers to do something they should be paying for."

When I left the U of U hospital, I could not drive. Paradigm, the Workmens Compensation insurance company, arranged for transportation to and from medically related appointments. I sensed an urgency in the company's actions to have me driving as soon as possible. What angers me about them is that it felt like their motivation was to save their money and not my well-being.

My case manager once suggested that my home nurse give me rides. The home nurse aid sometimes came late and I couldn't count on her plus it wasn't in her job description and actually company policy doesn't allow her to do so. My nurse case manager then suggested I use a taxi. I refused because I had a of the claustrophobia problem I was having.

The shower handle has just barely been done about one year and a month after the fact. Previously i would have to leave my prosthetic on and turn on the shower, making sure the shower head was pointing down. Then i would need to get out of the shower and remove my prosthetic and get back in the shower.

To many I might sound like I'm whining but the thing is, I'm familiar with what a good Workman's compensation insurance does because my brother has one handling his case. Nearly everything he needs is taken care of. If he wants to try a new sports hand they get it for him. My company would only buy one sports prosthetic and one type of hand.

I had been under the impression that my brothers Workman's Comp insurance company was actually making an effort to try and make life as close as possible to his life before the accident. My Workman's comp insurance company seems to want to get away with the least possible.

To me, I have given forth an amazing effort to recuperate despite the odds. Some of the odds have been placed before me by the very same companies that at exist to help me because the main aim is profit vs patient care. Enough whining already. I will succeed despite a crappy workers comp system. Ha ha ha have another wipeout video

Friday, January 20, 2012

In a Room Full of People but Feeling All Alone

New Years Eve is a time I've generally spent acting a fool for family and friends. I vividly remember my favorite New Years Eve. There I was on State Street screaming New Years greetings and waving at honking motorists while wearing a fur hat with ear flaps. My fashion outfits usually involve clothing that comes from parts of my work uniforms. At the time I was working security for American Protective Services. I remember my brother Fatu, my cousin Josh, my cousin Penina, and her friend with the last name Katoa were all present. We were all laughing and I was attempting to impress this Katoa girl. I believe I was succeeding (while polishing finger nails on lapels).

Contrast that with a couple of my worst New Years. In December of 2006, I had been married for a year and six months. Things were going bad between me and my wife, at the time. In fact she had took a trip to Washington by herself in the beginning of December. When she came back, I was headed into surgery for a hernia. Something felt wrong about the whole situation. For a man going in for surgery, she really didn't seem like she cared. When I came out of surgery she was always looking for a chance to leave.

She would ask,"Is everything ok?"

I would respond,"Yeah, it's ok." While it wasn't.

She would say, "Ok well I'm gonna go. Be back later."

She left and there I was in the loneliness but even when she was there I felt somewhat of a loneliness.

Things had already begun to change in August but I was to dumb to notice. One day in October, I caught her going to the movies with a guy. I was so mad I asked for a separation. The reason I tell this story is that I had made her my all, my everything. She was up on a pedastool so high that I would have gotten two jobs, gone into debt in the tens of thousands of dollars, and done anything to make her happy. When you put your all and everything into something and then it gets cut off, it can feel like the most painful and lonely thing in the world. It felt like I gave apiece of my heart and it was ripped out and taken away from me.

When New Years came around I was working at my second job, cleaning theaters at the Gateway Mall. A job which I had gotten to help pay for her car. There I was picking up popcorn and mopping soda amongst a bunch of other workers. We all went to the break room and took time out to watch the clock hit midnight. That New Years, I was surrounded by people but felt painfully alone.

Fast forward to 2010. I had gotten used to being single. I began to put my everything and trust into myself. Putting all my trust into my own hands, I went to NY, San Diego, and all kinds of fun places. Then I lost my hands. Life again repeated itself and pulled the rug on me, in a way. My family and friends gave me support but the last family member, Fatu, had left on January 28, 2010. On that New Years Eve I was awake and the whole crew of nurses invited me to watch the fireworks in Denver, downtown from the conference room. The buildings blocked the view of most of the fireworks and we popped the Martinelli's but there I was amongst the crew of nurses but it felt painfully alone.

My brother returned to bring me home on January 4, 2011. When he arrived, I cried. It was more of a cry of relief. I had wandered through the desert of loneliness and survived. Something that while I was in it I didn't think of until the difficulty of it was done. Now that it was done I had realized the difficulty of what I had done and cried in disbelief that I had done it.

Both these occasions were extremely painful and more difficult than anything I have ever experienced but I'm glad I still wasn't married when the second happened. It would have been infinitely worse having someone by your side that you don't trust than just being alone. I guess I could relate divorce to my hand amputations. The hands, although very useful and one of my favorite creations God has given me, had to go or else I would suffer more. The ex-wife ,although a great person, was hurtiing me more than I knew and so I had to amputate her, 'so to speak', to enable me to become a stronger person.

Looking back I can see that I have become a stronger person from the divorce. I hope to say, someday, that I have become a stronger person from the amputations. In someways I have already become a stronger person.