It was near the end of November 2013, two Mondays before Thanksgiving. I heard the ocean in my ears for a couple days but overall I felt fine. I had gone to bed late the night before and didn’t shower. I left my hair in a bun and slept on my back, as always.
The following morning I woke up late, still feeling the heavy effects of the flu. I went to the bathroom, sitting down and then standing up a few minutes later. Once I stood up, I felt woozy. Instead of heading for the computer I started stumbling towards the bedroom, each step became heavier until I finally fell on the bed.
I thought I was having a stroke.
After a quick analysis, I realized the pain was all in the back of my head. I pulled the bun out of my hair and felt instant relief, but I was still in extreme agony.
I took a few of Katie’s over-the-counter pain pills, rolled over onto my stomach, and just tried to breathe. Thirty minutes, one hour passed before I dared try to stand up.
When I did stand, it was in spite of myself. I could only shuffle feet and lean on the walls. I worked my way back to my computer table only to fall down to my knees and then to my stomach. I laid there another hour until, thankfully, Katie came home for lunch. At first it didn’t dawn on her I was in as much pain as I was. I was trying to make light of it, OldOld Man style. After a couple minutes she lept into action and got me ice packs & soup before she had to scurry back to work.
It was the first night I intentionally slept on my stomach in recent memory.
With over-the-counter pain pills and sleeping pills, I was able to get through the night. The following morning the pain felt a little better, until I went to sit upright. Then it was like getting pulled on the neck by an dually-towed chain.
But I was a jock long enough to know the pain was physical, not medical.
The rest of day two, day three, and day four was soup, Gatorade, iced tea, and ice packs. It wasn’t until the end of day three that I was able to look at a screen, and that was only to watch Netflix from the bed by placing the iPad on the floor. The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary was coming up so I was watching old episodes, a little at a time, to prepare.
Day five was the day I could sit up.
I was able to sit up, sort of, for an hour or so at a time thanks to numerous Aleve, ice packs, and every pillow and couch cushion we had in the condo. I couldn’t stare at a screen. It was as if there were puppet strings the size of industrial-strength, un-greased cable cords running down the back of my neck. Every time I moved my eyes up and down or typed on a keyboard, those cables felt like they were rubbing up and down my spinal cord with enough friction to start a small fire.
I didn’t get back to the computer until the following Monday.
As Douglas Adams once wrote,
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.’”
Email was an excruciating adventure. Dealing with angry client emails is one thing; dealing with angry client emails when it takes all your physical energy to sit upright is the type of torture that would have made the Spanish Inquisition stand up and take notice.
Thanksgiving was a few days away. I still had some time. And I caught up, but I realized we never had a contingency for what could happen if I couldn’t stand up. Once I caught up, I had trouble standing again.
December was a haze of blizzards, Aleve, and ice packs.
I mixed in beer, rum & whiskey with the Aleve more than I was willing to admit to because I wanted to balance the way I was torturing my liver. The client web projects were falling apart at the seams because two of them had never been down this road before, and I wasn’t physically awake long enough to continually hand-hold.
Let alone code.
I could start to stand on my own a little more around Christmas, in time to put a ring on Katie’s hand in front of her family.
I got back to sitting at the computer desk and made it through my birthday but a few, short days later, I was bed-ridden, again.
It felt like a volcano erupted through my neck.
I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t open my eyes. I couldn’t sit up. I couldn’t speak. It took two hours before I could send a text to Chris that I was down again. It probably gave him his own pain in the neck.
The web client projects suffered.
I was back on my stomach. The whooshing sounds were being made, again.
I couldn’t even look at my email.
Which is never good for client relations.
That’s when my mother took me to an Atlas Chiropractor.
What is an Atlas Chiropractor? They’re chiropractors but in addition to all the back and neck cracking, they have special education and training on treatment of the atlas bone.
Where is the Atlas Bone? It is the bone at the top of the neck that supports the head. Doctor Jennifer Moore, D.C. at Atlas Family Chiropractic in Lansing, IL, analyzed me to find my alignment in my neck was off 20 degrees, that I was suffering a pinched nerve high enough in my neck that the pain was shooting straight into my head instead of down my body, and that I probably suffered twin ear infections so the mountain of antibiotics I took helped as I self-analyzed.
Dr. Moore had me on semi-weekly appointments for the next 8 weeks. Within the first week I felt unconscionably better.
It was a good thing, too, because the third week into my therapy is when Katie got an incredible job offer, and we made the decision to uproot our lives and move to California.
It forced us at BakedFinn to make a lot of decisions.
We’d never given up on a project before, but before we knew it we dropped three of them before I settled in out here. The first project was one we took over and whose deadline whooshed by when I couldn’t stand. They dropped us and I sent back the check by the end of the day. That had never happened to us before. Though given the philosophical ways we approached meetings when all things were equal, it was probably a blessing for both sides that it ended then and there.
The second one wanted more and more from us than a simple website and after a four-hour meeting I told them we wouldn’t be doing weekly meetings, developing their product line, and acting as an employee. We split mutually. I just saw the owner in the local paper pleading with a federal judge, again. Yikes. (No. It wasn’t JM). Crisis averted, but a pattern was forming.
The third one was patient as I started to heal. Not to get into too much detail because I wouldn’t speak ill of the dead projects, but when we decided on a final deadline we were given a choice whether or not to go through with it. We had the solutions in place, but it gave us pause:
It’s latin for where are we going?
Where the Hell were we going?
We had been spending all this time testing project three, adopting an Oliver Twist, yes-sir-may-I-have-another lack-of-self-respect attitude in order to swallow down any price point to test out Project 03 that before we knew it we had overwhelmed ourselves with projects from un-vetted clients. It took so much of our day that we ran out of time in the day to actually develop Project 03. We were only able to apply Hello Kitty band-aids to it. At the same time he had been spending more than a year networking with startups and helping to bring startup events and, now, a startup accelerator to town that we forgot we were supposed to be doing.
We forgot we were a startup, too.
So we took the client’s unintended offer, gave him the directions so his next developer could spend the half day of work to finish it, and let it go. Then we swore to never put ourselves in that position ever again. It wasn’t good for anyone.
As my sister and I would go ‘round and round:
“The heart wants what the heart wants.” – Red
“That’s why you should let your head have the final say.” – Me
It was time for us at BakedFinn to remember where we came from and remember that we deserve to be in the space as much as the next guy. It was time to remember to act like we’ve been here before, because we have – many time over. It was also time for us to remember our mission and vision (I should finalize it one day).
It begins and ends with Project 03.
Since then we’ve been turning down projects left and right. It has sucked. It has been frightening, but our eyes are back on the prize. We’ve got the final stages of two client websites to get out the door and Chris is busy taking his free time to move into his first home – a 4.5 acre spread a short drive from town. We’ve kept our consulting work and existing clients, we’re teaming up to work on one other startup – bringing in another partner to ease some of the responsibility – and with the rest of the time we’re back on Project 03.
As I write this, I’m 4 hours from getting in the car and heading San Francisco International Airport to head back to Northwest Indiana for a couple weeks.
Ryan has a wedding we’ll attend. I have to check out the potential church for my own wedding. I’ll spend a couple evenings helping Chris move. There’s been some family business to take care of that we’ve been quiet about – a “thank you” goes out to those who know about it for keeping it quiet. And we’ve got a couple celebrations to attend to including helping out with the new startup accelerator. Then I get to come back home for my longest stretch in California to date – assuming all goes well.
While I’m in #NWindiana I’ll see Doctor Moore three more times and then I’ll have to suck it up and find an Atlas Chiropractor out here. The real reason I haven’t yet is because 1) hot tub and 2) I like not driving a car for over a week at a time. I’ve really gotten used to having everything I need in our complex.
And if all goes well, I become more of a front end developer and Project 03 gets closer to market.
And it all the changes happened because one day I had to deal with a pain in the neck – I’m sure it’s no bigger than the ones Chris & Katie have to deal with every damned day.
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