As we grow older, we face an array of challenges that we never thought about in our youth. Many of you are much older than I and have faced your challenges with dignity and grace. I am now 57. I had a tumor removed from my right CP angle (the space between your brainstem and inner ear, just below your brain) June 11th 2012. Before the surgery, both the doctors and I were optimistic for a quick and complete recovery. I even dragged my camera to Houston in anticipation of attending the Temple Santa Fe Railway Modeling and Historical Society convention two weeks later. That was not to be. The surgery was more complex than the MRI led them to believe. They insulted a lot of my nerves scraping the tumor off, leaving me with stroke like symptoms. Double vision, sagging face, slurred speech, loss of motor control and coordination on the right side, I was a mess. Would I ever? Insert a thousand questions here. I couldn’t even type on my I phone. But with the support of my wife, who fought to get me into the best rehab hospital around, the encouragement of a fellow modeler, and the dedicated staff of Houston Memorial Hermann TIRR, I made a lot of progress. It helped that at my wife’s insistence, I wrote a document about who I was and what I had done before I ended up in intensive care. I included pictures of the ram we had back on the farm, me working a cow on horseback, and the farm. I wrote about my background as a pilot and engineer, mentioned my hobbies including model railroading and building scale models. And I laid out my goals. With my speech problems and the number of specialists coming in, this was a quick way to let the doctors know that I wanted more than to retire to the couch in the condo. Maybe I should have talked more about fine motor control, but I really needed to lift a 100 pound bale of hay. Your goals will certainly differ. I showed this document to the orderlies that helped me bathe too. It really helped me make a connection with those who were trying to help me and in turn, they gave me a tailored boost to meet my goals.
I left Houston in a wheel chair six weeks after my procedure. My vision improved. I was able to drive again. Physical therapy helped me walk. Occupational therapy helped me do important stuff like sort pills, make coffee, build freight cars. Say what! Yes, I started a Tichy flat and brought it to one of my OT appointments. I got a lot more fine motor exercises after that and an assignment to keep working at it. The stake pockets were a little too much for me at the time, and I shelved it for other projects after several attempts. I’m now ready to finish it though, and have gone on to do other things. Currently I am working on converting a Walthers 8-1-2 to a Santa Fe assigned Steam Ejector Air Conditioning equipped version. I will explain how I did that conversion in future posts.
Meanwhile, health issues are not necessarily the end of the world as far as model railroading. If you like ops, consider designing your next layout to be wheelchair accessible. If you enjoy the camaraderie of an ops session, have the courage to continue to host as Gil Freitag from Houston has done. His regular crew helps with the maintenance and all enjoy the ops sessions. Depending on your and your family’s wishes, and the support of your ops crew, even death need not put an end to ops as Angus’ layout in Petaluma is still holding regular sessions. Angus built and operated it from his wheel chair. I never met him as he passed before I moved to the area, but I am grateful to him and his crew for sharing that vision with me. One aspect of his design, the entry through an operating lift bridge, has direct applicability to my layout with the bascule bridge at Middle River. The lower height is also attractive, both for showing to younger folk and accommodating me in older age if I ever need that chair again. Persevere, have fun, and you may even get a prescription like the one I got from my cardiologist to reduce stress: Do more model railroading!
John BarryCameron Park, CA
PS If you want to see what I wrote from my hospital bed as an introduction to myself and goals, I uploaded a PDF here: