Excerpts from Hanging by a Thread

by Ronald W. Hull

The mylogram was conducted by medical students with me lying face down on the CT table. The contrast fluid was injected by needle directly into the spinal column in the affected area of my neck. After pushing through two inches of neck muscle, the needle had to go between two vertbrae and puncture the spinal sac. The place where they inserted the needle was deadened by Novocain. They used a fluoroscope to guide them, but kept hitting bone as I strained to remain still. Finally, they injected the fluid and subjected me to thirty minutes of X-ray scans. 1980

At 6 am it was more than 30 below zero. Tim had the car in the driveway, running and warm from the heater. As cold as it was outside, it was strange to start out in a warm, toasty car. It was dark until I got to 173 south of Pittsville. The dawn was breaking in a fog of ice crystals that hung on the deserted landscape. I noticed that my headlights were dimming. Although it was still dark, I turned off the headlights, the radio, and the heater, anything that would draw electricity. It was about thirty miles of scrub brush nothing to Tomah and I didn't relish being stuck on this deserted highway without heat. In time, the car got colder and colder, and the steering seemed to stiffen up.

My problem was a loose belt on the alternator. 1979

Paa Kwesi Adams, a brilliant marketing student from Ghana who was a political leader among the students, came to me to request my permission to circulate a petition in my behalf. I told him that I couldn't endorse a petition but I was happy for any support the students could give me. Paa Kwesi got the signatures of more than half of our MBA students and took it to the dean. Dean Sterne was angry and told Paa Kwesi that I had instigated and orchestrated the whole petition idea. 1978-80

Whether or not the human gene pool is diluted may be moot. The same technology that may have changed the course of human evolution for the worse is about to change it again. On several fronts scientists are about to change the course of human evolution, from eliminating genetic defects in unborn children to lengthening human life. These breakthroughs have the potential to fundamentally change individual and collective intelligence of humans. While governments spend time and money on social and political problems, little attention is directed to these scientific endeavors that have the potential for a revolutionary change in human evolution. 1980

We married in a side room of the Presbyterian Church where I spent my teen years and Jan had recently become a member. My family was so large that I elected to invite only aunts and uncles and my brothers and sister and their families. Jan's family was small, so she invited friends. It snowed 8 inches that December 26th., 1981.

Jan and I were honored to sit at the head table, between the two stars, and I was asked to say a few words. Suzette's songs were exceptional, and Alex warmed everyone's hearts when he spoke of the role Black universities had played in the education of youth who would not otherwise have the opportunity. The high point of the evening came when picture of both stars together, already signed by Alex, were being signed by Suzette. I came over to ask her something, and she handed one to me. The photographer was upset, but there was nothing he could do. He planned to sell them all. 1982

Jan left me my desk and desk chair, my TV, and the sofabed from Cargo that we bought on sale. I couldn't operate the sofabed, so I bought a mattress and slept on the floor until I could afford a bed. It was four years before I had any furniture. 1985

High interest rates and the economic downturn that hit Houston devastated my neighborhood. Except for the two families who lived across from me, all the houses on my street were either abandoned or put up for sale. With few options, I gritted my teeth and continued to use creative financing to pay my bills. I focused on growing flowers and bringing work home to soothe my pain. I didn't go out. I didn't spend money on myself except to buy clothes for work, and I didn't travel except to the lake each summer. 1986

I choose the paths less traveled, the ones that headed for the river or for a secluded lake where I could sense the stillness and warmth of the waning day, dust and insects rising in the angling light, waiting for a bird or animal to wend its way to me. Oblivious of my presence, the little dramas of daily life, feeding and resting, were carried out. I savored these moments, knowing that I was only an observer in this world, but longing to be a part of it. Something ancient stirred in me. I knew how Thoreau and the Indian felt. Life in the natural is so wondrous and precious. 1986-89

Twice, maybe more, while reaching far back into a shrub to reach a branch, I fell onto the shrub. Caught in the broken branches of the bush, sharp edges digging into my skin, with my feet off the ground and my arms twisted and tangled in the branches, I lay alone in the back yard wondering how I could extract myself from this painful predicament. Somehow I managed, after minutes of struggle, to work myself into a position where I could get to my knees, and then push myself up, grabbing whatever solid support I could. 1988

Twice, late in the fall, on warm days, I found a kind of paradise. Far down the road past the pig wallows, perhaps beyond the park, a group of deer lounged in a large field close to woods. There were bucks in the group, standing off from the does. 1989

I started looking at high rises. Most of these were either too expensive or old, with dingy and dark parking garages, elevators, and hallways, and the flats usually needing remodeling. One, called The Spires, was new and attractive and in the Medical Center near my work. A one bedroom flat here was about $80-90 thousand, depending on its location. Even if I was able to sell my house and get some money out of my Atlanta house to cover the loss and swing a loan, the monthly maintenance fee of $400 pushed me out of that opportunity too. I gave up. 1989

I decided that I'd stick it out as long as I could at TSU and my house and go to Atlanta when I retired. But that dream was beginning to fade too. I began readjusting my life at the house. I wasn't just knuckling down in my depression and disappointment. To come out ahead in the end, I was starting a change in my lifestyle that was irreversible and dramatic. The war was on. Either I was going to defeat what was happening to me or it was going the defeat me. 1989

I measured and coded one of the largest buildings alone. It was very tiring and difficult as I struggled with carrying a wheeled measuring device and clipboard, trying to find a place to sit down in each room to record my measurements and make notes. 1989

Seeing that I was interested, and hoping that I could help back her, she asked me to join her at local clubs where she was promoting her troupe. These were mostly Black-owned places, but the patrons were always cordial to me. Jeanie loved to dance, often with guys twenty years her junior, and with me. She and I clicked, and even though I was never sure where my left leg would go, her pirouettes and spins kept attention off my stumbles and we often got applause for our solos on the floor. 1989

Dr. Arana was genuinely interested in helping me. He suggested an expensive new procedure called an MRI, for magnetic resonance imaging, to look at my spine and see what was happening. Although Jeanie joined me for reassurance, I liked MRI because it was unobtrusive. All I had to do was lie quietly in a narrow white chamber, listening to music and looking at butterflies painted right above my face while the magnets clicked and buzzed and created a color, three-dimensional image of my neck and spine. Finally, perhaps, I would find out what was wrong. Although the pictures were beautiful, Wilkinson and Arana together came to the conclusion that my problem was caused by aging and I would have to manage it myself. 1987

I remember how hard the concrete felt as it jarred my hip and the side of my face as my glasses flew off into the darkness. It was like being hit by a car. At first Jeanie laughed, thinking it was a joke, until I caught my wind, crawled to my knees, and started to look for my missing shoe and glasses. I couldn't get up. Jeanie helped me to my feet; found my glasses; put on my shoe; and helped me to my car. I just sat in the car, numb from what had happened, started it up, and drove home. 1989

I went to Dr. Rebecca Clearman, a well-known rehabilitation physician who specialized in spinal cord injury. When I told her my story she looked worried. She said that I'd been very unlucky to have this happen to me. She said that something was going on that she didn't understand, but that she was going to get to the bottom of it. When she saw me walk she was very worried, asked me if I had any help, and suggested that I get a wheelchair to reduce wear and tear and the potential of falling. 1990

Pnedisolone, a Cortisone derivative, is dangerous stuff. Besides obvious facial and stomach swelling, it can cause damage to liver, kidneys, and other organs. It is addictive, and withdrawal must be gentle to avoid serious side effects. Still, the drug had been known to reverse paralysis because of its ability to reduce congestion in the spinal column caused by injury or disease. I agreed to try the treatment and was put on a 200 mg dose a day program. 1990

I went out and bought a portable wheelchair. Put it in the car for use when I needed it. 1990

I called Jack. He said the coast was clear, so I headed on in. After getting lost on the Nimitz Freeway and asking directions, I was headed across the San Mateo Bridge at 11 PM. At that time of night, those that were struggling daily to get to and from work in San Francisco with the Bay Bridge down had gone home, making it easier to cross. .... The right front wheel bearing was completely gone. The wheel almost fell off. After being towed to two shops, a tire shop finally agreed to rebuild my front wheel. I lost about three hours, so I called my aunt and told her that I'd be very late getting to LA. 1990

In a couple of hours the trailer was loaded and the door padlocked shut. I walked around front and discovered the weight had pulled my bumper down about two inches. That worried me a lot. And it worried me more when Joyce said her sister had pulled a bumper off while going down the road. .... I had beat the odds and got my own stuff back. Anyone riding with me could see that it wasn't foolhardy or dangerous. But there was a sense of trepidation that I couldn't back up or turn around, lock or unlock the trailer, or even open the trailer door, walk very far from the car, or little else for that matter. 1991

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