In this week of Thanksgiving, I have many things to be thankful for. Let me say early in this post, in a few months I should be back to 100%.


In this week of Thanksgiving, I have many things to be thankful for. Let me say early in this post, in a few months I should be back to 100%.
The things I have to be thankful for revolve around a fall I took on Saturday Oct 23rd. I took a 12-foot fall within a cave while shooting a tourism job. When I fell, I was already more than 20 feet below the surface so when I landed I was 30-40 feet below the surface.
You may ask how can I feel thankful. Well first and foremost, I’m thankful I wasn’t hurt worse or killed. Since the accident, I’ve heard of others taking a fall of this magnitude and being hurt much worse. I broke my pelvis in two spots and broke one vertebra. When I landed, it was on my side, with a waist pack of lighting gear around my hips, which I believe cushioned the blow to an extent. If I would have landed on my feet I probably would have done damage to my feet, legs, spine, etc. If I would have landed on my head I probably wouldn’t be around to write this.  The feeling of the falling and those first minutes laying on the cave floor are burnt in to my mind.
I’m also thankful that when this happened to me, I wasn’t alone. At the time I was working with videographer DJ Kast and Paige McKenna of Shift Visuals. DJ was the first one to my side after the fall and I can still hear him calling back up for Paige to get help, “Roemer just felling and is bleeding”. I can also still hear Paige scream “Roemer!!!!!” as she saw the event unfold. I did hit my head against the cave wall as I fell, but it wasn’t hard and caused just a slight scrap, but it was good bleeder as most head wounds are. I kind of credit me hitting my head against the cave wall for me getting tossed to my side and not landing on my feet.
I’m also incredibly thankful to the amazing firefighters from New Holstein and Chilton that came to my rescue and extracted me from the cave. Getting me out of this cave wasn’t easy. One of the things I can remember most vividly is laying on the floor of that cave looking up at the ceiling with the little bit of daylight making it’s way in wondering how they were going to get my broken body back up to the surface. The firefighters strapped me to a backboard and then used all the physical strength and ingenuity they could muster to get me up ladders pitched about 90 degrees and through a section of the cave I had to crawl through earlier. I remember looking around at the faces of the firefighters looking for my wife cousin’s husband whom I had shot a portrait of a few years earlier in his fire garb. I also remember hearing the name Turba, my wife’s maiden name, being called out to one of the firefighters and wondering how that person was related to my wife. Judy grew up on a dairy farm just a few miles from the accident. I also remember on the last vertical the firefighters had to get me up, the sensation of my my body slipping on the board and calling out to the guys “I’m slipping!”  Within a fraction of a second, I could feel hands grabbing me and keeping me in place.
I’m thankful for the team from ThedaStar’s flight for life that helped stabilize me while I still laid on the cave floor and flew me to The Trauma Center at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center in Neenah. I’m thankful to the amazing and caring health care professionals at the trauma center for putting me back together and keeping me comfortable during my surgery and week-long hospital stay. This is not an easy time for the healthcare system with the extra load they have on them with Covid, so I’m even more thankful for how much they cared for me and how they helped my wife Judy and me through this difficult time.
One of the memories I think I will always have was on the day I was let out of the hospital. They let Judy take me in my wheelchair on a trek down the hall. Within seconds of being pushed down the hall, I was greeted by different smells than I had experienced in my room and even a breeze from a fan we passed. All those different feelings and smells just felt so great. As Judy pushed me down the hallway, I finally filled her in completely on how the fall went down. As we reached the end of the hallway I realized it was a spot I had shot some work for the hospital earlier in the year. By the time we came to a stop at the end of the hallway overlooking the helipad, I was a sobbing mess and Judy was hugging me, but it felt so great to finally let some of that out. I think that may have been some of the first emotions I had shown since the accident. I had tried to be upbeat and hid so much behind my humor as I lay in that hospital bed. As my sobbing subsided, a flight for life came in and I watched it land, wondering about the patient that was just arriving.
Once we got released from the hospital, our next hurdle was how I was going to get into the car, but luckily I could put a little weight on my left leg for transfers so things went smoothly. As we left the hospital, I remembered all the times I had taken this route, but it was always as a photographer heading back home after a shoot. Once we got home my brother, my sister-in-law, our dog Chica and our foster daughter came out to the driveway to greet me. Chica wasn’t so sure about her Pop Pops being in a wheelchair. I’ve always had some slight self-diagnosed sensory issues and those kicked in even more while in the hospital. Little things like the pinging of a chime to let the nurses know a patient needed assistance was so loud and annoying to me. In that first hour of me settling into what my life at home would be like for the next few months, those sensory issues kicked in with all the activity of people helping to get the house ready. Luckily Judy knew this might be an issue and had my parents pick up a pair of noise-canceling headphones for me so I could block out some of the noise. It was important for my parents to put eyes on me to alleviate some of their concerns for me and they knew they shouldn’t stay long, but reassured Judy and me that they were there for us for anything we needed.
I’m thankful for the support my friends and family have given Judy and me during this. From my brother John flying in from Colorado to help get the house ready for someone in a wheelchair, my brother in-law Dan Kiernan for building ramps to allow me to get into the house, for the support Judy’s sisters who are healthcare professionals gave her all times of the day to answer questions and keep her sane especially in those first couple of days in the hospital and through the surgery. The list goes on to include my brother-in-law Jerry Turba for helping get the house ready for winter, and my brother- and sister-in-law, Dave and Annika for hauling a hospital bed and lift chair up to the house. Another thank you goes out to all the friends and neighbors helping with fall cleanup, delivering food and treats, and offering of support. And special thanks for my mom’s homemade chicken noodle soup and goulash which alway make things better.
I’m also thankful to my photographer friends for all their support, especially the ones that helped me complete projects I had already started or shoot jobs I already had on the books.
Most of all I’m thankful for my wife Judy through all this. This hasn’t been easy on her, but she has been my rock. When she first got the call that I had this accident, she was only told that I was involved in an incident, I was conscious and breathing and was being airlifted to a trauma center. Luckily DJ, the videographer I was with, gave Judy an update shortly after that I was able to move my extremities and I was talking. Judy slept in the hospital room every night I was there in a recliner and helped me out in so many ways. Judy even slept on the floor next to the hospital bed we now have in our first-floor den for the first couple of weeks I was home. I finally convinced her to get a good night’s sleep in our second-floor bedroom, but she did put a baby monitor next to my bed. The first night she woke to the sounds of our dog Chica having a dream and making noises. Despite Chica’s early wariness around me in the wheelchair, she has since come around and is usually by my side, hoping for some leftover bites of food or affection.
So this Thanksgiving I am thankful for so many things, most of all that I have my wife Judy and the rest of my amazing support system and a future ahead of me that shouldn’t be too different from the one I had envisioned prior to this accident. Things could have been so much worse and I’m soooooooo grateful that for whatever reason, I was spared the worst injuries and can look forward to getting back to doing the things I love.

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