Phase III

I am sitting here in a t-shirt with a little red gremlin on it. I initially thought this icon was called Dante, but Peter corrected me; he is “Don T.” Of course! He is the CloudPassage daemon, a red bodied, pointy-toothed, big eyed little guy with sharp yellow horns. If he had any hair, I am sure that the designer would shave it for him! I have divided this crisis into phases. Phase I—the staying alive phase— we completed in the month of December at SF General Hospital. Phase II—the independence phase—we completed today. Peter was discharged from acute rehab and came home to his family, he cooked frog-in-a-ponds for the kids and read them stories from this couch in his gravely voice! Tomorrow, with the continued help of friends and therapists, we begin Phase III—back to Don T.

Since December 9th you have all been an incredible force in getting us this far—you have sent us nourishing food, your time, relevant skills, money, advice and encouragement. Many of you have babysat for our sleeping (or sometimes crying) children so that I could spend more date nights with my husband than ever before in our relationship—in two and a half months I returned to the hospital every night but three. My ninety-three year-old great-aunt Catherine, whose friend Shirley downloads these updates to her ipad so that she can stay current from her home in Boston, has told me repeatedly how amazed she is by our friends. We are also amazed, awed, and humbled by and grateful to each of you, daily.

Among this group are many of Peter’s co-workers, past and present. I know from my mother’s very different experience of her office (she was a lawyer for the Massachusetts state government), which showed not only zero empathy, but actual antipathy when she began to experience unidentified neurological difficulties, that this kind of genuine support and kindness from colleagues is exceptional. Peter’s therapists, who help many patients negotiate their work life after a major injury, have been incredibly impressed with how Cloudpassage has handled Peter’s accident.
Yesterday afternoon a friend and co-worker of Peter’s from Cloudpassage who usually works remotely from the East Coast came to visit (Hi Bill!). In the midst of his whirlwind work trip he made time to spend part of the afternoon with Peter at the rehab hospital. He is but one of many Cloudpassage friends who have made the time. After we greeted each other, Bill asked me very directly “What do you *need*?” Then he took some reference shots of Peter’s haircut to give to his own hairdresser when he shaves his head in solidarity.

Peter’s most direct colleague is a dear friend with whom he has worked for more than a decade and known for twice that. Tim was already flying in to San Francisco the night of Peter’s accident in order to finish some projects together and to welcome the newest member of their team (Hi Jamesha!) with whom Peter had shared lunch that afternoon. Peter remembers none of the accident itself, but he remembers having lunch with Jamesha. Tim stayed that first week on our couch and stepped in not only for Peter at work, but for him at home, keeping the children occupied in the early evenings and loading the dishwasher. Tim has not cut his long, curly hair in twenty years, but he has been all-in on the head-shaving event.

The moment that Peter’s co-workers heard about his accident they began donating vacation hours to him. CloudPassage is a startup with fewer than fifty employees in California; this means that they are not subject to FMLA and have no legal obligation to Peter at all, yet many of his co-workers have sent Peter their own paid time off so that he can take the time that he needs to recover before returning to work. For friends in Europe, CP is an American company, so they don’t have that much vacation to begin with. At the rehab center, so many co-workers visited with burritos from Victor’s (apparently a favorite of his near the office) that the evening nurse began joking with Peter about his burrito consumption. Chris even did a software release from Peter's hospital room! Not only has Cloudpassage's CEO, Carson Sweet, helped to create a culture where this kind of support is possible, he is shaving his head along with nine other CPers later this month in a fundraising event that was the brainchild of someone on the Cloudpassage team. Tatiana tells me that even some of their investors and customers have donated.

We moved back to San Francisco in large part so that Peter, who had accompanied me to Athens, Paris, DC, and LA during the research and writing of my dissertation, could transition back to working in his office instead of from the living room of innumerable temporary furnished apartments. The transition has been great for him; Peter was so happy, engaged, and fulfilled to be interacting face-to-face with his many colleagues. When the unexpected and horrible happened, everyone at CP showed up for him in a way that we could never have imagined. This support from his colleagues is particularly touching for Peter because of how important his work has always been to his life.

When nurses and therapists have asked me for more background on Peter, I have described him as a child of the internet. What I mean, I hasten to explain, is that the computer industry and his friends in it, raised him. Some of you lived this story with him and know it better than I, but I will give you the version that I know. His father had worked on the old mainframe computer at the University, at a time when the whole University had a single computer that took up an entire room, and his grandparents had given them an early personal computer for their home. Peter, the middle of five children, left home at fifteen with a promise to his mother to get his GED and not to ask for money, a promise that he fulfilled.

Upon striking out on his own, Peter became what I like to think of as the teenage hanger-on of a group of computer geeks affiliated with the University of Idaho who called themselves the Hungry Programmers, and who moved, a few at a time, to San Francisco in the late 90s. While I was a college student learning how to use finger to track people from one library to the next, Peter was walking around San Francisco barefoot (a short-lived choice), living in the Hungry house, and beginning his tech career in the Bay Area. As he tells it, in those days, people who knew how to use computers could get jobs, but no one really knew how to do those jobs because they were all figuring it out on the fly. The Hungrys were working at different places, but kept an internal chat room open in which they talked about all kinds of things, including questions each had about work. If one person knew how to do something that another did not, he or she posted the answer to the group. In this way, they all improved together. This kind of collaborative learning is now making its way into institutional teaching philosophies, but it differs fundamentally from the traditional, solitary knowledge-grabbing described by AS Byatt in her novel Possession.

Not all of Peter’s work experiences were happy ones: there was the company that suddenly decided to start spamming (his boss from that place is still a friend and came to visit Peter while he was still in the ICU), and the company that became a poster child for the excesses of the first dot-com boom and subsequently imploded (I and others have taken to drinking from that company mug since Peter’s accident). Even from those failures have emerged lasting relationships. One friend, who came over to fix our wonky internet a few days into Peter’s hospitalization, came to Peter’s bedside in the ICU. Peter was still in a chemically-induced coma and his friend leaned over the bed and said “The Ironporters (where Peter worked before CP) are all behind you!” And they have been.

At the General Hospital one of the questions the nurses asked when they brought him out of the coma was, “what do you do?” At the time, Peter was still whispering and he scratched out “Unix sys admin.” I could tell that the nurse had no idea that he’d said anything meaningful. “No, that is what he does!” I exclaimed. Since coming to rehab, his therapists have worked directly with friends to work out just what Peter does and how best to direct their therapies to helping him go back to doing it.

Tonight it is with immeasurable gratitude to all of you that we go to bed with our entire family under one roof for the first time since December 8th, 2013. Tomorrow we begin Phase III—back to Don T. 

Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you,

Jen and Peter


Chris Wardall said...

I am glad that Peter is back at home and with his family.

carsonator said...

What Chris said. We were all so worried about Peter's situation -- we know he's not completely out of the woods, but is close to the clearing...