The week I broke my leg and adopted a dog

It’s been an exciting few days!

This week definitely didn’t go as planned. Life doesn’t work like that.

The Encounter

I was headed into my barber shop on Main St in Santa Monica last week when I saw this beautiful German Shepherd with an “adopt me” bandanna caped over its back. He quickly approached me, playfully jumped up onto my hip and gave me the typical dog salutations. Its foster mom was this wonderful woman named Sarah, who volunteers part-time at the Westside German Shepherd Rescue by walking and caring for dogs and helping them find permanent homes. I learned the dog was somewhere between 12 and 24 months old and weighed a mighty 70 pounds. They think he was given up by his previous owner because he was “too rambunctious” and played a little too rough—especially with small children. Frankly, he sounded a lot like me as a kid, and that’s what I was looking for.

Friday, July 7th. Two days before the accident.

I played with him for awhile, and after my haircut I met up with Sarah again to spend a little more time with the dog. I walked around the Promenade with him and didn’t see any red flags. He seemed healthy. He was very strong and not leash trained at all—he zig-zagged back and forth across the sidewalk as he found new smells and stimuli— but he was still very friendly to humans and other dogs. He just had a lot of energy, which I felt like I could easily channel with a few rawhides and a little training. I called my girlfriend (Tyler) and warned her I was falling in love, and later that day I started filling out the online adoption paperwork. We planned on picking him up from the rescue two days later, on Sunday afternoon.

December 2016 Tragedy

Dog ownership is a slightly sensitive topic for both Tyler and myself. We both had awesome dogs growing up. She had a family lab and then later got a Yorkie—who they still have today. And I had a black lab named Jet who we had since a puppy. He got hit by a car when I was in high school, after having him only 2 years. True story, he was expelling flatus in our living room and we put him outside; he jumped the deck of our fence and he never came home. We were best friends and I still think about him all the time.

R.I.P. Rosie, you still have a big place in our hearts.

Then this past December 2016, almost 15 years later, Tyler and I purchased a tiny “Maltipoo” (Maltise and Poodle) who weighted no more than 4 pounds and was 12 weeks old (or so we thought). We learned the hard way the dangers in adopting a “designer dog” from irreputable breeders. Despite being in text communication with us for weeks, the breeder lied to us about her weight, age and vaccines. We made the exchange in a Subway parking lot in Pomona for a few hundred bucks. And after she had our money, we never heard from her again. The dog died of distemper 2 weeks later. We racked up at least $4,000 in vet bills trying to keep her alive, and it took a huge tole on our emotional wellbeing. We had Rosie just long enough to fall in love with her, and then we had to put her out of her misery. It was tragic.

We reported the breeder to animal protection services but decided it wasn’t worth out time to go after her legally. I was heartbroken for Tyler and I never want this to happen to anyone else. I’m not sure how I feel about this whole “build your own dog” industry anyways.

Obviously, these dogs are adorable. But please do your homework before buying.

The Pickup, Round 1

Fortunately, Westside German Shelter Rescue had a far better reputation, as well as a full-time veterinarian on staff. We were scheduled to adopt the dog on Sunday, July 9th, after my soccer game. I woke up Sunday morning and it felt like Christmas. I was so excited to get another dog, finally, and this time it would actually be my dog. I already decided I would name him “Harvey” because… he just looked like a Harvey. And it would be hilariously confusing at home for my company and dog to have the same name. He can be our little gluten-free vegan mascot.

The game was hot, about 95 degrees of Los Angeles summer hitting our faces. We only had one sub, so we didn’t spend a lot of time off the field. About 10 minutes before the end of the first half, a ball was put over the top of the defense and I took off after it full speed. The goalkeeper came out and I got to the ball a half-second before him and tried to step by him. Then the next thing I remember, I heard a loud crack sound like a bamboo branch splitting in half. The keepers foot went directly through my entire left leg and sent me into flight. The tiny little shinguard I was wearing was too small to protect my full shin. I knew immediately my leg was broken, and I let out a loud scream. When I looked down, I saw the edge of my bone sticking out the side of my leg, but not yet protruding through my skin. My body went into shock immediately and I honestly don’t remember feeling any pain.

I arrived at Kaiser around 2pm on Sunday, July 9th 2017

The ambulance arrived within about 15 minutes and I asked them to take me to Kaiser West LA. I was trying to remain as calm as possible. I called Tyler and had her call my parents. And then, all I could think about was Harvey, the dog I was supposed to rescue from the shelter. I was 100% letting him down if I wasn’t able to adopt him because of this injury. That was honestly what depressed me the most.

The X-rays came back and the nurse just laughed at me when I asked her if it was broken. I was scheduled for surgery later that evening. They might have done it sooner if I hadn’t eaten breakfast, since they can’t put me under within 6 hours of eating or drinking. My co-founder and best friend Mike Townsend is engaged to an orthopedic surgeon, so I immediately started texting with her to find out what was about to happen to me.

She told me they were about to put a metal rod down the center of my tibia, starting at the kneecap, and bind it to my tibia with screws. And then leave it there the rest of my life. Kinda like a shish-kabob. She looked up the surgeon on for me, and said he was super experienced and had a near 5-star rating. This was reassuring. The doctors said I would probably have to spend the night so they could monitor the effects of the anesthetics. I was glad to get it done fast, I just wanted to get it over with. I couldn’t move my leg an inch without it hurting, and I really didn’t feel like spending my night as a motionless mummy.

Clean break on my left tibia. Ouch!

The last thing I remember was the orthopedic surgeon and anesthesiologist cracking jokes with me in pre-op room. The surgeon said he did the same surgery on his son a few years ago, caused by the same soccer injury. His son made a full recovery, and he expected me to as well. The clean break of the tibia actually made it easier for them put back together, he explained.

Very soon, I started feeling fuzzy and warm inside. They moved me into the surgery room and I fell asleep without any countdown or theatrics. But right before I went under, I remember saying a short prayer for my family, Tyler and my little dog Harvey who was relying on me to get through surgery and come rescue him from doggy jail.

I woke up in post-op and the nurses said I was the most talkative post-op patient they had ever encountered (for anyone who knows me, this shouldn’t be a surprise). I was pitching them on the importance of holistic health, prevention and integrative medicine, and told them all about my new company, Harvey. Tyler spent the night with me at the hospital and I went home the next day.

Coming out of surgery I was still on that good stuff :-)

The First Week

My dad flew down from Seattle to be my caregiver for a week. He’s already pretty battle tested in this department. He provided care for my grandma for over 10 years and she lived to be 99-years-old.

The prognosis was 6–8 weeks on crutches (no weight bearing) and another 6–9 months after that before I could play contact sports again. I could start stationary biking and light swimming once my body felt up to it. Thankfully, I know my productivity at work wouldn’t be too affected. Our WeWork office is a block away from my apartment and half of our team works remotely anyways. Especially in LA, if you can avoid daily commutes that’s ideal.

At first, I downplayed to Sarah the severity of my injury—in the event it would jeopardize my adoption application for Harvey. But she knew I was making a 15+ year commitment, so a few rough weeks at the beginning won’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. She could also tell I had such a willingness to adopt him, and she knew I would go overboard to take care of him and always act in his best interest.

The Pickup, Round 2

At this point, my mom, my dad, my sister, my girlfriend, my friends, my work colleagues, my surgeon, nurses and even bloggers on the internet told me getting a dog two days after having a metal rod crammed down your tibia is a completely and utterly bad idea. But almost all of them also knew it was inevitable at this point. Just like Harvey, I’m pretty stubborn, persistent, overly optimistic about things, and have way too much faith in my own creativity. I felt up for the challenge, and Tyler agreed to help. I know I would be a good parent for him, and I knew that Tyler (a Boston finisher) would get him in shape in no time and teach some leash etiquette.

So I told Sarah I still wanted him. She was so happy to find him a home that she cried. She bathed him, filed the paperwork and dropped him off at my apartment on Wednesday and we made it official.

Harvey (dubbed “Chuck von Wilburn” at the shelter) finally found a home on Wednesday, July 12th.

Big Takeaways

This was osteopathic medicine’s time to shine. I’ve spent every week of my life in 2017 helping grow Harvey (the company) and telling patients about the benefits of Naturopathic Doctors and dangers of pharmaceutical drugs on our long-term health. But there is certainly a place for anesthetics, painkillers and aspirin in the world; but it should be used as last resort.

Over the past week I’ve been frequently in pain, constantly exhausted, sick from medication, and frustrated with my inability to perform basic tasks. Having finished a 70.3 Ironman in April, not being able to swim, run, bike, play soccer, play basketball or even go on hikes is a lot of adversity to handle all at once. But I have a best friend now. Harvey is playful, loving, attentive, smart, protective, friendly around people and other dogs, and has huge potential to be trained! We took him to the dog park the first weekend after adopting him and I got to see him sprint across the field. He’s all the motivation I need to strengthen my leg and learn to run again.

“The things that go wrong for you have a lot of potential to become part of your gift to the world.” — Krista Tippett

I believe that all this happened for a reason. The things that go wrong for you can give you time for reflection and give you excuses to discover and pursue new passions in your life (like chess, painting, graphic design, drones videography, or training a German Shepherd).

So far, here are some of my learnings from this experience (I may update these as time progresses):

  1. Timing is never right.
    If you want something, there will never be the “right time”. We are capable of prioritizing the things that matter to us in life.
  2. Family is so important.
    Not only has my dad, sister and my own family been wonderful this week, Tyler and her family has stepped stepped up big-time too. One awesome perk of having a significant other is you can double the size of your family—and twice as many people have your back.
  3. Count your blessings.
    You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. My advice is to write down your blessings, every day. Go buy a 12-pack of thank you notes and send them to random people in your life, even for small things. Your life is a giant castle, and your castle is comprised of tiny bricks; take the time to appreciate every brick and think about how it got there.
  4. Be brave; or at least pretend to be.
    Almost every adverse situation will have a better outcome if you stay calm, never show anger, fear or outrage, think thoughtfully and strategically about your next moves, then execute on them confidently and composed—this is bravery to me. I’m also learning there are way braver people out there who inspire me in big and small ways.
  5. Kaiser is a very good health system.
    I was impressed with every aspect of my experience with Kaiser. They are an efficient and well-oiled machine. They did a great job making me feel comfortable at all times. I downloaded their mobile app, which showed all my prescriptions, lab results, and my next appointment. They also have Touch ID enabled for sign-in on the iPhone so I never have to look for a password. These are the little things that make them great.
  6. If you want a dog, please adopt.
    There are hundreds of dogs at any given time at the Westside German Shepherd Rescue and thousands of other shelters across the country. These animals rarely run, see sunshine, or are shown compassion, and they desperately need a home. They also possess incredible teaching and healing powers, I’m seeing it every day.
I noticed the man behind us at the park today had a prosthetic leg. He made me thankful I’m able to make a full recovery and run again. I told Harvey to be thankful for has four working legs too, and he nodded.

Here’s a short video of Harvey in action on his first day home.