My Turn: A super supervisors battle back to life
You may remember Sam Dardick, the popular two-term Nevada County supervisor (1994-2000) who oozed charisma and intelligence. The smiling diplomat in the wheelchair whom everyone couldn’t help but love, be they Democrats or Republicans, old-timers or newcomers. Sam survived six Code Blues last year. That’s a lot of starring roles in the E.R. But then, Sam is the ultimate survivor. Sam won his election to 5th District supervisor by beating the odds. The district was over 60 percent Truckee voters, the incumbent was from Truckee, and Sam, a San Juan Ridge hippie, knew only one person from Truckee. The situation looked impossible. But Sam won because his persona was dedicated to victory. He’d beat polio at 13. He’d been named an All-American wheelchair basketball player. He’d founded FREED, a disability program in Grass Valley, when many said such programs werent needed. Losing wasn’t part of his vocabulary. Some think Sam should have run for a third term as county supervisor. He was a shoo-in. But on June 26, 2006, at home alone, he called 911 complaining of severe abdominal pain. Thats his last memory for the next nine months. In the intensive care unit at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley, staff fought to save Sam, eventually diagnosing necrotizing pancreatitis. Such an extreme bodily event led to such a disastrous shopping list of complications that Sam was transferred by helicopter to Stanford University Hospital six weeks later. There was no room on the helicopter for family. Sam was now flying through the air, alone and delirious. Our son Josh and I saw him off; son Caleb and daughter Samantha met him at Stanford, where the intern who took Sam off the plane said, He is close to death. But like the cat with nine lives, Sam did not die. He spent four critical months at Stanford University Hospital. Sam had a pancreatectomy, delicate surgery to remove his damaged pancreas. He also had a tracheotomy, a surgical procedure that placed a tube into his windpipe so he could breathe.Throughout all of these procedures, he remained delirious, but our family remained strongly convinced he would live. After all, we had won that election in Truckee in ’94 against all odds; we could win here, as well.We had no room for negativity, even when it came from well-meaning doctors. The biggest problem today in long-term hospitalization are bugs hospital bacteria that get inside of you and become resistant to antibiotics.Sam received his first dose of bugs at Sierra Nevada, and even Stanford couldn’t get rid of all of them. So when Stanford released Sam to Kentfield Rehab in Marin County after four months, Sam immediately came down with a near-death infection from a gram negative bacteria called pseudomonas.At Marin General Hospital’s ICU, the doctors attitudes were less positive. The head of the ICU pulled me aside and suggested I change Sam’s resuscitation orders to a less active status (in other words, let him die). A doc from Infectious Diseases questioned why I persisted trying to save him. He’ll be brain damaged, said that doctor as Sam was wheeled back into the emergency room with a fever. He’ll be a shadow of his former self. Even though wed been in hospitals six months at this point, the children and I didnt falter. We still wanted every possible treatment available that could save Sam’s life. We refused to listen to dark opinions, even if they came from important doctors. Sam was in the emergency room in Marin the night the NorVirus struck Northern California and there were no ICU rooms available in all of Marin. That was good luck for us, it turned out, as we were transferred to Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, where the medical attitude seemed more optimistic. Dr. Glen Peterson, head of the ICU in Berkeley, realized that Sam was a community leader and developed great respect for our family. He masterminded a proactive, even experimental, approach to bringing Sam back to life.In March 2007, Sam started talking coherently for the first time, eight months after being hospitalized. He had never been in a coma, per se, but he remembers nothing of what happened to him.On May 29, we returned to Nevada County. There were no cheering supporters jumping up and down on the street corners with Go Sam signs as in 1994. But it felt peaceful and restful to be back at our 34 acres on the San Juan Ridge with the pond full of wild birds that Sam can see from his bedroom window. Recuperation is very slow, with some movement forward and some movement backwards. But the good news is that Sam is still very much alive; he rolls around in his power wheelchair, entertains visitors, gets into town occasionally in his wheelchair-equipped van and is as sharp mentally as he always was. He has a long way to go, but he has come a longer way, outwitting the shadow of death for the time being, with humor and fortitude, but what would you expect from one of Nevada County’s favorite winners? Geeta Dardick lives in Nevada County.
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