In typical early Saturday morning fashion, I strapped on my Powerslide Next 100 urban inline skates and hit the pavement at the St. Pete Pier. What initially started off as a conditioning routine for an ice hockey beer league coming to Tampa Bay this year, evolved into an adored workout routine. Eventually, it became a shared love among my wife, and 2 friends that I discovered are also regularly on inline skates.
Another Saturday skate session rolls around. We bomb the Pier hill, speedskate up and down the Pier, and work on technical skills — something I would mentor my fellow skaters on occasionally. I grew up on ice skates living on Cape Cod. Instead of wheels and pavement, it was blades and frozen cranberry bogs. Skating is in my blood.
After our session ends, we part ways to enjoy the rest of our Saturdays doing chores, relaxing, or grabbing breakfast. I decide to take a bit of a long cooldown and continue to casually skate by the water. As I’m trying to stop on a strange part of the sidewalk where 3 paths intersect, one of the worst things a programmer can experience happens:
I fall and break my wrist.
I’ve always been cool and collected in emergency situations. I think its a byproduct of ADHD. I assess my now-crooked wrist, determine it’s indeed broken using the very scientific method of looking at it, and have a stranger call an ambulance for me. I make sure to tell them it’s non-emergency since I’m not bleeding to death on the sidewalk. I call my wife and tell her the news in my typical deadpan, trying-not-to-panic-anyone fashion.
After a 4-hour whirlwind that involved fentanyl, morphine, being put under, and having my arm set in a splint, I’m finally ready to go home and let this new challenge set in until surgery.
Fast forward 1 week later to surgery day. My doctor is amazing and has an impressive resume. A pioneer of sports medicine in Florida, he was appointed to the NFL Neutral Physician Examiners Panel, and served as the team doctor for the Miami Heat and Miami Sol. I got lucky.
2 hours later and I’ve got a metal plate and 7 screws in my wrist. My arm completely numb up to the shoulder.
Like any good American, my first question to myself is “how am I going to get any work done?” I formulate approaches using voice recognition software, one-handed keyboards, etc. I eventually settle for a cheaper entry into the split keyboard game: the Kinesis Freestyle2 for macOS. An unexpected but welcome purchase. I’d wanted to try a split keyboard and what better time to take the plunge? It started off a little rough since it was completely new, but quickly became muscle memory.
Despite breaking my wrist, enduring some of the most agonizing pain of my life (I describe it as “my arm being crushed in a vice while on fire”), and facing uncertainty when it comes to work performance, I somehow kept a positive, upbeat outlook on things. I perceived it as a unique challenge that required equally unique solutions. I used it as a talking point when people asked, and was more than happy to show off my keyboard setup. It’s a common pattern in my field and I found myself relating it to my problem solving skills elsewhere. It was oddly familiar and yet entirely foreign.
Working with an amazing Physical Therapist, my flexibility has been consistently improving, the pain has reduced, and it’s starting to feel like a normal, useful arm again. New and improved with a 4 inch scar and some hardware, I can finally say I’m metal as fuck.
It’s Friday March 9. I wake up and start my routine. Coffee, internet memes, brush my teeth, plan my day’s tasks in my head. I try to log into my work laptop but am greeted by the infamous administrator lockout screen on macOS. What the hell is going on? Try to access work Slack on my phone to ping someone. No dice. It kicks me out immediately. I get a message from a now-former colleague in another Slack we’re both members of:
“We’ve been laid off.”
Glowing review, tons of work in motion, very positive feedback from a client after a feature release… and then nothing.
I reel for a bit and then the thoughts roll in. No employment means no insurance soon, which means physical therapy appointments are out-of-pocket only. I do the adult things. Cancel my birthday plans, go to my last PT appointments, and try my best not to let the vice of American capitalism crush me.
A reality check
Every event leading up to now has sent me down a multitude of mental highways ranging from depression, to anger, to nihilism, but at the end of all of it, all that can be done is to move forward. While we sit at our desks, in our vehicles, are out on walks, or wherever, we need to acknowledge that everyone everywhere is fighting some battle or dealing with some form of adversity.
When things are not clear and emails and Slack messages won’t cut it, get on a video call. Call out wins and successes, not just the mistakes. Don’t ask people how they’re doing unless you mean it. When a project or feature launches, celebrate it. Don’t simply move onto the next task. Be empathetic and help lift others up.
I apply to 2-5 jobs per day, have received 5 rejection emails so far, have only been invited to interview at one company (which ultimately rejected me in favor of a contractor they’ve worked with before), I’ve rewritten almost my entire LinkedIn profile, and have revised my resume multiple times. I’m also doing my own PT at home.
The only path forward is progress, even if the road is filled with potholes.
This is what I do. I solve problems.