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This was my car after the crash.  


My name is Christopher Karg.

This is my story.
How I got here and where I plan to go.​

I was born and raised in a small town in northwestern PA.  I attended a private school until the eighth grade. The nuns gave me an outstanding education but the extracurricular activities were limited. My parents gave me the choice of what High School to attend, public or private.  I choose to attend the public, Oil City High School. My choice was solely based on my desire to throw the shot put on the Track and Field team.

Prior to the school year beginning, fall of 1985, I signed up for classes.  I remember the Guidance Counselor insisted I take an art class. I didn't feel artistically inclined, why waste the time.  After some convincing, I agreed to take the 3-D Art class. 

Mr. Rick Fletcher was the teacher.  The first media introduced to class was clay.

I quickly discovered I had an aptitude for that earthy media. The addition of the Potter's wheel increased my enthusiasm for working with clay.  I continued with advancing classes of 3-D Art, through my senior year. [1] With practice and guidance from Mr. Fletcher, I developed the new found talent with some success.  

A university, located in Northwestern Pennsylvania, hosted a toughly juried, annual high school art show. Many High Schools participated. It was an honor to be shown once in your high school career. I was fortunate enough to have had work(s) shown during my 10th, 11th, and 12th grade years.

After high school graduation, I bought a used potter's wheel and continued my craft. I planned to attend college. I first wanted to work for a year before college.


I took a door-to-door sales job and was doing well selling a very expensive vacuum cleaner. A year later, I traded in my old junky car and purchased a almost new Pontiac Grand Am. I moved into my first apartment and lived an adventurous bachelor's life.

College was forgotten by now. At the same time; the relationship between my Father and I was stressed. The combination of my wild lifestyle, immaturity and lack of church attendance was the reason.  A few months later, I accepted a new position and was transitioning on to luxury automobile sales. This career advancement was very promising. The world was offering me bigger and faster ways of living.

My potter's wheel sat quiet and alone in my parents' basement; Art had fallen away from my new lifestyle. I was twenty years old, it felt like I had the world on a string...

Shortly after 11:00 PM, December 6th, 1990. I hit the "Metaphorical Wall" and life forever changed.

That "Metaphorical Wall" was actually a very large tree stump near, the rural town of,  Knox Pennsylvania. I was driving home alone, that late winter night. I was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  My own foolishness was the true influence.  I was driving too fast for any road condition... 

My vehicle left the road. In one swift action, I flattened a roadside yellow arrow sign, mowed down a utility pole and slammed sidewards in to a large, deeply anchored stump. 

The vehicles' impact with that stump was brutal. I was not wearing a seat belt.   In a blink of an eye, my body flew across the interior of the car and slammed head first into the passenger side of the windshield. My head broke completely through the windshield and then was instantly ripped back in, as my body continued its path through the passenger door window. I was thrown more than 60 feet from the vehicle and stump. My body landed in a small cleared parking area.  I laid there helpless. 

Earth-shaking thud

Mr. and Mrs. Best, who lived across the road, said they were awaken by an earth-shaking thud. Looking out their window, they could see a car in pieces and something lying on the ground across the road.  They called 911 and were quickly at my aid. They found me in a semi-fetal position with my feet and hands turned inward. Mrs. Best, a part-time EMT, did her best to stabilize me until an ambulance arrived

Mrs. Best described the event. "As I knelt down to stabilize your head; you started to fight me. Your breathing was labored and a garbled mess."

When helped arrived,  the paramedic quickly evaluated my condition and immediately summoned Air Med-Evac.​

I was later told, the helicopter was off the ground before I was.  The great team of emergency responders had me in that Pittsburgh hospital receiving treatment before midnight. (Thank you!)














Once I arrived at the Pittsburgh hospital; the first diagnosed injuries were: a severe closed head injury accompanied by serious laceration of the head and face. I was in a deep coma; I needed a respirator to assist my breathing. ​

​Trooper at his door

Shortly before 2:00 AM, in Oil City, PA, a State Police Trooper knocked at my parent's door. My Father said he never was so frightened seeing that Trooper at his door. The officer informed my Father of the accident and gave him the phone number to the hospital near Knox.

He called that hospital and was told," He was air lifted to Pittsburgh, Call this number". My Father then called the Pittsburgh hospital. The nurse said, "His condition is very serious get here as soon as you can." My Father said anxiously, "We are two hours outside Pittsburgh." Her concerned response was," Oh my, leave now, but Please!! Don't Drive Fast!" They left for Pittsburgh, not knowing for sure where the hospital was located.

Driving to Pittsburgh

Two Hours in the car must have been absolute torture. I have never asked my parents for details of what they were going through on that long drive. They once told me, they prayed and talked about the 'what if's'. They came to a consensus; I would want my organs donated.

(Officially, I am an organ donor and I encourage everybody to become an organ donor and tell your family.) I can't image my Mother's position. She is a Registered Nurse (now retired). The only details of my condition were, I was bad and to get there ASAP.


Angel

Once my parents arrived to Pittsburgh, they were unable to find the hospital. During the week, Pittsburgh is like a ghost town at 4:00 am. Nobody would stop to help them. Neither a trash truck driver or a mail carrier would help. Both simply waived and kept on moving. Searching for the hospital, they drove throughout the downtown area. While sitting at a red light, a young man driving a red sports car pulled beside them. My Father signed to him. The man rolled down his window and asked, If they needed some help? My Father told him of the accident and they could not find the hospital. "Follow me, I will take you there" was the young man's calm response. As they closely followed his car, my parents noted he had California license plates. "That young man is a long way from home. I hope he knows where to go" Mother recalled saying. He led them across town, over a bridge and up the wide driveway to an open parking space in front of the hospital's emergency room entrance. My Father quickly pulled into the open space and exited the car. He wanted to thank that angel of a man, before hurrying inside. That young man, in a red sports car, with California license plates, simply wasn't there? ...

The Emergency Room

A hospital representative took my parents aside and informed them of my injuries and condition. The representative said they were very surprised the X-rays did not find any brakes in my skull, when considering the damage to my face and the seriousness of my head injuries.

Before the nurse pulled aside the curtain, a swish-swash sound was heard. When revealed to them. I was lying on my back, Most of my head and half of my body was covered with bandages. There was a tube in what seemed to be every orifice in my body. Several machines monitored my vital functions. The swish swash drone of the respirator seemed to overtake most other noises of the area.

"We're hoping his condition improves, right now we don't know. Only time will tell". The representative said.

The doctor then said to my parents, "He has no internal injuries. But we need to take him into surgery to remove the windshield from his face".   It took nearly four hours to completely remove the windshield glass from my head and face.

My parents stayed beside me and prayed. The hospital arranged off-site housing for them those first critical days as they took shifts beside my bed. Two days later a doctor gave my parents a bleak outlook of my condition. "He's in a deep coma. The longer he sleeps, the worse it is, he may never wake up" he callously said.

The next day, that same doctor and the radiologist were reviewing the x-rays taken of me when I first arrived. They were unsure of one x-ray so a CT-Scan was ordered. Their commitment to save lives was a Godsend. The CT-scan discovered a fracture in the second vertebra of my neck (C-2). A break in that vertebra is usually fatal.

All emergency personal did their jobs flawlessly. I had survived three days with that very serious break. (Thank you all!)

The doctors put me in a halo neck brace to treat my spinal injury. [2]  Five days past, I stabilized and was breathing, unassisted and was no longer in a "sleeping" coma. Two weeks after that, I was transferred to Rehabilitation Hospital, outside Pittsburgh. My Mother felt she could leave my beside and go home. 

The Rehabilitation Hospital

The head and spinal injuries were so serious the hospital staff directed family to apply for my SSI disability coverage. At that time, my actions were similar to those of a newborn child. I had no idea where I was. I could not speak, walk or stand. I had to be tube fed and was confined to a wheelchair.

Recovery from a severe head injury recovery is a long and slow process which takes many months or even years. [3]

My understanding is, some patients quickly move through the 8 stages or head injury, while others may plateau at a certain level and remain at that stage forever. During my recovery, I quickly went from stages 1 to 4. I was stuck in stage 4 for a very long time. The doctors were very doubtful I would pass that stage.

My Awaking

I, more-or-less, remained in a (mental) coma until late of February 1991. My earliest memories, post-accident, were from the rehabilitation-hospital.  I remember that moment like it was yesterday.

I recall opening my eyes and seeing the sun shining through the window on dozens of handmade (get-well) cards attached to the wall opposite the foot of my bed. The bright colors and sparkles, like a spiritual kaleidoscope, caught my attention. (My uncle was pastor of a church with a school. The kids made me those get well cards. Thank you Saint Bridget's school of Meadville, PA)

The radio played softly beside my bed. I don't remember what song was playing, but I wanted to change the station but was only able move my arms a few inches and was unable to reach the radio.


The hospital had me attached to me bed with nylon straps. I had on large mitten like gloves over my hands and nylon straps held me safely in place.  I had the tendency to roll out of bed. I am told; from the day of my accident I usually had a bedside caregiver 24 hour a day.

Miraculously, I was not frightened. I knew I was in a good place. A caregiver walked towards me and said, "Good Morning Chris. Did you sleep well?"

A nurse entered the room, "I have your breakfast", He said. The nurse first listened to my stomach with stethoscope. Then opened the large bottle, attached a tube and hung my breakfast high on the IV stand above my bed.  The head injury reduced my ability to swallow​. I was unable to take anything by mouth, no foods or fluids. I received all nourishment and most medications via tube that went through my nose to my stomach.  I am told that I was days away from a permanent G-tube placed in my abdomen.

At that time, I was unable to speak many words. I had to use a notepad for any communications a thumbs up or down could not explain.

The day continued a nurse and caregiver changed my various items, dressed me and transferred me to my wheelchair. A different caregiver then wheeled me around the center/ to my activities. It was a Saturday. My caregiver took me around the large center. We visited the indoor garden and then she snuck me outside for some fresh air on that cold, sunny day. I later learned that I had daily 'classes' of physical, speech/ pathology and occupational therapies, during the week. I do not remember any of these 'classes' before that point.

Later that day, my parents visited. They told me that day, was one of the first days my "screams" weren't heard from the front door of the unit when they entered.   I remember some screaming. I think it was when I was trying to speak. My subconscious was telling me to 'Try Harder!' My extra effort often sounded like an incoherent, sub-human scream.

They took me to Saturday mass at the hospital chapel. I am told, for the first time, since my accident, I did not start to scream during mass. I quietly took in the entire service.

After mass, My father suggested we play the cards. I remembered playing rummy 500, with Dad, when I was a kid. My Father purchased a deck of cards at the gift shop. I was wheeled up to the table near my units' entrance and played cards. By now, I realized I had a serious drooling problem. I carried a hand towel to help keep the mess to a minimal. With a carefully placed my towel we started to play rummy 500. 

After a while, I was actually playing; handling the cards and making key decisions ... A day earlier, those actions were not possible. My Father said, He would always remember that day 'as the day you, really, woke up'.

 

Am I still in High school?

My doctor tried explain to me what parts of the brain were damaged and why I had my physical difficulties and significant memory loss. I had lost large chunks of memory of the prior several years, including most of High School. Most things still were still very "fuzzy" in my head. I didn't understand what he was talking about.

One afternoon, one of my 24 hour caregivers wheeled me down the long corridor. It was like exploring a new world. This Center has bunch of special units including a big cafeteria/lunch room, swimming pool and a craft room. I noticed all the slip cast molds and a few shelves of greenware. (Ceramics) It occurred to me that I knew how to use the potter's wheel. Memories of 3-D Art Class came alive in my mind.

Later that day, my doctor took some more time to explain my injuries. He used a diagrammed picture of the brain, as a visual aid. He used terms like a bowl of jello and horrific bruising. He kept pointing to the frontal lobe and passing over the area marked creativity center of the brain. I remember thinking ...'Art Class and the wheel' I feared had lost the ability to create art and work on the potter's wheel. I kept going over in my head, what to do on the wheel, but was not sure. I called my parents. I first asked my mom if I was in high school. She assured me I had graduated almost two years earlier. She then told me I had a potter's wheel in the basement.  I asked if they would bring it to me in rehab. By the time the wheel arrived, in late March, I had made several significant accomplishments. The halo brace was unbolted from my head and was eating soft foods by mouth. I was still in a wheelchair, but I was able to stand unassisted and take a few assisted steps.

My Father brought in my potter's wheel. On the cart was another familiar sight. My old art teacher Rick gave me a bucket of clay. I held that gray clay. Almost subconsciously, remembered what to do. My first attempt at the potter's wheel was successful. It was not a great pot ... but it was a pot.

I was very thankful the basic skills remained. I left a bunch of pots for the people in the ceramics area by the time I was discharged. Each day I made great improvements in all my therapies. I still had some difficulty speaking but had made significant cogitative and physical improvements.

About that time, I had a falling out with a physical therapist named Reba. She was a tough former Naval officer. She worked me hard like a drill sergeant works a troublesome recruit. She had me do exercises over and over…  I could not stand her!

… Looking back she probably did me the most physical good; Thank you Reba and God Bless you!

You are not lucky!

The Rehabilitation center is large and has a staff of volunteers to match its size. One volunteer, I remember was a tiny elderly lady. She came around at various times and was very sweet to everybody. Her big smile lit up the room. One evening we began talking outside my room. During our conversation, I said to her, "I am lucky to be here" She looked at me and shook her crooked index finger at me and said in a very serious, seemingly angry, tone of voice. "You are not lucky!  You are here because GOD wants you here! He has a plan for you! Luck, has nothing, to do with it!"   I was dumbfounded and she walked away. I will always remember her, Thank you lady.

I do not remember seeing her after that … Less than a week later was my day of discharge. My parents were there. They had packed my things. I was sitting on my bed watching TV. The nurse entered my room and grabbed my wheelchair from its usually spot against the wall. She said, "Are you ready to go home? Move over here and I'll take you out"  I didn't want a wheelchair. On April 4th, 1991, at 2:30 PM, I carefully stood up, at the​ bed, and walked out of that rehabilitation hospital.

After the hospital

I may have been out of the hospital but was far from recovered.  My friends had moved me back with my parents. My Father and I relationship was restored. While waiting for the various agencies to start the planned outpatient therapies. My parents helped assemble a small pottery studio in their basement. With the purchase a small used kiln a studio was ready.

That small studio became my sanctuary. Many things in my world were unclear. But during the many hours I spent in that room each day creating art; my world became crystal clear.  

My lifelong friend, Mike, would drive me an hour north to buy clay and supplies. During those long drives and even today, he helps me rebuild the lost memories. I am very thankful to have him in my life.  I'm not sure where I would be in this world if not for Mike. 

Sometime, mid-summer of 1991, after a few months in the basement studio and just beginning some limited outpatient therapy; We met with a doctor for a review of the SSI disability application my parents submitted in January. I walked into the doctor's examination room; He asked me the usual questions: What is the day and the date, who is the president, etc. He had me read a few lines, aloud, from a magazine and perform some other exercises.

After the doctors' review was finished, he took the folder holding my medical records and tossed it onto a chair. Pointing at my records, he then said, "According to that … you should have the cognitive processes of a child and be in a wheelchair or at best, use a walker! Your recovery is a miracle. I am very happy to see your progress. And happy to say you have no need for SSI assistance." That was the best "rejection".

I continued working in the basement studio. The creative process was very healing and worked well with my other therapies. After months of outpatient rehab / work study.   I started working a part job at the mall.   With encouragement from my rehabilitation counselor I began part-time college in the fall of 1992.  I continued to receive some therapy while in school. Three years later earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in business.

During the 1990, I continued making pottery. I entered art shows when I was able. 

In late 1996, I got married and moved to Kentucky. I had a job in sales and worked part-time teaching the potter's wheel at a US Army Post Craft Center in 1997 and 1998. While in Kentucky received my adult Confirmation in the Catholic Church.

After my first marriage dissolved, in year 2000, I moved Pittsburgh and started a career in computer support. Life in the big city and job demands made finding the time to create art very difficult. I only made a few pieces a year. Art became an almost non-existent part on my life. The year 2006, I married again and moved to OH. We have started a family and life is good.

 Opened Doors

Since I have been married, God has opened several doors leading me back to the Art World. I feel it would be a sin not to make a serious effort in the art world. I cannot say, "I'm on a mission from God" but I was allowed to keep and further develop the ability of creating. I want to share my work with the world". I have begun to work with a local artist groups. I will teach again when possible.

During the process of setting up a studio, in ohio, I have met some very helpful artists. Some local and others from around the country. The opportunities are very exciting! 

I am now starting to establish myself in the local art community. I have my works in several galleries and have begun to participate in some grass roots efforts of the local art scene.

I realize now, if not for the 1990 accident I probably would not had fully joined the church and 'Pottery' would had been just a nice memory of High School.

 

Thank you for reading, God Bless!

Christopher Karg

 

Footnotes and updates.

1. usually left Art class covered in clay. While in (9th grade) Home-Ec class, I chose an apron as a sewing project … Amazing, I still use that apron today. (Pic in background of page)

2.    The patient's head is bolted to a medal halo. That halo is connected to four vertical bars and is securely attached to a hard plastic vest warn by the patient.

 

3.    The stages of cognitive development have been created, as a guideline, to better explain a head injury and recovery.     (I paraphrased) Stage 1: Coma. No response. Stage 2: Wax and wane, mostly sleeps, has moments of response. Stage 3: Localized response, is more alert for several minutes at a time, responds to simple commands. Stage 4: Agitation and confusion, my brothers compared my behavior, in this stage, to that of an angry and out-of-control, two year old.  I had destroyed a couple of wheelchairs and sections of the wall.  Stage 5: Confused Non-Agitated. Will have longer moments of focus. Will recognize some family and friends, easily confused because of significant memory loss. Stage 6: Patient will start to have an awareness of their situation. Able to concentrate for longer periods. Stages 7: Patient will appear to be normal and fairly independent. Patient will not understand his limitations and will still need supervision. Stage 8: Patient will be mostly independent, may need assistance in making compacted or emergency decisions. New learning takes longer. Social, emotional and intellectual capabilities may be lower than before the head injury.

 

June 2014

My lifelong friend, Mike, Lost his battle with Cancer less than a year after diagnosis. He may not walk with us today but he will never be far away.   I cherish all the memories we had and know that now he isn't suffering... I ask all of you to say a prayer for the family of Michael Snow. 

2017

I regularly participate in regional art shows in Ohio and Pennsylvania.  










FIRE TO PROMOTE
​Karg Pottery​