Linda Olson and her husband, Dave Hodgens, were young doctors whose story had all the makings of a fairy tale. But then, while they were vacationing in Germany, a train hit their van, shattering their lives?and Linda’s body. When Linda saw Dave for the first time after losing her right arm and both of her legs, she told him she would understand if he left. His response: “I didn’t marry your arms or your legs. If you can do it, I can do it.” In order to protect their loved ones, they decided to hide the truth about what really happened on those train tracks, and they kept their secret for thirty-five years. As a triple amputee, Linda learned to walk with prostheses and change diapers and insert IVs with one hand. She finished her residency while pregnant and living on her own. And she and Dave went on to pursue their dream careers, raise two children, and travel the world. With help from teams of friends and family, Linda and Dave raised their two children to canoe, kayak, backpack, raft and travel in remote places. They learned that it didn’t matter if their mom looked funny, or if she couldn’t do things the way other people did—they could still have a good time and get out and go. Linda was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2015 and is committed to empowering Parkinson’s patients and families to live life as full as possible, in spite of their disabilities, and to get up, get out, and go. Inspiring and deeply moving, Gone asks readers to find not only courage but also laughter in the unexpected challenges we all face. The day of the accident, no one envied Linda and Dave. Today, many do.
Linda Olson: At age twenty-nine, Linda Olson lost both her legs above the knee and her right arm in a train vs. car accident in Germany. “I didn’t marry your arms and your legs … if you can do it, I can do it,” was the first thing her husband, Dave Hodgens, said to her after the accident. In those first few days they chose to focus on what they could do, not what they couldn’t do. They made lists and set goals to accomplish, taking control of their lives rather than becoming victims. Together they rebuilt their lives as Linda learned to walk with prostheses, and devised new ways to perform the activities of daily living. A year later she moved back to Los Angeles where she lived independently, gave birth to their first child, and finished her Radiology training. She had an illustrious thirty-year career as a Professor of Radiology at the University of California, San Diego where she was the Director of Breast Imaging and the recipient of many teaching awards. She was known for her compassionate patient care and mentoring of medical students, residents and fellow faculty members. You will not want to miss this episode of Dropping In with Linda Olson. Hers is a story of strength — all kinds — resilience and fortitude, yes, but also humorousness and most of all, love. Our lives will be better for listening to Linda Olson tell her amazing and wonderful true story in her warm, often funny way. Get Out & Go! If Linda can do it, you can do it! Drop In with us on FridayLeave a comment for radio show guests
What’s the story behind the story? We’ll find out on Dropping In. Our guests are today’s original thinkers. Conversations that spark new ways of seeing what’s going on. We bring it all to the table. Diverse perspectives, controversy, loving and singular voices. Magically stories reveal the common threads that link us. Experience the joys, the fist pumps, the detours and the hard-won truths of those who blaze the trail so that we might do the same and now here’s your host Diane Dewey.
Diane: Welcome to Dropping In everyone. Spring is coming. The clocks get set back this weekend and we’re ready to be sprung from our Covid imposed exile. Some of us are restless or bored or lonely. Some of us are fatigued or frustrated or fragmented or worn out but our mindset is not our fate. We’re in control of it. Here to talk about that and optimism and her road back to self-sufficiency following a car versus train accident that required the amputation of two legs and one arm is Linda K. Olson author of Gone: A Memoir of Love, Body, and Taking Back My Life published by She Writes Press. Welcome Linda.
Linda: Thank you so much Diane. It’s a pleasure to be with you this morning.
Diane: Well I feel like we’re lucky to have you. You’re lucky to be alive. I know this the events took place some time ago and to set the stage for our listeners. Linda Olson and her husband Dave Hodgens were young doctors whose story had all the makings of a fairy tale but then while they were vacationing in Germany a train hit their van shattering their lives and Linda’s body. When Linda saw Dave for the first time after losing her right arm and both of her legs she told him she would understand if he left. His response, I didn’t marry you. I didn’t marry your arms or your legs. If you can do it I can do it. Linda aside from deploying a great amount of humor in this book it is a serious subject. It is a subject that we want to cut to the chase and get right into but you do call yourself Linda with no legs. How else would you describe yourself now as a human being?
Linda: Every day if you ask me that question each day I would probably have a different answer. Today I think I would describe myself as a happy, optimistic person who has been about as lucky as anybody in the world. I know people find that often a little strange because when they look at me I have only one arm but when they look at me they usually don’t notice that right away because of who we all are and how we interact with each other. Today it would be optimistic and happy.
Diane: Well I’m glad of that. I mean I’m sure there are days that are other than that. You say that attitude after the crash was the only thing that you could control. So often we think that we can’t control our attitude, that we’re bound to it, that the feelings that we have control us even. You exercised a great deal of self-control during the process of your rehabilitation and healing alongside of your husband in Dave, the only two people in the accident of several others who were injured. I wondered about this idea of controlling your attitude. Did that exist before your accident? Was it strengthened? What were the before and after traits there?
Linda: I think I grew up with the feeling that I could do anything. I think that a lot of that came from my family. I had a loving mother and father. I was the oldest of three children. I think they pretty much supported all three of us and told us that we could do anything that we wanted to. I think it came through in the long run as a confidence builder. Now I make it sound easy. As a female most of us know that women in general tend to look at ourselves and we think that we’re not as good as other people. I had my fair share of that and you would laugh. I had curly brown hair and freckles and I’m light skinned. I lived in southern California so I always thought that I didn’t have the looks that I wanted but I think as the years went on I had enough other positive feedback things. I’m not an ugly person. I don’t mean to say that but the insecurities of being a teenage girl and growing up.
I had the typical ones but I also had enough positive feedback. I was a piano player. I was an athlete. I did well in school so I think I always felt like if I tried hard enough that I would be able to succeed. Now that doesn’t mean that I always succeeded but when I didn’t succeed I would stop and start over again. I think by the time I was 29 which is how old I was when I had the accident I’d had enough positive experiences to know that if I kept at something that I could usually make it work. I think with my accident the injury was physical. It wasn’t a mental trauma. In fact I was very lucky I ended up without having any evidence or any PTSD type experience. I felt like it was something that if I worked hard enough physically, if I put enough sweat into it that it would be successful. I didn’t know how successful but I would be able to make at least some degree of success.
Diane: You were curious about how far you might be able to go. I think that curiosity bore you well. There are photographs in the book of the crash site. The van is straddling the train tracks. The train is coming into the van. People are looking under the car which is where you were. I think that when I look at this and I look at this sort of determination I think that there was a whole lot of just somehow transcendent determination that went on even though you quite plainly said to your husband Dave you can g. I think what you were just saying about being a southern California girl and the way that we all associate ourselves with our legginess, maybe with our arms. Arms are so symbolic. They’re the arms that you wrap around someone. They’re the arms that protect your children.
You didn’t have children at this time but these arms and these legs they had symbolic meaning in terms of your identity as a female. Then even without cute shoes you managed to go on. I mean really there were so many heartwarming moments but one of them that I really latched onto was the idea that you didn’t have both your arms. Your dominant arm was lost in the accident but you could protect when you ultimately you and Dave decided to have children. You had both a boy and a girl Tiffany and Brian and you could nestle them in the corner of your wheelchair so that up until the time they were three or four neither one had ever fallen out. They were right there by your side. I wonder if some of the gifts weren’t actually larger. I’m not trying to diminish the power of the accident at all but some of the strengths and some of the compensations were somehow even better it seemed.
Linda: That’s a question that I think many people that are disabled would give you the same answer I’m going to give and that is in the long run many of us have had a much more exciting and wonderful life than we would have had without the accident. It’s funny that you focused on my legs. One of the things that my husband has told people over the years that and I think we may have written it down somewhere that he missed my what he called my beautiful legs. The fact that I had just run up and down as two of the highest steeple in Europe in the city of Ulm just a few hours before. It’s the one thing that he never ever got over with. The last thing I did with my beautiful legs was go up the tallest steeple in Europe.
He also felt like he wouldn’t feel that hug and wouldn’t be standing on his toes. He focused very early on what wasn’t going to be there but he also focused really quickly on what was left. That was the one arm hug and my smile. Those were the things that went away quickly but we had to put them behind us and just not think about them anymore. When you talk about my wheelchair it was probably one of those wonderful things that most other people never have and that is the closeness of my babies as I told people crammed in the corner of my wheelchair. If you can imagine somebody sitting looking straightforward in a wheelchair. My right arm is missing. That little space back there between the backrest and the armrest of my wheelchair just cried out for something to be there. That was where we put the kids.
From day one, I mean as soon as I came home from the hospital you could just cram them right down in there. It was just tight enough that it supported their head when Tiffany was born and all the way up until like I said three or four. Of course by then they were sitting on my lap but it was my privilege to be able to go into the kitchen in the morning and put the kids in there and make breakfast, make coffee. We could chatter to each other. It kind of suffice to make me feel not so bad as well I mean say it the other way. The things that I had worried about that I couldn’t do like walking with my children in the park and holding their hand, showing them how to ride a bike. The things that we do that are physical I was able to feel with them sitting next to me in that wheelchair. It’s funny because they never, I think if you watch other adults or parents that are in wheelchairs and have children you’ll see the same thing.
I have a dear friend who is actually a woman with a quadruple amputee. She uses hooks for her arms and hands and her children are on her lap all the time. They’re sitting there being held by a mom who is a beautiful woman and has hooks for hands. I think our children they don’t know anything else. They think everybody probably is sitting in a corner of a wheelchair like that. It’s the love and the warmth that they feel that we all crave. I was able to have that not knowing ahead of time that it was going to be there so yes it was a wonderful part of being disabled if there is such a thing.
Diane: On balance I mean there were just redemptive factors. I don’t think you can really weigh it exact for exact but on balance there were some contrary to being disabled which is described most often as deficits you started to look at the plus column. You started to list your strengths I think mentally. That really helps because you can’t focus on what’s gone. You created a memoir called Gone but I think that the subtitle A Memoir of Love, Body, and Taking Back My Life also says it all in terms of what you were going to intend to focus on. I just wonder about the switchover between looking at yourself as a series of deficits as opposed to looking at yourself as a series of strengths. How long that process took? Is it even ongoing today?
Linda: Yes. I think that first day in the recovery area because I was awake when the accident happened. I knew what had happened. I never lost consciousness. When they pulled the, when the train came to a stop and they backed it up everybody got off the train. This was in Germany and they pulled the van off of me. I knew from the moment it happened that this was going to be my future but I would always go to sleep at night and dream as an able-bodied person with all my legs and extremities. I still do that and I’m now 41 years out but not nearly as much. Many of my dreams now I am now in a wheelchair or using prostheses or whatever but if at first I kept thinking it would go away. When I would wake up it would come, my legs would be there. I did that for years but I would just look down and that’s why my editor came up with the or the publisher of the company came up with the title Gone.
She said when I read that first chapter twice you kept saying you would look down and your legs were gone. I had to keep looking. I had to keep looking. When I would close my eyes and think that they were still there I would open them again to convince myself and there’s something interesting about having amputations. When I woke up the next morning and I was lying on that bed in Salzburg, Austria it felt like my legs and my arms were still with me. They actually felt like my knees were bent like I was sitting in a chair and my feet were going through a hole in the mattress. It was like I was sitting there and I could feel the electrical current going through my arm and my legs. I still feel that. I’m sitting here today and I can still feel this very mild buzz feeling in my extremities. I felt like over the years it’s been kind of a protective mechanism I guess.
That is that even though they’re gone they feel like they’re there. That feeling allows me to go on to my daily business and not think about it. Clearly they’re not there and when I have my prosthetic legs on it looks like I have legs. In fact they’re so realistic looking that many of the people, well several of the people that I’ve worked with over the years did not know that I was missing my legs because my fake legs look so real but it was just, I do I often thought they would come back but not realistically. It was a wish. Then I would get over it and say okay, that was enough of that. Now I’m gonna go on to the next thing. It’s a weird feeling and it never goes away.
Diane: Your self-image. Your concept of yourself is with limbs and it comes back in dreams. Of course there’s the phantom limbs phenomenon that you felt pain in limbs immediately after. Perhaps even the idea that we are energy and that there is still an electrical charge through limbs that are no longer there. we have just a couple minutes until we take a commercial break but I want to point out the cover art is by your daughter Tiffany. Is it not?
Linda: Yes it is.
Diane: It’s beautiful. It’s the pair of prosthetic legs. They’re in a kind of swashbuckling position of kind of a jar. That I think is quite appropriate. Your daughter Tiffany also carried you. She was quite proud I think at a certain point when she was around 10 or that she could carry you. We’re gonna delve into this idea of carrying because there’s something profoundly intimate about that. You’re not often a mother who is carried by your child. That’s quite inverse. Then there’s the carrying that Dave did with you on the hiking trails that you ultimately got back to your first love of nature. What’s it like to be carried? We just got a minute but tell us just what does that feel like?
Linda: To begin with it’s very demeaning. It was awful. I did not like being dependent. I did not like someone having to do things for me and it was scary that I would be that way the rest of my life. That’s probably what drove me so quickly within the first day or two to reach a point sometime in my life that I wouldn’t have to be carried. It was terrible and it was also my impetus to work very hard. Then it had a lot of positive things after I became independent again. That’s a mouthful.
Diane: Well no. It’s an incredible journey full circle. I see also the photograph of you doing a one arm lifting your entire torso. It’s surprising to me that you developed this resilience. I think that we’re gonna find out all about that how you actually completed your studies in radiology, went into the field had a successful career and how all of this worked for you mentally, spiritually and in your love relationship. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back with Linda K. Olson author of the memoir Gone.
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Diane: Welcome back. Welcome back everyone. We’re here with Linda K. Olson, author of the memoir Gone: A Memoir of Love, Body, and Taking Back My Life. Your husband Dave is also a doctor as are you. He did, I think thank goodness come out with that opening statement. I didn’t marry you for your legs or your arms. I married you for you. I wonder, I think he reached down to a place right up front which I think probably saved the day but also he was a doctor. Immediately he wanted to check you out in the hospital room because he was in the hospital too in Salzburg where they flew you. He wanted to check you out. He wanted to know. You had a compression fracture in your spine on top of these amputations. He wanted to understand whether sensory functions were still intact and how did that go?
Linda: I vividly remember this because we could go back and forth between being doctor and between being patient and between being husband and wife. I guess it could have been a little schizophrenic if we had let it be but again it was probably both of us going back to what we could take control of. He is a very black and white person and very driven. I think he, number one wanted to make sure for himself that I was intact. Also to prove to me that I was not neurologically, what was left was intact. I remember him doing the simple physio neurologic exam of just touching my skin on my legs in particular because that would be a level below because of this of the fracture of my vertebral body that I had sensories, I had sensation I’m sorry and that I could differentiate between painful stimuli and not.
He kind of pinched me to make sure that I could feel it. I had my eyes closed so I couldn’t tell what he was doing. It was successful. He said I think your spine is going to be fine and you’ll be able to move. I think to both of us your mind tries to find the most positive thing it can. I think both of us decided really quickly that I was lucky that I wasn’t paralyzed, that even though I didn’t have extremities I could move everything, I could feel everything and other than just being tiny and having to figure out how to get around everything else was going to function well. I think it was again a take control type thing, find out the good news and ignore the bad news which we couldn’t do anything about what wasn’t there but we could take advantage of what was left and start working with it. I think that’s what that provided for us so.
Diane: It led to funny business in the hospital which I think to myself well these people deserve a lot of credit. First I do have to say it seemed that it was helpful that you were doctors that you could go to a place where you could if you chose to look at this situation in terms of functions, what was working, what wasn’t working and thank goodness that your sensory functions were working because you went on to become and remain a full-fledged woman even though you had many doubts about whether or not you could be that. You talk about how tiny you felt. You felt like a baby again that you had to go back and relearn everything but there was this crew that came in, these friends and family that came to you when you’re in the intensive ward in Salzburg.
I went online and looked at that hospital. I know Salzburg. You talk about how beautiful it was to be there. Salzburg has a kind of magical quality as an old city with a kind of fortress above and you gazed out at it. I wondered about this support of this family who were a bunch of comedians ultimately. They gave you your first baby doll negligee. They also did this inventory of you, your risque-ness, your sexual, your flirtatious. They ranked you on all of these things. I mean what was the function of humor while you were going through this.
Linda: It was huge. That was my reaction on the first day or two when people would come in to see us and they would just look down. They didn’t know where to look. They would have tears in their eyes. They couldn’t talk. I realized quickly it was my job to get them to laugh. It became as the days would go on you run out of things to laugh about so we started getting a little bit lewd and because Dave and I think you kind of alluded to this but we didn’t talk about it. In addition to my sensory examination that he did to see if I was neurologically intact he kind of started getting in bed with me. We were in the same room obviously in two single hospital beds. He was determined to make me realize that he was going to love me and that he didn’t see loving me to be impossible because I didn’t have legs and an arm.
He kind of would get in bed with me and kind of try and stimulate me to make sure that I knew that he was going to be interested in me. I would just think how can he do this. I mean I just don’t look like myself anymore. Back to something that we didn’t talk about earlier. When I looked down everything was missing but I became so focused on from my shoulders up that I kind of made people look at me and I would interact with them. I would especially use my eyes. I would look right up into their eyes and make them talk to me. I wouldn’t let them look away. I would say hi, how are you to everybody that came into the room so that they couldn’t ignore me. He was doing the same thing with me trying to make sure that I knew that he was still attracted to me and that he wasn’t going to go away. Now I still to this day don’t know what he looks at in his mind when we’re making love but that’s kind of the way he just made things work.
It was again his way of taking control of things and saying he was gonna make them be, persist but what you’re referring to, the report card is what they called it. My family and his family, we were traveling with his family. My family flew over the night after the accident. They would go back in the evening to the quarters where they were staying. They would have a couple of drinks and they would put on the music and dance. They would grade me. It was most of it along the line, it went from A through Z. They made up a word for each letter of the alphabet and then they would give me a successful or outstanding or I failed. It was hilarious. In fact I think we put pictures of it in the book because it was what got all of us, it was the black humor that we loved. All of us loved and I, to this day love it. In fact I think physicians in general many of us are accomplished at black humor because it’s how you deal with all the bad things that happen.
Again that goes back to both of us having been or still being physicians where so many of the things that you see and deal with every day don’t have a good outcome or are tragic. You have to be able to present yourself to the patient’s family or be able to go home and put it out of your mind for the time being. A lot of the ways we do that is to make fun of things and I love making fun of my disability. In fact in today’s society where it’s considered politically incorrect to talk about a disability or just about it. I love doing that and I kind of let people do it with me because it breaks the ice. If you can’t do that how are you going to relate to people? We’ve tried to use the advantage of humor all the time and it’s I think it’s been a huge plus.
Diane: Totally and I think that also it gives you perspective. You can laugh at yourself. Let’s face it we’re all better off not knowing what our husbands are fantasizing about when we’re making love.
Diane: It’s really much better that we don’t know about.
Linda: Who cares?
Diane: Who cares? Whatever works for them is fine but I do really, I think that what you’re talking about is special because this idea of having humor that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry you choose to laugh. It releases tension. It’s therapeutic. It’s just good for the soul. It’s chicken soup for the soul but you did touch on something that I find very, very painful. That is the idea of invisibility that with your disabilities at certain points when you weren’t using your wheelchair and you weren’t at eye level with people and they didn’t know where to look that they would simply walk by you or disallow your presence. That has to be really, really challenging. You strike me as a person that would insist on it. How easy or difficult was it to always be able to do that?
Linda: I think having to start practicing that in the hospital gave me a feel that I or how to do it. Of course that was with family and friends. When I would be well to be honest with you it grew out of a real sense of fear. The first time I was put in a wheelchair and it was interesting in Salzburg. The wheelchair they brought into my room was one of those high back kind of cane looking wheelchairs, the kind you see in old pictures look kind of old-fashioned. I was devastated. I had grown up in a medical family. My dad was a pathologist. My mom was a nurse and I somehow in my mind had the perception that if you were in a wheelchair you were mentally retarded.
I know I’m not supposed to say mentally retarded. This is not politically correct these days but now I’m supposed to say mentally challenged. I, for the first time realized that that’s how people were going to look at me. I thought I can’t let them have that doubt or wonder. My way of making that clear from the first time they saw me or the first few seconds of interacting with people was to look straight at them and smile and say hi, how are you. First of all they knew that I could speak and that I was articulate. They had to say something back. I almost never once I engaged somebody had somebody turn around and not talk to me. It kind of was carried on as time went on. You’d be going down the street and maybe I was in a wheelchair or maybe I was walking and I would walk with a cane and parents would come past me with children and they would kind of pull them away from me because kids always stare. I loved talking to kids. I would look right down at them and I say hi, how are you especially if I was sitting in my wheelchair. They would not realize I didn’t have legs but they could see I didn’t have an arm because I never have used an arm prosthetic.
I would say are you wondering where my arm is? Their eyes would get really big and their mouth would start to open. Their parents would stop. I would say I lost my arm in an accident. Then I would put my left hand on my shoulder and say it doesn’t hurt. I’d wiggle it around and sometimes if I had a short sleeve shirt on I would pull it up a little bit and I say see. Just like that you want to touch it. By then the parents are just kind of standing there and by the time we got into this little conversation sometimes the kids would touch it. As years went on if I had said I lost my arm they would say well, can I help you find it because they were so literal about having lost something. We would get to laugh about it. I mean that was my goal. I wanted them to know that it was okay and most parents in the long run were grateful that I had stopped and talked to them because it gave them the opportunity obviously to go home and talk about people that are disabled or something.
From me being originally thinking that if I was in a wheelchair, anybody who was in a wheelchair was not fully mentally capable to being able to project myself as normal. It’s the reason many people didn’t know how disabled I am because we started interacting and talking right away. Everything else kind of goes out. Once you talk to somebody they are occupied with your conversation. The rest of the things kind of go by the wayside. I had my sister, I’ll try and figure how to tell you this in a short form. My sister and her husband are windsurfers. They were down in Mexico probably five or six years ago. They ran into somebody who said oh, I lived in San Diego. My sister said oh my sister lives there. Long and short of it was we had known each other, this gentleman and I. He had been one of my radiology residents.
Like he said well, how’s Linda doing. My sister said she’s fine. Come to find out he had worked with me for four years and he had no idea I didn’t have legs. You’re a radiologist. You’re supposed to be very observant. I had the same thing happen just this past year with a friend of mine who lives in Boston. She was helping me with publicity for the book. She had to finally admit, she said Linda. I sat next to you for all those years. You taught me mammography. I didn’t realize you didn’t have legs because I would walk in with my cane. I would sit down. They unconsciously knew something wasn’t right. They would pull the chair out for me. They’d hold it. They did the things unconsciously or subconsciously that I needed for help but it we were always talking or we were getting ready to read films or we were consulting with somebody so there was always something else that was paramount or was distracting them.
It’s amazing how if you again it’s that kind of take charge, take control I guess of the situation. My plan was that you’re going to react to me like a normal person. Over the years people said oh, you should have done this. You should have gone public. You should have gone on Oprah. I say no, I don’t need to do that. My job or my wish as a person has been to influence people or impact people on a one-on-one basis. That is who I talked to today or which little kid I talked to and who went home and said oh that was a normal lady. She was just in a wheelchair or she didn’t have an arm but she was still a normal lady. That really became my wish as the years went on to show that I’m a normal person and that other disabled people are normal and the real reason I wrote the book was to show that you could have a “severely disabled” parent and still have a family and be normal and do things that everybody else does. In fact maybe even more than everybody else does which is kind of what happened with us. That’s the long answer.
Diane: Well it’s a great answer and it’s a great mission if you will. We have to pause for a commercial break but interestingly all the words Linda that you were really trying to avoid you did successfully avoid inept, incapable, not viable and you gave people this experience of being able to forget, just forget about all of these injuries and to see you, to really see you as a person. I will just give a tiny spoiler. Today is the birthday of Linda and Dave’s daughter Tiffany. Sarah, who is their daughter so Linda’s a grandmother plays a reenactment game on the floor of the accident. This is the kind of perspective and levity that Linda K. Olson, author of gone has achieved in her world. When we come back we’ll talk to you Linda a little bit about going from being a radiologist to being an author. Don’t go away we’ll be right back.
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Diane: Welcome back everyone. In your own words Linda, we’re here with no leg grandma. That’s just an amazing way of levity with the situation because we were just talking about Sarah during the break, your granddaughter who’s had her tonsils removed. No picnic there especially during Zoom. You’re away from your usual home. You’re up in Davis with your daughter Tiffany, whose birthday it is today.
I commend you on this book. I read many memoirs. Yours is quite immediate and of course I think it helps very much that you can give the dimension of both being a doctor and also being a woman. You did acknowledge in the acknowledgments that writing this book as many of us have writer’s circles and feedback that there was a point where your positivity became something of a limitation in the sense that some of your beta readers ask you to go inside the emotions more, go inside the feelings of these scenes and situations of relearning and relearning yourself. Did you learn more about yourself through that experience of writing the book?
Linda: I did and like you said I tend to have a happy-go-lucky outlook on life. The things I chose to write about I chose, in fact I didn’t start by writing a book. I started just kind of writing about experiences like camping or the kids being born. I remembered the positive things. The things I chose to write about were things I felt that about and I probably was not writing about the painful things but on the other hand the way my mind works is I don’t remember the bad things very well. I guess like giving birth. You don’t remember it otherwise you wouldn’t have any more kids. I would go home after I’d read to my writing group and I would take notes what they told me. They would just say you’ve got to show the emotion more. I would go back and I would try and pull it out but what I discovered helped me the most I would go home and I would hand the piece that I’d written to Dave and I’d say tell me what you think.
He would read it and he would always sit over on the couch and he would cry. His tears would just kind of, I mean he wasn’t sobbing but the tears would start coming down on his cheeks. I got to the point I said, Dave I’m not gonna let you read these things if you just keep crying every time I give you something. He’d say they’re not sad tears. A lot of them are just pieces I just remember so much. We discovered that his memory was much more vivid than mine was. Inevitably after he’d read something like this I’d find him over his computer in the next few hours and he would sit there transfixed for maybe two or three hours. He would just type and when you would look at what he had typed it was single space no paragraphs. It was just run-on sentences almost of his reaction or his memory.
What eventually happened was my book groups always said oh, you’re writing a book about yourself. I said no you guys don’t understand. This is a love story. This is what Dave and I did together. Eventually I started taking in some of his pieces and I would read them out loud. His were so different than mine. They were so visceral. They were so gut-wrenching that they all realized that let’s put part of his pieces in there. We shortened them and there’s four of them that are scattered through the book but when you read them you can just see this is such a different person, such a person who to this day I think he thinks about the accident every day. I mean he still feels that something was taken from him. I don’t think about it. It’s done. It’s gone but it gave the book such a bigger dimension because his reactions are in there that I felt like it started bringing it together as a family too. I did. I learned that I needed to pull more out of myself. Did it change me? No because I don’t want to be morose. I don’t want to think about what I don’t have but it did allow me to go back and think about it but not change.
Diane: Well it is an exercise in survivorship I think to put aside. It’s amazing how this psyche can do that. I read Dave’s parts and honestly I had to reach for my Kleenex each time. I’m like uh-oh Dave is back. This is gonna be a three hanky experience. It has to do with his very visceral as you say and he is emotional and at times volatile. You’ve had experiences with Dave that are described in the book where he was not able to cope with the fact that you unthinkably as a radiologist I think very orderly people are a messy person. You kind of like a proper mess to you know where everything is but he doesn’t know how to manage it. He gets up in the night time and he talks about I’m not going to describe this too closely because I won’t make it through but he talks about putting those babies next to him one at a time obviously Tiffany first and then Brian when he was doing the nighttime feedings and just what that was like and how he would linger there.
Again not to be Pollyanna but what a gift for a father to have those incredibly bonding experiences that weren’t necessarily palmed off, sorry for the pun to you all the time that you actually had a team as you say not only in the writing experience because Tiffany contributed a really great prologue. Brian, your son created the epilogue which again solidified the whole book for me. You talk about your fears, the cliff that you were looking at because you do divulge yourself Linda. You were contemplating, “Losing life as I knew it. Losing my husband, losing my looks, my career, my identity.” this is when you were going home. You were studying. You were back in your studies and going back on weekends with Dave which created some sense of normalcy, some sense of security. I wondered if through all of this creating a family, creating the book, that sense of security has returned to your life.
Linda: It has and I guess putting everything together and making the book, making it be a book kind of it’s the wrapping on our lives. I had no intention of writing a book. I felt like there was no need until well, actually what I should tell you about the prologue and the epilogue because they were not written for the book. They happened to be things the kids had done before I started or unrelated to the book. Tiffany took an online class at UCLA and this was a few years after she graduated from college. She wrote this story about me for the class. When I read it I thought oh my God. It’s time. It’s time to write a book because here’s what she’s saying about her mom. She was 30 years old when she wrote it. That’s what prompted me.
As I went on with the book I thought that’s the beginning of the book. Of course you can’t keep as surprised that I lost my legs and my arm because it’s on the front of the book. Once I realized I had this beautiful piece to start with I thought I got to have something from Brian. I went to, you keep files on your kids and things that they’ve done. He had applied from medical school, three years after he graduated from college he realized maybe he should have done something different other than geology. This was his personal statement for his medical school application. I had printed it out. I would pull it out of the file and probably three or four times a year I reread that piece because he was so articulate in what he felt about his dad in particular and what he had learned from his dad. I wish I had it in front of me here.
Diane: I had it. Don’t worry.
Linda: Do you have it?
Diane: Of course. Yes, go ahead.
Linda: Read it because it’s an amazing piece that he wrote. I thought if I put these pieces at the beginning and the end of the book and I’ve got Dave in the middle I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. That was to show people that you can have a family and that you can look back at it. Most books that are written about trauma memoirs they’re written about the first three or four years. They’re written about the trauma, the tragedy and the survival and the struggle. I couldn’t find anything that showed how you could make everything turn out okay or that it could turn out okay. This I thought did it. When I could put the kids pieces there it was done and then it was time to have a book so that’s where we did it.
Diane: Well when you ask the question why this book now. That’s a perfect answer. I’m gonna give you just a little flavor because we have just a couple minutes left until closing but Dave said because Dave is the husband and here’s his words of wisdom. “There’s no difference between being disabled and being a dinosaur.” I thought this was also profound. You say, “If t-rex is with her itty-bitty arms and triceratops with no arms at all could be moms why couldn’t I?” I mean this really works for me. I think it illustrates what you’re talking about but yes I had highlighted and starred and taken with me Brian’s epitaph. It says, “My dad has shown me that a person is more than her body parts that everyone is a character worth appreciating that more exists than what is on the surface.” I mean I ask you for a son for a man, for anyone gazing at a woman what could be more wonderful and eye-opening than that. I just really commend you and your family and I really appreciate so much that you’ve been with us Linda.
You’ve succeeded in giving us a book that looked at the positives, didn’t dwell on the negatives. You had moments where your mother even asked you what would you do with what you can’t be pregnant because Dave might leave you. I mean really we’ve come a long way. You’ve come a long way and if you could sum up your philosophy oh well, I just have to get over it and make it work. That was one part I thought to myself. Is that sort of closed do you think Linda as a parting word for our audience?
Linda: Oh I do. I think and especially as we’ve lived, all of us have lived through Covid this past year. I think we’ve all, you haven’t lost your legs and your arms but you’ve lost so much. I think all of us have just kind of had to dig deep and we’ve had to say let’s do it. If we if we take control of our lives we can, it may not look the way we planned and it’s not what we wanted it to be but we can still be happy and find joy in it. We’re going to do everything, use our energy to be that and that’s where I think most of us have gone this year at least I hope. I hope my book helps people realize that that can happen so that would be my message.
Diane: It has for me and it’s made me realize a lot of things including gratitude and not whining and getting on with it. I do want people to know that there is a website LindaKOlson, Facebook Author Linda K. Olson and Instagram. You can find her there. I hope you’ll come back with us again Linda. Thank you so much for being here. Thanks for being with us on this subject and on your next subject which is getting out and about with Parkinson’s Disease.
Linda: Thank you.
Diane: Thanks to our engineers Matt Weidner and Aaron Keller, to our executive producer Robert Giolino and most of all to you, our listeners. Remember to stay safe and see one another as more than the sum of our parts. Till next week thank you for dropping in.
Thank you so much for dropping in. Please join Diane Dewey again next Friday at 8 AM Pacific Time and 11 AM Eastern Time on the Voice America Variety Channel. We’ll see you then.