Published on August 16, 2021

Reconstructing body, mind, and spirit in the IRU after a motorcycle crash

After spending 82 days in three hospitals, recovering from the motorcycle wreck that nearly took his life, Ken Schwan came up with an affectionate nickname for Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula and its Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit.

“I use the word cocoon, because there was a real warmth and a feeling of confidence and comfort,” he says.

Schwan, 61, credits staff at Community Hospital with reconstructing his body, mind, and spirit, an ongoing process since his March 16, 2018, accident near Palm Springs.

Schwan has few memories of the crash, but knows that he was on his motorcycle, returning from Major League Baseball’s spring training, when a tow truck turned into his path.

He woke up in a bed at a Palm Springs trauma center and learned that he’d spent two weeks in a drug-induced coma. Schwan and his motorcycle had been knocked off an elevated highway into a telephone pole. Emergency responders told him later that he “passed away” at least once.

His left leg, hip, and arm were crushed. He had a chest injury, a head injury, a broken pelvis, and a fractured disc in his back. A kidney was lacerated, and he had a bruise on his left lung. Schwan had also suffered a heart attack, which later resulted in two stents being placed in the arteries to his heart to improve blood flow.

His left leg was so badly mangled that it couldn’t be saved; it was amputated above the knee two weeks after the accident. Doctors counted 45 fractures in his left arm, from the elbow to the wrist, requiring two surgeries (so far) to reassemble. A metal rod was installed vertically through the length of his pelvis.

By September, he was at 11 surgeries, says his wife Kathy, who keeps a daily journal of the ordeal.

“I slept in his room and never left his side at the trauma center because I felt like I was fighting for his life,” she says.

Ken went from the trauma center to UC San Francisco and then to Community Hospital for a 40-day stay in the Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit (IRU), designed to help him regain skills for daily living.

“As soon as we got to CHOMP, I felt like I could finally breathe again,” Kathy says. “There was so much staff around. Everybody was attending to him. They were asking questions. That was the first night I felt comfortable to leave him alone.”

I use the word cocoon, because there was a real warmth and a feeling of confidence and comfort. — Ken Schwan, patient

In the IRU, specially trained staff under the direction of Dr. Michael Davis began a regimen of physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Continual assessments measured his progress and identified his needs.

The therapists focused on daily living skills like getting out of bed, dressing, and bathing, and on mobility, fine motor skills, attention span, memory, living with a prosthetic leg, and other areas.

“It was truly amazing to help him through his rehabilitation process in such a functional and meaningful way,” says Christina Gray, a speech therapist.

One of the therapeutic activities paid off for the entire unit, when Ken, a longtime caterer, helped plan a department potluck.

“The staff’s sincere goal was to help me recover,” says Ken. “Having run my own service-oriented small business for 37 years, I understand that those things don’t happen by mistake. There has to be a conscious focus from leadership and sincere caring from the workers. It’s one thing to say it; it’s another to demonstrate it on a daily basis.

“I was assessed. They had a plan. There was a chain of command, and everybody always knew exactly what was going on. All of that was huge.”

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