I am not sure who coined the phrase originally, but a friend of mine says it is on a sign that hangs over the entrance of the pool where his daughter swam during high school. I thought of it again while I was visiting Linda and Richard Rivera in San Francisco, where Linda remains in rehab.

Linda Rivera.jpgFor those who do not remember, Linda has been hospitalized since May of 2009 – nearly 18 months – after suffering a severe E. coli O157:H7 infection. She has suffered Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, a stroke, and the removal of her gall bladder and a portion of her large intestine. She has brain, kidney and liver damage.

She is learning to feed herself again and endures daily physical therapy treatments as she attempts to relearn to walk. The amount of pain she experiences daily at this point must be making Linda fearless.

However, spending time with Linda and Richard makes me want to slightly change the phrase to “pain is fear leaving the body gracefully.” Linda has been through 18 months of hospitalization with encouraging progress and heartbreaking setbacks. She lives daily with the humiliation of a colostomy bag and a catheter to collect her bodily wastes. She is awakened nearly every two hours for vital-sign checks. All of this she tolerates with a smile and a grace that makes you marvel at her amazing resilience.

And then there is her husband, Richard. If ever there was a man who can make others take notice of how they treat their spouses, it is Richard. In 18 months he has seldom left Linda’s side – even to catch a few hours of sleep.

He has been there to catch her vomit, hold her hand and wonder if this may be the day Linda dies. The stress on him is visible, but like Linda he smiles through it all. As the days have stretched into a year and a half, he has resigned himself to a similar future. Not in a way that is depressing, but in a way that looks for small progress as a cause for hope.

Sitting with Linda and Richard for a few hours yesterday, I experienced a mix of awe and sorrow. Awe, at what a person and a couple can endure, and sorrow that more cannot see their struggle with E. coli O157:H7.

What if the owners of farms, food manufacturing companies and retailers could spend time with the Riveras? Would they do more to make our food safer? What about the politicians charged with leading us? If they could see the Riveras, would they actually pass food safety laws (and fund them)? And what about the regulators charged with inspections and surveillance? Would seeing the Riveras’ struggles confirm how important their jobs really are?

None of us would wish what has happened to Linda and Richard on anyone. However, spending time with them could be a learning experience on the power of pain, and fearlessness and grace.

  • Teri (McDonald) Williams

    I agree that owners of farms, food manufacturers & retailers need to take some time with the Rivera’s to see first hand the devastation E. coli 0157:H7 can cause. At MINIMUM our lawmakers need to sit with them, listen and take action. The food safety bill S. 510 is molding while our polititons are out stumping for each other. Peoples lives are being destroyed.

    Thankfully Linda is blessed with a husband and family that are devoted to her and her recovery. She has many friends who keep connected with her and encourage her. Linda takes strength from all these and adds to her inner personal strength that is simply amazing.

    Linda will work like a trojan to make the most out of her life as it is now. I believe in my heart that she will one day leave the hosptial and be able to spend time with her loved ones outside of a clinical environment. It certainly won’t be the life she had prior to all the medical complications since contracting E coli 0157:87, but anyone meeting her will be amazed and inspired.

    I will be posting your blog on my facebook page (once again) so the many of our Paradise High School classmates who are keeping track of Linda’s progress through me will take note and remember to contact their representatives and insist that SOME kind of food safety bill be passed.

    Thank you for keeping Linnies story out there and reminding everyone that she’s still struggling…fighting for some kind of recovery. And personally, I thank you for taking an active personal role. I know both Linnie and Richard deeply appreciate your support.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Bill, thanks for reminding us all of these stories. I will pass on to my Senators as well. It is so easy to think of foodborne illness as a day of throwing up and not as a life long debilitating disease which it so often is . . .

  • Richard and Linda Rivera

    Thank you Bill for the kind words.It is because of people like you,the friends we surround our self with and the family we are so blessed to be a part of( and I do mean extended families as well) that gives Linda the courage and perserverance to keep battling this horrible illness,but it is also our faith in each other and God that keeps that light shinning for both of us.Each night before going to bed as I kiss her goodnight I tell her how proud I am of her for making it through another day and I tell her “God bless you” if he should decide to call upon her.This woman as re-written the meaning of courage for me and once again I challenge / Invite any politician, food manufacturing companies and retailers , and or the regulators to come visit or call us. But like I said before give us 2-3 hours of your time not 5 minutes, I want them to get the full impact of what devastation this can cause for not only the patient but also the family.If there is anyone and I do mean anyone out there who doesn’t think that changes need to be made in food safety regulations please feel free to call me and my wife. Once again Thank You so much Bill for fighting the battle on behalf of thousands upon thousands of us. GWTOY XOXO

  • Ann

    Thank you for fighting on behalf of these victims. I have become vegetarian both out of concern for the risks of foodborne illness, and also as a protest towards the criminally negligent agribusiness and food manufacturing industries. I have always viewed their disregard of both animal and human suffering as bordering on sociopathic. I want to caveat your title to this article. I spent five years in the Marines. One of the central components of the Marine ethos is: pain is weakness leaving the body. An absence of fear is more often than not a product of naivety. Weakness isn’t always of a physical nature, but also a mental and emotional one. Consequently, Linda has more than achieved this, and far surpassed the most selfless and decorated veterans.