The 7th floor RiverBend hospital room in Springfield, Oregon, is chaos. Nurses, doctors, and specialists constantly come and go throughout the day. The patient needs his blood tested. He needs to take his medications. He needs to be examined by the doctor. He’s pushed the help button to make his hundredth request.
“Put that pillow under my head so it looks like the feathers are on me.”
“Get me a wet washcloth. Half warm, half hot.”
“Get this pillow out from under my head.”
“Look at my ring.”
“Get me some clothes.”
“Are you coming to my birthday party?”
The list goes on.
Brad Woodruff, Glenwood resident of almost 15 years, has been in and out of the hospital for the last month fighting lymphoma. This particular visit was not only for his cancer, but also for pneumonia and a blood infection. Woodruff was constantly begging to go home, sometimes angrily. At times he would call hospital staff foul names, blaming them for imprisoning him in his room. He called friends several times saying the doctors released him; get his chair ready, he’ll be home that day; bring him his bird; bring him clothes. He even made a call to RideSource to come and pick him up and hospital staff had to intervene.
After a week, Woodruff was able to go home. But no more than three days later he was re-admitted for concern over his safety. A close friend says it’s possible he won’t be leaving this time. He has fired all of his caregivers and his friends and family members don’t have the capacity to care for him.
Woodruff hasn’t always been in the place he is now, mentally or physically. Friends suspect it’s possible the cancer has moved to his brain, or that the levels of his medications are altering his personality. Since the discovery and initial treatment of Woodruff’s cancer he has become sporadically hostile, forgetful, overly trusting, and unreasonable. “This is definitely not the Brad that I know,” says Scott Gauderman, Woodruff’s good friend of eight years. In his moments of lucidity, Woodruff is a fun-loving man who has a passion for his neighbors, family, antiques, and, above all, his community. These moments, friends say, are a short insight into who Woodruff was, and who they hope to see him become again.
Woodruff says he has always loved the life of adventure, holding to the philosophy of “working hard in the week to play harder on the weekend.” In 1999, Woodruff moved from California to Oregon, settling in Glenwood with his second wife. Ten months after his move, he says, he was diving off of some rocks under Dexter Dam with some friends and family. On his last dive he hit the water in a way that broke his neck.
The event put the once tall, strong, independent Woodruff in a wheelchair as a full quadriplegic. He spent 6 months in the hospital and says he spent that time thinking about ways he could make people laugh. “Laughter is the best medicine and I swear by that,” he says.
Since his accident, Woodruff has been divorced and his family has been dispersed. “I had a brash of bad things happen,” he says. He was in another accident that re-injured his neck, contracted an infection in his spine putting him on bed-rest for a period of time, his wheelchair accessible van was crushed by a tree branch, his wheelchair ramp was stolen, he’s been diagnosed with large T-cell lymphoma, and friends say he has been financially taken advantage of many times in the last month.
Losing his independence was the most difficult thing for Woodruff. It was hard for him to begin relying on others to do things for him. “Self reliance is key to life,” he says. “But you’ve got to make the best out of any bad situation.” Before his accident, Woodruff was a carpenter. He can no longer build anything himself, but instead he shares his knowledge with others. He’s helped neighbors build fences, window frames, and retaining walls by sitting back and giving direction.
Woodruff recognizes that his accident has changed his life in ways that would cause many to become withdrawn and depressed. But, instead, he has embraced his lot. Since he couldn’t work, Woodruff turned his focus on his neighborhood. “Brad is more plugged in to everybody around here than I ever have been,” says Gauderman. “I mean, he takes his chair down to the depths of Glenwood and knows everybody. The traffic in his house is ridiculous at times.” Seeking out adventure and community, Gauderman says Woodruff would take his wheelchair down streets he himself wouldn’t dare go down.
Neighbors say Woodruff would be out wheeling the neighborhood almost five times a week. He would stop and say hi to anybody who was outside. His passion for his neighborhood was visible to anyone who saw him. “He will always say good things about Glenwood, will stick up for Glenwood, and will stick up for the people in Glenwood,” Gauderman says.
“His heart’s bigger than he is and there isn’t nothing the man wouldn’t do for you,” says neighbor Sandra Tuttle. “Whether he’s in the wheelchair or not, if he can’t do it then he can find somebody to help you, one way or another.”
Woodruff would often hire people from the streets of Glenwood to do small tasks on his property, be it lawn care, washing windows, or cleaning out debris. “I want the whole world to be happy,” says Woodruff. Even with his illness taking over his body and confining him to his bed, Gauderman says Woodruff would instead ask his care providers to find someone who needs help so he can give them work to do.
The Glenwood community looks to Woodruff as an inspiration. Neighbor Dave Carvo speaks of Woodruff with great awe. “[I love] the joy in his voice,” he says. “You could hear him laughing all the way down the street. Just happy. He can’t move, he can’t wipe his own b***, but the guy just loves life. Doesn’t get much more inspirational than that.”
Woodruff says, even while laying in his hospital bed, “Laughter and happiness is the best thing in the world for anybody.” He may be unaware, but his own happiness has left a great impact on the area. “He shows people not to give up,” says neighbor Charles Davis. “He has a super strong character and has a super strong will.” Neighbors say that when things get hard they only need to think of Woodruff and all that he has been through.
The community has noticed Woodruff’s absence with concern. “Brad is part of the community,” says Davis. “Just him wheeling down the street is part of the community.” Currently, a piece of the community is missing. And the people wait for that piece to return so they can hear his laughter once again.