35 years later, they're still rising above it all.
About this Episode
In his late 20's Bob Conte experienced a freak accident while body surfing that could have drowned him and left his pregnant wife, Kristina Lindbergh as a young widow. He miraculously survived and has lived the past 35 years as a C5/6 quadriplegic. Bob and Kristina share their experience and give a wealth of wisdom about how we can support anyone who has recently experienced a major tragedy.
Some of our favorite quotes
If you can laugh about it, you can get through it.
I did a lot of things where I could have broken my neck much sooner than I did.
I was under water, I couldn't move my body and thought okay, I guess this is it, this is how I'm going to die. There was a sense of it being so stupid.
I kept thinking, what have I done to Kristina? [In the moment of his own accident.]
When we asked if it was a freak accident [body surfing spinal injury] the hospital said, oh no we see 20-30 of these every year.
In the room next to mine [in the spinal ward] was somebody who had police outside his door. He was crazy and would be screaming all the time. One time he wandered into my room trailing this saline sack behind him. I can't move, I'm in traction, and he's crazy and he's criminal, and I'm thinking okay, don't come anywhere near me. I can't really yell for help, and he just blabbering. When my parents would come visit he would say, "pst pst" to get them to come into his room and ask them to undo his handcuffs.
All I could see for four months [while in traction] was the ceiling and the TV.
I had a lot of time to think [after the accident]. People always want to make you feel better with the miracle stories. But the downside with the inspirational stories is when it [healing] doesn't happen, you can think, oh I wasn't positive enough, it was a failure of will, I didn't put enough positive thought to work. But I've gotta say, I had it.
Quadriplegic is the gift that keeps on giving. You think it's "Oh you just can't walk or you can't move your fingers, what a drag that is." I'm accustomed to that, but it's all the other stuff you have to worry about like pressure sores and UTIs and other stuff I don't want to get into. There's always some new challenge or potential new challenge to deal with. So it's not like I'm ever good with it, it's more like I can't #$&*@ believe I have to deal with this. [laughter] But in general I'm mostly thinking about work, family, food, seeing my beautiful wife, kids, and grandkids.
My work life is not that much dissimilar from before I broke my neck.
HBO at that time was a very small company and they supported me. [Through recovery of the accident.]
Sometimes people think you're a lot more tender than you are. I've had a lot of time to get used to this.
Birkenstocks are my punishment for being a $#*% head before I broke my neck. [Laughter.]
At the end of the day, life has challenges and it's you that will have to deal with it.
There's stuff you can do, pour yourself into it.
If you are depressed, you have every right to be if you've broken your neck or have some debilitating injury. I would say, deal with that right off the bat. There's no sense being miserable in your head too. If it's possible to be emotionally on an even keel, it makes such a difference.
People don't really change. I think a catastrophic accident brings out more of who you are. There are people who are jerks who become unbearable. The people who are pretty together, stay together. But if you're a jerk, I think you're pretty much toast. [Laughter.]
Being kind, relationships, nature is important. The world is what we have. Laughter and music; all the things that make us human are important. And they don't go away if you lose your mobility, they're still out there.
More from Kristina and Bob
In addition to the interview and quotes above, Kristina and Bob sent us a few more thoughts for someone who may be going through a similar experience.
Don't hesitate to ask for help.
Don't ignore ANY breakdown of skin on the fanny (this is critical). It takes a while to toughen that skin so it can be sat on so much, and if you get a teeny sore, get off of it until it heals.
Write about what you're going through. It might not make a book or a movie, but indefinitely will give you better perspective and help to objectify the situation.Similar to saying it to a shrink, putting it on paper helps get it out of your stomach and bloodstream. Plus, it's helpful to read later.
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Bob Conte and Kristina Lindbergh.
Kristina Lindbergh and Bob Conte with their grandchild.
Bob rocking the harmonica at his daughter's wedding.
Mentioned in this Episode
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Hal and Sandy: Body surfing friends
About Bob Conte and Kristina Lindbergh
Bob Conte is a Senior VP of HBO films. Kristina Lindbergh is a ballet instructor at Logrea Dance Academy. Kristina is the daughter of Jon Lindbergh, the eldest son of Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
An Erik Lindbergh original.
Lyn Lindbergh's award winning book.