Sports may have saved my life says Carl Dixon

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Milk and Cookies Carl. That's what they called him in April Wine. The rocker credits sports with saving his life. Giving him a second chance. Keeping him strong and fit enought to survive an horrific crash on the other side of the world. Photo is by Gav - Terrance Gavan

“Completely by accident” Carl Dixon says hello to new career

Hockey and running kept local rocker in shape – that Carl survived

By Terrance Gavan

Stitches and sutures and staples.

That’s a song by our local rock n’ roll legend Carl Dixon, former singer, front man and songwriter with Canadian bands The Guess Who, Coney Hatch and April Wine.

Stitches and sutures and staples?

Sounds like Seuss, but it ain’t no fairy tale.

But… thinkin’ on it.

Maybe. It. Is.

Stitches and sutures and staples kept Carl Dixon together in April, 2008. That was Australia. He was rushing from a music studio back to see his wife Betty Ujvari and daughter Lauren – who was starring in an Aussie television show – before flying back to a gig with The Guess Who in Biloxi, Mississippi.

He was preoccupied. He was rushing and he was driving on the right side of the road. That’s the wrong side down under. The rest?

Well the rest left him scarred, blind in one eye, and wavering on the verge of life – and death – in an induced coma, while a crack Australian team tried, as Carl says, “to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

They did a pretty good job.

Oh yeah. They did it with the jumble and tumble tools of their trade.

Stitches. Sutures. Staples.

Kept his innards and bones knitted, in a cohesive – if ragtag – bundle, while he concentrated on recovery in a hospital on the other side of the world. He lives today; aware of the gifts he received.

From the firemen who spent one and three quarter hours picking the pieces of Carl Dixon from the round ball of wreckage.

From the paramedic, who tended to him, while they both waited, with a helicopter spinning rotors in the wings.

He met the doctors and nurses two years after his ordeal. Went back to thank them in the only way he knew.

With a few songs. I wish I could have been there.

Just to see their faces.

Because they must have been astounded to hear that melody from a guitar. That voice. That lyric.

Anthems for the nurses, docs and paramedics.

Carl tells us of the meeting with that paramedic, the guy who held his hand while the ‘jaws of life’ hammered away at the wreckage.

“Christ mate, last time I saw you, your face was off… your eyeball was hanging down the side of your face,” says Dixon, describing the peculiar Australian penchant for muted understatement.

And so, midst the shock and the awe?  Laughter. You see, Dixon has a mentor of sorts. Pat Stapleton, a former Chicago Blackhawk player. Dixon says he called Stapes about the debut of this inspirational speaking gig, looking for advice.

“He told me, ‘relax, have fun with it,’ ” says Dixon.

Remember that Carl Dixon has always been that guy. An anachronism in the rock and roll world. No drugs, seldom drank. They called him Milk and Cookies.

He ran, trained, and played hockey. Kept himself in shape.

“It was that Carl that allowed this Carl to get through that,” he says.

And now emerging from that miasma of horror, a new Carl.

Dixon remains devoted to his music, but he will also be taking his story on the road, recounting in song, lyric and speech, his journey. The thousand mile walk, begins with that first step.

From dark days and doubt; to a life now lived Beyond the Open Door.

He lives today as he always has.

Devoted body and soul to his wife Betty, and his daughters Lauren and Carlin.

Carl Dixon was together on stage last week with another survivor.

Val Lougheed – whose talk entitled Trauma, Rehabilitation and Recovery preceded Dixon’s presentation – is a pepper pot. She’s an inspirational speaker who was a Rehab specialist just before her own brush with mortality.

Val Lougheed and Carl Dixon both suffered catastrophic, life changing, and life affirming injuries on highways. They talk about recovery. About seeking answers from adversity.

They start with an accident. They end with a message.

“Why would this happen to someone who worked in rehab for her entire life?” asks Lougheed. “In truth, I owe my life to people like you. My story is the irony of the practitioner; who becomes the patient.”

Lougheed and Dixon both point to friends and community. The people who came to their bedside and reached from beyond those open doors to provide inspiration, thoughts and love.

At the end of her moving talk, Lougheed introduced Carl to his friends, family and fellow survivors gathered in the Northern Lights. She tells us that life on the road comes replete with some unexpected windfalls.

“I got to meet a real rock and roll legend,” laughs Lougheed.

Most of us in the audience, who already knew Carl, probably thought he needed no introduction.

We were wrong.

The Carl that appeared on the Northern Lights stage was calm, measured, eloquent and thoughtful.

His presentation, a sutureless blend of recollection, slides and song. “Beyond the Open Door” touches on affirmation and epiphany. Surprise. It’s also a song.

The lyrical déjà vu, “We’ve got nothing to fear; I can see it all clear; beyond the open door,” stems from survival, but it seeks solace in redress of those issues which plague us all at some point. Getting on with it.

“The Medivac’s said ‘that guy’s a goner,’ ” smiles Carl. “But milk and cookies Carl, who never smoked no drugs, and kept himself in shape. That guy survived.”

One poignant part you must hear.

It’s all about love. And respect. And a woman who knew when to assert herself into a damaged life.

“Betty was directed to a quiet waiting room,” says Carl. “And after a few minutes doctors arrived to present her with a wedding ring which they’d removed from my hand. They asked my daughter to leave the room. My condition was extremely grave they said and they weren’t sure they could save me.

“Betty looked in on me awaiting surgery. Surgery was forestalled because my body wasn’t forming enough platelets to stop the bleeding. I continued to lose bloods fast that it was pooling around me and spilling to the floor. The first night there were 25 doctors from various specialties; standing around me in the room; consulting to determine a strategy.”

Later they came and told Betty that they may have to amputate an arm and a leg. They eye was gone already.

And then, with tears welling, Carl Dixon told us about a brave woman who faced down a phalanx of doctors and told them not about her husband. Instead she told them about a musician.

She knew she had to talk fast. She knew that it was important that Carl lived. But he would need some things to get through it all. After.

He would need music.

And so she told the doctors about Coney Hatch, and April Wine and the Guess Who and the young boy who grew up wanting, no needing, to play music every day, in Sault Ste. Marie.

The kid who practiced seven days a week. The kid who bought his first 45. The Guess Who’s double sided disk: Laughing and Undone.

“If Betty had not been there I could have awoken with one arm and one leg,” says Dixon. She’s my manager. I guess… She managed me all along.

“I was ripped to shreds and put back together. That led me to slowly reassess everything in my life.”

Love, rebirth, family.

“Completely by accident, I’m here with you tonight,” says Dixon.

Tell Pat Stapleton from all of us Carl.

Dude. You finished the check.