Show 44 - Derek Colanduno Part I

Listen to Show 44

Derek Colanduno is half of the highly successful podcast team, Derek and Swoopy. Their podcast, Skepticality, was one of the first podcasts created and one of the few early podcasts still thriving.

In the fall of 2005, Derek suffered a stroke. A young man, with no previous warning signs, Derek woke up three weeks later to find himself in a hospital, hooked up to machines and unable to walk or talk. This is part one of a two-part interview that explores his experiences relearning basic skills and his ongoing struggle to adapt. His story will give you insight into the experiences of someone with a brain injury that may help when you encounter an individual with a brain injury.

Skepticality Podcast

Riding a Wheelie


Beth Case: Disability411 Show #44

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Beth: Hello and welcome to the Disability 411 podcast. I’m your host, Beth Case.

Boy, do we have a lot of announcements this week. First, I will let you all know that I was interviewed this week for the “Riding a Wheelie” podcast with Jamie Jordan. If you go back a couple of shows you will hear Jamie on this podcast when I interviewed him for Disability 411. He returned the favor by having me as a guest on “Riding a Wheelie”. It was a lot of fun to do; Jamie and I have such a good time when we get together. You can check out that interview at And of course we will link to that in our show notes at

I also want to let you all know that at the last minute, it turns out I will be attending the AHEAD conference. That’s the Association of Higher Education and Disability conference. I’ve been able to go the last few years, but this year I wasn’t going to be able to go because the grant that had paid for me before, I’m not working on that grant anymore so I didn’t think I was going to be able to go. But just within the last few days I’ve been able to get the money, kind of piece-meal it together from a few different sources so that I can attend the conference. If you all are going to be in Charlotte, North Carolina for the AHEAD conference, coming up real soon, then drop me an email at and let me know that you’re going to be there. Maybe we can hook up for coffee or something. It would be great to meet some of y’all.

I also want to let you know a little bit about this show’s schedule. As you know, Disability 411 has not been coming out on a very regular schedule for quite some time. Part of that is because of some additional responsibilities I had at work and some of it was because my free time was getting taken up by some other side projects I’ve been working on. While the additional responsibilities in my day job are lessening because the person I was helping cover for is now back at work, I am picking up some additional side projects.

Looks like I will be involved in a couple of new podcasts. I’m not going to say anything else about them right now because I don’t want to jinx things. I want to wait until things are a little bit closer to being ready to go before I announce them, but they might be ones you all are interested in, so be sure to keep an eye out for that. That’s great. I just love producing the podcast. It’s just a hobby I adore and the fact that I might actually make some money at it is very exciting. Once again, the time has to be divided.

So, instead of trying to get Disability 411 out every week and failing and getting it out every other week and feeling guilty because I wasn’t able to get a show to you all every week, I’m just going to move us to a schedule where I’m going to say, the show will just come out every other week. I think I can probably keep us to that one. As you know, this show doesn’t always come out on the same day every week because I do send the audio files off to be transcribed before I post them and it just depends on how quickly I can get them back from being transcribed. We will go to where you can expect a show about every other week. We’ll just see how that goes.

One more announcement before I get to our interview this week. I’m still looking for and accepting stories about people with disabilities who can serve as role models or examples, someone who might be inspirational or just serve as a role model to other people with disabilities, especially younger people with disabilities. I want them to see that their options are not necessarily limited because of their disability. If you are one of those people or you know someone who is and might be a good guest on the show, please be sure to email me at and we’ll talk.

On to today’s interview. Today I am interviewing Derek Colanduno from the “Skepticality” podcast. Mow I know that a lot of you may not listen to podcasts very much or may not have been into them for that long, but “Skepticality” was one of the very first podcasts that came out. I believe it was late 2004. Very few of those original podcasts are still around. “Skepticality” has hung in there and they’ve won all kinds of awards and they’re just very very beloved in the podcasting community.

As you’ll hear in the interview, Derek, who is a young man, had a stroke totally out of the blue. In this interview we talk about what happened and his recovery and his continuing recovery. So, it’s a great story; it’s kind of one of those situations where it really opened my eyes to some of the hidden struggles of people who have some kind of brain injury.

The problem is, is that, once Derek and I started talking, we kind of had trouble stopping. We talked for much longer than I can put into one show. I did cut down some of the interview where we kind of got off-topic and just started chitchatting and so forth, but I just couldn’t get it any shorter than like thirty-five minutes. So what I’m doing is I’m splitting this into two episodes. We’ll have the first part of the interview with Derek today and then in a couple of weeks you can get part two. About that time I’ll be at the AHEAD conference and hopefully coming home with lots more potential interviewees for you all to listen to.

Enough of me gabbing, let’s hear from Derek.

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Beth: I’m very excited today to have on the phone with me Derek Colanduno who is one of the podcasters of the very well-known “Skepticality” podcast. Derek, thanks for joining me.

Derek Colanduno: Hey, I’m exciting? Okay, cool.

Beth: Yes, you are exciting and I’m excited to have you here. Well, before we get into the real nitty-gritty of what I want to talk about in this interview, do you want to give just a brief summary of what “Skepticality” is and where people can find it?

Derek: “Skepticality” is a show that was kind of spawned out of the fact that me and Robin, who is my co-host (on the show she’s called Swoopy) we both read magazines and books that are all science-based or skeptic-based, things like the TV shows on Showtime, Penn and Teller do their BS show and the MythBusters, stuff like that. We’ve always been very into that type of thing. We’ve known each other for eleven or twelve years now. We’ve always been like that.

When we heard about podcasting, this is like 2004 (wow, is it that long?) at the beginning, I think we started our show in 2005, maybe not, maybe it was late late 2004, I forget. Anyway, we heard about it and we already had all this equipment. We were doing sound and editing and all this. We were sitting there and we said, “there’s this podcasting stuff”. We talked about it now and then and one day she said, “I have an idea” and I said, “what?” and she turned around and grabbed the wipe marker from her desk and wrote on the whiteboard “Skepticality”. I said, “what’s that?” and she said. “that’s the name of our show.” And we thought about it and said, “okay, let’s do it” and we started our show.

Beth: It just took off, too. I mean you all have been the number one rated podcast on any number of lists, written up in newspaper articles, just been everywhere. Congratulations on your success.

Derek: Thank you.

Beth: That website, in case people want to check it out…?

Derek: It’s

Beth: Easy to remember

Derek: s-k-e-p-t-i-c-a-l-i-t-y It’s easier to say than it is to spell.

Beth: (laughs) Let’s get to your story which was the reason I wanted to have you on the show today. You were just an average person, a very successful podcaster, but pretty much just sort of a normal person. And then one night something happened. Do you want to just give us an idea of what happened?

Derek: At the time I was traveling for business about ninety- to ninety-five percent of the time. One day, this was actually right after DragonCon which is a con, I had to go to Charlotte, North Carolina which is about two hours, three hours from where I live. I went up there, did my work. When I was done I came back home. I was here at the house and didn’t know where people went. I called my wife and she was at dinner with everybody I knew, all my friends. She said, “well come down” so I went down there.

I had dinner with my friends and then, at the end of my meal, just finishing up what I was eating (I remember what it was, it was chili and I think chicken fingers or some weird thing like that). During the meal, at the very end, I started to get this weird headache. At first it was just a normal headache and then I started to hear this whooshing sound in my head, it felt like when you listen to a shell at the beach, and it just did not feel correct. Everything sounded really weird and combined with the headache, I just didn’t feel right.

I started to get a little bit dizzy and I had to go to the bathroom which I did. I went to the bathroom and it only got worse. On my way back to the table I started to get nauseous and I started to throw up. A lot. Then I got completely dizzy and around then I started to black out. I guess, I don’t remember, I wasn’t completely unconscious then. I made my way down to the car which was outside. I just kept vomiting on the side of the car and the next thing I know I’m waking up somewhere else and there’re tubes in every part of me including my head. I didn’t know where I was. Everything was this weird dream state and it took me another almost month before I realized what happened.

It was bizarre. At least now, in retrospect, I guess it’s very good that I felt no pain at all. I just got sick and just went out.

Beth: And you woke up, what, was it three weeks later?

Derek: Yeah, about three weeks.

Beth: Now that you’ve talked to your wife and people who were involved, do you want to fill in any of the backstory of what was going on in those three weeks when you weren’t aware?

Derek: Well, the nice part is you can actually go to our website and our discussion board and it’s all there. Swoopy actually recorded a short show when she got back from the hospital that night. She started a topic area on the forum called “Derek Updates” and she did an update every day or sometimes two times a day. There’s an update every day, even past when I got home, when I finally got home, when I was able to.

It took me a while before I could even type because my fingers didn’t really work correctly and my brain wasn’t connected to the part of me that was able to type all the time. There’s a while I couldn’t do it, but once I finally got to the point where I could think enough to read and comprehend and be able to form my own postings, I started to talk in the forum. All of that’s there, from the beginning until when I got home and even through 6/10/07, last month. They were still going on until quite recently.

Beth: Actually I was a listener of your show back when this happened and actually this was right before I started Disability 411 because our first show went live the end of September 2005. I was always checking the forums to find out what the update was and did a few postings myself. Now, what was it they determined had happened to you?

Derek: After everything they thought it was two or three different things. They didn’t know exactly. After all the MRIs and all the work since, the doctors basically told me now it’s a stroke, it’s a stroke what happened. I had a vessel that burst in the back of my brain and it bled out. Just a normal stroke.

Beth: You all can probably tell that he’s not an old man. You’re young and we tend to think of strokes happening to older people so this is quite unexpected.

Derek: Yeah, I was thirty-two at the time of the stroke. No, I was thirty-one actually. Thirty-one. It’s been that long. Yeah, thirty-one at the time of the stroke.

Beth: So once you became aware again you had to relearn how to do a lot of things.

Derek: Yeah, when I first woke up in the hospital I couldn’t talk at all. Of course, I didn’t know that. I was talking, to me I was talking, but it didn’t make any sense. At first I couldn’t walk at all. I had to relearn how to walk and talk. I couldn’t type, either. I couldn’t really comprehend what people were trying to tell me. It was really bizarre.

I couldn’t hear. Actually, what’s really funny is, what’s a problem still to this day, my hearing is actually, to me, amplified a lot more than it was before. I cannot handle anything loud at all. It hurts me. Before I could handle loud stuff a lot; I’d turn on my car stereo and turn it up a lot. It never bothered me. At home, I didn’t mind. We see movies in our home theater and the loud stuff didn’t bother me at all. It bothers me now. It’s bizarre. My hearing is amplified, but to the point where it’s kind of annoying.

It makes it hard for me to think at all. It’s like everything is so amplified it’s like a jackhammer all the time. I just can’t filter anything other than whatever really loud noise is going on. It’s one of those things. The doctor actually told me it’s a common thing for stroke victims to have it and have it for a long time, a couple of years or more before it really goes away. The best way to describe it is it’s like ADD times ten. I can’t focus on one thing if there’s anything, anything the catches my attention at all. It’s gotten a lot better than it has been in the past, it’s gotten a lot better than it was even three or four months ago. But it’s still on the mend.

Still, it makes it a little bit hard at work now that I’m back at the office. I notice it a lot more when I’m doing stuff at work. That’s when I really notice it. I used to be really fast at this.

Beth: Now it’s more difficult to concentrate if there’s any noise going on in the background?

Derek: Oh yeah. The nice part about the fact that my boss was very protective of my office when I had my stroke was I had my office when I came back. I have my own office. I need it now. Before it was nice to have and I left my door open and it didn’t bother me. Now when I get to the office, the first thing I do is I close my door. Without that I just could not handle it because if there’s anybody talking or walking by or anything I just can’t do it.

Beth: Obviously you’ve made some pretty astounding improvements from where you were going on two years ago, but I remember from listening to your show and reading the forums that there have been some trepidation, some nervousness, some thoughts of not wanting to continue with “Skepticality” because you were very self-conscious about the way that you talked, that it would be much slower, and your audience had this huge outcry. “No! We don’t care. You have to come back. You have to continue.” What was that like?

Derek: You’re right. At first I was like, “I just can’t do this.” Even when I go back and listen to the show, we really started to come back in earnest around June maybe. Yeah, June or July. Yeah, July. We really started to come back again. Before that we actually did a few episodes just when I first got home from the hospital. They were just to let people know we’re here and we’re still doing it.

Those were hard for me because at the time I was doing my full-time rehab. To do anything took me a lot of thought, a lot of energy just to get the words out and a lot of thought even to make the words at all. So it was really slow for me to even say anything on the show. It was hard for me and it was frustrating. Robin noticed it and she was like, “you don’t have to do this.” But I enjoy it, even though it’s hard. It’s like there was a bumpy patch in there with me going, “I just can’t do it” and of course, over time, I went to my full-time rehab and over time my voice, my speech got so much better I didn’t care. I could do it now. So fire up the system, let’s record. When that started to happen to me that’s when we just said, “screw it, we’re doing it now.” So we just came back and ever since we have been doing it.

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Well you all have to tune in in a couple of weeks to listen to the rest of the story. But, if you’d like to check our “Skepticality” in the meantime, you can go to and of course the link will be in our show notes. Before we sign off, I do want to remind you all about our blog which is at Especially now that Disability 411 is just going to plan to come out on a less frequent basis, if anything does come up that’s time-sensitive or I want to let you all know about right away, I will post it to the blog. So, be sure and check that out.

So, until the next show you visit our website at to listen to any of our past shows, to read the transcript of this or any of our past shows and maybe find some other interesting information. Don’t forget to email me if you’re going to be at AHEAD and send me any of your role model stories. So, until next time, this is Beth Case with Disability 411.

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Beth: The Disability411 podcast is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivatives license, and is part of the family. Music, by the Brobdingnagian Bards, is used with permission. Visit our website at