(Peasant/John Cleese - from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail")
Today I celebrate a somewhat dubious, yet a completely magnificent event from my past. It happened 8 years ago today, and it started at about 8:00 in the evening.
We had rented a rug scrubber for the night and were just getting started. The animals all went into hiding as soon as we turned the scrubber on. Sheba went into the kitchen and hid under the table. The cats scurried off to the bedroom. So the entire living room area was open.
Now, I have to admit that I’ve been allergic to cats all of my life, and I‘ve had asthma since I was 18. But neither of these conditions were ever very serious. My allergies never manifested themselves in shortness of breath, or anything worse than watery, red and itchy eyes, and maybe some sniffles. The asthma was well under control with the help of a Ventolin inhaler.
This night was different though. Sometime after 9:00 I began to have some difficulty breathing. I attributed this to the fact that scrubbing rugs does take a bit of effort, so I continued.
By 9:30 my breathing had become a real problem. I couldn’t seem to get a good breath, no matter how hard I tried. At this point I stopped with the scrubbing and decided to take my inhaler outside and try to catch my breath. I used my inhaler once and waited for about 10 minutes. No change. I took a second hit and waited 10 more minutes. Still nothing.
I’ve had similar episodes before, sometimes they would pass after a while, and sometimes I would go to the hospital and have a respiratory treatment and be home within 2 hours. I was hoping to avoid it this night, and might have convinced myself to do so, except that when I walked back inside Jo looked at me and winced. She told me that I looked gray… not drained or even pale… gray. So, I knew I had to go.
I grabbed my keys and my wallet and headed out the door. Before I stepped off the porch, a little voice inside of me said “have Jo drive”. I turned around and told her that she had better drive me down. At this point she told me to go ahead and get in the car as she got the kids out of bed and brought them down.
She pulled out like a bat out of Hell. I stuck my head out of the window like some dog, hoping that the force of the air against my face would force a little more oxygen into my lungs. I’m not so sure that it did.
We made it to the emergency entrance in 3 minutes… normally a 7 - 10 minute ride, but Jo was pushing it. Neither of us remembered a time when my breathing was this bad. She didn’t bother to park in a space either. Just screeeeeech! And stopped right in front of the automatic doors.
As we pulled into the lot I noticed a nurse and a security guard standing outside of the doors having a smoke. As Jo whipped the car around, and into the lot, they both went into action. The security guard had stepped thru the doors to grab a wheelchair, as the nurse headed thru the doors into the ER.
Now this is where the story gets a bit weird… Jo and I each tell a different story at this point.
I remember, distinctly, as clearly as I remember my own name, opening the car door, stepping out of the car, and closing the door. Meanwhile the guard had gotten behind me with the wheelchair. I remember sitting down in the chair. I remember the guard putting his hand on my shoulder and telling me “It’s alright, we’ve got you. We’ll take good care of you.”. As he wheeled me thru the automatic doors I recall thinking to myself “O.K., I’ll have a breathing treatment, maybe two, and then I’ll be home in a couple of hours.”. And that’s when everything went black for me.
What Jo says happened was something like this. I opened the car door, stood up and then fell flat on my face. I have to admit that this must be true because I have a chipped tooth that I didn’t have before then.
The security guard did manage to get me into the wheelchair and wheel me into the ER where the nurse, an orderly, and one doctor were bringing a gurney out. They decided not to try to put me on right there.
Meanwhile, Jo was sitting outside in the car, not wanting to leave the kids alone, when the other security guard approached the car to see if there was some way he could help. Jo asked him to stay with the kids while she went inside to make a phone call to her parents to ask them to come and get the kids while she waited… for whatever was going to happen.
While she was in the hall she heard the noise that was coming from the back room. She said it sounded like someone was trying to smash thru the wall with a wheelchair, or something. That would’ve been me, but I didn’t know it.
Jo’s parents arrived shortly thereafter and took the kids home with them, but Jo’s brother stayed with her in the waiting room. This was about 10:30.
Somewhere around 2:00 AM one of the doctors came out and told Jo that I was now “stable”. He then began to ask Jo some really strange questions. “Does your husband have a living will?” was the one that had the most impact. She asked him how things looked and he told her “not good”. She struggled with this for a moment as she asked him “What do you mean? Like a 50/50 chance?” to which the doctor told her that they “…wished it looked that good.” for me. He estimated my chances of survival as follows. They gave me about a 30/70 chance of living thru the night, and about a 20/80 chance of making it for 24 hours. They informed Jo that even if I did survive past that point there was a 50 percent chance that I would end up in a vegetative coma for an indefinite (permanent) period of time. They also said that there was no chance of me coming out of it without some form of severe brain damage. All in all “not good” was something of an understatement.
Eventually the doctor got around to telling Jo just what had happened for the 3 ½ hours that they worked on me. This is what I was eventually told.
After bringing me back into the main ER they attempted to put me up on the gurney. At this point I had stopped breathing, and that, in turn, caused me to go into cardiac arrest. One of the nurses began the ‘timer’. As they began to work on me I began to have convulsive seizures. They were so violent that I managed to break two sets of leather cuffs as the nurses and orderlies tried to strap me down. By this time there were ten people working on me. 2 doctors, 5 nurses, 2 orderlies and the security guard who wheeled me in. 6 minutes had passed and they still hadn’t managed to get an IV into me, so one of the doctors decided to go the direct route of simply injecting me with anti-seizure medication. I was told later, by one of the nurses, that they had given me enough Adavan to put a horse in a coma. The ‘timer’ had gone past the 10 minute mark before they finally got a breathing tube down my throat, and restarted my heart. But they didn’t consider my condition to be stable at that point so they watched and waited before talking to Jo.
By 5:00 AM the doctors decided that they were going to attempt what they called “Aggressive Resuscitory Therapy”. Roughly translated… we’re gonna pull the plug on him and see if his body takes over for itself. Jo was told to go take care of any business she needed to attend to because they were starting at 8:00 AM.
At this particular time in our lives, Jo’s father was struggling with Leukemia, and he had a very important appointment that morning so she needed to get the kids, but she couldn’t keep them at the hospital. So, she called my parents and arranged to drop the kids off. Jo had already called them earlier to tell them what was happening, so they weren’t surprised by this.
From where we lived, and where the hospital was, my parents were a good 35-40 minutes away. Jo did it in 20. Fortunately most of the ride was on the Parkway, so doing 70 wasn’t too big a deal. She made it back by 7:30.
At 8:00 the doctors pulled the plug on me, and my body did take over, but they still had concerns about how long I would be in a coma. They were certain that I would be this way for quite some time. But doctors are only human, and so, are not above making mistakes. They had sent me into several different departments to have a battery of tests, and X-rays, etc… Everything seemed to be O.K., for the most part. And that was something that the doctors seemed puzzled by.
At 1:30 that afternoon I awoke to find a whole bunch of needles and tubes stuck in my wrists and arms. I had two massive bruises on the insides of my forearms, from the cuffs that I tore up. My throat was sore and scratchy and tasted of blood, from the ventilator tube. And my head felt as if it was being used like the anvil in a dwarven forge. I had no idea what time it was, where I was, or what had happened. All I had were my memories of the previous night.
When Jo saw that I was awake she couldn’t decide if she should hug me or hit me. “Don’t you ever scare me like that again.” was what she finally said. Then she told me about what had happened. It’s amazing the things you think about when you find out that you had been dead.
After I awoke, the doctors and nurses all made an effort to come by and see me. They were referring to me as the ‘miracle man’. And all of this between the next battery of tests, etc… Eventually I was informed that everything was coming up normal… no ‘provable’ brain damage is what I like to say.
I received the expected phone calls from my mom, and one from my brother so that he could scold me for “…scaring mom and dad like that.”
Later that evening Justterry
gave me a call in the hospital to check up on me. I answered the phone to hear “Hey! I heard you were dead?”. So I mustered my best English accent and used the title line to this post, which is from the scene entitled “How do you tell a witch?”, and we both got a good chuckle out of it. It has since become my own ‘catch phrase’ when I make any reference to this incident.
They kept me in the hospital for 3 more days, and when I came home I had a bit of difficulty sleeping. It was as if I didn’t want to miss anything, and sleeping interfered with that. Jo was worried that my restlessness was a result of something that the tests missed, but I reassured her I was fine. Eventually, things got back to normal… or, as normal as things ever are for us, that is.
Invariably, when I share this story, people will ask me questions about seeing “… a bright light.” or some other ‘near death’ phenomenon. These questions arise because most of the people who know me are aware of my strong faith. So, I always respond with the following little speech:
“I didn’t see anything but the darkness. And that, because I am convinced, that had I seen anything, it would have been because God wanted me to stay, but He didn’t. Miracles such as those really do not accomplish anything anyway. For those of us who believe, this won’t do anything to strengthen our faith. I already believe in Heaven, so I don’t need to see it to believe it's waiting for me. For those who do not, such visions can easily be dismissed as the hallucinations of an oxygen starved brain. What is most important is that I still live. What is important is that I will continue to share my faith, and my ideas, with those individuals that God sends my way. And knowing that God has taken such extreme measures to get me to talk to you… then what I have to say just might be important. Don’t you think so?”
I realize that such a comment may seem a bit arrogant, but, mind you, this is only one of my stories. I have others that go hand in hand with this one to make that statement much more realistic. You’ll just have to wait to read them.
Labels: faith, My life, Reflection