Confronted By Death – Feb 13, 2013

There is a power keeping you alive, and it’s not us.” – Medical City of Plano’s chief respiratory doctor.

This will be different than any other article from my blog page.

At the risk of sounding overtly macabre, I must resist the fear of writing the following account.  I promised myself, God and others, I would write in detail, candor and accuracy of the event that took place five years ago this week.  Please know, the following details are indeed truthful in every way without embellishment, even though some aspects may be difficult to believe unless you know me well or if you were there.  I am one not known for tall tales of fantasies, or a demon under every rock.  My friends and family would assure you of this fact.  If you are from the medical industry, know that other members of the medical field are always amazed when they read my medical history.   Before God, the Living One, the Father of Israel in Whom I trust, all descriptions of the events from February 2013 written below are true and verifiably witnessed events.  The episode I am testifying changed my life on multi-levels that remain with me today.  It is my hope, you, or someone you know, might glean a newness, a sense of hope, a concrete foundation that we (you and I) are never alone.  The reality you will find from the entire reading of my story is that we (you and I) are greatly cared for out of undeserved love and favor.  Know this, going into the text beyond this line, YOU cannot, and never will, defeat death, nor can concentrated grit of fortitude.  Allow me to tell you my story.  Feel free to print this off for an easier read.

The Unexpected

For a few weeks at the beginning of 2013, my former wife (For this account, we will call her Joan.) and I were treating a boil on the back of my head at the base of the skull.  I was reluctant to see a doctor in that I was uninsured at the time.  So, for me, home remedies seemed to be the answer.  The boil grew delivering severe pain, a physical anguish I had not experienced up to that point in life.  One of the soothing routines was to soak the back of my head in a hot salt bath.  I did this often, every couple of days.  On February 10th-12th, a change became evident.  I began to slur my speech, even to the point of being non-intelligible at times.  My body and mind slipped into a stage of being lethargic.  I slept almost around the clock, at one point, 20 hours.  On the 12th, I began to be violently ill.  That is the last thing I remember.

For a good year or two my marriage was also violently ill.  Divorce had already been considered.  The canyon dividing us was vast and bottomless.  Nightly, I slept in the closed master bedroom while Joan made her bed on the living room couch.  It was a joint decision.

Here, I believe it important to note that the following is from her account of the pre-hospitalization event.  It might be wise to include here that Joan probably had been drinking heavily that day.  It was common.

Around 2:00am, on February 13th, Joan heard bath water running from the bathroom, just adjacent to the master bedroom.  Later, Joan admitted she reasoned I had awoke from sleeping around the clock and was prepping for another soak, so she turned over and went back to sleep.

Some six-seven hours later, at approximately 8:30-9:00 that morning, Joan opened the bedroom door only to find me missing.  She then walked to the master bathroom door, opened it and found me lying in a tub full of frigid water, with my face above the waterline, my eyes were open and fixed.  My skin was shell-colored.  I was unresponsive and ice cold to the touch.

For logic I cannot fully understand or explain, she delayed calling 911 for some unverifiable length of time.  In a moment of clarity, Joan called my mom, who lived some 60 miles away, telling her that I had gone to “another place” and described what she had discovered.  My mom recollects those maddening minutes.  Joan mentioned something to her about not having life insurance on me.  Being dismayed at the words, Mom pushed Joan to hang up and call 911 immediately.  While my mom was trying to cut through the confusing conversation, she had Joan place the phone to my ear as my mom yelled at me to awaken, but to no avail.  After several minutes, my mom pleaded with her again to call for an ambulance, and did so several times.  Joan then told her that I was naked in the tub and that I wouldn’t want the EMTs to see me in that condition.  She went on to say she wanted to take a shower first before calling.  (As a side note, the shower was built alongside the bathtub with only a glass wall separating the shower stall and tub.  While taking a shower she would have been looking down at my naked stone cold body.)  With a bit of fire in her tone, my mom finally convinced her to call for help.

Within the hour, I was rushed to the ER, to what is now called, Medical City of Plano in Plano, Texas.  No doubt the EMTs feverishly worked on my body in efforts to revive me.  I was told, many days later, by Dr. Betz, the ICU/CCU doctor in charge, they brought me in dead.

The ER staff was unable to fully revive me and placed me on life support.  At some hour overnight in that bathtub, my body suffered a full-organ shutdown with only minimal brain activity.  I was left comatose.  As common in situations like mine, the ER staff placed an internal thermometer into my torso revealing, at that hour, a core body temperature of 78 degrees!  (Few ever come back to tell of a 78 degree core body temperature.)  Not only had my organs stopped functioning, I was also suffering from hypothermia from being encased in cold bath water for several hours in mid February.  After the ER team consulted with several specialists it was decided that I was a lost cause and to consult my wife in the waiting room.

After discovering I had no directive or legal will, the ER doctor on duty, as well as a nurse, advised Joan of my dire condition explaining a respirator was keeping me breathing.  He went on to tell her they could try to treat me in my current condition, but that patients in my circumstance who survive are 1 out of 20.  He went on to mention there was no way to know how much brain damage had been levied.  The ER doctor made an attempt to have her choose a directive to pull the plug.  In the end, Joan signed a document requesting that they treat me in efforts to sustain my life.

The most common question I am asked surrounds the cause of the full-organ shutdown.  To be as accurate as I can, it remains a mystery.  There were a number of factors, all of which could have ended my life.  It may have originated from hypothermia after falling asleep in the bath, cardiac arrest, infection from the open boil, diabetic shock, kidney failure, etc.  All of the above could’ve happened first, but nothing can be chronologically pinpointed with all certainty.  All we can say is an internal domino effect occurred sometime in the overnight hours.

Sometimes being gone is better.

I am unsure the exact number of days I was in a coma.  I will say I had come out of a coma once for a significantly short time (which I will detail for you next week in a part II article) only to slip back into it for at least another day or two.  The impression from calculations, based upon friends and family who had visited my ICU/CCU room, I believe it was a four-day coma.

When I surfaced to consciousness, for the final time, I was aware I was in the hospital, but unaware of why or what had deposited me there.  It’s funny what can go through one’s head in that circumstance.  I recall being confused as to why my wrists and ankles were strapped down.  I was made aware right away that I was hooked up to loud machines and monitors all around the bed.  There were tubes and hoses going in and out of every orifice, and I mean EVERY orifice, with the exception of my ears.  In fact, besides the IVs and ports in various areas of my body, I also had one tube going into my rib-cage and another planted in the side of my neck.  I couldn’t inquire verbally, with breathing hose and feeding tube down my throat.  Other than a slight ability to nod and shake my head, as well as do a thumbs up in response, my body wouldn’t move on command.  Nurses and doctors were coming in and out like a swinging door, but rarely did anyone speak directly to me, as if I wasn’t there.

My immediate thought was I had been the victim of a car crash.  Curiosity spun my mental gymnastics every minute.  Joan walked in the room at some point telling me things at home would be different from now on.  My first thought was that she meant our relationship would be better now.  Interestingly, my fresh-from-a-coma brain went to the ailing, damaged relationship at home when she uttered those words.  In retrospect, I believe she was trying to say my health, my lifestyle had been compromised.

This new “awakening” was so hard for a plethora of reasons.  In contrast to the state I was in just prior to my days in a coma, the realities of a CCU room were close to torturous.  One of the almost unbearable treatments, still so prominent in my memory, was no liquid whatsoever passed my lips for almost three weeks due to the inability to swallow properly.  Hydration was applied through an IV and a feeding tube into my abdomen.  My tongue became like lizard skin.

While in a coma (or while separated from my body), I was at perfect peace, with a sense of flotation, never touching the ground.  There was no noise, no sound, only solitude.  There was no sense of the passing of time.  There was a lack of care for clocks and calendars.  There were no binding limitations, but rather a feeling of flying or floating at will, wherever I wanted to go.  Vivid ultra-brilliant colors of objects observed were beyond any shades I had ever witnessed in my lifetime.  Frankly, they were shockingly striking to the vision.  Here I will stop with my description that forever will be stamped in my memory.  Just allow me to say I had an experience beyond the reality of the bathtub and hospital bed.  It is incredibly personal and forever shall be.  Only a handful of close friends and family have been given my “beyond view” of that time.

There is a Power

I had 8 doctors working on me.  However, in the beginning while in ER, there was one doctor, the only doctor, who wanted to take on my case, to give me a chance of survival.  All others had felt I was for file 13.  This one courageous and selfless man was a kidney doctor, Dr. Sidiqui.  After I came out of the coma and began to show unanticipated signs of my body functioning, other specialists were assigned to me.  Regardless of the prognosis from a team of professionals, regardless of my 1 out of 20 chance of survival, regardless of how my body was still in resurrection mode, Dr. Sidiqui never gave up hope, always going the extra mile.  Although I was on sessions of dialysis, breathing treatments, oxygen mask and fluid pumps, I was improving very slowly.  I am unsure of when I developed sepsis in the bloodstream, but a debridement surgery of my head was performed where the infected boil was.  I also developed pneumonia in both lungs while in CCU.  After a time, I was helping to plan part of my own funeral with one of my daughters and a dear cousin.  Over the span of several months, I lost some 70+ pounds, much of it in muscle tissue.  I became anemic.  I started with zero body function but gained motor skills at a snail’s pace.  During physical and occupational therapy my body had to learn to swallow again, walk again, talk again and write again all because I had lost most of my motor skills, including various neurological autonomic functions.

Plano Med Center Stan PT guy Sept 2, 2014

Photo:  Stan, my physical therapist from Feb 2013

I spent three weeks in ICU/CCU then I was upgraded to a telemetry room for another three weeks.  One day I found myself listening to three doctors, including a couple of nurses, standing over me.  CCU is NOT a quiet place.  After having several staff members swing by my room, congratulating me on the rise from death, some of whom were telling me they were there when I was brought into the ER, the doctors were discussing what meds to remove, how much fluid to drain and what my prognosis was for each organ.  As the conversation wore down, my respiratory specialist, while looking at my thick chart said, “There’s a power keeping you alive, and it’s not us.”  He slammed the notebook closed and walked out in frustration.  I responded by saying it was the result of many people praying for me.  I will never forget that moment.  It was as if God needed me to hear what he had to say openly to bolster my personal faith.

As for Dr. Sidiqui, he explained the unfortunate truth was that my kidneys had not come back to life.  Simply put, I was at stage five kidney disease.  After leaving the hospital after six weeks, I was admitted to out-patient dialysis three or four times a week, four hours at a time.  This was devastating on my body.  I likened it to chemo treatments.  It left me weak and very ill for two days after each session.  At the same time, I had a Medvac attached to the base of my skull.  This was a suction hose going from the surgical area of the debridement of the boil, which was a 4”-5” square of raw flesh thinly covering that part of my skull, and leading to a briefcase-size unit I had to carry.  It was in efforts to keep the open wound free of particles and toxins which remained on my head 24/7 for several weeks.  Surprisingly, after several months of this harsh regiment, my kidneys began to come back.  In fact, the kidneys rose to a stage three status which discharged me from dialysis.  The nurses at the dialysis center were in shock.  Again, that alone is almost unheard of.  Today, I remain at stage three, leaving a 31% renal working capacity, managing functionality as best as I can.

Being an invalid at home was a new difficult challenge.  Dr. Sidiqui worked hard to place me in a much needed rehab hospital, but was unable.  Slowly, from June to the end of October of 2013, I worked on strength and endurance while using a walker.  October 31st, I was admitted in an out-patient physical therapy program, at another hospital, which lasted through February of 2014.  Because of the fine work there at that facility, I was able to graduate from a walker, to a cane, to walking without assistance.

The personal tsunami of February 13, 2013 still has its waves around my house.  Some effects remain in the aftermath, but I am relatively well, considering the alternative, with a few lasting medical issues that are managed daily (too many to list here).  After all, it’s hard to come back from the dead.

To this day, medical personnel often will ask how I was able to stay alive with the ability to function.  Many answer their own question before I am able to get the words out.  “It must be for a divine purpose” or “God had His hand on you” or “You must believe in prayer”.  I say, all of the above.  As an ER respiratory nurse told me, when our time comes, we have very little to do with it.  Without power of our own, we seem to be like a flower plucked out of a meadow by a force outside of ourselves.  That is so true.  The shear realities, surrounding the fact that you are reading this from my own fingers on a keyboard, dictate that I did not survive because I am an exceptional individual or some righteous leader.  To be blunt, I deserved the opposite of life.  The hospital admitted I walked away beyond the scope of their medical technology, care and the modern medical mechanics available.  They called me “Miracle Man” during those last few weeks.  However, it is clear; the power did not come from me, nor from their medical abilities, but rather from the Creator of the body.  (More proof of this next week in a part II article.)

Some have asked how it all has changed me, other than physical.  My answer is easy.  I love more.  I tell my loved ones more.  I reach out more.  I am grateful more often with a greater measure.  I find I cry more at movies, TV shows, commercials, photos and songs.  How can you not have your life placed back in your lap, knowing you had nothing to do with it, and not be more sensitive in every way?  Furthermore, I don’t get all twisted up in anger at the level I once did concerning trivial, temporal stuff.  I came back realizing there’s too much in the world that doesn’t matter in the end, only eternals.  We are often fooled into thinking temporals matter as priority.

If you’re wondering about my medical bills from that year alone…over $1,000,000.00!

TAKE NOTE:

As mentioned earlier, my next blog, part II, entitled “A mysterious Visitor” will surround an astonishing slice of time in my CCU room that we could not explain away.  Frankly, that part of the story is far more important and stunning than anything I have written here.  Look for it on my page in a few days.  Once you read what I omitted in the account above, you might find it leads to the pump of fuel for the race.

“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.  I came that you may have life and have it in fullness.” – Jesus –   John 10:10 (paraphrased)

 

Hook, Line & Stinker

“You’re dreaming your life away.  Fish out of water.  Go swim in the tide today…”  Fish Out Of Water, Recorded by: Tears For Fears, (1993)  Composers: Alan Griffiths/Roland Orzabal

Fish Photo:  ABCNEWS.com

The following is a true story.  Have your giggle box turned on.

An old friend of mine had an office just two doors down from a family-owned cleaning business in Buffalo, NY.  He and the owner of the cleaners became friends over the years and fishing buddies.  In fact, the two were maniacs for the open waters, with fishing poles in hand, two or three times a month.  The owner of the cleaners had a large freezer set up in the back storage room of his business.  Whenever he came back from a fishing trip, he would store the fish there at the establishment for future dinners at home as needed.

Chow Chow Petwave.com

Chow Chow Photo:  petwave.com

One of the pleasures of having your own business is feeling free to bring the family dog with you every day.  He had a beautiful Chow Chow (we will call him Chang) by his side each business day.  The beloved Chang became somewhat of a mascot for the business.  The customers always expected to see his special brand of canine greeting as they walked through the door with their bundle of laundry.  Chang was fun-loving with an obvious sense of ownership for the place.  Whatever he saw and sniffed, he felt he owned it, as most dogs do.  When the little bell on the top of the front door rang, he came running to the counter to see who had come to say hello.  Chang also loved ice fishing with his owner.  He knew the fish-treats were coming in short order, while watching the line sink into the frigid waters of Lake Ontario.

On the night of October 12, 2006, and throughout the overnight hours bleeding into October 13th, a terrible blizzard blew across the region leaving behind broken trees, collapsed roofs, crushed vehicles, downed power lines and four to six-foot snowdrifts.  To say it appeared to be a winter bomb would be accurate.  It was called the October Surprise Storm and it was devastating.  Two weeks later, on Halloween, officials were discouraging trick-or-treaters from going door-to-door because of broken limbs, debris and power lines remaining on sidewalks and common grounds.  It took the rest of the year to clean up after that horrific blast.  Erie County snow plows were not yet prepared in mid October for this kind of icy squall.  Many, including your’s truly, were without power for many days, some for weeks on end.  Convoys of utility trucks, from power companies from several states, came to our aid in the aftermath.

The shopping center strip, where the cleaners was located, had been closed for business for lack of power.  After a good week or two, power was restored and the cleaners opened its doors to receive customers.  Unfortunately for the owner, the freezer packed with fish had to be unloaded and cleaned out.  As you can imagine, when the freezer door was opened, everyone had to cover their noses.  Naturally, this wasn’t good for a well-respected cleaning business and the racks of customer’s clothing just waiting to be redeemed after being cleaned and pressed.  So, the business man made a quick executive decision to remedy his problem.  Behind the business, beyond the alleyway, was a rather large vacant field.  Snow was still on the ground as he loaded up the rotting fish on a flatbed dolly, dumping the fish into a pile a good distance from the back of the building.  After a good cleaning of the freezer, and some air freshener, all was right with the business once again.

As the snow began to melt with the sunshine in late October and early November, the back door to the business was often propped open for deliveries and for a fresh breeze during decent weather.  One day, Chang peered through his facial fur and spied a glorious canine opportunity as the back door was left opened.  He ran across the alleyway and into the field with a giddiness in his step.  As he approached the rotting, putrid pile of decomposing fish, without missing a beat, Chang dove right on top of the mound of fishy mush.  He lavished in the rolling of his thick-haired body all across the stack of stench of stiffs.  He was seen exercising intentional maneuvers to shellac his coat, belly, face, head and rear with his newly-found heaven of heaping hell.  He enjoyed it greatly.  So much so, that he made a happy bee-line back to the cleaners to share his wallowing experience with his owner, as well as his patrons.  My friend, two doors down, told me he laughed the whole time as he witnessed Chang’s joy while on his smelly excursion.  He said, as Chang trotted into the building, it took less than a minute as the customers and staff ran out of the doors, evacuating as quickly as possible as if a wild bear had just raided the place.

Poor Chang.  I’m a dog lover.  I’m not a pro, but I know canine psychology fairly well.  As he rubbed his fur all over the foul fish, a witness might have heard him say, “MINE!  ALL MINE!” (In dog language, of course.)  I’m certain, as he entered the cleaners afterward, he was proud to share the fog that followed for a collective celebration.

Chang comes to mind when I am reminded of the new world we are living in.  There are too many instances where law-breakers expect the rest of us to accept their actions.  You see it surrounding recent current events, like the “Me Too” movement of sexual harassment survivors revealing their abusers.  You saw it, while on trial, in the face of Dr. Larry Nassar, the USA gymnastic sports physician who sexually molested young girls in his charge over the decades.  You see it in the street thugs and gangs who openly live a life of crime as the neighborhood watches without protest.  You see it in a family member who has given themselves over to drug or alcohol abuse while bringing the results back to a sober peaceful home.  Too often I am seeing blatant rudeness, abusiveness, lawlessness run amok without consequence.  Too often I am seeing actors of hatred and violence show rage when a minority of the general public stands against their actions and words.  Too often I see, so-called, elected civic leaders in high places speak and showcase various fits of immaturity with vile disrespect for their colleagues, all the while not expecting another opinion or debate.

Is it not true, we trot into where we hang our hat, stinking of our offensive sins of disorder, disrespect or disregard, not caring what our loved ones think?  I’m seeing a lot of that.  Is it not true, offenders have false expectations of acceptance concerning their selfish actions or destructive words?  Like Chang, we tend to own our faults, show them off with a twisted pride.  There was a time, not long ago, we had enough sense of shame to hide these infractions in a deep dark closet.  Today, it seems we want to smother our neighbors with it, even encourage them to join in the fray.  Meanwhile, we wonder why we lose quality friends and family as they run out the door as if a wild bear just raided the place.  We roll around in our choice of muck-pile as if we want to own it, be one with it.  The dad of one of my best friends in high school always had a quick word for us just before we went out on the town.  He would always say, “You boys don’t bring home somethin’ you can’t keep.”  He passed away in December, but left this young man a brand on the brain.  In his blue-collar Texas wisdom, he knew we could be like Chang.

However, this is not the bitter end of the story.  The story is not so much about the stinking pile of rotting fish, or the patrons and staff running away in horror, or even about the beloved Chang himself.  The story is more about the business owner.  He didn’t chase and kick Chang out of the cleaners, while silently counting the profit escaping out the door, like we might have.  Rather, he put the closed sign in the front window, locked the door and proceeded to fill a utility sink with hot water mixed with lemon scented detergent.  He rolled up his sleeves, wrapped his arms around the crusty dog of disdain and placed him in a makeshift bath for scrubbing.  Now THAT is love.  Before you knew it, Chang was back to smelling like the famous mascot of the corner cleaners once again.

I believe in that kind of grace, in that kind of love.  If only our world would understand it.

And if one should pass the sniff test in life, that one is ever so much closer in catching the aroma of fuel for the race.

“Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” – Psalm 51:7 (NAS)