Sunday, January 26, 2014

Video Blog Post: The Healing Continues

Hello, my friends. I am posting my first video blog update since my respiratory failure "incident" that occurred a week ago. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers! Your support blesses me dearly.

~Robert B. Haase,
A Blessed Man

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Death, Driving and Tomorrow

About a week and a half ago I climbed behind the wheel of my car to grab something at the store. Having gone off pain meds for a about 8-hours prior to driving, I was safe, so don't worry. What I realized when I entered the open roads was how much I enjoy driving. The freedom to go where I want to go. The way my car can corner. The realization I can control my destination. Kind of a metaphor for life, really. 

I love to drive in a fun car. A lot. It is near the top of my list of joys in life. I love a sporty suspension that feels like a go-cart when rounding a tight corner and the centrifugal force pulling me into the side of my sport bucket seat. All the better if done in a convertible. Although I can control the car, I cannot control the road hazards or the behaviors of other drivers on the road. Those who text and drive or drive on "mental auto pilot", not paying attention to what they are doing, drifting off mentally and losing their focus. A road without other cars is far more enjoyable to drive on, but those interactions are part of the process. Again, as in life, the actions of others affect our experience and can rob us of the joy we seek. The smallest of potholes might cause you to spill your morning coffee while a larger, deeper one, might break your axle.  This past Saturday, I hit a pothole in life so big that it nearly swallowed my entire car. I'll break from the metaphor and be direct. This past Saturday, I nearly died.

As I mentioned in my last post, my best friend and I were headed to Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show. We really had a great time and saw lots of technology. I love technology and it was awesome. Although my doctor cleared me to travel, in hindsight, it probably was not the best of ideas. Being around over a hundred thousand people, walking through airports, flying in a packed plane with recycled air while having an immune system that had been challenged by chemo and radiation was a recipe for disaster.

We arrived late on Thursday night of last week and I didn't get to bed until 3am Friday morning.  Because I had to transport cans of "formula" to use in my PEG tube, I checked a bag which weighed nearly 50lbs. Using some food and then replacing the weight with heavy materials from the show, my bag was still 50lbs when we returned. I was fatigued as I attempted to unload the suitcase in the dark from my car in the wee hours of the morning. I lost my balance and fell backwards, hitting the concrete garage floor hard, but I shook it off and went right to bed. 

I really am not good at sleeping in, but after waking a few hours later, my friend Gary and I went out and ran some errands. With my mother's 80th birthday just a few days away, there were cakes to order, a planning meeting to attend and groceries to buy. That afternoon, I received a massage for my aches from the fall and then I was off to meet friends for a quick dinner at a local pub. All I could really eat was soup, but soup was not on the menu. The waitress actually called the manager at home and received special permission to let me have a bowl of minestrone. I could almost taste it. It was about 7pm when I left the pub and I headed home. Three hours later, the soup decided it wasn't staying down and I lost it in the sink. Thinking nothing of it, I put some "formula" in my PEG tube, took my medications and made my way to bed. That was the last thing I remember. Going to bed on Friday night. 

The next thing I remember was coming out of a fog with a huge set of tubes going down my throat and nearly a dozen bags of chemicals and medicines being forced into my body via a central venous catheter/IV, just under my collar bone. Electrodes were all over my upper body with supporting wires, providing the doctors with vital information on my status. I was in St. Peter's Hospital's Intensive Care Unit and I didn't understand. I was confused and scared. 

As I became more coherent, my friend, Tamara and my oldest daughter, Ashley, were at my side, explaining what had happened. Although they apparently had explained it the day before, I had no recollection of being awake prior to that. Thanks to the miracles of medicine, I was given a drug that would cause me to forget the trauma of the preceding 24-hours. In total, I was in St. Peter's for 4-days, coming home just two days ago. During my stay, I was told the specifics and details of what had happened. I cannot help but cry retelling the story as it was told to me, but here goes...

On Saturday morning, Tamara, a dear friend of mine, was trying to contact me to see how I was feeling after my trip. She knew I was trying to decrease my medications and was concerned when I did not respond to her emails, texts or voice mails from that morning. She knows my iPhone is nearly always close by and had an uneasy feeling when I was not responding. 

Besides being a friend and someone who has assisted me in my business, Tamara also happens to be an RN. As time passed and I still was not responding, her gut told her something was wrong and she contacted Brenda, my landlord, begging her to let her into my town home to make sure I was okay. It was a "God thing." Brenda agreed and met Tamara at my unit.  Brenda entered first and yelled out, "Landlord... Robert, are you here?" There was no response. Tamara looked in the garage on the ground floor and saw my car in the garage. They knew I must be home. Still calling out, there was no response from me. As the two entered my master bedroom on the 3rd floor, they found me under my covers in a position described as "decerebrate posturing." I was unresponsive. Tamara was even more concerned from my posture as it most often indicates severe, irreversible brain damage.  My upper body/head was arched back and I was rigid as I laid on my left side. My legs were fully extended with feet and toes pointed down. My arms were curled and rotated away from my body. The medics were called and on their way.

As they waited for the medics, Tamara tried but couldn't get my body to move. Eventually, she was able to straighten my torso and arms into neutral position, but when she let go, my rigid posture and positioning returned to how they found me.

The medics arrived and more tests began... my pupils were pinpoints and nonreactive to light. With Narcan given to reverse effects of my prescription narcotics, my pupils still did not change indicating potential stroke which can lead to the decerebrate posturing.

My oxygen saturation was not registering for the EMT's pulse oximeter, which cannot read below 50%.  When they found me, my head was covered deeply into the blankets and it is likely that I had re-breathed  CO2 for some time. Not good. I was hot and pale as well. My first temp was 103.5, but I didn't sweat until I was uncovered and they had given me numerous painful sternal rubs. Worse yet, I wasn't breathing initially, but once I started, my breaths were almost described as "agonal" or "dying breaths", but not quite.

With my tongue/throat having gone through surgery and radiation treatment, the medics had a difficult time both intubating me and locating a vein to start an IV. Thankfully, they eventually did and rushed me to the ER.

Test after test was performed throughout the day on Saturday and the official answer as to what happened was septic shock, pneumonia and respiratory failure. When I finally woke, there were no signs of brain damage.

I truly believe that the prayers of Tamara and Brenda at the scene in addition to those of my family, friends and Facebook friend's saved my life. I should not have the capacity to even write this blog, but I am still here, a walking miracle. I will live on for something of great purpose, something bigger than myself. It isn't about "me"...  I truly believe I have been allowed to endure so much so that I can draw upon these experiences to be a blessing to others.

I began this blog post talking about driving and I cannot help but think about the Carrie Underwood song, "Jesus Take the Wheel." I truly do not believe that Jesus wants us to give up control of the wheel. He doesn't want to control, but I do believe that He wants us to stop sometimes and ask for directions. My choice to go to Vegas with a compromised immune system put me into an unsafe situation. A dangerous one and I "crashed"... but He heard the prayers of so many and chose yet once again to keep me around for a while. I still do not know exactly what lies ahead for me, but I do know that while I still have the gift of life, I want to use this life to bless others and encourage them in the trials that they face.

What about you? What if you go to bed a week from now and never woke up. What would you do different with the time you have remaining until then? What would you do differently today? What is your purpose? What choices might you make differently? You don't need to give up the wheel... just don't forget to stop and ask for directions. 

~Robert B. Haase,
A Blessed Man

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

It's a New Year

It's been just a week since my last post. Seems like a month to me. I've still been throwing up daily, but I'm learning to decrease the frequency as I get to know my own body and what makes me mentally nauseous as well as physically. Did you know that swallowing my "regularity pills" with room temperature water will make me throw up but cold water won't? I didn't either, but I'm so glad I do now. Or that if I eat every hour I will usually be okay but if I wait two hours, my food is doomed to return via the route it entered. My life feels like a daily lesson. That is a good thing, I suppose. 

Either way, I am growing stronger every day. When friends stop in, they often have this look of being horrified at my 50lbs of weight loss while trying to be supportive and smiling. Some just lose it and start to cry. I'm still smiling though... I am improving from the inside out. Others might not see it, but I am healing and that's an awesome feeling.

A week ago, I was in exquisite pain from the radiation burns on my neck. My girl's mother, Debbie, works at Western Washington Oncology and has seen so very many patients who have gone through the treatment I have endured. She told me this past week that she didn't honestly believe I would be able to complete my treatment from the sheer pain and disfiguring damage that occurs to the tissues of the neck from the type of cancer I was being treated for. She was in tears when she told me how proud of me she was that I got through... For me, it wasn't a choice. If I wanted to remain cancer free, I needed to trust my doctors, especially when my radiation oncologist told me that I would need the most aggressive regimen of treatment she has ever prescribed. She said I would "hate" her towards the end of my treatment and beg for it to stop. "Them's fightin' words" where I come from. Just like most kids, I hate being told what "I'll probably do." I would rather prove her wrong than take the easy way out and feel hatred.

The good news is I did finish, but the pain was crazy bad. I hate burns in general, but when you are burning as much on the outside as you are on the inside, that is a whole new experience. I don't recocmmend it, friends. Since then, I've alternated the use of "Silvadene" burn cream and Emu Oil... I've had all of you praying and lifing me up in prayer, even those of you who never prayed before.  I want to thank you for those prayers, because they worked. I'll spare you the photo of the weeping wounds and scabs, but here is the "after" photo... just two weeks after completing treatment:

That, my friends, is a miracle. Thank ALL of you for praying for me. Your prayers, however long or short, are working. Remember, even Jesus was against pontificating when it came to prayers. I'm a blessed man and so much so because of the knowledge that I am being lifted up daily by so many of you. 

In this new year, I am excited to look forward while learning from the past. I may have lost a few friends during this journey, but I have gained so many new ones. I am truly blessed by that alone. 

One of my blessings is the improvement in my general health. It sounds odd that cancer helped me get healthier, but the 50lbs I have lost has balanced out my blood sugar issue and given my joints a chance to relax a bit. FIFTY pounds! That's crazy for me. I haven't weighed this much since I was trying to make weight for wrestling my freshman year in high school. This is a photo of me this morning...
I know I need to gain some of that weight back, but it feels nice to "lighten my load" a bit, even if temporarily.

Today I am also beginning to paint for the first time. I don't count art class in Junior High as really painting. I mean really paint. As some of you know, I have been a photographer for years and love creating art by using my camera to bring out the extraordinary from what may appear to others as ordinary. You can see some of my work at If you are wondering why "Robert Burton", it is because I try to keep my photography separate from my business work when people "Google" me, so I use my middle name instead. All that said, I hope to be able to explore my vision of the world through my hands and a brush, in addition to a lens and Photoshop.

I have two exciting things coming up as well. First, attending CES with my best friend, Cory. For nearly three decades, I've watched the news in mid-January and have seen the special reports from Las Vegas at the world's largest technological conference. The newest technologies have always facinated me. Each time I've seen the reports, I've said, "I want to go to that someday!" Well, I finally received tickets to go, and you guesed it, I received them before this cancer thing was even on the horizon. 

Since last summer I have been planning this trip with Cory. The cool part is that I was able to use my Alaska Airlines credits to take care of the airfare, and we are getting a $300 a night hotel for only $50 a night because of my connections down there. Sure, I get to pack my food in "formula" cans and bring them in my suitcase, but it will be a lot of fun. 

As for the second exciting adventure... I will tell you more in my next post.

Things are looking up every day, my friends. Amidst the craziness of life and the aches and pains we feel, good things are happening. It may be the smallest of things, but you and I are still blessed so very much. Cherish the moments as they come and make it a point to thank God for his blessings each day. You won't be able to help but smile amidst the storms that will come when you do.

~Robert B. Haase,
A Blessed Man

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