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

Be my friend on Facebook

Email Me

No comments:

Post a Comment