Halloween is one of my favorite times of year. I have enjoyed my share of horror movies, haunted houses, and sat around many campfires telling scary stories.
I have my own scary story I would like to share with you. Though the subject content is not the kind of fear you would experience in a slasher movie, nonetheless, the fact that the story is true, does indeed make it scary.
It was mid-March of 2012. I was in the middle of my second campaign for our local school board. I was also involved with my daughters elementary school parent organization and we had a huge event coming up for the weekend. I also had a full time job that I worked an average fifty hours a week. Most importantly, my older daughter had a birthday in March, and there was also a party for her to prepare for at the end of the weekend also. In other words, it was going to be a long and busy week for me. To be honest, just a shade more busy than what I normally was. So it was no big deal.
As the weekend approached, I knew that I was not getting enough sleep, and that I was not eating enough. I did not have enough time in the day. But I did what I always did, just get through it. “Eyes on the prize.” It was all going to be worth it once we got to my daughter’s birthday party.
The week went pretty much as I had planned and scheduled. I met all my commitments for the school board campaign. I made it through work and some overtime hours. Along with my committee from school, we completed all the arrangements for our huge inaugural parent fundraiser which promised to be a huge fundraiser, like no other school in the district had seen. Birthday presents and decorations were all ready. Friday night was spent decorating for the fundraiser.
I worked an eight hour shift Saturday. I went home to get showered and dressed for the big fundraiser. It was a huge success! Cleaned up the banquet room, finished up all of our duties, the most important of which, securing all the cash that had been raised, and then we all went home, for a well-earned night’s sleep.
Of course, I had another eight hour shift to work on Sunday, finishing just before my daughter’s birthday party. But I had made it. The end of this grueling week was here. I had pulled off all of my commitments.
As the birthday party ended, I was pleased. I had done everything I needed for the week. Now I could actually take a small breather, having only to deal with work and campaigning for the next week. Yes, still a busy week, but not nearly as crazy as this week was.
The kids tucked away in bed, exhausted from their fun day, I got my shower and strolled off to bed. I was exhausted. I was definitely going to sleep great!
***this next part is based only on what I actually remember – you will see why
Around 3am, I sat straight up in my bed, and in a page from the Exorcist, I began to violently vomit. Having enough sense to know I was in trouble, I rushed to the master bathroom to get to the toilet. Whatever was happening, was far from over. As I hugged the porcelain God, all I was worried about was the huge trail of mess that I made on my way to the bathroom.
It had been years, if not decades since I had been this ill. It was at this point, that I realized I had not eaten anything at all, for at least two days, because there was no food coming up. But whatever was happening, there was a lot of it.
All my ex-wife (at the time we were married) could do, was let me do what I was doing, and wonder how the Hell we were going to clean up the bedroom. If only it were that simple.
After I believed that I was finally empty, an overwhelming amount of pain began. I have been through many surgical procedures that left me in all kinds of pain, this was a pain level I had never experienced. Ignoring what was spewed all over the floor, and onto the bed, I made my way back into the bed, curling up in a fetal position. WHAT THE HELL WAS HAPPENING TO ME?
The last thing I remember of that moment, was telling my ex-wife, “CALL 911 NOW!!!”
And then I blacked out. I do not know for how long. When I would come to, I could tell that there were EMT’s from the ambulance crew, upstairs in my bedroom. Something was wrong. I do not recall being able to say anything or hear anything. I remember holding up my wrist which has an emergency alert bracelet, alerting anyone of important and detailed information about my health history in my wallet, which was sitting on my dresser.
At this point, it all seemed so fuzzy and surreal to me. I had been through some serious health emergencies before, but nothing on this level. Honestly, I had no idea if I was even alive.
I remember being lifted onto a stretcher, and strapped in. And here is where I think reality left me as I am pretty sure I began hallucinating. I could swear that I saw my brother-in-law from my first marriage as one of the EMT’s, and he was just standing there, surveying my room for all the things that I had, as if to relay to my first ex-wife. The weird thing, I never would have picked him for an EMT just because, well, just because. But as I said, I really had no concept of what was happening, if it was real. I could have been dreaming this all for all I knew.
Loaded onto, and strapped in on the stretcher, I was rolled out of my bedroom into the hallway and the top of the steps. Of all things I remember, this is definitely clear, and as far as I am concerned, the worst part of this story.
As I was perched at the top of the stairs, to my right, not even tall enough to see the top of the stretcher, were my two daughters, surrounded by several police officers and my ex-wife, no idea what was happening. But there were tears in their eyes. Their daddy was being taken away and they could not understand why.
Was this the last my daughters were going to see me? Was this going to be what they remembered of me? The heart surgery was difficult enough for me to deal with having them experience. I remember the slope of the stairway I was being led down, and then that was it.
When I awoke, I am guessing many hours later, I was in a hospital room, hooked up to IV’s and receiving some very strong antibiotics. The nurse in the room saw me awake and went to call the doctor in.
The doctor explained to me that I had been brought to the hospital by ambulance, with pneumonia, and I was septic. Pneumonia is bad enough, being septic is definitely way worse and potentially fatal. The doctor believed that I was going to make a full recovery, but explained it was quite serious.
Having shaken the cobwebs loose, I let the doctor know I was confused about his diagnosis, because I did not even have a cold, or any respiratory symptoms. I was not even having any issues with my seasonal allergies yet. But he affirmed, I had pneumonia. And it was made worse, because of the sepsis.
I spent several days in the hospital, receiving multiple rounds of the heavy duty IV antibiotics. I was exhausted and totally clueless as to how I got pneumonia. Like I said, I know I was not sick, nor did I recall that I was exposed to anyone who may have been sick.
After my release from the hospital, I got in touch with the doctor that handles my long term side effects issue from the treatments from my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The explanation as to how I had pneumonia became clear. There are different types of pneumonia, not just bacterial versus viral. There is a type called aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia occurs when contents from the stomach or mouth get into the lungs.
In my case, I have a couple of issues that led to this. One, I have an extreme amount of acid reflux from stress and damage related to radiation therapy to my gastrointestinal system. Anyone who has reflux, knows, that reflux comes back up into the throat. If not careful enough, it goes back down, possibly into the lungs.
An extra issue that I have, is a condition called a Zenker’s Diverticulum.
Not something you commonly hear about, the picture shows pretty much what it is. It is basically a sack that develops on the way down the throat. The same throat carrying food and beverages. Which means that some of the food and liquid may get stuck in that ZD. And as we know, food breaks down, and of course will become bacteria, normally handled by the acids in the lower digestive tract. But not if they are stuck in the ZD. And what happens then, bacteria develops in the ZD, and as I would breath, I would inhale that bacteria into my lungs, along with any reflux that would find its way into my lungs.
This would explain why I felt nothing prior to waking up at 3am that early Monday morning.
My doctor went further, and a bit stronger. The numbers from the bloodwork of lactic acid, showed that I had been septic likely for 48 hours prior to when I was brought into the hospital. How serious is that?
I was into the red when I was brought into the hospital. My doctor scolded me for not getting to the hospital sooner. I was dying. I pleaded with him that I had no idea anything was wrong. Honestly, with as busy as I was, not rested, and not eating, I clearly was not thinking either.
Nine months later, I would be diagnosed again with aspiration pneumonia, this time in both lungs. The situation with my ZD keeps me at this risk, and I need to maintain my reflux, not something easily done.
My daughters obviously were not around when I battled my cancer. But in their young lives, they have experienced the many issues I have to battle because of the treatments that have been used on me. As they have gotten older, they are learning more about my health, especially from their younger years. They do not remember the time period of my first heart surgery. But they do remember the night I was taken out of the house on an ambulance stretcher, and the fear of not knowing what was going on.
I have done what I can to minimize my stress and manage medically what I can with my condition. Fortunately, this has not happened again since 2012. And honestly, I want to keep it that way. The fact that I cannot tell if it is happening, almost cost me my life.
It does not get any scarier than that.