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What does it feel like to die? Do we see mysterious things? Visit mysterious places? Heaven? Hell? Something else? We’ll come back to that.
*** Denotes changes, additions, and corrections to information(excluding typographical and grammatical changes) Last Edits: 3/5/10 @0924; 3/16/18 @ 0449;
It is said that there are essentially two ways that a person can change and/or grow: ‘failure’ and ‘significant life events’ (e.g., trauma). I’ve had my fair share of both, or course, just like most every other human. Some significant events in my life include multiple types of trauma, many failures, and a handful of miscellaneous ‘significant life events.’ Let’s explore a few of these negative ones before we get to the event that is described by this post’s title, and the reason most of you are reading this. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I’ve had more success than I deserve. But some took pain and discomfort to achieve, and for that I am grateful.
I am comfortable discussing many things, but there are a some that are just for a very close circle of people. I will share some of these ‘life events.’ For most of these events, there are only a handful of people that know about them. For a couple of these events, there is one person. And for one that I don’t talk about, there is nobody alive today that knows and that’s the way it shall remain. It’s just one of those things. So…here we go.
While serving in the military, I experienced roughly 8 events that had a significant impact in the manner in which I viewed my existence, humanity, and God. I’ve seen death from both sides of ‘the line.’ I’ve lost very good friends on deployment. And I’ve had to do some ‘thing’ which is still [debatably] unforgivable. That ‘thing’ took my soul and changed me for life. (I’ve since reclaimed that soul)
Additionally, while serving in the military, I’ve experienced some events on the semi-civilian side of life while acting as a volunteer fire fighter (love/hate relationship). I’ve lost three patients on medical and motor vehicle accident calls. Two were rather benign in nature, contextually. One of them, a man that had been entrapped in a logging truck and slowly burned alive (my sincerest condolences if his family reads this and feel a lack of empathy, that is not the case, I feel for him and you, almost every day). Well, I say alive but that’s an assumption. He was surely unconscious from the accident. A fire began in the lower right front portion of the semi-truck, and I was instructed to stand-down by my Chief. I do not feel good about this at all. But I have to believe he made the right call, and I do believe that it was his call to make. But man, the thoughts of “what if” creep in very often, and I have has some terrifying nightmares/terrors as a result of these events, especially this one. ***Both the Chief and I smelled that distinct, indescribable odor in our faces/noses/brains for weeks.
However, when I finally sobered up in May 2017, I regained control of my mind incrementally and most of my mental health symptoms are well-controlled without medications. Though I still have nightmares, I have learned how to mitigate their effects. I now have the power to decide what I let into my head to hang out, and what to let go. ***That is a quality that some people never learn, and I can thank my experiences (especially addiction) for taking me on that journey of self-discovery and self-awareness.
I mentioned sobriety just above: 22+ years of drinking and sporadic drug use. Nothing since May 8th, 2017. That’s how I learned to cope with emotions and feelings, negative and positive life events, and eventually everything. Some of you understand and many of you might be ignorant people that don’t and/or never will understand addiction. Meanwhile, most humans suffer from some form of addictive behaviors. It’s not your fault if you don’t understand. And I’m not here to convert anyone or educate anyone about addiction. If you have questions or need someone to talk to about your use or that of a loved one, please feel free to message me. I would be happy to help in any way that I can. ***I love to talk and encourage, and I will try to be available when times are tough. This is a free service.
I think that’s plenty of history for this post. Now for the event that occurred on February 22nd, 2019.
I have no memories from the evening of the 21st to the evening of the 25th) that night I was breathing funny and my family begged me to go to urgent care the following morning. I guess I refused because I just wanted to sleep, so they all went to a basketball game. Something (GOD?) told my wife to come home to check on me, and to take me to the ER.
When she and my kids came home, I was unconscious with stridor at about 2-3 rpm, cyanotic (blue) from head to toe and in my fingers. My body shut down to preserve my brain. At some point, I was gone completely. I cannot find the appropriate documentation to say for certain how long that was for. My wife called EMS, who came and suspected an overdose and gave me Narcan (naloxone). Obviously, that didn’t help at all because I don’t do drugs. Somebody very powerful also tried a sternum rub…which I feel still today. I was rushed to the hospital, intubated, brought back around, induced into a coma for three days (Feb 22, 23, 24) and awakened the evening of the 24th. At the hospital, once intubated, a young doctor came out and told my wife that IF I regained consciousness, I may not ever be the same due to the unknown length of hypoxia (loss of oxygen to the brain). That was within the first few hours of my stay. While these unpredictable assumptions can be true, it’s best to refrain from telling that to a family member so soon. I understand where he was coming from, and I respect his honesty, but he should have waited for more information to make such a claim.
Within the first ~18 hours of awakening from the medial coma, I was hallucinating from the propofol (***and maybe ketamine, versed, and/or fentanyl) and I couldn’t remember talking to people every time the same people entered the room. I literally met the same people, for the first time, over and over for hours. It sucked. This is where I should add that I had so much love from friends and family visiting, taking care of my kids, and bringing food. I just couldn’t remember that they had been there when they came back in the room.
On top of that horrible short-term memory loss, everything in the room made a noise, pictures and objects moved with the sounds, and I kept seeing spots. Oh, and there was the amazing removal of the catheters in my [place where catheters normally go] and in my leg. No fun. I did not sleep at all that night. But somehow, through the power of prayer or a literal miracle, I began improving at an alarming rate. ***There is also a good amount of retrograde amnesia, which is confusing because I can barely remember the entire week leading up to this incident.
Every time that I began to pray or thought of my kids…I cried uncontrollably. Thankfully since I couldn’t finish a prayer, there were hundreds of friends, family, and even people I don’t know praying for me. 🙂 This world is a good place to be. I truly believe in humanity.
On Feb 25th, I was told that I was going to stay in the ICU for about 7 days, then go to an inpatient OT/PT unit for 10-12 days. On Feb 26th, they moved me to a room down the hall where I had some more freedom and less wires and tubes. I also had the opportunity to move around more. On Feb 27th, they said that I would most likely not need the inpatient OT/PT….and later that day I was released into the care of my family.
While all of this was going on, my wife was undergoing surgery in the same hospital, unbeknownst to me. And she was given too much dilaudid (hydromorphone), overdosed, and stopped breathing. What a week!!! Narcan flip and back to life with her, also (praise God). Her last word before she stopped breathing… “ANDREW”- My first words upon waking… “My Wife!” 😥
Now let’s skip back to our original query. What is it like to die? Can we see a light? Do we dream? Out of body experience?
I cannot say for sure. What I remembered was not consistent with reality…or was it? The reason that I am posting this over week after it happened is because I had to pray, listen to everyone’s accounts of the events, think and make sense of it all. And here’s what I have.
There was something. I was in a white environment, illuminated with brilliant lights: blues, white, and an unexplained ‘other’ hue. The reason that I remember going to this place was to be freed from illness. I know what you’re thinking…”that’s a hospital, goofy.” Maybe. But it felt real, and right, and not even close to anywhere in that hospital that I’ve seen. I felt that I was being carried into a room immersed in light and had kind people everywhere. I had the feeling that I was not supposed to be there, but I was there because I had to be. I can’t really explain much more than that. And that doesn’t sound much like a miracle. ***But there is something distinctly divine about the experience. That’s my testimony. I know, meeting Jesus or seeing God would make for a better story, but I didn’t. Or I don’t remember if I did.
But the shape that I was in on February 22nd, and then the shape that I was in on the 27th…..nothing short of a MIRACLE. Nobody could believe it. I mean, I was gone. Kidneys shut down, hypoxia, lungs completely full of serum, not fluid. You see, I had vomited into my lungs for two straight nights. I was the youngest person to be in that ICU. And two people died while I was in there (God rest their souls. The staff were great, the process was horrible, but I have LIFE. I AM ALIVE.
Nothing comes close to forcing a person to take a long, hard look at their life and priorities than dying and coming back so fast that it’s like you’d never left. I had my life plan, my daily routine, my priorities in line before this accident. But that’s all in the bag. Sure, I’m still going to pursue a doctoral program. But which one? Well, I want to do two, simultaneously. PhD in Neuroscience CONCURRENTLY with MD (Dual Doctoral). ***On further reflection…I have no idea what I’m going to do when I get all my strength back and my pain decreases.
Other than professional goals…the biggest changes in the way that I plan to live now is with intent, purpose, and for relationships. My kids and wife come first (well, after God of course), family and friends second, and I am going to pour everything I have into anyone I meet. And I don’t give a [crap] if I get paid a tiny red cent. (why red?).
You see…for me…life isn’t about what I’ve done or who I was, and it isn’t about what I’ll be or what I want to do…Life is about other Life. Think about it. Why are humans so social? Relationships are the most important thing that I am going to focus on. That’s what this experience told me.
My kids almost lost both parents in just a few days. And I have always been to busy trying to grow a business, build a career, and make money to provide for my family. My family wasn’t ever starving for food, or clothes, or other material things. They were starved for attention. TIME. Kids don’t care how much you make, what kind of car you drive, or how cool your job is. They may brag about those things to look cool, maybe, to their friends. ***But they don’t actually benefit from these things, developmentally. In my opinion, the key to a successful relationship is to spend TIME with those kids. (plenty of research that supports this, but I think deep down we all know our kids want us to put the damn phone down)
If there is anything that I want you to take away from this experience, from a 36-year-old retired, disabled, recovering alcoholic, father of three, husband, Christian, full-time student and Red-Cross Volunteer…it’s that the only three of those [labels] that truly matter are that I am a husband, father, and a Christian. And I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. It’s not about me…it’s about the people that I can help.
As soon as I recover…because yes, I’m still very weak and my brain still quite slow.
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***As I learn new things, I will add and/or correct this story to keep it accurate.