Labor day is one of those holidays that don't hold a lot of meaning for most. But for me, 10 years ago, it was important as I nearly died. Well, on more than one occasion - twice, actually... But it is a long story, seemingly a lifetime ago. But now, 10 years later, let me tell it.
It starts in 2003. It was not a good year for me. That was the year I turned 50. My wife Vicki died of pancreatic cancer the end of October, and on MY ACTUAL 50TH BIRTHDAY, 16 December, one of my best friends Ed Vega died of brain cancer. Well, at least 2004 had to be better! A couple weeks into the year and I came down with the flu or something similar... Whether purely physical or if there were emotional aspects to it, I can't say, but I was admitted to UMC in February. Blood cultures indicated an infection, but hydrated and started on antibiotics, I felt better and was discharged a couple days later. Initially feeling ok, I went downhill fast to the point where my friend Roger likely saved my life by driving me to the ER. I finally had a diagnosis - endocarditis with pneumonia. The infection had eaten a hole in my aortic valve - time for some open-heart surgery! The surgery to implant a pig valve was uneventful, and I woke up in intensive care with a 10" chest scar and orders to cough out the phlegm in my lungs - NOT what you want to hear with a new scar! But sister Linda came out to Tucson to nurse me back to health with some good Iowa cookin' and I recovered quickly. I was a maniac in cardiac rehab - a shining poster boy on the treadmill for most of the patients nearly a generation older, and back to work in 6 weeks, as I recall... So that was the first time I was near death, but came out of it fine.
Fast forward to 2005, 10 years ago. I had done RAGBRAI, the bike ride across Iowa as a rider - biking the 500+ miles in 7 days the end of July with 15,000 of my friends. It plum wore me out, though, and I didn't have any zip on the hills - but completed it! 10 days later I was back in Tucson and biking in to work on a warm morning (most August mornings are warm in Tucson!). About halfway there, a sledgehammer hit me in the chest - it felt like boiling fluid was flushed down the interior of my chest top-to-bottom. I did not know what it was - I didn't stop, though slowed down a lot. I made it to work, but felt an unusual pain in my stomach, so biked home (good call, huh?) to get horizontal. Couldn't really get comfortable, so went to see my Primary Care Physician the next day. Externally, I seemed fine - he was concerned about my abdominal pain, thinking gall bladder attack, but sent me to a cardiologist. A couple days later I saw the PA of the doc who did my first heart surgery, and she prescribed an MRI, so about a week later went to NW hospital for that. By that time I was feeling fine, was back to work (biking, of course). I'd never had an MRI, but spent seemingly a LONG time in the tube. When I came out the tech wouldn't make eye contact, made me sit down, and literally pushed me the 200 yards in a wheelchair to the ER at Northwest Hospital. I finally found I'd suffered an aortic dissection 10 days before! It had started at my 18-month-old pig valve, and continued up the arch of the aorta, down the entire length to where my femoral arteries branch off. Evidently no one survives that, so they were sort of at a loss of what to do...
Valerie Goff (gone now for 4.5 years) made sure everyone was informed of my status and that I had everything I needed, even finding me a new PCP, Dr. Mackstaller who specializes in cardiac issues. She just retired this month, so I'm not looking forward to replacing her!
noted heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, who developed surgery to repair dissections, suffered one at 97 years old. His description of his symptoms as he suffered them was interesting to read, at least to one who suffered a similar affliction. As I gained strength, I was finally able to travel and carry Vicki's ashes back to South Carolina, where they were scattered off Charleston harbor. Besides Roger and Valerie, sisters Linda and Sheri accompanied us as well, shown at dinner afterwards at left.
Since then, I've had a most excellent life. While I had first met Melinda a couple weeks after Vicki died, we re-met a few months into 2006, married and started this little blog in 2008. So I've cheated death twice now, and finally got to write a little about it, now that the 10th anniversary has come. Congrats to me!
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