You might have noticed I’ve only posted twice over the last 18 months. Well, thrice if you include this one, I suppose. There’s a very interesting story that explains why.
In February 2021, as we were entering week 48 of “two weeks to stop the spread,” I was told the blood clots in my lungs needed to be removed ASAP. The procedure would be difficult but not especially dangerous. Oh, and for good measure, there were only two hospitals in the country capable of doing it. Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, and UCSD in San Diego. We opted for Temple since flying cross-country during the pandemic was virtually impossible. Thus began 7 intense weeks of testing, doctors appointments, consultations, a couple of minor procedures to prepare for the actual surgery, and more tests.
Finally, the day for the actual surgery arrived. April 7, 2021, was the day my life changed. Due to the pandemic, my wife wasn’t allowed to come with me, but the doctors had assured me I would awake the following day and they would try to arrange a visit. I was apprehensive, my wife more so. But I needed the operation or I would be dead within the year, so I arrived ready for the surgery at 6AM that morning.
Only, I didn’t wake up the following day. Or the day after that. Or even the week after that. Instead, I slipped into a coma and didn’t wake up until June 26. I was awake for two days but then slipped back into a coma for another ten. I didn’t finally come about earnestly until July 7 – a full three months after the surgery.
Now, I obviously don’t know all that happened during that three months. Nobody even knows why I went into a coma.* But there are a few things I do know. While I was asleep, I suffered a series of trans-ischemic events (mini-strokes for the rest of us). I know at one point, the doctors were certain I was dead, only being kept alive by machines. My wife, knowing that wasn’t how I never wanted to live in that condition, made the heart-rending decision to terminate life support. I can’t imagine the emotional turmoil she was going through over those days. Only 3 years prior she had been tasked with making the same decision for her brother; he died within minutes. Now she was tasked with making the same decision for her husband.
Thankfully, I survived. They “pulled the plug” and expected me to expire. God had other plans – I just kept right on breathing. That brings up another thing I discovered about my time in my coma. When my wife announced on social media that she had to make an impossible decision, she asked for prayer. Boy, did you all respond! I have heard from literally hundreds of people, including a whole bunch of you I’ve never met, who told me they spent time pleading with the Almighty for Him to allow me to live.
I spent another 2 1/2 months in rehab. I had to learn to eat and talk. When I first awoke, it was as if I were paralyzed. I couldn’t even move my arms and legs. It was a difficult process that I again went almost alone. Almost, but not quite. Even though I was despondent and begging God to just let me die, he gave me the strength to push through. Finally, 25 weeks after going in for a difficult but not particularly dangerous procedure (except, you know, for the almost killing me part), I returned home. I still couldn’t walk, or even stand up. My left hand was virtually useless. I could barely grasp a spoon with my right. Even sitting up for a few hours exhausted me. But I WAS HOME. And alive.
The past 8 1/2 months have been difficult, to say the least. It is, I hope, understandable that I haven’t posted much recently. My rehab is going well. I can walk some – up to a half-mile, although it is slow and painful. The neurological damage from the strokes and, as we’ve since discovered, very poor care while in the coma forces me to wear a leg brace. It’s also badly disfigured my hands and wrists, so even common tasks like shaving and using a fork and knife have required many hours of therapy and experimentation. My speech is a little more slurred than it used to be unless I concentrate.
I’m not complaining, though. Quite the opposite. I’ve had people ask me how I can be actually happy with all the last 18 months have brought me. I think the answer should be obvious.
I AM ALIVE!
In His infinite wisdom, God has seen fit to give me another chance at life. I don’t know why. It may simply be to strengthen my faith. If that’s the case, He’s succeeded.
Anyway, I’ve mastered the two-fingered typing method. Sort of. I hope to be posting more frequently, although a daily post is probably out of the question. And a final thought: I noticed almost 1400 of you are still following this site, despite not very much content lately. I thank all of you. You are a big part of the reason I’m trying.
There are two other reasons I’m going to attempt returning to blogging. They are two fellow bloggers. First is Beauty Beyond Bones. She has gone through more than I, yet her faith remains strong and her voice, stronger. The other is Peter Venetoklis at Roots of Liberty, whose views don’t always align with mine but whose positions and arguments are always well thought out and reasoned. These people have inspired me to metaphorically pick up my quill and inkwell and get back in the game.
After all, we have a lot to discuss and I can’t wait to get the discussion started.
*My doctors think the coma was a result of systemic shock, but they aren’t sure. If you’re a long-time follower, you’re probably aware I’ve dealt with Crohn’s Disease for 30+ years. The doctors think the combination of being weakened from a few years of pulmonary hypertension and Crohn’s may have left me so weak that the coma was my body’s attempt at shielding me from the pain of the surgery.
Sorry for disappearing for so long. For those who aren’t aware, on March 28th I had an ileostomy performed. As I’ve been recovering since then, I’ve had neither the energy to write nor the physical ability to sit up long enough to do so.
Of course, there were post-operative complications. My lungs, badly damaged by the chemicals at Camp Lejeune during my time there, nearly failed during surgery. To assist with breathing, I was on an interesting machine called a “bipap” for part of my recovery time. I not only had to recover from the surgery to abdomen, but also from the pneumonia I developed on the operating table. Because not being able to breathe isn’t enough of a complication, the part of my intestine that now forms my ostomy developed an annoying habit of expanding 5 to 6 inches from my skin. But that seems to be resolving itself with time; the doctors assured me that while not common it also isn’t unheard of and it isn’t particularly dangerous. Unless, of course, I run into something stomach first while that’s happening. I would prefer not to think of how messy that would be.
Still, as the saying goes, all’s well that ends well. So far, my recovery is on schedule and it’s time to get back to as much of my regular life as I can manage. I won’t be able to lift anything heavier than a milk jug for a few more weeks and I’m still adjusting to not being able to sleep on my right side. I’m not supposed to bend, twist or otherwise torque my midsection until June. On a positive note, this has been a terrific weight loss program. I’m down almost 30 pounds since the surgery.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to pause and thank the wonderful doctors and nurses at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. In particular, I want to thank Dr. Najia Mahmoud, Chief of Colorectal Surgery and her amazing team for their compassion and expertise. I also need to thank the nurses of the SICU, who managed to keep me comfortable and goad my recovery while also keeping my frightened family reassured and informed.
So anyway, get ready for a blizzard of posts. One of the things that happens when you spend so much time lying around is you think. A lot. Now it’s time to put those thoughts into something more substantial than a Twitter post.
If you follow me on social media, or have read this blog for a while, then you know I have Crohn’s Disease. Well, today is the day I’ve been dreading since I was first diagnosed in April 1992.
It’s time to get something removed.
I had always made it a point of pride that I would leave this Earth with all of my parts more or less intact. But that’s not to be. My terminal ileum (that’s the end of the small intestine, the part that connects to the large intestine) is essentially dead and has been causing me all sorts of problems since October.
So, out it comes. The doctors also told me there is a good chance they’ll need to remove the ascending colon, as well. They just can’t tell from the CT scans, but will know better once they get in there and see.
Now, I’m not so worried about what they’re taking out (I’ve kind of resigned myself to the changes I’ll have to make), as simply waking up. One of the dastardly things Crohn’s has done is given me pulmonary embolisms and pulmonary hypertension. They refer to these as “extra-digestive manifestations.” That doesn’t change the fact that breathing isn’t as easy as it used to be, and general anesthesia is especially dangerous for me. As in, might not wake up dangerous.
I’ve placed myself in God’s hands. If he wants me home, there isn’t much you or I can do about it. I always figured that with all the times I’ve defied death until now that God had a reason for keeping me on this planet. It could be this surgery is that reason. My medical team almost sounds like a bad joke: “a Muslim, a Hindu, a Catholic and an atheist walk into a surgical theater…” It could be my surgery will do more for world peace than all the diplomats at the UN have managed in 75 years of talking.
Anyway, by now I’m on the table and the doctors are doing a thing. If you’re the praying type, I’d appreciate if you would lift up my medical team. Oh, and don’t let the big guy upstairs forget I am still needed down here.
Thanks everyone. See you on the other side!