Tuesday, July 25, 2006 Observation:
On Monday, July 17, 2006, Jo Anne and I went out to dinner with our good friends, Dick and Lucene Fox, and Bruce and Bev Loder. We went to Don José's in Tustin where the Mexican food is usually pretty good. My taquitos this night however, were buried in some kind of red sauce which made them soggy and mushy and hard for me to get down. It turned out not to be my favorite dinner at Don José's or anywhere else as a matter of fact, but the company was enjoyable and salvaged the evening.
We got home about 8:30 p.m. and Jo Anne set me up in my bedroom to watch the Dodgers/Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game which was in about the sixth inning when we tuned it in on my TV. The score was tied at two runs each and a warm feeling began to swell within me that perhaps this evening the Dodgers would not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as they so typically do. I had watched but a short time when the Arizona Diamondbacks began to hit everything the Dodger pitchers were "throwing up" to the plate. Before I knew it the score was five to two in favor of the Diamondbacks with two men on base. At that very moment I heard a very loud screeching noise like a high-pitched siren and my ventilator went totally dead.
Not being able to breathe is a very interesting experience. I had never before heard the noise coming from my ventilator during 17 years of use, nor had my ventilator ever just gone totally dead in a split second. I panicked when I realized I wasn't breathing, but then tried to be very positive in my mind, thinking that any second Jo Anne would rush into the room, discover the problem, and get me breathing once again. I waited for several seconds but she didn't come -- and she didn't come -- and she didn't come! I then entered into a state of resignation knowing that she was not coming, and that I would soon be entering the spirit world. The sad thing about the entire experience is that as I now began to enter the twilight zone -- half alive and half dead -- I was still watching the baseball game. Just as I slipped into unconsciousness an Arizona Diamondback hit a three-run home run over the deepest part of center field off of Joe Biemel, a journeyman left-handed relief pitcher that nobody but the Dodgers wanted. In the foggy recesses of my mind came the voice of Vince Scully saying, "And now the score is eight to two in favor of the Diamondbacks." What a way to go into the spirit world I thought; a bad Mexican dinner in my stomach, and the Dodgers being hammered by the hated Diamondbacks.
The next thing I remember, Jo Anne was standing over me weeping and wailing and trying to get me to come back. All I knew is that I needed more air and was saying as loud as I could, "Bag me! Bag me!" She was bagging me with the ambubag (a special hand air pump) with all of her heart while trying to dial 911 at the same time. The more she bagged the more the life came back to me, and she was soon able to move my wheelchair over to the bedside where she hooked me up to my backup ventilator that I use at night. How long I had been out I have no idea, but I so easily could have slipped into the spirit world, and it would not have been a painful experience except for the memory of a bad Mexican dinner and the Dodgers/Diamondbacks game.
Now, lest you think that Jo Anne is guilty of "quad abuse", what follows is her side of the story. She had left me watching the ballgame and had gone into the living room and family room area to do some things, and all of a sudden heard a horrible shrieking siren, like noise coming from, she thought, our backyard, or perhaps the neighbor's backyard. She had never heard the sound before and really didn't know what to make of it. She kept puttering around the family room, never equating the sound she was hearing with me or my ventilator. Finally the sound started to really bother her and so she started to go outside through the back door to further investigate. Passing by my bedroom she glanced in and saw me vacantly staring up at the ceiling. She thought I had passed out and our son John's words came to her that if I ever passed out she should lay my chair back to get the blood rushing into my brain once again. As she moved behind the chair to lay me back, she saw all of the red warning lights on the ventilator were flashing, and all of a sudden realized that I was not breathing and that was why I had passed out. Somehow the high-pitched siren noise had been blocked out of her mind until she realized the problem was with the ventilator. She had never been able to connect with 911 for whatever reason which was fine with me.
Later that evening, as Jo Anne was feeding me an ice cream sandwich, I thought I had never eaten anything that tasted so good. I have been living "on the edge" for 17 years now, but I think this was my closest brush with death. As things typically go in life, when our respiratory therapist brought out a new ventilator the next morning and Jo Anne described the noise and what had happened, this "expert" said, "Oh, that's the sound the ventilator makes when it is announcing an all systems failure -- the ventilator has died." Isn't it interesting that during all those 17 years, nobody ever mentioned this sound or demonstrated it for us?
In retrospect, this last brush with death was another wonderful wakeup call. I had reinforced into my mind and heart how precious a gift life is and how quickly it can be taken from us. I developed renewed motivation to live each day as though it were my last. Also, there came to me a feeling of intense gratitude that my life truly is in the hands of the Lord and that perhaps I still have a mission to perform in mortality. I also well came to understand that dying is easy -- it is the living that is hard and demanding.
I know of no more humbling thing than not being able to breathe. When you can't breathe, nothing else matters at all! How well I understand the words of King Benjamin to his people:
"I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants." [Mosiah 2:2-emphasis added]