Saturday, March 10, 2012

Three Years

09 March 2012

I’m not quite sure what I wish to say or how I’m going to say it. I guess I’ll just let my fingers type and my mind wander. Let’s see where this goes.

On my way home from work tonight, I started thinking about tomorrow. Specifically tomorrow, three years ago. 

During the 24 hours that made up March 10, 2009, I experienced a far greater range of emotions than any one person should be allowed to suffer: breathless, exhaustion, pain, despair, sleepy, ache, numb, blessed, scared, strength, realization, shock, starved, relief, awed, fear, thankful, sorry, amazed, angry, inspired, humbled. 

I’m still not quite sure how to classify that day. I really think that I had hit rock bottom a few months previous. Losing my job and, subsequently, my house provided a spectacular view from what I thought was the very bottom. I realize that the bottom can be, and is, several rungs below that. The view is spectacularly inspiring. Looking up because you can’t look down any more was inspiring to me once I realized that I was done feeling sorry for myself. It’s thought-provoking even. And I had a lot of time for inspired thought-provoking in the days and weeks and months ahead.

As I was driving tonight, I subconsciously realized that I remember the stark details vividly. I had worked the previous 24 hours feeling completely exhausted, feeling as if I was a COPD patient with exertional dyspnea, the type of patient that I had treated many times in my many years in EMS. I could only walk a few steps before I needed to catch my breath and gather my strength. I persevered that day, this day three years ago. 

I saw myself, exhausted from a long day and night of work, even more exhausted as I arrived at my doctor’s office to figure out what was going on. I remember looking at my chest x-ray, wondering why the hell my left side of my chest was as white as the wind-driven snow. I remember the conversation with my doctor, how I decided that, because I had just driven thirty miles to my doctor’s office, I could drive the last eight miles to Mt. Clemens Regional Emergency Center. Almost breathless, I slogged into the ER to be triaged, exhausted. Sleepy.
Looking back in recollection, maybe if I had looked into a mirror at the doctor’s office, I might have accepted his offer of an ambulance ride to the ER. Apparently, according to the triage nurse and the other nurses and techs and doctors, I was pretty ghostly looking. Pale. White. A wheelchair appeared and I was promptly ushered into the trauma room. My pulse ox reads a measly 84%. Oxygen, IV’s, labs, 12 lead ECG, more x-rays and a CT of my chest. Shock. A collapsed lung and a large unknown mass in the middle of my chest. What was going on? Despair. Pain.

Mom and Dad show up at the ER. Nicole arrives to take charge. I think I’m so tired and numb but I’m thankful that I can trust her to try and make sense of the inexplicable. I still have a little strength left. We always made a good team. From the first day of EMT class, a long time ago. Big brother, little sister.

The ER doc shows up at the bedside. They want to tell me privately but I don’t have anything to hide from anyone. Tell me what I don’t want to hear. They don’t know what the mass is yet, but I have an ICU bed with my name written all over it. It feels weird, being on the other side of the veil. A patient, rather than the caregiver. Kinda scary, but oddly relieving too. Truly believing that each person helping me now is doing so because they want to, rather than because they’re being paid to do so. It’s what we do. Delusional? Maybe. But I still believed it. But I might have been starved too. I honestly don’t remember eating that day. My stomach aches.
Word gets out. Mikey is in the ER. Seems like wildfire as the word spreads. Everybody knows Mikey. I’m starting to realize the full unadulterated importance of friendship and family. I am in awe as the visitors arrive. You show up, a couple at a time, a few, a group, a multitude. When all is said and done eight days later, several dozen visitors each day. I think they relaxed the rules just a teeny bit while I was a guest in the ICU. It was a party. Somebody just forgot to bring the beer. Rob might’ve tried smuggling some in if I would’ve asked. Now, that’s a partner! Who would believe that someone gave me a blow up sex doll while I was in the ICU? You can’t make this stuff up! 

My date with the ICU begins. I remember taking quite a few patients out of the ICU. This is the first time I saw one wheeled in from the ER. 2 South. I’m relieved for the small fact that I might be able to sleep eventually. I get my marching orders from my nurse. Stay in bed and rest. And keep the oxygen on. As tired as I am, sleep is beyond me. I can’t even follow simple instructions.

As it gets dark and the day grows older, Kimmy becomes my protector, the watchful eye. She’s working down in the ER on the graveyard shift. She comes to visit me in the ICU when she can, making sure I’m ok. Most people can point to an older and wiser mentor who you learned life’s lessons from while you’re learning to love the job you were destined to do. I have to be different. My mentor is younger and much prettier than I. I’d like to think we’re both pretty smart and we’re both much wiser together as partners. Four years. At least three years. It seems like much longer, but in truth probably much shorter. Do you have a partner that you can run a code with and not say a word? I do.

March 10, 2009 will be the day that changed my life forever. For the better and worse. It was the day that I felt my absolute worst. Every day since has been my best. Some days are better than others but these days are always best days. Over the past three years I’ve read more about cancer and Hodgkin’s disease than anyone should be allowed to learn. I find it oddly troubling that the American Cancer Society would need a slogan, but it’s a good one: “The official sponsor of birthdays”. Because every birthday forever after is one that might not have been. I was lucky. My brother David was extremely lucky. Several friends were lucky. Several other friends weren’t so lucky. Celebrate and live life like it was your last day. I’d say it’s a pretty good rule to follow.

It’s humbling to truly realize how many lives one single life touches, whether in the course of a day or a lifetime. Loves, girlfriends and girl friends, partners, co-workers, bosses, students, FTO-lings, supervisors, EMT’s, paramedics, nurses, doctors, techs, firefighters, police officers, classmates, acquaintances, all my “nieces” and “nephews” that know Uncle Mikey, and my families, real and adopted. Friends, all.

I just want to say…
May God bless you all. He’s blessed me. Thank you!

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