Surviving Death

In October 2016, I had ballooned (again) to 386 pounds. The decades of abuse I had given to myself all culminated with the revelation that I was at my lowest point in life and needed to make a change or things were going to get ugly.

I made a tough decision to have a Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy with a world-renown surgeon, based in Mexico. For two weeks, I engaged in a liquid diet and immediately dropped 20 lbs. I flew to Mexico and had the surgery, which went off without a hitch. I seemed to have zero complications and was smart about my approach towards the process. I did everything my doctors asked and followed the rules strictly.

During my pre-surgery phase, I was told to focus on drinking 100 grams of protein every day. This involved pounding Muscle Milk’s like a champ. Obviously, I drank water and juices, along with chicken broth to get me through the 14 days.

After my surgery, the doctors were happy and told me to work another 2 weeks on the same liquid diet and then I could move up to “soft foods”. Doing exactly, what I had done the previous 2 weeks, I drank my Muscle Milks, had the sugar-free popsicles, enjoyed egg drop soup broth and did this, ad nauseum, for almost a month.

On the last day of my liquid diet, I croaked.

You read this right. I died for over 11 minutes and had it not been for the first responders and staff of ladies at Vitacare in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I wouldn’t have survived. Evidently there are two things your body desperately needs to stay functional – Potassium and Magnesium.

I did exactly what I had done before the surgery and drank my Muscle Milk’s like a good boy. In actuality, I needed to be drinking more Powerade Zeros and Gatorades. When your body goes below a 2.0 reading for Potassium, your heart just quits.

As I went about my morning, I had a slight stomach ache, which was no different than anything I had experienced before. I’m always tired and wasn’t feeling like walking around much that day. My friend went inside Vitacare to get his C-PAP machine cleaned and when he came back out, I was gone.

Freaking out, he rushed back inside and called 911. The ladies had CPR training, so they ran outside and dragged me out of the car. They massaged my heart until the paramedics arrived. Once they got there, my clothes were shredded and they pulled out this thing called “The Plunger”, which was an easier way to administer CPR.

An average-sized person typically receives 4 paddle blasts. Due to my large size, they gave me 7, for some reason. They said that I was showing signs of improvement from each blast, but still hadn’t revived. The 7th was the last jolt I would receive and luckily for me, my heart started beating enough to get me to the hospital.

The next phase of my journey was to St. Francis Hospital, where they put me into this “ice suit” and induced a coma that lasted 2 days. During this 48 hour period, the doctors told anyone that would listen the following:

a) I’m most likely going to die.

b) If I don’t die, I will be a vegetable the rest of my life.

c) I have a less than 1% chance of survival.

d) The chances of stroke or other complications are high.

While this is all going on, my Facebook account flooded with thoughts and prayers, friends drove in up to 6 hours, just to sit in the waiting room for a response. They knew that they wouldn’t be able to see me in the ICU, but they wanted to drive in to pay their respects.

Even today, I am still humbled and dumbfounded by the love I received. We tend to go through life, just being who we are and sometimes oblivious to what we leave in our wake. This death experience showed me that I’m not worthless, that I have made a positive impact on people and that I am appreciated. I’ve lived with the internal false narrative that I’m inconsequential.

According to the paramedics, I was dead for over 11 minutes and experienced seizures due to the lack of oxygen to my brain. This has led to some short-term memory problems that I started experiencing, only recently.

When I left the hospital in December 2016, I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom without help. I’ve had to walk slow and get centered on only what I can do. My energy level is still woefully low and I am unable to work a regular day job. Since I’m known as a chameleon, I’ve had to improvise a bit.

Over the course of the last 13 months, I’ve worked hard on pushing my limitations and can now walk several miles a day. The hardest thing about dealing with this “new” life is that from the neck up, I’m the same guy I’ve always been. I think I can work 60 hours a week, walk multiple miles every single day, eat a big plate of food and do all of the things I used to do before I died.

My new reality, sadly, is that I’ll do exactly what the lower part of my body tells me to do and like it! Naps every 5 hours, the ability to eat a mere fraction of what I once could eat, avoiding foods that create havoc for my stomach – THIS is the new reality.

The hardest part about this new life is rewiring my brain to learn new routines. There is an emotional attachment to every single type of food I eat. A food item from a regular restaurant can trigger a fond memory from over a decade ago. It’s hard to admit that I’ve been a closet emotional eater my entire life.

Some people choose illicit drugs, others choose alcohol or gambling. My vice has always been food. I’m definitely no angel and am far from my target goals, but my new weekly routine consists of doctor visits, bloodwork, earning money delivering through the Postmates mobile app, seeking out help wanted signs for JobSpotter, blogging about social media, attending church regularly and finding ways to feel relevant and productive.

I suffer from Anemia and haven’t had energy for almost 30 years. I’m tired all of the time. As doctors continue to do lab work to figure out exactly what is causing my issues, all I can do is write about my experiences, stay positive and suck the marrow out of every single day.

For some reason, I’m on this planet still. I might not have the right answers, but I strive to make every single day mean something. I’ve taken for granted my place in this world until this situation happened. The way I see it, this is all “bonus time” and I want to make a difference.

When I died, the lights simply when out. Thankfully, when I woke up, there were people to tell me what had happened. There were no pearly gates, white lights, angels or any of that. There were no warning signs that I picked up on. Stomach ache, lights out, death, revival, lights back on.

The current result is that I’ve lost 115 pounds, can walk farther than I ever have before this happened, have no swelling in my feet and am finally hopeful for a future where I’m somewhat productive. Before I chose to have the stomach surgery, I was pessimistic, didn’t think much about my life and figured I would die alone and miserable.

I wrote this to share my experience and convey to you that no matter how (in)significant you feel your life contributions have been, to date, you matter. There are people in your life that care about you. There are people you have positively impacted. You may not know that you’ve made a difference in their life, but they are out there.

Live every day with purpose and surround yourself with people that only want you to thrive. If you’ve got people in your life that constantly shoot down your ideas, tell you “No”, reassert that “you can’t” and make you feel that you should never take a risk, part ways with those people. Life is hard enough without other people always keeping you down. Take chances. There’s no growth without a little bit of pain. You won’t grow, if you just sit on your couch and watch the world pass you by.

Take a road trip to a nearby town. Explore streets you can’t pronounce. Do something “against the grain”. Say “YES” more and see what this life has to offer you. The couch will always be there to sit on. Try something different for a change of pace and stop mentally beating yourself up. You matter!