Girl with magnifier

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Cooling out

The Human Drama - Spain Rodriguez

I have had quite a few brushes with mortality in my life. 

When I was fifteen, having gone through three consecutive reoccurring years and bouts with chronic active non a, non b hepatitis, I actually started dying. 

I was living with my mother in Oxnard and my doctor, Mark Friedenberg, said that I had three days to live at most. 

He told me that I had the liver damage of an eighty year old alcoholic. 

My feet started itching (did you know that was a symptom of necrosis?) my pancreas emptied out and I was throwing up bile. This is what happens to your body when you die. I was a goner.

Fortunately for me, the worst prognostications did not come through, I was succored back to life by the constant and loving intervention of my mother, who honestly saved my life that week.

Cancer entered the equation with about ten surgeries including a kidney removal starting in 1985.

In 2007 we heard similar dire news after complications from open heart surgery. "Go home and say goodbye to the people you love." 

I had an infection around my heart muscle that would not culture and the infectious disease doctor told Leslie and I that I would not make it two more weeks. 

Thankfully, he was mistaken. I survived. But I was plainly shook and did as he told me, figuring all my chips were about to cash. It is a sobering experience saying goodby. 

Three years ago we heard the same thing from the Iraqi urologist at Scripps. "Stage 4 invasive tumors in your liver and remaining kidney, ditto your bladder wall, nothing you can do, Sayonara." He stepped back into his shiny McLaren and zoomed off into the sunset. Fortunately, I found a better doctor and refused to give up hope. Here I am.


Forgetting the medical stuff, I have had several other experiences in my life that brought me close to the end. I have been at the wrong end of a katyusha rocket attack, actually burnt my hand on the shrapnel after it came through the wall of my small home on the Israel/ Lebanon border.

And I have been through more Scud missile attacks than 99.99999% of the human population in the Desert Storm conflict. I wrote about the experience in a book that I started thirty years ago and have yet to finish. Maybe someday.

But forgetting the medical and the war stuff, the closest I have ever come to cashing it in, were two experiences in boarding school in 1971 in Idyllwild, I believe that I have written about them before. The first was a class hike gone wrong that turned into a thirty hour trek down a mountain and through the desert to Indio with no water in grueling summer heat. From the dolomite mines in Pinyon Flats.

I was having biblical hallucinations the moonless night about sojourning the valley of the shadow of death, somewhat akin to Jeremiah. A classmate, Ann, Joe Beauchamp, my biology teacher, and I finally made it into a farmer's orange grove at 4:30 in the morning and helicopters were sent in to rescue the others, now facing hypothermia and all sorts of other issues. None of us thought we would survive and the moment to moment minutiae of the experience is still vivid. It was sheer terror. Sliding down impossibly steep grades and grabbing thorny cactus to break our fall. Imagine...

When I think of the closest I have ever come it was that night and one other, being caught in a torrential Tahquitz storm with lightning falling trees within yards of me up in Skunk Cabbage on San Jacinto. Managed to make it out but not without hours of sliding down slickened trails and just making it out in one piece. I tried to impart to people what I had just gone through and I saw their eyes cloud over, there is no way to convey the sheer terror of almost buying the farm.


I was talking to a friend at coffee who was caught in a nasty storm and haboob with his family in Lake Havasu this weekend. Suffered significant damage to the boat, you could tell that it was a terrifying experience.


My point in dredging all this up is that you can tell people what you have undergone in experiences like I had or my friend had but you can never convey the dread, they never get just how emotionally wrenching it is or how scary it is. You have to be there, facing it yourself in order to get a sense of the existential fear, it can not be shared.

The totality of your exit or near exit story can never be fully understood.


The call of death, 1937 - Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945)

I just went through another wringer with the latest biopsy. My worst fears were not realized, turns out this tumor is manageable. But it did sap me for all my energy. I am pretty wasted right now, you expect the worse or prepare for it anyway or at least I do. Because I have had more practice at this sort of thing than most. Plan for the worst outcome and then get hopefully surprised beats you got nothing to worry about, god is going to take care of it and then suddenly you are worm food on the wrong side of the dirt.

So I am coming down right now, not big on sharing, don't have a lot to say, sort of traumatized actually. The everyday seems sort of banal and vapid. Mundane. Too much nervous adrenaline still in my system. It is going to take a few weeks after this one, never really gets easier, perhaps you will understand what I am talking about one day, if you don't already.


Will C said...

Bless you friend, and congratulations!
I've also had a lifetime of misdiagnoses and narrow squeaks, and so far my life lesson is that we never know the end of our stories, especially when it's being narrated by some guy scowling in a lab coat.
In 1961 my father, then aged 52, blew out 54% of his heart muscle in a catastrophic myocardial infarction, and was given three days to live. It wasn't easy, but he didn't die for another 40 years, and outlived three salt-free cardiologists. We never choose our own day, no matter how badly it starts out.
Be well.

Kerr A. Lott said...

Glad to hear you're alright. Now stay that way!!! Dammitt!!!

Ken Seals said...

I'm very glad you survived all that so you are still here to be my good friend!!

Anonymous said...

Robert, glad to have you around for a long time ,bless you with long life, Jeff and gena

Anonymous said...

You are so right… we can’t really understand another’s experiences , but we can care. I do and am glad you made it through another terrifying passage way… rascally as ever.

Anonymous said...

You are an amazing person. I'm so glad about the bladder news and hope you stick around for a long time. What experiences you've had. ~ Diane O

Valerie Tate said...

You are inspiring in so many ways...and now reading about all your near death experiences and your overcoming so many health (and other) challenges, I truly believe that you will bless us with your physical presence for many years to come!!! You truly are "The Miracle Man"...and an amazing person as well. So blessed to know you. Valerie Tate

Liz said...

I think it is amazing that either of us is alive. Family genes are not the strongest