On May 4, 1995 I died seven times. That’s what the surgical notes revealed. I might not know any of that except my health insurance required that I obtain the full transcript and forward it to them – so that they could later tell me what they considered unnecessary and therefore were not going to cover. But that’s another story for another blog.
Shortly after returning home to Connecticut from a trip to Florida to visit my parents, I came down with the symptoms of what I believed to be the flu. After running a high fever for an entire weekend, my wife insisted I see my doctor. Since I had been diagnosed with a heart murmur my primary care physician was a cardiologist. After doing some blood work I was admitted to the hospital for treatment of a both a strep and a staph infection in my blood. It was the beginning of a month long ordeal.
The blood borne infection pretty much destroyed my mitral valve requiring open heart surgery to replace it and repair a fistula – a hole inside my heart between the ventricles. The procedure took seventeen hours to complete and, as previously stated, I died seven times before finally being revived.
As an aside, if you can prevent the need for open heart surgery by exercise and eating properly, do so. It’s no fun waking up in a recovery room with cotton mouth from being on with the distinct sensation of a four-ton boulder resting on your lungs.
I survived, of course. It sucked spending my 39th birthday in a cardiac care ward but it was preferable to how things turned out otherwise, had my wife not insisted I go to the doctor.
What changed in my life from before to after the surgery was my general outlook on life. I was a workaholic retail manager, pretty much married to my job. Prior to the illness I believed I was on the fast track to being promoted to general store manager and all the time I spent away form my family was more than justified because of how much I was being compensated in stock options and such. I was going to wealthy, after all. After a month in the hospital and three months of recovery, my status at work changed – though not officially.
I was still a salaried manager. While I was on medical leave I was compensated with regular checks, same as if I was working. Despite having to fight with my health insurance to cover my hospitalization and treatment, all but $7000 of the nearly $130,000 in bills was eventually paid. It could have been a lot worse. But, even after returning to work without any medical restrictions, every time someone from upper management came to visit my store, the first thing they asked me about was my health. Over time, it became clear they were never going to promote me into a higher stress position. And I’m certain they thought they had my best interests at heart.
Still, there were other changes as well, mostly with my relationships with my kids who I had all but ignored for the eight years I had been working as a retail manager. I valued my time at home and spent it with my son and two daughters. However, something else happened while I was sick. I had vivid dreams that lingered well after my recovery.
Although I had been playing at writing for some time – one and off since junior high school, really – I had never taken it all that seriously. I suppose that in the back of my mind I thought about publishing a book one day. I’d finished a manuscript at one point during college and considered submitting it to publishers. I’m glad I didn’t because it really sucked. At the time I thought it was an achievement, though. And maybe it was in a sense. I mean, after that I knew I could write something of considerable length and complexity. Afterwards, while I was military, I served as unit historian and wrote and published an award winning 400+ page unit history. So, I knew I had it in me to publish things. It was just I’d never done anything with my fiction stories.
I submitted a few things of a technical nature to computer technology periodicals. Some things were posted online. I had become a self-taught computer technician and some people sought my advice on things.
Before the illness I had begun digitizing the material I had composed on typewritten pages. I continued doing that while recovering from the surgery. So I had a few hundred pages of stuff formatted so that I could edit and revise with my computer serving as a word processor. But even after I returned to work I set aside at least three or four hours a day for writing and/or revising. In the process those fever generated vivid dreams I had carried around in my head since the illness began to erupt onto the virtual pages of my computer screen.
Those hours were stolen from my wife, of course. Nightly she would ask me when I was coming to bed. She never understood the obsession that I’d developed and eventually it ended our relationship.
I can’t say whether I’d been a writer had I never fallen ill in the Spring of 1995. I have had the writing bug for most of my life. But I doubt I would have ever finished One Over X, my first novel. You see, I was comfortable with a practical life founded on going to work every day. I made enough money that it was easy to forego pursuing any dreams left over from my youth. I never envisioned how much my life could change, or that I would eventually become a author.