11th 2023 Post – Two Wonderful Touches

Blog Posts Where Race is an Aspect of the Themes

Uluru - Ayers Rock

On the Friday before Labor Day Weekend in 2011, I experienced vertigo for the first time. It was in retrospect likely from being dehydrated. As I got up from a prone position for a routine medical test, I needed to rush to the bathroom to vomit. I thought, “Oh no, the flu.” As I did, nothing came out. Two sphincter muscles in my esophagus did not relax and the pressure built-up in my esophagus and caused it to rupture. The contents of my stomach then went into my pristine chest cavity.

I came out of the bathroom in obvious distress, sat down and was going in and out of consciousness. Attracting attention, they called 911 and assumed I was having a heart attack.

After struggling with the medics and the ambulance driver, I was taken to the hospital of my choice even though a different hospital was in closer proximity. The ER at the hospital kept giving big doses of nitroglycerin. The medics in the ambulance on the way to the hospital had done the same thing as all assumed I was having a heart attack.

The main ER doctor stood at the foot of my bed. I was now going in and out of consciousness for longer periods. When conscious, while my pain was horrible, I was insistent I was not having a heart attack.

Fortunately, the ER doctor listened. After a good while, he said, “Even though rare, we must rule out esophageal tear.” I was strapped in a chair, drank barium, and was turned upside down. The x-ray revealed a two-inch tear in the esophagus.

Very fortunately for me, a tremendous, world class thoracic surgeon was in the hospital. They now knew I had a raging chest cavity infection. About five hours had elapsed since the tear and I had another five hours to live. The surgeon explained to my wife that he wanted to do a thoracotomy. That involved cutting into one side of the chest, breaking a rib, moving another rib out of the way and compromising most if not all of the tissue between the ribs so as to have access to clean out the chest cavity and to install tubes to deal with the ongoing infection. The surgeon also had to tell my wife, who had arrived at the ER, that nine out of ten of these surgeries result in death. Compassionately, after an hour of surgery and the initial bodily assault was over and the cleaning out began, the surgeon sent out a note to my wife saying, “Your husband is in shape. He is going to live.”

It was a long five-or six-hour surgery, done by Dr. Jacques with an assist from a second surgeon. Nurses told me it was the only time they ever heard Dr. Jacques raise his voice. He said to the nurses as he asked for a surgery suite, “When I said hurry up, I meant hurry up.” Dr. Jacques is not only a great surgeon, but he is a wonderful human being. He came to visit me every day of the three-day Labor Day weekend. I was and remain forever grateful. The ER doctor who diagnosed me, Dr. Jacques, many nurses and others saved my life.

I spent a few days in the ICU and another eight to ten days in the hospital. For the entire time, I had no food or water. The no water was tough.

But now to the title of this post, “Two Wonderful Touches.” When I initially awakened in the ICU, I was not doing well. A nurse wanted to do something for me involving a catheter and I was unreasonably resistant. She became visibly frustrated and that only fed my delirium and delusion to resist more. After a time of tension, she asked for help. ( I was in the wrong, but not in my right mind ).

A very kind Somali male resident doctor came into my room and sat on my bed next to me. He listened to my incoherent fears. He exuded kindness. He then put his arm around my shoulders. Silence. After a minute of silence, he asked if I would trust him to do the right thing for me. I said, “Sure.” I was enveloped in love and healing. All proceeded well.

A day or so later, a taller man, looking to me of Middle Eastern descent, appeared in my ICU room. I woke up. He asked if he could talk to me. I said, “Yes.” He told me that he was my anesthesiologist the day before and had been with me during the entire surgery. He then asked if he could ask me a question. I said, “Sure.” He asked, “Do you believe?” I said, “Yes – I consider myself a strong believer.” He said, “Good. I just wanted to stop by and say the God upstairs is the reason you are alive.” His words were expressed with deep compassion and sincerity. I profusely thanked him for coming by to see me and told him how elevating his words and presence were. I asked him what faith stream he was in. He said he was a Muslim. I said, “We are both Abrahamic people.” We smiled. We shook hands. I thanked him again and again.

These two men are just two of the many angels that touched me at Abbott NW Hospital and helped me on a complex multi-layered healing journey. Gratitude!