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Five Bad Days—Then the Hospital

When I received my official diagnosis of cancer on January 5, 2022, I was surprisingly not disturbed emotionally. For one thing, a preliminary diagnosis had been suggested earlier, but remained a bit uncertain for several months. Thus, it wasn’t a new topic nor a surprising one. For another thing, I recalled hearing a lecture many decades ago about how stress affects the body and accepted the speaker’s conclusions as valid. He said that stress seeks out the weakest place in the body and manifests itself there. Given that since I was 18 years old (during a period of high stress), I had experienced issues with the part of the body where cancer eventually did manifest itself, I pretty much expected to eventually develop cancer there. In fact, I told my surgeon and oncologist that the surprise wasn’t finding out I had cancer; the surprise was that it had taken so long to develop, especially given that I am a type A (triple A actually) personality – a high stress guy. Having lived a very adventure-filled life, some of the stresses were good ones, but many were anxiety based.

After a series of interesting events about which I have written previously (“A Roller Coaster Ride With God” in two parts–on this website), I began treatment for the cancer on March 28. For three weeks, five days a week, I had a radiation treatment and took six large chemo pills daily. In spite of all of the warnings about side effects, I had none (almost). The one exception occurred during a three mile walk near the end of the three-week period, when the ball of my right foot started hurting badly. I was at the halfway point and had to limp home very slowly, then discovering a very large blister. One of the listed potential side effects of the chemo was developing sensitivity and redness on the bottom of the feet and on the palms of the hands. But other than that, I had no side effects for those initial three weeks and congratulated myself on breezing through the treatments. Pride goes before a fall.

The Sunday following those three weeks was Easter Sunday. After enjoying a meal with our son and his family, disaster struck. I have also written in some detail about this ordeal previously, so I will not include those details. Suffice it to say it was bad and unlike any sickness I have ever experienced in my entire life. I’m one of those people who just doesn’t get sick, except very rarely. My immune system is amazingly strong. I’ve traveled all over the world during different kinds of flu outbreaks and never caught any of it, nor have I ever taken flu shots (until this year). But from the evening of Easter Sunday until the next morning, my well-conditioned body was drained of body fluids and strength almost completely. My conditioning came from taking three to five mile fast paced walks at least five days per week. But on that Monday morning after my “adventure” began the previous day, I had to be helped out of the car into a wheelchair to take my last radiation treatment for some weeks.

The next five days were a blur. I slept most of the time. I was severely dehydrated, and an IV administered at a medical facility on Tuesday had no positive effect. The diarrhea was relentless. On Friday, I was back at the same medical facility and was asked a question by a Nurse Practitioner which brought me to my senses. She asked me if I thought I would be okay if I went home. She and the chemo doctor did not. It suddenly hit me that if I did go home, I would likely die. So, my wife and son and I went to the ER and I checked into the hospital for what was to become a 23 day stay.

I don’t quite know how to describe what happened emotionally and spiritually during that time. I can better describe my emotional and spiritual state than I can what prompted it. I ended up in something like a state of near euphoria during the last part of my stay. Sometime in that period, I talked on the phone to my dear old friend, Tom Jones. A few weeks later he asked if I had ever considered that I might be bipolar, based on what seemed to him like a manic state on my part. I laughed and reminded him that my tendency was typically to be depressive, not manic. The euphoric state was temporary, but it was quite interesting while it lasted. I will describe later what were likely contributing factors to it.

For the first ten of those days in the hospital, I tried eating once and promptly threw it back up—with gusto! I was diagnosed with an ileus, which means my insides were locked up and not functioning normally. The doctors were reluctant to insert a PICC and start giving me nourishment via that kind of IV (TPN). I had a low-grade fever, and they were concerned about an undetected infection. So, we waited and tested and waited and tested—for ten days. For most of that time, I was pretty much out of it. I was receiving fluids for hydration through an IV but remember being fixated on the idea of drinking a big Coke and a big strawberry drink from a big glass filled with ice.

I was obviously extremely thirsty. I remember thinking that if I could stay focused on quenching my thirst with those drinks that it might provide enough motivation to stay alive. Seriously. Also obviously, the thoughts of death were constantly present. I was later told that I had said at one time that I would have to get better to die. It was a very rough ten days. Joy (our daughter, the wife of our son, Bryan) took pictures of me at three different stages, and the latter two I eventually posted on Facebook. The first one was taken during that ten-day period and in it, I looked like I was dead. I didn’t post that one. The first time my son came into my room and saw me in that state, he thought I must have just died. So that’s what happened that led me to sitting with God on the brink of eternity.