Near Death Experience
Most people can travel through a fair majority of their lives without a single near death experience. It's a thought that lingers in most peoples minds, and it can either inhibit their actions by occupying their thoughts, or never occur to them for most of their lives. Or you can be like me, and come close to dying twice before even turning 14. It can be a sobering experience, and shape your outlook on life drastically.
The first near death experience happened when I was 12. Christmas break was coming to a close, and it was time to head back to school. I started to become ill, and thinking it was just the flu, my mom had me stay home rather than going to school that week. My dad was out of town at a training session, and my mom was working full time, so I spent my days home alone. The first few were just miserable, as anyone who has had the flu knows, but then it became worse. Thankfully my friend Jerry's mom was at home, and they lived right next door. I called Martha when I became violently nauseous, I couldn't even seem to keep water down. She came and checked on me, and tried to do her best to help. My head felt as if someone had parked a truck on it, the absolute worst headache I'd ever had. Even she became concerned, thinking that it might be more than just the flu. She called my mom at work, to let her know, and they agreed that if I wasn't doing better by the time my mom was off work, then we would head to the hospital.
Now, nausea by it self is never fun, but I could take Tylenol with water, and not even hold it for 5 minutes. It was if my body was rejecting everything I tried to eat or drink. And the headache became worse, which I didn't think was possible. The only way to describe it was that someone was crushing my skull. At this point, I was starting to feel rather panicked. Mom came home, and immediately loaded me into the car to head to the hospital. I was in a daze, no way to focus, even sound caused extreme pain...... And it was an hour drive on ice covered roads to get to the closest hospital. Skyline Hospital in White Salmon, Wa. Is a small hospital, with only a few doctors on staff, including our family physician. My mom had called ahead of time, so he was waiting for our arrival. Instantly he suspected meningitis, which I'd never even heard of before, but by my moms reaction, I could tell it wasn't good. Then came the Lumbar Puncture. I could say that an LP is one of the most painful procedures you could go through while conscious, but then and there, I was only thankful it took my mind off of the pain in my head!
I was immediately admitted, and hooked up to several IV's and given powerful pain killers...... and simply slept. I slept for a good 18 hours, the first real sleep I'd had in several days. After a few days, I learned the gravity of the situation. Our doctor told my mom that if she'd waited even a few more hours I could have died. That's quite a thing for a 12 year old kid to fathom. I stayed in the hospital for almost a week before I was allowed to go home, and return to school. My classmates were fairly freaked out to learn I had been close to death, as the last they'd heard was I had the flu. I worked my way back into a normal routine, and over the course of the year, tried to forget about having a near death experience. Unfortunately almost exactly a year later, it would happen again.
The rest of 1987 was uneventful, I can't even really recall much that happened that year, until just before Christmas. My sister Amy was a senior in high school, and had been spending a fair amount of time in Portland. My sister has always loved cities, so any chance she had to go to Portland she took. Her friend Stephanie, who was a year older, had been living there for a few months for college, so Amy would spend weekends with her. While hanging out in Portland, she had met a guy named Rolo, his street name, I can't even recall his real name. He was an "artist" of sorts, selling his leather crafts on the Portland streets. To her he was charming and intelligent, and after a short time they started dating. Right before Christmas, she spent a few days with Stephanie, and we invited Rolo to come back and spend Christmas with us, since he had no family to see, at least none we knew of. As an impressionable 13 year old, I thought that Rolo was a cool guy, he'd spend hours talking with me about life in Portland and his philosophies of life in general. We had no clue of what lay beneath the surface of his personality.
After Christmas, we drove Amy and Rolo back to Portland, where she was going to stay a few more days over New Years before having to go back to school. The day after New Years, we planned on driving up to Trout Lake and Glenwood to see grandparents and other family. My Grandma (dads mom) lived in Glenwood, and my Grandpa (my moms dad) lived in Trout Lake, only about 20 minutes apart, so it was easy to visit both sides of the family in one day. Then on the evening of the 1st, we got the call from Amy. Rolo, as it turns out, was bi-polar, and had gone into a violent rage that night. I don't know if he ever abused Amy, but it was enough to scare her to the point that she wanted us to come and pick her up as soon as possible. Dad decided we'd drive into Portland early in the morning on the 2nd, a Saturday, then make the trek back down the Gorge and up to Trout Lake and Glenwood. If Rolo hadn't gone into his rage, my sister would have never been with us, and the days outcome could have been much different.
We drove up to Glenwood first. Several trees had fallen in a windstorm, so my dad was going to cut firewood, since the weather was holding fairly decent. We spent several hours with Grandma, then my mom, Amy and I all loaded up and drove to Trout Lake to see Gramps and other family. The roads weren't in the best shape, plowed but not sanded, but decent enough that we had no problems driving over. I ended up spending most of the day running around in the snow with my cousin Derek, who is the same age as Amy, wasting gas and screwing around. As it was getting dark, we came back to Gramps house, and it was time to head back over to Glenwood to have dinner. It had been a long day, so shortly after we left, I fell asleep in the front seat of the rig. We had an Old BroncoII, and in four wheel drive, it handled most of the snowy roads well. Amy was sitting in the back, right behind me, listening to music.
Not even halfway back, I awoke suddenly to my mom and Amy screaming......... What the?!?....All I remember is seeing trees, the sound of metal scraping against rock, and the sensation of the Bronco rolling over. When I regained consciousness, I was hanging upside down, not knowing what had just happened. I also didn't realize that the top of my scalp had been sliced open, and I was bleeding profusely. I remember my mom screaming for Amy, but not being able to see or reach her. I managed to undo my seatbelt and crawl out the driver side door window. I was in shock, but I could hear the sound of another vehicle coming down the road. My mom raced up the bank, which was no easy climb. Twenty feet of vertical boulders, but I swear she climbed it in two seconds flat. Instinctively I tried to reach for Amy, calling her name, but I couldn't see or hear her. My mom stopped the car that was coming down the road, and I can remember her screaming "I think my daughter is dead!!!". That has stuck with me ever since, the most horrible thing I could ever imagine my mom saying. I had lost so much blood by now, that I was on the verge of passing out. I could hear other vehicles stopping, the sound of car doors and voices. I stood up, looked up at the sky and watched the snowflakes fall in the eerie glow of headlights on the road. I remember feeling my scalp, and thinking to my self that my head was all wet and I should have a hat.....then I passed out in the snow.
I'm not an overly spiritual man, but I do believe in miracles. Within two minutes of the accident, over forty vehicles drove down that remote stretch of road. Turns out, they were from White Salmon, and headed to a basketball game. Even though it was it was a longer drive for them to take the route they chose, it was generally a better road than the shorter route, which wound its way up a steep canyon. In the caravan of travelers, there were several EMT's, including Billy Gross. I credit that man (rest in peace) for saving my life and my sisters life that night. I became conscious again in the front seat of someone's car. I don't recall how I got there, just that I was holding a coat or scarf on my scalp. I awoke when the door opened, and a voice said "We got your sister out, and we're gonna head toward White Salmon and meet the ambulances on the highway, ok?". I nodded, and whomever it was shut the door. Behind me, a small child in a car seat started crying. I remember saying "Its ok kid, everything is gonna be ok"........ And then blackness.
During the next twenty four hours, I can only recall one little snippet of consciousness. I awoke to the feeling of rocking back and forth, and a warm breeze blowing on my face. I opened my eyes, and I could tell I was in an ambulance, then nothing. That was everything I could remember from Saturday the 2nd, until Sunday evening. I woke up in a hospital bed, a male RN checking my blood pressure. He smiled and asked me "Do you know where you are?", to which I replied "Yeah, I'm in a fucking hospital!". I knew right were I was......, well, maybe not which city or which day, but after the prior years experiences, I knew pretty quick what it was to wake up in a hospital bed!
"Your sister is in Intensive Care just down the hall, she was hurt pretty bad too. Your parents are with her, I'll go get them and let them know you are awake". My mom and dad came into the room, tears streaming down their faces. I had a fractured vertebrae so they could only hug me very gently, but it was probably the most joyous hug any of us ever had. My dad couldn't even talk. My dad, the solemn, unemotional, and quiet man was crying like a baby. I'd only ever see my dad cry once before, when I was a child. I thought that nothing could break him down. I guess almost losing both of your children in one instant will do that. The first thing I asked was how Amy was. She'd been hurt much worse than I, suffering two shattered vertebrae and a skull fracture. The amazing fact for both of us was neither of us suffered any spinal cord damage, which shocked the doctors. It wouldn't be the last time we surprised them before it was all over.
Being that Amy and I were both on the Neurological floor at Good Samaritan in Portland, they decided that once Amy could be moved, they would bring her into the same room that I was in. It was the first time in the history of that hospital to have two relatives in the same room. The day they wheeled her bed in, they brought her right next to me, and we just reached out and held each others hand for a minute. She was still pretty out of it, we were both on morphine at the time, but it was still emotional for both of us. We knew right there that we were going to be ok. Friends and family were coming and going non stop. The room was full of flowers and cards, some from friends I hadn't heard from in years. Word spread far and wide, and the outpouring of support was astounding. I made up my mind right then and there I was getting out of this place as soon as I could. I was to be put in a body cast by the end of the week, going from my waistline to my chest. Not a wonderful prospect, but I was told that as soon as it was on, I could start working on walking again. Yeah buddy!! I was so sick and tired of laying in that damn bed, I was ready to get moving again. As soon as the cast was on, I was up and about, toting my IV buddy around up and down the halls of the 4th floor.
The staff was completely shocked, expecting that I would be too weak or tired, or in too much pain. To hell with the pain, I was moving again. I could walk. I wasn't going to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. That was all that mattered to me, knowing I'd suffered a broken back, but could still walk, and I was going to walk my way out of there as soon as possible! It ended up being only a few more days before I was released, to the amazement of everyone around me. They said I'd most likely be in the hospital for a month, I was out in a week. Amy had the same determination that I had. She went through several hours of surgery, including bone grafts and steel rods to wire her spine back together. They told her two months, she was out in a little over two weeks.
To the day I die, I will blame Rolo for Amy being with us that day. If he hadn't gone all manic, then she might not have had to suffer through what happened. Then again, it shaped who we are today, and brought our family much closer together. I've had my fair share of close calls over the years since, but nothing even remotely close to either of those experiences. I learned to live my life not fearing death. Not that I'm in any big hurry to get there, but if it was my time, then it was my time. If you spend too much time thinking about dying, then you aren't really living, and I'd rather spend my time living.