Archive | February, 2018

Death Is Not All That It’s Cracked Up To Be

2 Feb

Judging from the title of the article, one might guess I am going to reflect and write about what feels like the death of a nation — the death of the United States. It certainly feels as though we are witnessing the demise of a nation– I thought we were so much better than this — I thought we were a nation that was working to eradicate racism, homophobia, misogyny, and hate. While there maybe some overlap, I am actually writing, reflecting, and processing my own death.

I need to record this because I am still processing all of what happened and I am afraid the current political climate of the United States has hurt, delayed, and undermined my ability to recover. At the same time, I have never experienced such unconditional love and caring: a love that has carried me through all of this, a love that makes me cry even while writing this. I have learned and witnessed how human beings step up or sadly step back during a health crisis. Fortunately for me, the number of people who have stepped up with such enormous love is too many for me to list. The people in my family of origin who have stepped back and have been completely absent has hurt me in such a profound way, I hardly have words to share or express the hurt, so I shall focus on the love I am able to bask in instead.

Yes, I have been quite busy in the past four months. I was diagnosed with cancer in September and then had cancer surgery in November. By December, I was recovering from cancer and finally reached a space of reflection of “I’m grateful the surgery went well. I don’t want to do the chemo. I hope the cancer does not come back.” Quite unfortunately, on Wednesday, December 20 at around 5:30 in the morning, I had the first of two massive heart attacks. The night before I had enormous pain through out my right leg but thought nothing of it. Now I suspect, it was the blood clots that moved from my leg into my lungs and caused the heart attacks.

My husband Robert found me on the bathroom floor. According to the paramedics and an amazing and wonderful team of doctors at OHSU in Portland, this was the first time I was dead. I know was resuscitated at some point because I heard a man’s voice ask my husband: “Was he like that or did you throw a bucket of water on him?” I honestly remember thinking what a stupid question. Yes, as is typical protocol, my husband threw a bucket of water on me when he thought, “Hmm, Michael seems to have had a heart attack. I shall throw a bucket of water on him and see if that does the trick.”  The next thing I heard was a man’s voice saying: “Okay, he has turned blue.” Honestly, I really did think to myself, “Well, that can’t be good.”

At this point, I truly thought this is it and I’m going to die. All I could think of was that I needed for my husband Robert to know and to hear how much I loved him. I needed for my last words to be, “I love you very much, Robert.” Thankfully, he heard me. I remember maybe all of 10 seconds in the ambulance and apparently my heart stopped again. In the short ride to OHSU hospital on Pill Hill, apparently they were able to resuscitate me again. Rather sadly, as I was told by the doctors and nurses, my heart stopped yet again before reaching the hospital. The rest is what was reported to me by the amazing medical team at OHSU.

Apparently, I was dead for 30 minutes. The team and the social worker told my husband Robert that I continued to have no heartbeat and continued to be unresponsive. They intubated me at some point. They were going to try a machine that basically does CPR, which they did for 30 minutes. During this whole process, unfortunately, six of my ribs were broken and my sternum was broken. Yes, I will just say an emphatic OUCH! As a side note: we just received the bill for just the emergency room and the bill is for $72,000 — yes, almost as much as my first home cost in Atlanta. Now reader, I ask you this: Does it not seem like I need to ask for a rebate for the 30 minutes I was dead? Why should I pay for services if I was dead? Or, can they at least pro-rate the amount owed?

Being Dead: I must admit that I have always been one of those people that was quite skeptical when hearing stories from various people or reading stories about people’s experiences when they were dead and before coming back to life. Now I have my own narrative about dying and coming back to life. I know it to be true and I can only ask that you make of it what you will.  I do know that I was dead. I was processing it while it happened. My exact thoughts, if one wants to call them thoughts, were: “Well, that did not work out.” I know I left my body and I remember knowing, well I am dead. I also remember I did not seem to have a name, nor did I have a body. Strangely, I felt very safe with no anxiety, no fear, and no worry. I was quite at peace. Yes, I did see the proverbial “white light.” I would not have described it as a Heavenly light, but it was quite intense and it was all I could see. The light did seem to have a center and I remember walking towards the center of the light despite the fact that I did not have a body. Once I reached the center of the light, I knew intuitively that I had two options. I could go to the right or go to the left. At this point, I could sense Robert to the left. I did not hear him saying anything, nor could I see him but I knew his name and the sensation was so strong, I knew I needed to go to the left towards Robert. The next thing I remember was that I was in the ICU.

One of the gifts I received from coming back to life was the ability to witness human beings doing their jobs in ways that for me seemed magical, and I reflected and shared with all of the people who were amazing how magical they are. For example, the first nurse I remember in the ICU was named Anna. She was so lovely and sensitive with me. Anna and everyone I encountered in the hospital remarked how lucky I was and how absolutely amazing it was that I was actually alive. At some point, Anna was on the phone and I heard her say: “No, no, he is here. I am here with him right now. I am talking to him.” Anna shared with me that the paramedics who came to my home to try and save me had called the hospital to offer that they did the best they could do and they were sorry. When she told me this, I remember saying please thank them for me! Later, Anna shared with me they thought I was dead, as I was dead when they dropped me off at the hospital.

Another person who made such a huge difference was Dr. Kathy Wonderly — how appropriately named, as she is a true wonder. Dr. Wonderly came in and asked if she could sit on my bed with me and rubbed my legs and echoed (this seems to have been the chorus in a Greek play, as everyone human being I encountered in the hospital kept saying) how lucky I was to be alive. She then touched my hand and asked if there was anything she could do to to be helpful. I cracked a political joke and she laughed and said she would do her best. I have to underscore the power of touch here. Dr. Wonderly’s empathic ability to touch my legs and touch my hand had a profound impact on me. I am certain it helped me heal and made me feel safe.

My friends Janet and Sara were also with me every day in the hospital and would hold my hand (honestly, I think Janet was also searching me for spare change, for I have seen her search through my cupboards and steal my good china) which also helped me heal. I also have to share that my colon surgeon Dr. Herzig is nothing less than a gift to the world. He made a special visit to say hi to me and offer his well wishes and his sadness about the heart attacks. As an aside, I typically do not like surgeons. However, Dr. Herzig made me fall in love shortly after my cancer surgery. He came to check on me the day after he performed the surgery and asked if I was okay and if I needed anything. I replied that I was actually quite upset with him and said: “Dr. Herzig, I am really quite upset with you. I came in for a face lift, eye lift, and neck lift, and it is clear that you focused all of your energy on my stomach.” To which he immediately replied: “No, that’s right. We are just working our way up.” How many surgeons do you know that are that witty? I was so exceedingly lucky to experience so many people who just do their jobs everyday but they are quite remarkable and so exceedingly compassionate, at least that was my experience.

Love Fest: When I was finally discharged and was allowed to return home, it was clear that I was not allowed to be alone and would need a great deal of care. Robert had already taken so much time off for my cancer stay and heart attacks stay at the hospital, he could not take any more time off. Family of origin not only did not bother to call me, there was no way they were going to offer to come and help Robert and me. Sadly, my birth dad, whom I shall refer to as the sperm donor, for that is as generous as I can be toward him, was completely absent when he found out I had cancer. His absence continued when my baby brother let him know about the two heart attacks. Strangely, his girlfriend, who is quite lovely, called almost every day to check on me and on Robert. She also made apologies for the sperm donor’s horrific behavior. (The sperm donor had his feelings hurt two years ago when I called to wish him a happy thanks giving and my in-laws called in while I was on the phone. I explained that I had to take the call so that I could talk to my in-laws. The sperm donor went into a rage and said how dare I take their call, for they are not my blood and he is my blood. One should note that the sperm donor had no contact with me for decades. He was a very physically abusive man to me and to my mom when I was a little boy.) I explained to his girlfriend that if he could not set aside his narcissistic injury when his son was dealing with cancer and two heart attacks, I have no use for his abusive self. She just kept apologizing. I honestly feel quite bad for her, as it must be awful to see the true character or lack of character of your partner in life.

Enough bad energy, I have been able to also witness how people step up during a crisis and show up no matter what and are available with love, patience, food, books, and just sitting with me. All my friends in Portland have been amazing gifts and I am forever in their debt. All my friends that flew in from all over the country to help take care of me, I am forever in their debt. I am able to truly live and walk in gratitude.  I am also in awe of my husband Robert. I have a life partner who not only saved my life twice, but has been so supportive all while trying to deal with his own trauma around the past four months.

Healing: While trying to heal and with extraordinary physical limitations, I knew I had to stop listening and watching the news. Trump and the GOP represent all that is the worst of humanity and the daily assaults from these sociopaths was too much. The racism, the misogyny, the homophobia it was too much for me, to the point I wondered if perhaps I should not have come back to life. One particular assault by Trump and supported by the GOP was the Religious Freedom Act: that health care workers could deny LGBT/queer people like me services based on their religious beliefs. I am so grateful I live in Oregon and that this act has not passed yet. Thus I had to do something else and try as best I could to stop exposing myself to Fascist America.

Because reading has been hard while on pain meds, what I found extraordinarily healing was I watched Netflix’ seasons one and two of The Crown at least 30 times. I love Claire Foy. I also watched Netflix’ Latinx reboot of One Day at a Time season one at least 30 times. I am in love with Justina Machado and Isabella Gomez.  I have to say that I am now watching season two of the Latinx One Day at a Time and it gives me hope! Season two, for me, is what the United States can really be. We can be a country that works to tap into shared humanity, a country that works to encourage and support all people, that we can be a country that can lead the movement for social justice — to expand civil liberties. We can resist hate; we can resist fascism.

Finally, I will conclude with a simple thank you to all of the human beings who have touched my life for the better. When I die, and I will, I want there to be people who will reflect and say I touched their lives for the better — that I helped to make the world a better place for all human beings. I now challenge all of us to work to be our best selves, to be engaged in making the world a better place and to not engage in hate, or talk of building walls, or justifying “there were some good Nazis.” We can do so much better than this. Let us work in community to make some huge changes in 2018. I implore you to vote during the midterm elections in November of 2018! I also need to share how grateful I am to my husband Robert! This song from Emile Sandé is for Robert.

With great love and affection,


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