About 10 months ago I put up a post called 270 degrees. In short, it was about some decisions that I had made based on some medical events that had taken place in my life. We live we learn but the purpose of this post is to explain the overall journey as well as what had happened. I’ll keep the negatives out of this and focus more on the amazing. If you truly understood what happened and the odds surrounding it most would be quite amazed. To put it a little in perspective after “it all happened” I went to a doctor because I was feeling sick and he said to me; “I normally don’t ask this question and I don’t preach to my patients but do you believe in God”? Other people in the medical community to include doctors and nurses have said “I guess it just wasn’t your time”. I guess it wasn’t. I’m not sure exactly why I was saved and believe me I have contemplated this over and over numerous times. I just keep on keeping on and doing my thing but here I am still alive.
And so the story begins….
On September 26th, 2014 I started a new chapter in my life. One that shocked my family and my friends. A perfectly healthy man, just 41 happened to have something inside his head throughout his whole entire life. An AVM. Arteriovenous Malformation. Yep…look it up I’m not going to go into details. There are so many people to thank here I don’t even know where to begin. From the subtle thoughts and prayers, visits from friends, people that went out of their way to take care of me and my family; the list goes on. Have you ever heard of Divine Providence?
In theology, divine Providence, or just Providence, is God’s intervention in the world. In order for me to survive my ordeal the stars truly had to align. In order for me to survive and recover like I have universes and galaxies had to align. The probability of things aligning like they did are so unlikely it’s ridiculous. With that said, someone somewhere looked upon me and clearly saved me. My mother perhaps? God? I’m not sure but since some time has gone by let me tell you a story.
During Christmas of 2013 my daughter inlaw bought my daughter and Granddaughter “One Direction” tickets for a concert down in Charlotte, NC. My Daughter inlaw was supposed to take both girls to go see them. During this time my wife and I had plans to go to the Smith Mountain Lake Wine Festival like we do every year. Although my drughter inlaw was taking the girls to see One Direction, she was also pregnant with twins.
Let’s thicken the plot. Some of my buddies from work go to see the Penn State Homecoming game every year. This includes RV camping, drinking, bar hopping, bands, more bar hopping and basically complete debauchery Penn State style. Don’t judge, these are good people. My leaders, my managers, work mentors, peers and friends.
Let’s skip back to my daughter inlaw. Maria was pregnant with twins and she began to have some issues and was in the hospital multiple times. With that in said, the decision was made that my wife and I would not go to the wine festival and my wife would take the girls to Charlotte for the concert. So no Wine Festival which enabled me to go to Penn State.
Let’s go back in time….Since my 30’s I’ve always gotten really really bad headaches. Headaches so bad that it would sometimes keep me from going to work. To keep this as short as possible Excedrin was always the cure.
So on a perfectly normal day, doing a little bar hoping and debauchery at Penn State I began to get a headache. This band was playing (Velveeta), and my friends and I were having a blast. Our tough but very successful 1st quarter was essentially over and it was time to celebrate our successes and burn a little well deserved steam. While having fun my headache began which essentially would not be abnormal for me in the fall timeframe due to suspected “allergies”. I looked at my friends and said, hey I’m going outside to get some air and find some Excedrin. All normal. This is where things began to get real. I found myself sitting on a bench and I began losing control of my arms. I had drank a lot that day but nothing outside of normal or inappropriate; however I’ve never ever had an issue with keeping myself under control, issues with my arms nor acted like this in the past. I began fighting it however it was out of my control and I could clearly recognize that in my mind. I remember someone walking up to me asking if everything was ok. Now remember this is in a town full of drunk Penn State Alumni on Homecoming weekend. I asked the person to please go downstairs to the bar and find my friends. I gave them my name and my friend’s names and explained I needed an ambulance. They went in, told the band and the initial reaction of one of my buddies was to throw his hands up in the air, begin screaming because he thought I was getting ready to take over the stage and start singing. Ahhhh…..my friends know me all too well!!! Taking over a stage and singing would not be abnormal for me. I’m a rock star!……seriously! Another person asked me again. It happened to be a member of the band that was playing that night and was taking a break. Again, the band was Velveeta. BTW Velveeta, you guys rock!! So the member of the band goes back in the bar, calls my friends names and my name over the PA. When my buddy heard my name he eventually comes outside and finds me in the bushes and I’m slightly covered with leaves. Long story short, they get me in a cab and bring me back to the RV park. As far as my friends know I was just really drunk. When I step out of the cab I immediately fall. At this time my friends can’t get me back to the RV. They ask about 5 or 6 guys to carry my 195lb dead body back. When I get back it begins to get critical. I basically vomit, piss myself and I smacked my head on the ground and my head begins to bleed. Those that know me well understand this never happens to me and a critical decision was made. I can get in the RV and sleep it off or we can call an ambulance. My friends call the ambulance and when I get to the hospital because I had a head injury they smartly decided to do a CTSCAN. The CTSCAN revealed my brain was bleeding and it was not a result of my fall, it was a result of a blood stroke. The hospital immediately calls a medevac and they fly me to one of the best brain hospitals in the United States. Penn State Hershey. By this time my friends have called my family and everyone began mobilizing. My sister Karen lives in PA and I believe she arrive around 10 minutes before I arrived. My wife and one of my other sisters arrived approximately a half hour later. About an hour later another sister and my Dad arrived and the next day another sister and my brother inlaw arrived as they were out of town at a wedding. When everyone arrived they were all greeted by a Chaplin. My wife flat out refused to acknowledge that God had orchestrated this entire situation for me to die on an operating table and would accept nothing less than me coming home with her. Imagine being greeted by a Chaplin when you have no real clue as to what is going on. When my wife arrived I was being wheeled up for open brain surgery. She asked if she could see or speak to me and the surgeon said no, there was no time. They brought me into surgery and performed a craniotomy and removed the AVM from my brain.
I remember vaguely waking up with the tubes down my throat. I remember writing stroke with my finger on my wifes hand and I remember her describing a time we went snorkeling and that I have to breathe by myself in order to get off the respirator. Think of the tube down your throat as the snorkel at Catalina Island. Wrap your mouth around it and breathe through it like a straw. Once you breathe on your own; then they will take it out. At this time it was my wife, 3 of my sisters and my dad all surrounding me in a recovery room in ICU. I breathed on my own and they took the tube out. When they finally got it out (which sucks BTW) one of my sisters came close down to my face and said “I bet your glad to get that out of your throat”. With a raspy voice I said “Yeah, I don’t know how you women do it!”. Everyone began to laugh and my wife looked over at my dad and said “Dad, do you need me to explain what that means?” I think at that point they were relieved and they knew I was still inside there and everything was going to be ok.
My next memory:
I was sleeping and I hear my family saying. We don’t know any Dante?!?! Dante is on the phone?!?! I said, give me that phone!! I know Dante! He was my first call and one that I’ll never forget. I have so much appreciation for the calls I received its unbelievable Although I had not spoken to Dante in years I truly appreciated him calling! It was great to hear a caring voice from so long ago. It was impactful and I appreciate it.
So as you can probably imagine, waking up after having your head cracked open like a pumpkin is pretty crazy. I remember waking up in the morning and seeing one of the nurses caring for me. She was a pretty blonde wearing a pink shirt with blue sleeves. I told her she looked nice and those were definitely her colors. She asked “what colors am I wearing?” I said pink and blue. She said thank you but they’re really red and blue. I thought that was so funny but knew she was probably right. So as you can imagine waking up not being able to move or feel much can be pretty weird. I asked my wife if I was a vegetable or if I would ever walk? It was all pretty shocking as at the time as I had no feeling below my waist and I could only move the right side of my body. One of the funniest memories I have is me, two of my coworkers, my wife and the nurse in the recovery room and suddenly by the grace of God (even though I had no feeling below my waist) my wonderful genitalia start itching. I reach my right hand high up in the air with excitement dig deep under my hospital gown and vigorously start scratching exclaiming that “My balls itch!” As you can probably imagine at 41 to know that the GOODS still have feeling was an amazing experience!! The nurse and everyone in the room busted out laughing!! We’re all laughing and the surgeon walks in with an odd look on his face because he has no idea what is going on. I reach over with my right hand, shake the surgeons hand and one of my buddies says “hey man you maayyyyy want to wash that hand.” And we all start laughing Later Mark he says, “OMG I think they cut all of Wills filters out of his head”. At this point I literally had no filters whatsoever.
I think the surgeon was very impressed with my recovery and happy that I was awake. The reality of the next conversation sunk deep. The surgeon basically said “You were dying on the table when you came to me.” That’s a pretty humbling thing to hear. I believe that I was probably around 1-20 minutes from dying. I don’t think they thought I would wake up and the surgeon clearly set my wifes expectations very low. I think his initial goal was just to get me off the respirator if that would even happen.
A few days later my a bunch of my coworkers came to see me. I remember my wife wheeling me around in a wheelchair outside and I was getting sick from all the movement. We went to grab a bite to eat with them in the cafeteria. We talked and I was loud and probably surrounded by families with children, old people etc. Apparently I was a little more than loud, was using foul language and my filters were a little off kilter. My wife said, “Will tone it down a little”. Well I made it known “I can say whatever the F#$% I want to say! I almost died and I had brain surgery!!”. I think I probably shocked a few people but oh well….life is short and frankly at that point, I didn’t care about a thing in the world. I was just happy to be breathing. I enjoyed my friends visit and as each of them left, I kissed each of them on the hand and said thank you and that I love them. To this day I appreciate the visit. The empowerment of that visit was amazing and it was highly appreciated and will never be forgotten from each of them. I can close my eyes as I write this and see them all and the moment I said goodbye. So for me, this was the moment where it was time to get down to business. Again, thank you for the visit! Additionally I appreciate all the opportunities each of you guys have given me in life. The mentoring, teaching, guiding, partnerships and believing in me are all truly appreciated. I thank each of you for your friendship, caring and love.
So from here it was off to physical, occupational and speech therapy. In short I had the dream team. The speech therapist initially had no idea why I was seeing her, as I could speak fine, the occupational therapist was quiet, sweet and a little on the timid side and the physical therapist was essentially a Jedi Master. He was Master Yoda. We clicked and he truly challenged me. There were many times that I would ask myself, why are you guys making me do all this stuff….when I made it back to the real world it all made sense. I mean going to an IHOP on a Sunday morning when you just relearned how to walk three weeks ago was a pretty overwhelming experience. Seriously it was!!
There is truly so much to write about this experience it is crazy. I could literally write a book. With that said I’m stopping this with me getting home and going to IHOP. This story has continued with me getting back to work, jumping out of planes, skiing, riding my motorcycle, mountain bike, driving running, hiking, relearning to tie my shoes, relearning to type on a computer a mach speed and just enjoying life.
I’ll continue to follow up with additional blog posts. Happy Friday.