A few months ago, The Husband launched a blog called The Answer’s at the End, a mix of in-depth, analytical longform-style book reviews (his focus is presidential biographies and history) along with occasional commentary on sports, current events, and music. (Indeed, the title of his blog comes from George Harrison’s song of the same name from his 1975 album “Extra Texture.”)
If you’re friends with me or The Husband on Facebook, you know the story: as we were finishing up Thanksgiving dinner, The Husband got up from the table and walked into our bathroom. I don’t know how long he was in there — my guess is under five minutes — when I went to check on him.
I found him collapsed on the floor, barely conscious, sweating, and unable to speak. His breathing was extremely labored. I screamed for someone to call 911, and the dispatcher instructed me to start giving chest compressions because there was a moment when I felt him starting to slip away. The paramedics came, started working on him right there on the floor of our bedroom, and took him away in an ambulance.
I’ll write more about this (all signs point to this being a vasovagal syncope) but for now, I’ll let The Husband take over. As George says, life is one long enigma my friend. So read on, read on, the answer’s at the end.
Weeks ago I’d planned on a post for November 29th remembering George Harrison, on the 14th anniversary of his death. Then I almost got to meet him a lot earlier than I was planning on; so, that’s kind of changed the post a bit.
As I wrote on Facebook yesterday, I collapsed on Thanksgiving Night with an as-yet unknown-and-may-never-be-known misfiring of the brain that left me unable to talk and came very near to stopping my breathing forever. My wife kept me breathing long enough for the paramedics to take over. I spent a few days in the hospital and I’m now home doing a lot of resting.
As it was happening, I remember thinking that this is what it is like to die. I could hear much of what was going on but was powerless, unable to communicate. I felt as though there was a struggle going on. On the one hand was the desire for the inability to breathe and the discomfort to stop at any cost. On the other hand was my wife pulling me back and refusing to let me rest just now. The bond between my wife and I – because of all we’ve been through these last 25 years together – has always been strong. She doesn’t want to hear it, but I know that she’s the reason I hung on. I knew she wouldn’t let me go and that I owed it to her and our children to stay. More importantly, that I wanted to stay. That I fought to stay.
Having said all of that, it didn’t hit me until a few hours after I was in my hospital room that I could have died. This seems self-evident, but my mind was so addled that it didn’t hit home until I saw the date written on the white-board across from my bed. It had the nurse’s name, the emergency numbers, and ‘November 26, 2015’. Looking at that I suddenly thought, “This could’ve been the day that I died” – borrowing heavily from Don McLean. Later, looking at my hospital ID tag, I saw my date of birth, followed by my date of admission. I realized those dates could’ve been the beginning of my epitaph.
At one time or another in our lives we all wonder what that date will be for us – that ‘death’ date on the epitaph. Seeing it there in print was a bit more than I could handle so I immediately stared at something else [you do a lot of staring at things in the hospital].
The list of things I’m grateful for today that I took completely for granted is too long to even start. Yesterday was a typical day in Pittsburgh – rain, rain, cold, rain – but it sure as hell looked like a beautiful day to me. I know that won’t last and that’s ok, too. I shouldn’t spend the rest of my life flittering around marveling at how great everything always is. That ain’t me [surprise, surprise].
That being said, I sure as hell am going to try to approach things differently. I’m still in the afterglow of having my life saved. And I’m sure I need to pay more attention to my health and that there may be some follow up things I need to do medically. I’ll face that as it comes. I hope, though, that I can really keep the promise that I’ve made to try to look at things differently.
Before I sign off [just for today, folks], a note about George Harrison as originally intended: I learned about George’s death while in Wichita, Kansas, in a hotel while watching Live with Regis and Kelly. That’s right: I learned about George’s death from Regis Philbin [“well, well, well, Kelly – guess who’s dead?!?”]. We were in Wichita with our one-week-old twins in the NICU. It was surreal. A Beatle-death would normally have been an Earth-shattering, world-stopping event. With my infants in a hospital 1,000 miles from home, not knowing what would happen or how long we’d be there, etc., however, George’s death registered with a tremendous sadness but I had more pressing obligations.
Still, sad it was. A year later, George’s widow, Olivia, and his friend Jeff Lynne released George’s last album, Brainwashed. When doctors told George he had only a few months to live in the fall 2001, he went into his recording studio to record as many songs [he had a backlog of dozens of unrecorded songs] as he could. The recordings were raw and as time went on, George’s voice became weaker. After his death, Jeff Lynne and George’s son, Dhani, went into the studio to listen to George’s recordings. They recorded back-up vocals, added backing tracks, and fine-tuned it. When it was released, of course I bought it right away. Listening to it the first time, my son – 1 at the time – joined me and crawled over to the stereo. He pulled himself up to a standing position, obviously listening to the music. I watched this in amazement. I don’t know how long it lasted but it was long enough to leave that impression on me.
I don’t know what was going on while my son was listening to that album. I really felt, though, that he somehow knew that this man singing was someone special. Maybe in the cosmos there’s some kind of connection between them – one coming into the Earthly world, the other leaving one week later. Maybe it’s nothing. But I’ve always taken comfort in thinking that George’s spirit helped us get from Wichita back home and has been with the world ever since.
Thank you, George. I’m just not yet ready to meet you just yet.