July 23, 2010 my 36th and final radiation treatment for head and neck cancer. Surgery had left me without a tonsil, a jugular vein, or the ability to raise my right arm above my shoulder. Chemo had shut down my immune system. I was so weak from radiation, my legs were almost useless. I could wobble to the bathroom to puke or to the car to endure the agonizing ride back to the Markey Cancer Center. The outside of my neck was burned black. The inside of my throat cooked to the point that sipping water felt like gulping ground glass. I woke up so Mrs P could feed me or wash me or give me pills. I wrote. Saw guests. Wrestled with God. And I was getting sweatier and dizzier by the hour. Death had been coming to me in my Percocet flooded dreams for weeks. That morning, he took his best shot.
|Saddle Embolus. "The Widow Maker"|
My doc ordered a CT scan after that day's treatment to look for a reason for my erratic blood pressure. That's when they found it. They rushed me to the ER, and started pumping me full of Heparin: the nuclear option when you are trying to blow up a blood clot. The Pulmonary specialist's first words to me were, "You are a damned lucky man. You have Saddle Embolus, a clot we call "The Widow Maker." I later learned that her kill rate is 80%. I had been living with 50/50 odds of living till Christmas. Suddenly I had a 2 in 10 chance of seeing the next click of the second hand.
The clots formed deep in my legs: Deep Vein Thrombosis, a result of treatment and weeks of lying in bed, stoned on pain killers. One clot, a big one had broken loose and gone on a little riverboat cruise up the Inferior Vena Cava, through my heart, (Sweet Jesus, through my heart!) and hung up at the fork where the pulmonary artery feeds blood into the lungs. It became a dam in the river, keeping blood from getting to my lungs. Had it been a millimeter larger, had another clot followed up behind it, it would have completely blocked my circulatory system. It would have killed me faster than I can type its name.
Now, maybe you don't believe in miracles. Maybe you believe in coincidence or good luck or just random events that come and go for no particular reason, but whatever you believe in you can believe this. Five years ago today, Death pressed his boney nose right up to mine, stared me cold in the eyes, and just as our lips were about to touch, he changed his mind. He pulled away, whispered something in my ear, and stepped back out the door. What he said was a secret between him and me. What he did changed me forever.
Five years. Recovery. Depression. Weight loss. Muscle gain. Crawling, walking, running, racing. Depression. The YMCA. Two full marathons. A Divorce. A nervous breakdown. Therapy. Friendship. Playing King Lear. Becoming a teacher. And tonight. Oh my gracious God, tonight...
|Abner Dillon: Investor, Optimist, and Joyful Dreamer|
There is a classic speech in 42nd STREET. Peggy Sawyer has been pulled out of the chorus to replace the injured star. It is her first night on Broadway. The moment is part of the mythology of the American stage, but it isn't just about show business. Director Julian Marsh's words to her are for everyone who has ever had to choose between giving up and going on; between playing it safe and risking everything. This is what life is about, in or out of the theatre...
Now listen and listen hard. One hundred people. One hundred jobs. One hundred thousand dollars. Five weeks of grind and blood and sweat. And it all depends on what you do out there tonight. Oh, I know what you're thinking. Here comes March with another one of his pep talks. Well, this is the last of them, Sawyer, and it comes straight from the heart. Our hopes, our futures, our lives are in your hands. Go out there and make them shine with your golden talent!
Sawyer, you're going out there a youngster but you've got to come back a star!You're damn right I believe in miracles; I am one. I don't just believe in God's grace; I have it flowing through my veins. I believe that my life kept squeezing past that lump of clotted blood so that five years later I could say this to you:
Whatever role you are playing today, wherever the next scene turns out to be on your life's stage...There is no last chance in this life. There is no such place as hopeless. No such thing as an impossible dream. Your life is more important and more valuable than you will ever understand. You're going to want to quit a thousand times, But I promise you, there are blessings ahead of you beyond anything you can ask or imagine. As long as you have life in you, use it to reach for the stars.
Break a leg, kid.