Today, on Day 15 of chronicling this new “adventure,” I'm going to spill the beans. Until now I've mainly been relating the events beginning on and since September 1st. I mentioned the real adventure began on August 18th with my first experience with being cared for by EMTs, riding in an ambulance being rushed to the hospital and experiencing an ER as a patient for the first time. It's been 28 days since the “Fireball” from the universe randomly struck me.
Let me begin by saying, my story is unique to me. However, every one of us can go back through our personal histories and relate stories about all kinds of fireballs each of us has experienced. This isn't my first. However, it may be, to date, the most dramatic, with the potential for being devastating in several ways. But, we've all had them. They might be medical, as mine currently is. They could have been physical, psychological, emotional, relational or financial. No one is immune.
So, I'm not setting myself up as being unique in this regard. I'm simply relating my unique story so that others may relate to it. Perhaps, and even better yet, hopefully, others will be uplifted, inspired and encouraged as they travel through their own life experiences.
The Back Story
There is always a back story. The backstories lay the groundwork for the present and future. I had planned to be on the highways and byways traipsing around our beautiful country on my nomadic adventures by mid-November of 2018. I was late and then even later leaving due to having committed to working on an audio product project with my longest term client (nearly 40 years) and a very good friend. We finally completed recording the project just a week or so before the Christmas holiday season. By then it was too late to leave to start making my visits as I would have headed south.
I re-planned my departure for immediately after the new year, 2019, began. I had some last-minute work to do in preparing the van (My McVansion) including having a second, huge, 156 pound, sealed, deep cycle house battery installed. I didn't place the battery in the van. Two, big, burly men at my battery supplier did that deed. However, I did a lot of rewiring, installing new switching and MOVED the first (original) battery to make room for the second battery. This proved to be a major and negative miscalculation on my part. I injured my back and ended up in excruciating pain and virtually immobile. I wasn't able to leave until mid-February.
I was still in pain, but it was tolerable by this time. I made a few brief visits on my way south but really couldn't tolerate anymore. So, I headed for Florida where a friend and his wife had found a beautiful, secluded camping location on a hidden lake in northcentral Florida. They were awaiting my arrival. I stayed (camped) there for approximately a month. By that time I was feeling back on top of my game.
Since I was approximately four months behind in my originally planned travel schedule by mid-March, I ended up cutting out many more visits I had planned to make. But, I was on the road and feeling really good. I did a spin through Florida then blasted through the Florida panhandle, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana to make my next planned stop for a visit in Houston, Texas. I bypassed my other planned stops in Austin, New Braunfels, Padre Island National Seashore and made it to Kerrville, Texas for a visit with one of the authors of my former book publishing company and his charming and fun wife. From there, it was up to Fort Worth to meet up with a former grad school friend I hadn't seen in 51 years and then to Dallas for another visit with a friend and business colleague.
The trip was going smoothly and I was feeling great in all ways. My McVansion had thrown me a few curves and continued with a few more over the balance of the trek, but nothing that couldn't be managed along the way. After all, like me, My McVansion is now an “antique.” I made a few stops in New Mexico for a couple visits and then I was headed for Yuma, Arizona.
Yuma is near Los Algodones, Mexico where my dentist is located. I needed a cleaning and I had some other dental work to be taken care of. After the first session, she said I needed to come back in about three weeks to have the final work taken care of. So, off I went to Phoenix. I visited several friends and family in Phoenix, met some new friends and then headed up to Payson, Arizona in the higher country. I found myself a breathtaking location at about 7,600 feet on the edge of a cliff overlooking a 2,000-foot canyon. I was there for about a week and a half all by myself. Being by myself is important later in this story. And, this wasn't the only time I was by myself in very secluded areas during this trek.
I went back, to Phoenix for a small gathering of other friends, went back to Yuma, got my final dental procedure completed and then headed to Lake Havasu City to visit a nomad friend who had recently been released from rehab and was staying in an inexpensive hotel. I felt Carl would enjoy some familiar company for a short time.
From there, I was off to California where I visited my former wife and her daughter from before we were married (now part of the family and my friends). Then into Los Angeles to visit my son and spend a few days with him and meeting a friend of his. And, then it was out to Clovis, California to spend some time with my former mother-in-law, who had assisted me in my business for about 20 years. Also, I was visiting my former brother and sister-in-law and niece and nephew. Toward the end of my month-long stay we had a family reunion with her sons and families and another daughter and husband arriving from all over the country. It was also the celebration of my mother-in-law's 93rd birthday. I spent a little over a month in Clovis.
The Homeward Trek
Now, it's important to know that during this entire time, once my back had healed up and I was back on top of my game, I felt great throughout the entire cross-country trek. It wasn't until toward the end of my Clovis visit that I began feeling just a little bit of brain fog creeping in. Also, I was feeling a bit of dizziness that I attributed to some “senior” vertigo. And, I was experiencing a bit of wobbliness in my legs. This was unusual since I was a walker and could walk miles. There was also an occasional challenge with swallowing food. I attributed this to eating too fast, taking bites that were too large and not chewing my food thoroughly. This was a typical habit since I prepared and ate my meals by myself so much of the time.
I finally left for the east coast (right after the triple earthquake struck in California about 150 miles from Clovis). I plotted a route east that would take me over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky and finally into my eastern base state of West Virginia. I left later than I had planned, so I put some extra stress on myself. Additionally, it was extremely hot in many of the places I was driving through. I had several stops planned on the way for visits and I made virtually all the planned stops and one unplanned stop where I stayed on another mountaintop in Colorado at about 7,400 feet. I met a delightful Australian couple there with their U.S. RV (they have one in Australia, too). We became friends. We can never have enough friends.
I left Clovis, California about 12 noon on July 8th, about a week later than my planned departure. I arrived back at my eastern base camp in northeastern West Virginia at about 4 PM on July 22nd. My 21 day travel time had diminished to 14 days. Other than the things I mentioned that I started feeling toward the end of my visit in Clovis, not much changed by the time I got back to West Virginia. However, I definitely was tired and stressed by the heat I experienced and pushing my daily travel a bit longer than I had planned since I had shortened my overall travel back to the east by a week.
I had a month until the professional conference I run in August each year was coming up. I had completed most of the intense part of the planning and preparation for the Veteran Speakers Retreat while I was traveling. The event was slated to begin on August 22nd. I had plenty of time to relax, destress and be ready for the event. But, that's not how it happened. I was still feeling some of the issues that I began noticing while I was nearing the end of my time in California.
I called my primary doctor's office and set up an appointment for Tuesday, August 13th. I told them I had some issues I wanted to discuss about my health. That was a red flag for them. They told me, when I called for the appointment, as soon as I said I had issues they knew something was up because I never have issues. Well, that is other than about eight years earlier when I was stricken by Lyme Disease. I even mentioned that perhaps I was having some recurrence. I was at my appointment. The visit lasted much longer than my normal visits. They took blood to test for the possibility of the Lyme Disease flaring up. They took other blood for other lab work. All my labs came back fine. However, I was scheduled for a Barium Swallow test. The one thing that really caught their attention was my occasional swallowing issue.
Five days later, Sunday, August 18th was when the universe randomly hurled a Fireball and it struck me. I was feeling fine that morning. I got up, took care of my regular bathroom business. It was normal. I went out and walked about a mile and a half. That appeared fine. I was sitting at my table with my computer working on some things for the upcoming conference when all of a sudden I began feeling lightheaded and nauseous. I laid down on the bed. Then I got up and went to the bathroom and now I was passing black blood. I was sweating profusely and couldn't get up from the commode for quite a while. I finally made it back to my bed, laid down and was still feeling bad.
I decided I had to get back to the bathroom. I got off the bed. The next thing I remember was that I was being picked up off the floor by Carolyn's grandson (a professional EMT who was visiting his grandmother that weekend). Carolyn was over me, too. She's a retired nurse with 50 years of experience. Thank God they were there.
A few minutes later, the local EMTs arrived, stabilized me and got me on a gurney and out to the ambulance and off we went with siren blasting to the local ER. My blood pressure had dropped to 50/30. According to my research, I should have been in a coma or dead right about then. The black blood continued later into the day. My blood pressure and vital signs were very slowly rising, but not even a close third to any safe zone. The ER ordered a head CT and an abdominal CT. Neither showed anything negative. They kept me throughout the day and wanted to admit me. However, I had a conference to run later that week with people coming from all over the U.S. and Canada. So, against medical advice, I signed myself out.
Slowly, ever so slowly, my blood pressure was rising toward, but not yet close to normal. My heart rate was racing typically between 110 and 115 (my normal resting heart rate is in the mid-60s). I relaxed while getting some work done on Monday and Tuesday. I took a test drive in the van to see if I could drive without any issues. And, of course, I still had no idea what had happened. It was, literally, a Fireball.
On Wednesday, August 21st, I had a follow-up appointment with my regular doctor's office. I drove myself there, approximately 70 miles over 7 mountains and through 7 valleys. I brought copies of everything from the ER the previous Sunday. They canceled the Barium Swallow test, told me I needed to have an endoscopy, but ordered me to go get some blood drawn at the hospital diagnostic center in Winchester, Virginia, where I was now located. I did as ordered. I told the doctor's office I was heading to Front Royal, Virginia, the site of the upcoming conference I was running, beginning the next day. However, I was checking in a day early to get some final preparation done and to meet with some advance members of my team.
I went to Front Royal, I picked up some printing at my former business partner's place and then checked into my suite at the hotel overlooking the mountains and a golf course. About 3:30 the doctor's office called me and ordered me to get to the ER at the Winchester Medical Center IMMEDIATELY. I was about 25 minutes away. They weren't at all thrilled with me driving myself. They had already contacted the ER triage nurse to alert her of my pending arrival and giving them the details. I had some things to complete and get with my advance team and brief them I was not sure if I'd be back for the beginning or any of the conference.
I arrived at the ER somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours later. And, of course, they were anxiously awaiting my arrival and not at all happy that I didn't get there immediately. I had to find a parking space and then walk back to the ER. The triage nurse passed me by the other people waiting in the chairs, tagged me and had me back in an ER cubicle within minutes. They took my vital signs, put an IV in my arm and took blood. It was then that they let me know that I had been internally bleeding and bled out half of my blood supply. Once again, I was walking on the line between life and death. I guess I shouldn't have driven my van over to the hospital. But, what did I know? I'd never been hit by a Fireball before.
After keeping me there for a while, the ER doctor came in and said they could keep me as an outpatient, in a special ER Observation Status in a private room in a special ER unit. About 8 PM I was in my own room in the ER on Wednesday, August 21st. On Thursday afternoon they did an endoscopy and Thursday evening they did a CT scan of my stomach and esophagus region. Friday morning, the surgical oncologist on-call paid me a visit and I finally learned what was going on. At first look, it appeared that I had esophageal cancer that had grown into my stomach. The preliminary speculation was that it would require chemotherapy, radiation and that would be followed by surgery.
My vital signs had pretty much stabilized and I was finally granted some food (I hadn't eaten anything but liquid for two days). I told the surgical oncologist precisely what medical oncologist I wanted for my chemotherapy. He said the doctor I requested owed him a favor, so he'd call it in for me. There was nothing more they could do for me at that time. I was stable. They were not going to transfuse me with blood, even though I was unbelievably anemic, but for medical safety reasons, they refrained from transfusions unless my blood level dropped any lower. I had stopped bleeding internally.
I was discharged from the ER Observation Unit at about 5:45 PM on Friday. They took me out to my van and I drove myself back to the conference hotel. I snuck in without anyone seeing me – until a little while later. The conference attendees discovered I was back in the hotel. I operated on adrenalin for the rest of the weekend. I checked out on Monday, August 26th and drove myself back to West Virginia. By Thursday, August 29th, the two oncology doctors I needed to work with for chemo and radiation adjusted their schedules to individually meet with me and confer over my case and treatment protocol. Everything moved rapidly from that point forward.
Ultimately, the diagnosis is Stage III Gastric Cancer that has encroached into my esophagus. The recent PET Scan I had indicates, so far, the cancer has not spread to any other parts of my body. I'm very thankful for that since my medical oncologist believes this tumor began approximately four to five years ago. I also mentioned earlier that I would return to some comments I made about my camping locations. I have to believe, that this is not my time to leave this life. If this Fireball had hit me in any of the various places I've camped in deserts, national forests, mountaintops or even in Walmart parking lots, the likelihood of me surviving would probably have been little to none. If Carolyn's grandson had not been here the day I passed out on the floor, I also might not have survived.
So, that's the entire story. If you read it all, you are an intrepid reader of this blog. As I said when I started this article, this is only my own unique Fireball experience and story. I know there are others that are far more dramatic than mine – and possibly tragic. I have a fairly long treatment program and road to recovery. So, I won't be seeing a lot of my friends for quite a while. But, do keep in touch on Facebook, by email, phone calls are certainly invited and I don't mind texts or PMs. I plan to post articles on my blogs every day or, at least nearly, every day. This is my own journal of this adventure. But, if you read and subscribe to the blog, you can check in on my progress.
I do expect there to be some tough times ahead undergoing both daily radiation and weekly chemo treatments. But, if I couldn't handle this, I wouldn't be here writing about it. I have a mission to uplift, inspire and encourage you, anyone you know and anyone else who may find these writings so they can proceed beyond their own individually unique Fireballs.
Please DO NOT send me any negative things about the news, politics, etc. Please DO send me anything that is humorous, funny, uplifting, inspiring, encouraging and positive. I plan to do EVERYTHING I can to maintain the most positive attitude I can and to bring smiles and laughs to everyone I come in contact with from other patients, to doctors, nurses, techs, friends, family, people I meet on the street, etc. Thanks for your friendship, your caring and sharing and your prayers, positive vibes and support.
Here's today's thought to ponder. To be alive, to be able to see, to walk, to have houses, music, paintings–it's all a miracle. - Arthur Rubinstein
Live free and be happy. EH