I started off this New Year exactly where I left off last year; incredibly ill. Over the course of December, what started off as a vicious cold morphed into what appeared to be flu. Even though I tested negative for influenza, I was prescribed a treatment course that included Tamiflu and Mucinex. Six days later I was feeling no better; and I returned to the urgent care center for relief. Long story made short; I was diagnosed with pneumonia and possibly tuberculosis, and immediately admitted to the hospital!
I spent the next five days in the healthcare version of solitary confinement; the isolation room. The door was adorned with a variety of public health warnings and my visitors and caregivers were forced to don face masks and gowns. Let me set all of you at peace by stating right now that I tested negative for tuberculosis. Apparently some of the fibrous structures in the pneumonia looked like TB. Instead, I was handed a diagnosis of cavitary pneumonia; the long-term effects of which have yet to be determined.
There is something to be said for being confined in a small setting with minimal outside human interaction. First, it truly makes you appreciate your everyday freedoms which are taken for granted. Second, you genuinely admire the nurses, assistants, lab personnel, and doctors who answered a higher calling to care for those with the worse of illnesses. Third, it allows your mind to drift aimlessly across the chronological tapestry of your life!
The effects of the massive antibiotic doses flowing through the IV line cast me into a trance-like world. I lost track of time and space and often had a difficult time distinguishing between dreams and reality. My interactions with the outside world were limited to blood draws, having my vitals taken, meals being delivered to my bedside, and reassuring conversations with doctors and nurses. My only reprieve from this routine was when my wife would come to visit me.
I had a special agent injected just under the skin, on the inside of my left forearm. Over the course of the next seventy-two hours, that site would reveal to the world whether or not I indeed have TB. Actually, it would reveal itself to me first; assuring that I would be the first soul anguished or relieved. During those first three days of my hospital stay, I checked the site on my arm at least twice an hour. It was like waiting for my skin to pronounce sentence over the remainder of my life!
When I did have those moments of being lucid, I found myself trying to strike bargains with God. In exchange for not having TB; I would perform countless deeds and noble acts that would honor the sanctity of life and pay tribute to Him. Then I realized that you do not negotiate with God; rather you honor Him, have faith in Him, and understand that everything happens for a reason.
It is tempting to say that I had episodes where my entire life flashed before my eyes. Luckily for the reader, melodrama has never suited my style. Truth be told, I did a high-level review of my life thus far. It was methodical and chronological, with pauses for those life events and decisions that were either incredibly painful or tremendously pleasurable. Yes, I had quite an inventory of things I would have done differently by the time my assessment reached the present point in my life!
After cataloging the major milestones in my life, be they positive or negative; I reached the inevitable philosophical crossroads. What is I really did have TB? What if there was more going on in my lungs besides pneumonia? What if they found something else in my body that was even more ominous?
In the mid-1960’s there was a television show by the name of “Run for your Life.” Ben Gazzara played a successful lawyer who was told by his doctor in the first episode that he would die in one to two years. He decided to do all of the things he had never had time for. The program became a series of plays in which he met a wide variety of people from bums riding the rails, to gigolos, to orphans and became a man who had little fear of death and everything but time. Believe me, I fell into that dramatic role immediately!
Now having been out of the hospital for a little over one week; I can assure you that my priorities have changed. My mostly materialistic bucket list has taken on a profoundly spiritual shroud. What I considered indicators of success in life have fallen by the wayside. All that seems important now is family, friends, and reaching out to the world with a special message. My sense of hope is heightened and my belief in the power of the individual to positively impact the world is steadfast. In short, I live within the pure truth of the moment.
Each of us has a purpose in this world. We have each been armed with a special gift intended to support our purpose. The problem is that many of us never discover that purpose, or even acknowledge that it exists. As a result, we are never privy to the gift bestowed upon us.
In my case, it took the fear of a vicious infectious disease to open my eyes to the purpose in my life. It then took five days of mental and physical isolation to allow me to see the gift I have been blessed with. I would hope that none of you ever have to undergo my recent experience; but then again, there is so much to be gained from an unhealthy perspective!