Exactly 20 years ago today, I died.
Not of embarrassment, but of complications from double pneumonia.
For less than a minute, I suffered cardiac arrest, and my medical team from John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek performed CPR and shocked me back to life. During this life-saving effort, I "dreamed" that I was floating above my body, feeling peaceful. I don't think it was a dream, though.
Backing up three weeks: I had worked on a three-day series of articles for the San Ramon Valley Times on "AIDS in the San Ramon Valley." The reports were among the best I had ever done. But the work took its toll on my body: I came down with the flu.
After a week of coughing and not taking full breaths, I consulted my physician, who diagnosed me with pneumonia. I asked him, "Shouldn't I be in a hospital?" Instead, he prescribed antibiotics and sent me home.
I went home to Sacramento to allow my parents to care for me, and my physician called me back for another exam. By the time my parents and I arrived in Walnut Creek, I was short of breath, and my heart was beating erratically. My physician finally had me admitted on July 31 to John Muir Medical Center, where my attending physician was a cardiac surgeon I had interviewed for a news story.
After my family left my hospital room, I realized the difference between me and my parents and siblings was that I could not leave the hospital without risking my life.
The next day I underwent a procedure that involved putting a scope down my trachea to view my lungs. I woke up in the intensive care unit with a breathing tube and a feeding tube down my throat. My first thought was the equivalent of "WTF?"
Although I couldn't speak, I could write, barely. I motioned for the nurse to bring me a pen and pad of paper. I wrote, "Me die?" She responded that the medical team was doing what it could to keep my alive.
During my morphine-induced state, I saw an Episcopal minister pray over me. I thought, indignant, "I'm not dying yet!" I was tested for hantavirus, which I didn't have. I was awakened by nurses to cough.
What does dying feel like? As if your soul is a candle, and its flame is flickering to just a glowing ember before finally going out.
Three days after my near-death experience, I left the ICU and returned to a regular hospital room. I learned from a nurse about my almost meeting my Maker. I was stunned. My siblings told me that the night before my near death, Dad was crying and praying nonstop. I have never seen my father cry. Still haven't.
I spent 16 days in the hospital, 8 of them in ICU. I was out of work for a total of seven weeks. I didn't regain my full speaking voice until two months after I left the hospital.
Often I wondered why I lived when others have died in similar circumstances. It may be that I still have a purpose in life I have to fulfill before I die for the last time.