On August 21st, 2015, I was sitting at a desk at a customer site where I've worked for 18 years. I complained to a colleague of heartburn. I took a couple Tumms, took my glasses off, laid them on the desk and proceeded to convulse in the spasms of a heart attack dropping dead to the floor.
My colleague performed CPR and the department immediately called paramedics who rushed to my aid. On the way to the hospital I had severe arrhythmia and was hit unsuccessfully with a defibrillator seven times. They put a Lucas machine on me and at some point broke my sternum and several ribs. I was dead for 20 minutes and when I arrived at the hospital, they put me into an induced coma in an effort to save my brain.
The cardiologist told my wife that "I am in God's hands" and that the family should come immediately.
They do surgery, putting a stent in my "widow maker" artery, then they wait to see if I'm going to wake up, and if I wake up, if I'm going to be the same person that I was before. I was told I one of the first things I did when I woke up from the coma was to flip my boss off; it was a sign to everyone that I was going to be okay.
I am covered in bruises. Every time I move my ribs complain.
I spent the next 11 days after my heart attack in Hennepin County Medical Center in downtown Minneapolis, seven of those in intensive care.
I remember nearly nothing about my time in the hospital.
- Getting my catheter removed. I don't really have to explain this, do I?
- Using a bedpan because it was disgusting.
- A nurse telling me that if I could get out of bed and walk to the end of the hall and back I could go home. I did not try to get out bed immediately and fall on my face. They wouldn't let me, otherwise I would have.
I spent the next few weeks doing cardio rehab three times at a hospital in Waconia, MN. I scheduled these sessions for early in the morning, something different for me in that I've always been one to stay up late and start my day later than most. The thought was that the sessions wouldn't collide so much with the work day because I was damned sure I was going back to work as quickly as possible.
There are six, seven of us in each rehab session. Guys finish and a new guy rotates in. There were only two guys younger than me, both smokers.
During rehab, I realize I feel a great deal of resentment about what's happened. I don't smoke. I had high blood pressure, but I took drugs for that. There is no family history of heart disease. I wasn't out of shape. I exercised, although not religiously. I coached kids for a decade of youth soccer. I was a boy scout leader for 15 years. I took pride in always being a part of what the kids were doing whether it was running around on an ice hockey rink playing broomball, throwing an atlatl, or navigating a raft through some rapids down a river.
I am not the guy that this is supposed to happen to.
I tried to return to work as quickly as I could. I couldn't do full days, although I was pretty good at lying to myself that I could. What I found was even trivial problems wore me out quickly, and I needed more rest than I anticipated.
Lying to myself made sense. I don't remember the trauma that my body experienced so it was like it never happened.
Instead I had to be told.
I had a meeting with my cardiologist on September 30th. As I am walking through HCMC it occurs to me that returning to the hospital for the first time after a trauma must be difficult for a lot of people. I consider myself fortunate to remember so little.
My cardiologist, Dr. Louis Kohl, a Wisconsin alum, says he's okay with me returning to work and driving. He says too many people sit around and don't recover as quickly as they could otherwise. This is a relief. He also makes a point to stress that my being alive was a rather rare occurrence.
"Only one out of four or one of five survive what you've been through."
This mirrors what my pharmacologist tells me in our meeting a couple weeks later. She tells me I am amazing man. She also says she wants to see me again. I find these statements uplifting as I don't hear them from women very often anymore.
I have an echo test in early October. I have no idea what I'm looking at, but it was very interesting watching your heart beat.
Issues continue, particularly memory.
I am sitting at a customer site in mid-October, working on a database server. It keeps disconnecting clients and is very disruptive to the business. I am frustrated, and while trying to figure out how it is installed, I turn to my customer and say "Who the fuck installed this?".
His eyes get a little wide, and then he calmly says, "You did."
I check my laptop, and sure enough, there is full documentation on the installation process and an explanation as to why I did what I did.
At one point I walked around our kitchen looking for silverware that has been in the same drawer for over 20 years.
There's a big dent in my head that wasn't there before all of this happened. It's just in front of the crown and I don't have a real good explanation as to how it got there. I might have lunged backwards into a metal cabinet, but the angle doesn't work. A more plausible explanation is that I jerked forward and smashed my head into the desk.
The explanation I use is that my colleague started kicking me in the head while I was on the floor, then bludgeoned me repeatedly with his door in an effort to move my body into the hall so he could close the door and ignore me while I died in the hallway.
He continues to deny these claims.
I continue to have frequent headaches, debilitating headaches, headaches that make me want to lie down in the dark and tell everyone to go to hell. My doctors blame the head injury and tell me that in time it will heal, that I am supposed to have patience. Patience has always been one of my strongest traits. Ask anyone that knows me and they'll tell you that it's right up there with grace, tact, and coordination.
Throughout all of this we - Husker fans - collectively weaved and woved through the first season of the Mike Riley era. Such an exciting thing when it began; shiny new coach, different offense, the promised absence of a screaming maniac on the sideline. A new hope.
Instead, it was the worst Husker football season since 1957, in the Bill Jennings era, when the Cornhuskers went 1-9. The ultimate proof is in losses to Purdue and Illinois. I can't think of anything worse than giving up 55 points to the Boilers no matter how many turnovers there were. The futility of trying to throw in the wind at Illinois was dipshitted offensive coaching at its finest, perhaps matched only by the horror of watching Nebraska's defensive secondary give up big play after big play throughout most of the season.
Or maybe it wasn't the worst season since the Bill Jennings era. Nebraska fans can take some solace in how the season ended; beating Michigan State, playing Iowa close and winning the bowl game over UCLA. You can look at how they chose to run the dadgummed ball and conclude that maybe there is some hope that Riley will be the coach Nebraska wants him to be; not because of the run/pass ratio but because they took a workable game plan into a game and won with it.
Whichever way you go, it was the most emotional season in Nebraska football history. Week by week, up, down and all around; at least on a rollercoaster you can look at the track ahead and set your expectations accordingly.
Nebraska fans did the same as I did with my health; examined every possible reason for failure no matter how ludicrous that reason was with the idea that if that one thing could be fixed, replaced or removed, everything would be all better and life would be back to a level of consistency everyone could live with.
Mike Riley did not run the ball often enough and I did not eat enough yogurt. Mike Riley hired all his friends to coach with him and I ate lard from a bucket. Nebraska doesn't have enough talent and I am an overworked, overstressed individual, a Type A's Type A.
A secret plan to destroy Nebraska football has been concocted between Harvey Perlman, Barry Alvarez, and Shawn Eichorst and once that plan is complete, Eichorst will take Barry's rightful place as athletic director at the University of Wisconsin. I have no equivalent for my health for this because while I am crazy at times, I am not completely delusional.
Worse than all those was the idea that time itself could be reset. Bo Pelini could come back to Nebraska just like I would have never been dead. We do this a lot in life; "If only I hadn't said that", "I only I hadn't left her", "If only I hadn't stolen that", "If only I hadn't kicked a gas receipt out of the car at the crime scene".
You can spend a lot of time and energy examining hypotheticals. Sometimes you can even make it fun. Sooner or later, though, you have to accept you can't change anything and move on. I am about 90% of the way there with my heart. I am 100% of the way there with Nebraska football. Nebraska football is a lot easier to get over than life even when it feels like you've died and gone to hell after a loss to Purdue.
Whether you chose to go through this offseason hopeful for the next or spreading gloom and doom is a matter of choice that is entirely up to you. It does not affect the team's performance either way; you have no influence there and no more control than I had when I plopped over dead while sitting at a desk.
I wrote this article mostly to review what's happened to me these past few months if only to get a better understanding of the events. My hope was that I can put them behind me like I have this football season and hope for better times ahead.
I had hoped to publish this last week, but last Wednesday morning, I had heartburn. I never have heartburn. The only other time I can recall having heartburn was just before my heart attack in August. I want to ignore it, but during rehab they told us that ignoring problems with the heart only allowed more damage to occur, and if there is a fear I have it's getting older and being kept alive while I am physically unable to do things.
So I call. The cardiologist's office tells me to go to the ER. I get to the ER and I wait. And wait. They take blood and more blood and an EKG. I learn about troponin. They do a sonogram. At one point my cardiologist says, somewhat nonchalantly, "We knew that we'd have to do some more work on you sooner or later. We couldn't do a whole lot when you were here before. You were in too rough a condition."
I'm sure he told me this at one point. My wife says yes, he has.
They put in another stent below the first one. There is a discussion about the possibility of putting in a defibrillator. It's a discussion that upsets me quite a bit because it's an indication there might be a discrepancy between where I think I am and reality.
This time I remember everything.
And I realize I am still at 90%.