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Dan Gottlieb, Ph.D. Headshot

Thank You for Saving My Life

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I've known for many years that my body is vulnerable. And as I age, it's more vulnerable. You see, 68 years of life combined with 35 years of quadriplegia, would have anyone's body compromised and vulnerable. Nevertheless, most systems in my body look pretty good considering... even my heart. That heart that beats so slowly (which is why I have a pacemaker). That heart that loves so many, that heart that opens with gratitude for my life. That heart has always been healthy.

So why did I develop crushing chest pain on August 17?

I was rushed to Atlantic City hospital where I was diagnosed with pericarditis -- fluid in the sack that surrounds the heart, usually caused by a virus. It's serious but treatable. Of course then there is the quadriplegia problem that adds an element of unpredictability to everything that happens to me.

Several hours after I was admitted, they couldn't find my blood pressure. And then my kidneys stopped working. They pumped me full of sterile saline which usually works to raise blood pressure. Not me.

They had to administer medication to me through a central line (a catheter that gets inserted into one of the larger veins -- preferably in the neck). Since it was an emergency, I was rushed into surgery, but they couldn't find a good vein in my neck so they went in my groin. Good news and bad news. I don't have the sensation down there, so I couldn't feel it. But I was at very high risk for infection. And an infection in the bloodstream means sepsis.

Whenever I am hospitalized, I wind up getting a medical education that my insurance pays for. So in one week I learned about heart failure, the dangers of dopamine, atrial fibrillation, air hunger, partially collapsed lungs and plural infusion (fluid in the pleural cavity around the lungs that prevents the lungs from expanding). I could become board-certified, but I would rather go to a movie.

Yes, I almost died. Again. At one 5 a.m. morning after the blood pressure crisis, I looked my daughter in the eye and asked her if I was going to die this time. She is a very sharp veterinary nurse, so she knew what was going on medically. I asked her to tell me the truth. When she looked down at me, I knew that she didn't know whether I would make it or not. And yet again I felt the gray tepid breeze of death on my cheek.

Thankfully I survived that one. I have always believed that there are valuable lessons in every experience we have -- especially the painful ones.

I hope I never forget that tepid breeze of death and how nearby it always is -- for all of us. I hope I never forget how tired my body/mind feels these days because I always want to be mindful of this body and care for it when it is tired.

I hope I never forget the fragility of life and that we fear death because we love life.

Shortly after I arrived home, the nurse who was working the evening of the blood pressure crisis was on duty. When she arrived she explained to me that when my blood pressure plummeted, the hospital staff wasn't understanding that it was a crisis. So she told me that she raised hell until they did something. As she told me this I could picture her hollering at the floor nurses to get a doctor before all systems shut down my life would be over. I pictured her doing the right thing medically, but also doing this because she cared about me.

A few hours later she put me in bed and before she left the room I said: "By the way, thank you for saving my life." Her response was a simple "Oh, you're welcome."

This simple expression of gratitude I could repeat thousands of times. I would like to say thank you to my nurses, thank you to my doctors, thank you to all of my dear friends who love me, who I love. Thank you to my family and extended family and thank you to my new family. Thank you to the thousands of people who contribute to the quality of my life -- the person who bags my groceries, the mail person who brings my mail to my house, the guy who fixes my wheelchair and my Van, my handyman who calls me his brother. All of these people had to so many more contribute to the quality of my life.

But most of all I want to say how very thankful I am to have precious life.

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