No one really knows what death feels like. If they did, they’d be dead. As a kid I remember looking out the back plate glass window into the backyard and telling my mother that the rays of sunshine poking through the clouds and hitting the valley below were people coming back from heaven after they died.
“No,” she said gently. “People don’t come back here after they die.”
“What?” I said. “That can’t be … Shirley MacLaine said…”
I don’t think I actually referenced Shirley MacLaine, which would have been pretty weird for a kid barely in elementary school, but the fascination with having a second chance at life intrigued me back then.
I’ve been a relatively healthy guy my whole life. Thankfully, no major illnesses, no cancer, no major injuries — not even a broken bone. I’ve never even ridden in an ambulance or stayed the night in a hospital.
Then one morning last week I woke up at 5:30 a.m., felt funny, walked into the bathroom and noticed that I looked white as a ghost. The next thing I remember, I was opening my eyes slowly and trying to figure out how I got on the floor in the hallway outside the bathroom — and why I had chest pains.
I live alone. I’ve heard about scenarios like this, where they find the person days after they’ve died in their tiny apartment only after the neighbors start to complain of a mysterious stench.
In fact, this very thing happened a few months ago just a few blocks from where I lived. I watched as the fire trucks showed up, then the cop cars, then the family and the coroner’s investigator; finally, the Sheriff Deputy and his couple of prisoners took the body away.
Feeling queasy and starting to shiver like I had a massive fever, I lay down in my bed and took out my iPhone. I Googled “heart attack symptoms” and found an American Heart Association Web site outlining several symptoms that stated clearly, “You could have one or more of these.” I thought I had two, so I called 9-1-1.
The fire truck showed up first, and the firefight ers walked into my home, hooked me up to a heart monitor, took my blood pressure and said it didn’t appear that I was having a heart attack. I asked them to take me to Christ Hospital because my mother and other health professionals always said to go there if it’s cardiac-related. “C” for Christ and cardiac.
No sirens or running traffic lights, just me sitting up in the ambulance, strapped to a stretcher. The two EMTs barely said a word to me. I even buckled myself in, with a little help from one.
At the hospital, they found nothing major wrong with me. The docs all said there were eight possible reasons for a fainting spell, the eighth being “fluke.” They basically said I experienced No. 8, and that sometimes happens to people. No telling why.
A doctor friend and friend’s friend who’s a doctor both concurred based on the symptoms I told them I’d had.
The hospital staff was incredible. They told me I’d done the right thing by calling an ambulance. I just wish they knew what happened to me.
Family and friends came to visit me in droves, and we laughed and caught up. They teased me for being in a hospital gown.
Andy from Andy’s Mediterranean Grille even brought me some food from his restaurant. I returned the favor by accidentally flashing him, thanks to the flimsy gown I was wearing.
I wore a heart monitor for the next 36 hours, and the doctors said everything looked great. Blood work, fine. Echocardiogram, perfect.
With no diet restrictions, I was able to order whatever I wanted from the made-to-order-anddelivered-to-your-room-by-a-server menu at Christ Hospital. And I did, much to the displeasure of the guy in the next bed, who was about to get a pacemaker put in.
My final 24 hours there, he wasn’t allowed to eat anything. I’m glad he didn’t punch me.
I was scared, but it ended OK. No death, no major illness.
Still, the episode certainly got me thinking about what I’d do if I had a second chance. Maybe I do now.
CONTACT JOE WESSELS: firstname.lastname@example.org