We begin at the end, 9/11/10
“I need to talk to you,” I say to my wife, Connie.
“No,” the nurse says as she puts the mask back over my mouth. “You have to keep the ventilator over your mouth.”
I remember how this all began on September 3, with my surgery to remove a large, aggressive, cancerous tumor in my stomach, causing pain, an inability to eat, and damaging most of my organs as it grew and attached itself to them.
Dr. Tim Gilbert, the surgeon, removed the tumor in a lengthy surgery that also repaired organs, and I’d been admitted to the hospital to recover with Gilbert and Drs. Michael Sullivan and Paul G. Hagood overseeing the healing process.
As weak as I was in the beginning, I soon began to move about some and felt recovery was progressing.
Since I’d been having kidney problems, and that was one of the organs damaged by the tumor, the kidney specialist Hagood wanted an x-ray taken on 9/10 using the contrast dye gastro griffin. I remember three nurses, just girls really, taking me to the x-ray. One said, “How much are you gonna give him?” Another answered, “I don’t know how much I’m supposed to, but I’m going to give him a lot.” That didn’t boost my confidence of the process any whatsoever. I’m sure I was given a liter or two.
I felt sick all night, but the night nurses must have thought it was normal. I know my family wanted more done to help me all through this time because I was failing quickly and becoming weaker and weaker.
By morning, I felt I had lost all healing that had previously taken place. I felt horrible, if you could even say I could feel anything at that time. Luckily the morning nurse, God bless her, could immediately tell things weren’t normal. I wasn’t okay. She called the doctor and coordinated my move to CCU a little after 8am that morning. My son Todd rode the elevator with me, and Connie and my daughter Marlys walked to join us, relieved that I was headed for more in-depth care.
After a few hours, Hagood told the nurses to flush my kidneys to try to get them working again. Connie and Marlys were asked to step out of the room, so they joined other family and friends in the waiting room.
Shortly thereafter, from the waiting room, my family and friends heard “Code Blue in CCU. We need the ER doctor to CCU. Code Blue in CCU” over the loud speaker. They were frozen with fear. As for me, I was floating two or three feet above my body, looking down, watching the chaotic activity below me.
The nurses are there, working frantically. One even crawls onto the bed and straddles me. She has a large ball-like instrument on a mask. She’s rough.
But in the midst of that roughness, a man’s voice says, “Should I call it?”
And the nurse says, “No.” Again he asks, and again she replies “No.”
The chaos is evident, the stress obviously intense. But not for me. Because I’m not in that body on the bed.
As I watch, I feel a presence beside me. Ghostly might be a way to describe both the presence and myself during that time, fog-like. It’s male, a spirit, I guess. But really, I know it’s God. He’s comforting.
“Gary, it’ll be okay,” I hear more than once. I think maybe one time He even calls me “son”, but I can’t be sure. I may just feel that level of comfort beside Him.
“It’s your choice,” He says to me. “You can go on, or you can go back.” I’m sure it must’ve been only seconds, but it felt as if I was with that presence for a long time, deciding.
I tell him I want to go back. I can’t leave Connie yet. Just as quickly as He’d come, He is gone. And I am awake in the hospital bed. With a surprised doctor and nurses looking over me.
Connie and my kids are allowed to come into the room to see me. I can see the tears and fear on their faces.
“I need to talk to you,” I say to Connie. After the nurse left the room, I removed the oxygen mask myself because I needed to tell them what happened.
“Just me?” Connie asks.
“No.” And I point that Todd and Marlys should stay.
“I know you came close,” Connie says softly.
“No, I died.”
“How do you know?”
“I could see myself.”
Still trying to understand, Connie says, “Were we in here?”
“No, you weren’t here. Just the nurses and then a doctor working on my body.”
“A presence spoke to me. God. I had decisions to make,” I continue. “It was peaceful. No stress.”
To make sure they understand just how peaceful this was, I tell them, “I wanted to come back, but it would’ve been okay if I didn’t.”
Since that day, September 11, 2010, I’ve talked more to my family, and many others, about the experience. But it’s hard to truly describe how peaceful it was. How those few seconds changed my life. It will always be okay, I know.
A few days after Gary was released from the hospital, we found out I also had cancer and would need surgery. It was not something we knew when Gary felt he couldn’t leave me yet, but maybe Someone else knew and just put that feeling within him as he decided.
After we made it through the Code Blue, what I remember most is sitting in the room in CCU and watching the blood pressure numbers, which were next to nothing, slowly rise through the night—as life was restored to my dad.
As I record this experience, I’m reminded of the awe I felt from Dad’s moments of peace as he related being with that presence, and the mysteries of faith abound within me. It is through tears of joy that I put this to print on the one year anniversary of this truly blessed day in all our lives.
Sometimes, the end…is only the beginning…