Thursday, November 25, 2010
So Much to be Thankful For
Nothing is more important than family and friends--trust me on this, I know! And as crazy as they can drive you sometimes, remember that it's only because they mean so much and have years of experience pushing your buttons.
But this year I feel truly blessed. I appreciate the fact that I almost didn't make it to this holiday season. I think about it every day, and in moments of solitude, when I stop to consider it, it's almost overwhelming to me. I can't believe how lucky I am.
Having put a few month's thought into it, I truly believe that everything that has happened to me this year was timed perfectly to help me survive and get another chance at life. I hope it doesn't sound too hokey, but getting canned from the job at Sunset probably saved me. It set me on the path that led me back here to Nashville, and I can't discount all the wonderful coincidences that got me here.
After I got the boot, two weeks later I was here in Nashville visiting the family, and at that time I decided that I was done with Vegas. I was willing to give it one more year, but that was it--I was gonna be gone by the end of the World Series in 2011. At least that was the plan.
But after that visit, I flew back to Vegas, looking for a decent job to carry me through. What I got was a shiatty job at the Golden Nugget, and a damn good job at Bally's. Unfortunately (I thought at the time), neither one was a permanent gig. Not knowing what I know now, I thought working at Bally's would be a dream job, and I truly felt that I was going to get an offer to stay on permanently. I really liked it there--the people were top notch, and it really was a good place to work, previous references to the 'Evil Empire' notwithstanding.
Nothing else looked promising on the job front, so I told myself that if the Bally's gig didn't work out, then I'd just go ahead and move back to Tennessee this year-- I mean, hell, if I'm going to work a crummy job (which was all that was left in Vegas), then I might as well work a crummy job in a place where I could be near my family.
So I jumped through the hoops, did the paperwork, and tried my hardest to get that job at Bally's. I lasted longer and made it further through the process than most folks, but in the end, they chose somebody else for the position.
Probably the best letdown of my life.
I'm not lying at all when I say that I was bummed out for about five minutes, tops. At least then I finally knew what was going to happen with my situation, after having been up in the air all summer long. And I know it may sound weird, but I feel like I owe the poker director at Harrah's my life. He's the last one I interviewed with and ultimately made the decision on whether or not to hire me. He chose somebody else, and I'll probably be forever in his debt, because had I got the job, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would be dead right now, having passed away alone in my apartment back there in Henderson due to a massive pulmonary embolism and unable to get to phone. (Yes folks, it was that close).
Just a couple of weeks after I got the word that I wouldn't be working at Bally's any longer, I found myself back in Nashville, among the people that mean the most to me. Never once did I feel like I'd made the wrong decision. And luckily for me, I happened to be at Cyndi & Tim's house a week later when I fell ill, unable to breathe, walk, talk, or do much else.
They rushed me to the nearest emergency room, where it seemed every doctor on staff dropped what they were doing in an effort to keep me breathing. They ran tests on me all day long, and after about twelve hours, they realized that what I had was something they couldn't treat. Again, luckily for me, my doctor there at Williamson Medical Center knew of a doctor at Vanderbilt who specialized in some sort of new procedure that was thought might be able to help me. So at midnight they had him on the phone, going over my test results, and less than a half hour later, I was getting evacuated to Vanderbilt from the local hospital. While I was riding in the ambulance in the middle of the night, they were rounding up a surgical team to perform an emergency operation.
That's when I started getting a little worried. They don't normally schedule surgeries at 3:30 am on a weekend.
They took me straight up to the intensive care unit to do my initial preparation, and I met with the surgeon for the first time. He gave it to me straight, and let me tell you, there is no way to prepare for a talk like that. He told me that he could do the surgery, but this embolism (basically a huge blood clot) had gone through my heart and was so big that it was blocking the artery that came out of my heart right where it split to go to each my lungs--it was called a 'saddle embolism' because it straddled both paths. And it was as big as a fist--how it ever got through my heart without me dropping dead, I'll never know. I was told that most people don't even make it as far as I did--most of them die an instantaneous death. Even though I'd made it that far, the doctor told me that my chances of surviving the surgery weren't very good.
In fact, his exact words were "You need to gather your family and say what you need to say to them".
How do you even respond to something like that? How do you go from feeling like one morning you've just got a severe chest cold to the point where you realize a few hours later that you may not see another sunrise? So much left to say, so much left to do, yet I had absolutely no control over any of it...
While all this was going on, Mamasan was lighting up the phones, telling everyone in the family to get down to the hospital as soon as they could possibly make it, because I was in trouble. And not the kind bail money could solve...
While I was being shaved from shoulders to knees and being attended to by an army of nurses, the doctor took my entire family aside and told them the same thing--chances are that I wasn't going to make it. I can't even imagine the feeling in that room at the time, but afterward, they allowed all ten or eleven of them to come see me. I knew it had to be a grave situation because they never let more than one or two family members at a time back there, and there I was with a huge crowd around my bed.
There are a few images indelibly inked on my memory, and that night, lying in that bed with all those tubes and machinery hooked up to me and my family around me is something that I'll never, ever, forget. I know it was tough on them, but nobody has any idea how tough it was on me. Not only did I already feel like I'd been beaten to a pulp physically, but I laid there thinking This is it? This is why I made it home--just to say goodbye? This is where it ends? It doesn't seem quite fair...
I don't even remember what was said--just how I felt. The only thing I remember was giving my sister Amy all of my passwords to my accounts and such, just in case. It must've been pretty awkward, and it seems a stupid, if necessary, thing to be doing with your last few minutes spent with your loved ones.
Maybe I just didn't think it was my time to go.
I say that now, but I was plenty worried, especially when I got to the operating room.
This is the place where people die...
Take a deep breath for me Michael...
Hey, this smells funny. I hope I wake up from this... I *have* to live--I can't die on September 11th!
Although I don't remember one bit of it, due to the extraordinary talents of my surgeon and his staff, I woke up about eight hours later, with my sisters Sherry and Cyndi at my bedside. A few hours later, I was able to get the ventilator tube out of my throat and was able to talk a little. I remember seeing my sister Nancy for the first time in years--she'd flown in from Houston on the first available flight, and she sat with me for hours, just holding my hand. That made all the difference in the world--I felt like the worst was behind me.
Eventually, I got to see the rest of my family--Dad drove up from Atlanta and Reverend Dave had come in from Alabama. Everyone was there and had spent a sleepless night in the waiting room. It had to be a tough time for everyone, waiting for the doctor to come out and tell them one way or the other if they'd ever see me again. It had to have been a miserable stretch of time, because I know how hard it would've been on me had it been one of my sisters under the knife instead. The realization that there's not a thing in the world you can do is a tough pill to swallow.
But I was told by my doctor and several of the ICU nurses that it was a miracle that I survived--apparently, it was a very near run thing. Three days later, I was able to walk, and five days after that, I was going home, very much alive.
Ever since then, the process of my recovery has been nothing short of amazing, and I know how very lucky I am to be here--like I said, I think about it all the time. Sometimes I get frustrated, wondering if I'll ever have a 'normal' life again, and wishing that I would just be completely healed, but it doesn't work that way. I have good days and bad days, but the more days I have, the good ones outnumber the bad.
That is why I'm so very thankful today, and every day, for the life I have and the life I've been given. I love my family more than anything, and the lengths they've all gone through these past couple of months to help me have been more than I could've ever asked. The sacrifices that they have made on my behalf humble me almost to tears when I sit down and really think about it. I'll never be able to repay their kindness, all I can do is try to live the kind of life that makes them feel that their efforts were worth it.
I'm thankful that I'm living in Tennessee, where I'm close to them. I'm thankful that there is a cosmic order to the universe and all the chaos of the previous year led to me being in the right place at the right time, just when things seemed to be their worst. That in itself is its own kind of miracle. I'm thankful for the close friends I have, and all those who've shown their support as I slowly make my way from being a helpless invalid to being a fully-functional normal human being again. I'm thankful for the skilled hands of Dr. Stephen Ball of the cardiac surgery staff at Vanderbilt Medical Center--without him, I wouldn't be here today. I'm thankful to all of the amazing nurses and staff in the cardiac ICU who treated me like I was the only patient in the entire hospital the entire time I was there.
But most of all, I'm thankful for second chances. I got a big one, and all of the stupid stuff that I used to think was important, well, I realized that some of it really ain't. Family is important, friends are important, and most of all, never forgetting that it could all be gone in an instant is important.
Friends, raise a glass and be thankful today for all of the important things in your life. Not only that, make sure that you do something to show it, because they may not be there tomorrow, and you may not be as lucky as me.
Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone!
Posted by Hurricane Mikey at 12:53 AM