Ten years ago today I was lying in a bed in the surgical ICU at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. (A very long post follows; I’ll cut it here to spare the disinterested.)
I was 30 years old, and I had recently suffered a massive internal hemorrhage that I had mistaken for an exotic flu. (Complicating the diagnosis was the fact that I did have a flu at the time — it was one of the triggering factors in the hemorrhage. The principal cause was damage to my stomach lining caused by overuse of aspirin for constant stress migraines.)
A few days earlier, I had been admitted to the hospital in grave condition. After a week of lying in bed at home, I had received a phone call from a friend, Dr. Tyler Smith, who at that time was chief resident at Beth Israel Medical Center. He had received a message that I was seriously ill, so he called to ask how I was. When he heard my symptoms, he diagnosed me immediately over the phone — with total accuracy, I hasten to add. He said that I needed to come to his ER right away, and that if I couldn’t make it, he would send an ambulance to get me.
My buddy Glenn Hauman drove in from New Jersey, picked me up at my apartment, and drove me to the hospital, where I was met by my then-writing partner, John Ordover. As the ER nurse fast-tracked my admission, John called my family, friends, and employer to let them know what was happening. He stayed by my side that first night, fetching me ice (in surgical gloves he swiped off equipment carts) to help ease my fever.
Ninety minutes later, the doctors explained to me that a man of my age, height, and weight ought to have between 16 and 18 units of whole blood in my body. I had checked in with 8 units, and in the 90 minutes they had been transfusing me, my blood count had dropped to 6 units. They inserted an NG (nasogastrointestinal) tube through my sinus and down my throat (the most painful, horrible thing ever done to me with my consent while I was conscious) and told me they were prepping a place for me in surgical ICU so they could take steps to cauterize my stomach and stop the bleeding.
At one point while I was waiting, the doctors gave me demerol to make me more comfortable. Just as in the movies, my vision faded from the edges in, until I felt as if I were looking up from the bottom of a well. As the last of the light slipped away, I had a terrible thought: What if I fade out and don’t come back?
In that moment, I wasn’t thinking about the money I hadn’t made or the work I hadn’t done. All I could think about was all the people in my life I might never see again. My mom and dad. My brother. My friends.
That moment of standing on death’s threshold changed my life.
Ten years ago today was when the doctors were able to say with confidence that I would live. I was moved from the ICU to a CP recovery ward (another horror story best told another time). A few days later, on February 5, 2000, I was discharged from the hospital.
I knew it was time to make changes in my life.
For nearly five years I had been working in what I considered to be an unfulfilling, dead-end job. I liked the people I worked with, but I hated what I did for a living. So I said, “Screw this! I’ll get a better job!” And I did. A few months later, after a fortuitous series of coincidences and connections, I was hired as the editor of SCIFI.COM, the only day job I ever took because it was where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do, and not just because I needed a job.
In the weeks after my hospital discharge, I concluded that the relationship I was in was not a healthy one for me. I decided that I was only hurting myself by staying in it. So I ended that relationship and resolved to spend some time figuring out what I was really looking for in life and in a partner.
For a few years prior to my near-death experience, I had been terrified of going into debt, even by a small amount. This was the result of having spent seven years working like a horse and living like a hermit to pay off neary $42k in college-related debts after I graduated from NYU. But I had come to see that it was no big deal to take out a loan to buy digital filmmaking equipment and a new computer. I wanted to pursue my dream, and I decided to stop making excuses for why I couldn’t do it and just get on with it, instead.
Now I look back with ten years of hindsight and I marvel at the journey I’ve made. I’ve gone from being single with a dead-end job to being married to a great gal whose love and support have made it possible for me to live my dream of being a full-time novelist, something I wanted to do ever since I was a young boy. I still dabble in digital filmmaking as a hobby. I’ve met my favorite rock band, I’ve been to Ireland, and I’ve had my first original novel published. Not everything in the last ten years has been wine-and-roses, but what matters is that I regret nothing.
Most of all, I am thankful for those of you reading this today: my family, my friends, and my readers. I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done, and I look forward to telling new, different stories in the years ahead — but it has been your support, your love, your friendship, and your company that have made this journey one worth taking.
Thank you — all of you.