I am posting this from my trusty desk in my home office. I’m still feeling a bit groggy after the past few days, but I am here, and I’m feeling better, and that’s the most important part. If you’ve followed my social media over the last couple of days, most of this won’t be new, but a lot of people have been asking me questions about this, so I figure it’s better to put it all in one place.
I apologize if any of this is strange or rambling, as my mind isn’t quite back to 100%.
It started Saturday night at around 1:00 a.m. I got back into bed after a trip to the bathroom. A few seconds later, my right ear started to itch. A few seconds more, and it was my left ear as well. Within a minute or two, it felt like my face — and then my entire upper body — was on fire. I looked in the mirror and saw that my face was distorted and covered in a rash.
I woke up my wife Stephanie to ask her if my face looked red or bumpy, and her first response was, “You look the same to me.” (I’ll attribute that answer to her being woken up in the middle of the night.)
Nevertheless, within about 10 minutes we were at the emergency room of the new hospital about a mile from our house. I was obviously in distress so they took me back right away for an EKG while they took Stephanie in the other direction to sign forms and handle insurance paperwork.
After the EKG, the tech directed me to a chair a few feet away… I didn’t make it all the way there. I collapsed, and at some point, after I was on the floor, I said, “I’m going to die.” I remember hearing a nurse say, “This man just said he was going to die” (the same nurse visited me the next morning and told me that people who are about to die often say that — interesting fact).
I was rushed on a gurney into a small room, surrounded by hospital staff, my blood pressure was 70-over-something (normal is 120 over 80) and my oxygen level was in the 70s (normal is in the high 90s). I was given oxygen through my nose, needles were stuck into my arms.
To my right, I heard a nurse say 3 or 4 times, “He’s fading, he’s fading.” I was going in and out. Along the way I was given 2 shots of epinephrine because they determined I was in anaphylactic shock. All of this was an allergic reaction to… something. (I have an appointment with an allergist on Thursday, and hopefully I will find out what caused it. I had no known allergies before).
Anyway, all of this happened on early Sunday morning. By the time I was stabilized, I was feeling much better. I was moved to a transitional room in the ER and I was told I would be kept overnight for observation. I slept like a baby most of the next day, being woken to have my blood drawn and to speak to the doctors and nurses.
My brother Patrick, who is a priest, came by on Sunday afternoon and anointed me (I am now part of the 6 sacraments club — woohoo!). I tried to watch the new Doctor Strange movie about 4 times, but it put me to sleep pretty quickly each time. (When I got home, I tried to watch it on Disney Plus, and it turns out that in the hospital I only made it 28 minutes into the film. At home, I watched another 10 minutes of Doctor Strange and went back to sleep.)
Sunday evening, they moved me to a regular hospital room where I slept some more, different specialists came and talked to me and kept asking me if I had “any more questions” and I usually didn’t. The hospital food was the most delicious food I have eaten in as long as I can remember. Every bite.
Anyway, I got home about 12:30 Monday afternoon and I have slept for most of the last 24 hours.
Sorry if this is oversharing or more than you wanted to hear. I am trying to process the last 72 hours of my life (and near-death). Writing is how I usually do that. I did omit the most gory details. A lesson that I have learned is that making a visit to the emergency room in a life-threatening situation means making yourself vulnerable and surrendering your pride and shame so that medical professionals can do what they have been trained to do. And I am very grateful to the team that saved my life and cared for me.
I am sure that later on I will try to distill it all into some profound essay on life and death and the spiritual meaning of it all, but for now I am just grateful to be alive.
Something I have been thinking about is the experience of hearing “he’s fading” multiple times. Perhaps surprisingly, I didn’t panic. I thought about Stephanie and my children, and I talked to God, asking him to forgive me for my sins and failures, and to watch over my family. I also thought about my family of origin, and I wondered if maybe I was next after Dad and Mom and Katie. Would Patrick and Mary be soon to follow? Are we cursed? Since the loss of my parents and sister in the past 6 years, awareness of my own mortality has been ever-present. Perhaps too present.
But I think deep down I knew I would survive this. And I did. And I am grateful.
Update March 3, 2023: Yesterday I visited an allergist and was given a food allergy test. All results came back negative, so the cause of my episode remains a mystery. — ML
Image: Adobe Stock. By Gorodenkoff.
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.