by C. Gregory Fleckenstein

I am a 53 year-old retired professor of economics. My premature retirement was the result of a major stroke in 1994 during a lecture. Earlier that year I had my bladder and prostrate removed because of my doctor's concern of cancerous lesions. I now have an ostomy.

On April 8, 1998 1 was admitted to the hospital for what was supposed to be a rather routine arterial bypass on my right leg. Post surgery recovery appeared normal and I was discharged on April 11. My wife Nancy picked me up and was puzzled because I had not dressed or packed my personal belongings.

During the twenty-five minute drive home from the hospital I was acting strangely. Nancy couldn't understand much of what I was saying. When we got to the house I was unable to get out of the car without the assistance of three neighbors and Nancy. They carried me into the house and placed me in my recliner. Four or five hours later, Nancy tried to move me to the couch. Again, she required assistance to move me. At about 9:00 that night Nancy called the hospital I had left just a few hours before and explained to an ER doctor what was happening. Within thirty minutes I was back at the hospital being connected to a vent and chemically paralyzed to prevent my "fighting the vent."

On Easter Sunday and Monday my blood oxygen level continued to fall. Several pulmonary doctors were called in and Nancy and one of my daughters were called to a conference room to be told I was not expected to live through the night. The word went out and relatives from as far away as Florida flew in to say good-bye and assist Nancy with funeral arrangements.

My first recollection was waking up with a horribly painful throat and totally unable to move any part of my body or communicate anything to anybody. I had no idea where I was or why I was there and all the days leading up to the present. I had no memory of the leg surgery, going home, coming back to the hospital, etc. My older brother from Florida carefully explained what had happened and told me to fight like I had never fought before to live.

Then the horrible drug induced hallucinations began. They were terrifying and so real that I was in a panic. I was praying a lot and as I entered my singular death experience, I asked God for his help to "take me to the other side."

Nurses would go through the alphabet over and over until I blinked my eyes when they said a certain letter. The message conveyed was BE HUMANE! I wanted one of the doctors to give me an injection that would allow me to die faster than I was dying. That doctor now tells me that I had shown enough improvement in my blood oxygen level for him not to seriously consider my request. Nineteen days later the vent was removed and I spent another two weeks in the Progressive Care Unit.

There has been some permanent lung damage in that I find it difficult to breathe normally when engaged in even slight exertion. I am still finding myself suffering a lot of anxiety daily as memories of almost dying and the horror of not being able to breathe on my own, or communicate with anyone, or move any part of my body, or of being taken off the vent every shift so the nurses could clean part of the vent while I laid waiting for another nurse to begin squeezing a bag so I could breathe until they finished flushing the vent or whatever they were doing. I was terrified that a nurse would drop a critical washer or nut and the bag-pumping nurse would not show up until I suffocated to death.

I am seeing a mental health counselor every other week and a psychiatrist has me taking an anti-anxiety medication. My wife and friends constantly urge me to "leave it behind and not dwell on what occurred almost six months ago." I truly want to but flash backs of horrific dreams and hallucinations I experienced haunt me daily. It's not at a point where I am fixated and unable to function fairly normaly, but I have been spending a lot of computer time on the internet trying to better understand ARDS. That is how I happened by Sue's note on a chronic lung disorder bulletin board site.

I want to learn as much as I can and hopefully be in a position to offer encouragement to others who have been or are currently involved with a very deadly condition that most people have never heard of until it impacts them in some fashion. I would certainly like to have an active role in encouraging public awareness of ARDS along with supporting any funding available for research involving prevention and treatment designed to vastly lower the mortality rate of patients who are diagnosed with ARDS.

Thanks for listening. I pray nightly for you, John and Mike, and others who are suffering for whatever reason. I truly believe I am alive today, not only as a result of a fabulous team of physicians, but also because the Lord has things he wants me to do before he calls me home. God Bless.

C. Greg Fleckenstein

Greg is a a former part-time radio announcer and has a new goal. He has formed the Muskeegan Music Ministry to provide 90-minute cassette tapes of quality tunes, free-of-charge, to people who are in retirement homes, shut in, incapacitated, ill, patients in hospitals and hospices. He has extended his music ministry to those in the ARDS Support Center's worldwide community. Please check out The Power of Music page.