In January 1994 I was in a car accident. My car was rear-ended at a red light. Because
I saw the car coming I tensed up and the seat belt pushed my organs up and into my left
chest area. At the time of the accident I experienced little pain and did not expect any
health problems. I suffered from pancreatitis in 1990 but the pseudocysts on my pancreas
had been resolved.
A week following the accident the pain in my left side became unbearable. I was
admitted to the hospital for a week. The doctors found that my pancreas had been badly
bruised. With surgery the doctors believed they could remove the torn piece of the
pancreas and there would be little if any problems and the pancreas would function well.
The surgery was performed on February 6, 1994, and was successful. Two days later I
developed complications and again underwent surgery. The doctors found during the second
surgery that the omentum (tissue taken from the stomach lining and placed on the pancreas
to promote healing of the torn segment) had died causing sepsis. The septicemia led to
ARDS. By this time I was in a coma and was placed on a ventilator.
My family was notified and told that my condition was life-threatening. My parents and
others joined my wife at my side. They have since told me that the sight of seeing me on a
ventilator and hooked up to so many life-saving machines was truly horrifying. They
related to me that they watched helplessly at the myriad of machines trying to make sense
out of all that was happening to me. It was an incomprehensible time for my loved ones.
Like most families this was the first time they have ever heard of ARDS.
On March 4, 1994, I "woke up" and my wife was at my side. I saw a valentine
card from her and said, "I'm sorry for missing Valentine's Day." I did not know
that I had missed almost a month of my life. Shortly after, I was discharged from the
hospital with no follow up pulmonary care.
For the first three months after my discharge I was depressed. I could not remember
where things were in the house. I could not spell so therefore could not complete
insurance forms. I did not bother to read a newspaper because everything I read I could
not remember five minutes later. Friends avoided me, not because they did not care about
me but, because they could not relate to the way I was now. I was in contant pain in the
chest area. When I stood up I felt like I was going to fall over. I couldn't breathe. I
was in and out of the hospital every two weeks. When I went back to my family doctor to
try to get a feel for my progress I was told that he felt he was not qualified to treat
me. Somehow I kept going but could feel my physical condition deteriorating.
In June 1996 my family was all together for the first time since ARDS struck to
celebrate our parents' 50th wedding anniversary. I was told later that they were horrified
by my appearance. I was swollen with edema and gasping for every breath. This had become
the norm for me. I did not know how far I was slipping.
At the insistence of my brother-in-law I made an appointment for a complete physical at
the Mayo Clinic. Mike and I made the trip to Rochester, Minnesota in August. It seems like
I underwent just about every test known to man. I was looking forward to having the tests
over and traveling up north with Mike to see my sister. Instead I was hospitalized with
life-threatening thrombosis and was immediately put on oxygen. My body was oxygen-starved
and carbon dioxide was poisoning me. Two months later my doctor said that I walked in a
dead man because basically my body was in the process of shutting down.
During following visits I spent time at the Sleep Clinic in Rochester. It was found
that I suffered some brain damage that was affecting my ability to get the needed sleep
requirements that many people take for granted. At night I now wear a mask covering my
mouth and nose that literally forces oxygen and necessary moisture into my lungs. I have
developed insulin-dependent diabetes. My physical pain is under control with medication
and my mental acuity has returned. I will never be able to return to work and I will be on
oxygen for the rest of my life. My wife describes the process best, "You have to take
baby steps and then slowly look back at the progress you have made."
Despite all of the physical pain and the mental suffering my spirit remains strong. I
am receiving extremely competent cre from a wonderful and compassionate doctor at the Mayo
I have not given up my favorite pastimes - hunting and fishing. I try to live each day
to its fullest. My wife and family say that I am a remarkable example of how to overcome
tremendous adversity. My sister calls me "her hero". I don't look at myself that
way. I just take one day at a time.