5 Near Death Experiences in 50 Years
My first near death experience happened when I was an infant. According to my mother and father, I was about 3 months old when I was coughing and wheezing violently in the middle of the night. I had trouble breathing. Both of my parents were very scared. They thought I might die. They rushed me to the hospital where I was diagnosed with a severe case of pneumonia. According to the Center's for Disease Control, each year in the United States, about 1 million people are hospitalized with pneumonia, and about 50,000 people die from the disease. And, according to the World Health Organization, "Pneumonia is the single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide."
Thankfully, I began to recover. The doctor gave my parents medicine and sent us home. This was just a taste, the tip of the iceberg of what would become a pattern of some close calls.
Age 11: Trapped Beneath a Lawn Tractor
The year was 1979. We lived on a farm in Indianola, Iowa. One summer day, my father asked me to mow the lawn while he and mom went to work. My brothers were being watched by our grandparents in Des Moines about a half hour away. But I was left alone. I didn't mind and I didn't feel I was being abandoned or abused. I rather enjoyed the thought of having the farm to myself. But I didn't really want to mow the lawn.
Lawn Tractor Accident
We had a red 3-speed Dynamark lawn tractor. I was too young to drive a car, so this was the coolest machine next to a car or even go cart. I hopped on and turned the key. I started to mow the lawn. I approached a hill that was on the East side of our property. I lined the front wheels straight onto the hill and began to climb it. But it was a short lived climb. In no time, the front wheels lifted off the ground and I began to tip over backwards. The first thought I had was to kill the engine by turning off the key. But it was too late. The tractor, close to 1000 pounds in those days, completely turned over with all 4 wheels in the air trapping me and crushing my body underneath. I was scared. I was screaming and there was no one was around to hear me. I thought that the gasoline was going to leak out, ignite and catch me on fire.
I pushed as hard as I could with my legs. Call it a miracle, but somehow my 11 year old pre-adolescent body was able to push it back completely over. It landed back on all 4 wheels. I was wailing and crying. The tractor suffered a bent seat and some dents. I got onto my feet and limped back towards the farm house. Mom had a list of emergency phone numbers posted near the kitchen phone.
I called her first. She worked for the telephone company in downtown Des Moines, some 20 miles from our rural farm house. I was crying loudly into the phone, "Mom! I tipped the tractor over!" She replied, "What? Are you hurt?" I said, "I think I'm OK, but the tractor is not!" She said, "I don't care about the tractor, I care about YOU! Are you all right? Are you hurt?" I replied, "I don't know." I looked myself over and noticed a cut in my right knee with blood running all the way to the floor. I screamed, "YES! I'M BLEEDING!!!" She said to call the nearest neighbor. I called the lady across the road. Mrs. Caviness said she would be right over. She came and picked me up in her car. She brought me to her house. I showered. She applied some salve on my cut and gave me a hot bowl of soup. Boy was I achy all over. I started to feel the pain in other areas of my body, especially in my right leg. I ended up with a bruise the size of a fist on the inside of that leg. It had a yellow knot in the middle with black, blue and purple shading on the outside.
Mom finally showed up at the neighbor's house and I asked what took her so long. She said she drove as fast as she could and was prepared for being pulled over by the police. She said she would tell the officers it was an emergency. She was so glad to see me and that I received good care by the neighbor. She thanked Mrs. Caviness and took me back home. I was sore for weeks after that. It took the rest of the summer for the bruise to clear and the knot to subside.
I never went to the hospital for that one. Had I not been able to push the tractor off of me, I am sure it would have ended differently. There is no doubt in my mind that there was a combination of adrenaline and supernatural strength that saved me that day. I thank God.
Honeymoon in Hawaii-Rogue Wave
I was married in 1993 to my beautiful wife, Nancy. I was 25. We honeymooned in Hawaii. We went to a location called, "Sandy Beach." I was told it was a popular location for surfing. I had purchased a body board at a local general store. There wasn't much to it. It was made out of Styrofoam and comparable to a lid to a cooler.
I was anxious to hit the waves. While Nancy was applying sunscreen, I walked down to the shore line and stared at the enormous waves crashing on the shore. There was a man next to me who was also staring at the waves. He said, "Man! I'm from San Diego and I've never seen waves like this before!" I said, "I'm from Iowa. I've never seen waves!" Despite my lack of experience, I thought I would paddle out and give it a try.
I walked into the ocean and assessed the waves more closely and planned my approach. I had heard that one needs to get behind the wave and then try to ride it. I could not seem to get passed where the waves curled and broke. They were too tall. I tried to push in a little further. But the next wave that would come in was so tall, all I could think was, "This one is way too huge, I need to tuck and roll." The next thing I knew is that the wave hit me and began to crush me. It felt like I was being tackled and punched all over. I kept in a tuck and roll position wondering when it was going to end. I was being violently tossed about like a wet towel in a front end loading washing machine.
I was stunned. I managed to get back on my feet when another wave knocked me right back off of them. I felt a sharp pain in my right shoulder. I looked around briefly for the surf board. I have no idea where it ended up. I started to walk on the shore when I stared at the sand, saw it shimmer (probably because I was still dazed) and then I heard an interior voice that said, "Today you were supposed to die. But I have decided to save you." I'm sure it was the voice of God. Then I had a tingling sensation from the crown of my head to the tip of my toes. I had a deep realization that I was indeed lucky to be alive.
Enduring the sharp pain in my right shoulder, I walked towards the area where Nancy was sunbathing. She hadn't seen any of the accident. It happened so fast. She was still applying sun tan lotion. The lifeguard saw it. He approached Nancy and me and said, "Sir, your shoulders aren't straight. And ma'am, you still have suntan lotion on the end of your nose!" You could sure tell we were from Iowa!
The lifeguard told me I needed immediate medical attention. He told me where the nearest clinic was. Interestingly, earlier on our drive to the beach, I had noticed two businesses: A TCBY (the Country's Best Yogurt) desert shop and Straub Medical Clinic. I thought, those would be good places to keep in mind. And sure enough, they were good places to keep in mind. I told the lifeguard that I knew exactly where the clinic was.
By now the pain was getting sharper. My shoulder was out. It might have been dislodged when I was clinging fast to the surfboard tucked under my right arm at the moment the wave hit. The board was sucked out of my possession and never to be seen again.
Nancy drove me to the clinic. It had a large Band-Aid on the sign. When we walked into the front door, the receptionist looked at me and said, "Don't tell me. You were at Sandy Beach, you've just dislocated your shoulder and you are on your honeymoon." She said it was the DEADLIEST beach on all of Hawaii and that many honeymooners aren't as lucky as we were. Amazing! I began to realize even more that I was saved by the Grace of God.
The doctor had to reduce or correct the dislocation by laying me flat on my belly on a table and extending my right arm over the edge. They gave me a small weight and asked me to extend and retract, lifting the weight up and down until the shoulder snapped back into place. As I looked up and to the right over my shoulder, I could see it flip back into place. My skin popped up as it happened.
Later, my wife told me when she woke up that day she had a strange feeling that she would be widowed. She never told me until after the event. We knew that it was a close call.
Honeymoon in Hawaii
In 2005, I had a case of Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). This is a bacteria that "resists" standard treatments and antibiotics.
It started on my face. I assumed it was a bad case of acne. I was in my 30s so I thought it was strange. After a day or two, I had remarked to a coworker that the "zits" looked worse than when I was 17.
Later that evening, although I was feeling a little tired and achy, my wife and I decided to see the movie, "Hitch" starring Will Smith. By the time the movie was over, my face grew puffy and I was feeling worse. The irony is that my face looked like a scene right out of the movie. Will's character, Alex "Hitch" Hitchens has an intense allergic reaction (see photo below). As the movie dismissed, my wife and I ran into a couple from church who looked at my face and said I needed immediate medical attention. We agreed to go to the ER.
We drove to Mercy Hospital in Des Moines. By the time we arrived, my face was hot and I felt like I could pass out. They put me in a waiting room until I could be evaluated by a doctor. I was staring at the floor and told my wife I was about to pass out. She told the medical staff that I was ready to pass out. They told her to tell me not to pass out.
I was fading fast. The next thing I remember was being placed on another bed and wheeled into a treatment room. They placed intravenous (IV) lines with fluids to correct my dehydration and medication for my pain. Within minutes the pain medicine was effective and I felt I could have a more cohesive conversation. I no longer felt I was going to pass out. They ran some tests and determined I had MRSA. So they treated me with Vancomycin and said if it didn't work, there was nothing more they could do for me. All we could do was hope and pray.
The next morning, I seemed to be on my way to recovery. However they told me that in order to send me home, I needed to continue in home IV therapy. This means they had to place a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line in me. This was a soft flexible tube placed in a vein in my arm that leads to my heart. They said that I would hear a "swish" sound in my right ear as it travels up my arm, past my shoulder, takes a turn and enters my heart. The physician told me that if they missed, it could enter my brain instead and it would be lethal.
But not to worry, she said she would use an ultrasound to guide the placement. (That sure made me relax...NOT!). The PICC line was placed and I went home with several IV bags. I would have to treat myself at home for the next several weeks.
We are unsure of the cause for the infection. The medical community believes it could have been community acquired, which means I picked it up in a public place. Wrestlers can get it from infected mats. As for me, I would work out in the mornings at the local YMCA and shower and shave. It is possible my razor picked up the bacteria when I placed it on the sink.
Slipped off a Mountain
In 2011, I made a trip to the "Valley," the Phoenix, Arizona area for a football bowl game with the Iowa Hawkeyes playing the Missouri Tigers. My two friends, Kevin and John along with my father decided to hike Camel Back Mountain, a popular tourist spot. It is also known for accidents and even deaths. There is a helicopter pad designed to quickly rescue anyone who might need immediate medical attention (see photo below).
I was still fairly fit and spry. My athletic shoes seemed to be a good choice for the climb. So we began the ascent. We could see the helicopter landing pad about two thirds of the way to the top. I sure hoped and prayed I nor anyone would need it.
We reached the summit. It was somewhat exhausting but mostly exhilarating. We snapped a few photos. When we were finished enjoying the gorgeous scenery, we began to descend.
According to the city of Phoenix, the summit of Camelback Mountain is at 2,704 feet above sea level. I probably descended only a few yards when my feet slipped out from underneath me. I hit a patch of gravel as though I was stepping on a collection of marbles. I fell on my rear but used my hands and arms to break the fall. I slid on my rear and arms for just a short while. I came to a stop at the edge of the cliff. I looked down and figured the next stop was about 1000 feet away.
I was afraid to move. I thought if I tried to push with my feet, they would slip again and would finish the plummet into the canyon to my death. I used my arms and hands to get the leverage I needed, feeling the sand and gravel dig in as I did. I was able to drag and pull myself back to the path. I stood up, brushed myself off and noticed some scratches and bleeding on my hands and arms. Thankfully that was it. I was able to reconnect with my party and make it to the bottom without further incident.
Camel Back Mountain
When one has brushes with death, you can't help but do some thinking. Why did God save me? What purpose does He have for my life? I had a lukewarm faith until the time of the tidal wave accident in Hawaii. God really got my attention at that time. I decided it was time I needed to be more faithful to Him than I had been before. Had I not survived that particular incident, I would not be blessed with 8 wonderful children.
We know not the day or hour when we will be called from this earth. My parents and grandparents, yes my private school teachers and other good and faithful mentors taught me to live every day like it could be your last.