Christmas Eve two years ago is a day that will always stand out to me because what could have killed me actually saved my life… not once, but twice.
I call that vivid experience my amazing Christmas gift from God.
It began early in the evening on December 24, 2014, when I started feeling pain in my abdomen. Thinking I may have a stomach virus, I settled in for a rough night. By about 9:00 p.m. I felt terrible and went to bed, hoping that I’d feel better in the morning… after all, it was Christmas. I slept on and off for a few hours until the pain got so bad that sleep was no longer possible. I laid in bed for the next few hours in complete distress, playing the mind game we all go through, trying to decide just how bad off I was and whether I should go to the hospital.
By 4:00 a.m., the debate was over.
In sheer agony and unable to bear the pain any longer, I went to the ER. After a series of tests and scans, it was determined that my appendix was on the verge of bursting and early Christmas morning I was rushed into emergency surgery.
On a side note, I had my first experience with morphine that morning and I can now say I truly know what it feels like to be comfortably numb. I still remember that feeling as the morphine was administered and it slowly overtook the pain, leaving in its place a warm euphoria.
My surgery would go off without a hitch, but it turned out my problems were just beginning.
During the abdominal scan, a tumor was discovered on one of my kidneys that had the doctors concerned. Another moment I remember like it was yesterday was when the doctor came in my room Christmas Day and told me about the tumor, saying it had the characteristics of renal cell carcinoma. Funny, but as soon as I heard the word carcinoma, my mind drifted back to the time years earlier when I had to go home and look the word up after hearing it for the first time — that was the day my late mother was diagnosed with throat cancer. I don’t recall much of what the doctor said afterwards, but suffice it to say there are few moments in your life that equal hearing the sobering words that you likely have cancer.
Turns out, the tumor was cancerous and would have silently grown until it became symptomatic, with the chances of it having metastasized being much greater — had it not been for the appendicitis. Catching it early saved my life and I eventually had the tumor removed while saving most of my kidney. For what it’s worth, I had my first annual scan last month and can happily report that it came back clear.
God’s blessings in my life includes my friend Jack Cassell, who happens to be a urologist. But for his compassion and counseling — he reached out to me after hearing of my circumstance — setting the right course would have proven to be most difficult. More importantly, it was because of Jack that I ended up in the care of a brilliant surgeon able to take on a difficult case with little trouble. Jack doesn’t know I write this and I hope he does not take offense, given the tough-guy image he likes to portray, but at a time when I was in crisis, he proved to be a beacon from above.
But God wasn’t finished working his wonder in my life.
When I was scheduled for the first of what would prove to be two surgeries on my kidney, my primary care physician cleared me for the procedure because, other than hypertension, I had no history of heart disease and I had just had the appendectomy. But in reviewing my file, the attending anesthesiologist saw my long history of being a smoker — I quit four years ago — and insisted on getting clearance from a cardiologist.
I anticipated this to be an inconvenient formality… oh, how wrong I was.
The anesthesiologist’s insistence resulted in the shocking discovery that I had 90 percent blockage in one of my arteries… likely a second life saver. And I owe it to a medical professional who took his/her job seriously, refusing to go along with the consensus.
And to the grace of God and his gift to me two years ago Christmas morning.