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Getting stronger every day; Vistas editor describes his near-death experience, then road to recovery

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As many of you know, I suffered a series of grand mal seizures on March 16 that put me in a coma for a week.

I collapsed at work shortly after 1 p.m. and was transported to the emergency room at Eastern New Mexico Medical Center.

I don’t remember any of this. I woke up from my coma on March 23 and saw my sister and brother-in-law sitting about eight feet in front of me. I knew who I was, but had no idea why I was in ICU at a hospital. I felt so weak I could barely move. I was not in pain and, despite being a bit fuzzy, I was able to comprehend very quickly what had happened to me.

I was flown by helicopter to Covenant Health System in Lubbock. I nearly died on March 16, and am truly blessed to still be alive.

Several readers have suggested that I write a story about my experience from being at the threshold of death to making such an amazing recovery. I could probably fill two or three newspaper pages if I wanted, but I’ll try to keep it tight.

A coworker who was among those who found me collapsed at my desk said I turned blue, then purple and then a deeper shade of purple. Wow. From that description it sounds like my brain was losing oxygen.

While in the ER, I was combative and given two or three doses of Valium, most likely to stop the convulsions and/or to calm me down.

A doctor in the ER felt that I might have a brain abscess. He contacted diagnostics at Eastern but was told the MRI machine would be down for the next two to four hours for maintenance.

That’s when the wheels started turning to fly me out to Lubbock. That decision probably saved my life.

I don’t know what all went on in the helicopter, but I’m sure I was given treatment from the EMTs that where part of the flight crew.

After I was released from the hospital on May 31, I made it a point to track down the helicopter pilot who flew me and thank him, along with asking him to pass along my gratitude to his crew.

He said the flight took about an hour. In a passenger car, the drive to Lubbock takes close to three hours. In a land ambulance, with the sirens and flashing lights, that trip probably takes about two and a half hours. That difference of an hour and a half between the air flight and ground transport could have made the difference between life and death for me.

For the first three or four days in ICU, my situation was far from promising. My brother-in-law posted daily updates on his Facebook page asking people to pray for me, saying the outlook was not good.

Then, on Tuesday, I started to blink my eyes and move around a bit.

Several people have asked me if I saw a “white light at the end of a tunnel” like so many other people say after having a near-death experience, but I did not.

My sister and brother-in-law said entire army of doctors from various specialties paraded in and out of my room while I was comatose. I was told there were three doctors working on me the day I was admitted to Covenant.

Thankfully, it didn’t take long for my memory and cognition to come back. I was given a cognitive skills/short-term memory test about a month after I woke up and scored 32 out of 33. There are probably a lot of people with so-called “normal” brains who could not score that high.

My emotions did seem a bit bipolar for the first three or four weeks after I woke up. I was under the influence of sedatives to mitigate the possibility of more seizures, which thankfully never happened. However, I did express some pent-up anger in ways that were not appropriate.

I know feel like I’ve gone back to my normal self — or at least what can be considered normal for me. I take pride in being the most eccentric person that I know.

Though my noggin has come back 100 percent, I am still on the road to physical recovery.

This is a story I have told several people. While I was still in ICU, I was bought trays with regular hospital food. I asked, “Wouldn’t it be better for someone like me to be given a nutrition drink like Ensure?”

They said, “Oh no Mr. Howsare, we want you to eat regular food and feed yourself.”

So here I am, trying to lift a fork that felt as heavy as a carpenter’s hammer, and dropping half the food on my hospital gown. Knowing that eating a full meal was next to impossible, I tried to eat a little of everything to get a nutritional balance. Then the write down on a report that I was “malnourished.” Well … no kidding.

Other than that, I have absolutely no complaints about Covenant. It is a faith-based hospital and I felt very comfortable discussing my faith with members of the nursing staff.

On April 4, I was transferred to Covenant’s Specialty Hospital, which is quite small compared to the other buildings on the campus. It is a four-story building with only two floors with patient rooms.

Every patient had his or her own room, where we were all monitored round the clock. They checked my blood pressure and blood sugar about a half a dozen times a day. I’m pretty sure I was sent there in part because none of the rehab centers in southeast New Mexico had available rooms, and I needed a combination of medical care and physical therapy.

I was monitored around the clock and received excellent care. In addition to my physical therapy at the specialty hospital, I would often exercise on my own, rolling around in my wheelchair either in the hallways or outdoors in the weather was nice.

I want to thank my pastor, LaVonne Johnson-Holt of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, who accompanied me to the emergency room. She visited me twice at the hospital and took care of my cat and checked my mail. I also want to thank everyone who either called me or sent me a card. It really did cheer me up.

I also want to thank the very large prayer circle that prayed for me while I was in the hospital. If you include my Facebook friends, that circle includes my peeps in Roswell and includes friends in several states. There was even an orphanage in Africa that was praying for me.

Since my insurance said I was “too highly functional” for them to pay for physical therapy once I was sent home, I have created my own “self-directed” physical therapy and it seems to be working.

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I go to the gym and do a combination of walking, lifting weights and doing cardio on either a treadmill or elliptical machine.

On the other days, I go for walks of about a mile and a half with a push walker.

I also have a quad cane, but am using it less and less. On most days I get along just fine without it.

I am still restricted from driving. God willing, I will be six-months seizure-free on Sept. 16. Six months seems to be the magic number for getting a doctor to sign off on driving, but I need to contact the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division to find out the specific law for this state.

I am working part time while on long-term disability. I plan to ease back into my job.

I want to thank everyone for their prayers and well wishes. I also want to thank my employer, the Roswell Daily Record, for being patient as I move along with my recovery.

Although there is probably a medical explanation on why I bounced back from the brink of death without any permanent brain damage or handicaps, it really doesn’t matter to me.

It was the hand of God that saved me.

Community News editor Timothy P. Howsare can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or vistas@rdrnews.com.