Brian Hanson – Survivor

I took care of patients with brain injuries before suffering my anoxic brain injury. Snoring (sleep apnea) destroyed most of my heart muscle. I have continued with self-directed rehab and my heart is back to normal!

FIFTH DRAFT: Jesus, Lazarus and Me Fake title. It’s about Jesus, Lazarus, me and YOU. We’re all going to die. Jesus, Lazarus and I have already been there.

As with many people who have suffered brain injuries, I was dumped by my wife about a year after my “big event”. I present well and sound good, but I can no longer provide the income and energy to keep her satisfied. It broke my heart, but I am making a strong comeback by working on a new invention, becoming involved with a new national brain injury group and singing in a very welcoming church. I’m gonna pick myself up, brush myself off and get back in the saddle, folks! (By court order, she shall henceforth be referred to as “the ex-wife”.)

Brian Hanson

My name is Brian. This story is about my death and how I gained a whole new respect for life. Your time will also come. Make the most of it while you can, my friends! If you’ve ever done much reading from the Bible, you may notice that Jesus sure got a lot of coverage in the New Testament. Heck, he even got pretty good coverage even before he was born. The story of his birth sure got played up pretty well, too. (And Merry Christmas to you all, by the way!) And what a life he had! All sorts of miracles and, if you pay attention to his story, lots of good words and stories, too. And then, WE killed him and he came back even stronger. Much to learn from that, folks. It even inspired a movie with the very appropriate title, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” How true. Amen! And then there was Lazarus. A tax collector, but he had a very supportive family. The guy dies and his sisters call upon Jesus to bring him back from the dead. Jesus couldn’t get there quite as fast as he wanted so Lazarus spent a few extra days being dead and Jesus sent everyone away from the tomb, fearing that Lazarus wasn’t gonna smell so hot. But no further mention of that concern and, unfortunately, no further mention of Lazarus in the Bible after Jesus brings the guy back to life. Lazarus skated on the deal. Not even a word of thanks to Jesus mentioned in the Bible. In fact, the story of Lazarus, John 11; 1 – 45, consists of only not-so-many words and then Lazarus is never heard about again. Lazarus skated on the deal. The best part of the story of Lazarus is that it provided my mother great material for when she had to recite a Bible verse from memory back when she was a kid in Sunday school. John 11, verse 35. “Jesus wept.” Shortest passage in the Bible. “Jesus wept.” Heck, I weep all the time these days. Okay, so we’ve covered Jesus, Lazarus and … And now, me.

WOW! I’ve had a blessed life. I’m not completely convinced that I deserved it, but it has been an absolutely blessed life. Sure – a few bumps in the road and I don’t think that I’ll be up for sainthood any time soon. There are probably a few billion souls ahead of me in that line. But, blessed nonetheless. Thank you, Jesus! Enough of my life story. I have enjoyed it, but I’ve heard better stories. I’m not here to bore you with mine.

Okay. Fine, let me give you a Cliff’s Notes version: I’ve traveled a pretty fair chunk of the world. I’ve made a fair chunk of money on a couple of occasions. I sure wish I knew where it was now! I’ve started a couple of businesses that seemed to do pretty well – at least for a while. Heck, I didn’t just start a couple of businesses – I helped start a couple of new business categories – Cellular phones – I lost count, but I sold many, many thousands of them. I’m the guy who put Mitsubishi in Sears. Okay, it was somewhere around 37,000 phones. Yep! 37,000 of them: Mitsubishi DiamondTel, Mitsubishi MGA, ARA (a re-badged GE phone) and CMTelcom (a real dog). Home theater – Yep, I was there when that term was first used. Google “Theo Kalomirakis” – a really cool guy. We did Roger Ebert’s. The internet – I was a partner with one of the first internet providers in the Chicago area. Bill Gates came to Chicago to meet guys like me. My Puerto Rico internet story is even more amazing. Still waiting to get paid on that one, though… Sure, met my share of famous people… Yadda, yadda, yadda… Just one more little side note: I shut down my manufacturers’ rep business and went to nursing school in my 50’s to be a better advocate for my mom. My dad died rather badly and I didn’t want any chance of that happening with her. Best mom I’d ever had…

After a few years of working in hospitals, I became a night on-call hospice nurse. It’s not a job that many people would choose to do. I chose to do it for that very reason. Somebody needs to do it. I pronounced lots of people. I helped many others through crises. Lots of pain…

So let me tell you a little about my death. Yep. Kicked the bucket. If it wasn’t for “the ex-wife”, it would have been a “one and done”. We were supposed to leave for Florida, but she was concerned that I didn’t seem to be my normally abnormal self and suggested that I see the doctor. According to her – not me, because my memory is whacked – I thought that I was doing just fine and said that maybe I’d see my primary care doc – or maybe a doctor when we got to Florida. “The ex-wife” can be pretty persistent, God Bless her! “The ex-wife” hauled me to the walk in clinic at St. Francis Hospital in Escanaba. Okay, fine! (I remember none of this!) In no time at all, they wheeled me over to the emergency room. They had a few concerns. Maybe more than a few… Wow. I still remember NONE of this! For some reason, “The ex-wife” had to go back home to get something while I was in the ER. “The ex-wife” hadn’t made it back to the house and received a call from the ER that they wanted to ship me out to Marquette General Hospital (68 miles away) for a higher level of care. “The ex-wife” told them that “the ex-wife” would turn the car around to pick me up and take me up to Marquette. “No”, they said. “We’re loading him into an ambulance NOW!” (It was snowing, so they couldn’t fly me there by helicopter.) VISION ONE I remember bubbling up to the surface for just a moment during that ride to Marquette. I doubt if I said it out loud, but I distinctly remember opening my eyes, looking up and saying to myself, “Oh, I’m in an ambulance!” Yep, I sure was! WHOA! WHOA! WHOA! STOP THE PRESSES!! I asked “the ex-wife” to proofread my first draft of this. “The ex-wife” pointed out a few factual errors. The story is much worse than I recalled. I DROVE MYSELF TO THE WALK-IN CLINIC!! Unbelievable!! As you should recall, I did qualify my remarks a bit earlier that I have some serious short-term memory deficits. Boy, do I!

What’s so amazing is that I vividly remember stuff from when I was living in St. Louis – at 2, 3, 4 years of age. And here’s a story from that time that pretty well illustrates how I was operating during my “little memory lapse” 1954-ish. We were camping at Sunnen Lake. My oldest brother, Lanny, was attending camp there – his first time away at camp. Dad drove us down the day before the end of camp so that we could camp, too. He took us fishing in the lake and we caught a bunch of bluegills. He left them on the stringer hanging off the dock overnight with plans to cook them for breakfast. When he pulled up the stringer the next morning, it had nothing but fish heads! As dad looked down in the clear lake water, he saw a pretty big snapping turtle enjoying his après-meal nap. While this may sound crazy, Dad was a wildlife biologist and had some idea about what he was doing. I’m still with crazy, though. Dad dove into the water and grabbed that snapping turtle! He threw it in the trunk of our car and brought it home to St. Louis. He dispatched it in our front yard with one well-directed blow of a hatchet. That headless, brainless turtle walked around in circles in our front yard for an amazingly long time!! And that pretty well describes how I was walking around, too: BRAINLESS! The turtle soup was amazing, BTW. I still remember it!

“The ex-wife’s” VERSION: As Brian shared, he hadn’t been acting like himself. He also was quite fatigued and had a cough that he wasn’t able to manage. I suggested he go to the walk-in clinic, since it was on a Sunday and couldn’t see his primary care doctor. He balked and said he would wait and get an appointment with him soon. I insisted, and told him he should get an x-ray to rule out pneumonia, and they could put him on an antibiotic. We did have plans to go to Florida in four days, and I knew he was in no condition to travel. Here’s where it differs. He went to the walk in clinic alone, since we both thought they’d just put him on an antibiotic. I told him to call me and give me an update on what they said. He called a while later and told me they moved him to the E. R. from the walk-in clinic, and that they wanted him to go to Marquette. I told him I would drive him there and he said, “No, they want me to go by ambulance”. I acknowledged, and we ended the call. I scrambled around the house, putting a bag together of things I might need for an overnight stay. I have to admit, I didn’t waste any time, and arrived in Marquette close to the time they did. He was admitted to a room on the cardiac floor, and seemed like himself that evening. I stayed at the Ramada Inn in Marquette. Early the next morning, he called me and was quite testy. He’d had a bad night, and was impatient about getting answers. I reassured him that things didn’t happen as quickly during the night, and as soon as the morning routine started, he would know what’s going on. He called me back about an hour later and said they were moving him to I.C.U.. I returned to the hospital and met him in his new room. I spent the day there and he seemed like himself, only more fatigued. I decided to return to the Ramada at dinnertime, as we were having a blizzard, and didn’t want to be out after dark. He agreed and I told him I would call after I arrived safely at the motel. I did, and had my dinner there. Shortly after I returned to my room, I received a call from his admitting doctor. He explained what had been happening with Brian and that they needed to intubate him. (Being intubated means that a tube is stuck down your windpipe so that you can be connected to a machine that breathes for you.) It was an emotional call for me, but he told me he was stable and that I didn’t need to come. They were telling everyone to stay off the roads. I told him I was coming. I think I had some divine intervention that evening, as I got there safely. I met his doctor at the opening to I.C.U. and he asked me if I heard the announcement. I said, “No”. Then he explained that a code had just been called on Brian, and that I could watch. As we walked down the hall, we were accompanied by a group of doctors that were alerted to the code. I stood at his room’s door and watched them try to bring him back. You never know how you’re going to react in a situation like that, but there were tears and I felt like I had to talk to him. I shouted, “Damn it Brian, you’ve got this”! Not the most eloquent words, but that’s what came out. It was a while before they were able to revive him. I didn’t want to leave him, so I curled up in a recliner in his room that night. His monitors weren’t working correctly, and their alarms kept going off, so they gave me a pillow and I slept on a double chair in the waiting room. I stayed the next day with him, and the remaining days until visiting hours were over, and went back to the Ramada Inn. Brian’s children – Julia, Geoff and Brendan – arrived on Wednesday, and were a great support for me. Julia stayed until he was home for a few days, and Geoff and Brendan stayed until the weekend. As far as an explanation for why this happened to Brian, what I can tell you is that an irregular heart rhythm called A-flutter was detected. It beats normally and then races. We don’t know how long he had it, but it most likely compromised his heart. He also had been fighting a cough, which is often associated with heart failure. He was tested for viruses and nothing showed up. He also has had sleep apnea for a number of years, which we have learned is both obstructive and central. That too, has impacted his overall functioning. The fact that he has Type 2 Diabetes is a contributing factor as well. He had a cardiac catheterization and it showed no blockages, so he has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. We are taking this one step at a time; one day at a time. (END OF “the ex-wife”’S VERSION)

And back to our story… I was in Marquette General for a whole bunch of days, but I remember only two brief moments of my stay there. Those were the moments when I died. TWICE! Okay, I don’t remember the process of dying the first time. I was just really sick and died. Kicked the bucket in the traditional way. Luckily, I was in the ICU and Marquette General had a really good CODE team handy. Sharon had taken a room at a local motel because Marquette was getting a fierce snowstorm. The hospital called her to report that I had required intubation, but I was stable and that she didn’t need to come out in the storm. “The ex-wife” worried. That may be a bit of an understatement. I would have flipped out if I had heard that about “the ex-wife”! “The ex-wife” drove back to the hospital in the snowstorm and arrived at ICU just as a “CODE BLUE” was being announced overhead. A doctor met her at the door. It was a CODE BLUE for me. I had died. God Bless “the ex-wife”! I was already intubated. Somebody was doing chest compressions. Out came the shock paddles. Been there. Done that. My doing chest compressions helped bring one of my patients back once. Now, I was on the receiving end. “The ex-wife” yelled out, “Dammit, Brian! You’ve got this!!” I think that’s what did the trick. And I’ve got this. Life. By their count, I came back ONCE. By my count, it was TWICE!

You need to appreciate that I have been a musician. Yep, singer in a band way back when. Operetta lead. (John P. Wintergreen). Hey! I could have been a contender! The kid who replaced me in the band that I was in back in high school went on to sing, “Eye of the Tiger”! Okay, so maybe he had a little better range and a little better talent…

VISION TWO I usually have a song in my head. The first time that I died, there was music… and NOT GOOD music. Also, appreciate that this part of the Upper Peninsula has the biggest population of psychologically depressed Finnish people outside of Finland. And before you jump on me for insulting the wonderful people of Finnish descent, I’d like to point out that I come from a long line of depressed Norwegians – practically neighbors to the good people of Finland. So, this was my death – and my first welcome committee to joining the dead was two depressed Finnish guys. So here I am, bubbling back up from the dead and I’m being welcomed by two depressed Finnish guys singing words I can’t understand and singing totally off key. I thought that I had died and gone to hell. I bailed on that deal and bubbled back DOWN. I was hoping that this would be like one of those game shows where you pick between door number one, door number two and door number three. I was pretty well convinced about what was behind door number one. I wanted another chance – and got it!

VISION THREE More chest compressions. I have no idea if I got shocked again, but a little more work brought me bubbling back up to the surface – AGAIN! Yet another side note: I grew up in Downers Grove, Illinois, home of Metropolitan Opera star Sherrill Milnes. Sherrill Milnes and Kiri Te Kanawa performed the Faure Requiem with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, directed by Charles Dutoit. If you aren’t familiar with it, BUY THE CD! (I am pitching this as an unpaid, unofficial non-celebrity spokesman.) I have had the pleasure of performing it with the church choir at First Pres of Glen Ellyn, Illinois. I have also sung along to both Sherrill Milnes and Kiri Te Kanawa while I drove around the midwest as a sales rep. Yep, both parts done over many, many miles throughout the upper midwest – like from Glen Ellyn, Illinois to Fargo, North Dakota. Yep. Both parts…. So, here I am bubbling back up to life a second time and Sherrill Milnes starts singing, “Libera me, Domine de morte aeternum.” “Deliver me, Oh Lord, from eternal death!” YES!! I jumped at the deal! And so, here I am. I was literally turned back at Heaven’s gate. Life. It’s something that so many of us waste. Some of us do better with it; so many of us do so much worse. We can all do better. Start today. You can do it so much better! I know that I have so much to do. Much. To do. And I know that I will fail in many of my efforts. But, it’s like my beloved friend Steve Lutz approaches his love of baseball. “It’s not about whether you win or lose. It’s how you play the game!” (Credit that quote to Grantland Rice.) You’ve got this!! Peace be with you, my friends! And now, a little reminder for you, my brothers and sisters… This ain’t the end!

I intend to live life to the fullest. I encourage you to do the same! Try to focus on light, not darkness. I encourage you to follow Christ’s example – every day!

YOU are the key player in making your life Heaven or hell. Choose wisely.

(Cue Chris Rice – Life Means So Much).

Copyright 2018 by Brian A. Hanson