Thursday, April 01, 1999

Possibly the End of the Line

A few years ago I was standing in a bike shop on Long Island while the owner whined. “There’s no brotherhood among bikers anymore,” he spouted, comparing the new days of yuppie piloted Harleys versus the old honor among thieves culture. Thinking about the shops that owed me money long past any chance of collecting, supposed writers that promised articles never delivered and the other daily mundane disappointments of being in this business, I agreed. Both of us were wrong, only I learned the hard way.

On Saturday night the 17th of January I was having difficulty breathing. My asthma was acting up. A couple of puffs on my inhaler didn’t help, I could feel my lungs continue to tighten. By midnight I was feeling worse. Asthma is unique disease, it tortures you in your childhood, leaves you alone in your twenties and thirties then comes back with a vengeance in your forties.

Not realizing how sick I really was we called a cab. My wife and I headed for Nyack Hospital. During the ride I was getting exponentially worse. The cab driver flew down the street. He blew through the first stop sign at twice the legal speed, took the first right on two wheels and went completely airborne at the crest of the hill. His speed was a major factor in saving my life.

A block from the hospital I couldn’t breathe at all. Terror gripped my chest. I fought for air. At the entrance to the emergency room my body surrendered. Complete respiratory failure. Then cardiac arrest.

There was no white light, no out of body experience. No floating in a canoe down the river to oblivion. Just nothing. Now I view that as proof that my time on this earth was not up.

The emergency room scene was the reality that mirrors those television doctor shows. Respirator, defibrillator a lot of staff working very fast. They restarted my heart. A respirator pumped oxygen into my lungs.

My wife called my parents and they headed for the hospital. My family practice doctor arrived. He called in a Pulmonary Specialist that drove up from New York City at three o’clock in the morning.

It took ‘till 6:30am for the team of doctors and nurses to stabilize me enough to be moved to the critical care unit. My parents went home. They had aged a lifetime in one night seeing their first born near death. The hospital promised to call if there was any change but the staff was not very optimistic. Five thousand people a year die from similar asthma attacks.

Not that I remember anything after the cab arrived at the hospital, nor do I remember any of the following ten days that I spent in a coma. I pieced the story together from what my wife told me.

Business-wise the timing was pretty poor. Not that spending ten days in a coma was ever on the list of things I wanted to do in my lifetime. The edition of CC Motorcycle Newsmagazine we were working on was our largest of the year. The plan was to distribute 10,000 copies at the Cycle World/International Motorcycle Show. It didn’t look like I was going to be in any shape to pull that off.

My wife stepped in and cracked the whip with the staff. She wrote a column to fill the page where my column usually appeared. She assembled the notes on my European Adventure story finishing the first installment. She organized all the boards and computer discs, delivered them to our printer and had 10,000 copies delivered to our booth at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. Additionally she supervised our staff for the entire show then came to the hospital every night to see me and talk to me. Many have told me since, “your wife’s a rock, she’s definitely a keeper.” I truly love my Roberta, I knew she was special from the first day we met.

At the motorcycle show word of my illness started to spread. As members of our staff wandered about each was asked about my prognosis. The Christian Motorcyclists Association held a prayer vigil at our booth. When conversations turned toward my fate all went quiet.

Meanwhile the story had reached the motorcycle community on the internet. Calls came to the critical care unit from across the country and around the world. Riders that I’ve communicated with but never met had called to check on my progress. They all sent their prayers.

At the request of my neighbors, a group of believers in ancient Indian ways sequestered themselves in a teepee on the Arizona desert. They built a ritual fire and began a “sweat”. As they chanted and prayed perspiration poured down their bodies soaking the desert floor. That day I woke from the coma.

Every day since my vision is more clear. I’ve contacted most of my friends, among them I include those of you that advertise with us. Unanimously I’ve been informed, “we prayed for you.” Everyone asked if there was anything they could do. Was there anything that I needed?

One of my nurses reminded me of the proverb, “if you can count your true friends on one hand, you are a lucky man.” I am much more lucky, I have many more true friends than digits and limbs. I now believe that so many guardian angels were called to hover over me that there must have been a shortage everywhere else.

I count those blessings with each activity of daily life. I remember moments that others may take for granted as milestones of my recovery. The day I was able to feed myself, the day I tied the laces of my sneakers. The day I was able to prepare my own breakfast. The day I was strong enough to pull my Super Sunday T-shirt over my head without help. I look forward to the day I can ride. You see, ten days in a coma can turn a marathon runners muscles to mush.

John Haymond, an Attorney whose name you probably recognize from ads on these pages said to me. “In my business I deal with a lot personal tragedies and the families that survive are those with spirituality.”

John was absolutely correct. Whether you believe in Moses, Mohammed, Jesus, Buddha or Sun, Fire, Earth and Water, it’s your spirituality that counts. Spirituality is the bond of brotherhood.

There definitely is a Brotherhood and it goes beyond bikers.

Thanks to all of you for sending your prayers and caring so much.

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