Did I Die?

 

On January 9, 2007 I received the Last Rites at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The priest who gave me the last rites was Father Donovan. Strangely enough a priest in my parish on Long Island is also a Father Donovan, although maybe there are many Father Donovans across the country.

I have no memory of the Last Rites. I have no memory of this particular Father Donovan. I have little memory of most of a 48-hour period when I was almost dead to the world.

On the morning of January 9, I had a Grand Mal seizure while visiting my son Greg and my daughter-in-law Dawn in New Jersey. Actually my son Greg was on a business trip to Las Vegas (lucky man!) and we were helping Dawn with our beautiful grandson, John Charles. My seizure happened around 1:45AM. I went to sleep on January 8, feeling just fine – actually feeling happy as could be having played with my grandson for two days – and woke up at noon, actually semi-woke-up, on January 9 in the ICU of the hospital.

Thankfully my wife, the beautiful A.P., woke up while I was having this seizure, saw me thrashing in bed uttering animal sounds and she immediately called the ambulance service when she couldn’t rouse me.

One of the members of the ambulance service lives across the street from my son and daughter-in-law. I’ve been told that I thanked him in a very personal way by throwing up on him in the ambulance. “It was projectile vomit,” A.P. later told me. Great, I can be the new secret weapon against the terrorists.

I have no memory of that, thankfully, but we did send a donation to the ambulance corps and a thank you letter to the guy I threw up on.

I have no memory of the ambulance ride or of my time in the emergency room or the nurses shoving a catheter into my penis or an air tube down my lungs. I have no memory of the CAT Scan, the MRI or the MRA or the MRV that were done either.

I came swimming up from the elsewhere to hear a doctor, Sotolongo, ask me to blink my eyes, which I did, and wiggle my toes, which I did, and squeeze her hands, which I did. Dr. Sotolongo seemed to be a million miles away in some distant world that my eyes were just barely seeing. I wasn’t even quite sure of whom I was – my self-consciousness came back slowly in a world of haze.

The beautiful A.P.’s face floated behind the doctor and I then knew something before I even knew what was going on with me – something I guess I knew all my life – this beautiful person was the little girl in the projects, this was the girl in the school yard, this was the girl of my life, through my schooling, through a disastrous first marriage, through wild journeys into other dimensions, through witnessing murders, through a teaching career, right through to today where I gain great joy beating the casinos at their own games. My God, A.P. had been with me all the time – I knew this without really knowing it and she has no recollection of this at all – until she reads this book.

Floating in the haze behind her was my younger son Michael. A.P. explained to me what was happening, “You’ve had a seizure. You are going to be all right.” I couldn’t talk because of the ventilator in my lung. (“It’s you; you were the one through it all. I see now, I see everything now. I want to tell you! I’ve got to talk to you! You’ve been in other worlds with me! I knew you before I knew you and you knew me!”) This book is going to talk to her because I haven’t said anything since I once more became my conscious self. As I swam in semi-conscious waters, I could also feel something in my penis. But my head was swimming far away in the deep waters and I was mostly under those waters. Still it was good to see my wife and son.

And I was under again.

When next I awoke, the air hose and whatever else they had down my throat were out and the catheter was out of my penis. I have a dim recollection of them pulling those things out of me but strong drugs prevented me from feeling any pain – or much of anything. (Let’s hear it for strong life saving drugs!) I was now in the ICU section of the hospital when I woke up. My nurse was Deborah, a friendly, highly professional nurse. I rewarded her by peeing in the bed three times. I couldn’t control it because the catheter made it hard to keep everything back. I also found it impossible to actually keep myself awake for very long periods of time, like more than a minute – or remember much of what was said to me or what I said to others when I was awake. The beautiful A.P. tells me I talked quite a bit in the ICU but I don’t remember anything except apologizing for peeing in the bed.

In the past, maybe three times, I had fainted because of dehydration but I had never had a seizure. The initial thought was that I had suffered a stroke. Poor A.P. had to grapple with the idea that I might be seriously impaired because of this stroke/seizure. Thankfully, the CAT scan, the MRI, MRV and MRA showed no new damage to my brain, although I did have evidence of an old injury (this I knew already) – in fact, my brain was in pretty good shape, all things considered.

My neurologist thinks it is possible that my “career” as a boxer in the mid-1960s might be the cause of the brain injury that the CAT scan shows. I put “career” in quotes because while I had 19 fights, largely against really poor amateur boxers, I did not have the will or the skill to become a polished amateur, much less a professional boxer.

I was just a stupid college student looking for the thrill of individual, competitive sport. I’ve written about some of my athletic experiences in baseball and basketball in other books, but my boxing “career” hasn’t touched a page – until now that is.

My last fight, number 19, saw me take on an opponent who was far superior to me. In those days, I used to weigh about 135 pounds and I was in stupendous shape. I would run five days a week – 6 miles, 6 miles, 10 miles, 10 miles, and 12 miles. I could swim two miles at a clip. I could do one thousand sit-ups. I could do 100 pushups, 100 chin ups, 100 pull ups, 100 dips and I could do a pushup almost no one could do – slapping both of my hands behind my back. Those of you young enough to attempt it – give it a try. I could do 25 of them. Those of you who are too old – well, you can pretend that in your prime you might have been able to do one or two of these.

I thought of myself as superman. Yes, hubris reigned supreme in my little brain.

And hubris allowed me to step into the ring with opponent number 19, a Golden Gloves champion, and while I showed him that I did have a good punch and I did have fast hands and fast combinations, I didn’t have the skill to really compete with an A-level fighter.

He came out for the first round and immediately ducked into one of my uppercuts. A big mistake some boxers make is ducking into punches before any punches are thrown. He did this. I’m guessing he figured I would not have much of an uppercut since very few amateur fighters have good uppercuts. I fooled him. I did have a good uppercut – with both hands too. He bent down into me and I unleashed a beauty, catching him full in the face. Down he went. I wish the fight had ended there.

It didn’t.

He was up quickly, before the ref could even count. That was the big moment of the fight for me because when he got up the rest of round one was he whacking me around the ring.

After round one my nose bled profusely. In my previous fights I rarely got hit. I was usually too strong and too fast for my opponents, who – please remember this – were not very good. This guy was very good. While I was able to land some shots, he countered with better shots of his own. Indeed, in truth, in point of fact, in all honesty – he was beating the crap out of me.

Midway through the second round, I tried another uppercut – and he was ready. I was skidding somewhat along the ropes and I saw him duck low – actually he faked ducking low, figuring I’d figure I’d nail him with my uppercut again, and I dropped my right for the big uppercut. Instead of continuing down, he came up fast and hit me with a left hook before I could bring my right hand back up to protect that side of my face.

I could see all this in slow motion, too, which was really weird because even my memory of this shot to my unprotected face plays itself out in slow motion. I knew as the hook headed for my jaw that I was going to be hit hard. I kept thinking, I won’t be able to get my right hand up to protect my face. I won’t be able to get my right hand up to protect my face.

I was not able to get my right hand up to protect my face.

Then I was at the water cooler, blood pouring out of my nose. I was drinking water. Another boxer was next to me. “What happened?” I asked. “Was I knocked out?”

“No, no,” he said. “You did really well in the third round. You battled him like a maniac. You lost a decision.”

Third round? Lost a decision? Battled him like a maniac? I have no memory of the rest of that fight from the time the left hook headed for my jaw midway through the second round until I woke up at the water cooler – probably seven minutes of “no time.” When I headed back to my fraternity house on campus, I knew I was in bad shape, light headed, nauseous, still bleeding from my nose and aware that I had stupidly been in the ring with someone who made me look like what I was – a total pretender when it came to being a boxer.

I checked myself into the infirmary. I was there for six days – with fever, chills, and the need to sleep. The very first hour they had to cauterize my nose – which entails burning away veins that won’t behave themselves because they keep bleeding.

That fight taught me two valuable lessons – keep your right up until the opponent’s head actually goes down – and screw fighting again. Having taken such a beating, having lost consciousness for at least seven minutes while my body must have been on automatic pilot, was enough to hammer home that a career in boxing was not for me – I would not become the white Muhammad Ali.

That fight might also be the reason for the signs of an old brain injury that the CAT scans pick up. I can’t think of any other serious blows to the head I ever received, except for that wicked left hook, which did leave me unconscious even though my body seems to have worked on its own for those seven minutes of no time. Talk about the will to survival!

I don’t relish the thought as I hit the age of 60 [I am now 71] that I am going to have to worry about seizures now. I wonder what would have happened had I been in a hotel room, alone, on one of my many trips to the casinos when such a seizure hit. My neurologist thinks that I would probably just wake up about eight hours later, very sore, and somewhat confused but none the worse for wear.

Ironically, I think the reason I took to casino gambling in terms of advantage-play is the same reason I enjoyed being an athlete and a boxer – I like the competition. The fact that the casinos are greedy gargantuan Goliaths makes it that much more fun to slay them in blackjack, craps, video poker, [in banking] slots, and Pai Gow poker. I teach seminars in all ways to beat the house. Yes, even the lowly slot machines – the very worst bets in the casino – have some machines that on occasion can be positive expectations for savvy players.

Thankfully all my brain tests have come back showing that I am okay. The EEG, which I took a week after my seizure, does not show anything wrong in my gray matter either. Still at 60, the time has come to reveal it all to my readers in order to make some sense of it – talk about my first love, talk about the games I beat, the casinos I play in, my in-laws, the great Captain, my trips into the Weird World of Astral Traveling, the murders I know about, my career as a teacher and some other things as well.

I want you to read this book [The Virgin Kiss] and tell me, if you can, what it is all about because I just don’t know what the theme is. When I was 20 years old, I knew it all. At 60, I haven’t a clue. I am basically going backwards from now to when, as that is how our memory works. Travel with me and maybe you can explain my life to me.

[This is an excerpt from my book The Virgin Kiss.]

3 thoughts on “Did I Die?”

  1. This truly makes you think about the time given us here on Earth and how it can all change in a New York minute!
    You also demonstrate very well when you do have something good to cherish it!
    By the way, what became of that Golden Glover with the devastating left hook? Sounds like you may have crossed paths with Sugar Ray!

    1. I remember what he looked like but I have no recollection of his name. I’d say he is about 75 now. I can still see that left hook. Did he become a pro? I don’t know.

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