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Close Calls With Death -- 11/20/02

Death is something that most of us fear and naturally so. We should all recognize that life is precious and a gift. At conception, one sperm cell and one egg out of hundreds of thousands each, join to form who we are. Had a different sperm cell or different egg united, someone else would have been created, not you or I with different characteristics. A totally different unique person would have been the result. Just understanding that at the moment of conception, each of us overcame greater odds than we ever face again, should make us respect human life to a much greater degree.

Death is a part of life. Usually it is expected that we would live full and measured lives and die at some point in elderly age. But many of us have close calls throughout life and indeed many of us die much sooner than anyone expected.

I have a had a few close calls with death. This monograph will cover some of those experiences.

The first time I remember almost being killed was when I was about seven years old. I was at a Summer Camp and a boy tried to drown me in a shallow swimming pool. He was sitting on my stomach and holding my shoulders and head below the water. I tried to get him off but I wasn't very strong. I don't remember how I escaped, but it scared me a lot because I knew I couldn't hold my breath much longer.

When I was about nine years old, I was playing near a set of many railroad tracks. I was climbing in-between stopped railway cars. Suddenly, the train jolted as it started to move. The startling loud noise of the cars taking up the slack in the couplers caused me to jump from the train. In a panic, I ran across the remaining set of tracks towards the train station platform. At the last track, a commuter train was bearing down on me with an intersecting point. In the last second I jumped before the engine arrived and rolled underneath the train platform, the train missing me by a couple feet as it roared past. I can still feel how scared I was and how hard my heart was pounding. That was the last time I ever played by trains.

At age eleven I was beat-up by a friend of mine. An older teenager had forced him to beat me up by threatening him. He was forced to choke me into unconsciousness and I am lucky I passed out as it scared him into stopping. A neighbor carried me to my home where I was revived.

That last episode was the first time I started thinking about how close I had come to dying in those first three encounters. I remember being scared that such violence could be inflicted on me and it had a bad lingering effect on me.

My Motorcycle Fever story contains a few more times my life almost ended.

One summer night in 1968 I was late getting a girlfriend home on Chicago's far south side. I was racing down the street near Wolf Lake, approaching a train-crossing with the lights flashing. I stepped on the gas in that 1967 red Volkswagen. As I crossed the tracks, I thought we were going to be killed because the train was right upon us! Fortunately, the train missed us by a couple feet. I saw it in my rearview mirror the instant I crossed those tracks. That girl never knew how close we came to dying that night.

A few months later I almost killed myself and likely other drivers too when I fell asleep at the wheel. I had been dozing off at 5:30 in the morning as I was driving, looking for the I-55 entrance ramp and found myself driving down the wrong side of I-55 at 65 Mph! Thinking of that still scares me today.

Those last two encounters made me realize how dangerous my driving habits had become and since that day, I never risked life at railroad crossings and never drove while tired again.

In the years since I have had additional close calls with death. I've had a bullet whiz by my head by a drunk shooting a gun in my direction in 1970. In August 1975, I escaped a serious auto-collision situation on the dangerous Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago. In 1981, I came close to dying from a ruptured appendix and in 1986 was my closest brush with death by accidental means.

On October 1, 1986, while at work I had to be rushed to a downtown Chicago hospital emergency room as a result of an allergic reaction. Had it not been for a fellow office associate noticing my symptoms, I would have died that day for sure. As it was, his alert analysis convinced me to go immediately to the emergency room. When I arrived, my throat was closing and my body was going into shock from the blood cells rupturing throughout my body. Later the doctor told me I had 10 minutes or less left to live depending on asphyxiation or the internal bleeding that was rapidly spreading throughout my body. A massive emergency injection of adrenaline threw my entire body into convulsions as it purged the poisons within me, saving me from certain death.

I came away with a new found understanding of what it means to be alive.

Death is not very far away from me at any time. I have seen first-hand several times how close I've come and just how slight a grip a human being has on life and how nearby death really is. I respect my life to a much greater degree and am glad I lived and all the joys I found since.

My God had and still has a plan for me. Of course I have no idea how long I am to live or how I will ultimately die. If I didn't go in one of the earlier situations, then it proves to me that my life has had a purpose. I was supposed to have those dangerous encounters and survive. I did learn lessons from them.

I don't pretend to be an advisor to you on how to live or concerning the subject of death, in general. I've seen or been involved with enough death in my life and that is sufficient lesson for me. I just wanted to write about what it is like to value life and how fortunate I have been in my closest encounters with death.


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