Tuesday morningTuesday morning could’ve turned out to be something entirely, brutally different.

It was clear and cold. New snow had fallen overnight and the morning sun seemed to light it from beneath the blanket. I woke at 7:30 or so and lied in bed till almost 8, listening to my girlfriend’s soft breathing next to me in the morning’s stillness, both filling the long pauses between the distant sound of passing cars on Main Street and the furnace kicking on and off. The kids were with their mom. It was a slow morning, and I couldn’t have been more thankful for it. 11 hours earlier I was in an ER bed at Thompson Hospital being evaluated for a possible Stroke or aneurism.

Rewind to 6:30 the night before. I had just arrived at Bristol Mountain to meet my middle child, Cam, for ski club. I was going to make some turns with him, let him run with his pals while I ran solo looking for good snow in the margins, and then give him a ride back to his mom’s so he didn’t have to ride the bus. I saw him for about two seconds before he boogied with his friends, but managed to coordinate our meet-up at 8 at the lift. I headed up the mountain.

My first run was good. Given that I’m still breaking in new telemark skis, bindings, and boots (as well as still breaking in telemark technique), I was happy that my gear was actually starting to feel right under me. Mid-mountain I stopped to get a breather and my head was pounding at the base of my skull. Figuring I just needed to warm up some more, or stretch, or just push through it, I set my jaw, finished the bottom half and grabbed another chair to the top.

Four turns into my second run the wheels came off. My head hurt so badly that gave up trying to make the signature kneeling telemark turns and simply made wide, easy S-turns, stopping again mid-mountain. The edges of my vision stared to narrow. The back of my head pounded down into my neck. At this point I knew the whole deal was going to shit. But I told myself You’re not going down on the fucking mountain, Matt, thus committing to reach the bottom and the lodge.

I could see, but nothing really registered except the gravity of my body on the hill, so I finished the bottom of the hill largely by feel, eventually sliding to a slow stop as it flattened out. I couldn’t swallow. I was standing, half-inert and completely limp inside, held up by some sort of instinctual defiance. I’m not fucking going down here. I felt the need to cry, but I couldn’t get it from thought to action. Death-thoughts started to creep in. No. No. No. I’m going to be here for Cam at 8:00. It took everything I had to lean forward and release my bindings. I was now operating on sheer will. It was 7:10.

I managed to get my gear off and into the car, and walk back to the lodge. I texted my girlfriend, Amanda, that I was done skiing because of a blazing headache. She offered to come out and get us, but I said I’d be ok. I just needed to sit for a while. Upstairs, I sat alone at a table in the bar area (the only place not over-run by high school ski clubs from 10 different school districts) and blindly stared at the Alabama-Clemson pre-game coverage on a TV across the room. I couldn’t get words out audibly and reminded myself to keep breathing. My head was immense and so damn angry. I still couldn’t cry. Sitting still calmed me some and I kept running through a mental inventory, wiggling fingers and toes, blinking, raising an eyebrow, clearing my throat, and rolling my neck a couple times. I just need to get Cam home and get home. In spite of the pain, I was fierce.

At 8 I picked my way back out to the lift and ran into a close friend who also offered us a ride, which I declined, saying Naw, I’ll be ok. Just need to get home. I corralled the boy and we loaded up for the ride home. He knew I was hurting and chatted with me about everything that came to him — school, friends, antics on the mountain, his dislike of his Health teacher. I couldn’t get a word out but everything else functioned, so I smiled and nodded and patted his leg and head. I felt so bad for being so unable to respond. He stayed calm and ran distraction for me while I got him home safe. Aleida, my oldest, came to the door when we arrived and with one look knew something was up, too. A strong hug and I love you, dad and I went home. Now the tears started to come. Hot as hell.

As soon as I walked in the living room Amanda had the same immediate reaction as Aleida, listened to my symptoms as I piled onto the couch, and told me we need to go to the ER. And that she was driving. The triage desk moved me immediately to the intake room, where I was asked a few cursory questions, given a wheel chair, and then ushered to an ER room with Code 12, room 15. Code 12, room 15 echoing from the all-call PA system announcing my arrival on the floor. The nurse, a PA, and two assistants were already there waiting.

Then everything went into full-speed. Shirt off, gown on, a lot of things are going to be happening very quickly — we’ll talk you through each one, don’t worry, heart monitor points stuck to my chest and legs, wires hooked up to them, IV hooked up, blood drawn, temperature check, we’re going to be taking you back for a CT scan and angiogram so we can get a look at your head and neck area, heart monitor beeping, numbers reported, orders given, we’re going to be checking for signs of Stroke or aneurism, ER staff in and out in a perfectly choreographed flow of every-second-matters, curtain open, curtain closed, tell me what time your head started hurting, Amanda in a chair three feet away, wide-eyed, holding it together and texting updates to my mom and sister, and then my bed being wheeled down the hall for my close-up.

After everything was said and done, after the scans, dye injections, touch your finger to your nose and then my finger, reading simple sentences and identifying pictures of trees and birds and kids raiding the cookie jar, people in and people out, the Doc came back with a couple final motor tests and the news that all the tests came back negative. Everything looks good, he said.

Negative. Holyshitthankgodnegative. My kids and family immediately flooded my head. I looked over at Amanda and thanked God for her, too. Their estimation is that it was likely a perfect storm of elevated heart-rate, low blood sugar, dehydration, latent headache, adrenaline, and cold weather. A freak occurrence. Better to be safe than sorry, they said. But I am sorry, regardless.

Tuesday morning turned out OK, but Monday could’ve gone wrong in so many ways. And even as scared as I was, in as much pain as I was, facing the realities I was — the terrible gravity of the whole situation — I was still too prideful, stupid, and bull-headed to accept help or admit weakness. I had nothing to prove, but I chose to gut it out and be tough as I always do when I’m hurt, or on the rare occasion I get sick. I don’t have time for down-time. As my mom scolded me after, just like your father.

Therein lies the reason I’m recounting this story. I know I’m not alone in thinking that I’ll recover easily if I get hurt, that I live a very active life and and eat pretty well therefore I’m healthy and won’t get sick, that bad things won’t knock at my door because, well, they just won’t. Worst of all — when I am sick or hurt, it’s best to just soldier on. All of that couldn’t be further from the truth. And I want my people to know that. You, dear reader, included. Some shit simply shouldn’t be soldiered through. Especially when considering your own mortality.

As excruciating as it was, I was given a gift. And it got my attention. I’m making some changes. If I’m going to be around for the long haul, it’s time. For me and my family and friends. Not off-the-deep-end shit, but I’m most definitely taking steps toward a more mindful, present, healthier life as a whole. To take better care of myself. And that includes listening to those I love when they’re trying to take care of me.


Filed under Life

27 responses to “GRAVITY

  1. Eli

    Damn. and glad your okay. (That’s all I can offer right now.)

  2. Thanks for sharing. I’m a healthcare worker & have seen things. I’ve had my own perfect storm of lack of consciousness, happy test results, then a few months of occasional weirdness despite tests. Thanks for your last paragraph and last sentence. Well said, especially when you have kids. Glad you are doing well. (:

  3. Suzy

    Wow. Powerful example of life trying to get our attention.

  4. Matt, I’m glad everything ended up turning out OK. Your ability to articulate a story always amazes me, even when it’s about a scary life moment and how it’s affected you. We’re all better off by you sharing your story’s and life lessons. Thank you!

    • fishingpoet

      Thanks, Brian. When it comes to things like this, sharing what we learn is the best thing we can do to help make sure others don’t get blindsided. I appreciate the shout.

  5. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. I believe things happen because we live in random, chaotic world. Mindfulness and recognizing the reality of where you are at any given moment, taking care of yourself as well as your family, it only gets harder with age to stay in the moment.

    Or easier, because you learn the value of it. The habit of it.

    And then you’re still not free of the random illness that falls on you like a ton of bricks, the accident. Life is short no matter.

    Exercise. Eat wisely. Live in the moment, aware of the moment.

    And then appreciate each moment, as it could be your last.

    • fishingpoet

      I agree with you, Richard. But I still believe that as long as they’re a reminder to take better care of yourself, your family, and live mindfully, then even chaos and randomness happen for a reason. You are right, life is precious and short. I hope you’re well out in the PacNW. I’m enjoying your pics on IG.

  6. Matt, I’m glad you are ok and that you found value in your experience, I did. Thank you for telling your story, and sure enough I’m right there with you. Make change for the better, be there for those who love you. Amen.

  7. Eric

    FP, I’m an angling ER doc and done a hundred of these kinds of evaluations in 25 years of practice. I’m glad you’re ok. I was great to read your story, to a give a human touch to what I work up routinely. I’ve been through a car crash recently and was out of work for 14 months and two surgeries later on my foot I’m back working and wading again. It was a reset and I don’t let the little things get to me. Stay focused on the ball: family, joy and work, in that order (and if it’s not work, make a job that doesn’t seem like work). Keep up the good “work!” Eric

    • fishingpoet

      Hey, Eric! I can’t thank the good folks at the ER, like yourself, enough – you guys are amazing at what you do and have my utmost respect. Happy to hear that you’ve waded back into the current, in all the ways. Thank you for checking in and leaving a note. My eye is definitely on the ball “)

  8. Thank you for sharing the life changing moment with us, Matt. I’m glad you are OK. Stay strong.

    • fishingpoet

      Thank you, Dean. I’m right back in the mix. With three kids – I have to be “). It’s great to hear from you. Hope all is well in your neck of the woods.

  9. Amy Butler

    Take care of yourself,.let others care for you and enjoy those skis!

  10. Mike Rice

    Glad you got down and you’re ok, man. It sucks getting older and realizing you’re not bullet-proof. So this means more time to write, yeah? Please. I need the welcomed distraction of a fishingpoet post! Stay well, Matt.

    • fishingpoet

      Ha! Writing is one thing I’m going to re-focus one, for sure. Good exercise for the mind “) Thanks for the note, Mike. I appreciate you taking the time.

  11. Pete

    My aunt had emergency surgery on an anneurism this past summer. I hate to think what could’ve happened if my uncle didn’t rush her to the er. She never stops. She is the toughest of the tough. I’m so glad she’s still with us but it was the matter of 20 minutes. Glad to hear you’re ok. Hold your new perspective close. It’s amazing how quickly we go back to old habits when the danger is gone and we’re comfortable again. Take care of yourself my man.

    • fishingpoet

      It’s definitely scary stuff, Pete. I will hold onto my new perspective. I’m tough and stubborn, but not above living by new habits “)
      Thanks for checking in, brother.

  12. B. Peck

    Eye opening read…definitely a relief to hear everything is all good!!! We need to catch up!

  13. Good stuff. Glad you are alright. Excellent point about knowing when to throw in the towel and accept help.

    • fishingpoet

      Thanks, Domenick. It’s the darndest thing – even when you throw in the towel, you come out stronger on the other end.

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