Rob Lazlo has been a writer for GuysGirl since 2010, faithfully covering the NFL, MLB, NBA, as well as his incredibly popular TV recap dubbed, Lazlo’s Clicker. Back in December of 2013, Rob was air-lifted to a local hospital where open heart surgery was performed. The success rate was extremely low, but Rob powered not only through that but also a minor stroke after the surgery. He’s lucky to be alive and 6 months later, this is first article back where he describes the entire ordeal on how he’s lucky to be alive.
Well hello there, whoever it is who reads the stuff I write for this site. I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve been gone for the last four months, but now I’m back. Sort of. I promised Blythe I would write my annual NFL Mock Draft column and its companion column rating the top draft prospects, but I realized that I can’t write that until I write THIS, which is to explain to you just what happened to me and why I haven’t written anything for GuysGirl since December. I don’t expect this to be easy, but here goes.
On the evening of December 28, I felt a pain. This was no ordinary pain, it was a particularly painful painy-kind-of-pain (I would later learn that it is known as the pain you can’t ignore and, indeed, I will vouch for that).
It started in my stomach, and I tried visiting the bathroom thinking (but not really believing) that that might make it go away. I was somewhat thinking I might have an ulcer, but no such luck.
The pain got worse.
It got bad enough that I got vocal (i.e. I started moaning and yelling because it fucking hurt!) which attracted the attention of my three kids (ages 20, 18 and 13) who were all home from college and happened to be with me that night. As a nice side dish to the internal pain, at some point my right leg went completely numb from the knee down and then that hurt too because it was simultaneously numb and giving me pins and needles.
At that point, I basically decided I was going to do two things I don’t normally do.
The first thing was have my son call 911, because I will admit it, I was scared, and even though I am one of those people whose visits to a doctor’s office are typically 10 years apart, I was done screwing around. It is a wonderful feature of the human body that when something is really wrong with you, you can really tell, which is what also prompted my second thing, which was to pray.
Now, I’m not an atheist, I just don’t happen to pray a whole lot, and when I do, it is never to ask for anything. I find it odd that so many people believe God is the ultimate micromanager and they feel compelled to clear everything through Him…dear God, let me get that promotion. Dear God let my fish dinner taste good. Dear God let Jessica call me tomorrow or Friday. Jesus people, God doesn’t have time for this or, even if He does, you can’t tell me that the Supreme Being gives a shit if you remembered to turn your coffee pot off or is willing to lend a hand to get Neal in accounting to notice you. So yeah, not big on praying and asking for things. Usually I just say thank you if something works out.
But on this night, I was all about submitting an emergency request.
In my mind, I said over and over, “God, please don’t let me die.” I knew I was in trouble.
The ambulance arrived and the EMTs asked me which local hospital I wanted to go to. That’s the last thing I remember, although I would learn later than I was awake and talked to my fiancee and my kids and all assortment of things in the interim. But I don’t remember any of it.
What I remember is having an odd dream in which I was in Florida with my oldest daughter checking out a house. I had another dream in which a light skinned African American doctor in blue scrubs was asking me about my neurological history. I know, I know, that second thing seems real, right? Especially under the circumstances. Except I remember the dream about Florida much more vividly than the one about the doctor. To me, the first thing seems real, even though I know it didn’t happen. The second thing doesn’t, even though maybe it did.
I want to pause for a minute here to comment on just how weird it feels to have memories that you know are WRONG. When I regained consciousness I was semi out of it, but I have memories of what went on and in some instances, I know for a fact they are distorted or wrong, even though the memories themselves are quite sharp.
It’s really disquieting and even other-worldly.
Anyway, the next segment of the story generated most of those memories.
When I came to, I was sitting on a bench (only there’s no WAY I was sitting on a bench, I had to be in a hospital bed but my memory of waking up was of sitting on a bench so go figure). I didn’t know where I was, although I believed I was at the local hospital, EXCEPT, and this is really bizarre, I was convinced at the other local hospital, the one I didn’t tell the ambulance to take me to. Again, go figure.
I also remember being in at least three different rooms, but I am pretty sure that I never left whatever room I was in.
I had a breathing tube down my throat but I was only dimly aware of that. I was more keenly aware that I was in restraints, and I kept thinking that if I could get someone’s attention everything could be straightened out.
My exact thought was “If they knew who I was, they would call my son to come pick me up and they’d let me go.”
Eventually, someone noticed I was conscious and soon there was a doctor, two nurses and an orderly in the room. I think, anyway.
Eventually, the male nurse told me he was going to pull out the breathing tube. I don’t know exactly what he said but basically he warned me it was going to be feel that good.
If you’re wondering what it’s like to have a big giant plastic tube pulled out of your throat all at once, I can tell you don’t do it. I’m not a fan.
After they pulled out the tube, they replaced it with an oxygen mask that had some nasty combination of oxygen, vapor and medicine in it. It was hot. I felt like I was breathing steam. And I have to tell you, I wanted to give up at that point. A little later on in the evening my kids stopped by.
I couldn’t talk with the mask on, but in my head I was thinking just let them leave so I can die in peace.
No really, that’s EXACTLY what I was thinking.
That night, the nursing shift changed and two nurses came in. Their names were Khrystine (I think that’s how she spelled it, I only had a blurry view of what she had written on the little assignment board) and Meredith. When they first came in they were mostly no nonsense, but at some point Khrystine told me she was going to move me to a chair and help me sit up. She also took off that nasty mask and let me just breathe air.
By the morning, I felt human again. I felt then and still do that Khrystine saved my life. I was lucky enough to get a chance to tell her that a few days later when she was on shift again, and how many people are lucky enough to get to tell someone that after the fact. I am forever grateful.
In the morning, I told the new nurse on shift that I didn’t know what had happened to me, so she told me.
I had been emergency airlifted by helicopter to the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania. I wasn’t in Pomona, NJ; I was in Philadelphia. I had had emergency open heart surgery to repair a ruptured aortic dissection. That had been over 10 days ago. I had been out for at least a week, and had no memory of my immediate post-surgical experience. I had also had a minor stroke, after the surgery.
That might all sound like a lot of bad luck all at once, but go and Wikipedia aortic dissection and look at the survival rates for what happens when they rupture.
It wasn’t lost on me, either, that there were separate survival rates for people 24-48 hours after successfully surviving the surgery.
Bottom line: I am unspeakably lucky to still be alive.
Recovery was slow.
I remember having my catheter removed, and if you want to know what it’s like to have a long plastic tube pulled out of your Johnson all at once, I can tell you don’t do it. I’m not a fan. When I first got home, I could only walk with a walker, and even then only a few feet at a time. I eventually graduated to a cane and then nothing.
I’m still tired and wear out pretty easily. I had to undergo a pretty big lifestyle change. I’m on a major low sodium diet, which means I have to make pretty much everything myself. No frozen foods. No restaurants. I make my own bread, my own spaghetti sauce, my own pizza dough, my own everything.
It’s a lot of extra work for a guy who gets tired a lot faster than usual, but I’m not complaining, because I’m breathing, and that’s a relief.
In the end, I am probably better off than I was before all this happened. I dropped 35 pounds while I was in the hospital, and I could afford to lose it, believe me. I used to be a 2+ pack a day smoker. Not anymore. I used to pound caffeine like there was no tomorrow. Not anymore. I am the picture of health, as long as the picture doesn’t include the huge surgery scar in the middle of my chest.
In any case, now I can sit down and write that NFL draft column, except I need to rest for a bit first.
This whole still being alive thing takes some getting used to.