The author bio in SOMETHING MISSING states that I died twice before the age of eighteen and was brought back to life by paramedics both times. I get asked about this a lot, through email communications with readers as well as at bookstore and library appearances.
In response to popular demand, here is an account of my first near-death experience. I will post an account of the second later this week.
When I was about 12-years old, my friend, Peter Archambault and I were riding our bikes near his home when we decided to toss our bikes over a cliff into an enormous pile of leaves.
Don’t ask me why. We were kids.
The drop was about 30 feet, so after the bikes landed rather unspectacularly, we began climbing down the rock face in order to retrieve our transportation home.
Peter went first and saved my life.
From about 10 feet up, Peter dropped into the leaves and was almost immediately swallowed up by a swarm of yellow jackets that rose from the leaves and filled the air, stinging him more than a dozen times. Peter screamed and ran through the woods, giving me time to climb back up the rock face and out of danger.
Later that afternoon, after Peter had been iced down and given a large dose of aspirin, Peter’s father brought us back to the cliff in order to retrieve our bikes. Using a rope and a horseshoe, Mr. Archambault managed to hook each bike and pull it up from the leaves.
In the process, a single bee stung me.
With my bike back under me, I began the ride home, sensing the first signs of trouble about a half-mile from my house: a sudden shortness of breath and swelling of my hands and neck. I had been stung by bees before, but never by a yellow jacket, so I made no connection between the single sting and the allergic reaction that I was experiencing.
By the time I arrived home, I could barely breathe. I literally crawled into the house, only to find it empty. My step-father was out with my siblings and my mother was in the hospital, recovering from a recent back surgery. Using all the strength I could muster, I grabbed the phone from the wall, slid to the floor, and called my mother’s hospital room. Between gasps, I tried to explain my situation.
She immediately told me to hang up the phone and call 911, but because the phone was corded and set high on the wall, I was unable to regain my feet in order to reach the receiver and disconnect the line. I was barely conscious.
My mother attempted to hang up the phone in her hospital room but was unable to break the connection, so she told her roommate to call 911 as she remained on the phone with me, begging me to breathe.
She told me that she listened to wheeze for a bit before she heard the phone hit the floor and silence from my end.
“The worst moment of my life,” she once told me.
After what seemed like an eternity, my mother heard the sound of sirens through the phone line and eventually heard the shouts of paramedics as they entered my house. They found me on the floor, unconscious, not breathing, and with no pulse. It took them about two minutes to restart my heart and respiration.
It turns out I am exceptionally allergic to certain type of bee stings. Every day for more than a week following that first sting, I needed to return to the hospital for shots of epinephrine until the poison was completely gone from my system.
My paramedics estimated that I was without respiration or a heart beat for about 3-5 minutes, though how one estimates these things is beyond me. My mother told me this, so perhaps she was providing her own estimate.
And no, I never saw a tunnel or any bright light.
This does not surprise most of my closest friends.