Flirting with death experiences

I always hit soft 17.

I always hit soft 17.

I like to hedge my bets – I’m a gambling man.

Every now and again I like to have a near death experience to improve my odds on staying on the right side of the grass.

Problem is, an event like that happens when you least expect it – like my latest 8-week sojourn through the healthcare system dealing with pneumonia, emergency surgery for bleeding ulcers and sepsis. But sometimes they telegraph themselves.

Over the years, I’ve had two other flirts with death that I’ll mention here.

Big Thompson Flood 1976 – I was working for the US National Park Service at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado for a second summer. I don’t know if this had any influence, but I had befriended Wayne Aspinall who was a guest scholar at the University of Wyoming political science department when I was in grad school there.

Wayne was the former chair of the US House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, a position he held for 14 years.

Wayne was the former chair of the US House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, a position he held for 14 years.

Back in those days I was a College Republican and we had some spirited discussions in class. Despite our ideological differences, he offered to write a few letters of recommendation for me to the USNPS in support of my job application.

I was told park ranger jobs were hard to come by and was happy to be hired to my first choice, since I applied all over the country.

Anyway, I drove my pea green Ford Pinto to Cheyenne Frontier Days the last weekend in July. I met up with my friends Rick Thamer, John Accardo et al. for a weekend of jocularity. The Mayflower was still open and Downtown Cheyenne was still a happening place during CFD.

I don’t know what got into me, but I’ve never been one to miss out on the last weekend of “The Daddy of ’em all”.

It was Saturday night and rather than crash in Thamer’s basement, I chose to drive back to Colorado, over the very logical arguments posed by my friends. I had to work at the Glacier Basin Campground at 11:00am.

I would have made it in plenty of time.

When I turned onto Highway 34 into Loveland, the horizon was crimson red and solid black. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” – should be no problem.

After driving through town and entering The Narrows, a caravan of cars, trucks and RVs headed east on US 34. Why was I the only one heading west, toward the park?

I met a Colorado highway patrolman. He told mee there was some “bad water” ahead and to turn around at Drake.

I didn’t quite make it that far.

There was water streaming across the highway. All of a sudden, something that I couldn’t make out, was in the middle of the road in about six inches of run off. Then, uprooted trees, unrecognizable junk and debris floated by. I expected to see the Wicked Witch of the West hover by.

The car careened into the rising wall of water and suddenly the deluge came up to the hood of the car that stalled. There was a car filled with a family heading the opposite direction that had the interior lights on. That sedan floated to the edge of the road and then was swept away into the canyon’s darkness.

A porta-potty floated over and caught my bumper and ruddered the Pinto towards the canyon wall and not into the torrent. I wasn’t able to open the car door, but climbed out of the driver’s side window and waded to higher ground.

A few minutes later a State Highway Department truck pulled up with a bunch of other people. I climbed up and we were all dropped off at Rainbow Bend where we were allowed to crash in the guest bungalows there.

I can sleep through anything.

The next morning, when the waters subsided, the road was totally washed out, trophy-sized fish lay on what was left of the highway. The canyon wall was plastered with pine trees, crumpled trailers and cars. The little store at Rainbow Bend had food, I ate some cold hot dogs.

I don’t know how the rumors started, but we spent the day on high ground since word came from someplace that the Estes Park reservoir dam was ready to crest.

Thompson Flood refugees boarding a Chinook helicopter

Thompson Flood refugees boarding a Chinook helicopter

A Chinook helicopter eventually dropped in and flew us out to a Red Cross station in Loveland. The only thing I took from the provisions was a dry pair of socks.

When the big floods hit Colorado’s Front Range last summer, I had no desire to get out and inspect any of the high water or its aftermath. As it was, the radio news didn’t indicate any problems. I decided to leave Cheyenne and was stuck in Longmont and being anecdotally guided through town by facebook cronies.

All the routes on the Diagonal and SH 66 were all flooded out, except SH 66 to I-25 to Thornton – SH 402 exit closed; Johnstown exit closed, Berthoud exit closed.

I eventually snaked my way from 120th to US 36 and luckily the westbound lane was open. Overnight, the St Vrain River crested and filled the low spot between US 34 and SH 402. I would have been stranded for several days somewhere north of Longmont.

Okay, back to the story.

There was no reason to stick around Loveland. I bummed a ride to Cheyenne and was dropped off at the Leeper’s house on Oak Court. My family in Laramie was trying to make contact, but there was no phone service. I called home from Cheyenne and was picked up and carted over to Laramie.

There was no access to Rocky Mountain Park for several days. I was eventually able to drive the “family truckster” – an olive green Mercury station wagon with the fake wood paneling – back to work. My boss, Perry Thompson, was gracious enough not to dock my pay for the days I was gone.

The big regret at the time?

All my ranger pals were getting double time and a half for working the rescue, while I was one being rescued. I never did find out if my car turned up anywhere. It probably became rip-rap in Nebraska.

When it was all said and done, I was immediately issued a check by my insurance company and I purchased a sky blue Pinto wagon. I might add, it was involved in a rear end collision with an oil field truck while I was living in Gillette, Wyoming.

My housemate at the time, Tom Padget, worked over the insurance company for a settlement. The differential bolt was dented up against the gas tank, which, had it burst, the tank would have caused at least a fire.

The Pinto goes full circle.

I ended up selling the car to Rick Thamer who drove it to law school in Lubbock, Texas, where he and his wife Janie live today.

After the Big Thompson Flood event, I thought I was living on borrowed time and lived life a bit recklessly while in wild and crazy Gillette. I altered my perspective that I was given another chance, for some reason.

Hmmm, next up will be the attitude adjusting UFO incidents.

Fire On-board Boeing 737 aircraft 1997 – I heard a speech by Bill Clinton’s Department of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown before his dubious demise in a plane crash in South Asia. I don’t know why a movie hasn’t been made speculating about the circumstances surrounding his death – some pundits call it an assassination based on his involvement in some shady electric power plant deals.

Anyway, Brown was in Denver pitching the North American Free Trade Agreement. I must have been living in Lander, Wyoming and commuting to Boulder at that time which was 1993 – 1994. There was a session after his talk that matched up businesses in Mexico and US businesses. When the meeting wrapped, the room scattered, except for myself and a few groups from Mexico who were disappointed in the turnout.

I sat with a group of guys who were on the board of directors of a credit union. They had interest in agriculture and small scale manufacturing. My Spanish was as marginal as their English.

I sat with a group of guys who were on the board of directors of a credit union. They had interest in agriculture and small scale manufacturing. My Spanish was as marginal as their English.

They all resided in a small town called Sombrerete, Zacatecas. We hit it off and I flew down to Mexico where I was immediately accepted in their town. Sombrerete has nice weather all the time because it is on the Tropic of Cancer.

I also had agricultural interests after helping set up a value-added agricultural business with an Indian tribe.

Social activist that I am, this wasn’t your run of the mill maquila border operation. I wanted it to be more sustainable on a global economy basis. I learned that if Mexican nationals could find work in their community, they wouldn’t have to risk life and limb, discrimination and too much time away from their families.

I eventually talked my Colorado client into moving a part of the manufacturing to Mexico. Getting all the equipment and materials shipped was quite the ordeal.

I eventually talked my Colorado client into moving a part of the manufacturing to Mexico. Getting all the equipment and materials shipped was quite the ordeal.

The credit union also found this as a good option and had organized a bunch of home workers to perform the necessary assembly work. The ag project didn’t catch on, I think it was a personnel issue. In the final analysis there are good reasons why the factories are located on the border, which is the topic of another note.

Enough on that.

I used to stay in Mexico from two weeks to a month at a time. My Spanish got to be pretty good. I learned the past and future tenses. There’s something about immersion that helps a guy learn a new language. In addition to day-to-day Spanish, I also had to learn how to talk about the peculiarities of the manufacturing business.

On one of my trips, I flew in and out of Guadalajara and took the bus to Zacatecas. Buses in Mexico are like airplanes – TV, a nice restroom and co-pilots. The driver bombs down the highway – the national road system is pretty good – with a second driver there to give the occasional nudge. There are sleeping compartments for the drivers under the cab.

Anyway, my return flight from Guadalajara to Houston was uneventful. I had a lay over and wandered the long corridors of the Houston International Airport and stopped in the restroom. I made my way back to the concourse and the airline check in desk, but my tickets were missing. I retraced my steps to no avail. I reported the tickets missing and waited around.

“Mr. O’Hashi, Mr. Alan O’Hashi, please call the airport operator,” blared on the icom system.

I called the operator and sure enough my tickets were found and they were delivered to the airline counter on the concourse where I retrieved them and hustled to the gate. This was before ramped-up airport security. The airline guy unlocked the door and escorted me to the plane. The plane door was closed, but it was opened and I was allowed on board during the seat belt instructions.

After getting settled in my seat, the plane pushed off and in the queue. It was a routine take off. There was a mom and a whiny kid sitting ahead of me. He just wouldn’t settle down.

All of a sudden the plane, seemingly dropped straight down. Flight attendants were tumbling through the cabin. I remember seeing in front of me a book suspended in midair then flying forward. We were still losing altitude quickly, but the plane was leveled off. There were no messages accept to strap in and put the tray tables up and to fold over with out heads in our laps.

We were making an emergency landing.

Glancing out the window, it was like you see on TV - the foam trucks and fire engines lined the runway as the plane came to a stop at the gate. I have a picture in a box someplace. I'll dig it out if I can find it.

Glancing out the window, it was like you see on TV – the foam trucks and fire engines lined the runway as the plane came to a stop at the gate. I have a picture in a box someplace. I’ll dig it out if I can find it.

The bothersome little boy was scared stiff. His mom shook her finger at him and reminded him that “this is why you say your prayers before you go to sleep”. He listened intently, as did I.

We were in Oklahoma City. There was a fire in the cockpit that caused the problem. After being laid over a few hours, we all were dispersed to other flights.

Since then, whenever out of the ordinary delays happen, like lost tickets, being stuck in traffic, anything, not only do i think of movie inciting incidents, I think about my own mortality and generally go with the flow, rather than force the issue. If I’m on a flight and the attendant asks if there is a volunteer who would like to trade their seat for a free airplane ticket, I don’t know what I will do.

Do I still do business in Mexico?

My main business partner at the Sombrerete credit union developed cancer and ended up dying. He and his family moved to Mexico City for better medical care. It’s too bad because he had a young wife and a newborn. I didn’t stay in touch with the family, but should have.

His brother took over the business and moved the maquila to Mexico City.  He took the business in a different direction - namely, he wanted me to find markets for him in the U.S.

His brother took over the business and moved the maquila to Mexico City. He took the business in a different direction – namely, he wanted me to find markets for him in the U.S.

There are two kinds of people in the world – buyers and sellers. It’s much more difficult to be a seller and I’m not a very good seller. Needless to say, our partnership didn’t continue.

The upshot?

I went 21 years between the flood and the airplane fire and 18 years between the airplane fire and the sepsis emergency surgery. I don’t know how many more close calls this old guy can handle!

But then again, I always hit soft 17*.

* For the non-blackjack player soft 17 is an ace and six, which can be either 17 – a pat hand – or 1+6 = seven.

Part II – What a long strange trip it’s been

Things have been getting better. I’ve been out of rehab for almost almost four weeks and I saw on the news over 4million more people have signed up for Obamacare since I did back at the end of December / beginning of January.

I started to drive last week, which has been liberating. I’m still not quite sure of the clutch foot in my VW van. I’m likely to get an automatic transmission vehicle and have been renting one for a week and getting around pretty well. I’m looking to lease a car.

Meanwhile, the Eurovan started right up after sitting fallow since December 16th. I’m able to push in the clutch and drive it. I have a love – hate relationship with it, though. It’s been nothing but trouble since the day I bought it, but luckily much of the failures were covered by warranty.

There still are some quirky things happening when it starts up. I take it to the garage on Sunday to get it looked at. Who knows when it will be out of the shop. I’ll check on Wednesday.

As for now, the car lease quest is now a waiting game hoping for a better deal. The one in December that I missed was zero down, 24 months $197 for a Ford Focus. The best I’ve been able to find now is zero down, 36 months $239 for a Subaru Legacy sedan.

I digress.

Meanwhile, I figured out that the main reason doctors get sued so much is because healthcare is imprecise at best. Hit and miss guesses based on the best information available at any given moment is the only way to figure out what’s wrong with someone.

Once a doctor and patient weigh the information and with a high probability have figured out what’s happening, the same process is followed for treatment. Patients who aren’t proactive and involved in their health care and rely on docs to make decisions make a huge mistake.

I’ve learned that a person really needs to be a strong advocate for themselves because doctors, nurses and everyone else in the health care environment could give a rat’s ass what’s happening with each individual patient. The squeaky wheel gets the bed pan was my mantra.

I’m still going through ‘dialing in’ process for my treatment. I don’t think I’ll ever be back to where I was before June, 1, 2013 – but who knows?

I’d say the “armchair patients”  who haven’t been in the healthcare system lately and think that modern medicine choices are black and white need to get sick to experience it themselves.

So far, so good on that front.

The things I notice these days, are public places that aren’t universally accessible. I stayed at a bed and breakfast as a break from hotels the other day.

It’s in an historic building and there were two concrete steps to get up to the yard, then four concrete steps to get to the porch. Once inside I had to navigate six stairs to one landing then four more stairs to the second landing.

Whaddya gonna do?

Truckin, Im a goin/ home. whoa whoa baby, back where I belong …