Events that Changed Me Part 1

(Note: Originally, I didn’t plan on this being a series of posts, however, due to the nature of the content and nature of the subject in the series I have broken it down to a few topics per post.)

In everyone’s life, they will see many special events. Some will be awesome, happy events like the birth of a child. Some will be sad and hard-to-swallow events that make everyone just shake their heads in disbelief, something like a death of a child. In all these times we lean on someone or something to help us through them. And yes, even those that think they don’t, are fooling themselves. Many of these events also help mold us into who we are today. Whether you are happy, depressed, or anywhere in between, events have made you who you are, and what type of belief system you look towards.

So, what is it that has made you, you? That is what is post is about. In this post, I will go over events in my life that made me who I am today. Why I believe in Jesus. Why I joined the Navy getting out of high school. Why I do several things in my life. I hope it will help those of you that read it to think deeply about your own lives and better yourself. To better your understanding of why you do certain things. I hope this new understanding will bring you closer to God, or if you are not a believer in God, that you will find Him.

So, what is the first thing that normally pops into my head when I think of events that changed me? For me the one event that I say changed me the most in my life was the fire that happened on Christmas when I was only 5 years old.

Christmas of 1977
It was early Christmas morning in 1977 when I was 5 years old. I was awakened by fire engines with their light flashing in my bedroom window. I popped up and looked through the window and saw several fire trucks down the street with a huge hose running down the middle of the street. I turned around to see my father at my door, I assumed he was checking on me. We then went into the living room and joined the rest of the family. We all stared out the big living window watching as the firemen were working hard to ensure the safety of the family members and stopping the fire. We watched for a while before I was told to go back to bed, I don’t remember if I went to sleep or not.

The next morning, we found out that a grandfather, grandmother, and their 3-year-old grandson all perished in the flames that night. It was a very somber gloomy morning that Christmas morning. Even at a young age, I remember being very saddened by the events. I remember looking over there repeatedly that morning and even us walking down the street to see the new skeleton of a home that once was filled with a happy family.

Years later I remember telling this same story on the Bakersfield Californian online bulletin board. After I wrote it out and posted it, I wrote to a person to leave a comment about it. The person was the father of a son that was friends with that 3-year boy that died in the fire. He explained to me how hard it was for him to try to explain that his son’s friend would no longer be coming over. How hard it was to watch as he watched his son crying and having to answer questions that his son was asking. He told me how it took his son a long time for his son to stop morning the death of his little friend.

This horrible event in my life has made me a person that respects the people in the emergency response communities. These people miss holidays and family events regularly. They enter places that are dangerous and risk their lives for people that they don’t know and sometimes are even hated. They see the worst of others’ lives and try to help. Many over time end up depressed and lonely because of the things they have seen but are afraid to talk to their families about. Sadly, many end up taking their own lives or fall into drinking or drugs to cope.

This event also guided me to search deeper into God and His grace and love for the people of the world. I have listed several events that changed me. I will tell you what happened and how it affected me. I also will try to explain to them why they helped me find God.

Yes, I know this is a broad statement. Yes, I know that everyone must deal with death over the years. However, I do believe some deaths in your life touch you in different ways. In no real order, here are the deaths in my life that I believe have changed me. Some of these may sound bad for one reason or another, but please remember that each of these people I loved very much.

Papa – The death of my Papa (my mother’s father) was the first death that affected me the most. He was such a kind and gentle man that loved his family. He had been a heavy equipment operator on a motor grader during his working years, but I never saw those years. We would visit him every other year in Mississippi on the family property he owned. He would take us out fishing and show us how to farm. He always had a garden of various things. He had an awesome group of bird dogs that he trained so well that I could only hope to own some dogs that were well-trained. Sadly, I have a couple of regrets over his death that I hope to never make again.

The first is that I now look back and wonder why I never asked him questions about his time in World War 2. Yes, I know, at my age back then I just saw my grandfather and not a combat veteran. However, sometime after his death, I saw his Army records places he was sent during the war. He was in a transportation unit that was in or near a great number of major battles. He went through D-Day, down to the North Coast of Africa, back up to Norway, and down to Germany. Yet, I knew nothing of this. But would he have told me many of the things he saw? His service was why I joined the Navy. He was his example and I felt I had to join the Navy and glad I did.

The next regret was at his funeral. This is why I also will never have an open casket. I still can see him in it and hate that I ever saw him there. But don’t blame my parents or anyone else for this image I have. No, no one forced me, in fact, I wanted to see him one last time. I just realized at that moment that while I may be able to show a tough image, I really have a very soft inside.

Today, I look back at my Papa’s life that I know of and try to live a life like him. One that can handle hard work and tough times but be gentle to others and always show kindness.

Grandma – When my grandmother (my father’s mother) died I was in junior high school. Because she lived in the same town as I did, I saw her often. In fact, at the time of her death, I lived about a mile away from her house. The one thing that affected me about her death was what I was doing. You see, I was always told not to spend a lot of time on the phone because someone may be trying to call. This was a time when there were no cell phones and call waiting cost money to have. So, I was on the phone talking to a girlfriend when I heard a sudden banging on the front door. My uncle who was living with us answered the door and I could hear my aunt burst into crying and screaming that something was wrong with my grandmother. My uncle opened the door of my room and said something to the effect, “That’s why she could reach us.” My aunt had been trying repeatedly to call and only got a busy tone because I was hogging the phone. I was told to stay home while my mother, aunt, and uncle went down to my grandmother’s house.

Soon after they came back to my house and told me she was gone. My dad who had been at work was told to come home and arrived a little later. He was very strong during this time and helped the family through this hard time. However, at the funeral, the weight that he placed on himself finally broke him down. You see the strongest man I knew could only handle so much. This trait I know I take after him and have and will do the same thing from time to time. He has shown me that even the strong must cry and bear their souls because we are all human.

Sadly, one issue that I live with today is that I still have a fear of not being able to call and communicate with family. I still hate being on the phone for long periods or out of reach for a long time. I have had to fight this issue many times when camping or out of cell coverage. But I have learned to move past it and rely on God to guide me through those times.

Naomi – Naomi was one of the strongest people I have ever known. She was my niece that had an incurable genetic disease that she had from birth. This disease was an auto-immunity disease that basically her body kind of fighting itself. She had some of the best doctors in the world treating her outside of UCLA Medical Center. Sadly, this disease normally took the young before they reached the age of 18. Because of her disease, she had to wear very thick lens glasses and it had started to affect her hearing from what I understand. Many kids in her class would make fun of her and bully her around because of it also. When she was 16 years old the medicines that she had to take to fight the disease started to destroy her liver. This placed her on the list to receive a liver and was hospitalized while she waited. In time her kidneys were starting to need help filtering out the enzymes that the failing liver was producing. She was placed on a kidney dialysis machine to combat this.

In time two livers were found to be matches. However, the first one was given to another child, a boy that was in the worst shape. From what I understand she told her father that it was okay. That she would rather a sicker person get it if they needed it. The second liver came a little later in a week or two, but sadly she was now battling an infection that was not responding to the antibiotics.

A few days later, while my mother was visiting her, she ask my mother if she could hear the beautiful music playing. My mother told her that she didn’t hear anything and that her father was watching golf on the TV. The next day Naomi died in the hospital.

To this day I believe the music she heard was the songs of angels preparing her to make the transition from this world. Even though she knew she was going to die at such a young age she never blamed God and only gave him praise. When I learned of the bullying, she endured yet never fought, I found out how strong she was. A few years later my ex-wife told me that she had a young co-worker that knew Naomi. However, she was not a friend, but a bully of hers. She told my ex-wife that they never knew that Naomi had a life-threatening disease and that Naomi never used it as a crutch. The young co-worker even told my ex-wife that because of Naomi’s death, she learned to be kinder to others. This young lady learned that she didn’t know what hardships others may be facing so you should treat everyone with kindness first.

Death of a Friend and Patient – This story in my life is one I wasn’t sure where to place it in the list of events that changed me. I wasn’t sure if I should place it as an event that changed me while in the Navy, as a death of a friend, or some other section. But in the end, I believe I will place it here as a friend.

Because this has medical information that I am not sure the family would want to be posted, I will call my friend Mr. Mac. I was a new sailor, 19-year-old at my first command in Portsmouth Naval Hospital (later renamed to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center) In Virginia. About a year before I had attended Great Lakes Naval Hospital Corpsman School in Great Lakes, IL, and trained to become an FMF Corpsman in Camp Johnson, NC (small sub-command under Camp Lejeune, NC). I had been in hospital ward 6B for about 6 or 7 months, the ward was an ENT, Thoracic, Urology, and some Plastic surgery ward. We would also have general and overflow patients from time to time.

So, Mr. Mac was one that was a more general medicine patient because they weren’t sure what was wrong. He was a retired Chief that was living in Spain was his wife when he became very jaundice and the US Naval Hospital there was unable to figure out what was wrong. So, the Navy sent him to the Portsmouth Naval Hospital for more testing and possible surgery if needed. His skin and eyes were extremely yellow, to the point of the color of a banana.

So, over the course of almost a year, he was on my ward. He had been through many tests, from blood draws, spinal taps, urine, and biopsies to test his liver and kidney functions. He had several surgeries to check his liver, bile ducts, and pancreas. The doctors had experts from the Army and Air Force check him and had the teaching hospital at Old Dominion University on the other side of the river in Norfolk check the results. Nothing was found to explain the jaundice he had. But after that long time, the last surgery he had seemed to have corrected the problem and he began to lose the yellowing and start obtaining a normal color.

About a month later he was getting ready to finally get discharged. During that last month, we did things to ensure good recovery, such as blood count blood draws, breathing exercises, and reducing the number of blood thinners that he had been on while having so many surgeries. Everything was finally looking great for Mr. Mac.

During that time all of us Corpsmen and Nurses became great friends with Mr. Mac. Him telling stories of his Navy time, his home in Spain, how he met if wife, and just became a real friend to us all. When he came to the hospital his wife also came with him, so we got to know her and some of his family too.

So, the night before he was to be discharged, I was on duty for the overnight shift with two other Corpsmen and a few nurses. I talked with Mr. Mac a few times before it was lights out. He was in great spirits and so very ready to be discharged. During the night we had to do vital signs on each of the patients. We did them every 4 hours, the times were 8:00 pm, 12:00 am, and the last at 4:00 am. Also, throughout the night we had to walk the open bay floor of the ward to check on patients and give medicine to those that required it. In between doing the walks, vital signs, and medicine I would do my nursing notes to document how each patient was doing during the night if there were any issues noted, and what their wounds looked like. Mr. Mac was my patient that night, so I knew exactly how he was doing.

At 4:00 am a fellow Corpsman and I were doing the vital signs and Mr. Mac was one of the last patients we had to do. I came up to the right side of the bed and gently tapped Mr. Mac’s shoulder and quietly called for him to wake up and that we were doing vital signs. Normally he would wake up just enough for us to wrap his arm with the BP cuff and place the thermometer under his tongue. But this time he didn’t budge. I repeated my waking-up attempt as I also reached down to his hand. It didn’t feel right, so I checked for a pulse. I quickly started to run for the nearest CPR mask and yelled at the other corpsman to get the nurse and call for the code to be started. As I ran back the corpsman was still standing there just looking at Mr. Mac. I shoved him and told him to go now! I quickly put his bed rail down, opened his airway, and started breathing into his mouth. I then moved to pumping on his chest and wondering where the hell was the nurse! My chest compression was barely working on the soft bed. I finally saw the nurse running down and grabbing the crash cart as he went by it. I yelled at him that I needed the backboard, and he yelled back to keep pumping on Mr. Mac’s chest. The nurse slides the backboard under Mr. Mac’s body as I gave some more breaths. Suddenly all the lights in the ward came on as the other nurse turned them on and started to close the drapes around the other patients. Soon the crash team burst into the ward and searched for a good vein to place an IV. I moved up to Mr. Mac’s head and helped manage the IV and the respiratory tech manage his airway.

The next 45 minutes seemed to go by so fast. They shocked him, I don’t remember how many times. Tried repeatedly to administer several cardiac drugs directly to his heart. I replaced three or more IV bags and watched as I saw blood start to come up the endotracheal tube. We worked so hard to bring Mr. Mac back. But the doctors had to finally call the code and pronounce my friend had passed.

After the death was pronounced, I then had no time to cry or find someplace to hide. With a few of the corpsmen coming on board for their shift and a nurse, we cleaned Mr. Mac up and moved his body to the empty ward across the hallway for his wife to have privacy when she arrived. We then had to start opening the closed drapes and pass out the other patients’ breakfast. In doing so the corpsman that was helping me that night break up as a patient made a remark about how strange the morning was. The patient didn’t realize why we turned on the light or the chaos we just went through. A Nurse and I ran to him and found out that Mr. Mac was the first person he had known to die and the first dead body he had ever seen. The nurse tried to talk to him, but he just went home. I did talk to him later and he seemed OK. A few nurses also asked me if I was OK or not too before I went home.

I later found out why it took the nurse so long to come with the crash cart. The corpsman was in shock and couldn’t fully form the words to tell the nurse. According to what I understand, he just came up to the nurse and said that “There is something wrong with Mr. Mac.” The nurse is a little of a joker just thought it was something about needing something. So, he made a small joke and then realized that the corpsman was blank-faced and unable to really speak. Please understand that the corpsmen were all young and my fellow corpsman was like most young kids when this happened.

Years later, as I write this, I can still see that time, and brings tears to my eyes.
Looking Back – First I will say that there have been other deaths of loved ones that have had an impact on my life. Just these that I have mentioned are the ones that really have changed me the most.

So, what caused me to change from each one of them? I would have to say that each of them has made me realize how we never know when or where death will come for us or those we know. We are never really prepared for it and must learn to cherish each breath that is given to us. But even more so, we must learn to understand that each moment we share with someone could be the last time we see them. We must always try to be kind and caring for others around us. I say this not just because we will miss them when they are gone, but because many times the living are left with regrets.

What type of regrets could I be talking about? Some are as simple as not saying “I love you” and as big as knowing your last words to them were filled with hate. In my case, I regret that I didn’t give my young niece hugs as much as I should have. In fact, when I look back, I would have to honestly say that when she was alive, she loved to give big, long hugs that would make you feel annoyed. But today, I wish I could go back in time and just feel her arms around me and my around her.

I also have regret about when my grandmother died too. You see, I was always told not to remain on the phone too long so others could call. Yet I was on the phone for a very long time and that prevented my aunt from reaching the house. In my mind, for a long time, I would blame myself for being on the phone so long with her dying. I know that isn’t true, but as a teenager that was exactly how I felt. Today I don’t feel that way, but it did affect how I watch my time on the phone or not able to get a call.

In each of these deaths, I learned to never take for granted the fleeting time you must spend with people you know, love, or just meet today. It shows just how the Bible teaches us to always treat others with the care and love that Jesus treated people he met. He didn’t judge them by their looks, health issues, economic standing, or even their sins. No, he cared for them all and told them what they needed to do to be forgiven and healed.

To be continued…
Thank you for reading the first part of Events That Changed Me. At this time, the series should only be four posts. Please look for Part 2 in the next week.

Author: littleslices

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