What Nearly Dying Taught Me

I AM CELEBRATING THE ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF MY NEAR-DEATH. HERE’S WHERE I WAS ONE YEAR AGO. THAT’S ME IN THE LOWER RIGHT CORNER.  AT THAT MOMENT, MY BLOOD PRESSURE HAD DROPPED TO 68 OVER 34, WHICH IS WHEN ONE’S VITAL ORGANS START FAILING.

HOSPITAL2
HERE’S THE BACKSTORY:  THE NIGHT BEFORE–AND FOUR DAYS AFTER A BOTCHED PROSTATE BIOPSY–I WENT INTO VIOLENT CONVULSIONS, FOLLOWED BY PROJECTILE VOMITING.  IT TURNS OUT I HAD A MASSIVE, LIFE-THREATENING SEPSIS INFECTION.
HOSPITAL1

(Hospital photos by Joan Lonergan)

DURING MY WEEK IN THE HOSPITAL, I GOT TO KNOW MOST OF THE 20 OR SO PEOPLE ON THE MEDICAL TEAM.   THREE  OF THE NURSES WERE FROM THE PHILIPPINES. ONE UROLOGIST WAS FROM EASTERN EUROPE, ANOTHER FROM SRI LANKA.  FOUR OF THE MEDICAL ASSISTANTS WERE AFRICAN-AMERICAN, AND TWO WERE HISPANICS.  

ONCE RELEASED FROM THE HOSPITAL, I SPENT TWO WEEKS AT HOME, INJECTING MYSELF WITH POWERFUL ANTIBIOTICS.

INJECTIONS
THE EXPERIENCE TAUGHT ME THREE LESSONS.  

THE FIRST WAS PERSONAL: JOHN, GET A NEW UROLOGIST!  I DID.

THE SECOND LESSON IS FOR EVERY MAN WHOSE DOCTOR RECOMMENDS A PROSTATE BIOPSY. BEFORE YOU LET ANYONE POKE OR SNIP, INSIST ON AN MRI. THAT PROCESS PRODUCES IMAGES THAT REVEAL ANY ABSCESSES OR LESIONS ON YOUR PROSTATE GLAND.  IF THERE ARE NONE, YOU’RE OK.

THE THIRD LESSON IS FOR EVERYONE: THE DIVERSE MEDICAL TEAM THAT SAVED MY LIFE–THAT’S AMERICA IN 20 OR 25 YEARS, BECAUSE THAT’S WHEN OUR ENTIRE COUNTRY WILL BECOME ‘MAJORITY MINORITY.’

FOR PROOF, JUST LOOK AT OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS, WHICH BECAME  ‘MAJORITY MINORITY’ IN 2014.   

stock-photo-portrait-of-smiling-little-school-kids-in-school-corridor-259319342

AFTER THEY GRADUATE, THESE 51 MILLION KIDS ARE GOING TO BECOME THE VETERINARIANS TAKING CARE OF OUR PETS, THE AIRLINE MECHANICS MAINTAINING THE PLANES WE FLY ON, THE AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS DECIDING WHETHER THE RUNWAY IS CLEAR, THE CPA’S PREPARING OUR TAX RETURNS, THE POLICE AND FIREFIGHTERS IN OUR COMMUNITIES, AND THE TEACHERS OF OUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN.

BECAUSE I WAS A REPORTER FOR A LONG TIME, ALLOW ME A FOLLOW UP QUESTION: ARE OUR ‘MAJORITY MINORITY’ PUBLIC SCHOOLS DOING A GOOD JOB OF EDUCATING THE KIDS WHO WILL ONE DAY PLAY IMPORTANT PARTS IN OUR LIVES?

SHORT ANSWER, UNFORTUNATELY, IS NO.  PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE MORE SEGREGATED THAN EVER, BY BOTH RACE AND INCOME.  BECAUSE OF ‘NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND’ AND THE BUSH AND OBAMA ADMINISTRATIONS’ OBSESSION WITH TEST SCORES, MOST POOR KIDS NOW SPEND AT LEAST ONE MONTH PRACTICING TAKING TESTS– DESPITE CLEAR EVIDENCE THAT TEST PREP PRODUCES LOWER TEST SCORES.

LOW INCOME CHILDREN ALSO ATTEND SCHOOLS WITH FEWER EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES AND HAVE LESS EXPOSURE TO SCIENCE, ART AND MUSIC.  SOME HIGH POVERTY SCHOOLS ACTUALLY ELIMINATED RECESS…TO ALLOW MORE TIME TO PRACTICE TEST-TAKING.

DURING THESE YEARS, FAR TOO MANY  EDUCATORS CHANGED TEST SCORES AND FALSIFIED GRADUATION RECORDS–TO MAKE THEMSELVES LOOK GOOD.   IN DOING SO, THEY DEPRIVED THEIR STUDENTS OF A DECENT EDUCATION.

BASICALLY, THIS APPROACH HAS FAILED. FOR TWENTY YEARS TEST SCORES HAVE BEEN LARGELY FLAT, AND THE GAPS BETWEEN RACIAL AND ECONOMIC GROUPS HAVE EITHER GOTTEN LARGER OR REMAINED THE SAME.

BY BREAKING TESTING’S STRANGLEHOLD ON PUBLIC EDUCATION, WE MIGHT JUST  SAVE OURSELVES, BECAUSE, BELIEVE IT OR NOT, 35 PERCENT OF THE JOB GROWTH SINCE 2007 HAS BEEN IN HEALTHCARE.  THAT FIELD INCLUDES 13 OF THE 20 FASTEST GROWING PROFESSIONS.

THAT MEANS THAT A LOT OF THOSE PUBLIC SCHOOL KIDS ARE GOING TO BECOME OUR DOCTORS AND NURSES, OUR ANESTHESIOLOGISTS AND X-RAY TECHNICIANS, AND OUR MEDICAL ATTENDANTS.

I AM HEALTHY NOW AND WAKE UP SAYING ‘GOOD MORNING, GOD,’ INSTEAD OF ‘GOOD GOD, MORNING.’  I TRY TO TREAT EACH DAY AS A GIFT.

GUGGENHEIM PIXON THIS IMPORTANT ANNIVERSARY, I SAY AGAIN THAT IT’S TIME TO STOP TREATING KIDS AS DATA POINTS OR WORRYING ABOUT HOW NEATLY THEY FILL IN BUBBLES ON A TEST.   THESE KIDS MAY SOMEDAY BE SAVING YOUR LIFE, OR THE LIFE OF A LOVED ONE, WHICH MEANS THAT IT’S IN YOUR PERSONAL INTEREST TO SEE THAT THEY HAVE THE SAME EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES YOU WANT FOR YOUR OWN CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN.

 

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37 thoughts on “What Nearly Dying Taught Me

  1. Good morning, John. Congratulations on the one-year anniversary of your very scary experience. Fortunately, it had a happy ending (undoubtedly deserving of your favorite adult beverage later in the day). Glad that your excellent reporting on matters affecting education continues. I enjoy it, and I’m sure many others do as well. Best regards, Marty P.S. Thank you for the $1,500 contribution you already have made to the 2018 DCF campaign. Don’t mean to be greedy, but I continue to encourage you to get to $2,500 before reunion, if possible.

    Sent from my iPhone

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  2. Hope this is part of your Lessons Learned as an important way to help prevent this type of hospital-acquired infection from threatening other lives: (I sent this to you last year) You might consider talking to their administration to be sure your situation is thoroughly reviewed by their patient safety and quality team as one way to try to be sure that a better more systematic approach is used to prevent “iatrogenic” (doctor/hospital related errors) problems. A recent analysis has concluded that these types of errors and problems actually account for the THIRD leading cause of death in America! Perhaps in addition to your cogent writings about education reform, you might consider joining the extensive patient safety movement and elevate the awareness and preventive strategies to reduce these often preventable disasters. So good your complications were handled well and that you inherent good health enabled your body to absorb these blows. Here’s the link to patient safety initiatives such as the one organized by Consumer Reports dating back to the 13 years when I was on the Consumers Union Board. http://consumersunion.org/topic/health-care/patient-safety/ PLEASE be sure they know about your experience!

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    • Joan and I beat our heads against the wall at the hospital for a few weeks, trying to get them to review their procedures (the delay in bringing in a urologist, for example). The urologist who botched the biopsy was terrified that I was going to sue him. I did not, but only after he promised in writing to change his procedures.

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      • Sharing your experience (including your individual attempt to alert the urologist and hospital) with Consumer Reports’ patient safety initiative is the way to be sure your experience gets counted rather than ignored! Think of the impact of the Parkland kids joining voices together rather than suffering in silence or individually!

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  3. Great blog today, John, So glad you are still here, still pushing.

    As you may know, I had a severe heart attack on July 4 2015. A diverse group of folks saved my life.
    I also regard every day as a gift, and spend time every day working on the goals that you suggested.

    Here’s a column I wrote that appeared in a number of newspapers. You’ll note that my life was saved because great people from several different systems worked together, perfectly.

    http://centerforschoolchange.org/2015/07/healing-after-a-heart-attack-joe-nathans-column/

    Healing after a heart attack

    You are reading this thanks to a great team that probably saved my life.

    I had a heart attack on July 4.

    Having learned a few things over the last week about life and death, I thought I’d pass them on to you.

    First, you may have read about the signs of heart attack. They include sudden strong pain in your chest and a lot of pressure in your chest accompanied by sweating and being light-headed. If you are not very familiar with these warning signs, I strongly encourage you to read up on them. I did not have all of them, but I had several.

    Like many other men, I’m not eager to go to the doctor. But my wonderful wife had encouraged me to pay attention to danger signs.

    I was home alone when my chest suddenly felt a lot of pressure; I began sweating and felt light-headed. (Unlike some others, I did not feel any pain.) But I figured that I’d better check.

    So I called Health Partners. It took less than a minute for someone to answer and less than another minute for them to put a nurse on the line. She listened and gave me directions that probably saved my life. She calmly directed me: “Immediately after we finish, call 911 and then take four baby aspirin.”

    So I called 911, and paramedics were at our house in less than five minutes. They immediately gave me some medicine and had me at United Hospital in less than 10 minutes.

    Within the next hour, great nurses and doctors conducted a test, found that one of my main arteries was 99 percent blocked and put in a stent. This probably also saved my life.

    Of course I’m deeply grateful to Health Partners, St. Paul Fire (that responds to 911 calls) and many great United Hospital doctors and nurses. I also have to mention some combination of God and luck.

    Twenty-four hours before I had the heart attack, my wife and I were slightly lost in the beautiful Superior National Forest of northeastern Minnesota. We were driving from Grand Marais to Biwabik (where we were staying) and decided to use what appeared to be a shortcut. We were on some dirt roads in magnificent country. But the roads didn’t go exactly where we anticipated. So we were lost for a little while in the middle of lakes and forest. It is incredibly beautiful.

    But if that heart attack had happened there, you probably would not be reading this. It would have taken quite a while to get out and to a hospital. I probably would be dead.

    You can’t plan where you’ll be when you have a heart attack. But you can take a careful look at your diet.

    I’ve learned a lot about diet in the last few days and am making many changes. I plan to write about that in a forthcoming column.

    Parents and grandparents might want to spend time this summer looking carefully at what they and their children eat. According to the Center for Disease Control, diet has a huge impact on heart disease (learn more at http://1.usa.gov/1pz0zxh) and heart problems are “the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States” (visit http://1.usa.gov/1e6VDtP for more statistics).

    Health Partners, 911, St. Paul paramedics, and United doctors and nurses saved my life. Please consider how my experience, and medical research, can help you live longer.

    Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome, please comment here:

    http://centerforschoolchange.org/2015/07/healing-after-a-heart-attack-joe-nathans-column/

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  4. Wow. I was out and of the country when all this was going on but I’m so grateful to all those amazing folks who took good care of yountoo and I love how you made this relevant to today and the future. I hope others will think about this too!

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  5. Been there, done that but not in the extreme version you experienced. Thanks for sharing. I faulted my internist for not doing the PSAs sooner, but ended up in the hands of wonderful urologist from India (and his resident from Vietnam); Dr. Gill is the go-to urologist for rock and movie stars. He’s now at USC Medical School. My oncologist is from Colombia. And, I share your views on the diversity of modern medical centers. CC hires and trains people from diverse communities. As a Legal Aid lawyer we hated the Cleveland Clinic as they took away much of the low-income housing in the community, but I was overcome with emotions of gratitude when on several occasions I have been discharged after excellent treatment and care. Be well.

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  6. Fascinating reflection, John. And thanks for using the personal experience to deliver a few important lessons to all of your fans.

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  7. John, I am sending wishes of good health and happiness on this one-year anniversary. Thank you for sharing your insights with all of us men as well as for our greater community and the need for educational reform. Every day is a gift. Hold on to that thought!

    All the best,

    Joe Martignetti

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  8. Thanks for the reminder John of how precious each day is and how much work we need to do to make the schools we have better.
    I keep at it, as do you and a lot of other people. When we see what schools for middle class kids and their families buy us, I want that for all kids—I am referring to the many articulate kids at Stoneman High school and what they have done since. The kind of education they have had is what we have to keep demanding for all our kids.

    Happy anniversary–Lets both keep at it!

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  9. Congratulations John. Lesson #4 is “Thank God for immigrants from alleged ‘s—hole’ countries.” Without ’em you might be pushing up daisies.

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  10. It takes an impassioned and well educated mind to turn a near catastrophe into a valuable lesson! And it helps to be a good writer! I’m grateful that you pulled through the ordeal, and I only wish that the right people would receive your wisdom on the value of nurturing immigrants and all our children by concentrating on the whole person and not just their ability to fill in a bubble. My best wishes to you and Joan.
    Elyce

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  11. Thanks, John, for sharing your story. Firstly, I am heartened that despite the health challenges, you have triumphed and are well. Secondly, thanks for making the connections for all of us with your characteristic eloquence and humanity. The need for education reform is critical. Keep up the important work you do in inspiring, advocating and hopefully, mobilizing our political leaders and energizing education policy makers to design, fund and implement programs of the highest educational standards to insure the preeminence of the United States as it serves its young people, and especially our most at risk students. Keep up the great work and be well.

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  12. Becky and I share the gratitude for the outcome as well as the observation that the demographics you cite are not speculative. All the kids you describe are borne. And they are increasingly kids with which we do the poorest job. The good news is that the kids are capable; and the knowledge exists to succeed with virtually all children. The missing ingredient is the public will and political resolve to actually do what we know will work…and I must add, it is crystal clear that includes addressing the development of children as other countries do between the ages of 0-2.

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    • Yes, states do report SOME adverse events but it’s spotty at best. Here’s a good summary of the situation, with the conclusion by health policy expert and colleague, Rosemary Stevens:”“If your child gets injured by a defective crib, there’s a system for you to report that,” she says. “We need that for hospitals. There should be an open capability for reporting events online, in person, any way you want, whether you’re on the hospital staff, a patient, or a family member. Such a system should acknowledge the report, provide for an immediate action step in urgent situations, and offer assistance and support to the person doing the reporting.”
      But overall, the response in the healthcare industry to the OIG’s report has been “we need to do more research,” Gibson notes. “We don’t need more research; we need to apply what is known. There are institutions that have made pockets of progress, and patients are alive today and home with their families because we’ve made care safer, but safety still hasn’t become a system property in healthcare.” That’s why I suggested that John share his near-death sepsis event with Consumer Reports because theyare currently the voice of patients who have suffered adverse preventable events.

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