Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Knuckle-bump with Death

It's been a sobering past few days.  I haven't written anything, not even a blog post, but I've been in the wrong place to be penning much of anything decent. 

I found out Sunday that one of my good friends and colleagues was killed on Friday.  Bill Tillery will always be a guy I look up to as a mentor; he taught me everything I know about Novell networking.  He was one of those kind of instructors who made students want to learn, and who made the fellow instructors around him want to be more like him.  This great man was piloting his motorcycle, with his wife on the back, down what I consider the most beautiful route on the planet (the Kenai peninsula in Alaska), and according to the official story, a kid driving a Jeep crossed over the line and hit them head-on. This isn't an in memoriam piece, though; I've written what I have to say about the event in other places. 

Death is nothing all that new; in my 43 years I've had several friends, colleagues, and family members pass on.  It's not, of course, something I'm destined for, I always thought.  I'm Iron Man.  Literally...before I turned 20, I had run the Kaaterskill Spring Rush in Iron Man mode, as well as the Huntington Beach Triathlon and the Marine Corps Marathon.  Man of Steel that I used to be, I once ran a five mile race on Veteran's Day in Long Island, NY...nine days after a left inguinal hernia repair.  And it was expected of me, after all.  I'm a Black Knight of the Hudson.  It took a spectacular car crash to take out George Patton, one of the most famous members of the Long Grey Line, and I figured it would take a car crash or perhaps a howitzer shell to take me out.

Call it arrogance if you want; I won't argue.

The only medication I deigned to take on a quasi-regular basis was the pair of aspirins I occasionally downed after a long night of partying when I needed to be nice the next morning.  In fact, I managed to go through my youth, my 20's, and most of my 30's without a long-term prescription of any sort.  Medication, I figured, was for the weak or the malfunctioning, and I was neither.  When my doctor put me on blood pressure and thyroid pills in my late 30's, I took them when I felt like it and remembered to take them, and when I didn't, I didn't.

Last week, then, when I ran out of pills, I called them in to the pharmacy a few days early just like I was supposed to.  Went in to pick them up, but the blood pressure meds weren't there.  The doctor, my pharmacy explained, hadn't responded to their request.  No big deal.  I went a couple of days without, and then on Monday called the doctor.  His office said the pharmacy had never asked.  I called the pharmacy back and asked them to re-fax the request.  They did, and my prescription was made ready. Only problem was that I worked on Monday evening till after 9:00 pm, well after the pharmacy closed.  Again, I figured it was no big deal; I could just slip away on time on Tuesday and pick them up.  Iron Man would be fine.

With all the medical education I've received, you'd think that I would have connected the metaphorical dots when I woke up Tuesday with dry heaves. was probably something I'd eaten the night before, I figured.  I texted my boss--no need to call in sick thanks to text messaging--and let her know I'd be half an hour late, and then showered, dressed, and headed on in to work after the requisite two cups of coffee.

At work I had a headache.  I asked our nursing program administrative assistant for some sort of pain reliever; she had Excedrine migraine.  I took it, but then joked to her half an hour or so later that the headache was actually worse.  She looked at my face and asked about my blood pressure. Talk about a blinding flash of the obvious.  "Oh yeah...blood pressure," I said.  I know what happens when your blood pressure rises to the point that you have dry heaves and severe headache.  I know what the term "malignant hypertension" means.  It's a medical emergency.  It can, and untreated likely will, lead to stroke or worse.  I needed to get to the hospital, which is why I went ahead and ran the Very Important daily meeting I have, and then drove myself home, stopping by the pharmacy on the way.

By now, if you're calling me arrogant, I'm probably agreeing with you.  Just don't tell anybody, OK?

I'm lucky, really.  I got home safe and sound, took my medicine, and laid down for several hours.  Today, I'm fine.  It could have been a bit different ending, though.  Iron Man isn't made of iron any more, I guess.

There's a feeling of temporal uncertainty when a close friend passes away.  I felt it last year when Charlie Mullis passed in his sleep, at an age not much older than I.  I felt it this weekend when Bill Tillery left us, too.  But there's nothing quite like a brush with death, yourself, especially when the knuckle-bump should be considered entirely preventable.  

Ah, well. The guy who stared at me from the mirror this morning was no longer Iron Man, nor was he clad in Athena's helmet wielding a magical sword and a shield bearing the stars and bars.  Nah, he was just a guy who has, at this point, lived for over half of his statistical life expectancy.  And...who needs to finish his dang book.

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