Caution: this post contains a very graphic photo below. If blood upsets you, don't scroll down.
I have spent five of the past six nights in the hospital, including two trips in an ambulance. I've had to postpone a podcast interview and a few gongfu practices.
It started when I was sitting in my home office and began coughing up blood. This went on for over half an hour. It stopped for half an hour and then began even harder. Nancy called 911 and the ambulance came.
By the time the coughing stopped, long after I arrived in the ER, about two pints of blood had come up from my lungs and out my mouth. At one point, it dawned on me that blood loss could cause me to pass out and there was a chance I wouldn't wake up. The ER at Illini Hospital couldn't help me, so after the bleeding stopped they sent me by ambulance 90 minutes away to Iowa City and the University of Iowa's Medical Intensive Care Unit.
They said HALF the people who come in bleeding from the lungs like this usually die.
After two days of observations and tests, I was released from Intensive Care on Thursday when they realized they couldn't help me immediately. Both my pulmonary veins on my left lung are blocked, and the blood is having a hard time draining out of the left lung, they believe. The next step may be to take out the lower lobe of the left lung, try to salvage the upper pulmonary vein, and remove the entire lung if that won't work.
Either way, my quality of life might improve and I can continue my life and my gongfu practice without the horror of coughing up blood, which has happened occasionally for the past six years. A year ago this week, after bleeding for a few days, I ended up in the hospital with pneumonia.
By the way, I sometimes receive messages from well-intentioned but delusional folks who believe I would not have these issues if I was doing qigong properly. One person -- who I will not call a moron because I am feeling centered -- said that he watched one of my Xingyi videos and could tell me how to adjust my movement so that my health would improve.
Sometimes, you just have to laugh.
My condition is actually the result of medical malpractice, not a lack of chi, my friends. And besides, how many qigong masters can you name who have lived past age 100? As you ponder that one, here is another question. How do you know that I am not still alive because my chi is so powerful? You know it is possible that I have done qigong and my Pi Chuan (related to the lungs) so well, I have survived something that would kill an ordinary man. But if you really do believe that my lack of chi is at fault for this situation, that means you believe superstitious pseudoscience, and if you do, you are invited to NOT leave a comment on this blog.
So I went home from Intensive Care on Thursday, aware that coughing up two pints of blood meant pneumonia was a possibility, and sure enough, by Friday evening I took a shower and couldn't breathe, so Nancy called 911 and an ambulance took me back to the hospital, where I was pumped with antibiotics and oxygen and was coughing up tarballs leftover from the bleeding. I was struggling to maintain oxygen levels above 90% (below 90% can damage organs).
I have done a lot of online communication with friends and family because it has been difficult to speak without coughing. On Saturday, I was talking to a couple of my best friends on the phone. I've known them both since I was a child, and they met and married in their twenties. The woman said, "Kenny, we are all scared for you and we know you must be scared."
Her comment surprised me. She is wonderful, funny, kind, and very religious, a conservative Christian who I first met when we attended the same church (the pastor of which is a creationist). We never discuss religion, and that's fine, but I suddenly realized that I needed to make a point.
"You know," I replied. "I certainly am in no hurry to leave, but to be really honest with you, I am not scared of anything. I feel determination and an intense desire to stay with Nancy and continue enjoying life with my children, grandchildren and friends, but there really is nothing to be scared of."
It was a message that she needed to hear, and perhaps you do, too. If your personal philosophy or your religious belief system has not freed you from the fear of death, it is just my opinion that you are dealing with a bad belief system, or you simply have not yet learned how to apply your belief system.
When I was growing up, I was told that because I was a Christian, I wouldn't be afraid to die. I would live forever and that knowledge would give me "peace and comfort." It was a message drilled into me from the day I was born.
Oh yeah, by the way, ummm, if I didn't believe, I would be tortured forever and ever.
Unlike some of my family and friends, I decided by my early twenties that there is as much peace and love in that message as there is in a wife beater telling his bloody spouse that he loves her but she just needs to be obedient.
Thanks to my study of philosophical Taoism and Zen Buddhism, and as I developed critical thinking skills that were considered evil in my church (question and doubt is caused by Satan), my philosophy of life and death changed and evolved. The truth became very clear -- I spent an eternity before I existed and will spend another eternity after I exist.
I had no complaints when I arrived and I will have no complaints after I leave. It was total peace before and it will be total peace afterwards. Anything else is just a bit silly, don't you think?
It would be nice to spend eternity with Nancy, although it's hard enough spending ONE lifetime with a girl, not to mention eternity, but I've known her long enough to understand that she is probably going to Hell anyway, heh heh. I have to admit I'm not the best influence.
And so I am focusing on getting back to normal, returning to practice I'm hoping by the end of the week (in fact, I might do some silk-reeling exercises in my room when I finish this post), and by yesterday they took me off oxygen. I took such a dramatic turn for the better that the nurse came in last night after not seeing me since seven in the morning and her jaw dropped because I was sitting in the chair breathing room air. She couldn't believe it.
They consider me their easiest patient. I keep things light-hearted.
I think you must live your philosophy. You must live what you believe. My philosophy enables me to laugh, joke with doctors and nurses, love, be determined, and adopt the eye of the tiger. I am not going down easy, and I still plan to attend a tournament this October and perform a Xingyi or Taiji form in competition. My major goal for my website this spring is to reshoot all my Laojia Yilu instruction and also turn it into a DVD.
I have been close to death, and it is pretty clear that when the time comes, I will probably greet it with a smile, and hopefully with an "I love you" to my wife and family. But that time is not going to come very quickly if I have anything to do with it.
I have no room for fear, and it is not something that my philosophy offers. No decent belief system makes you afraid. "Fear of God" is one of the most insidious things we allow religious leaders to put into our minds. We allow them to do it. They want us to be afraid. It's a control thing. They know that if they teach us this fear as children, most of us will hold onto it all of our lives and never question it. As adults, we have the power to reject their message, but it takes a lot of internal strength to choose a new path. Most of us simply accept it. Not me.
There are no threats involved in life or death. Good things happen and bad things happen. Get used to it, because the older you get, you cannot avoid the bad things. They are part of life.
Studying the martial arts -- any style -- should help you find inner peace. So should your religion or philosophy. Fear of dying is not something a true warrior or philosopher should have, or a true Christian or Hindu or anyone.
And so, the intelligent thinker is not afraid to do a philosophical audit from time to time. Is my belief system working for me? Why not? You just might find there is another way of thinking that will work. I did, and I know several who did.
Some Christians are not afraid, so their beliefs are working for them. Often, they are more moderate in their beliefs about concepts such as eternal punishment. I also know some who never questioned what they were taught as children and still live with threats and fear. I was told recently that one of my cousins, who I love dearly, is convinced I will spend eternity being tortured. I can't help feeling sorry for someone with that view. They will never know real peace.
One devout Christian whose daughter got cancer told me she thought she might go crazy. I wondered, where is the comfort in your belief system? Where is the peace that passeth understanding? I have it in my philosophy. Why don't you?
That is no way to live.
Yesterday, a young physician's assistant for my pulmonologist checked in on me. She asked if I had any questions. I said yes, I do have a question.
"When I leave here, will I be able to play the piano?" I asked.
"Yes, you should be able to do that," she replied.
"That's strange," I laughed. "I couldn't play the piano when I got here."
Nancy hit me but she laughed anyway. The physician's assistant had never heard that old joke. It took her a minute, but she laughed, too.
You see? No room for fear, but there is always room for humor. I got a little teary-eyed when Nancy left for the evening, but they were not tears that came out of fear. There is always room for love.
Every moment is precious. Don't waste it in fear.
And now, I will stand in my hospital room and do some slow silk-reeling exercises, looking for the perfection that we all seek and often remains just out of our grasp.