Near death experience changes CR man’s life

Categories: Commentary

“…More will be demanded of the person entrusted with more…” Luke 12:48

By Gene Tang

In February 1987 I traveled to the Colorado Rockies to ski and compete in amateur NASTAR races with a number of friends, having left my 12 year old son in the care of my sister.  We arrived at Copper Mountain mid-day under beautiful blue skies and eagerly hit the slopes to get in a few runs before the following day’s races.  As we ascended by chairlift, the crowd was abuzz that famed Olympic Gold Medal champion, Jean-Claude Killy was skiing somewhere in our midst and hoped to catch sight of him.  We started down with this in mind and then discovered the “Ore Deal” race course run had just been groomed.  Though we were skiing leisurely and not wearing racing gear…who could pass up such an opportunity?  We peeled off like a squadron of fighter pilots and started down the race course…

I awakened to see an unfamiliar ceiling and due to the uncharacteristic silence, wondered where my friends had gone.   Trying to arise, it felt as if I had been struck by lightning.  I was racked by blinding pain and totally confused at my body’s inability to move.  I then realized mummy like bandages and various machines were conspiring to hold me against my will.  No, they were not attempting confinement rather providing unsolicited support.  What had happened?  Where are my friends?   Oh My God, I’m in a hospital…did we have an accident with the RV?  Near panic and realizing the ability to only move my right arm, I struggled to push the button and summon a nurse.  My room was quickly filled by nurses seeking to ease the pain and explaining I had suffered a skiing accident versus a vehicular crash.  My friends and two of my brothers (?) had returned to Iowa several weeks prior…it was now March!

Gene Tang

Gene Tang

Medical staff delineated the near fatal accident included a compressed skull fracture , broken left shoulder, five broken ribs, fractured hip and three fractured lumbar vertebrae.  They further revealed I had been comatose for approximately three days following the accident and then had remained “unaware “of surroundings for several weeks.  The “two brothers” mentioned above, had been summoned to accompany my body back home; after family had been informed I was not expected to survive.  Doctors were baffled as vital signs slowly began to improve and finally declared I had “unexpectedly” survived; but also cautioned I would likely never walk again.  I was sufficiently stable to be transported to Iowa by early March and transferred to Mercy Hospital in Iowa City and began physical therapy.

I had been blessed with the opportunity and challenge of raising my then 12 year old son as a single parent since he was 15 months old; so one can’t imagine the joy at our airport reunion.  Though I was wheelchair bound, he bounded from surrounding family and nearly upset the applecart as he dove headfirst into my embrace.  Somehow I had to return to the “person prior to the accident”…I needed to finish raising my son!  Then it was off to Mercy  where I began rehab and was blessed with more “unexpected” medical changes.  As I endeavored to return to person prior to the accident, my orthopedic doctor proved to be an impediment.  I improved to the point of being able to stand and was permitted to take “short” trips on a wheeled walker.  Then, without permission, I found my way to crutches.  The doctor was not happy, and warned that a fall could eliminate my recovery and possibly cause re-fractures.   I then graduated, again without the doctor’s approval, to the use of a cane and ultimately to an unassisted limp.  This all occurred over the span of approximately nine months, but something else “unexpectedly” occurred.  My Orthopedist was reviewing new X-rays/CAT scans and related my fracture sights were scarcely visible, adding “bones just don’t heal like this.”  This medical account is really abbreviated and does not address the accompanying neurological issues and care…but I was physically close to the “person prior to the accident”.

As I lay near death, immediately following the accident, I experienced a place without dimension and seemingly contradictory description.  It was as though I was in a room without walls or a ceiling and yet it was enveloped by an impermeable fog.  I sensed evil was in the fog and yet did not experience fear or danger…rather felt protected…no, rather felt an indescribable sense of peace and love for which there are no words.  Though I did not feel physical pain, I remember saying “it just hurts too much…I just want to lay down and go to sleep now!”  I was euphemistically accepting death and yet felt overwhelming peace.  I also sensed a stirring or frenzy in the outlying fog, but still felt protected.  At this moment, it seemed as if a cloud settled above me (another contradiction)  and I was infused with a message that it was not “his time” (second person address).   In retrospect, I’m aware this began my return to life.  When I came back to my “physical awareness” while lying in that Denver hospital, I was overcome with an immeasurable sense of disappointment that I likened to that of a bride being left at the altar.  I so wanted to stay in that place of peace and love that offered immeasurable security like that of a mother’s womb.  I was also burdened by an overwhelming obsession with “unworthiness”…how such good people could suffer…while I was spared.  I wallowed in this misperception until my pastor finally chastised and challenged me to seek God’s plan for the rest of my life on earth.   In other words, to focus on “what” God wants of me rather than question “why” he sent me back.  Talk about a paradigm shift!  I finished raising that 12 year old son and was blessed with the most wonderful wife and second son.  I have enjoyed serving in Catholic lay ministries as an RCIA catechist (15 years), religious education catechist (6 years), lector and Eucharistic minister (24 years).  I am honored to serve as a member of the Knights of Columbus.  So, to those well intended people that attributed my “miraculous” survival and recovery (versus “unexpected”) to the overstated notion that “God must have a special plan for you”.  I offer this rebuttal; God has a special plan for each and every human being he created.  We exercise the choice to accept his plan or mistakenly insert our own!  God just mercifully has given me a second chance to get it right!!!