The Tunnel

So here I am, looking back.  How did I get here?  What’s happening to me?

Almost spring I think, still cold enough for sleeves, but not enough for a jacket.  My brother Gary,  Kenny Hicks and I had just moved some equipment in the “wareroom” at Shrevesport, La.  Our motel was near I-20.  Across from the big white steamboat attraction, that’s setting in a small pond along side the interstate.

Gary and Kenny were gonna work together that day and I rode out by myself.  At least I wouldn’t have to “split” the sales commission with anybody.  I wanted to head out into the country and see where the road leads, in search of places to “pitch.”  Before we left the motel room, the three of us , burly, redneck, pot smoking beer drinkers, stood in a circle and joined hands in prayer.  We said our morning prayer, gave thanks for our many blessings, asked the Lord to forgive us our sins and those who sin against us.  Then we would ask him to bless us in our endeavors, help us keep our faith and provide us with the opportunity to prosper.  Last, we asked the Lord he could see to it that we stay safe and cause no harm today in our travels.  After a big amen, we went to work.

In our minds to give up and not make a sale, is to show little faith.  Keep working, have faith, don’t quit.

I headed through the back woods from Shreveport to Marshall, Texas (The hometown of Lady Bird Johnson).  I’m driving a Toyota U-haul truck with a load of tools, thinking “That I’m gonna find somebody that could use this load tools and help them get it cheap”.

We manufactured our own brochures for the equipment.  We jacked up the price in our catalogues about $12,000.00  total, then get ‘em to “call the boss on the what number, the number “what don’t cost no money” and make him a serial offer.”

I see the road I’m on is approaching a four way stop sign.  I stop, but saw a big green Oldsmobile cruising toward the intersection coming from my left.  I could tell the driver was a woman and it looked to me like she was slowing down to stop.

Since it was a four way stop and I was the first one into the intersection, I figured I should be the first to leave.  I never figured on what happened next.

I remember now, getting slammed from the left, then smashing into the passenger door, the door lock piercing my shoulder.  The Toyota U-Haul truck I was driving, took the full force of that Oldsmobile, at about 45 miles an hour.   Ouch.

Next thing I remember, I am walking down a dark tunnel towards a bright light, the closer I got, the brighter the light got until it was blinding.  I left the “enclosure” of the tunnel and walked towards the light, then down a winding path.  The further I walked away from the light, the dimmer the light got, until the air was hazy or kinda misty.  I walked up to an opening in a wall.  I guess it could have been an entrance way.  It had walls that were about 4 feet high in the front, taller in the back, surrounding what looked like a waiting area.  Built like a Greco/Roman park, people walking around and people sitting down.

As I came up to the first group of people sitting at a concrete table, a woman stands up to grab my arm and hugs my neck.  “I’m thinking like …who is this woman?”  Then there is a young man standing next to me shaking my hand and clapping my back.  There were two more gentlemen standing in the background.  They all acted as if they were very glad to see me.  They all grouped around me.  I didn’t know them from Adam.

My new found friends stood up and kinda corralled me into walking in the same direction as them until we get into a brighter lit area, closer to the entrance  As I walked into little semi enclosed area, there was a tall marble table with a very large book, opened to about the middle pages.   There stood a man behind the book, with a bright light shining over his shoulder.  So bright I couldn’t see his face but  I could see that he was thumbing through the book flipping the pages slowly, back and forth, sometimes nodding, sometimes shaking his head.

This guy must be St. Peter I think now, he lowered his head towards me and he looked at me through the tops off his eyes and asked me “What have you got to say for yourself, young man?” “About what ?”  I asked.  He gave me an eye roll and said “I want to hear the good and the bad, I want to know if you deserve to be here or not, so tell me your story.

I replied that I didn’t have a story to tell.  I didn’t remember anything, just walking in a dark tunnel until I saw this light and here I am.”

St. Peter then waved at the four people standing behind me and asked “What about these people that came up here to stand up for you?”  I looked at them, drawing a blank and said “No Sir, I don’t know ‘them either.”  Then he asked “What about that crowd of people outside the wall that came up to speak against you, do you know any of them?” I just shook my head and said “No Sir, I don’t.”

This guy musta had some awesome power because he raised a quill feather in his hand and waved it.  Instantly I recognized my mother and younger brother, then my brother in law Bug and my Uncle J.P.  When I looked over at the crowd of people waving arms and making ugly faces, I thought that I saw an ugly face or two that looked familiar.  Hey wait a minute they are suppose to be dead, no they don’t look dead.  What am I?  I’m still here, where ever “here” is.

I assume the guy was St. Peter, he  says “So you don’t remember huh?”  I said “No, not a thing before walking in here.”  St. Peter says “Every man should have a right to defend himself.  I want you to remember from now on, all of the goods things you done in your life and all of the bad things you’ve done, so that the next time I see you, we can talk face to face about your “deeds.” “Is that understood?”  I asked him if I should be afraid, then he gave me the side eye and answered “A man like you?”  Then with out a word, court was over.  My Mom and brother grabbed me by the hand, with my brother n law and my uncle walking on either side of them, together we walked back towards the tunnel with the bright light beaming down behind us.  As we walked slowly towards the tunnel, the light darkened, Mom and Duane were sending me well wishes telepathically, telling me they loved me and will be right here waiting for me.  Just as we stepped to the edge of the tunnel, at the line in the sand between light and darkness, without notice, they let go of my hands and stopped, they disappeared, just faded away, as I kept walking.  As I entered the dark tunnel, I saw another light at the other end and walked towards it.

The end of the tunnel turned into an Intensive Care Unit.  I was at the top of the ceiling with my back against it and the wall, looking down on this poor slob that was in the hospital bed, strapped down, head bandaged and tubes coming from his mouth, his nose, his penis, IV’s coming from every where, even had tubes sticking out of a hole in his chest.  He had a large 15 inch incision stapled together in the middle of his torso.  I started zeroing in on this poor guys bloodied, swollen head and see that he’s wearing a St. Christopher medallion on a chain, just like I do.  “Hey, that looks like me.”

Suddenly I awake to see that bright light again, maybe this time not so bright, but it was shining right in my face, I could read the words “Westinghouse” on a frame holding the 6 inch round bulb, about 12 inches from my face.

Nothing, I didn’t remember nothing, not a thing, except visiting with my Mom and my kin.  Talking to this strange dude about giving me time to remember the things I’ve done.  But then again, as the fog was lifting, I did remember something.

I do remember the EMTs trying to save my life, hearing them say that I was a goner.  Then they called the life flight from LSU Trauma Center in Shreveport, the medi-vac helicopter arrived within a few minutes.  The EMT had me on a stretcher, one of them grabbed my brother’s wallet that was laying on the floorboard.  On his driver’s license it said “ORGAN DONOR”.  He put it in my shirt pocket.  The EMTs put me in a body bag, they filled it with ice to keep my body cold.  So much ice they couldn’t zip it all of the way up.  I can remember now, when they had a hard time zipping it up past my waist because of the ice, then I was thinking to myself, “No, not all of the way up” and the let down I felt once they got past my belt line, thinking they were gonna zip it all the way up and block out the light, they finally stopped just short of my chin.

They put my body bag in a hand held, wire mesh gurney, strapped to the outside runners of the helicopter.  I can still hear the steady whomp whomp noise of the rotor blades as they propelled us through the air.  I remember hearing the chatter on the radio and the voices of the two pilots screaming at each other, their faces only a foot apart.  One guy said “Is he gonna make it?” Then the other guy replied “No he’s gone”.  I knew they had to be talking about somebody else, because I’m still  here.

Next thing I remember clearly is a Catholic Priest giving me the last rights.  I was lying on an operating table.  Bending over me, he touched rosary beads to my lips and then to my forehead, whispered something in Latin, then, he made the sign of the cross on my face with the beads.

There it was.  I was officially pronounced dead and sent on my way.  Soon after I was wheeled into the operating room, I remember now hearing someone speak about harvesting my organs, seconds later I can remember hearing someone screaming “We got a bleeder”.

Now I’m waking up in this body that’s hog-tied to a hospital bed, no more staring down from the ceiling and basking in that bright light,  no, it was shining in my face until I see the doctor’s face grinning at me like a “jackass” after he moved the light away.

This guy was Oriental, he wore gold rimmed glasses, thick gold rim glasses.  He had a doctor’s operating skull cap on, a gown and had pulled his masked down before leaning over to say something to me.  He was missing a few bottom teeth and his breath smelled like fish, I pushed him out of my face and when I did, the tubes and lines pulled against me, holding me back.  I know he could tell I didn’t like him.

The Doctor told me that I had been pronounced “DOA”.  I had been given the last rites by a Catholic Priest and that because I was listed as an organ donor on my license, they were gonna try to “salvage” some of my body parts.  While they cut my spleen to remove it, blood started spurting everywhere, bringing to their attention that I was alive.  If blood was spurting,  I guess that meant my heart was beating.  I over reacted, I remember telling this guy to “get out of my face, I served in the military during the Viet Nam War, with guys like you trying to kill guys like me.”

Soon after I awoke, my brother Gary, Dad and Step Mother came in to see me.  I didn’t know them.  I had amnesia.  I didn’t remember anything but the walk down the tunnel, then the helicopter ride and the trip through the ER.  My brother Gary had called them and they had driven from Jacksonville to see me.  I had been unconscious for six days, woke up with amnesia, they showed me a picture of my wife Bonnie and my stepsister Debbie, trying to jog my memory and get a response.  I had to ask which one was my wife Bonnie?  That worked out good, I was relieved at their answer, Bonnie is a lot prettier than my stepsister.

I had tubes and needles protruding from every orifice in body, my eyes had been swollen almost shut, my jaw was dislocated.  I had bitten my tongue almost in two.  I had an incision up and down my stomach 15 inches long.  I had broken 5 ribs, a couple went through my lungs, so that’s why, when the EMTs tried to give me oxygen, I just blew up like a balloon.  They had cut a hole in my chest to drain the blood out of my lungs, I couldn’t tell you how many stitches I had in the back of my head, but I knew they were there.

Now, everyone is asking me what happened?  All I can remember is walking towards a light in the tunnel and everything that has happened since then.  When I started telling everybody about that, they just looked at me like I was crazy.  Telling me to hang in there, you’ll be alright.

The oriental Doctor came up to me and told me that I had “No insurance, you been here 6 days, now you wake, now you leave.”  I just thought that he was responding to what I said to him earlier, but no, a few minutes later they put me in a wheel chair and pushed me to the curb.  A tag was still wired to my toe, it read “DOA, Organ Donor.”

Since then, it’s been a long journey.  Getting back physically was hard enough, but the mental part, “Did I really see this or hear that?”  Or when I look at people in the face and wonder if I’m supposed to know them or not?  Will they be there to speak for me or against me?  It took a while to regain my memories.  I had to work on it, while pretending that I already had. Now that I near the end of my road and I think about that meeting I got coming up and I wonder, “Do I remember everything?”

I need to go all the way back to the beginning to be sure.  I had always heard that your life is suppose to flash in front of you before you die, now I know why.