How John Mellencamp almost killed me

How John Mellencamp almost killed me

Since I can remember, I’ve loved rock and roll. John Mellencamp has been a regular in my CD player (now iPod) since high school. I’ve often said that one day, John Mellencamp would play a private show in my rec room.

Too date, no private show. I remain a faithful fan of his tunes.

Music was a huge part of my cancer experience. It was always on in my hospital rooms—even travelling with me through the hospital at times—including to the basement of Princess Margaret Hospital for my lifetime dose of full body radiation the morning of my bone marrow transplant on April 13, 1999. (I listened to the Lonesome Jubilee album while they cooked me.)

In the spring of 1999, I was in Toronto recovering from my first bone marrow transplant. After a month in protective isolation, I was let out into “transplant freedom,” which differs slightly from the freedom I know today: a low microbial diet, no fast food or restaurants of any kind, no crowds, and definitely no people with communicable infections.

The time after a bone marrow transplant is very sensitive. The procedure involves the removal of the immune system with chemo and radiation, and the “giving” of a new one, which in my case was 1.2 liters of my dad’s bone marrow.

You can imagine the dilemma I faced, while in transplant freedom, when I learned that John Mellencamp would be in Toronto in June (13 years ago!).

Should I go?

Great question. The answer of course depends on whom you ask. My docs likely would have said “no,” which is why I didn’t ask them. My psychologist, had I had one, would have said “yes” as they surely would have been aware of the emotional trauma I would have been dealing with had I not gone.

I went.

Sometimes, and not just every now and then in my opinion, you have to “roll the dice.” I did—and it was awesome!

I didn’t get an infection from the show, so Mellencamp didn’t really almost kill me, but I thought the title would grab your attention!

The following month, July 1999, I returned home to the Rock from Toronto with stable blood levels and an immune system that was sparring with me a little, resulting in a common transplant condition called Graft versus Host Disease (GVHD).

Later that month on a summery Saturday night, while cleaning and flushing the Hickman catheter in my chest, I unknowingly flushed an infection into my blood stream. My new immune system could not handle it.

I was in the ER within hours with a rising temp and the most terrible pain I’ve ever known. I was in the ICU by the end of the day. By the end of the week, I was placed in a drug-induced coma and on life support.

Turns out, in my case the bacteria on me were more dangerous than those at the concert—not an uncommon reality for many transplant patients.

I was heavily sedated, and (according to docs) totally unaware of my surroundings. The infection in my catheter caused a lot of trouble: I went into septic shock, I was diagnosed with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, and other secondary infections kept the medical team challenged.

I was given less than a two per cent chance of ever coming out of ICU.

While asleep, I was the focus of so many people’s love and energy. Family members were constantly there with me. Buddies held vigil in the waiting room, few of them getting the chance to see me in my isolation room in the ICU.

In an effort to create an atmosphere that was familiar and comfortable, my best buddy’s little sister offered up her CD player (thanks to the universe, she is now my wife).

I was in ICU for a month and on life support for three and a half weeks. I had many close calls during that time, my vitals were monitored around the clock, and legend has it that my heart rate jumped anytime Mellencamp was playing.

This time, John was definitely playing with my health so the decision was made to turn off the Mellencamp.

It was a while before I asked for my music after I woke up from my coma, though I still remember the CD player on the windowsill in my room.

It’s been 13 years since I was in ICU. My cancer returned in 2001; I had another bone marrow transplant, and today I’m healthy and am having the time of my life chasing my dreams.

Despite years of fertility issues, I am the dad to three amazing little kids.

The first song each of them heard was my very poor rendition of “Your Life Is Now”  in the delivery room as soon as the nurse passed them to me.

John Mellencamp has been a huge part of my life before, during, and after cancer and I am jacked to see him live tomorrow, 13 years after I first rolled the dice to hear his tunes in concert. I know my heart rate will be jumping this weekend!

Your life is now.

Live life. Love life.


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