I talked to my wife about an hour before I left work. Christmas vacation would soon begin. On my desk lay stacks of piping schematics waiting to be drawn. My job consisted of taking scribbled markups from engineers and turning them into legible documents using CAD software. My supervisor was on vacation, my team members had since left, and I had a non stop flux of engineers bringing in more work. I wondered if it would ever end. At about 6:00 PM, I had as much work done as I could do. The work would still be here, sitting on my desk, when I came back in January. Completing my final draft, and tidying up my office a bit, I was finally ready to call it a day and head home.
A wind chill factor of minus twenty hit me as I walked to my 1984 GMC blazer. The vehicle was reliable enough to get me to and from work, about twenty-five miles one way. The gas gauge on the blazer did not work so I tried to make sure I always had a full tank of gas; on a full tank, I could drive for about 330 miles. I though about getting the gas gauge fixed, but the lowest estimate I received was $250; hardly enough to warrant such a repair. I could have sold the blazer, and I ended up doing so for $500. Simple economics forbade me dumping that much money into repairs.
On my way to work that morning it was bitterly cold. Stopping at a gas station I put 5 bucks in. The gas gauge was approaching 330 miles and I figured 5 dollars would be plenty enough gas to get me to and from work. I had done it many times before. There were times when I did not have enough money on me to fill the tank completely up so 5 bucks seemed to suffice quite often.
As I got into my blazer, I noticed that I was the last one to leave. All the other employees were well on their way home. Thank God my engine turned over I thought to my self as I left through the security gate. Heading down US-10 I thought of the family plans we had made for tonight. My wife, two daughters, four and two years old would be spending an evening at the Huckleberry Railroad. A train would take the family on a ride through a wintery wonderland. Lights and life size Christmas characters along with traditional Christmas music would add to the awe and wonderment of this special holiday season. I raced to get home and greet my family with hugs and kisses, then set out on out winter night's adventure.
From the age of six I have been an asthmatic. Many nights I woke up hacking and unable to catch my breath. My ever faithful mom would give me a Bronkaid tablet to swallow, then she would rock me until the medicine kicked in. By that time I could breathe just fine, at the same time feeling I could run a 10k marathon in just under six minutes; the medicine made me jumpy, agitated, and shaky. Fast acting inhalers were available that would give immediately relief by taking a puff or two, but for reasons unbeknownst to me, I did not get my first inhaler until I was eight. Once I received an inhaler, it immediately improved the quality of my life. Now I could run with the boys in the neighborhood and play a game of football then as I got older play my favorite sport, hockey.
There was about four feet of snow on the ground on my drive home. The plowed, salted roads created good driving conditions. I was about five miles from home when I heard an engine knock. The blazer started to sputter. Surly I could not be out of gas. I had put five bucks in on my way to work this morning. My blazer stopped about twenty yards from an off ramp that led into town. My heart began racing. I ran out of gas. Having no cell phone with me, I was unable to contact any one. Getting out of my blazer I grabbed a small gas can I kept in the back of the truck. I cursed at my self for not having a small supply of gas in my can. Usually I carried a gallon of gas with me for emergencies just like this but today the can was empty.
Darkness rapidly approached. I tried to flag a few cars down but to no avail. Walking up the ramp with my gas can I headed for the nearest gas station that was a half mile away. The coldness was piercing. My face and neck burned as the wind smashed against my face. If only the wind was hitting my back I thought to myself. The wind stung my sensitive lungs, although at this time I was having no difficulty breathing. I made it to the top of the ramp when a small pickup stopped. He told me to hop in and said he would give me a lift to the gas station. Thanking him, I knew it would not be long before my blazer had enough gas to get me home. After getting some gas, the respectable gentleman offered to take me back to the top of the ramp so I could walk back down. He could not drive me down, as he would have been driving against oncoming traffic.
The walk down the ramp was frigid. I noticed that my breathing was becoming labored. Not having a scarf around my mouth, I held my gloved hand over my mouth in an attempt to warm the air entering my lungs. Later on, I would find out that the day I ran out of gas was the coldest day to date that winter. Needing to get to my blazer, I picked up my pace a little bit. Cold wind reeks havoc on asthmatic lungs, I knew I had my fast acting inhaler in my console box, once I took a puff of it, I knew I would find relief and feel better. When I reached the bottom of the on ramp, I noticed to my horror that a deep ditch separated me from my blazer. The man who gave me the ride dropped me off on the wrong side! I should have walked down the other ramp that led to the highway.
At this point panic settled in. Each breath became harder and harder. Frantically, I tried to think of what to do. I contemplated walking across the ditch but every time I did that I could picture my self trapped six feet under snow at the bottom of a ditch with no way of escape. My lungs burned as my body screamed for oxygen. I could breathe air in, but I could not exhale it out. Asthmatic lungs breathe air in then the air becomes stuck in the small air sacs of the lungs called alveoli. I called out as loud as I could hoping somehow someone would hear me. The cars kept zipping by ignoring my sign of distress.
Perhaps the hardest part of the ordeal was the constant thought of my family that was flashing through my mind. First, I thought of my oldest daughter Amanda. It was three days until Christmas. What would my wife tell her? Then there was Abby, 2 years old, sweet and innocent. She was waiting for me to get home so we could go on a train ride. How could I let her down? Then I thought about my wife. I shouted out loudly for God to help me! I could not let my wife down. Never in a million years could I hurt her! I needed to get home somehow. I began walking back toward the ramp that would take me up and around so I could get to my blazer. I kept signaling people but no one would stop. Damn them I thought to myself. Can't they see I am dying? My body was freezing and I could not catch my breath at this point. I feared I would pass out and then, well, that would be the end of it. Falling to the ground, gas would spill all around me.
In desperation I again called out to anyone who might hear me. I was weak and my strength continued to deplete from me making is so difficult to breathe. It was dark now and I did not know how I was going to walk up the ramp. Just then I saw headlights approaching ever so close. A truck looking like a blazer stopped a couple of feet from me. Could this be? Has someone stopped to aid me? It was a newer Jimmy blazer. I bet the gas gauge worked on that one. A younger woman rolled the window down and told me to hop in. Jumping in, I held the gas can in my lap. The warmth washed over my exposed skin, a very comforting feeling. The woman told me that she usually does not pick up strangers, but something told her to stop for me. I silently thanked God, then I thanked her. Never have I realized how hard it could be to talk. Every ounce of energy I had thanked her. Thinking back, I should have had her rush me to the local hospital; I knew however I would be okay when I took a couple puffs of my inhaler.
We made it to my blazer. I thanked her again, and dumped the gas in my tank. By this time, I struggled to breathe. Starting my Blazer, I reached into the console for my inhaler. It was not there. Throwing everything out of the console I frantically tried to find my inhaler. Checking all my pockets revealed nothing. Trouble, I was in real trouble. I needed some relief and I could not get any. I was about 10 minutes from home. Speeding off, I knew I would be all right if I could just make it home. Surprisingly the ride home seemed quick. As cold as I was, I had my driver side window rolled down. When you cannot breathe, you want as much air around you as possible. I tried sticking my head out the window. It was useless. Dizziness started setting in. I was five minutes from home. Continuing on, I found my street, and making a sharp, fast turn, almost took out a mail box.
My door opened and I stumbled into my house as fast as I could. My wife greeted me and I could tell by the look of horror on her face that I was in trouble. She did not tell me until after the fact that I was completely blue. I was not blue from the cold but blue from the lack of oxygen in my blood. She called 911 as I stood over the sink trying to catch a breath. At this point I simply could not breathe. I felt myself starting to fall asleep, I knew I would pass out. In frustration I repeatedly stomped on the floor pleading for the medics to arrive. Being a former paramedic, I knew the modality of treatment used to treat asthmatic attacks. That brought a sense of comfort, but until I saw the flashing lights pull up in my driveway, an impending sense of doom hung over me.
The fire department showed up first. They immediately put me on high flow oxygen. No air could enter my lungs. At this point I had about 5% oxygen in my blood, not enough to sustain life. Fire fighters and first responders do not carry drugs with them. I knew when the paramedics arrived they would have the medicine I needed, namely epinephrine. I looked up and saw an old paramedic friend of mine. An IV put in a vein in my arm as the ambulance rushed to the hospital allowed the paramedics to push epinephrine. At first it did nothing I still was having trouble breathing. A paramedic called in an order to administer a different drug for me. It was a heavy duty steroid. As a former paramedic, I knew this drug would open up my lungs quickly giving me a much needed breath. The drug has an undesirable side effect that I anticipated. As it flowed through the IV port, I started to feel a burn. This steroid causes an intense hot burning flush all through your body. I thought I caught my first breath, little as it seemed. I did not catch my first full breath, the kind where you suck in a lung full of air and exhale it with ease, until I reached the spot where my blazer ran out of gas. How ironic I thought as the ambulance sped to the hospital.
At the hospital I received prompt attention. Several breathing treatments opened up my airways as I endured various pokes and picks while a respiratory therapist checked the oxygen levels in my blood. I recovered quickly and was able to go home that night. On the way home, I had plenty of time to think of the events that had just happened. My wife, strong and supportive was a visible wreck. I consoled my wife and she did the same for me. I made sure that from now on I would carry a fast acting inhaler with me always. I keep one in my vehicle, one at work, one in the medicine cabinet, and one in my bedroom. I will make sure this will never happen again.
As we neared my house my wife pulled into the neighbor's driveway. I asked her why we were here. She told me we needed to pick up our children. Our neighbor had come and took them to her house just before the ambulance arrived. My wife returned with our children buckled them in their seats and we headed home. I looked back and smiled at my two precious girls when 4 year old Amanda said, I guess we aren't going on the train ride tonight. Not tonight sweet heart I said, but we will go very soon.
It was not until two years later that my precious Abby told my wife what she saw that night. Now five years old, she said mommy, the night daddy was in the kitchen having a hard time breathing, I saw angels all around him. Chills ran up and down her spine. There were a lot of them standing and holding shields over daddy, and one of them held a big sword in his hand. A while later after my wife told me this, I walked up to my daughter and asked her about that night. She told me the same thing she told my wife. How awesome I thought to myself. Her simple child like faith allowed her to see what was happening behind the scenes. It is so true when the Bible tells us in Psalm 91 that God will give his angels charge over us. How fortunate I am to serve a God who loves me so much. I own a reliable Jeep Grand Cherokee now, and as you might have suspected, the gas gauge works just fine.
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I found myself gasping for air with you! Tense-filled. My dad died from emphysema & asthma. He use to explain about the difficulties with asthma as you did.
For easier reading, you may want to put a space between paragraphs & quotation marks. Great story. So glad God sent you help.
Wind chill factor of -20! Oh my! I won't complain about our winter here in Sydney anymore! ;-) Ray, this is an amazing, wonderfully faith building testimony. I'm so glad I read it tonight. I was literally holding my breath when you got back into your car and couldn't find your inhaler. Praise God that He encamps His angels around those who fear Him! I only have praise for the way you told the story; it just needs a bit of extra editing to tighten it up in a few places to make it a "5". If you would like some suggestions, please don't hesitate to contact me on private messenger. With love, Deb