About eight and a half years ago I contracted Coccidioidomycosis (San Joaquin Valley Fever). The disseminated version. The survival rate for white males 25 to 60 is .05%. I am still here. At the time, I was heading back to medical bay after being told I just had a bad cold. I didn’t make it. I began vomiting blood until passing out. Waking up in a hospital bed with tubes running through my arms and a doctor that simply stated; “Sorry.”
The treatment included Fluconazole. The cost for that was about $1500 per month, I was told. Fortunately, I didn’t have to pay for it myself. I slept from 16 to 18 hours per day. My temperature ranged from 96.7 to 105 with swings from one direction to the other in about three hour intervals. I had rashes that would appear different places on my body. Little bumps that itched and bled if I scratched. There is something called a Titer Level. 1:8 was not good. Neither was 1:64. But panic meets you head-on when you reach 1:256. Mortality becomes the cold that walks with you by the hand, when 120 lbs comes off your frame in the space of 4 months.
There is something about being alone in such circumstances that makes you want to give up. Realizing that people whose lives you’ve touched still have need of you will make you fight. Hope springs eternal. My soon to be brother-in-law, Rich Barlow, gave me a blessing. He walked with me and made me get out of bed each day. Bundled up in 115 degree heat, complete with three layers of clothing and a winter jacket. Teeth chattering as I failed to get warm.
As we walked, a song came on the radio. “…I went sky diving, Rocky Mountain climbing, I spent 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu…” and reflection of a life left unfulfilled crowded my mind. I was told I would not live beyond 3 months… But I did live. I forced myself to walk. Since the pills didn’t seem to work for me, I stopped taking them… and walked more.
I felt sure that I was here to do something more than permit myself to let go. Childhood sickness could have taken me. Heart attacks, car accidents, plane accidents… multiple times in my life when I should not have survived. But I did survive. Can a person change perceived destiny?
Prayer became a daily, multiple occurrence and ritual. Reading scriptures. Looking for answers that I felt would come — “if only” I could see more clearly.
I lasted the 90 days. Then 180 days. Then a full year. My Titers didn’t change much. I was sent to a place where treatment could be better managed. Even as those I had met along the way became a statistic. I couldn’t give up. Rich was getting worse as Alzheimer’s was his test of faith. My lady was my strength. Until one day something happened that would support my own return to life.
I was at an LDS men’s meeting where an Apostle from Salt Lake City was speaking. I remained near the back of the chapel listening intently. He stopped midway through his sermon and looked at me. Everything stopped. He went back to his speaking but stopped again several times. The last time, he asked for a moment and leaning back to someone gave some kind of instruction. Then resumed his speaking for the last time.
As the meeting closed and I was exiting, the man that had been spoken to asked me to wait a moment. When the speaker came to see me, his hands closed over mine and he asked if I would like a blessing. My throat constricted as I began to tear up, nodding. We went into the next room he asked my name. Without knowing more he called me by name and in the name of Jesus Christ stated; I say unto you that YOU WILL NOT DIE. Shaking me to the core, he told me that the Lord was not through with me yet. That my trials would be but a short time, but the experiences I was given as a gift would be used to help others find greater faith in the future. What remains I cannot say. My soul seemed to hear but my mind was spinning. A man I had never met, claimed the soul I had offered up.
A few days later I had blood drawn again. My normal weekly routine. My faith buoyed, I wanted to see my levels reduced. It didn’t exactly lower. Instead, something not possible happened; My Titer level was Zero. Medically, the most I should have been able to achieve, ever, was 1:1. But no trace of the Cocci remained within me.
I watched others I had come to know succumb, while I had been spared. Prayer increased. But anger for those that had abandoned me, also. It was my dear Evelyn’s words of love, in her sickness, that changed my heart. Melting away that anger. Giving me new life. And, a different kind of love for my former wife and my children.
As I began to get better from the physical devastation I suffered, my Evelyn was finally told she would not survive her now incurable cancer. My heart would not let me cry in madness again. Nor should I against all that was holy for this additional betrayal. At that moment there were two things I knew for sure. This woman whose heart had captured mine was so pure and kind that I knew I would give my life for hers. The second was that we should marry. No matter the scepticism that it was futile. No matter that it would be for so short a time.
In this, the gifts God bestowed upon us both were recognized for blessings only eternity can explain. In this one small, soon frail woman was magic. A magic that helped me come to know myself. That when giving one’s life so freely for the ones you love, there is the wonderment and understanding of Christ’s own sacrifice. Still, even today, I would trade my life for hers. Knowing that she prayed to be taken so that I might live. Never in my life had I experienced that kind of faith. An honorific example of true spousal love. Gifted to one believed so unworthy.
That is when I knew that my life would be dedicated for evermore to whatever path I would be led to, by Him. A true Angel on earth. One whose gift of life was a present from God, that I would sustain my belief in true love. That I would know that, one day, she and I would have our time together. Where neither of us was hurting, disfigured, or riddled with sickness. Walking in star-crossed skies with only blessed memories remaining.
I am remembering the day in which we were married. December 8, 2006. Of the Christmas we would never have together. Of prayers said from a distance. Of love spanning space and time. And, of those whose lives have followed other paths.
We may never understand the path our Father has asked us to follow. Nor the reason for trials that seems so hard to bare. Or even what miracles are wrought in his name. But we can remember to say; “Thank you, Father.” In doing so, we greet a new dawn. For if he truly will give us no more than we can bear, then Evy and I will have our time. The Angels he sent me when all others disappeared, a man, a servant of God I had never met, and a truly special woman who showed me heaven.