In an effort to speed up the process of getting my degrees, I just finished taking English 101 during the summer session at Mesa Community College.
One assignment we were given was to interview and then write a "Profile" about someone.
I chose my friend Chad Swanson because he had had an life altering year—that began with him nearly dying in September of 2015.
He's given me permission to post that assignment here, along with some photos of him.
(Thank you Chad!)
Hope you enjoy reading it.
12 June 2016
Standing at 6” 5”, Chad Swanson is a mountain of a man, with an outgoing, exuberant personality. His gregarious style is matched by a deep, resonant, and booming voice that often turns heads in public—which he sometimes forgets to lower even when he’s making an off color comment or describing something in intimate and embarrassing detail.
Still, he comes across as a likeable character with a zest for life.
|Chad Swanson A Year Before His REAL Troubles Began|
But that life has taken many turns, including losing a wife to a prescription drug addiction in 2002; studying to become a pastor at a Baptist college in the two years prior to that; and long ago working as on-air announcer, Cody Stockton, in Gallup, New Mexico. While he is an artist who loves Marvel movies and graphic novels and is at work on producing his own comic book, he earned a living working with the mentally ill from 2001 through last year.
And then in the fall of 2015, Chad Swanson nearly died.
Before we get to that, and any lessons learned about it, or what we could each apply to our own lives, let’s start when I first met him seven years ago and fill in the details that brought him to that point.
At that time, Swanson was caring for his ailing mother, and she passed away sometime in the next year. He had his own share of health problems then as well, beginning with a hernia surgery in 2007, and through the following years as many as three to five other surgical procedures related to infections and complications from that—numerous enough he has lost track of the total number—but this was only the beginning of cascading health problems which came to a disastrous crescendo in 2015.
Swanson talks matter of factly about having been in a lot of pain in the spring of last year and describes it as ultimately becoming more and more unbearable: “That was pain. It hurt to move! It hurt to walk! It hurt to sit! It hurt to lay down!” Adding again for emphasis, “That was pain!”
Finally, after a series of doctor’s appointments and a battery of tests, he was given the news that he had been diagnosed with cancer, and surgery was immediately scheduled. Fortunately, his cancer was one that unless already advanced, kept itself isolated and could be completely removed. So in April he entered the hospital, had a successful operation, and he went on with his life cancer free.
One might not be faulted for thinking then that he probably had the worst of it out of his way for at least that year, and he agrees, “That’s exactly what was on my mind. I beat cancer—so I’m good. I’m gonna live a long happy life.”
But darker clouds were looming in Swanson’s life, and during another scorching Arizona summer of 2015, he began feeling extremely tired and increasingly weak. Finally sometime in August it had become bad enough that he went to an Emergency Room where he was referred to a nearby hospital.
He says now about that time, “I was running a low grade temperature, and I just wasn’t feeling well, so I went to [the hospital] …. They basically told me it was all in my head and to wait to see a gastroenterologist … [but] my next appointment with him was the first part of November. I couldn’t believe it … I was very sick [and] they just let me go.”
So after four or five days in the hospital, still extremely sick and weak, he was simply sent home. Swanson says that everything in his life began falling like dominos after that. He’d been working ten hour days but was becoming so weak and ill that his employer, hoping to help him, changed his schedule—moving him from the one he’d worked years to attain.
Remembering how he was at the time elicits a strong reaction from him: “I felt terrible! I still felt sick. And there’s the other part of that … if they’re saying it’s in my head, they’re the doctors. They’re the professionals. They’re the ones who should know! Right? So I’m thinking maybe I should just tough this out.”
While cancer had been painful, this new round of weakness and illness was even more devastating, because while his was health steadily deteriorating, he still needed to pay his rent and living expenses—and now he was saddled with mounting medical bills. He recalls, “I was too busy trying to keep my job. I was too busy just trying to work. There were plenty of times where I would make it home, and I would just—I would consider myself lucky if I made it to my bed! I was that tired! I was that exhausted! I was that sick!”
September 11, 2015 was a bright and sunny day, and Swanson met it feeling worse than ever, and he was now having difficulty breathing. He called in sick for work and waited for an ambulance to transport him to a nearby E.R. where they immediately recognized the severity of his condition and transferred him to another facility.
Once there and lying in a private ICU room with a closed sliding glass door, he is now told that the entire room smelled like an open sewer mixed with rotting flesh—all emanating from Swanson himself. Even seasoned nursing staff, if only needing to ask questions, would stand across the room and keep the door wide open.
By then his breathing had become extremely labored, and each breath caused his chest to heave up and down. It had now become completely obvious to anyone, that he was an extremely sick man.
In time, Dr. Richardson, the surgeon who had been called to perform an emergency surgery on Swanson came to the ICU. Young looking, and rail thin with a youthful mop of brown hair, he spoke directly and candidly that morning, telling Swanson that without immediate surgery he would die.
He detailed what he already knew and some of his suspicions about what was affecting Swanson, and what he thought he might need to do in surgery: As another complication from his ongoing hernia issues, infection had now raged in Swanson’s body, and his entire system had become septic. As a result of that remaining untreated, Swanson now had large, irregularly shaped, jet black areas on his abdomen which were dead (necrotic) skin, and all of it would need to be removed, along with any infected or dead tissues or organs that were discovered internally during surgery. He wasn’t sure how much of either he’d find, but talked about removing large parts of Swanson’s body from the ribcage down.
It was a very grim report. And while Dr. Richardson made it clear that the surgery was very risky and Swanson might not survive it, he said he would do everything possible to save him.
Swanson was so ill by then, and the pain medicines he was on during this time have affected his memory, so he actually remembers very little about his surgeon’s dire words. But he does remember going into the operating room and having all his clothes literally cut from his body—too sick at that time to be frightened or to be considering his own mortality.
Later, as he started to emerge from the powerful anesthetic Propofol, he discovered he had been kept in a medically induced coma for two weeks and had endured 3 different surgeries that first week, each removing necrotic tissues and organs. He tried desperately to communicate but along with still being deeply sedated, he had a tracheotomy, a nasogastric tube and was, as he puts it, “hooked up to all sorts of lovely machinery.”
|Chad Swanson - While In A Medically Induced Coma|
The following days were a blur as he was kept in a deep, drug induced haze, but in time he became more and more aware of his circumstances. He acknowledges now, “I knew I wasn’t in great shape. A blind man could see that. But I didn’t know how bad it was until …. I wake up with this 2 foot wide gash in my abdomen.”
|Chad Swanson - While Still In A Medically Induced Coma|
Still not out of danger, Swanson remained in the ICU for several more weeks and was eventually transferred to a long-term recovery facility. He describes the challenges there including physical therapy and occupational therapy, stating, “They literally had to teach me how to live again. They literally had to teach me how to sit. They had to teach me how to walk. They had to teach me how to stand.” Adding softly, “That’s humbling. Very, very humbling …. ”
As he slowly recovered, and the weeks stretched into months, what became worse than the physical pain was now fear. He remembers that lying in that hospital bed unable to walk was “depressing enough,” but now also he worried about what lay ahead for him, knowing that after the first sixteen weeks he’d already lost the career he’d loved for over fourteen years.
Thinking back on that time he now says, “ … I didn’t know what I was going to do for a job. I didn’t know if I had a place to go home to. I’m not going to lie, sometimes the mental pain was so bad, thinking about the future, I just wanted to be knocked out! I was so inside my own head that I couldn’t get out, because if I wasn’t worrying about one thing, I was stressing about another.”
Sometime toward the end of the year, a plastic surgeon finally closed Swanson’s gaping abdominal wound which had been kept open by Doctors who wanted to ensure that all the issues had been resolved before it was. He was finally released from long term care on New Year’s Eve of 2015, and insurance covers his on-going care and State and Federal Disability now pay for his meager expenses.
He adds nothing but praise for his landlord saying, “God Bless [her], she didn’t have to hold off on my rent for as long as she did, but she did. God Bless her—and I was able to pay [everything back].”
While steadily improving, he is not out of the woods yet, and in March of this year faced yet another surgery for an abscess along his incision.
Swanson freely admits that there was much more he could have done to avoid this landslide of health issues and is making changes in his life such as improvements to his diet. But he is also angry with the hospital that released him essentially to die in August and is considering a lawsuit against them. It seems clear that proper treatment then would likely have spared Swanson nearly a year of painful surgeries and recovery.
An article in the Journal of Healthcare Management reports on the astonishing mistakes made by hospitals and medical professionals in this nation. While applauding the industry’s own efforts directed towards reducing errors, it also confronts the frequently stubborn bureaucracies and institutional attitudes that too often thwart the important improvements and changes that could be implemented, and the authors make many recommendations on how to reduce medical mistakes. (McFadden, Stock, and Gowen, III 123)
We can all hope and pray that in time errors like the ones made in Swanson’s case will eventually be greatly reduced, and perhaps there are lessons for each of us knowing what he went through over the last year—along with changes we each might make to improve our health and prevent illness. As importantly, we must all be aware of advocating much more strongly for ourselves and those we love when we see our doctors or are hospitalized.
Nevertheless, as Swanson reflects about it all, he is grateful to still be alive and says thoughtfully, while adding a touch of his trademark humor, “I did feel a spiritual comfort during this time, because number one I survived. I still maintain that it’s only by God’s grace that I’m allowed to draw my next breath. So I didn’t die so that means He still must have something in store for me, I just wish He’d let me know what it is.”
|Chad Swanson In 2015 Before He Nearly Died|
McFadden, Kathleen L.; Stock, Gregory N.; and Gowen, III, Charles R. “Exploring Strategies for Reducing Hospital Errors.” Journal of Healthcare Management 51.2 (March-April 2006): 123. MCC Libraries ONE Search. Web 22 Jun. 2016
Swanson, Chad. Personal Interview. 17 Jun. 2016.
Well that's it. If you've read this far you've won a shiney new car—just let the maître d know as you're headed out the door.
Thanks for stopping by and God Bless!!