I have been thinking about this since the day I died at the end of July after a big heart attack no one saw coming, save for my wife, who had noticed a marked decline in my level of energy over a couple of weeks.
As I understand it, I was dead for eight minutes. The paramedics tried three times to revive me in the one block it took to get an Evanston Fire Department ambulance to St. Francis Hospital. It is right up the street, and that is quite fortunate.
On the third attempt, after all kinds of valiant tactics, I returned.
That’s from death.
I am still shocked whenever I write that, think that, say that. Many developments flowed from that “event” as they call heart attacks in modern polite speak in hospitals. I got four stints installed in my heart arteries. I got a lot of pills to take for a long time. I got a back strain that is irritating, but a reminder that the firemen who saved me didn’t have the time to be gentle about it.
I am going into cardio rehab at Evanston Hospital in November, the first slot available. In the interim, I walk and do light exercise. I will eventually be fine. As my GP told me a little while ago, “Don’t die again.” I think he is right about that.
But I still have a problem with getting to return.
Why me? How do these things happen?
The priests at St. Francis, which is a wonderful place, said God had decided it was not my time to die, that there was purpose left in me. That is so sweet, I think. That was the morning after they gave me Catholic last rites, cleansing me of sin and preparing me for the big shuffle to the afterlife. I can’t remember any other time in my life I could honestly say I was free of sin. Perhaps just after birth and before baptism. But I don’t know.
I am filled now with an abundance of humility, the clear replacement for the abundance of certainty and arrogance that defined much of my previous life. I find it difficult to accept the thought that I am so important, so valuable, that God would intervene and give me more time.
In my 40 years as a reporter, I have seen plenty of death. I am sorry that sometimes I took that lightly and just moved on to the next story. Everyone deserves love, kindness and respect. It doesn’t have to be earned, it should just be there as part of life. I know we don’t think that way, at least I didn’t. But I do now. For all the people I hated before for whatever reason, I am deeply sorry. It was wrong of me to disrespect those lives. I don’t think I will ever think warmly about Donald Trump or his army of loud followers. But I don’t hate them. I can’t hate them. They are reflections of the complexity of our humanity.
Ultimately, politics are only important in the abstract. Something to argue about. There are things much closer to us that are far more important.
What I do know is that I am loved by my wife and three sons, who watched in deep sadness as I died, and watched in fear as I struggled and then came back. My extended family, which was on vacation in West Virginia, stood and wept on the porch of a rental chalet when they heard I had passed. Then they rejoiced and ate a big meat loaf dinner when they heard a little while later I was back. That is such a Madigan way to respond first to a perceived tragedy and second, to a surprising return. What a lovely group of sibs.
I am at the point that I can make jokes about this now. I have lost some 22 pounds, which led one of my friends to label me “Skinny Lazarus,” and then pronounce that the perfect name for a little band we formed. Just to irritate my old friends, I always make certain to note that I had died and come back to life in each phone call.
But I think the most important think I can say is to you, and I hope you share this story with everyone you know. Don’t be afraid to love your family, your friends, the humanity around you. Once you are gone, the chance to do that disappears. It lightens the heart and makes much more clear the reason we are here in the first place.
A final note. There is nothing there in death. I thought hard about that and realized what you need to witness anything in any situation is a good set of senses. Mine were all shut down. I am sorry I cannot report tunnels with bright light at the end, Morgan Freeman like voices calling me home. Nothing like that.
But I do know that there are angels at St. Francis Hospital, in the Evanston Fire Department, probably all around me. They work in mysterious ways, dancing with death each day. Don’t try to understand them. Just know they are there, believe.
I will say no more about it. Long life to all of us!