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One Breath From Death - Look What God Can Do

triathlete, Ironman, breathing, death

I Was One Breath From Death – Now Look What God Can Do!

“I can’t breathe!” “I can’t breathe!” I called out to my nurse in I.C.U. at University Hospital in Denver, Colorado. My lung had collapsed and was releasing air into my body, pushing air against my windpipe and choking me to death.

“I can’t breathe!”

My ICU nurse came into the room while he called for the doctors. Meanwhile, the air that was being released and choking me was also spreading throughout my body, causing the skin of my body to expand at a very rapid rate.

“I can’t breathe!” I was beginning to panic as a team of doctors assembled outside my room, trying to decide what to do.

“I can’t breath!” Finally one doctor took control in the room and said, “I’ll prep him for a new chest tube. We have to release that pressure from his airway.”

“I can’t breath!” It seemed like the last breath I had and then I heard, “Brace yourself” as Dr. Linderman jammed a chest tube between my ribs which released the pressure inside and brought enough relief to my airway that, thankfully, what appeared to be my last breath was actually the beginning of new journey. I was not out of the woods because the air that was released was, as I was told by the doctors, causing my body to expand five times.

What began as a procedure to find a reason for my severe respiratory problem was now a major event of recovery before we could move forward in the diagnosis and treatment of whatever was killing me. I was no stranger to facing struggles in life. I had completed fourteen Ironman Triathlon competitions, including the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, but this was going to be the toughest race of all.

My journey began a number of months earlier when I became very sick with a psuedomonis bacterial infection in my bronchial system. I went from completing an Ironman triathlon, although sick at the time, in November to barely being able to walk across the room without being out of breath in December. Thankfully, my doctor, Richard Feibelman had the boldness and humility to recommend and find a way to get me into National Jewish Medical Center in Denver, Colorado because he wanted to make sure we were doing all we could to help my condition. The process of getting into National Jewish Medical Center took us to March and my condition became even worse. By the time we left for Denver, I was very sick but as I was about to find out when arriving in Denver, the race to the finish would include some major struggles.

“We have to make you very sick before we can make you better.”

Dr. Gwen Huitt and her team at NJMC implemented a very detailed plan of testing to find the reason behind the psuedomonis bacterial infection while they worked hard at bringing the infection under control. Originally, we were scheduled for two weeks at NJMC but Dr. Huitt told us after just a few days to count on being there much longer because as she said, “we are going to have to make you very sick before we can make better.”

Several weeks of testing, procedures, surgeries, along with a drop in medications, allowed my body to hit what the doctors called “the lowest point” at which time I was taken to University Hospital for a lung biopsy. Dr. Huitt and her team were hoping the piece of lung would provide the clue to what was behind the breakdown in my bronchial system that allowed the psudomonis bacterial infection to set in.

The lung biopsy surgery went according to plan and I was recovering on schedule the following day, looking forward to a step down room from I.C.U. before returning to National Jewish Medical Center. We were confident the biopsy would provide the answers which would allow Dr. Huitt to diagnose the problem and soon I would begin treatment, and head home to Florida. God had a different plan, however.

The lung biopsy procedure included deflating my lung, taking a piece of the lung, stapling the place, and inflating the lung through reverse pressure by pulling air from the lung cavity via a chest tube. Once my lung was inflated and working, the chest tube would be removed. So the day after the biopsy, when I was doing so well in my recovery, I thought it was nothing but a positive action when the tube from my chest was removed. Little did I know I was about to face the greatest struggle in my life and be “one breath from death.”

I must have coughed and released the staple in my lung. At first it felt like I had a muscle spasm in my back and asked Michael, my ICU nurse to hit me in the back around the shoulder blade which has worked in the past to relieve a muscle spasm. I never thought that my lung was releasing air and it was finding one of the insertion points from the biopsy surgery the night before. Within an hour I was calling Michael for help because my lung had collapsed and released air in my body at such a rapid rate that it was pushing upward on my windpipe and I was struggling to breathe.

Once my “one breath from death” scenario played out and the second chest tube was inserted, the team of doctors began a process to stabilize me and prepare me for a long journey of dealing with the sub cutanius emphazema, the condition in which my body had absorbed the air from my lung and expanded to very large proportions, some were saying, “five times my normal size.” The doctors marveled that I made it through night, attributing it to my Ironman background, physically and mentally, however, we know it was an answer to prayer that made the difference. The first night was toughest for both Jan and me. Jan was dealing with the shock of my condition, having left for a late lunch when everything was going so well, and being called back to the hospital to see her husband facing a “close to death” night as my body was swollen to heteious proportions, even my eyes were swollen shut.

For the next ten days, my time in the I.C.U. of University Hospital was more than recovery from the collapsed lung and the subcutanious emphazima. It was a time God proved Himself to be faithful, a time when we found strength in weakness, the power of prayer and gratitude. Everyday, we focused on God’s goodness and reminded ourselves of His faithfulness. Once I was able to open my eyes, I began to update my “on line” journal. It was three days before I realized how much I had swollen. I had written my first update since the “blow-up” and wanted to include a picture so I asked Jan snap a couple of digital photos. When I loaded them into the computer, I couldn’t believe what I saw. “You looked much worse than that,” Jan assured me. I was almost afraid to put it on line without a warning to avoid the pictures if you have a weak stomach. Daily updates with pictures, however, became encouraging for regular readers, of which the number grew daily, as well as for me in the therapy of writing the update with gratitude in mind for God’s faithfulness. In fact, the power of gratitude for God’s faithfulness as well as for the little things He was providing via the many people He placed in our lives – healthcare workers, friends, family, and a multitude of people who called, emailed, and encouraged us.

Looking back, I can see how God had prepared me for this journey. I had learned the value of an attitude of gratitude in my Ironman competitions. Many times when the going got tough on the course, I found I was able to overcome by focusing on things for which I was thankful. I had read that gratitude is the most powerful emotion and found being thankful not only encourages yourself and others but does give a new sense of power and strength. Somehow, God helped me apply the power of gratitude throughout the journey, even when I was close to being sedated. Expressions of gratitude for the least little thing, did more than show appreciation and attract extra consideration from people throughout my journey of recovery, it opened a floodgate of God’s power and strength in my life.

The ten days in I.C.U. proved to be more than recovery and lessons learned, it gave the pathologists time to study my lung tissue. However, when we returned to National Jewish Medical Center, we were greeted by Dr. Gwen Huitt who said she and a team of doctors who studied my tissue were not able to come up with anything definite that was wrong with me. She said, however, she was turning this case over to Dr. Scott Worthen who is not only a good doctor but a noted scientist. The next morning Dr. Worthen stopped in our room to tell us he had come to the conclusion that I had diffuse pansbronchialitis and went on to describe the condition as well as the treatment. He said that the disease is most noted among Asian males and although I did not fit that criteria, I did all the rest and he felt that most caucsion males died from psuedomonis bacterial infection that went along with the DPB.

After a week of treatment, we finally were able to return to Florida. It was quite a shock to return home with supplemental oxygen, a PICC line in my arm for IV antibiotics, and a multitude of medications but I was grateful to be going home. God had answered prayer, seeing me through the darkest valley when I was “one breath from death” but He was not through answering prayer. I made such good progress in the next three months that when I returned to Denver for a follow-up visit Dr. Worthen and Dr. Huitt used words like “amazing” and “remarkable” to describe my progress.

Although I am still in my recovery phase, I am back to limited training, thankful for every breath and always ready to tell anyone who will listen, “I was one breath from death, now look what God can do” as I hand them a card with my website address.

- Bob Brubaker
Published: 2006-12-09
Author: Bob Brubaker

About the author or the publisher
I've been writing and self publishing for over 20 years. I'm a pastor and an Ironman triathlete who was sponsored by SPAM. I am also a coach and trainer.

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