The Fragility of Life

Most young people are very resilient and believe they are invincible. They live their lives with tremendous energy and a deep sense of adventure. Many young people love living on the edge. They really believe ...

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Most young people are very resilient and believe they are invincible. They live their lives with tremendous energy and a deep sense of adventure. Many young people love living on the edge. They really believe in their hearts that they will beat the odds and never fall victim to life's consequences for risky decisions.

SK is a vibrant eighteen year old. He loves life. He is engaging and very personable. Recently, he went away on a family weekend. When he came home, he was ecstatic. He had a great time visiting family and friends. He felt like he was on top of the world.

After returning home from that great weekend, he was playing cards with some buddies in his family room. He was kidding around and laughing with his buddies, when all of a sudden he passed out and hit the floor. At first, it seemed like he had had a seizure. His uncle, who was upstairs, came running down and immediately administered CPR. The police were called and within minutes, the ambulance arrived.

The first responder was a nurse and a local neighbor. He immediately used a defibulator. Within minutes, they were at the emergency room of our local community hospital. SK was in pretty bad shape. Initially, the medical staff did not think he'd make it through the night.

Thanks to the excellent medical care he received as soon as he arrived in the emergency room, he had a fighting chance to survive. The first seventy-two hours were critical. Once he was stabilized, he was moved from the emergency room to the coronary care unit. From that point on, it was touch and go. He was breathing on a ventilator and living in an induced coma.

The medical staff caring for SK were very honest with his parents. They said it was too early to tell and did not want to mislead them. They indicated that the next seventy-two hours would give them a sense of where things truly were. Everyone waited very patiently as the minutes and hours slowly went by.

As SK hung on for his life, his family and friends stormed heaven with their prayers. His medical team was working around the clock to keep him comfortable and try to discover what caused his seizure.

By day two, his doctors indicated that he had improved by 5%. He was still in critical but stable condition. There were still many unanswered questions. As the day progressed, more and more of the test results returned. Some of those unanswered questions were answered.

Seemingly, unbeknownst to his family, SK had an undiagnosed congestive heart disease that had set off the seizure. Upon further investigation, unbeknownst to his parents, this condition preexisted in his family.

On the third day, he finally opened his eyes. He began to respond to questions by nodding and shaking his head. He was only able to stay conscious for a few minutes at a time. By day five, he was breathing on his own. The ventilator was removed. He was able to actually speak to his treatment team and his parents. He remembered nothing about that Sunday night when he passed out and hit the floor. Initially, he thought he was in a car accident. He did recognize his family and close friends by name. He was also able to formulate some basic questions.

At this point, it seems he will fully recover physically. At this writing, it is still too early to tell if there is any brain impairment. SK has a long road ahead of him, but he is young and resilient. Knowing SK, I am cautiously optimistic that he will make a full recovery. Before his accident, he was tenacious and hard working. Now he seems even more determined not only to survive, but also to really grow from this painful experience.

The night of SK's accident, he and half a dozen friends were playing cards in his family room. Those young men have been forever changed by the events of that night. It was their quick response and lack of panic that literally saved their friend from death.

Although they did not panic in the heat of the crisis, they fell apart after he was taken to the emergency room. Those young men were no more than eighteen. They had never seen someone overcome with a seizure. The image of their friend lying on the ground convulsing and turning blue continues to haunt their consciousness. Their fright at not knowing what would become of their friend was devastating.

During the next few hours, they tortured themselves with every family's worst nightmare: maybe they didn't do enough or didn't do it right and because of that, SK would die. Until they saw SK in the coronary care unit resting peacefully, they were distraught.

As they waited and counted the minutes and hours between medical updates, the conversations among these young men were extraordinary. They began to raise questions that most of us spend a lifetime sidestepping and avoiding. Their questions centered around God, justice, why some people seem to suffer more than others and the great questions of why and how come? It was interesting to see how they responded to those questions. They discovered on their own that there are no easy answers to the complicated questions of living, dying and suffering.

Probably the most powerful part of the conversation was when they talked about how really fragile life is. They acknowledged that they are not invincible and that they need to be more attentive to the simple, everyday tasks of living. They were totally disarmed by the reality that no one really knows the day or the hour that life might challenge us and that there may not be a return from that challenge.

What was really amazing were the insights that emerged from this powerful conversation. Instead of getting stuck with their fear and anger, these young men were able to look beyond that and realize how important life really is. They admitted that SK's circumstance caused them to take pause and really think about the people who are most important in their lives.

They acknowledged that too often before SK's accident, they took life and people for granted. They commented on how, if SK had passed, there was so much they wanted to say to him and would not have had the chance. That reflection caused an avalanche of feelings about their own families and friends and the countless things that have gone unsaid, that now they felt compelled to share.

As I reflect on this amazing story, I am reminded of the wisdom of our youth. How often do we become too busy to communicate with those we love, who are most important in our lives? Our lives are fragile, and at best, temporary. Too often, we let petty, foolish things cause us to build walls of silence and estrangement, rather than bridges of understanding and forgiveness.

Sometimes our fragile lives break and we don't get a second chance to piece them back together again.