Yes that is my real last name. Every pastor, priest, and chaplain loves it.
I never really talk about my faith.
Not on here, not on my Facebook, and not in person.
But here’s a story that I hope all of you will enjoy.
I am a Christian. It is my choice to choose my faith as much as it is anyone else’s. I don’t judge, preach, or force anything on anyone since that is something I wouldn’t want either and simply because its not my job.
Now a few years ago (2011) I chose to join the United States Marine Corps. A few months later I was off to boot camp at San Diego, California (Go Hollywood Marines!).
Now everyone knows (and if you don’t here it is) pneumonia is very common during training. You can tell by all the recruits who walked around base with a blue “sub-zero” mask (Mortal Combat Reference!).
You almost felt sorry for those poor souls.
The first thing that anyone hears about is people being dropped from training. Coming home as a failure was not an option for me. I told myself that I would do what ever it takes to finish the training and go home as a Marine.
Now when you fill out the paper work for your information there is a section for “religious beliefs”.
I never really considered myself as a religious type of person, but everyone put Protestant so I just did the same. Closest thing I could find really.
I was never really connected to my faith. Like everyone I thought that a prayer worked like magic. Just get on your knees and pray like hell.
I prayed when my dad went berserk. I prayed when I was depressed. I prayed when my parents lost everything. And I prayed for everything to get better.
I lost all hope. I was putting all of my eggs in the basket that started to not exist. Faith and glory started to fall apart in my world and at the time I thought there was no way to get it back.
So by the time I found myself looking at that paper I felt like it was a test. I just put what I thought was the best answer and rolled with it.
Boot camped sucked. For anyone who has experienced a training like that we all have great stories of how terrible it was.
Week by week I witnessed recruits dropping like flies. My platoon had entered with 87 and graduated around 50. I’ve seen people fight off Drill Instructors before trying to jump out of the 2nd story window. I’ve seen people break their bones. And I’ve seen people get so sick they cant go on with the training schedule.
I remember getting a cough every once and a while and we would all joke about how I was “going to die” and get sent home for being sick. I laughed it off for a while until the cough started to get worse.
I started to lose my appetite. I was getting short of breath. I started to get very, very sleepy all the time.
I remember the first signs of when it got real bad.
We were all in a class learning about the history of the Marine Corps. I couldn’t keep awake for the life of me (maybe because it was also a history class). I just felt so exhausted to the point where I could just drop to the ground if I was standing. My buddies kept hitting me in the arm and shaking me to keep awake, but it didn’t work.
So I finally stood up and went to the side of the class with my canteen. I started to drink massive amounts of water. I thought if I had to pee it would keep me awake. It didn’t.
So then I ran to the bathroom and came back. I was even more exhausted than before. I didn’t know what was happening.
After class we went out to the field for a run around the track. The run was only 1.5 miles and it was at a decent pace.
I took off strong, but about 20 feet into it I started to fall back. I couldn’t breathe. It felt like someone took a wet towel and put it over my mouth. I was sucking wind like no other.
My lungs just blew up. They were on fire. It didn’t help that I was dead last in the company with Drill Instructors yelling all sorts of colorful language to “motivate” me to finish the run.
I completed it in 14:55. Not bad for practically dying.
Next thing I remembered was waking up with the sun in my face and a whole lot of tugging on my uniform. Apparently I collapsed. The Drill Instructors thought I had a heat stroke or something. Some of the Drill Instructors thought I collapsed because they said I was “weak” and couldn’t commit to physical fitness. So they got me up, gave me water, and sent me on my way (military solution to everything).
Every night in the barracks we strip down to only our underwear and report if we have anything medically or mentally wrong with us. They would inspect us with a flashlight to make sure we don’t have any physical deformities or injuries.
So they came up to me. It wasn’t even that cold but I was shaking uncontrollably. I could barely keep my eyes open and had a very cold sweat pouring out of my body. I can still remember that sick feeling I had in my stomach too.
I didn’t even have to report anything. My Drill instructors instantly knew something was wrong, but it was late and they told me to go to medical the next morning. Guess they didn’t feel like doing anything that night.
To this day I remember that long night on my rack. I was coughing all night. Coughing up mucus. And the best part was that I was spitting it into my canteen cause I got too tired of getting up and going to the sink (sucked for whoever got that canteen after me).
I was so cold and yet so warm at the same time. It was the most discomfort I’ve ever felt and I just wanted it to all end.
The next day I went with a group of recruits to medical. It was only 3 buildings away and I barely made it. I was suffocating just walking there. We all sat down and kept our mouths shut. It was even more depressing than an ER waiting room.
All you saw were the poor bastard recruits. Some on crutches, other in wheelchairs, and a lot in “sub-zero” masks. We all felt like death and had that look of “crap I cant go home as a failure”.
One of the recruits in my platoon leaned over to me and said “Hey, hope you don’t get the early ticket out of here. I think you’ll be fine. Its probably a really bad flu or something”.
Man I wish he was right…
The medical doc saw something immediately wrong with me when I was being checked in. I remember he went up to me and with his finger tips he pressed on my neck. It hurt like hell.
Now when a doctor looks shocked that’s not normally a good sign. It’s even worse if you’re the patient.
So then he said “don’t move” and rushed out of the room.
Seconds later he came back with two Navy Corpsman. He asked one of them to push on my neck again. Hurt like hell… Again. They looked at each other and agreed on something that scared the living piss out of me.
They agreed that they had no idea what was wrong with me.
The doctor explained that it was possible that my pneumonia was so bad that it could of caused irreversible damage. Oh what a relief. And here I thought I was just dying…
He said that due to the way I might of been coughing it was so strong that it ripped a hole in my left lung. And because of that hole air escaped every time I exhaled and the air went up to my neck. So not only was I feeling like I was winded because my lung had a hole in it, I felt suffocated because that air was choking me. What a double whammy!
One of my Drill Instructors was there to bring me my things to go to the hospital with. The doctor told him what was going with me. Funny thing was this was the same Drill Instructor that thought I was weak and was having a heat stroke the other day. Jokes on him I guess…
So they got an ambulance for me and off I went to the Navy Hospital.
Once I got there I was surprised that I was transported to the Intensive Care Unit.
ICU?! The place where if you’re, oh I don’t know, dying?!?!
A nurse came up to me and asked what I wanted. With tears in my eyes I said “I want to call my mom and can you get me some McDonald’s, please?” (I saw a McDonald’s coming in from the ambulance and saw my chance).
She smiled and said “sure thing”.
I then fell asleep. I then woke up with a Navy Medical Officer at the foot of my bed. She was a nice woman who was glad to see me awake. She then took my McDonald’s bag and threw it away (so close!!!).
She was explaining to me that the food was going to make me feel worse but all I heard was “I’m an officer and you’re a sick recruit. You’re in my house now. Ha ha ha I’m evil”.
But I did get to call my mom. It was the first time I was far away from home, in a hospital, and in the ICU. I was so scared. I didn’t know what was wrong with me and neither did some of the medical professionals that worked there.
Crying I told her that I wanted to just quit and go home. I felt so alone.
But my mom knew that I wasn’t a quitter. I was looking out of the hospital window at the city lights when she said this to me.
“I know you’re scared Alex. I’m scared, too. To get a phone call about your baby boy in the Intensive Care Unit thousands of miles away is not what I wanted to hear. I know that you feel alone but be strong. You went there to be a Marine. It’s not the boy scouts. It’s not a win or lose situation. You’re my son. You’ll always win. But its a do or don’t. You can’t give up. You went there to be a United States Marine. I let my son to leave to become a United States Marine. You do what you were there to do. You can beat this. Have faith. I’ll be praying for you. I love you, Alex”.
Huh… Have faith…
Praying for me?
All the words that didn’t matter to me at that time.
At that time it basically meant that “I know I cant actually do something but here’s what I’ll say I’m going to do to give you some sort of hope”.
I was mad. So angry. It didn’t help that the movie DeathRace was playing on the TV. I was so mad that I didn’t talk for a whole day. For the first time in my life I wanted to be alone and quiet. The doctors didn’t help with that.
For days I was always woken up. A team of medical professionals kept waking me up at random hours poking at my chest and feeling my neck. They all then took notes, gave me pills, then left.
I was always carted off to get X-Ray’s of my chest. My lungs were so messed up that they couldn’t even get a clear image of them. I’m amazed that I didn’t get cancer for how many X-Ray’s I got during my stay at the hospital.
I got pumped full of morphine, fluids, antibiotics. I had about 4 IV’s in me. All doing something different to keep me alive.
The pain in my chest was so bad that the morphine started to have no effect. They gave me generous doses of Oxycontin. The most drugs I’ve ever had in my life in one hit. I got sick from the numbness all the time. Half awake and asleep for days. A zombie had better days than me.
One day I finally snapped. I got sick of the random wake ups, the trips to get an X-Ray done, and got sick of being drugged and alone.
When the Navy Doctor came into my room I looked at her and lost it.
“What is wrong with me?! No one will tell me anything! Can’t you see that I’m scared? That I’m alone? I’m 19 and in the ICU! This isn’t right! Just tell me what is wrong with me? Why did this happen? Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve being sick like this? I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I have 4 IV’s in my arms and wrists. I can barely get out of bed to take a piss. Please just give me something!”
I was beat red, sweating, and having a major break down.
The Navy Doctor had tears in her eyes. Maybe she had kids of her own and saw a kid away from his mom laying in a hospital bed with no one giving him answers. Someone who felt like he was dying and didn’t know why. So she told me exactly what was going on.
“You have pneumonia. The problem is that a case like yours happens, at best, twice a year at this hospital. Not all of our medical staff are trained to know how to treat your symptoms. We have been running tests on you to see how your sickness got you this way. Your lung has a very sizable tear in it. The air around your neck is still there. The mucus in your lungs keep filling up regardless of how many antibiotics we give you. I’m sorry but I don’t really have an answer. I know you’re scared and alone. I can’t imagine how tough this could be for you, but please be patient. We are working around the clock for you. We have doctors who haven’t gone home in days just for you. All we want to do is help. To be completely honest, looking at your chart you probably wouldn’t of lasted another day or two if you hadn’t came here. Your pneumonia was literally drowning you on dry land. Now, we are scheduling a surgery date for you. Your lung isn’t healing and we need to get in there and patch it up ourselves. It’ll be okay. The Navy Chaplin will be making a stop at your room tonight. Whether or not you want to see him I really think you need someone to talk to. He’ll listen to you. Trust me. He’s a good friend of mine”.
So off she went. Who knew what she was originally going to do when she initially walked in.
The Navy Chaplin? Really? That was the same answer my mom gave. Hope. Such a stupid little thing at the time. I had a million words in my head ready for the Chaplin.
I wanted to say that God was never there for me. That no matter how many times I prayed he never answered. That if he were real he just gave me the worst punishment of all times. I wanted nothing to do with him.
Hours went by and no one came. I finally fell asleep that night. I didn’t talk to anyone.
The next morning I woke up with a dog licking my face. I was a bit shocked. It was a golden lab. The look that pup gave me just melted me. I just broke down crying petting this guy. I was happy and sad all at once. I looked up and there was the Navy Chaplain holding this pups leash.
Now I know I rehearsed all the lines I was going to say to this guy, but all I could get out was “thank you”.
It was quiet. The morning sun made my sterile room glow a little bit that day. The Navy Chaplain pulled up a chair and just sat there while I pet his service dog.
What he said next just opened my mind.
“Its funny isn’t it.. People always seem to disagree with the words I say, but when I bring in this guy all words are lost. They just look into his eyes and wonder what makes him so happy. But they don’t realize that his happiness is contagious. I wish I was him because without even saying a word he brings smiles, comfort, and hope. Humph… My friend told me that you are having a hard time. That you’re alone and afraid. Now I only say this because I see that you are a protestant, but just remember the good lord always has a plan. But he isn’t perfect either. Sometimes his plans have empty spots in them, but that’s because he can’t plan everything for us. We make our own path. We only have so many years away from him that we have to learn to make our own decisions with our own lives. I am a follower of the good lord, but I am also a follower of life. I live my life the way I want to because I know in the end that I will be with him soon. Knowing that he is watching me gives me comfort. But remember that sometimes prayers can’t be your life line all the time. He will listen, but he wants you to be the one to make the change yourself. The lord has given us strength. The lord has given us love. The lord has given us courage. Use what he has given you and build your own path with it. Have the strength to endure all of this pain. Know that he loves you. And build up some courage and say that you will face your problems head on. Because with all of your strength and love with you nothing can get in your way. Be grateful for all of the tools the lord has given you and remember that he will always be watching you grow. Maybe he put you here for some odd reason. Maybe you lost your faith so bad that he had to do something drastic as well. Dare I say that maybe he did this so that you and I could meet one day. What ever the reason is you fell into one of his empty spots in his plan. He started it, now its up to you on how you will finish it.”
He then said a prayer and left.
I thought about what he said that morning. I laid in bed repeating those words over and over again wondering if this was true. He had me open my eyes to how I lost my ways.
That night laying in my bed I said a small prayer.
“I may hate you for going this far, but I want to thank you. You opened my eyes to something important. I cant rely on your all the time. You gave me the life tools to be strong. I’m ready to use them for now. I’ll always keep you in my mind just as you do for me, but just know that you’ll be hearing less from me. You’ll watch me grow stronger each day and soon, when you see me, I’ll fall to my knees and thank you for giving me the strength so that I could of lived my life.”
I woke up the next day refreshed. Like something had happened. I went for another X-Ray that morning. No one said a thing.
I was then taken back to my room and the Navy Doctor came back to me with great news.
“I don’t know how but your lungs have healed quickly on their own. I was almost sure that you would of needed surgery. I’ll give it two more days then maybe we can see if we can get you out of here. Hope you feel better.”
So for two days I was able to walk, eat, and even better, breath.
I couldn’t tell you if it really was faith or the medicine just had a delayed reaction, but it was a real turning point for me. After that event I vowed to live my life with my head up high and, regardless of how tough life can be, to keep going. That no matter what life tossed at me I could over come it.
Its because I was made with strength, love, and courage. I always knew someone was keeping an eye out for me and wondering what my next move would be. I now know that I don’t have to rely on him for all the answers, but rather see if I can figure my own way.
His plan is for us have a life.
How we finish it is how we choose to live it.