Personal Stories: Ben Bynes
Brian, I have an aortic dissection success story to share with you. It
is my experience so far. I wish someone had a story like mine to share
when I was trying to land on my feet but not quite sure where I was
landing. Like many of the stories, I was depressed, scared, and angry at
the reality of what my 31 yr. old self was dealing with. Since waking up
to my bad dream come true, I have been trying (and succeeding) to get
back much of the life that I had before.
In April, 2001, I was at work. We had a busy morning of taking all
the equipment and hose off of our fire engine to send it out of town for
service, Next , we did a wet drill with a neighboring department. On our
way back to the station we came across green paint going down the storm
drain, and dealt with cleaning up the mess. We had just cleared from
that detail when We got paged out for a bicyclist unconscious and
bleeding from the head. I was a brand new paramedic, and also two weeks
out from my final driving test on the aerial ladder. Basically I was
driving and taking the lead medical role on the call. I was happy to see
the ambulance medics show up.
We loaded the patient into the ambulance where I was taking his blood
pressure when suddenly I felt bad pain in my guts and back. It was bad,
but I didn't want to steal our patient's thunder so I said to the
ambulance medics," I'm not feeling so good myself fella's" They chuckled
and said I could go with them to the hospital. I declined, but upon
exiting the ambulance I told my captain that I was in pain and didn't
think I could drive. He said I looked pale and I said maybe we should
just drive to the E.R. They drove me back downtown and called dispatch
for an ambulance.
The same ambulance came back after taking our patient. I waited in
the E.R. in a small room in the waiting room. I was downplaying my
symptoms, but it was getting unbearable. Finally, as I lay there
writhing in pain I grabbed the E.M.T. and told him that they had to do
something for my pain, that I was dying and felt like I was having an
aortic aneurism. He passed word along and I got moved to a real hospital
bed in the E.R. I may not have all the facts and timing right, but I
believe that the Physicians Assistant , and E.M.T. were very
instrumental in my getting treated for more than back pain. The P.A. was
unable to detect a palpable pedal pulse in my left foot.
I downplayed again saying I had a hard time finding pedal pulses too.
These guys were starting to get serious and ordered up a C.T. scan. I
finally called my wife, as I wanted to wait until I knew what was
happening before worrying her because she was nine months pregnant. I
told her to come to the E.R. and that I didn't know what was wrong,
maybe I hurt my back lifting the patient, or maybe I had real bad
gastric cramps. I was only 31, and couldn't be in serious trouble.....
right? ........ WRONG!!!!!.. After the C.T. I was told by the doctor
that I had "Torn " my aorta and needed emergency surgery. "Open Heart
Surgery????" I asked in disbelief. Yes he said.
Things really took off from there. The helicopter flight crew was
standing by, and family members gathered around me with tears in their
eyes. Thank god for morphine, because I was feeling cheerful enough to
comfort them and tell them that I wasn't going to die. I truly felt it
and meant it. The doctor said that Stanford couldn't take me because
their teams were in the middle of surgery at the time, bur that our
small hospital did have a surgeon on duty who had done the
surgery...once! Not on me he doesn't............ no offense Doctor, but
you have had me here for two and a half hours and I'm not dead yet,
PLEASE find me somewhere else to go, What about UCSF or a teaching
hospital somewhere, anywhere!! He went back to the phone and tried UCSF.
While he did that I turned to the flight nurses and said, "If you two
fu#!ers leave here without me, and I live, I promise I will find you!
Don't leave me!" I guess my captain threatened them as well saying they
would have a hard time lifting off without me with a fire engine chained
to their helicopter.
Anyhow, UCSF was able to accept me and I gave my wife what might have
been my last kiss goodbye and told her I would see her in S.F. and that
I wasn't going to die. The flight nurses doped me up and All I remember
was thinking that I had been born at UCSF 31 years ago, was I doing like
a salmon and swimming back up to where I was born to die? was I going to
be one of the lucky salmon to live to do it again...?
I woke up momentarily as they transferred me to a ground ambulance at
SFO to taxi me to UCSF because they don't have a helipad. The next thing
I remember was people telling me not to struggle and to be careful of my
incision. INCISION!!?? WHAT INCISION???..... OOOH! that incision, It was
coming back to me in a horrible foggy memory, and now I was on the other
side of surgery. One of my step sisters had a tale to tell that I don't
remember about the extabation process when they took me off the
breathing machine. I guess they had to put me under three times because
I was struggling to breathe and looking at my sister mouthing the words
"Im choking" she said it was traumatizing for her and wanted to make
sure I didn't have any hard feelings. I told her a few days later that I
didn't remember any of it. My throat was sore for months though.
My surgery replaced a 30mm section of my aortic arch with the Dacron
tubing, my valve was spared, and re suspended, Bio-glue was applied to
the flaps where need be, and a Teflon tube was inserted across the top
of my groin as a femoral artery bypass from right to left femoral
arteries to restore proper blood flow to my left foot. I had dissected
my aorta from the arch all the way into my iliac and renal arteries.
I guess all the stress got to my wife, but I also feel like my unborn
daughter met me as I was teetering between this world and whatever world
I may have been headed for and decided to be born to show me the way
back home. My surgery was finished the morning of the 8th and my
daughter was born the 9th, upstairs in the same hospital, my wife had a
little surgery of her own, a C-section. I have a picture of me with
staples, tubes, and a newborn baby on my chest. It looks like I had the
c-section. That child is now 3-1/2 years old.
I am back at work full time full duty, and my CUT. scan two weeks ago
shows no changes. I control my blood pressure and each day that I live
becomes another reassurance of my vitality although in reality I'm one
day closer to my inevitable mortality. A strange paradox. I have played
in basketball games against the 49ers, caught tuna fish on my boat, and
surfed in California and a contest in Hawaii. I'm thankful for the
ability to be alive and to be able to share with my children and try to
stop and smell the roses as much as I can. I share this as a story of
success hopefully to inspire and give hope, in this cruel world of life
and death. A senior competitor in Hawaii shared this with me when I said
I had been lucky........He said "You've been more than lucky....You've
been blessed..... now all you have to do is be a blessing."
These words were powerful and I still struggle with what I'm supposed
to do now. What was I put on this planet to do? I'm not sure I can live
up to the expectation, but perhaps this story will serve as a small
blessing to someone in need of hope. I have felt the pain of being
knocked to my knees when moments before I had been standing tall. I know
how scary it is to not know how long I'll be alive to see my family grow
up. I realize now that the rules have not changed, I could die any time
and that has always been the case. I guess I'm just a bit more aware of
the same rules that I have been playing by since I took my first breath
35 years ago. Here's to the next 35!!!
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