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Back from the Almost Dead

I’ll say it first: I’m an idiot – If you ignore distress signals from your body long enough, the body will force you to listen.

By T.J. Schwartz

Sorry I’ve been absent from these pages for three months. I’ve been sick and in and out of hospitals.

Before I begin, I want to thank the many readers who e-mailed me best wishes and wonderful notes. You have no idea how much I appreciated them.

I’m going to tell you a story that I hope will help all my readers to live longer and healthier. I turned 60 in November, and in January, the stuff hit the fan. You see, I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes 10-plus years ago. I thought Type 2 meant it was better than Type 1. After all, I only had to give up salt, sugar, candy, fried foods and take a bunch of pills. I was an idiot!

So I lived with it. I ate bad, although I did give up candy and all sweets, salt and some bad foods. I still took my wife out for steak, Chinese food, pizza, hot dogs and the like.

My rational in my pea brain was that it wouldn’t kill me as I “only” had Type 2. This went on for years with my wonderful wife chiding me and trying to get me on the program. But I was immortal. Diabetes had nothing on me. I was an idiot!

For the past few years, I noticed a few small wounds on my ankles – Band-Aid stuff. I covered them and waited for them to heal. Meanwhile, my feet had already become numb due to the neuropathy that comes with Diabetes. I went to the doctor, who I lied to or didn’t show him stuff. The same goes for my wife. Lie, lie, lie.

I was really lying to myself. “I’ll be fine, these wounds are no big deal.” Yeah, right. Walking became a challenge. At my daughter’s college graduation, I couldn’t keep up with the family and had to take breaks. My sister from NYC noticed right away and really gave it to me. That was June. Did I do anything about it?

I was an idiot!

So here comes January. The wounds are not healing and more are developing. I was wearing a big Band-Aid on my left ankle and covering it with socks. Subconsciously, I knew I was in trouble. For the first time in forever, I came downstairs without socks. My wife immediately noticed and told me in no uncertain terms to see my doctor. We went, with me scared to death, and he told me they were Diabetic ulcers and I needed to see a vascular doctor immediately. I go to his recommended doctor, who concurs.

He has my legs wrapped from foot to knee and tells me to wear them for six months, changing them weekly. That lasted three weeks before I had to try something else. I just couldn’t take it. By this time, I am using a four-prong cane to get around. A freakin’ cane? At 6’7”, 265 pounds, this was not good. I was an idiot!

We find another vascular doctor at UCLA Medical Center. They hate the boot and wrap me much lighter after cleaning my wounds, which were getting worse every day. I will require two angioplasty operations on my legs to open up the arteries so the blood can flow and heal me.

I haven’t been in the hospital for almost 50 years! Now I can’t walk at all. I had to stay in bed, which I understood, but I was pissed at myself, with my wife tending my wounds and feeding me. My whole life changed in the blink of an eye. I’m not embarrassed to say that.

I did a ton of crying and beating myself up. After all, I did this to myself. I wanted my legs back! I was an idiot!

So I have surgery. I couldn’t sleep the night before. The left leg was first, and everything came out OK. My right leg had worse circulation and would come second. Every week it was back to the hospital – doctor after doctor.

My Diabetes doctor helped me get my blood sugar under control, but I owe my life to my wife who made the food, yelled at my stubborn self and fed me healthy meals and nothing else. I changed my diet, as it’s amazing what one will do when one’s life is on the line. I got my sugar under control, but the wounds were healing slowly. My store and bank account suffered, as I was closed for months. I had my neighbor put up signs for me. (Thanks Chris!)

What an idiot!

So after a few months, we have some serious healing. Meanwhile, we apply for entry to the Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy program, recommended by my podiatrist relative and my surgeon. This is the same therapy that the late Michael Jackson used. It is a space shuttle-looking “ship” that one enters. I have a sealed collar on when inside covered by a plastic ball that makes us look like astronauts. We breathe 100 percent pure oxygen for one hour and 45 minutes. Regular folks breathe 18 percent oxygen. The concept is that it speeds up healing.

It definitely works, as I have healed almost 75 percent. I have to get up at 5:30 a.m to get there by 8 a.m., so I can try to get my business going again. But there was more to come. Much more!

Did I mention what an idiot I was?

My surgeon is getting ready for leg No. 2. He says that when checking my heart, he heard a possible skip in my heartbeat, known as “Afib.” So I get the best cardiologist in the city – who doesn’t take new patients – through my wife’s friend, Dr. Moriguchi. He takes me right away. He runs every test you can think of and then comes to us to say something I never heard before and sends shivers up my spine as I write this: “You’re going to Cedar Sinai Hospital now! You’re not going home.”

Excuse me? I feel great, Diabetes aside. “Get him a bed now!” he tells his nurse and on I went. I needed three procedures immediately. The first had him placing a camera down my throat to look at my heart for any clots. Thank God I was clean.

Then he shocked my heart twice to get the Afib out and get my heart beating the right way. This was caused by high blood pressure I didn’t even know about.

The third had him going through my groin to check my arteries for blockage. Again, I was OK.

At the oxygen chamber, they take your vitals every time. They check your blood pressure, blood sugar, heart beat and pulse. Before Gooch, his nickname to friends, fixed me, my pulse was 129. Now it ranges from 60-70 and my BP is 120-130 over 60-65. For those who don’t know, that is great and normal!

That first hospital night was horrible. They told me to not expect to sleep. They gave me Lasix intravenously. I had retained a lot of water and was swollen. Lasix makes humans urinate – a lot! I spent my first night in the hospital doing it in a large container every 15 minutes so they can measure it. I did 5 liters and lost 8 pounds. But it worked, and my ticker is OK. So is my weight, as I have lost 45 pounds through all this. I haven’t been 220 pounds since I was 15.

I am healing in the chamber, with the other leg surgery having taken place by the time you read this. I haven’t driven a car since January and am back at my store.

I have learned many things through this. First off is that people can be very nice to a guy in a wheel chair. Even the toughest dude will hold that elevator or open that door. Wonderful!

My fellow Chamber members, about 14 of us, are also remarkable. People are in there with cancer radiation wounds, but mostly Diabetes. I have started the Idiot Club, as amazingly, their story mirrors mine. Many of the Idiot Club had amputations of toes or even feet. They are great people who actually think I’m the lucky one! We all gather in the Chamber, and I keep it light, joking with all of them about our situations. It’s just amazing to talk to them and keep our spirits high.

Maybe I am the lucky one after all. My wife said that Gooch told her that my heart was at 10 percent and I could have died. Now I’m at 45 percent and counting. While it’s very hard to walk with a cane, not drive, get my wounds tended to three times a week, get up at 5:30 a.m. every day and have to live with the fact that most of this could have been avoided, at least I’m eating healthy with a healthy heart.

After all . . . I’m alive!

Until next month, I’m On Your Side!

Call (818) 884-2273, e-mail or visit

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