by Jon Pickell
My experience has given me a keener appreciation of life – my life, and all life –truly is a gift.
I am an artist, business and healthcare researcher, and Reiki Master/Teacher.
After receiving my BFA degree from Wayne State University in Detroit in 1984, I moved to San Francisco for a few years, and then to Chicago. After a very intense relationship in Chicago ended, I decided to make some radical changes in my life, and moved back to California, this time to Los Angeles.
Los Angeles and I did not get along. I was there during the Northridge earthquake, the Rodney King riots and the Nicole Simpson/Ron Goldman murders, and in addition, several of my closest friends back in Chicago died of HIV related causes, adding to my general state of misery.
During this period, I began developing intense headaches and blurred vision, which finally prompted me to see a doctor. After extensive testing, he informed me that the only thing that he could find wrong with me was high blood pressure.
That was ridiculous – after all, I hated where I was living, I hated my job, two of my closest friends had just died, and I was frequently “self-medicating” – why would I be hypertensive? I did not go on anti-hypertension drugs.
Some months later, Labor Day 1994, I was feeling feverish and nauseated. I rolled up a towel and lay down on the bathroom floor of the house I shared with an old college buddy. In the morning, my roommate came to ask if I wanted to go to breakfast and discovered me unconscious. I had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage due to my extremely high blood pressure.
At the hospital, after lapsing into a coma, the doctor said to my roommate: “We have really done all we can do – do you know what his wishes were regarding extraordinary efforts?” Fortunately my roommate replied, “I am his attorney, and his mother is on her way from Michigan. I suggest you keep working.”
After several weeks in a coma, I rather suddenly regained consciousness, and according to my mother, and friend who were in the room at the time, I opened my eyes and said, “Mom! You look wonderful!”, then turned to my friend, a balding social worker with a penchant for trendy West Hollywood clothes, and asked, “David… did you join the circus?”
Apparently, I was back.
However, huge pieces of my memory were gone, as well as virtually all of my short term memory. In addition, I had little motor control, and was confined to a wheelchair, a walker, and finally, after spending several months in rehab, was able to walk unsteadily.
I returned to Detroit to continue my recovery, eventually getting hired at Henry Ford Hospital as a core reference specialist less than a year after my stroke. Still, I continued to drink but I didn’t use other drugs. After the death of yet another close friend in 1996, I spiraled into a deeper depression and quit my job. It was at this point, rock-bottom – that my mother took me aside and said “you know, it would be a shame for you to have survived what you went through, only to die of liver failure…”
It was at this point that I began trying to consciously live “in the moment” – to be fully present as often as I could, without agonizing over the past or worrying about the future.
It took more years after two weeks in a coma to finally start paying attention to “my life”–and trying to “live consciously”.
Now I know I am here for a reason. I am still trying to discover all of what that reason or purpose is, but I know that a higher power had a hand in my survival back in 1994. I suppose I was always somewhat spiritual, although I have never considered myself religious. My near-death experience was a definitive, transitional point of me.
I get very discouraged by the amount of unsafe/unprotected sex taking place – the attitude of “it’s curable now”, or “it won’t happen to me” My experience has given me a keener appreciation of life – my life, and all life –truly is a gift.
I now know I have a purpose, and I know I have a reason for being here. And part of my journey in this lifetime is about discovering – or rediscovering – what that purpose is.
Our strengths in the gay community? We are a huge force! Diverse, and yet with a common thread. I think our diversity is our strength.
I have a small core group of friends that are on similar paths, and who totally “get” me. Their support is invaluable, and my mother continues to be the most amazing and supportive person in my life.
My “words of wisdom”: Don’t beat yourself up. I think we are all here to learn lessons about love – especially about learning to love yourself, which can be the hardest lesson of all to learn.