Near Death For Eight Days: Why I Quit Finance and Am Learning to Code

The last thing I remember is putting my key into the second door that leads up to my apartment. I knew something was very wrong. The tunnel vision was so bad at that point all I could see was blackness everywhere, except for the doorknob with my key and hand. It was a small point of light at the end of a deep black tunnel.

Time stood still. For you and, I imagine, most people in the world, time was being perceived at the normal flow. Seconds turned to minutes, minutes to hours, hours to the next day. I lost about six hours of my life that night, and I was about to lose a lot more.

The way I remember it, I was putting my key into the doorknob at the end of a tunnel and immediately jumped roughly six hours into the future, as I would later find out. One moment I was in one place, the next moment I was in another place. As most people in Chicago were waking up for work on Monday, I was waking up in the future, and not a particularly good one. I was in an ambulance, the paramedics seemed way too busy and had too much concern on their faces for my liking. I was gasping for breath, but everything was blocked. I tried to tell them I can’t breathe. I tried to tell them I don’t want to die. Don’t let me die. More blackness came.

The next eight days are mostly gone for me. My memories are essentially a few 10–15 second video clips with a couple longer clips mixed in. All of them scary as hell. I remember hallucinating when given some kind of pain medication. I don’t know what I did during the hallucination but when I regained my faculties I was in restraints. I never asked, didn’t want to know. I remember hearing The Beatles playing in the operating room before going under for one of my many fasciotomy surgeries. I was high as a kite on pain meds listening to Oh! Darling not knowing what the hell was going on but at least I had a good soundtrack to the insanity swirling around me.

Finally I remember waking up for good, my mom by my side and my busy surgeon standing next to my bed with a sympathetic look on her face. At this point, after everything that had happened, I still thought it was the same day I had arrived. I was only off by eight days. Eight days of surgeries, seizures, extreme drops in blood pressure coming out of nowhere and enough bags of other people’s blood flowing into me you could have filled a swimming pool, so I am told. I slowly started to realize what was going on and why they kept asking me if I knew what the date was or where I was, questions I was previously unable to answer correctly. My mind was now able to process the seriousness of my situation and the extent of my injuries.

They told me I had acute kidney failure and they didn’t know if my kidneys would ever work again. Apparently when a large chunk of leg muscle dies, it releases a protein that is toxic to the kidneys. I spent a month on dialysis, four to five hours every day, not knowing if this would forever be a part of my life. They put me on a fluid restricted diet to give my kidneys a break in hopes they would recover. So while dialysis was taking fluid out of me, very little fluid was going in. I still don’t know where all that fluid came from that they were taking out of me.

I had never known thirst before this. It was unescapable, all-powerful. I could see lake Michigan from my window and for a month I had the same two fantasies. The first was running into the lake, being pulled by a speed boat underwater with my mouth open and having water flow through me forever. The second fantasy was filling a massive bucket with ice and coca-cola, then dunking my head in and drinking every last drop. I wanted to breathe liquid. I wanted to drink the blood or plasma or whatever it was in the dialysis machine they were extracting from me. I didn’t care. One morning when no one was watching I chugged a steaming hot cup of black coffee the nurse had accidentally left in front of me. Strange desires indeed, but I now know where the mind goes when the body is deprived of the most essential ingredient for life.

Guilt trip: Call to Action interlude

So next time you have a drink of fresh, clean water, coffee, ice tea, cola, or anything that is clean and will quench your thirst, do not take it for granted. There are many people with kidney problems in the world who don’t have the luxury of being able to drink whenever and whatever they want. Do you really know how healthy your kidneys are right now? Probably not.

More importantly however, are the almost 700 million people in this world who don’t have regular or easy access to clean drinking water. Think about that. More people have cell phones than toilets in the world. I encourage you to click on the link above to get the truth. In the U.S. we just turn on the faucet and endless water pours out while there are people who walk miles for dirty, disease-ridden water. Then they must boil it before it can be used. Trust me, thirst, real thirst, that you’d give up everything to cure, can warp your mind and make your body useless. And for so many people, too many people, this thirst is their day-to-day reality and it shouldn’t be, it can’t be when we have the power to stop it. we can give the thirsty people life-giving water. I know I’m being preachy and way off topic, I also don’t care, it’s a lesson I learned the hard way and so I will preach. And I will try to help solve this problem in any way I can, even if it’s a small contribution. To let people go to sleep thirsty when they don’t have to is a sin if there ever was one.

Back to my story

Now that I was mostly coherent, all I wanted to hear from the doctor was that everything was okay and I would recover fully. That I would regain feeling in my right leg and I’d be able to move my foot again. That I would be able to walk and run again. That my kidneys would recover. That the muscle that had to be cut out could come back. But she couldn’t say any of that. What she did say was not reassuring in the slightest. “When you came here, your body was doing everything it could to leave this world.” My heart rate accelerated, she continued, “You were in very bad shape, it was touch and go. We were afraid we were going to lose you there for a while.”

She told me she didn’t think I was going to make it when she first saw me. A doctor told me my body was trying to leave this world and there was a point where I was so close, she thought my body would succeed. A doctor looked at me, examined me, performed surgery on me and concluded, this person is most likely going to die.

**You’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with software, coding or technology at this point. Well, I was supposed to write a blog post about why I decided to learn how to code. I didn’t feel that story would be complete without talking about this incident. But I’m close to wrapping it up now.

My kidneys did regain full function after about a month. I no longer needed dialysis and could slowly be lifted off the fluid restricted diet. It was the greatest thing I’d ever heard. But I do have permanent injuries to my legs, mainly my right one. I’ll never run again and I have permanent nerve damage in my legs, but fortunately after grueling physical therapy and the aid of a leg brace, if you saw me walking down the street with pants on, which I generally do wear, you wouldn’t be able to tell anything has happened to me. Maybe you would notice a slight limp.

After a year-and-a-half of recovering and feeling sorry for myself, withdrawing from the world and my friends, something happened. I thought about the doctor’s words.”Your body was doing everything it could to leave this world.” My mind began to turn itself on again. It had been shut down, depressed and unwilling to process what had happened for so long, a switch flipped and the darkness was fading.

Eventually I realized, I came really, really close to dying. I thought about what I was doing, hiding from the world. Why? I didn’t know. I felt like I wanted to jump out of my skin, or more like break out of it as if it was a shell that had me trapped. I wanted to do things, be someone. I didn’t want to be famous or any foolish notion like that, I just wanted to do what I wanted to do and be who I wanted to be. The first thing I decided to do was learn to code. I’ve wanted to do it since I was 12 and bought a book and VHS tape on Turbo Pascal.

I wanted to change careers. I hated my old one, working in finance. I did it for 10 years and it turned me into a terrible person who I hated. I made money but for every dollar I made I added a dollar’s worth of misery to my life. I was living someone else’s life, someone I thought I was supposed to be. No longer, I almost died, and that gives me the freedom and perspective to finally be who I am and was always supposed to be. Not just with coding and my professional life but personally as well. I want to be a better person. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. I want to be nicer, less cynical and more optimistic. I want to be less jaded despite a world full of reasons to be. In retrospect, the whole terrible experience was probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

It’s been almost two years now since all this went down. I’m learning to code by attending Flatiron’s online bootcamp, Learn Verified. I have many miles to go before I reach my ultimate goal, but I’m loving the trip so far. I don’t know if I’ll succeed in becoming a professional developer but I know the only way I’ll quit is if Donald Trump becomes president and outlaws programming.

I love the challenges I’m faced with everyday. I look at every problem as a puzzle and I love the thrill when I solve one. It’s a small victory but each one gives me a little more confidence. I hate the part when I sit there and don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to be doing. Like everyone, I’ll get frustrated and want to break my computer. But then I think about it and I think about the past. I realize the truth. The truth that it’s not so bad, I can ask someone for help. I’ve even realized The Ultimate Truth, no matter what you’re going through when learning to code, or are bored in life, bored in work, bored in love or just plain unhappy with everything, it absolutely beats the hell out of being thirsty.