If you have never been told you might be dying, I highly recommend the experience.
For me it turned out to be a lifesaving and life-altering experience. Up until a few years ago, I was immortal. Death was a scary little troll that visited other people, but not me. I had lived a charmed life. I had worked as a professional firefighter, a motorcycle was my mode of transportation, and I enjoyed hobbies that leaned towards the risky side. Never once did I feel that I was close to the end.
But life has a funny way of reshuffling the deck.
I was dealt a new hand one Friday morning in a hospital room in Denver, Colorado, as several doctors made their way in to deliver their theories of my sudden illness. You see, over the previous four weeks, I had been putting on massive amounts of weight and experiencing swelling. I had already gone to one hospital; they misdiagnosed me and sent me home. I shrugged the whole thing off and was convinced that it would work itself out. It didn't.
One hundred pounds later, my caring wife and friends rolled me into a car and drove to Lutheran Medical Center on a Thursday evening. Twenty minutes later, I was told that I was in complete renal failure. My kidneys were no longer working, and the 100 plus pound-weight gain was actually water soaking into every crevice in my body, including my lungs.
"What? I have never had any major health issues. Ever. I drink tons of water. I exercise. I don't smoke, and I wear my seat belt. I hug my kids, read my Bible, and not once have I killed a unicorn. Why me?"
Of course, none of this information changed the fact that I was in bad shape.
The first and best outcome would be that I had a very rare type of syndrome. It was highly unlikely in people my age, but it was very treatable. I was hoping for this prognosis. Seeing the hope on my face, the doctors made sure to drive home the fact that it was statistically improbable. The other theories were less hopeful. One in particular got my attention because of the words they used. I was told it might be an "aggressive form of cancer."
The word cancer sucks all by itself, but when you add the word "aggressive," it brings it to DEFCON 1. It's like being told you have a really gifted cancer. Yes, this cancer is smart. It takes all AP classes. It's really disciplined and focused on killing you quickly. How come I don't have the lazy cancer? I wish they'd said, "Mr. Cheshire, your cancer is passive aggressive. It's going to make a veiled shot at you, but will never come right out and attack you. Odds are, it will just hang out in your body."
Why can't I have that cancer? Nope, I may have the aggressive one. And so with these two likely scenarios, they needed to do a biopsy to find out what it was.
Later that afternoon, before the biopsy, I was informed that they would have the results sometime on Monday. With that, the blizzard of white coats filed out of my hospital room and I was alone again. It only took me a few minutes to realize I was going to be lying in this bed for three days with the idea of an early death marinating in my soul. I immediately thought of my three young kids and wife. I said over and over to myself, "But I had so many more plans." It took a while to quiet my mind and do something productive. By that afternoon, I was making all kinds of lists: lists of my favorite things in life, lists of things I wanted to do if I didn't die. I made lists of the things I would improve as a husband, father, and friend. And then I came to my job.