You're Stronger Than You Think: Excerpt

The beginning of the struggle

Greg Hughes woke up and got out of bed, and before he even had a chance to drag a comb across his head, a sharp pain grabbed hold of his right leg. Greg had been experiencing intermittent muscle cramps in that leg for a couple weeks but, not being a big exerciser, the cramps were little more than a nuisance. He did not feel the cramps when repairing cars down at the Northwest Tire and Service Station or when walking his two dogs. But that morning, his leg cramps were unusually intense, strong enough to double him over in pain. A good excuse for a massage from his wife Ruth? Nope. Way beyond massage therapy. Damn, this really hurt!

Leaning over to rub his leg, Greg was gripped by severe chest pain. Tightness actually, as if someone was wringing out his sternum like it was a sponge. Thinking he was having a heart attack, he took two aspirin and asked Ruth to call 911. The paramedics arrived a few minutes later, and Greg told them his chest pain had gone away. Trained to be cautious, the paramedics insisted on transporting him to the hospital anyway. That was fine by Greg, whose right leg pain was getting worse, like someone was inflating a balloon under the skin of his thigh, each pump of the balloon coinciding with his heart beat. Greg’s pain was so intense that the paramedics called into the hospital for permission to give him a dose of morphine in the ambulance. They received permission, but the morphine did nothing to relieve his pain.

The paramedics raced Greg from his home in Dansville, a farming community of 2800 people in south central Michigan, to the nearest community hospital, and wheeled him into the emergency room, where he rolled past four patients separated from each other by nothing but a series of flimsy hospital curtains. Greg did not see any doctors attending to the other patients, and now he lay on his cot, without a doctor in sight and with leg pain so severe it felt like he had just stumbled upon a land mine. He cursed at the emergency room staff, complaining that he needed to see a doctor right away, but they had lost all sense of urgency, now that his chest pain had gone away. A few minutes later, his mother showed up, causing Greg to temporarily reduce his use of profanity. But the pain continued to increase and soon he was cursing again: “I need a goddamn doctor now!,” he shouted. A physician showed up, gave him a second shot of morphine, and Greg blacked out.

He wouldn’t regain consciousness for three and half weeks.

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