"A Story of Hope The Camper That Lived"
Bob & Peggy Woodall
My husband was labeled "The Camper That Lived" by the ER Team at East Texas Medical Center in Tyler. In our 40-years of married life, we have sampled life's banquet table, from Dallas stockbroker to fulltime RVer, but our greatest challenges and blessings were yet to come. This is our story .
BOB: "The piney woods of East Texas were bursting into spring plumage and my soul jumped at the chance to be close to God and his artwork. Yesterday, we pulled into our campsite at Bob Sandlin State Park and this morning Thursday, May 4, 2006, I was eager to absorb the scent, sounds and peace of the pines."
"Shortly after rising around 7:45, I poured a glass of orange juice, turned on the coffee-pot, and gathered my vitamin pills my usual morning ritual. After swallowing the pills, I experienced difficulty breathing the center of my chest hurt terribly, and both arms began to ache."
"Trying to find some relief, I laid on the floor of our RV but the discomfort only got worse. Breaking into a cold clammy sweat, I knew I was experiencing a heart attack and called Peggy to get dressed fast! "
"She goosed the truck down the road to the Ranger Station, where I staggered out the door, wobbled up the sidewalk and fell onto an outside bench."
"God is good; angels were placed along the way to assist us. The first were the Park Rangers, Andy and Tommy, working outside when we arrived. Peggy yelled, 'Call an ambulance; my husband's having a heart attack'."
"After the 911 call, Andy returned to my bench
with a stack of the Park's T-shirts to elevate my head and then both rangers with
Peggy, took turns holding my hand as I reached out for help. Their hands were
so important; to me they were my link with the living."
"I could feel myself slipping away, getting weaker and weaker as the pain and weight in the center of my chest worsened. I tried to pull my feet up under me and raise my arm to get some relief, while that cold clammy perspiration continued to intensify. I looked up and saw the concern in Peggy's eyes as she told me to hold on and hoped she could handle what lay ahead."
"Time drug on It was 25 or 30 miles to the nearest hospital. Finally the ambulance was at the front-gate and I heard the faint sounds of a truck accelerating through the curves. I knew the Emergency Medical Service would find my park bench."
"The next voices I heard were Richard Teague's and Mike Western's of the Titus County EMS, reassuring me that I was going to be all right. Then, these two hardy men picked me up, placed me on the gurney and rolled me to the ambulance."
"Once inside, the next thing I remember was Richard's face, which I will never forget. He was all business as he talked with the ER in Mt. Pleasant, relaying my vitals. He put two nitroglycerines under my tongue and started an IV solution. The last thing I remember was Richard saying my terrible pain registered an eight (on a scale of 1 - 10) and that he was starting a morphine drip. After that, it all became somewhat blurry and I have no memories other than, the 'lights'."
"We've all heard stories about the 'lights', which people see when they begin to pass over to the other side. I saw the lights twice .a large white ball of bright light, reminding me of the floodlights along the edge of a stage. These lights had small diamond-shaped prisms across the surface."
"I remember shortly after seeing them, that I was hit with a sudden shock, which I assume were the defibrillator paddles. The shock of the paddles brought me back to this side of life. I felt my body heave; I screamed from the intense pain and the bright lights faded."
"The next thing I remember was another encounter with the bright lights. It was the same as the first experience and ended the same way, with my body heaving under another paddle treatment."
"After the second round with the paddles, I don't remember the other 13-rounds they said I had; in fact, I don't remember anything until awakening in ICU at the East Texas Medical Center in Tyler."
PEGGY: "I know I was in a shocked stupor, feeling helpless and a bit nauseous. Andy, one of the Park Rangers, asked if he could drive our pick-up to the hospital so I could ride in the ambulance and have transportation waiting for me. Never would I have thought of that and gratefully handed him the keys."
"With knotted stomach, I climbed into the front seat of the ambulance with Mike, who tried to keep a constant dialogue, to distract my worry. Upon reaching the Mt. Pleasant city limits, Mike asked Richard if he should use the sirens and Richard assured him that full-blast was in order."
"The ER Team at the Titus County Hospital was ready and waiting when we arrived and immediately began work to stabilize his erratic heart. Meanwhile, during the next hour-and-a- half, I completed the necessary medical paperwork and waited one moment at a time."
"A source of strength for me throughout the ordeal was a quote which The Rev. Ken Chumbley, Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Springfield, MO, used in his Easter sermon, attributed to The Rev. Martin Luther King: 'God will make a way out of no way' I sort of turned it around and clung to the words 'When there's no way, there's God.' That one-liner of hope impressed me so much on Easter morning. Little did I know that it would become my handgrip with God through the coming days. That simple quote brought hope, peace and strength to me during Bob's terrible battle; I just knew God was working a healing miracle."
"Time drug on, Bob's condition became more critical. His heart would not stabilize long enough for transport by helicopter or ambulance. I knew God controlled Bob's living or dying and that he was in the best possible hands."
"I prayed to remain strong with a focused clear mind for the present moment. I felt my job was to keep up with the business details Bob always handled; I needed to keep in tow the 5-lb. briefcase holding important documents, Bob's day-timer, wallet, glasses, keys, cell phones and chargers, plus my purse. During this greatest of emergencies, came a moment by moment peace knowing that Bob was still alive; that's all that mattered. I was aware and appreciated the staffs' compassion which became more solicitous as Bob became more critical."
"When stabilization efforts continued to fail, one of the staff took me to a small room off the ER and ushered in another of God's angels, the hospital's Social Worker, Jackie Martin. She said she was there to help me with whatever I needed and asked if there was anyone I could call to be with me. I told her that we knew no one in the area; we were alone. The next question was, 'Do you have family to contact anywhere?' Her question made me realize that the children did indeed need to be called and thankfully Jackie took over. My efficient husband had all necessary numbers in his day-timer."
"Jackie called our son, Scott, in Pagosa Springs, CO but not finding him at work, contacted our daughter-in-law, Cristina, giving her the medical facts about Bob and that they were getting him ready for transport to a larger hospital in Tyler."
"Cristina, in turn, reached Scott by cell-phone enroute to his Durango office, asking him to pull off the road and stop, and then telling him what happened to his dad but that he was still alive."
"She then called our son-in-law, Dr. Heath McAnally, an anesthesiologist, at Elmendorf Air Force Base Hospital in Anchorage, AK, believing that he and our daughter, Jules, needed to be informed about dad. Heath's schedule is such that it is usually very difficult to reach him by phone but Cristina made the call from Pagosa to Anchorage and he answered immediately."
"We have been estranged from our daughter and her husband for 5-1/2 years. We have not seen nor talked to them during this time. Bob believed and expressed his beliefs several times that he would never see our daughter, Jules, in this lifetime but that he waited to embrace her in the next life."
"While standing at the desk in the Mt. Pleasant ER, I overheard an incoming emergency call from Anchorage, AK for the on-duty cardiologist and I knew it had to be from our son-in-law. The doctor took his call and brought Heath current on Bob's status. I was so surprised, not knowing Cristina had called him, but at the same time so happy for his call and speedy response. "
"Meanwhile, Air Flight #1, with EMS Officer, Meghan Vanderbilt and the care-flight trauma team, stood-by to fly Bob to the East Texas Medical Center in Tyler as predicted thunderstorms began to roll in. By the time an external pacemaker was in place to stabilize his heart, the weather window closed for the air flight. Bob was released to Meghan and the helicopter trauma team but since they couldn't fly, they loaded him into the ambulance for another 60-mile emergency trip."
"Meghan called me over to the ambulance for my goodbyes, and then quickly scooted the gurney inside. In the next instant they were gone with sirens blaring while I stood dazed, watching my 'Huckleberry Friend' disappear. At that moment, I felt I was losing my best friend, so helpless and lost and I'm sure I looked as I felt. Gratefully, God's angels came to my rescue yet one more time."
"As I thanked the
ER staff, the nurse in charge, Carol, insisted I accept a tub of food she had
gathered to sustain me throughout the day. I know that I didn't appreciate it
enough at the time but that was the only food I had that day and I'm so grateful
for her thoughtfulness."
"As I stood outside the hospital clutching the briefcase, food and my purse, I tried to remember where Andy, the Park Ranger, had parked our pick-up. Under normal circumstances, I would probably get lost driving through one unknown town to get to a hospital in another unknown town, 60-miles down the road. Just then, Jackie Martin took matters into her own hands."
"She told me that I was in no condition to drive and that she would leave her post and drive me in our truck to Tyler. In over 20-years as a Social Worker, she said this was the first time she had driven anyone to the hospital but she said, 'God told me to do it'."
"Jackie, at only 5'3", was not intimidated by our ¾-ton diesel, since she was raised on a farm and pulled horse-trailers. Once on the highway, the cell phones started popping. Cristina called Jackie from Pagosa to get a medical traveling update. While she talked on her cell, mine rang and it was Heath in Anchorage. Between the noisy diesel and Jackie talking I thought that I had misunderstood the name but it truly was Heath, after 5-1/2 years."
"He said that he and Jules were going to try to come to Tyler but needed my help and the help of the Red Cross. I had trouble understanding, but I told him that Jackie could help and handed her my cell phone. She understood the need and a minute later had Bob's cardiologist on line; I gave him permission to release all medical information to the Red Cross."
"HIPA requires that family members give permission for medical information to be released under the Privacy Laws, even to the Red Cross. In time of family crisis, the Red Cross provides airline tickets for military personnel. Another hat that Jackie wears is the Red Cross Representative for Titus County. She had all the right answers just at the right time. Now, isn't God good?"
"Jackie maneuvered the big truck into the only vacant spot in the Tyler East Texas Medical Center's parking lot and helped me find the ER. With her leading the way, I found where they had taken Bob and he was still alive."
"A team of three cardiologists spoke with me saying that he still couldn't keep a stable heartbeat. They prepared him for an angiogram but had to wait for a vacant table in the OR. Finally, at 1:15pm, they took Bob to the OR and began transmitting the dye, checking for artery blockage. According to Dr. Adan, the right coronary artery, which pumps blood away from the heart, was 'totally blocked'. Two stents were placed in the artery, it opened right up and there was 'no heart damage'."
"Dr. Adan told me that Bob had died 5 times before getting into the Operating Room and that he was one 'lucky person'. Don't know if luck is really the word for it! Another team doctor, Dr. Reese, said that 'God must have a special purpose for his life and he needs to find out what it is.' We do agree with this good doctor."
"When talking to Meghan, as she pop-called on her transport patient, she added more amazing facts to his remarkable story. About 15-minutes outside Mt. Pleasant his pacemaker stopped. Meghan and Debra kept Bob alive by CPR and seven repeat applications of the defibrillator."
"By the time it was all over, we were told that Bob died five times, according to Dr. Adan and was hit with the paddles 15 times; he only remembers seeing the 'Bright Lights' two times. Our son-in-law, Dr. Heath, says 'odds are one-out-of-four people responding to even one defib'. A week-and- half later his body still looked like he'd visited a tattoo parlor."
"The rest of the day and night the ICU staff let me stay in Bob's room. Having had respiratory failure, he was on a ventilator and wires plus tubes went in all directions. He was having upper gastrointestinal bleeding but he was still alive. It was a minute-by-minute battle and the prayer chains and warriors were on duty across the country."
"His ICU nurse, Darlene, moved a recliner into his small cubicle for me with two blankets and pillows. Wrapped in my blanket cocoon and watching my beloved suffer through this horrible unreal scenario, I found myself giving thanks for His comforting people and for each precious gift, one moment more of life one more moment to see and touch him ."
BOB: "The next thing I remember was waking up in ICU with all these tubes and stuff sticking out of my mouth. I couldn't move my arms because they had me strapped to the bed. I looked up and saw my beautiful wife beaming at me and knew I was on the road to recovery."
"Somewhere around 2 am I heard voices and opened my eyes to see my son, Scott and his wife, Cristina, standing at my side, holding my hand. I couldn't talk but I could squeeze their hands to signal that I knew they were there. I don't know what they thought I might look like, but I doubt they could envision such a terrible sight with tubes going everywhere, but I was alive. They were a comforting presence for Peggy and a blessing for me "
PEGGY: "I alerted the ICU staff that our children were on their way from Pagosa Springs, a journey that began at 8 am (CO time) and the staff was lenient with the ICU rules, since Bob's status was very critical."
"Scott and Cristina hid well their initial grimace at the sight of their strong father, now so weak, bruised, swollen, battered, and covered in wires and tubes. It was a long, hard trip for them but they were here and we were so grateful for their comfort."
"They stayed just long enough to reassure themselves that dad was aware of their presence and love and that he was alive and determined to keep fighting this battle. Before leaving for their hotel, Cristina pulled a warm sweatshirt and a pair of shoes and socks from her suitcase for me. ICU keeps the temperature in the 60's and I was freezing in my shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops, even in my blanket cocoon."
"The night was so long; I rested with one eye on Bob. One of the tubes went into his stomach and throughout the night I watched as a quart container on a shelf behind his head slowly filled with his blood. His nausea was caused by the bleeding of his upper gastrointestinal tract. It was thought that maybe the insertion of the ventilator caused this bleeding."
"He had bouts of gagging or coughing or heaving and I was so afraid he'd choke with that ventilator plus other tubes down his trachea and esophagus. I'd get his nurse, Darlene, and she'd suction his lungs saying, 'Oh, he's just coughing, don't worry about it.' But I knew he wasn't just coughing, he was trying to throw-up the blood in his stomach and it would run out the side of his mouth. How it ever got around all the apparatus, I'll never know. Darlene came every time I called or when his monitors got active, never losing patience as she cleaned his face, pillow and bed."
"Bob later said that, not counting the terrible pain of the heart attack itself, this ventilator experience was the worse thing of all. Of course, the rest of the time he was unconscious."
BOB: "Friday May 5th was a blur. I woke up, off and on, during the night and see Peggy who'd call or run for Darlene. At 7 am the shift changed and nurse, Darlene, left to be replaced by a young black man named Randy, my day-nurse. I just remember him being so good and kind, as I upchucked through my ventilator and messed up the sheets. That had to be the worse time of all, which I remember I was so helpless"
"The prayers that went out on my behalf were working, each hour I was gaining strength. Truly the scripture from Luke 2:14 (NIV) became so awesome to our family, ' peace to men, on whom His favor rest.' The favor of the Lord had rested upon me and my time was not yet."
"That afternoon Scott stayed with me, while Cristina volunteered to drive Peggy back to our RV at Bob Sandlin State Park, a 100-mile round-trip, to gather necessary clothes, meds, food and other items for the week ahead."
PEGGY:" During this blurry time, Cristina was a Godsend to me; she intercepted in-coming phone calls and made out-going calls to friends and relatives, keeping them updated on Bob's condition. Her strength held me up; her clear thinking and resolve, even though she was physically exhausted, was a blessing. Having little sleep and much trauma during the past 24-hours, my thinking was very fuzzy but Cristina assessed the situation and took over."
"A sense of direction is not one of my gifts, but in my zoned-out state, my handicap compounded; I had no idea how to get from the hospital to the State Park. Now that Bob was better, Scott would stay with him, so I could check-in with the Park Rangers, and check on the RV after our hasty exit. Amazingly, Cristina, with her abbreviated atlas (It had to be small to make a plane flight.) maneuvered the East Texas back-roads."
"Arriving at the Park entrance, Cristina wheeled into the Ranger Station, not even pausing at the check-in window but parking in the designated spaces, facing the bench where Bob laid only yesterday. "
"The Rangers saw us coming and before I could get out of the car Marie Posey, Tommy Mayfield, Andy Cochran and Tammie Posey were greeting us with hugs and concern. For the past 24-hours, they too wondered if Bob was still alive. Marie said she was getting ready to call the Mt. Pleasant, EMS station for an update."
"They marveled at the events and rejoiced with his progress. They shared their particular roles Who called the ambulance?...Who went to the gate to meet the ambulance?... All assured me that they'd been praying."
"Before leaving the happy group, the Park Manager, Paul Harris, joined us and said he was in the midst of writing up the report. I assured him that his was a Five-Star Team and we were grateful. Not knowing when we'd return to the Park, he told me not to worry about the RV; it could stay parked in its campsite as long as necessary and they would check on it for us. Their kindness and concern was overwhelming."
"Reaching the campsite, I gathered clothing, toiletries, meds and food from the pantry and frig and said 'good-by' to our retreat home which has brought us much joy."
"Returning to his ICU room, I knew things were much better. Both our guys were beaming and relieved to see us. To my surprise and relief, Bob's ventilator was gone along with the other tubes to his lungs and stomach. He looked so pleased, even a bit cocky, in spite of a lower black-and-blue lip the size of a golf ball. Although he had a severe sore throat, he could talk and knew that he was healing . "
BOB: "Saturday morning, May 6, Peggy arrived early, before the 10:45 visiting hour, to alert me that our daughter and son-in-law, had arrived last night from Anchorage and were on their way to the hospital. She wanted to cushion the shock and to know if I felt well enough to see them."
"Peggy and I have not seen nor talked to our daughter, Jules and her husband, Heath, for 5 ½ -years, only exchanged cards and gifts. We have prayed and others have interceded for us through prayer for reconciliation. In the last couple of years, I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never see nor talk to Julsey again in this life. I told Peggy that if something happened to me, she should try to reconnect with her. "
"God answered our prayers, certainly not in the way we wanted or thought. I did die and now we were going to be reunited ."
PEGGY: "Bob's doctors and ICU nurses knew that Jules and Heath were on their way and they also knew about the estrangement. Needless to say, all were concerned, since staying calm was of utmost importance. They asked me if I thought they should see him at this time. After thinking a moment, I remembered a statement he made about a month earlier when he said, 'If I should die tomorrow, I have one big regret that Julie and I have not had reconciliation.' I told the staff that he must be allowed to see our children because this was, indeed, his dying wish."
"Shortly, thereafter, Scott came to usher me downstairs to the lobby where Cristina waited with Jules and Heath. Apprehensions were on all sides. Scott, along with Bob and me had longed for us to be reunited as a family; he and Cristina had been the go-between for us."
"Jules, on the other hand, worried if we'd even see them after their exhausting 40-plus hours journey from Anchorage to Tyler, TX (with lost luggage included in the package). Scott had reassured her of our continued love."
"Taking a deep breath, I stepped from the elevator and within a few steps saw our precious daughter. In a second she was on her feet; in the next second we were in each other's arms, crying and hugging and oh, so happy, never doubting the other's love. She looked beautiful to me and her dear husband beamed his joy at our reunion while giving me a BIG bear-hug."
"While hugging me she said, 'Heath and I have come to bring you, dad, Scott and Cristina our love and comfort. I only had about 15-minutes to pack but I brought you some warm things because I knew you'd be freezing in ICU.' From the duffle-bag which didn't get lost, she pulled Alaskan-type warm socks, sweaters, herbal teas, lotions and scented candles."
"Before arriving at the hospital that morning, they'd shopped for water mugs, snacks and fresh daisies, (my favorite flowers). Now they insisted on supplying all snacks and meals during their all too short weekend visit. The Air Force only gave Heath a weekend leave, which they said was remarkable to happen so quickly another miracle. They were a blessing."
"I felt like I was dreaming. Our prayers and those of friends and family over such a long time were being answered at this very moment. It was a mountain-top loving moment resurrected from the abyss of a horrible tragedy and the best was yet to come. It was now visiting time for dad."
BOB: "Scott came for Peggy and told me that Julsey and Heath were in the hospital and would be coming to my room. Before long, I heard them outside my door washing their hands and I heard Julsey's familiar little chuckle."
"As I opened my eyes, Julsey, Heath, Scott, Cristina, and my beloved wife were standing around my bed with Scott and Cristina holding my left hand and Heath and Julsey holding my right. I thought my heart was going to burst with joy, it felt so full. I remember Peg standing at Julsey's right-side and thought, "How much they look alike". They both radiated. I remember squeezing Heath's hand and thanking him for making it all happen. We were a family once again. During this most difficult, painful time, I lay soaking in the warm glow of a loving family. Peg and I had prayed for reconciliation for such a long time."
"The fifteen minutes passed too fast and they all had to leave; it was an awesome time around my bed. The sacrifices involved to make it happen will never be forgotten. "
"The family made a return visit that afternoon and was happy to see me released from ICU, two days ahead of schedule. Julsey and Heath entertained us with humorous stories about their Alaskan Eagle River neighbors, the people and the backyard moose pets. What tales they shared!"
Sunday afternoon, May 7: "The family came visiting again and Heath spent time explaining my heart attack and the procedure involving the insertion of my stents. I found that he had kept up with my terrible ordeal from the time Cristina called him, shortly after I arrived at the first ER in Mt. Pleasant. He talked with each of the doctors and monitored my situation along the way."
"Heath also kept Scott and Cristina informed when they called him on each step of their frightening journey. I'm so grateful to him. We shared other stories and I enjoyed my time with them. It was sad to see them leave, not knowing when I would see Jules and Heath again. Peggy and I feel that this was a healing time for each of us."
Monday, May 8: "Julsey, Heath, and Cristina returned to DFW to catch their flights back home. Scott and I walked the halls as I began rehab and started regaining my strength. He told me how very frightened he was after that first phone call with Peggy and that he had packed his black suit. Each day I walked a little farther and extended myself. It was reassuring to have my 'mountain man' to hold on to while navigating the halls; we found quiet, sunny places to sit and rest and watch the outdoor activity."
Tuesday, May 9: "I was hoping to get released today but my kidney (I only have one due to a childhood injury) was not acting the way the kidney doctor wanted, so I had to stay an extra day. The cardiologist needed a release from the kidney doctor before they would release me."
Wednesday, May 10: "Late this afternoon all the doctors signed off, I ate one last hospital meal, put on my shirt and shorts and waited for the wheel chair. Shortly, the lady arrived and off we went Next stop Walgreen's to fill my six prescriptions. It was so good to be outside, breathing the city air and experiencing life again."
11: "Scott left for Colorado a little after 5 am. Now, we were again by ourselves,
Peggy and her "Huckleberry Friend". We took our time packing and loading
the truck. I wanted to drive back to where it all began 6 days ago, Bob Sandlin
State Park. Peg drove while I looked at the trees, grass and life in general."
"It was good to get back to our little RV, amidst the quiet of the tall pines. I set up a small table and chairs for Peggy and me outside. We enjoyed the gift of the afternoon thankful she was not a widow, having to make funeral preparations."
Friday, May 12: "This morning the woods were alive with birds singing, trees rustling, and the clean smell of a new day; it was great to be alive. An added celebration was that it was Scott and Julsey's 37th birthday a time for more thanksgiving. It was a good day for a drive and I wanted to visit the staff at the Titus County Hospital in Mt. Pleasant."
"We entered the hospital through the ambulance bays and meandered into the main emergency dispatch room. Passing the lunch room, we noticed Richard eating a sandwich I'll always remember his face. It was hugs again as he introduced me to another medic who had driven the ambulance that day from Mt. Pleasant to Tyler."
"We asked if he'd call Jackie Martin. She was downstairs in a minute and it was another round of hugs. We will be eternally grateful to these people for their care and comfort. Truly, they are special God's angels on earth."
Saturday, May 13: "This was a day of packing and preparing to leave tomorrow. Scott Routh, our brother-in-law and his son, our nephew Matt, from Marshfield, MO arrived this afternoon to chauffeur us and our rig back to Missouri. They pulled into our campsite a little after 3 o'clock. It was so good to see these husky men."
May 14: "Scott and Matt spent the night a few miles down the road in Mt.
Vernon and showed up at 6:30, just as Peggy and I were rolling out of bed. We'd
had a good rain early this morning and everything was wet, making the loading
process a little messy but refreshing. By 8 am we were heading out the Park gate,
pointed toward home."
Peggy said it earlier when quoting Rev. King, "God will make a way out of no way" She turned it around and clung to these words "When there's no way, there's God", so we share our, "Story of Hope The Camper That Lived" never give up on God's Mercy and the power of prayer.
A friend said recently," that May 4, 2006 will be another birthday". I died 5 times but was brought back each time. I thank God; I have been given a little longer to enjoy each day living is a gift this I have learned.
Bob and Peggy have a series of Travelogues that can be accessed by clicking here.
You can contact Bob and Peggy at: RapidR@aol.com