On Mug Up Mermaid’s Facebook page, I asked if there were any guest bloggers who would write a blog based on the quote: “Behind every scar is a story of untold survival”. I’ve been learning that there is power, a “super healing power” of love that happens when we share the stories behind (and beyond) our scars. So today, I present my first guest Mug Upper, my cousin Ben. Ben is a Staff Sergent with the 15th Military Intelligence Battalion in Fort Hood, Texas. With this blog, I feel his super powers of love… love for family and country and for others through his message. When I asked him what we would drink for a Mug Up if we could be together, he replied, “Right now a water. But otherwise it’d be a sweet tea or a beer.” To understand why he chose water, here’s a hint… His suggested title for this blog was “AFib Sucks”.
I’m Ben. I’m 32 years old, I’ve been in the Army since I was in high school (13 years ago), I’ve deployed numerous times, I’ve been around the world, I’m a Night Stalker, and I’ve seen the worst combat has to offer on a daily basis over two deployments working Medevac. I’ve been a gym junkie, I’ve run circles around my peers, and have always sought out the next challenge to take it head on. Unfortunately in February 2018 all the momentum that I’ve had made a sharp left turn.
I woke up early to get ready for our first formation of the day and do my daily workout. At the time I was preparing for a physical fitness test and was trying to get my two-mile run time down. But I felt weird, I felt like I had a chest cold coming on. After I got back home for breakfast and get ready for the duty day, I took a hot shower and it made me feel worse. I debated going to see the doctor but decided against it. In the Army you can’t just call in sick to work. You have to physically go see the doc and convince him why you should stay home for the day. Unless there’s a plethora of bodily fluids, the doc just sends you back to work. So I work until noon and as I get up from my desk, I felt light headed, dizzy, like I stood up way too fast. That’s it, I had enough. I called the unit medic and asked him just if he could take my vital signs, maybe then I can backdoor getting some good cold & flu medicine without seeing the doctor or buying it over the counter. He convinced me to go with him to the ER just to get me checked out.
I get to the ER and I tell the admit nurse my symptoms, and she got me back to get an EKG done since she couldn’t get my vitals at the desk. I had four nurses working with me. One trying to take my shirt off, one trying to put it back on, one putting the stickers on my chest, and the fourth trying to get my name, date of birth, and admin data. One yelled out “Oh my God, he’s in A-fib!” and all four run out of the room. Well if there’s anything that was going to finish the job and give me a heart attack it would have been that. I texted the medic and he reassured me that I would be OK, and plenty of people have it. I get back into a room, and my wife shows up with her mother, they were running errands together. After I had some IV fluids, the doc said that I would be getting admitted for overnight observation so they can do an electric cardioversion the next day at another facility.
I’m in my duty uniform and I ask my wife to go back to my office and get my workout clothes (that I would have worn for my lunchtime workout) because I wanted to be comfortable and not wearing my OCP’s. As she’s out grabbing my clothes, the doc tells me that I’ll be observed overnight in ICU so they can keep a close eye on me and that I would be taken care of until my cardioversion the next day. Cool, it made sense to me, and I texted my wife “They’re sending me to ICU”… with no back story. So now she’s FREAKING out, hurrying up to get back to me, and yelling at me for not telling her that I was OK. AND YET FOR SOME REASON AT THE TIME I HAD NO IDEA WHY SHE WAS UPSET WITH ME…
I get moved to ICU, my wife confiscated my phone (so I couldn’t keep up with my Clan) and after channel flipping for a few hours I finally decide to get some rest. My wife was resting on the couch beside my bed. At 4:30 in the morning the nurse that was watching me came in to do a lab draw from my IV line. She woke me up just to let me know. I sit up and I start getting hot, I started sweating like I was sitting on the sun, I kick the blankets off, and I feel my bowels start to open up. I tried pulling out my IV because I felt a panic that I needed to poop. I struggle with the nurse as she calls for help, pulls my emergency pull-cord, and the come rushing in with a crash cart. My wife woke up with me, and only went in to use the restroom and when she came out she saw all the commotion. I turned pale gray, my eyes rolled into the back of my head and my heart rate sank and the monitor started beeping “CODE BLUE”. After what seemed like forever, only lasted up to 45 seconds as the nurse pushed a heart rate increaser to get me beating again, and then a controller/reducer to get it back where it belongs.
I wake up to see two doctors staring at my monitor. They kept talking to each other “vagal… vagal… vagal…” “Why are you guys talking about bagels? Now I’m hungry” I asked them. “No, Mr. Wing. Vagal. You passed out and we brought you back.” So my nickname for the rest of the time was Bagel. Following that I was transported for a successful cardioversion (which by the way was a total let down. I was expecting Noah Wylie grabbing the paddles yelling “CLEAR!!!” Nope. They put a sticker on my chest, a sticker on my back, plugged it into a battery pack and pushed a button. TOTALLY ANTI-CLIMATIC!) And kept one more night for observation just in case I flat-lined again. I went home the next day without incident.
Then it happened again ten months later. A lot less drama, and only took eight hours between reporting to the ER to being cardioverted. But this is the issue that has led me down this path. The military glorifies energy drinks. Don’t believe me? The main picture on the Army’s portal website is a kid in his vest and helmet with an energy drink sitting right in front of him. We use energy drinks as a pre workout, to get through our 24-hour duties, we hand them out as we go through our pre-deployment processing, and they’re in the chow halls. I had a habit in Afghanistan to cram as many as I could in my cargo pockets, ankle pockets, in an extra to-go plate, and in my hands to bring back to my office. I’d stack them all in a pyramid on my desk and drink them all within a 12-hour shift. I was hooked on them. It was essentially substance abuse. And this was the price I paid. I haven’t touched one since Valentines 2018, but even then I think the damage has been done. Am I saying I want all energy drinks banned? Not at all. I did this to myself because I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t have enough self-control to stop drinking two 20oz back to back within ten minutes of each other. I’m not picking one up ever again.
So, this is my call to action to you, reading this. Stop drinking these things so much. Stop relying on them to get you through your day. We’ve gotten through life without them as a crutch for generations. But it is possible to go to a point that there’s no turning back from. I’m proof of it. The only reason I’m still here today was because I was in the ICU when my heart rate tanked. If I were at home in bed, then I would have died laying right next to my wife and down the hall from my kids. I already have one friend who died in bed next to his wife because of energy drinks. I’m lucky I wasn’t next. Hopefully you can read this and make a conscious decision that it’s time to cut back, if you’re going to do it, then do it in moderation. My career as a Soldier is up in the air because of it. What was my initial plan to retire as the Sergeant Major of the Army now turned to hoping I can keep up with these young bucks enough to make it to 20 years.
15th MI BN (AE)
~ Mug Up Mermaid