Here’s Chapter 1 in a book I’m putting together, based on my experience in 2007 temporarily dying from encephalitis; and what living has been like since then. The book has the working title, Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8.
by Jon LeSage
While never becoming a doctor, I had to find out all I could about a disease that just about killed me. Neurologists understood it, but I don’t remember them telling me about it. It was my family explaining it to me in a basic, child-like way that made it stick later on.
They aren’t doctors either, but they had to learn much about my condition and make sure I was treated correctly.
There were doctors that treated me who at first believed I had a stroke, not encephalitis. Doctors had to learn more about my condition, too.
Have you ever heard of encephalitis? A condition where, most of the time, a virus triggers intense inflammation – swelling – in the brain. I’d never heard of it, and for a long time, could barely remember the word nor answer visitors’ questions about what happened to me.
Doctors who understood that I had encephalitis and not a stroke have told me that the front left lobe of my brain was where my inflammation was happening, along with a small central strip on the right side. This is where memory is housed in the brain.
They believed that having herpes simplex as a seven-year-old kid (causing chicken pox) planted the virus in my body, and it never went away. Having shingles in my 30s was further evidence of herpes simplex continuing to float through my blood. Years later, I was told my stress level was high enough to push me over the edge into another virus bout, and this time it got stuck in my brain.
Encephalitis kills up to half the people who get struck by it. For the other half, many are severely damaged and finish the rest of their lives in child-like mental states; the capacity of a four year old, nothing more.
Few people have ever heard of it. Many doctors and nurses, including most of those who treated me, knew little about it, nor had they treated people struck by it. They thought I had a stroke, not encephalitis.
I lost my entire memory for nearly a month, starting Aug. 12, 2007. I collapsed that day, twice, and my heart stopped beating. I was resuscitated and my life was saved – once by my wife and once by a nurse.
As I came to in the hospital in September, my memory and mental presence faded in and out. For a few people who visited me in the hospital, I remember greeting them and engaging in warm conversation… then my memory fades and I don’t remember what we talked about.
When I dig deep and reflect on my very first memory after collapsing and being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance on Aug. 12, something always comes back to my memory movie screen.
* * * * * * * *
I see brief foggy glimpses while opening my eyes inside a hospital bedroom. Everything was white or light blue, and people’s faces were blurred except for constantly blinking eyes.
There I was: On my back… could not get up. Covered in sheets and blankets, wearing a gown, soft lights above my head glowing. Separated by a divider from the world.
In and out I’d go. I’d wake up again right after someone tugged my wrist, stretching out my arm. Or shook my shoulder and murmured instructions until I opened my eyes.
Who was it? What did they say? I can’t remember.
Voices murmured, hands touched me, needles poked me. Serum flowed into puncture points and through my veins, warm and then evaporating into nothing.
I was invaded by aliens and had no idea what was happening. Thank God I had someone else in the room looking after me. I might not have made it without him.
There was an old man sitting next to me on the right side of the bed, and he was always touching my shoulder and gently, quietly talking into my ear.
I remember hardly anything that he said – more that he was just there. If memory serves, he was trying to help me – trying to explain what was happening to me. Why I was in the hospital bed and filled with chemicals.
I have this vague memory of him waiting for the medical staff to leave the room and then commenting on what they were doing. I don’t know what it was all about, but went something like this:
“Jon, did you hear the nurse’s questions?”
“Jon, they took your blood test again to see how you’re doing.”
It was almost like he didn’t really say those words, but I somehow got his message. He was talking to me, but I don’t think his lips even moved.
I couldn’t say anything back to him beyond murmuring. And I couldn’t look at him squarely and see his face.
But I knew who he was. I knew him well.
My father: Armand C. LeSage. Armand sat right next to his little boy, who was 44 years old and couldn’t get out of bed. Dad was always concerned about my safety.
I would know him anywhere – that voice and its distinct tone, the words he used, his life experience as a fireman bailing people out, and as a husband and father stepping in to manage catastrophe.
I don’t remember feeling anything. I had no idea where I was, or why I was there. I couldn’t think clearly about anything.
I didn’t have enough consciousness to question or realize anything. No thoughts crossed my mind, until later on.
Looking back, I’ve thought: What was this all about? Was I dreaming or awake? Why did I only recognize my father?
Where was my wife Amy? Was she near me, too? I didn’t hear her voice, nor see her bright yellow eyes.
It was just the medical monsters there to probe and poke me. And my father watching over me, barely in the room. He was there to take care of his son.
His words and presence weren’t enough to get me out of there. It was like a bad dream, a low grade nightmare. It was no horror film – nobody jumped up from under the bed and tore me apart, or screamed into my face. I wanted out of there, and to be left alone.
This memory happened several times; it felt like more than one day or just one memory.
It all came to one final moment. It all faded out one day. As I drifted away from the room and into a dark sleep, my mind became very clear for just one moment.
My mind opened up quite briefly, and I got it for the first time. I looked at my father for the last time.
I said to myself, “My father died 11 years ago!”
And then my eyes and mind closed. I drifted out of the room.
To read more of the book and other blog articles, sign up for the free e-newsletter in the right column. And stay tuned for another chapter from the book coming up, posted in my blog: “2.5 near-death experiences in vehicles I’d been driving (hopefully that’s over)” You can also read about another book I’ve edited and contributed to on NDEs – Truly Alive – and Tales of UberMan, about driving for Uber and Lyft.