Michael Gravel Edmonton Writer



Almost Died. Didn't.

This story was difficult to write. It explains my absence as of late and sheds light on what has happened to me over the past month or so. It’s been difficult and harrowing for my family and for me.

Saturday December 15, 2007. I had been feeling low for the previous week or so. Having trouble with stairs, loss of appetite, feeling achy. I spent most of the day on the couch. I thought it was a simple flu bug and that I just needed rest. At 1:00pm, my heart went into palpitations. 160+ beats per minute. This was nothing new to me. I have a congenital heart defect that occasionally causes that to happen. I wasn’t worried at first, but it continued for several hours. Finally, at the insistence of my wife Kerry, we went to Emergency at the U of A hospital. I was pushed in immediately and had several nurses and people buzzing around me. I was feeling worse by the minute. I was having a hard time breathing. My heart wasn’t slowing down. I started to get scared. The nurses propped me up for a chest x-ray and I nearly passed out. My heart then slowed to around 100 beats per minute. That was better, but still not great. I was moved from “B Pod” to “A Pod”. I knew things were more serious than I thought. No mere flu bug gets a guy into the A Pod in emerg.

I was soon surrounded by cardiologists and interns, all of them straining to get a look at my echocardiogram. My heart was surrounded by fluid and it was causing great stress. In less than one hour, I was admitted to the hospital and transported from emergency to the Cardiac Care Unit. I was stabilized and I ended up spending Saturday and Sunday night in CCU. The plan was this: The docs were going to “tap” my heart. That is, insert a tube into me and drain the accumulated fluid from around the heart. Not quite a surgery, but it was something that I had to be heavily sedated for. Sounded good, I thought. On Monday everything seemed fine. I was receiving visitors (Kerry was with me this whole time) and all seemed OK. On Monday night I got up to use the washroom. Boom. My heart went into overdrive and I was having a lot of trouble breathing. I couldn’t get enough oxygen into my lungs. The decision was made to tap my heart there and then. A scruffy-bearded anesthetist who looked more like a mechanic put me under. I remember going under, flailing for breath. I was unconscious for the next two days, utterly unaware of the coming events.

The docs tapped my heart. At some point in the procedure, I experienced cardiogenic shock (a situation in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to support the body) and respiratory failure. Things were getting more serious by the minute. During the procedure, the docs discovered a large pulmonary embolism (a blood clot which, if it had moved into my lung, would have been fatal). The situation quickly went from serious to life-threatening. Kerry was in the waiting room and was told to call my family. Everyone came down. That evening I was placed on a powerful “clot-buster” medication in an attempt to stop the clot. It seemed to stabilize me through the night. That night was hell on the family. My fate was uncertain and things were moving fast. In the morning, Kerry was told that the clot buster didn’t work. There was only one choice: Emergency surgery. Kerry signed the consent form and I was on my way to the O.R.

On Tuesday, December 18, Dr. Dennis Modry and his team performed the surgery. They removed the embolism as well as the sac around my heart (which, like the appendix, is a superfluous part of the body). They also made a small repair to a previously undiscovered hole in my heart. Going into all this I thought I merely had the flu. I had no idea that surgery would be in the picture. A few days later I met Modry in the ICU. He said, “You don’t know me but I know your heart very well.” What do you say to the guy who literally saved your life? “Thanks for your good work,” was all I could muster. I made a promise to myself to pay the favour forward.

I awoke in Cardiac ICU on Wednesday the 19th. I was intubated – unable to eat, drink, talk, get out of bed, or breathe on my own. I was in rough shape, let me tell you. I was very frightened and had no idea what had gone on. Kerry and the nurses filled me in and I had a hard time believing it. I was intubated for four days – much longer than most heart patients. Those four days were absolute hell. I had to communicate via whiteboard. At one point I wrote, “Almost died. Didn’t.” That became my slogan through this ordeal. Kerry thought that should be the title of my book. Possibly. I’ll spare you the rest of the gory details from the ICU. I’m not sure I want to remember them.

When my lungs finally gained enough strength to work on their own, the tube was yanked out. That first breath of air was pure joy and magic. I had no idea that breathing could feel so good. The air was so cold and beautiful. At that moment I vowed to never take breathing for granted. Or talking. Or drinking. Or eating. It was good to be alive, and it felt like I was moving forward and starting to get stronger.

I spent Christmas Day on my back in the ICU. My family came to visit and brought me some small gifts. I was fairly tired that day and wasn’t “all there”, unfortunately. It was the strangest Xmas I’d ever had. I must admit to feeling a little sad going to sleep on Xmas eve, the sound of monitor alarms and nurse talk dancing through my head. As the days went on, the tubes and needles that were stuck in me fell away slowly but surely. I was crawling out of some perverted state and becoming human again. With Kerry and my family at my side, and with the help of some incredibly gifted and compassionate nurses, I made it through the hell that was ICU. Those nurses deserve medals. All of them. Seriously.

The last four days of my hospital stay were spent on a soft-shoe ward just off the ICU. Semi-private room, my own washroom, and a window. It felt like heaven. Kerry continued to visit me daily, bringing clothes, meals, magazines, and much love. I was getting stronger by the day. I could get out of bed without assistance. I was walking on my own, unsupported. My appetite was slowly creeping back. I craved a Wendy’s Baconator burger on an hourly basis (which was sadly denied each and every time). I wanted connection to the outside world. I wanted to read some poetry. I wanted to see my friends. I wanted email and Google Reader. I wanted to go outside and feel the sting of E-Town wind on my cheek. I wanted to go home.

I was discharged from the hospital – fittingly – on December 31, 2007. I spent 16 days in the hospital. What a way to end a year. I’m now at home recovering and resting. I’m officially a member of the “zipper club”, and I carry my red heart-shaped pillow with me where ever I go. I have one of those geriatric pill cases with four slots for each color-coded day (morn, noon, evening, bed). I have a strange desire to go to the mall and wax poetic about those long-gone halcyon days with the other seniors. I feel stronger every day but I get tired easily. The other day I went for a walk to the end of the block and back. That was a major victory. I went out to see my doctor and the world seemed to be moving too fast and going nowhere. I wondered what it was all for. I dream about the Baconator. Will I ever have one?

Nobody goes through something like this unchanged. I know this ordeal has altered my ideas about what is truly important in life. I’ve learned things that will take some time to figure out. I think we merely rent these things called bodies. We don’t get to keep them. Everything is on loan. I was lucky enough to get a generous extension. To sum it up, my lovely wife put it better than I ever could: “There’s precious little in this life that truly matters, but what matters, matters alot.” True that, my friends. True that. Hold tight to your families. They’re all we really have.

25 Comments (Closed)


Adam Snider

Holy shit, dude, that’s scary. Glad to hear that you made it through alright. Take ‘er easy, I guess, and I hope that your recovery is a speedy one.


Mike Gravel


Thanks for your words. Every day is a bit better. Lots of time to write, which is very nice. Talk soon.


Todd Babiak

Mike, I’ve been thinking about you a lot since I heard. I’m so pleased you’re recovering. The post was beautifully written.



Holy fuckin’ wowza! Man, what a time. Helluva thing you went through. Good that you’re still here. Take it easy, dude. Hope your recovery is speedy and good.



What a story Mike, you have been in our thoughts constantly.

Take care of YOUand the family. xoxo


Carol Lehman

Mike – Sarah just forwarded your link to me – my heart goes out to you as the tears are forming – a BIG hug to you and Kerry – ‘scary’ doesn’t seem a strong enough word – and yes – we all need to think about what REALLY MATTERS! I hope that I will get a chance to see you now and again, even tho S&S are leaving us! Take care xxoo


Scott Loewen

Mike glad your back-missed your Friday poems. Were coming down there in a few weeks….maybe I’ll sneak you a baconater ( and a 6 of hiney’s too wash it down)? haha… recover brother.



Mike I am so glad that you’re healing and have survived this crazy ordeal. Take it easy my friend , you’re in my thoughts.


Scott Lehman

My friend, I am so glad you made it through to be able to tell your story. Keep pushing, keep fighting the fight. When you are ready for the Baconator, let me know, I would love to join you. I tell you its the only time I have cried while eating a burger!

Serious love to you and Kerr.
Wishing much rest,



I am glad you’re doing better and I know how you feel about renting your body. After the health issues I’ve had for years it does really make you realize what is truly important. May 2008 be a much better year for you.
Happy New Year to you and Kerry and Alex.


Mike Gravel

Hey all,

Thanks for the words of support. They mean a lot to me. Truly. One day, the Baconator will be mine. Maybe not soon, but one day. Thanks again. You’re all in my thoughts, too.


Michelle Boudreau

Mr. Michael~
You are a strong man, fueled with amazing spirit. You deserve every breath you take. Those chances in your life…your Karma says it all.
Truly an inspiration…
Much love to You, Kerry and your Family.



… I just heard about this from Rosemary. Yikes. And yet, here you are.

With much love, for everyone.


Nicole Pakan

Hey Mike,

I am so happy to hear that you are on the road to recovery and that you are feeling positive about your healing progress. Our hearts will go with you the entire way. Reading your story has inspired my own thoughts about the things that I take for granted in my life…thank you for sharing so honestly.

Warm thoughts and well wishes,




Wow! That is huge and scary as hell. I’m glad that you got through the ordeal, though. I hope you’re feeling better, Damn, that is scary. It really puts things into perspective.



Good to hear you’re well enough to write. Beauty story. Take care, buddy.



oh wow mike. i didn’t hear until today. the one upstairs knows how much the world needs you. here’s to you and to living and breathing and all that you will live to write. because the one upstairs knows no one can live it and write it like you.


Karen Lehman

Hi Mike
Scott & Sarah let me know what happened. How awful to hear, but a comfort to know that you fought through and the DIDN’T part was written.
Your story broke my heart to hear… hard to think of such a horrible thing happening to such a good guy.
Keep fighting.
I’ll add you to my prayers.


Becky Halliday

I just stumbled on this. I have been getting updates from Kerry and Cathy (and anybody else who would know) but it is so good to read words from you. I said it to Kerry : you guys are two of my favourite people from this past year. I found out you were sick before anybody knew what the outcome would be and I wasn’t prepared for how much it hurt. Take whatever time you need but the next time you are on stage again let us know. I will be there. Enjoy the cold. And remember my friend: SHITKNIFE!


Mike Gravel

Again, thanks all.

Becky, SHITKNIFE indeed! One of my favorite moments of last year was the conference and especially Davis’s story about the shit knife. Some crazy shit.




So good to hear you’re getting better. You put a scare into all of us at EWEL, too. We love you lots, and we hope to see you back here…when you’re damned good and ready, that is!!!




Mike,WOW!!…I had to take a few minutes to regain my composure before
responding.My heart goes out to you and Kerry,I am so glad to the powers
that be that you made it through this incredible ordeal.Best of everything to
you,looking forward to your return.What a wake up call for all of us as we
think about the ones that we hold dear.

Your friend


Trisia Eddy

I have been wondering how you were doing since I heard about your…ordeal? adventure? trek from this side to the other? So glad to hear you are up and around and contemplating life anew…it sounds like you received some kind of amazing Christmas gift from somewhere out there. My love and healing wishes to you and Kerry and the rest of your family, you are so lucky to have one another.




wow, when i heard
the storms you’ve been having
bless your heart
hope to see you in the spring


Juliet Doyle

Hadn’t visited your site in ages, so all this has come as a big shock adn surprise. What an ordeal you’ve been through. No wonder the Friday Poems disappeared for a while! (And there was I languishing on my sofa over Christmas with flu going ‘oh, I’m so ill’!!) My very best wishes for your continued recovery. Juliet

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