by Angelo J. Bell
Thankfully, this is my first post of 2015 and not my last post ever.
If you are new to my blog, allow myself to introduce…myself. My name is ANGELO BELL and I am a writer, director and independent producer, and most importantly… a father of four amazing children. This blog post is excerpted from my crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. In December, life nearly took me away from my daughters, Israel, Cimone and Imara, and my son, Zachary. Thankfully, I was given a second chance.There comes a time in everyone’s life when they think about how things would be different if they were given a second chance. I am in that place now. In December, 2014 I got my second chance.
Sometime in November I began to have these weird shortness of breath episodes. They kind of came out of nowhere even though I’d already lost 20 lbs and routinely walked about 3 miles four time a week, including time on real-life stairs. To me, there was no reasonable reason why I would become short of breath. But, being a typical man, I figured I could tough-it-out until whatever ailment I had, ran its course. I persevered even as my lungs would routinely burn like I’d run a marathon.
Then, in 48 hours everything changed…drastically.
Saturday, November 29, 2014 I went to dinner with my friend Isidro. We went for a walk afterwards and my chest started to burn even though we weren’t walking far or fast. The next day I went to work. It rained all day and I noticed I my breathlessness was becoming more pronounced as the day continued. It got t the point where I avoided stairs altogether. As day’s end I had to take the bus home (car problems) and notices that on my short half-mile walk home I literally had to stop twice to catch my breath.
I’ve never had to do that before.
At home I planted myself in my armchair in front of the TV. As long as I didn’t move I was fine. Unfortunately, as soon as I stood, walked to the bathroom or kitchen I would become breathless again. It was crazy! Bedtime came and I was exhausted. I used a large beanbag to prop myself up in my bed because lying flat made it difficult to breath. I remember my heart was racing but eventually I fell asleep.
LIFE AND DEATH
Sometime after 2am something woke me up. I heard my roommate coming home but that wasn’t what disturbed me. I sat up in bed and then it hit me — oxygen! I wasn’t getting oxygen. I was breathing fast but it felt as if oxygen was missing from that equation. I walked to the bathroom just ten feet away, looked at myself in the mirror and tried to calm my speeding heart. Deep breaths, Angelo. Slow and deep breaths. No. it wasn’t working. For a split second I wondered if I’d make it through the night and I started to panic.
At that moment I thought about calling someone — anyone. I considered calling 911. What if this is some sort of stupid anxiety attack? I don’t want to be embarrassed by a false alarm? Even worse, I wasn’t sure if I could gather my breath long enough to speak to the 911 Operator. I thought about calling my roommate but I’d have to yell and that shit wasn’t going to happen, no way. How long could this last? How long can I last? An hour? Minutes. Was I about to take my last breath at any moment?
But I told myself to calm down and miraculously, I did. I couldn’t take deep breaths so I took shallow and rapid breaths. I got just enough air to change out of my pajamas and into jeans without losing it. I figured if I was going to the ER I was NOT going while wearing my Santa Claus pajamas.
I called 911.
The 911 Operator told me to open my front door, sit down and wait. I waited in my armchair, not moving a muscle. I heard the fire truck enter the parking lot accompanied by an ambulance. Seconds later eight people poured into my living room: four firemen, four trainees, and two people from CARE Ambulance. I couldn’t help but go back to the director in me: “This would make a really cool picture or scene!” I thought to myself.
They took my blood pressure, pulse and blood oxygen level (oxygen saturation). They took my blood pressure three times, twice with the machine and once manually to confirm because it was super high: 206/107. My heart rate was in the 140s. I seem to remember my blood oxygen saturation numbers being at 72 when they should be 96-100. They hooked me to an oxygen tank, and I could breath again. I was hoping the paramedics would simply stabilize me and let me go back to sleep. The fireman in charge said, “No, you’re going to the ER.”
A face mask of oxygen, blood tests, two IVs and an X-Ray later I was told my troponin levels indicated my heart was under duress and I might have had a mild heart attack. Obviously that was not a good thing to hear. Then another diagnosis came in: pneumonia and hypertension. But I wasn’t going home. They admitted me, connected me to a EKG machine and brought me to my room. My doctor opted for an ultrasound my legs instead of a more expensive CT scan. I stayed in the hospital for three days, was released with antibiotics for pneumonia and meds for the high blood pressure.
I came home on a Wednesday. By Thursday I was starting to feel that same shortness of breath again. I texted my sister in law, a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), for advice. I told her I wasn’t getting better. Technically, she’s not legally my sister-in-law anymore since my divorce from her sister, but we’re still close. Tammy and her three sisters still call me their brother. And I do likewise.
Friday I stayed glued to my chair. My kids came over and I only got up to make dinner and help with homework. But by 6pm I’d had two scary “episodes” of wheezing just from walking to the bathroom. My oblique muscles and abs had minds of their own. They would squeeze and tighten in spasms in an effort to squeeze more oxygen into my body. I called Tammy. She picked me up and took me to the ER again where I had another oxygen treatment and they sent me on my way.
Two days later, Sunday night, I was even worse. Is pneumonia supposed to be this tough? Any movement whatsoever resulted in a 2 minute gasping attack and now my throat was closing! During one episode I was so sure I was going to die I took the automatic lock off my cell phone. I figured that when my former in-laws eventually found my body they would need to get in contact with my family back in NY. All the information was in my phone.
I made it through the night but come Monday morning, December 8, I was terrified. I sat on my bed afraid to even go to the bathroom. I’d walk to the toilet and as I would pee I’d be gasping and wheezing. I called Tammy again. I told her something is really, really wrong. “Help,” I begged. She told me hold and and she’d make arrangements to get me to the hospital where she worked.
Tammy’s husband came to pick me up. It took me 10 minutes to walk down the flight of stairs from my apartment. I didn not want to trigger another attack. I didn’t know if I could survive another one. We skipped regular ER and Tammy met me in the Ambulance ER area with a wheelchair and brought me inside.
As I was attempting to stand up in the wheelchair and sit on the gurney in ER I had a terrible wheezing attack and the triage nurses saw it. My heart rate was in the 150s. Blood oxygen saturation was in the mid 80s and I was severely dehydrated. I got two IVs and fluid immediately. They put me on oxygen. The doctor came in and said something to this effect. “The pneumonia and high blood pressure, I get it, but we need to figure out why you can’t breathe, and we will.”
From what I understand the blood tests showed decreased kidney function too, which made the CAT scan technician reluctant to allow me into radiology/imaging. It was a risk to give me that dye they shoot into your veins. But my ER doc approved it and off I went.
HOW DID “THAT” GET THERE?
About 20 minutes after the CAT scan my sister-in-law and the RN treating me came into my little curtain area in ER. The RN whispered something in my sister’s ear. Now, let me just say, Tammy is usually stoic. Almost deadpan. She handles crises like the best of ‘em. But after the RN whispered in her ear… she grabbed a tissues and started to CRY. Seeing her cry made me cry (on the inside). She said, “You almost died. But now we know what’s wrong and we know what to do.”
As if on cue, the doctor returned, smiling. There was no more mystery behind my rapidly deteriorating ability to breath. He told me they found a massive saddle Pulmonary Embolism. It was choking off blood to my lungs — both sides. I had no lower lung function at all, which was why deep breaths did nothing for me. I was sucking air into a part of my lungs that could do nothing with it. Everyone looked at me with astonishment. The clot was HUGE, I was told. There is this thing called sudden-death associated with PE’s. Basically it’s like, “Now you’re feeling good — now you’re dead! I, too, probably would have died in a few days. I certainly would not have made it to Christmas.
So, basically, my ex sister-in-law, who I am blessed to still get along with, saved my life.
I was put on a Heparin drip and given “clot buster.” I got a shot in my arm and then another one in my belly. I was a good candidate for the clot buster because I was younger and stronger than most patients who get it.
I spent the next three days in ICU and then seven days in the Heart Center. I had an ultrasound on my legs which turned showed DVT (deep vein thrombosis) behind my left knee. This clot was probably the bastard origin of the clot that broke off and lodged in my lungs. Turns out the whole blood clot in the lungs thing had some affect on my heart, which was slightly enlarged from working overtime due to the PE. Over the next ten days I had daily blood tests, IVs stuck in either arm, and oxygen connected to my nose. I saw a cardiologist, a doctor of internal medicine, a hematologist and a pulmonologist. It was surreal to have these doctors visit me and hear each of them make the same comment, “Mr. Bell, it’s amazing that you are here.”
“That clot was massive,” they would say.
I was released from the hospital on December 20th. Tammy took me home. I told her I was scared. I downplayed it. I was terrified. I was terrified that I’d have another attack walking up the stairs to my apartment. I was scared to be alone since I’d been alone so many of the times I had an “episode.” I was scared to have my daughter come over because I didn’t want her to have the burden of seeing me go through this bullshit again. She assured me it was normal, and that I should just take it very slow.
At home, Tammy waited in her car by the staircase as I climbed to my apartment. I was able to reach my apartment without incident. My 13-year-old, Cimone, came to stay with me and take care of me. Best of all — I made it home before Christmas!
I feel resurrected. A friend of mine said there’s nothing like a near-death experience to get your mind right and help you focus on the important things in life. But it’s hard to do that under the crushing weight of bills.
Now the New Year is here and I’m going after a fresh start. I need to be healthy physically and financially. Family friends and career — that’s what it’s all about.
I didn’t work for the entire month of December and first two weeks of January. Filing for Disability Insurance in California leaves you at the mercy of doctors and state bureaucracy. I’m still waiting for retropay.
So, I’ve humbly decided to ask for help. I’ve started an Indiegogo campaign to accept kind donations from friends to help me get back on track. Thankfully my six-figure hospital bill is mostly covered by insurance as are most of my meds and weekly IR level blood tests and doctor visits for the next two months. But the month of not working left a huge deficit in my budget and bank account.
IF YOU DONATE, HOW WILL THE MONEY BE USED?
Simply. All the money raised will go to help me catch up on rent, pay uncovered medical bills, buy meds and buy some cheap clothes (I lost so much weight 90% of stuff in my closet is too big for me). Maybe if there are enough donation I get resolve my car situation and make money on the side with my ride again
I have been given a second chance. I don’t look at life the same way now. In order to take advantage of the opportunities before me I need to get settled financially and physically once again. Once I do that I’ll be able to enjoy my children, my friends AND excel at my chosen profession — PRODUCING GREAT CONTENT FOR FILM AND TELEVISION. My project BROKEN HEARTS CLUB has made the rounds on TV in the US, Canada, Italy, Belgium and the UAE. Now it’s streaming on Amazon Instant Video. My indie thriller, RESURRECTION OF SERIOUS ROGERS has been downloaded over 40,000 times from all over the world. Last year a script analyst compared my screenplay, A PERFECT WEAPON to the Coen Brother’s film, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. In the past 24 months I’ve met with executives at NBCUniversal 24 times to pitch TV show ideas to NBC, USA, BRAVO, OXYGEN, E!, and ESQUIRE.
This year I’m shooting a TV pilot dammit! I just want to look back at 2014 and shake my head and whisper, “You didn’t beat me!!”
I HAVE SOMETHING FOR YOU
Typically when you donate you get the donee’s eternal gratitude. But I have something else in mind. Something bigger that last much much longer! So please, click on the link to visit my Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign page and see whats in store for you. Thank you for your friendship and support. Feel free to share the links.