I wanted, desperately needed my very last breath

— If only so I could breathe more after that ….

Urgent 11/17/21 Update: Had I not quit smoking after the first incident described below, it’s possible I would not have survived the very recent second incident:

Original Story

Well, I’m still breathing and I got to write this. Hopefully, I’ll finish writing!

In the brisk twilight of a recent new day, I nearly died. Shortly after the four am mark I thought I was gonna come up a day short. Frighteningly, I had run out of air. I couldn’t breathe and my desperate gasps for air had seemingly failed.

As this happened my body shuddered. I began shaking badly. I stumbled from my bed to my computer chair where I tried to reach for my nebulizer breath-relieving medicine. I couldn’t reach it through my shaking. While figuring out how to get it, a urine twinge suddenly sent me thrusting into the bathroom where just in the nick of time I found relief on the toilet seat.

There I sat huffing and puffing trying to get my breathing back to normal. Eventually, I noticed my two cats were sitting one on a chair; the other on a laundry hamper. They were observing me running out of breath. I noted their wise gaze at me was concerning. I was in trouble. They were lookin’ at me thinkin’: “Is he gonna be okay?”

Meanwhile, my eyes were often closed. I felt like I was spiraling into the depth of a well, spinning in a gasp for any air I could find for my lungs. I dug out deep-layered and hollowed coughs, I spewed flehm as an expectorant. I inhaled every way possible, with varied breathing techniques. I chortled out “oohs” and “aghhs” in a guttural subvoice, one that sounded alien or as if I were chanting in Navajoan code. At a minimum, I was singing a Hopi prayer, prayin’ my breath would return.

Analysis of the moment? I was a goner! My cats knew it. So did I!

My intricate woe of the day began when my very long thumbnail, which I use instead of a guitar pick, on my right strum hand became separated. Thus, the philosophical fate of the proverbial thumbnail.

I was on my monthly shopping trip. A seaside hermit — a Thoreau without the woods! — I only leave my house to food shop. That’s it. But on this day, while moving too quickly and without looking, as I tossed in the last grocery bag into the back seat of the car, my long thumbnail harshly brazed across the top of the car, pulling back the nail all bloodied. Now separated, it still clung to my thumb.

No fun.

It was like: Fingernail torture! Unbearable pain. Unmentionable pain. But I had no choice. I was stuck with the hurt, and the odd bleeding interruptions. Worse, I had to continue with my tasks. To make a long story short, it became quite the endeavor when next I had to pulley pull upward two-dozen grocery bags onto my top floor deck. Unpacking them, as a spaceologist extraordinaire, I fit the store-bought items into places where there was little to no space.

Mission somehow finally accomplished, even with the bleeding thumb.

I then settled in front of my computer for world and friend updates and to see how badly society had fallen apart during my brief absence. In the process, I rolled a very nice cigarette from my tobacco box. Finally comfortable, I smoked and enjoyed.

For me, a hermit, smoking was a luxury-like moment, similar and akin to my bottle of rum. I’d also sometimes get relief from my other smoking box. Aside from these acts, my world is all about solitude, staying away from humans during these wretched Covid-infested times.

Rarely, a neighbor makes contact. Mostly my days see only the good company of my two cats and our occasional interactions with friendly bumblebees, butterflies, squirrels and shore birds. We have a very nice view and we breathe the fresh tidal flats with the open ocean air. We do as well as we can without people.

I‘m not sure if my solitude is better or worse than the solitude of Thoreau. He had the woods. I have the ocean. He might have had vapored opium. I only some pot with bits of rum. And, of course, he had his words written over a true range of solitude … with waiting eyes and ears for what he wrote and spoke. I, meanwhile, have my words recklessly lost or dimmed into the thick of the Internet where rare is the sincere validity of eyes or ears.

Methinks Henry David Thoreau’s got the edge!

However, still, on this evening, I had more to do. I was about to do something Thoreau never would have done. I had to reposition a huge outdoor-sized PA speaker cabinet in my band room. I had to move it from the floor onto a waist-high table. At age 72 and in ill health, I should have ignored this undertaking. But, sore thumb and all, I did it anyway. It was the final piece of the puzzle for getting my rehearsal studio music worthy again. You see, my particular brand of solitude has no long-range plan. I want it over with as quickly as possible. I want my band back!

Anyway, at least on this I’ve got Thoreau beat. Clearly, he was no roadie. Plus, I’ve got a rock n’ roll band! He never did! Best he would have done would have been some solos in the woods, or perhaps some flute work at a rare family gathering when he managed to get pulled out of the forest. Regarding his original music? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, would there be … well, you know. I, on the other hand, have my songs recorded!

It actually is reported Thoreau’s singing was well-regarded. He also was spellbound by the Aeolian harp, and even built his own. This is a harp-like musical instrument played by the wind. Me? I’ve only got a few wind chimes on my deck.

Almost, I never got to hear ‘em again.

Twelve hours after I tore my thumbnail, I was suddenly dead square on a Death Train. Around 3 am I went down for sleep. I reached to tug a sheet at the foot of the bed and then rolled over. Once settled from the roll, I realized I had no air to breathe. None! I sat up to try and breathe. More nothing! I said to myself, “I’m in a new zone. this is serious!”

I struggled and struggled.

When my shortness of breath triggered, my lifelong hardcore smoking habit also cued. Decades-old consumption of Chesterfield Kings, Pall Malls, Old-Gold Straights, etc., left me defenseless. My ability to pull in emergency breath was severely weakened. It was at this moment I discovered how severe smoking had become a detriment to secondarily lifting air into the lungs, especially when desperately needed.

I barely survived. It was that bad. At one point I actually sensed I had taken my last breath of air, that I’d get no more. It was a horrible thought especially when staring at my cats who love me more than anything. Fortunately, the alternative adjustment of switching from a long to a short breathing techniques saved me. This, and my guttural prayers.

When I took the shorter breaths I became more relaxed. I convinced myself it was the bottom of the ninth, my team was down a run and we had a runner on third with two outs. I was at the plate with a full count. I had to become cool and calm enough to get the run in to tie the game.

Must have worked. I did something right, ‘cause I got to write this!

PS: I immediately quit smoking for all time! When you’ve seen and felt your last breath in front of you, smoking is no longer viable. I completely quit!!!

Founder of Boston’s Climate Change Band; former NH State Representative; Created Internet’s 1st Anti-War Debate; Supporter of Bernie Sanders & Standing Rock!