Flatlined for 30 Minutes

Richard Rutherford
Guest Contributor

I wasn’t conscious when they sent for the body bag on February 7, 2019. I have just a vague sense of getting slammed to the diamond plate deck of the medicvac helicopter. Minutes before, I had simply turned to my visitor and said, “Unfortunately, you have to call 911 right now.”

Thirty seconds later I had removed my chainsaw safety gear and collapsed in my front porch.

I was flatlined for 30 minutes.

When they brought me out of the induced coma, I had drainage tubes and IV’s everywhere. My son was staring at me and held my hand. I whispered in a hoarse voice, “Conrad, I’m so glad you’re here.” My 18-year-old son had been put in charge of my entire world as he watched me die hours before. He coordinated with other men, and they came. My wife was still 2500 miles away getting on a plane. 

The surgeon stood in the doorway with his arms crossed, shaking his head and told me I was one lucky son-of-a-bitch and refused to take credit for my recovery. I had had an aortic dissection, a freak event where your heart rips in half. About eight percent survive; most that do are so severely affected by a massive stroke, they live lives on ventilators or in wheel chairs.        

My scar travels the length of my sternum with two puncture holes where drainage tubes lived for a week or so. I have some numbness in my foot and leg, I am short of breath, but I am alive.

It has healed pretty well, and I touch it every day, to make sure it is real.

I have discussed my flirtation with the abyss at length with just a couple people but never publicly. I will only say here that I have an awareness of knowledge and wisdom that I keep locked away except in those moments when I weep for joy at the beauty that surrounds me in the place where I live. I have developed a vicious appreciation for my family, the men in my life, a son that handled his shit impeccably and two female helicopter pilot medics who came to get a selfie with me because they were amazed I survived.

I also have a general lack of empathy for those that quit without good excuse. I’ve had to relearn some reading skills as well as complete dozens of hours of physical and cardio rehab. I’ve been dead and I still drive a 200-mph sports car, mow my own lawn, and cut trails on our own little mountain. I’ve given away more to charity, acted in movies, acted in plays, built a theater for the local children’s acting school, completed eight college courses in the last 18 months.

I am fighting to be alive more than ever.

I am doing things I’ve never done before. I live by the Code. I eat an ice cream cone at the general store on Main Street in our little village whenever I can, because I can.

My license plate on my car reads GIVE. I walk the talk.

I want my scar to mean something, to be a lesson, a marker. A line in the sand. A challenge. An example of Faith, Grace and Gratitude. Thanks to the men who raised me from a boy at the age of 35. I want them to know that their lessons have not been wasted on this man. I have used them all to the benefit of my marriage, my children and my community.   

I often think my scar is not just for me; it is the reminder that all of those people around me have their own experience of my temporary fatality. They have their own story, their own lessons, their own reminder of life’s fragility. I am just the dude in the ICU.

Their stories may in fact be clearer because they are written in the light of the conscious; my memories are from another place in the darkness.

2 thoughts on “Flatlined for 30 Minutes”

  1. We are blessed to wake up alive every day…and then to carry on the mission…indeed, my brother, you are shining the light and leading the way on this…God bless!

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