In April 2016, I woke up confused in a hospital, I told my mom I didn't want to die.
She told me I already had; I had a widow-maker heart attack days before in my apartment.
On the ambulance ride from my apartment to the hospital, I flat-lined over and over again.
On April 2, 2016, I woke in a confused panic. A doctor and two nurses asked me what my name was and if I could hear them. I was so discombobulated they had to restrain my wrists and ankles. I kept shouting: "Where am I?! What's happening?!"
Eventually, my mom was brought into the room. Seeing her calmed me down enough to realize I was in the hospital. I grabbed her arm, "Mom, I don't want to die!"
Tearful, she replied, "You're not going to die. You already did."
I learned I had died for the first time in my apartment on March 28th. I was getting ready to take my lab, Atticus Finch, for a walk when I felt it. It was like the sun burning inside the veins of my left arm. Sweating profusely, I felt like I had just gone for a swim with all my clothes on. It was like no feeling I had ever experienced before.
I thought, "Am I having a heart attack?"
I called 911 before I collapsed
I experienced a few panic attacks after moving to LA from the East Coast after college, but this was different. I dialed 911 for the first time ever. The operator asked what my emergency was. I told her I didn't know if I was having a heart attack or a severe panic attack. After she told me an ambulance was on its way, Atticus watched me pace back and forth with a look of worry and confusion.
After a few minutes, there was a loud knock at the door. A voice on the other end shouted, "You called 911?!" I opened the door to see two burly firemen, and then everything went black.
I had a massive "widow-maker" heart attack, and the blackout moment was actually me dying for the first time that day. The firemen watched me drop like a rock right in my doorway. They rushed me down the hallway, down the elevator, through my building's lobby, and out to the ambulance, where they revived me using defibrillators.
I flat-lined multiple times on the way to the ambulance
En route to the hospital, they revived me five more times. The paramedic said it was like a ping-pong match — every time they shocked me back to life, I would flatline again for about 30 to 40 seconds. After arriving at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, I died two more times in the ER — for two minutes each — coming to a grand total of eight deaths. Once stabilized, I was rushed into surgery and received two stents — the widow-maker artery had a 100% blockage, and a second artery was 70% blocked.
I'm afraid of dying
I've had a fear of dying since childhood. I don't know many people who aren't afraid of death, but for me, it was more than a passive thought. It started at 5 years old when my grandfather died a day after visiting him in Florida. I couldn't understand that early in life why I wouldn't see him again. Those unanswered thoughts never left my mind.
At 15, I made a short film called "Life After Life." It was about repeatedly dying and coming back again. My next short was titled "Flatline." Same subject, but a different teenage opus. My mother asked, "What's your obsession with death?" Why are all your films about this morbid topic?" The nucleus of my obsession was about the fear of not existing. Not being able to feel or think or have any semblance of consciousness. That terrified me, and honestly, even after all I've been through, it still does.
I don't feel invincible
Dying 8 times is a lonely affair. I don't personally know anyone who has cheated death once, let alone eight times. My friends and family think I'm invincible — but I feel anything but.
I'm called names like Jon Snow or Wolverine, but those are fictional characters in fictional movies and series. This is real life, and it will eventually end — that's not a theoretical thought for me anymore. It's actually part of my lived experience. Dying eight times hasn't cured me of fear or worry.
After surgery, I was in a medically induced coma in the ICU. I was hooked up to an ECMO machine — which helped keep my heart beating. By the fifth night, the doctors told my family to be prepared for the worst as they were taking me off the machine — to see if my heart could beat on its own. They were literally "pulling the plug."
The doctors didn't believe I would survive, and even if I did, they didn't think I would be able to walk or talk. But, instead of hearing a final flatline on the heart monitor — or getting a pulse but seeing no other activity — I miraculously sprung to life, trying to escape my ICU bed.
I still worry about my family, friends, work, finances, love life, and, yes, keeping death off my doorstep. Not even multiple deaths can change who we are at our core. Or our daily fears. That said, this miraculous second chance I've been gifted makes me more aware than ever of all the help and support I have around me.
And knowing that we are all here for just a millisecond, I certainly want to be there for as many people as I can well before my 9th death occurs.
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