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I was reminded recently how precariously we stand on the edge of the precipice. Within minutes I went from carefree hiker to endangered species, then back again a few hours later. A freak incident could have ended my time on earth before I could even think about it. As I look back on this incident, I realize that I cannot assume that my neuroendocrine cancer will be the thing that takes me down eventually possibly ten to twenty years from now. Instead, some small, unknown threat could do it today. There’s no time to waste for any of us; we must live as if this day will be our last!

It was mid-afternoon on February 21, ten days ago as of this writing. As is my custom, I was taking an afternoon health walk. I was thinking about plans for the evening to teach a group of young people and visit my sister. My path took me above street level beside some flowering shrubs. Without any warning, wham! A flying insect stung me on my left ear lobe. I didn’t get a look at it—I don’t know if it was a honeybee, bumblebee or wasp—but it hit me like a sniper. Unpleasant as this was, I wasn’t worried too much about it, because I had been stung by bees before without anything more serious than local pain for a few minutes, but I decided I’d better head home.
I made my way to street level and started walking up the sidewalk. Within the first minute, I started noticing strange sensations. I felt prickly pains going down my neck and all over my back. My vision started get blurry. The farther I walked, the more tired I got, and breathing became labored. “I can make it home,” I thought, so I kept on. My feet suddenly felt burning hot. After about a half mile since the sting, I felt, “Man, I need to sit down.” Leaning on a post, I lost consciousness. 
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My next sensations are like snapshots of a dream: people leaning over me asking if I needed help. Men loading me into an ambulance on a stretcher. Hearing the siren as we raced down the street. Throwing up in the back of the ambulance. Being wheeled into the emergency room. 

Only yesterday did I find out just how close I came that afternoon to kicking the bucket. I found out who my rescuers were and was able to piece together the rest of the story. 

A man named Casey was driving along the street with his sister and young son, when he saw a man leaning on the post and then collapsing face-first. Thanks to his quick reactions, he found a spot to turn off the street beside me (the only spot available on this busy street) and told his sister to call 911. I had vomited, he said, and was having trouble breathing. We both remember that I said “bee sting”. Casey stayed with me till the firemen arrived. Fortunately, the nearest fire station was only blocks away.

Three firefighters raced over with the big engine and the smaller SUV-sized EMT vehicle, sirens blaring and horns honking. Joe was the first out, followed by John and David. Joe found me turning purple and brown in the face, gasping and aspirating in my own vomit. Quickly, he and the others cleared out my mouth and inserted a tube in my nose to help me breathe. My blood pressure was dangerously low. Joe got me onto my back. (I have a faint memory of looking up and seeing the sky.) They removed my shirt and prepared me for CPR, thinking I had suffered cardiac arrest, but Casey told them I had said “bee sting.” Two paramedics, Tom and Adam, arrived next. They put me on a stretcher and into an ambulance. Tom was able to get me to state my first and last name. He said, “We’re going to give you a shot, OK?” I was given epinephrine on the ride to the E.R. 
Once in the hospital I started recovering, but I must have faded in and out of consciousness, or slept, because I don’t remember much. I was awake enough at one point to give the nurse my sister’s phone number. When Judy heard I was in the hospital recovering from anaphylactic shock, she was horrified. No wonder I hadn’t shown up for the youth meeting!

After what seemed like just an hour or so, the nurse said I could be released. I noticed it was dark outside. To my surprise, almost five hours had passed. I found myself shirtless with adhesive pads on my chest and arms. When one of my nephews arrived to drive me home, the nurse provided a temporary paper shirt to wear. I was now fully conscious, but still tired; at home I slept some more. The next day everything was perfectly normal.
All that from one little insect sting. Who would have thought something so small could take a grown man to the edge of death in minutes?  In all my years of hiking, backpacking and camping, I had never experienced anything like this. I had never been allergic to anything in my life! Now I have to carry an Epi-Pen with me. I also take my Spot Device that can summon the nearest search and rescue team via satellite. Readers may want to think seriously about these safety measures, and get tested for susceptibility to insect allergies.
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I wanted to thank my rescuers, but had no idea how to find them. First stop was the hospital. I delivered a thank-you card to the doctor whose name was on the release papers. The receptionist told me that the EMTs were probably from one of two fire stations nearest my home, so I drove over to the nearest one and rang the bell. The captain, hearing the date of the incident, said that the C team had been on duty that day and would be back tomorrow. 
Returning the next day, I rang again. Captain Gabe, hearing my purpose for coming, was glad and said that yes, they guys were all here. He took me back to their break room and I met the whole squadron. Holding back tears, I told them all “Thank you; you guys saved my life.” 

Firefighters and rescue people rarely get closure on the lifesaving work they do on a daily basis. Needless to say, they were glad to see me looking strong and well. After some bear hugs and handshakes, they told me more about what had happened. One of them said it was one of the most severe cases of anaphylactic shock he had ever seen. I got details and names, promising to write the Fire Chief to commend them for their great work. I may also send the story to the local paper. As with anyone who protects the public, in the military, police, firefighters and paramedics, we owe them a sincere “thank you for your service.”

As I left to walk the final mile home, praying and almost choking up at how serious a situation I had been in, I felt a verbal thank you was too little. After some shopping, I returned to the fire station a few hours later with some stuff. Walking back into the station, I handed Joe two bags of “Lifesavers” candy; he shrugged and said, “Aw, you didn’t have to do that.” I said, “That’s just the appetizer. Come give me a hand.” Soon we were carrying two bags of chips and drinks and a big cake displaying, “To the Lifesavers of Station 150.” It was party time!
The guys welcomed me into their comradery for the next hour, giving me a tour of the station, swapping stories and (of course) enjoying hearty helpings of cake. One of the top experts in hazardous materials, an instructor at UCLA on the side, gave me a tour inside the big HazMat truck showing all the high-tech equipment that gives them readiness for chemical spills as well as chemical or biological weapons. Really impressive! I gave the team a copy of the Living Waters DVD that I had helped on, and also an autographed picture of Cassini from my JPL days that they happily added to their display case. 

As I left, I learned the names of the paramedics, and also obtained the phone number from the 911 roster that allowed me to reach Casey. He was glad to hear the rest of the story; he said he had been telling friends about it all week, but didn't know what happened after the ambulance left. I also stopped in at Station 107; Tom the paramedic was there. When I thanked him, his face lit up like the others, glad that his “routine” work had made a difference. I gave him a bear hug and encouraged him to keep saving lives.
All’s well that ends well, Shakespeare wrote. But this story could have turned out very badly for me and my loved ones. I had almost chosen a more remote route on my walk, where nobody would have found me. The EMTs said that without quick treatment, I could have died of asphyxiation, because the overactive immune system constricts the airways. How mysterious is it that a Good Samaritan like Casey would find me in the nick of time and stop to help? And what if the EMTs had been a few minutes late?

We often don’t realize how tenuous our grip is on life. Last month there were news stories circulating about a man struck and killed by a meteorite from space. We all know death is coming, of course; the news is filled every day with tragedies both natural and human-caused. Many of us, however, act as if we have plenty of time till our day comes. The Apostle James reminds us that our life is like a vapor that appears for a moment then vanishes away. We shouldn’t boast about our plans, but rather begin each day with, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that” (James 4:13-17).
Because I am following God's trail map, fear of death is removed by the cross and the empty tomb. But I do have some work I’d like to complete while still in the body, if the Lord wills. This incident reminded me that each breath, each heartbeat, is a gift not to be squandered on worthless pursuits, but on things that matter for eternity. As I write this, I hear an ambulance siren out on the street.

My dad was one-of-a-kind. He always put his heart and soul into everything he did. One of his hobbies was music and songwriting. The words to one of his songs came back into my mind after this incident; it expresses what drove him to work so hard for many years. I share it as an exhortation to each of us to invest each breath for the kingdom of God.  
No time to linger; life rushes on.

Make every moment count before it’s gone.

Each individual has work to do;

No substitution—there’s no other you.