Not long after that, on the morning of September 6, 1984, I found myself once again knocking on death’s door. Only this time, it happened after a night of romance and passion with a woman eleven years my senior. I’d often seen her on ladies’ night at a club in New Bern, North Carolina, and finally mustered the courage to ask her to dance. Only, dancing led to her taking me home that same night.
However, getting laid by a pretty lady, came at a pretty price. The time was 0730, and I was due at the squadron on Cherry Point by 0800. To make up some time, I started my yellow ’67 Mustang to defog the windshield while I got showered. The thing was, in my rush, I’d forgotten about my exhaust manifold leak and by the time I approached Highway 70, connecting New Bern and Havelock, I was out like a light. The car barreled into the intersection, and I was T-boned on the driver’s side by another motorist traveling east at 60 mph; I flipped across the median, and got clobbered again by oncoming traffic headed west.
Unconscious and curled up in a fetal position, I had no vital signs when I was extracted from the wreckage. After a couple of minutes of CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, I resumed a faint heartbeat and very shallow breath. Only, by the time I was rushed to the operating room, I had completely bled out internally and my left lung had collapsed after being lacerated by my flail chest and ribs that were broken in multiple places; in addition, my spleen had been obliterated, along with a small section of my intestine.
When I woke up in ICU the next day, I saw more lines connected to me than a fiber optic network. I had an NG tube that went through my nose to my stomach, a morphine I.V. in my arm, another I.V. in my ankle, a catheter connected to my penis, two chest tubes inserted into my lung, an oxygen mask on my face, a blood transfusion machine, and a heart monitor. Moreover, a railroad track of staples ran from my sternum to my belly button. Struggling to regain consciousness, all I could remember were flashes of the romantic interlude the night before my accident. My first coherent thought was: Wow! She sure put a hurtin’ on me I won’t soon forget—what the hell kind of S&M did we get into?
I’ve heard that most people who wake up with that much equipment attached to their bodies wiggle their toes first thing, then their fingers, and then their neck—not me. I jumped right to my joystick. Check the family jewels first, then the secondary extremities. Only I was surprised to see that with just a little bit of coaxing, my one-eyed Anaconda took a firm stand against the Grim Reaper—literally! Leave it to me to have a boner on my deathbed. A cursory onceover however, wasn’t enough reassurance for my worries over whether or not the internal plumbing still worked—especially with someone else’s blood in my body.
I looked around the ICU—I saw two other patients, who appeared to be out like corpses, and from what I could tell, the nurses’ station wasn’t too close. The next thing you know, I didn’t feel a damn thing as I yanked that catheter clean out of my cobra.
There I was, on my deathbed, a collapsed lung, splattered spleen, crushed intestine, flail chest and all—just admiring my thick-stick. Sensing imminent death and a possible transition into the spirit realm at any moment, I worked it like a man on a mission. It was a good thing my drill instructors weren’t there; they would have had me marching around ICU at right shoulder arms chanting, “This is my rifle, this is my gun; this one’s for killing and this one’s for fun.” Only when my heart monitor started going ballistic and the ICU nurse came running to my rescue—when she saw what I was doing, she upped the morphine and knocked my ass out for another day!
Several days after I was transferred to a private room, it might as well have been a POW torture chamber! Only instead of the KGB, or Viet Cong, it was Aunt Jemima and her repertoire of respiratory therapy torture tools. Resting comfortably in a comatose state one morning, all of a sudden, my bed is being raised. Thinking they might be propping me up to watch the rookie quarterback Dan Marino air it out to the “Marks Brothers” (Clayton and Duper), when I opened my eyes, staring me in the face was a big ole’ black lady that I nicknamed Aunt Jemima—only she wasn’t serving pancakes. “Sit up, Sugar!” she said. “It’s time to start saving your lung.”
Now I thought I had a pretty good handle on pain going all the way back to foster care. That was until Aunt Jemima shoved an air tube in my mouth—attached to what can only be described as a vacuum cleaner looking device—and started forcing air into my collapsed lung. Trying to inflate that puppy was like trying to blow up a balloon that’s super-glued on the inside. No sooner than that first burst of air went into my lung and expanded my chest cage, than I grabbed Aunt Jemima’s wrist, looked her right in the eyes and sternly warned her, “If you ever do that again, I’ll kill you! You can take a pair of pliers to my staples and yank them out one by one; Hell, you can even take an iron skillet and bust up my right ribcage, but don’t, I repeat, don’t ever shove ole’ Electrolux down my throat, expand my chest cavity, and put me through that kind of excruciating pain again!”
“Oh I see how it’s gonna be.” “You one of them whining, crying mother fuckers.” Shocked, I said, “What the hell did you just call me?” “You ain’t got no head injury, so I know you heard me. The only head injury you have is the self-inflicted one you got dangling down there in no woman’s land. “You mean, no man’s land.” I replied. No Sugar, I mean “No Woman’s” land as in, no woman’s gonna be turned on by that thing, especially after you’ve been tapping the well. Uh huh, I heard about that little stunt you pulled in ICU. “Yeah,” I replied, “You just wish you could of gotten a sneak peek at my one-eyed Anaconda!” “I did,” she replied. “And?” “I got dental floss bigger than that!” “Jesus! What kind of nurse are you? “Nurse!” she rebutted. “Do I look like a nurse to you?” “No, not even close,” I replied. “Good, cuz’ nurses bring pleasure, but I bring the pain, Mother Fucker!” Do you call all of your dying patients, “Mother Fucker?” “No, just mouthy, masturbating Marines.” Clutching my busted ribs as I coughed up dry chunks of blood, she said, “Besides, you ain’t dying.” “Damn! You are one mean Mama!” I replied. “And don’t you forget it,” she said, as she shoved ole’ Electrolux back down my throat.
For the next two weeks my morphine pump couldn’t keep up with my unprecedented pain as my busted ribs dug into my flesh with every expansion of my lung. Needless to say, I don’t have fond memories of Aunt Jemima, but she did save my lung and got me started on my yearlong recovery. When I was transferred to the Cherry Point hospital a few weeks later, I was released an hour after I had arrived and was confined to bed rest. I weighed all of 99 pounds—down from 165 pounds at the time of my accident. Only instead of going to bed, still draped in my hospital gown that barely covered my boney body and little blue booties on my feet, I had someone take me to the squadron. With the assistance of a cain, I walked into the hanger to prove to my Bulldog brethren that I was still a lean, mean, fucking Marine! Only that night, I was headed for the showers in flip-flops and a towel wrapped loosely around my torso. When a fellow jarhead—unaware of my accident because he was on leave at the time—walked past me, he said, “Lehmann . . . what’s up my man,” followed up by a friendly sucker punch right to the midsection. As I fell to the floor clutching my ribs and protecting my incision that was (thankfully) still stapled together, my towel slipped off and all I heard was, “Damn Lehmann; you look like shit.” Floundering on the floor like a fish out of water, all I could think was that I joined the Marine Corps so I could die a hero on a battlefield, and instead I’m going out in government issued flip flops and my birthday suit. Fuck me! When the military paramedics arrived, they insisted on taking me back to the base hospital. “No fucking way!” I shouted. After a steady diet of liquid Morphine and Demerol for the past three weeks, my pallet was set on the colonel’s eleven secret herbs and spices, original recipe, finger-licking good, Kentucky Fried Chicken!
In the end, I was eligible for partial disability, for life—but I refused it on a matter of principle. It would have been a cold day in hell before I’d taken a dime of the pittance that’s paid to wounded Marines and fellow servicemen that gallantly put their lives on the line and unselfishly shed their blood on the battlefield. I could see myself at a disabled veterans meeting, listening to story after story about guys who had their legs blown off in battle and their faces burned in defense of their country; then, when the time came to tell my story, what would I say? “After getting laid all night, I had a car accident on my way to the base because I didn’t take the time to fix an exhaust manifold leak that gassed me into unconsciousness behind the wheel.”
I don’t think so. Too many real disabled vets don’t get the care and support they truly deserve and desperately need. I was injured, but not in the line of duty and I wasn’t disabled or handicapped for life.
Under convalescent care and due to be discharged nine months later, other than a short deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I spent the remainder of my tour confined to the barracks. I speculated in the stock market, played poker, and bet the farm on the 49ers in Super Bowl XIX, after having lost my shirt on my beloved Washington Redskins the year before.
During my convalescent time, I met another Marine who was into metaphysics. He told me he could teach me how to accelerate my healing through transcendental meditation and connecting with the universal mind. Intrigued, I accepted his invitation and, along with a couple of other guys, went to his house for Ouija board games and demonstrations of levitation. I had little knowledge of the occult at the time, or the realm of divination and augury, but after playing Ouija and watching him levitate small items off his table, I grew increasingly concerned.
When he asked me to participate in a séance . . . for the whole story, read my memoir in progress, “DRIVEN! Gambling, Girls, Guts & God.”
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