What I Learned In A Coma – A Weekend Reading Exclusive

 

Many things in life follow a natural progression. You train, then rest, and get stronger and faster as a result. You start a job knowing very little and become an expert over time. Even declines in performance and health are often gradual and progressive. Where you could recover from a hard ride in a day 10 years ago, maybe it takes two days to feel fresh again now. We’re so used to gradual change we sometimes forget that life can change in the blink of an eye, or in the case of CTS Athlete Services Manager Dominic Guinto, just a few hours.

Dominic is the raspy Marine/triathlete/mountain biker you’ll most likely talk to when you call CTS to sign up for coaching, a camp, or Bucket List event. He was in Breckenridge, CO for Stage 5 of the USA Pro Challenge a few weeks ago. The next morning he woke up with a fever. By mid-morning he was having trouble breathing. By mid-afternoon he was intubated an in an induced coma, where he stayed for four days.

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Dominic’s fight with a stubborn streptococcus bacterial infection scared the hell out of us. Our first concern was for him, his health, and his family. But not far behind that was the realization that it could have been any one of us in that intensive care unit. He was fine on Friday and in a coma on Saturday.

Fast-forward to today and Dom has completely recovered. But the experience of losing four days of his life shook him, as you would expect, and put some important things in perspective. The following was written by Dominic Guinto.

Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS


What I Learned in a Coma

I have been competing as a cyclist, triathlete and runner since I was 8 years old. For a time I was that age grouper who worked for every second I could shave from my time. I have never been a pro; I race because I love it. I love the challenge, I love the outdoors, I love testing myself, and my family loves the person I am when sport is a part of my life.

Each of us began cycling with the unwritten understanding that we’d probably sustain an injury at some point. Whether it’s breaking an arm in a MTB wreck or redecorating our bodies with road rash injuries aren’t fun but we accept them, recover, set new goals and move on. Over the years I have amassed a laundry list of injuries that make airport metal detectors jump like a Geiger counter at 3-Mile Island! Each injury that has taken something from me has also added to my life in some way. Although my latest trip to the hospital was caused by strep bacteria instead of a collision with a tree, I gained a lot by losing four days of my life in a coma.

As athletes we follow our training plans, we condition our bodies, we prepare our equipment and we listen to our coaches. We prepare for what we expect so we can better handle the unexpected. But that preparation is rarely tested by anything more serious than leg cramps or a sour stomach. With my health quickly declining on Saturday morning, I was put to the test at a whole new level and I learned I was prepared.


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To use some cycling analogies, I learned that competing and goal setting my entire life helped me stay calm, work the problem, keep moving forward, and never give up. I learned that helping others and treating them right won’t help you if you only decide to do it in the last mile of the race. The outpouring of support for me and my family was so overwhelming that I can only deduce that the good from fixing strangers’ trailside flats and mechanicals, providing a word or two of encouragement at races, and carrying a few extra bottles or the heavier pack really does come back to you. I know this because when it counted people from all phases and locations of my past and present came running to my aid. For that I am thankful. I’m even more thankful I lived to be able to thank them personally.

A couple days after leaving the hospital, once the fog of anesthesia finally cleared, I suddenly felt the need to write. I guess my brain had been working in the background all along, because I blurted out the following in 5 minutes one evening as a response to the hundreds of Facebook messages I had received. Though a bit raw, it’s the truth as I see it. I’m proud to have gained this knowledge and even happier to pass it on. Life happens fast, be prepared.

Some random post-coma thoughts and observations, in no particular order:

  1. No matter how much you prepare for your death, you aren’t ever ready to die. Not if fighting is an option.
  2. Be honest and treat people nicely. It’s the best insurance policy ever! Even if you never need it. But you will.
  3. Regardless of your steadfastness to the above, DON’T EVER BE Without Actual Health Insurance!
  4. Science is amazing and it saved my life. At the same time, the ability to fully manipulate the human body via science is still a little creepy… and painful… and expensive…
  5. You are never too old to be glad Mom flew across the country to take care of you.
  6. Nothing. Nothing, is more important than family and friends. Nothing.
  7. There are still caring, cool people in this world. Don’t believe me, just ask and I will gladly name them personally.
  8. No amount of preparation, coaching or step-by-step manuals will help your wife fix the TV if you are not there.
  9. Missing motivation to ride? Try not living for a minute.
  10. I have the best friend and wife ever. Ashley Guinto, I hope to never repay what you have endured for me. I can say simply, Thank You. Your ability to keep the girls, homework, and the house together while I just laid around was beyond admirable. I am proud that you are my wife.
  11. Lexie Rae (our 12 yr. old Labrador retriever) will only eat when daddy’s home.
  12. I read a slogan in a magazine the day I awoke and although cliché, it went something like this: “The saying isn’t Carpe Tomorrow!” Now go have fun, live, love and live some more. Nothing else really matters.

Thanks everyone! Let’s not do this again real soon… but if we do, I’m ready!

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Comments 27

  1. I HAD A SIMILAR EXPERIENCE WHILE TRAINING 3-YEARS AGO. I SUFFERED AN AORTIC ANYURISM AND WAS SAVED BY SOME VERY TALENTED PEOPLE IN THE MEDICAL FIELD. I AGREE WITH EVERYTHING ON YOUR LIST, IT IS VERY WELL PUT. YOU ARE NOW IN A VERY SELECT GROUP OF PEOPLE THAT HAVE A DIFFERENT OUTLOOK ON DAILY LIFE.
    THANKS FOR WRITING IT DOWN.

  2. Thanks for putting this out there, Dominic. I’m one of those on the other side doing the poking and prodding on the comatose patient, and your story helps me keep in perspective that there’s someone in there that needs to get back!

  3. Dominic so glad you are ok when your mom told me I said I am praying for him
    I told her our children are are life no matter how old. I remember the party your
    Mom and dad had for you when you came home from the service. I always ask your
    Mother how you are doing. You have become a fine young man with a wonderful
    Family. Love to you and your family
    Janice Davis.

  4. Thank you for your comments. Thank you Chris for posting this.
    The natural progression of life is what we expect … until we don’t. Like all dogs are friendly, until they’re not. And we never know what sets off a dog … and we never know when a terrible event will occur. We can only go by family history and previous happenings in our life.
    Your struggle, of taking advantage of and enjoying every current moment, and keeping close to our loved ones is a precious lesson … and too easily forgotten.
    It’s my struggle now … and the journey begins with each new step … can’t change the past, can’t control the future, but certainly have choices currently.
    Be well, enjoy … and say hello to my friends at CTS (Chris and Jim Lehman, among othera) whom I respect and admire.

    1. Both Chris and Jim and their families were some of those that I referred to. I’ve only been with CTS and in CO for 2 years and the generosity from people like them would lead you to believe we were family.

      You do have choices. One of my favorite sayings (of which I actually have tattooed) is, “Choose of be Chosen for”.

      Have a great weekend!

  5. Well done Dominic, you are clearly very determined to get back to full health and you did it. I had a brain tumour removed a year ago and am now back on the bike and making a full recovery. I totally agree with your top tips, mine read alone similar lines; Be Nice, Be Positive, Stay as fit as you can and Get Insured. I disregarded my friends and family for the last 6 years as I was addicted to Ironman, now my life is more balanced, doing half ironman, keeping as fit as possible and really APPRECIATING life… I love your motivation tip! It certainly does the job. Good Luck for the future, you are very mentally tough… Mother Nature is very clever at repairing us. cheers Phil (UK)

  6. Holy cow, Dominic! I saw most of the CTS gang in Denver or Boulder that Sunday and had no idea, but am so relieved to hear you are back from the brink and apparently doing well. Truly a case of “life is what happens while we are making other plans”. Hopefully we can all learn from your insights and not have to endure a similar experience to do a proper job of putting our priorities in the right order.

    1. Thanks Rick! I thought I saw you in the morning in Breck by the CTS truck and I had to move my truck and never saw you again. I look forward to seeing you again.

  7. It’s ironic that it takes a ‘near-death’ experience to be able to fully savor the act of living. It’s so incredibly easy to get caught in day-to-day drama, some of which is important, most of which is irrelevant, that a mental course course correction can prove valuable for years to come. Glad you are still here to enjoy it, and thanks for sharing your very personal observations on it.

  8. I’m sorry but what I want to know is
    1) How did you realise that you needed to go to the hospital?
    (What were your pre-hospitalisation symptoms and how did they progress?)
    2) While you were IN the coma, what did you learn?
    (All the items listed here refer to things you realised after you came OUT of the coma.)

    1. See the answer above for the what the symptoms were. As far as what I learned IN the coma, I wish I could reply with , “I learned to rebuild diesel engines and how to speak Mandarin” but the truth is, while IN a coma, you are aware of nothing. I did learn after about what transpired while I was IN the coma and that’s what important.

  9. I’m glad to hear you are on the road back to recovery. Just as important as your comments above, I’d like to hear WHY you went into a coma. Perhaps we can learn from this as well…

    1. Good question. It was the perfect (or imperfect I suppose) storm of events. I had a fever and a sore throat the week prior of which I “felt better” from but surely never fully recovered. The day before the coma I had developed canker sores on the side of my tongue. The strep bacteria was located inside my tongue. From what I understand, the exposure that the canker sore gave the strep, it grew rapidly. It stayed concentrated in my tongue. The tongue swelled to the point of closing my airway. The coma was induced because I had to be intubated through my nose. It took the four days for the antibiotics to kill the bacteria and return to normal. Scientific explanation from the Dr’s, “just dumb luck. This is very rare”. Again, there will always be something that we can’t plan for.

      1. Wow! Frightening progression. Never heard of strep infection in the tongue. Just stomach and throat. Medical interventions are amazing, aren’t they? Stay well Live well. Carpe diem.

        1. I could easily have some medical specifics wrong Charlene. Maybe it was “on ” the tongue but Strep did not actually show up on the initial swab but came up positive after the 48hr test when it was taken from the very back of the tongue. As I understand, it was still a combination of poorly timed circumstances.

          It’s a good day…

  10. Thank you so much for your thoughts, insight and sharing your experience to help others. Glad to hear that you got out of it ok.

    1. Very powerful…. Thank you for sharing that. Sometimes we all need a wake up call to appreciate what we have and realize how quickly it can be taken from us

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