Charles E. Jesse is the founder of One Second Away Ministry. As a social worker of over twenty years, he has experience working with people with developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, and mental health issues. It was not by accident that he became the speaker that he is today, and acquired the ability to guide so many to happier, healthier, more fulfilled lives. Charles has studied extensively in the fields of Christianity and psychology. He applies the wisdom gained from study, and more importantly, from personal and professional experience to help his clients, and seminar participants, discover how they can live their lives to the fullest. This is gained through focus on the most important relationship anyone can have, which is our relationship with Jesus Christ. He speaks with energy, and enthusiasm before large, and small audiences. Charles is available for speaking engagements to discuss his life's observations through a Christian perspective.
One Second Away
It was my first night working the front desk at a hotel in Lawrence, Kansas. There was a wedding reception being held in the ballroom upstairs, so there were people everywhere dressed in their fine wedding attire. The hotel was at full occupancy with wedding guests, and there were people arriving by the car load to go to the reception. I had previous front desk experience, and was able to jump right in helping the other staff. However, as fate would have it, I had been there for less than an hour when the hotel manager asked me to come upstairs to help with the wedding reception. They were short staffed in the kitchen, and they needed me to help prepare h’orderves for the reception.
When I walked into the kitchen, I was surprised by the fast paced environment. All of the staff were hustling back and forth behind the scenes, to provide food and drinks for the wedding party, and their guests. From my perspective, it looked like well organized chaos at best. I had only been in the kitchen a few moments, when I saw what I thought was an angel that had fallen from heaven. She was a waitress dressed in a sharp black and white outfit carrying food out to the guests. As she walked by our eyes met, and she smiled at me. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. To this day, I still remember the feeling of my heart skipping a beat when we first looked into each other’s eyes. All evening I tried to position myself in the kitchen where I would be near her, so I could try to strike up a conversation. At one point, the hotel assistant manager became a little frustrated with me, saying “Charles, I don’t need you over there. I need you back over here.” Some people say there is no such thing as, love at first sight. I think they’re just people who’ve never experienced it. That was a night I will never forget. It was a night that would change my life forever.
I have had jobs that I have really enjoyed. I have also had jobs where I literally dreaded going to work. Now I had a job where I couldn’t wait to go to work. I worked at the front desk, and the most beautiful woman I had ever met, worked as a waitress in the restaurant upstairs. After a few weeks of casual conversation, I asked her if she wanted to play tennis on our first date. It wasn’t long after that, when I knew she was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. We had dated eight months when I gathered the courage to ask her to marry me. I thank God, she said yes. Approximately one year later, we were married. It was a picture perfect wedding. Our families and closest friends were there. It was one of the happiest days of my life. Our hearts were overflowing with love, and our thoughts were full of our bright future together.
The morning after our wedding, I woke up with the worst headache I’d ever had. I knew it wasn’t from the Champagne. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I could actually feel my heartbeat inside my head. My wife and I had planned on leaving on our honeymoon that day. Instead, I spent the day at the hotel, in bed, and feeling miserable. My wife of one day, called the hospital and spoke with a nurse, who said it sounded like I had the flu. The following morning, I felt even worse, so we decided a trip to the emergency room was in order. I could tell by the way I felt, there was something wrong, I just didn’t know how wrong. Once I was admitted in the emergency room, they did a MRI of my head, and a few other tests that took a relatively short amount of time. The medical personnel that do the testing can’t tell you anything. They always leave that up to the attending physician. So, after a short wait, a neurosurgeon, Dr. Karl Detwiler, came into my room. The best way to describe him, would be to say he had a look on his face, that was one of a physician who was about to deliver some really bad news. I felt the room shrink. It was just like you would see in a movie when something bad was about to happen. I felt claustrophobic, and a feeling of panic was setting in.
He first introduced himself to me and my wife. Then, without hesitation, he said I had a cerebral aneurysm. He explained that an artery deep in my brain that had been bleeding. He said “It stopped bleeding, or you would be dead now.” The artery involved, had a thinner, weaker wall at a “Y” juncture, and had literally blown up like a little balloon inside my brain. The ballooned artery had taken up space in my brain causing pressure. There’s no extra space for our brains to expand inside our skulls, so that was what was causing the extreme pain in my head. The only reason I was still alive, was because the balloon hadn’t popped yet. Dr. Detwiler told me that I could start bleeding again any moment, and if my blood vessel burst, I would bleed out and be dead in less than twenty seconds.
After he delivered the devastating news, he hit me with an even bigger dose of reality. He looked at me right in the eyes and said, “You need to decide where you want to go.” I had no idea what he was talking about. I was in a big city hospital with a life threatening medical condition. Where else would I want to go? Thinking he was talking about going to another medical facility. I asked him, where should I go? Then he explained what he meant was, there was a very good chance I was about to die. What he was saying was, I needed to decide where I wanted my body to go after I died. He said “If you haven’t discussed this with your wife before, you should decide whether you wanted to be buried, or cremated. You need to decide where you want to be buried.” He said “There is a good chance you’re going to be married and buried in the same week.”
At the time, even though I was in a state of shock, I thought his bed side manner could have used a bit of polish. However, looking back, I now appreciate his honesty. There were no false hopes for sale that day. Reality was the special on the menu, and someone had already ordered for me. I was told if I wanted to talk to anyone again, I needed to get on the phone when he left the room. That included saying my final goodbyes to my parents, and any other loved ones.
Even though Saint Francis is a large medical facility, that didn’t put me first in line for surgery. Just moments before I had come to the emergency room, they had admitted several people who had been in a very serious car accident. There were people who were already prepped for spinal cord, and head trauma surgeries. That meant all the operating rooms, and surgeons were already spoken for. After they had completed their surgeries, I would be next. I wasn’t next, like next in the line at your local grocery store. I was next, as in approximately thirty-eight hours later. Because of the critical nature of my condition, I was told if they were to try to transport me to another hospital, the movement alone would probably kill me. So the possibility of being taken to another hospital for surgery, wasn’t even an option. Dr. Detwiler, my new best friend, said after meeting with me he was going to go straight to the operating room to operate on the auto accident patients.
It’s been said, a man’s mind has great clarity on the eve of his execution. Although I wasn’t going to be executed, I felt like I had just been handed a death sentence. I was concerned with Dr. Detwiler being really tired after thirty-eight hours of surgery. I didn’t want to insult him, or question his professional ability in any way. At this point, I just wanted his very best when he dove into my brain. I asked if him if he would be willing to rest a bit before he performed my surgery. He reassured me he was quite used to working that many hours straight, and it wouldn’t be an issue. I’m not sure if it was fear, or just stubbornness on my part, but I was persistent in my requesting he take a break. We agreed there wasn’t much difference between thirty-eight or forty-eight hours in my situation. I was twenty seconds away from death, with the pressure of every heartbeat. I think just to placate my concerns, he agreed to go home and rest a few hours prior to my surgery. Then, as quickly as he entered my life, he was gone. I was seconds away from death with every heartbeat, and now waiting for my turn in the operating room.
I was placed in a completely dark, silent, hospital room. I lay there with my wife’s hand in my right hand, and a Bible I had requested in my left. As I lay there, I thought quite a bit about my poor wife. I sincerely think the experience was more difficult for her, than it was for me. Just two days before, we stood at the altar, and said our wedding vows. We both agreed upon “For better or worse, till death do us part.” We weren’t thinking that it might be just two days later?
My wife was the only family member allowed in my room. She had made the phone calls, contacting friends and family asking them to pray for me. We spoke very little in that dark, silent, hospital room. I lay there quite focused, thinking about my twenty-nine years of life. I thought about what I had accomplished. However, it didn’t take long before those thoughts changed to what I could have done, and then, to what I should have done. The more I thought about my past the heaver my heart became. Although I’m sure there are varying opinions out there, I never considered myself to be a bad person. However, as my life had possibly come to an end, I found I had more than a few regrets. I wondered if I had I done anything to leave this world a better place. I wondered how I would be remembered. What would my eulogy read? Who would attend my funeral, and what would my family and friends have to say about me?
I was intentionally trying to remain calm, because I didn’t want to do anything that would raise my blood pressure. As time passed, reality began to set in. I realized it was time to have a serious conversation with God. I started with the “I’m sorrys,” and found myself going to the “I never will agains,” really quickly. In that dark, silent, hospital room, I promised God if he would let me live, I would be a better person. I promised Him I would focus on giving more of myself to others. I promised God I would stop being selfish, and completely give my life to Jesus.
It quickly became very overwhelming. I found myself pleading for my life. I felt completely helpless. I realized I never had any control over when I was going to die. It was quite an enlightening moment for me. There was no rhyme or reason as to when I was going to die, other than when God wanted me to. I realized the same is true for everyone else on this planet. Everyone is walking around with the illusion that they have some control, or power over when they are going to die. Other than when someone commits suicide, we have no idea when we are going to pass away.
I was a healthy, twenty-nine year old with no guarantees. Healthy people die every day. Millionaire’s, and poor people alike, die every day. Good, and bad people, die every day. I realized lying there, that every single breath, and every single heartbeat is a gift from God. All I ever had, was in that moment of consciousness. Then, all I had was the possibility of the next moment. If all of my moments added together made forty-eight hours, I would make it to surgery.
The room was completely silent when I heard His voice. To be completely clear, I didn’t hear a voice in my head, like when you have a thought. I heard an actual voice, with my physical ears. I don’t know how to explain how I knew the voice I heard was God’s voice. However, I instantly knew, without any question, it was God. God said to me, “Everything is going to be alright.” In that very moment, in that second, in that dark, silent, hospital room, I instantly felt an overwhelming calm, and warmth consume my whole being. Instantly my mind, my body, and my spirit felt complete peace. It was a peace I have never felt before. I immediately asked my wife, did you hear that? She said, “Hear what?” I said, God just told me “Everything is going to be alright.” I told my wife I felt complete peace with where I was, and with what was happening to me, because God had just told me “Everything is going to be alright.”
All of my moments did add up to forty-eight hours, and I did make it to surgery. After my surgery, Dr. Detwiler told me “Just one second after clipping off the ballooned artery in my brain, it popped like a bubble.” He said “You were one second away from death, and you’re one of the luckiest people on earth.” That was twenty-one years ago. Every day since, I have thanked God for giving me another chance. I have devoted the past twenty years of my life to helping others, working with people with developmental disabilities, and mental health issues. I have a wonderful family, and over the past twenty-one years, no matter how challenging life can be, I know, thank God, Everything is going to be alright.
(© 2013 Charles E. Jesse – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)