All of a sudden, and I mean ALL of a sudden, I felt like a bear was giving me a hug. Not like a bear hug, but I mean a freaking BEAR had grabbed me around my chest. I couldn’t breathe. It was and remains the worst I have ever felt in my life. I didn’t know I was dying. With that knowledge, it would’ve made some sense.
I had just ended the year giving a sermon and was standing on the altar of the Hollywood United Methodist Church on Dec. 30, 2007. About 10 minutes later, I was sitting with Joy, my spouse, in the front pew and we decided we should get home and I would just lie down until this passed (poor choice of words).
A couple of our dear friends were standing nearby and were very concerned. They made us realize that something else was happening. It looked like a possible heart attack. It never occurred to either of us that such a thing could be happening.
Joy asked me if I wanted her to take me to the hospital. I then made the only decision that I was to make for the rest of the day. I told her to call for paramedics. It was literally just minutes and they were in the sanctuary talking with me. In less than two hours, I would be dead.
2007 had started with such high expectations and they had been exceeded. I had come out to my world. My church, my friends and my workmates all knew now what was going on with me. The scarves were more than just a fashion statement. Actually, that’s about all they were, and I didn’t have that many yet, so it was becoming an all too familiar statement.
At the beginning of the year, I was already out to a small group of friends and I had been through two years of mental therapy and over a year of HRT (hormone replacement therapy). I decided it was that 2007 would be the year I came out.
I went to our Senior Pastor at HUMC and told her that I would like to tell everyone in my church family about what was happening with me. She had been the Associate Pastor when I realized I was transgendered and was one of those who I had shared in her case in Pastoral confidence. She paved a way for our congregation to absorb the news.
First in the late spring, a letter went out to our most active members breaking the news and explaining that they should expect me to present myself to them in a more feminine way in the future. Next, she set up a “Listening Post” for two Sundays following our service where people who wanted to know more about Trans issues would be invited to come and share their questions and perhaps concerns. I was not part of any of this.
She brought experts in the community that do this very thing for work environments, teachers, therapists, and they spoke positively and honestly about what was going on with me. I wanted to part of it, but our Pastor would not let me. Her wisdom proved to be a truly blessed way for everyone to work through it.
Without me there, my fellow congregants could be honest and ask questions that otherwise might have been difficult to ask, and frankly I could not have answered. Instead, I felt that often I had to be the most blessed person on earth. Besides my immediate family my closest and dearest relationships are among the people of this church, and they were supportive beyond all understanding. I had always felt I was in a loving place at HUMC and through all this it remained so and still does.
Work was the next place. I had shared with my Supervisor and a couple of others and now I told each of the Theatre Crew heads and the rest of the Kodak Theatre’s management. Again, I was supported without condition and all the shows and events that came into the building gave me the respect I would never expect, mainly because of the manner in which I was treated by my colleagues.
No big deal was the message. Here I have to say that the surprise was the stage crew. They were truly the first group to completely re-gender me. They showed respect and used proper pronouns. It’s such a little thing but it has an intense effect on you. It helps make you whole.
I also did a show called EVERONE HAS THE RIGHT TO BE STUPID. An appropriate title in 2007 for me and I felt others that seemed to be making a living at it. I only did four shows. They were all very different and while structured were pretty much improvisational. I sang, just to break up the talking and made videos that sometimes I spoke or sang with as they played. The shows main purpose was for me to come out. It served its purpose. It was truly a “work in progress” that, once the theatre was no longer available, stopped progressing.
So as I went into the fall I was feeling pretty good. Next I felt I had to generally tell the world so I went to Facebook and got a homepage. I called myself Michael Marie Fairman at first because I liked the way it sounded and I wanted everyone to know that Michael was still present but there had been a complete overhaul on the inside and the outside would reflect that soon. How I became Marie Michael will be in the next and last chapter of this multi-blog.
The Kodak closed their year with the improbably popular stage production of Disney’s High School Musical. I thought it was pretty well done but in retrospect in comparison with Glee it was totally lame. It played to large crowds for a couple of weeks and then Christmas came and the annual stress of the Holidays. I was working long hours and of course when I was asked to contribute to our annual Candlelight Christmas Eve Service at HUMC I worked that in as well. It is a beautiful service that has been going on for more than a century. 2007 was one of those years when Christmas Eve came on Sunday and Christmas came on Monday hence me being there to spell our Pastor on the next Sunday the 30th. It’s something that I had done many times before. I'm a Lay Speaker in the United Methodist Church.
The paramedics found that my friends at church were very right about my condition and before I knew it I was on a gurney crashing through the doors of a Burbank hospital’s emergency room. The gurney turned and rushed down a corridor. I laid there and watched the neon ceiling lights streaking past one by one. A Doctor leaned over running along next to the gurney and yelled, “You’re having a massive coronary!!!” Pause. Run. Run. “Do you understand?!” I yelled back, “Yeah thanks!”
They pulled me into a stall and went to work. I was writhing in pain by now but I really was trying to be cool about it and probably was not achieving that demeanor. They shredded off my clothes with scissors while a huge machine came into the stall. The Doctor said, “We’re going to take an x-ray! Sign here so we can treat you!” This Doctor yelled through this whole thing. I signed something. Everyone backed out for only a few seconds. The x-ray machine swung its giant arm over my chest and took a picture and all of the folks were back on me.
The yelling Doctor then asked what I was doing when I had the heart attack. I told him that I had just given a sermon and he stopped me in mid-sentence and yelled much louder, “WE GOT A MINISTER HERE!!!” I tried to explain that I was not a Minister but a Lay Speaker with the United… when suddenly there were more people around my bed. “What do you need?” they asked variously. Really that did happen. Hands were moving all about me when one of the new Doctors calmly said that they were prepping a room upstairs to do a procedure on me. “It shouldn’t be long,” I was assured. Suddenly everyone save one nurse was gone. The morphine they finally got into me had brought me some tolerance to the pain. The lone nurse who had stayed with me was looking at the monitor of my vitals while gently moving to her IPod. I felt I was in a truly surreal experience. I asked her if I was really having a heart attack. I know it was a stupid question but I really couldn’t believe it was happening to me. She said, “Oh my God yeah. This one’s a doozy!” as she swayed sweetly to the sound in her earbuds.
Then I remember moving maybe. I don’t know. It gets a little hazy at this point for me. What I have been told is that the room became ready and they rushed me to the room where just outside the door I crashed. I died. They went right to work and kept me going with CPR and zapping me a few times but I just would not respond. After about eight minutes they stopped working on me and were about to call it when I when I took a breath. They didn’t waste a millisecond and got me in the room and at some point I came back out of unconsciousness. I heard someone in the room asking where my wife was. I, yes, I told them that she was at another hospital. I somehow knew that. I even remembered her cell number. They called got hold of her. How could this happen?
As we were leaving the parking lot of the church in the ambulance the paramedics got clearance from a hospital in Burbank and decided it was my best chance. So they turned left instead of right. Joy went to our car that was parked in another lot and headed toward the Hollywood hospital where she was told they were taking me. She wandered up and down the halls asking everyone where I could be and no one, surprisingly, could FIND me. Then she got the call. It was not a joyous call. The Doctor told her to get over to them as soon as possible because it might be too late otherwise. This is after they had revived me!
Evidently, the procedure took a while. I don’t know to this day and Joy is not sure how long but it was long enough for the surgeon who was doing the procedure talked with her before performing it and told her the very troubling news that I would probably not make it. She called our adult kids and got them over to the hospital. There they waited in some waiting area and I, well, I was unconscious and “circling the drain”.
The next two things that happened were that the procedure went far better than anyone had hoped and I had a strong consistent sinus rhythm. At that point I came to and everyone around me was high fiving. I think. That might be hyperbole but honestly that’s what I remember. They, this incredible medical team, were absolutely joyous. I was aware that I was no longer in pain and I was alive.
Here I was laying on that table, a perfect stranger, alive when I should’ve been dead. Everyone I met knew I was on HRT and that I was transitioning and I never once encountered any judgment or even the slightest hesitation. All they saw was a human being in dire need and they reacted with precision and compassion all at once and in so doing saved my life.
Over the next few hours some friends would find their way to my bedside in the ICU. I sit here writing this knowing that I have never adequately thanked them for their visit. It meant so much and will always remain among the most cherished memories of my life. Truly.
Some may think that I had this coming. I had tried to change what God had made and the very thing that was bringing such joy to me was the very thing that caused the heart attack. The HRT. Unfortunately we can’t be sure either way if the HRT had ANY part in this distressing episode. It is certain my lifestyle had more to do with it than anything. I ate anything that was in front of me and often to either side of me. I was under stress that I thought I was managing but obviously I was not. Lastly I was not exercising. I was very heavy for my size and was leading a sedentary life. All of these things I know contributed and my Cardiologist confirmed it.
The next year and the next and the next and the next and this year have had moments that are more precious to me than any other time in my life. That will be for the last chapter of this multi-blog.