I Died and Came Back and This Is What I Learned

A portrait of my sexy self taken shortly after being released from the hospital.

People have been asking me why Element.ly has been so quiet here lately.

I’m sorry about that, but I have a pretty good excuse this time.

I was dead.

Thrice, actually.

Now I don’t actually remember dying or being in a coma or much of anything during what was apparently a pretty rough three week period, but here is a what I do know from the stories I have been told by my amazing wife Terry and my friends who came to visit.

I was on a bike ride.

A birthday ride.

It was my friend Cory’s birthday and we decided we needed to ride in celebration.

We were in Marin, San Rafael to be exact, and we were headed for Point Reyes Station for coffee and muffins.

I, as those who read this website know, have been having a horrible time with my back, and I had stopped at the golf course on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. to stretch it out.

I had been given a series of stretches by my Physical Therapist and Cory kindly stopped to watch me do my little stretching ritual. In the middle of stretching I started to sway back and forth like a cartoon character.

Cory figured I was goofing.

Then he took a closer look behind my glasses and realized my eyes were rolling into the back of my head.

He instinctively knew the birthday ride was over.



Lucky Me

The first of many “lucky” things happened next: Cory caught me before my head bounced off the pavement.

The “luck” continued, because if we had been 15 more minutes into the ride we would have been over the hump headed for nowhere and probably in a cellular “dead” zone.

But just like as if it were scripted in a movie, more luck as off the golf course comes a stranger who knows CPR.

A stranger.

On a golf course.

In the middle of nowhere.

Performs CPR on me.

Saves my life.

I wasn’t really ready to die, so this “not dead” thing really seems to play in my favor.

I turned 50 this year, I eat fairly well, I stopped smoking years ago and I showed none of the signs of an imminent heart attack. When I visited the surgeon yesterday he said mine was a tough heart attack to categorize. I wasn’t having any pain in my jaw or numbness in my arms or pain in my chest.

I just drew the proverbial hereditary short straw. My grandfather checked out early with a bad heart. My dad has a bovine valve in his chest and a pacemaker. A crappy gene pool seems to be the diagnosis.

So anyway, the golf course angel brought me back to life and the ambulance carted me off to the hospital where they froze me. Literally. To try and save my brain. You know, slow things down.

My shit was blocked up.



But, luckily for me, it was the kind of blockage which probably would not have shown up on a stress test. Early attempts to fix the problem were unsuccessful.

So they got after it.

Triple bypass.

Pull a vein from here and another one from there and redo all the plumbing.

The surgery went off without a hitch and the doctor claims I will experience 100 percent recovery.

I am hoping he means 100 percent back to my high school healthy heart days and not 100 percent back to my heart just before the “incident,” but I guess only time will tell.

Life Happens

Oddly, this was suppose to be the year I got fit. I mean truly fit. (Just like a lot of other years, but you get the point)

I started a new job with inGamba, an amazing bicycle touring company based out of Marin and I was going to “work” while riding my bike and promoting the brand. I had landed a dream job for someone who loves to ride their bike, drink good wine, and eat amazing food. Mangia, Beve, and Bici, as we say at inGamba.

I had started to commute by bicycle every day and starting to put in plenty of miles on the weekends.

I was making plans.

Well, I find that all pretty funny now. Because as the saying goes, life is what happens when you are making other plans.

So I learned a few things about myself while dead. Well not so much during the dead part, but during the road back.

One, I’m not going to be one of those guys who all of suddens knows so much more. I won’t be handing out diet tips or life advice or running around hugging strangers. Although, I am extremely excited I did not exit stage left I am not any smarter or insightful than before things all went ass-over-tea-kettle.

Two, people are amazing. I mean truly amazing. Starting with my wife, who somehow held it all together day after day after day. Even when I was lying there frozen like a lump she stayed the course and watched over me. And my boss (don’t believe everything you hear about the Portuguese), co-workers, former co-workers, and long lost friends stood at the ready to do anything which needed to be done. And the “social medias” were inspiringly filled with thoughtful things to keep me entertained, when I was coherent enough to comprehend what was going on.

Let the Comeback Tour Begin

Finally, I have plans. I didn’t really understand I had plans. But I do. I want to be successful at my job and my marriage and my friendships and my interactions with the world every single day. And I want to make some photographs. And I want to ride my bike. And I want to be a better writer. I want to write. I have never really said that out loud before.

I guess I knew most of this, but it is only now that it has reached the point of clarity.

And for the record, I don’t feel lucky. People tell me I am, but I don’t really feel like lucky is what it is. I think had it been kidney stones or heartburn or head lice I would feel pretty lucky.

I feel grateful, but not so much lucky.

And now I’m home recovering and back to causing everyone grief.

For example, I started riding my mountain bike around the neighborhood, until the doctor found out.

He was not happy.

Something about my sternum.

Apparently when they crack you like a walnut, it takes time for that to heal.


So no riding my bike out-of-doors for the next six weeks.

I am allowed to ride the bicycle trainer indoors.


But whatever. I’m gonna ride my trainer, keep being a pain in the ass, and look forward to riding my real bike in Italy in June.

Special shoutout to: Terry, Cory, Lisa, Joao, Nate, Ted, Bryan and the kids at Pivot, Brad and the kids at Kali, Katura and Fritz, Chuck and Lana, Nate, Randy, Greg Asfar, My family at inGamba, Greg Ahrens, David, Beatrize, the gang at Seven Design, Ariel, Chuckie, Jakob, Keith, Mikey, Paloma, Xico, my kids from SF State, Chris Baker and his beloved JCPenneys card, Scott, MV and the kids, Chad, Lewis, Gregg, Olivia and the boys, Alex, Leander and Traci, Brendon, Tracy, Denise and Ross, and so many more.

  • Joan Hanscom

    Well, holy moly. See a guy at press camp and then he goes off and dies? I am awfully glad to hear that it was temporary. Take good care of yourself. I’m awfully happy to hear that you’re recovering well.

  • Alex Jennings

    Glad you are up at at ’em again. Good luck on your continued journey to being a pain in the ass, I have faith you will do spectacular!

  • Christie Minervini

    Thanks for this, Jim. Ron kept us updated and you were in our thoughts. I’m so happy to hear you’re going to make a full recovery.

    I doubt you recall that I died in 1999. Third attempt to bring me back was successful. Eight month recovery, but I lived. Everything you said is true. Especially the “feeling lucky” part. Didn’t “find God” either. So glad you’re in the land of the living, and speaking the truth. Much love to you and Terry.

    Christie Minervini (Bronakowski)

  • elissayancey

    I have a secret. I’ve known for years but I guess it’s time I told you. Before you go off and die again or something. You have always been a writer. A kind of disgustingly good one, at least to all of us labeled “writer” early on. We toil out here for decades, but you, you just take the pictures and spit out truth. Now that’s out there, I guess there’s just one more thing left to do about it. Write. Damn you.

  • Chad Battistone

    Can’t wait to see you at The Otter Jim!

  • Chris Zigmont

    Jim – as always, you’ve handled this enviably. I look forward to working with you at inGamba, and looking forward to our next ride together. listen to the lab coat guys a little.


  • Mike Kepka

    I’m glad your not still dead.

  • Chris Howell

    Fantastic news Jim. Glad to see you are making your way back at full steam ahead. Miss you bunches and good luck with your recovery.

  • Tom Kattus

    Jim, so glad you made it back; that’s scary shit! Thanks for sharing your story and I hope to be riding bikes through Treviso with you in July. Be well and heal completely and quickly.

  • Kyle

    I didn’t know you before you died (thrice), but I’m glad you haven’t left us just yet. I’m also glad it made you say that you want to write out loud. That was probably scarier than almost dying. Best of luck.

  • Wayne Anderson

    Welcome to the zipper club; had my triple bypass 8 years ago and I’m doing fine. I died on the helicopter, they zapped me back and I didn’t see any bright lights or have any life altering visions. I just remembered being very relaxed and at peace (the morphine might of had something to do with this) as the nurse and doctor stared rushing around the tight confines inside. I passed out and came to in the cath lab of a hospital in Ft. Wayne.

  • bobmcmillan

    Damn, Jim. What a story. Welcome back to the land of the living.

  • Shelly Driscoll

    Great writing. I am glad you are back and I look forward to reading much more. Your pictures are already amazing so I cannot to read more…. thanks for sharing your story. It touched me and I am sure it touched others!

  • George

    Check out FB Get Well Laura for another comeback story.

  • Bryan Derballa

    Damn, Jim. Glad you pulled through. I’ve always considered you tough as nails and this time you really proved it.

  • Nat Maple

    Wow, Jim glad to hear all is OK and we will continue to see your writing 🙂

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