Most of my family and friends, after turning 50, don’t make a big deal of birthdays.
Yes, we’re respectful of birthdays, posting Facebook birthday greetings, going out for a special dinner or wishing a happy day on the phone.
But birthdays are typically just another day of the year.
My brother’s birthday Sunday was going to be another such quiet birthday acknowledgement.
Turning 68, my brother, Neil Feineman, acts like someone in his 30s. He blogs while riding on music groups’ tour buses. Neil’s one of the best in his hip-hop dance classes. Neil hangs out socially with top deejays who play internationally. And a good majority of his friends are half his age, with only half his energy.
Neil’s always the one who others of all ages gravitate to in any gathering, for his warmth, wit and intelligence. His opinion is always valued, whether by party-goers or a publisher who knows Neil is the one to launch a magazine or write a book on music, extreme sports, exercise or trends.
As happens with siblings, my big brother and I have had more than our fair share of fights over anything and everything, from my boyfriend choices to healthy eating choices.
For the record, he’s usually right. Neil was the valedictorian in high school, was Phi Beta Kappa and had a perfect grade point average all the way to his Ph.D. in English. And although I argued with my parents for the last few decades that I was smarter than he, Neil actually has the higher IQ.
I love my brother.
And this year, I want to make a big deal about Neil’s birthday.
Just being able to celebrate his birthday this year is extraordinary.
Because unexpectedly, on March 9, my brother almost lost his life. That day, as I was getting ready to turn off my computer at 5:30 p.m. at The News Messenger office, a UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center emergency-room social worker called to tell me that my brother was found face down on the ground without a pulse or heartbeat at the Venice Whole Foods store.
A Good Samaritan, who my family calls an angel, gave Neil CPR before he was taken by ambulance to the hospital.
No other details were available as my mother and I waited for our plane and then for an Uber to take us to the hospital.
Six hours later, when my mother and I arrived to Neil’s intensive-care room, we were told by doctors to expect the worst. Neil had suffered sudden cardiac arrest. Doctors didn’t know if his heart was too damaged and they didn’t know how long his brain was without oxygen before the Good Samaritan worked on him.
Neil’s only chance to survive was therapeutic hypothermia, which lowered his body temperature to levels between 32 and 34 °C (90 to 93 °F) for the next four days, followed by two days of rewarming his body temperature. It sounded like science fiction to us but modern medical technology is truly amazing.
His doctors gave him less than a 5-percent chance of waking up and, if he did wake up, less than a 5-percent chance of talking, walking or even recognizing us.
For the next five days, as Neil was in a medically-induced coma with a breathing tube and seven IVs, I couldn’t believe this was now his reality.
My brother has been a vegetarian for decades. Not owning a car, Neil walks everywhere in Los Angeles. He pumps iron. He does yoga.
He has written numerous books and articles on being healthy.
Neil loves life. He’s happy and has hundreds of friends throughout the world.
So how could Neil suddenly be lifeless in a hospital, unaware of his surroundings and without the ability to breath on his own?
As Neil lay unconscious and shivering from a reduced body temperature for the next six days, I hope he heard my mother, my daughters and me talking to him. We talked about his accomplishments, we talked about the weather and current affairs, we made jokes, we held his hand and we played music we thought he would like.
Six days after Neil was admitted to the hospital, doctors reduced his sedation to try to wake him. We were told not to expect miracles and to be realistic of the circumstances. My brother’s fate was no longer in doctors’ hands.
When Neil miraculously opened his eyes that morning, the nurse told Neil that he suffered a heart attack and was in the hospital for almost a week.
The nurse then told Neil that the date was March 15.
My brother, although unconscious for six days, said, “Oh, it’s Super Tuesday. Who’s winning?”
As Neil does with everything, he put 120-percent-plus into his efforts to regain good health by following doctors’ orders to the letter, researching how to recover holistically and reducing stress.
Today, Neil is just as busy as he was before March 9: working, socializing, exercising and living life to its fullest.
Neil is an amazing hero to all who know him.
Six months ago, I wasn’t sure Neil would be here today. I am so grateful Neil has been given a second chance at life. So I will now make a big deal of any birthday celebration, any phone call, any visit with him.
My brother told my mother this week that he now has two birthdays each year, the day he was born, Oct. 2, and the day he woke up fine from his coma, March 15.
Happy birthday, Neil!