An Account of My Recent Illness(es)


I experienced some serious illnesses during June and July that almost resulted in my death. Because many people have kindly expressed interest in my condition, and also because I do not wish to repeat myself dozens of times, I have written up this account.

Background: I had experienced some medical problems starting in 1990 that are relevant to the recent conditions, although these illnesses themselves involved no serious concerns.

In 1990, 1995, and 1997, I had back operations for herniated discs. Although the first of these three operations involved serious pain, there were no complications, hence nothing serious.

Then in 2005, my doctor discovered something potentially more serious: My aortic valve developed serious stenosis (due to rheumatic fever I had as a child). My aortic value was replaced by a pig valve. As before, there were no complications.

However, hospital operations occasionally lead to diseases, so the fact that I had so many operations with no complications must be considered lucky. In 2010, my luck ran out.

In June of 2010, I had a fourth back operation. It was by the same surgeon, and it was quite simple — so simple that I was able to leave the hospital the third day. Also, during my first week at home, my healing seemed to continue with no problems.

But, things suddenly became problematic. During the following weeks, I became increasingly unable to walk. Finally I was sent to the emergency room, and then into the hospital, where a staph infection was diagnosed in my spinal disc. The staph infection, moreover, had reached the heart value. As a result, I suffered a stroke. This was only a minor stroke, but did produce some aphasia.

Luckily, the doctors, learning the correct antibiotic, began getting the staph infection under control. However, there was another problem: New back surgery was needed in order to clean up the disc.

After I spent five days in ICU, I was considered doing well enough to be transferred from the hospital to the rehabilitation center. But I almost immediately experienced congestive heart failure, so I had to go back to the hospital — an event that, incredibly, took 12 hours just to get readmitted into the hospital.

In any case, in addition to dealing with the congestive heart failure, my body faced the most dangerous problem: My aortic valve (which had been replaced in 2005) had become infected. And then the infection eroded the tissue under the valve, and the aorta was becoming detached from the heart.

The heart surgeon needed not only to replace the pig valve. He also needed to replace a piece of the aorta. He worked on this twofold problem for six hours.

During this operation, my wife was warned by the surgeon’s assistant that I might not make it. But after several hours during which she thought that I might well die, I did survive.

I myself had not fully understood how close I came to dying. I clearly understood this only weeks later, on the day I was to check out of rehab. Commenting on how well I NOW looked, my back surgeon said that he had figured that I was lost.

Survival, however, was not the end of the journey. For several weeks, I would need to take antibiotics and about 15 additional medications. Also, reading has been made difficult by the stroke, but some new glasses should help.

The most long-term effect from my illnesses will be the aphasia resulting from my stroke. I have been working on this for several weeks, but the failure to find the words I am looking for is still pretty serious. Although I can sometimes talk for several minutes without any errors, at other times I am unable to locate very simple words (often with hilarious results).

I will, of course, not do interviews as long as I am seriously troubled by aphasia, so it will probably be many months before I do any interviews.

To summarize: On the one hand, I went through a difficult period of about two months, during which I could have died from a number of causes. On the other hand, my life was saved by some superb surgeons, with the help of my wife. And so I am recovering. Whether I will do much intellectual work in the near future remains uncertain at this time.

My thanks to everyone who has expressed concern.
David Griffin

by David Ray Griffin, Originally published at

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