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Jan. 8, 2014. It’s been five years since I danced with the devil by the pale moonlight. Since that time, I have pushed the limits of the doctors’ warnings. Today, I relent.

Two days after covering the 2014 BCS Championship Game, I was semiconscious. Other than strapped to a gurney in an ambulance, I do not remember a lot. (The needle remains vivid.)

H1N1 evolved into BOOP — bronchiolitis obliterans organizing pneumonia. Then, bilateral pneumonia consumed my lungs. I could not breathe. I fell into a coma.

‘It was basically do or die’

My wife was counseled to begin thinking about funeral arrangements. My mom had made the trip to Atlanta. … I believe God answers prayers. I believe, for whatever reason, He has things on my to-do list. The day before I returned to work, I wrote a note to the folks at Northside. I never mailed it. I should have. So this is my closure moment — the end of a life chapter that changed me forever.
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The doctors settled on a combination of eight different drugs. The IV cocktail worked. After almost three weeks in the coma, I pulled out the breathing tube. The nurses freaked out. My wife shrugged, “Well, that’s Duane.” Realizing I was not dead, the fight to breathe on my own began.

Do-or-die, that is how my mom explained it to me afterward. For five years I concentrated on one part of that equation: die.

To family and friends, the Bubba persona was as unfiltered as ever. Need an opinion, I have it. Lack of sarcasm in your life, pull up a chair. Want the unvarnished truth, you’ve come to the right place. Good food to be had, let’s graze!

Still, I struggled with why, against the odds, I lived.

In 2015, I kicked Corporate America to the curb. (The best business decision I’ve made.) I went to work for a non-profit. (The best rational decision I’ve made.) After that, I began to work for me. Best. Decision. Period.

Life became more evident: Do the work. Reap the rewards.

I miss the daily interaction with some co-workers. I do not miss our work being the catalyst for others remaining employed. (Or accounting for their bonuses and/or promotions.)

Many in Atlanta remember January 2014 for Snowpocalypse. It was a wake-up call. Indeed, I awakened, too.

Generosity of many

Yet, one thing haunts me: the 2013-14 Editorial intern class. I missed out on many things with those four. Sarah, Andrew, Abby, and Eric are good peeps. They had ideas. By the time I was back on the beam, the interns’ run with us was wrapping up.

Today, I often wonder what they would have brought to the discussion. Instead, I follow on social media and smile. They turned out fine — even with me kinking up the chain. I’m over-the-moon proud of each of them (as well as Dani, Jason, Robbie, Christian, and Justin, interns from other departments who were vital to Editorial’s success).

Recently I began tightening my Facebook parameters. I saw a Page that a friend had started. Mark and Chris would relay messages from my wife. (My health wasn’t a topic for discussion in the newsroom. Something about “law” and “disclosing patient information” and “HR regulations” …)

It was eery reading the back-and-forth between friends — sort of a voyeur’s view. Many people stepped up to lend a hand or lift a prayer while I was doing whatever coma patients do. I thank y’all. For whatever my family was going through, their trouble eased by the generosity of many.

If it’s true that “your vibe attracts your tribe,” my shake-and-bake is at 11.

My time to thrive

Along the way, I’ve met some remarkable people: David Henriksen and the iD team (Frank, Shaundra — lifesavers!). The CT team (purpose). Ari Whitten (perspective). Joel Capizzi (faith). Theo Hanson (everyday life). Each of them has a unique way to make you want to be better — even if I continue to struggle to be better.

The difference is: I now choose to thrive. I have pointed opinions, even sharper sarcasm, unvarnished truth with a sheen! And I still graze. … But I didn’t die; it’s time to do.

Five years ago was Jeremy’s 19th birthday. He celebrated in the dugout at college with one of his mom’s cookie cakes. Peyton was in high school. Reily was still single-digits. Mandy juggled trips to Northside with keeping the kids focused. I’ll never know how she did it.

The night I pulled out the breathing tube, it must have been my way of saying enough is enough. I was conscious a couple days later. After a sputtering start, I resumed breathing on my own several days after that. I exited in time to watch Super Bowl XLVIII from my living room. Six weeks later, back to the grind for March Madness.

After I left the hospital, my pulmonologist, Dr. Matthew Prout, put a 5-year clock in my head. It has reached 00:00. I survived.

Here’s to life — yours and mine.