Don't Fear the Reaper

Chris Gray faces the Grim Reaper and lives to tell

Chris Gray and Governor Ann Richards at the Four Seasons, circa 1999
Chris Gray and Governor Ann Richards at the Four Seasons, circa 1999

On Friday, October 28, 2011, Chris Gray died in Houston. OUR Chris Gray, age 36, former Chronicle columnist and music editor at the Houston Press. Chris died of a heart attack on his way to work. And that’s where the story almost ended.

Cardiac arrest struck as he waited for the Metro train. He has no memory of it nor much around it, but being that powerful, he had to been feeling bad that morning. Someone now dubbed "The Good Samaritan" saw him collapse at the train stop, called 911 then applied CPR for 15 minutes until the ambulance arrived. Chris had no heartbeat, but the constant rhythm of CPR kept his blood moving and oxygen in him.

Medics shocked him four times in the chest with the defibrillator until his heart started up again. That's when doctors in the Heart & Vascular Care Institute of Houston’s Memorial Hermann put him into the two-day coma that stabilized him enough to bring him back to life. Which is really what happened. Call it luck, God's grace, a miracle, guardian angel, or whatever – Chris Gray went eyeball-to-eyeball with the Grim Reaper and lived to tell.

This HP link shows Chris on Tue. Nov. 1, but after this was taken, the IV in his neck was removed and placed atop his hand. I visited with him three times between Tuesday and Wednesday, and each time was better. This morning was especially good, he recognized me by name upon entrance (though he later identified me to the speech therapist as his sister, which tickled me to no end).

Wednesday, he also kept up conversation with me and his dad and brother – we flipped through the TV channels and he made it clear nothing was on he wanted to watch, even football ("College football," he muttered and made a face). He also responded to Lindsay Lohan on the news: "She looks terrible." They are also taking out that feeding tube in his nose, and will put him on soft foods – he successfully ate ice chips then graham crackers (with a little prompting) and swallowed them – this was an accomplishment.

Many questions and what-ifs abound. How minimal is this brain damage? Can he recover fully? How long will it take? Can he resume his job at some point? Will he be able to write in the capacity he did before? For the moment, I took comfort in small, once-insignificant details he recalled from extensive TV watching we did. Who are the Frozen Embryos? Strawberry swirlie or pumpkin cheesecake yogurt? "If you are Mulder," I made reference to nicknames we have for each other based on The X-Files series, "Who am I?"

“Scully,” he replied thickly, and gave me a broad Chris smile.

As I was leaving, he said two things of his own volition: "How's Susan An(tone)" and "I want to come back to Austin." Actually, he’d said the Austin thing twice, several minutes apart, completely out of the blue both times. It was all I could do not to cry, but I am confident he will recover completely.

I don't fear the reaper. And I would like to go fast, without pain, and before all my friends are gone. But not yet.

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Chris Gray, Houston Press

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