Brad Dell: The Man Without Fear, Almost

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by Brad Dell |

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(Photo by Kathleen Sheffer)

Imagine how much easier cystic fibrosis (CF) would be if we didn’t have fears. What if we stared death in the eye and laughed?

Age 23 was destined to be my last year on earth. Hospital staff had that awkward talk with my family and girlfriend about my imminent death, but without actually saying that big word.

Plot twist: I’m still kicking at 25, thanks to a double-lung transplant.

I humiliated death, so I laugh at it — literally. I love death jokes. People look at me in horror when I do something daring after saying stuff like, “Ah, it’s chill if I die, it’s been a good second run.” I advise my cringing friends to loosen up, telling them that the only way to have power over death is to be comfortable with Him.

I’ve stared death in the eyes and He ain’t so scary.

By extension, CF no longer scares me. If my biggest foe doesn’t scare me, how could I let anything else? Thus began the Great Quest to End All Fear. I desire liberation so I can attack my second chance at life with vigor, without hesitation!

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My simple idea is based on the foundational psychological trick we learn as a kid: learn to swim by having your pops push you into the deep end. Kinda like exposure therapy. I identified crippling fears and pushed myself in.

I pierced through my needle fear

It began with a botched IV insertion.

After 23 years of being poked by needles, I still hated the things — especially thick IV needles! I got a port-a-cath for a reason! (That lil dude, fondly named Chester, was removed due to infection in 2016.)

While recovering from my transplant, I had a student nurse who was not skilled with needles. I needed an IV and she just couldn’t tunnel the darned thing into a vein. Poke, wiggle, poke, wiggle. Over and over. She wiped the blood off with alcohol pads, on the verge of tears, as I repeatedly muttered through gritted teeth, wild-eyed, “Again.” I wanted her to learn on me rather than some poor child with less pain tolerance. By the end, my arm had countless bruised punctures. Needle finally placed, I complimented the shellshocked nurse on a job well done. Every following IV placement has been easy in comparison.

I climbed new heights

Literally. I challenged myself to go rock climbing and reach the very top of the wall, then take my time in gazing down below. Two months later, I bought a climbing gym membership and climbing shoes and spent time atop every wall I scaled. One day, I had a bad fall and tore an ankle ligament, which put a stall on my “climbing career,” but that felt good. Really good. I injured myself doing something I love, not because of medical treatment. Refreshing!

I challenged my millennial anxieties

Making phone calls is one of my most intense anxieties. Silly, I know, but it’s a common generational problem. This one was easy to conquer. I make loads of unnecessary phone calls, avoid online scheduling systems, and randomly call friends to check on them (but they’re millennials too, so most don’t pick up).

I drove away my greatest fear

After three major car wrecks (as a passenger) and being hit by three cars as a pedestrian, driving understandably terrified me. Plus, I became deaf in my right ear at the age of 15, which made on-road driving instruction difficult. At age 24, I still didn’t have my license. That was easy to get away with when I lived on Oahu, because, well, it’s an island. But I moved to California, and that place stretches out a bit more. I needed to learn to drive.

So, I did. But I was still anxious.

My “exposure therapy” wasn’t self-administered this time: I got T-boned in the driver’s door by a car in an intersection. Oops. I got out of my destroyed car, surveyed the damage, and thought, “That wasn’t so bad.” Somehow, it was easier for me to be a driver in a crash than a passenger. I guess I have more control. Since then, I haven’t had any driving anxiety. Thank you, wreck!

I visited the origin of my trauma

While on vacation in Hawaii, I visited the location of my most brutal trauma: the hospital where I had septic shock, went insane, and nearly died. I didn’t need to go there, but I chose to. For the first time, I visited the hospital on my terms. I laughed, I hugged my former doctors and nurses, I stared in defiance at places of past suffering. I felt empowered and haven’t thought much about the hospital since then. I got closure.

I became romantically fearless

Haha, OK, not yet. I’m working on it.

What fears can you overcome to tap into life’s full potential?


Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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