Don McNay

“I need 10,000 angels, watching over me tonight ...”

— Mindy McCready

At Thanksgiving, I had a lot to be thankful for. I was engaged to the woman of my dreams and my third grandchild had just been born. I had written a best-selling book and assembled a dream team for allowing my businesses to grow.  

Since then, it’s been a lot of doctors and hospitals.

During my first trip to the emergency room, they told me I was lucky to be alive.

A urologist convinced me to operate. He hit the jackpot of my deepest fears. Surgery is the top of the list.

I’ve had one other surgery. At age 5, I got my tonsils out.  

My fear of surgery is magnified by 29 years as a structured settlement consultant, helping injury victims with their money. I’ve seen a lot of things go wrong in hospitals. I had a client go in the hospital for a knee operation and come out with heart transplant.

Statistically, errors are rare, but I see the times when they are not. I have a heightened awareness of what can go wrong.

In an era of managed care and big chains, mistakes are made and people fall through the cracks. I didn’t want to be another one who fell through the cracks.

My second biggest fear is cancer and especially, prostate cancer. My dad died of prostate cancer at age 59 and I watched him die a horribly painful death. I hit 53 in February. I fear that my genetic time bomb will go off when Dad’s did.

The first day played into my fears. I got to a chaotic hospital early and after sitting through several exams and several hours, I was sent home because of what appeared to be a scheduling mix-up. They then scheduled me for Friday surgery and a weekend stay.

That played into another fear. I’ve seen bad things happen because patients were overlooked by understaffed weekend crews.

I try to give myself an edge. I came to the hospital with an entourage that Elvis would have envied. I told thousands of Facebook friends which hospital I would be at. Two doctors are good friends and they called and emailed for updates a couple of times a day. I stopped at church for a blessing and updated my living will.

I was ready for anything. But scared to death.

On the second try, the hospital staff fell over themselves and I was the first person taken to surgery. I had a rough night, which includes a bad experience with one of the nurses.

Getting into it with a nurse was a traumatic experience.

I love nurses. My mother was an operating room nurse for 27 years and my family and friends endowed a nursing scholarship at Eastern Kentucky University after her death.

 It’s impossible for me to not see my mother in every nurse I encounter. I treat them with the respect that Mom deserved and didn’t always get.

After the horrible night, I tried to call and email someone to help me and possibly get me out of the place. Early in the morning. Couldn’t find anyone.

Then the shift changed and my guardian angel arrived.

In the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart’s character) had a guardian angel who was an older man named Clarence. My guardian angel was an early 20s nurse assistant from Nicholasville named Crystal Hamblin.

Once Crystal and the registered nurse she works with, Sydney Napier Thigpen, came on the scene, life got better.

Crystal is going to school to be a massage therapist, has a 2-year-old child, and works in the hospital every other weekend. She is street smart with tons of common sense. She is a source of calm, but she was dealing with a middle-aged man who wanted to jump out of his skin.

She and I immediately became friends and she walked me through some deep breathing exercises.

The message hit me that little things are what life is all about.

Last month, I was worried about weighty world issues. At that moment, I just wanted to use the bathroom and to stop smelling my own vomit.

Sydney and I hit it off right away, too. She is from Garrard County, and her cousin Lonnie Napier once was my state representative.

Syd has the work ethic and concern for her patients that reminded me of Mom.

Sydney was there on Sunday when I went through the four most painful hours of my life. I was excited Sunday morning because the doctor told me I was leaving.

Which I couldn’t do. I had developed a large blood clot.

They tried numerous (very painful) methods, but could only get a partial clot removal. Finally, the resident surgeon showed up.

It looked I would have to have emergency surgery.

I politely told the resident that I had selected my urologist, Fred Hadley, because he came highly recommended from numerous sources. I did not want to be operated on by a resident.

A lot of people would have been insulted. Dr. Rogers was not. He asked if he could try some ideas. After several attempts, he got the clot to dislodge, and I was able to go home.  

I met with the urologist Tuesday. I don’t have cancer. At all. I am on the road to recovery.

I’ve spent my life chasing fame and glory, trying to achieve great things. I’ve never been one to stop and smell the roses. This experience forced me to.

I’ve been stunned by the outpouring of love, prayers and support.

Just like George Bailey, I’ve lived a wonderful life and have not always appreciated it.

Throughout the ordeal, I reconnected with the power of prayer.

During the year Dad was dying, I prayed every night. When I was going through pain on Sunday, I started praying again. It was comforting and gave me peace.

I found on Facebook that well over 100 people, of different faiths and backgrounds, prayed for me in their own ways. It reminded me that prayer is a universal language.

I connected with some angels at the hospital. Crystal, Sydney and Jennifer Watson probably will rarely get their names in the newspaper but get to see every day how they make a difference.

I also connected with the angels of above.

Prayer had been missing from my life for years and I was reminded of why it is a tenet of every faith the world. I am blessed in many ways. I am blessed with health insurance and disability insurance. Many people have no health insurance and even fewer have disability insurance. Time off work can wipe them out.

I go into the New Year with a new sense of purpose.

If I can use the fame and fortune I’ve accumulated and keep the spirit of my angels in the front of my head, great things can happen.

I just needed a little pain to remind me.

Don McNay is an author, columnist and founder of McNay Settlement Group Inc. in Richmond, Ky. You can write to him at or read his award-winning syndicated column at

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