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How I Have Been a Survivor

Paul has had a challenging life. He has had many different jobs, been married more than once, and lived in five countries.

The author at age 77.  Picture was taken in September 2021.

The author at age 77. Picture was taken in September 2021.

How I Have Been a Survivor

I have been a survivor throughout much of my life. One of my Facebook friends stated this obvious fact after reading some of my memoirs on Hubpages.

Yes, I have been a survivor because my guardian angel and good fortune manifested by my parents, friends, doctors, and employers have helped me survive difficult times.

Saint Thomas Aquinas addressed the subject of guardian angels this way, On this road, man is threatened by many dangers from within and without, and as guardians are appointed for men who have to pass by an unsafe road, an angel is assigned to each man as long as he is a wayfarer." Although a guardian angel can not be seen, God is introducing images and suggestions leading a person to do what is right.

On the matter of good fortune, the Taiwanese language has two interesting idioms:

  1. Tih gong thia gong lang — God cares for the foolish person
  2. Mm bhat ho bpai — cannot distinguish between good and bad

I interpret these two related idioms as meaning that because a foolish person cannot tell the difference between good and bad, he or she has the good fortune of a caring God.

In this article, I cite five examples of how a guardian angel and good fortune have helped me overcome difficulties.

Five Difficult Situations in My Life

  1. An emergency acute appendectomy at age 6 in 1950
  2. Dealing with medical school application rejections in 1966
  3. Handling a draft induction notice in 1966
  4. Getting a job assignment in the Navy in 1967
  5. Being diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2015

1. An Emergency Acute Appendectomy at Age 6

At the age of 6 in either 1950 or 1951, I underwent an emergency acute appendectomy.

As I still recall, I awoke one-morning vomiting and with severe abdominal pain. My mother immediately took me to see Doctor Voellings who had an office on Greenfield a few blocks away. I was very afraid, but when the doctor told my mom that I had a ruptured appendix and needed an immediate operation, I was terrified. In the doctor's office and on the way to the hospital in a taxi, I kept asking, "Am I going to die?"

I can still remember inhaling ether that was used as an anesthetic. The following dream of being under a locomotive with white smoke was more terrifying.

Fortunately, I survived the surgery and had a complete recovery. I am now completed convinced that God and my guardian angel were present in the actions of my mother and Doctor Voellings.

2. Dealing with Medical School Application Rejections in 1966

At the beginning of 1966, I couldn't have been a more naive person. I was so confident about being accepted into a medical school that I had no plan B in the event I was rejected. During the previous semester, I had neglected to take a college exam which would have given me a draft deferment. I also had no idea what I would do after I received my Bachelor of Science degree in August 1966.

By early January, I had received letters of rejection from all of the medical schools I had applied to. At this point, something told me inside that I needed to apply to a graduate school to get a student draft deferment. I had been majoring in chemistry so I decided to apply to the University of Michigan's Graduate School to do graduate work in chemistry. Although I only had a B average in my undergraduate chemistry courses, I considered myself very fortunate to be accepted into Michigan a few months later.

In February 1966, I also made the wise decision to pledge to Alpha Chi Sigma, a professional chemistry fraternity. Alpha Chi Sigma happened to have a chapter house in Ann Arbor just off the University of Michigan campus. Being a member of the fraternity allowed me to have reasonable housing and support from fraternity brothers while I was studying at Michigan.

Good fortune with an assist from my guardian angel certainly helped me deal with medical school application rejections.

3. Handling a Draft Induction Notice in 1966

Around the middle of November 1966, I returned from class one afternoon to find a letter from my mother in a long envelope. After I opened the letter, I saw a one-page letter on top of an official notice from the U.S. government.

Mom noted that she hated to be the bearer of bad news, but felt that I should read my draft induction notice. Reality hit home when I read that I was to report for Army basic recruit training about one week before Christmas.

Many emotions came upon me as I read the notice. The two most prevalent were disbelief and fear. How could I be drafted if still in school? I then started to shake with fear just thinking about having to fight in the jungles of Vietnam,

I needed advice on how to handle this serious situation. After calling a student helpline number, a coed answering the phone suggested that I dodge the draft and run away to Canada. When I immediately rejected that idea, she advised me to present my induction notice to the University's Registrar's Office and ask for a student deferment.

I got drunk that night and the next morning filed for a student deferment. Fortunately, the University of Michigan was able to get me a deferment until the end of the school year in May 1967.

The clock was now ticking and I finally realized that I would have to serve in the military. My first reaction was to apply for Army OCS training in the Chemical Corps. I thought that with my background in chemistry and Bachelor's Degree I could become an officer in the Chemical Corps and avoid combat duty in Vietnam.

A few days later, I saw an Army recruiter in Ann Arbor who was more than happy and eager to get me into the Army. He immediately took me to an Army base in Detroit for processing. On that first day, I had a physical exam and filled out some enlistment papers.

I was quartered in a transient barracks that night and informed that I would sign my enlistment papers and get sworn into the Army the next day. That night I am convinced that my guardian angel was at work. A Vietnam veteran kept order in the barracks and told stories about his experience in South Vietnam. They were frightening and more so were the jokes I heard about the life expectancy of a second lieutenant in Vietnam being only 20 seconds.

I questioned how I could be so naive. Even if I was an officer. I would most probably see combat and have my life in danger. The next morning, I told my recruiter that I had changed my mind and was not going into the Army.

Upon returning to Ann Arbor, one of my roommates suggested that I enlist in the Navy. My chance of being sent to Vietnam would be a lot less than if I were in the Army or Air Force.

In December 1966, I saw a Navy recruiter near my home in Racine and managed to get on the waiting list for enlistment in the Navy Reserve. I would enlist in the inactive Navy Reserve on February 15 and then go on active duty on June 15, 1967. Before enlisting in the inactive Navy Reserve, I would stay in school to avoid being drafted.

4. Getting a Job Assignment in the Navy in 1967

I entered active Navy duty on June 15, 1967. Around the second or third day of basic training, all recruits in my company had to take a battery of aptitude tests. The purpose of these tests was to determine the most suitable Navy occupational training.

Before taking the tests, I remember having to list my top three career choices in the Navy. I selected hospital corpsman as my top choice probably because I had taken a pre-med course of study in college.

Shortly after taking the test battery, I met with a career counselor who asked whether I wanted to learn Russian or Chinese. I obviously must have done very well on the artificial language aptitude test that was in the test battery. My reply to the counselor was that it didn't matter whether I learned Russian or Chinese.

Eight weeks later and a few days before finishing basic training, I received orders to attend a Chinese Mandarin class at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.

In hindsight, it was a blessing that the Navy assigned me to learn a language and not train to become a hospital corpsman, Once again, I was so naive at that time. I did not realize that many hospital corpsmen working with the Marines were being sent to combat in Vietnam. As a corpsman or medic, I would be on the frontline treating wounded soldiers. This would be just as bad as joining the Army and serving in the infantry. My guardian angel most probably saved my life.

The Author Home on Navy Liberty in August 1967

Author at home on Navy liberty in August 1967

Author at home on Navy liberty in August 1967

5. Being Diagnosed with Kidney Cancer

I was diagnosed with most probably kidney cancer on March 25, 2015. My general practitioner doctor at Bangkok Hospital in Udon, Thailand, had scheduled me for a routine full abdomen ultrasound on that day. The results of the ultrasound revealed that I had a large mass in my left kidney.

After a CT scan and further discussion with a urologist in Bangkok, I was advised to have my left kidney removed. My left kidney was removed on April 25, 2015, and the mass or tumor was found to be malignant.

Before the operation, I had no symptoms such as blood in my urine that would suggest I had cancer. The routine ultrasound ordered by my Udon doctor saved my life. My guardian angel and God were at work again!

Author's Left Excised Malignant Kidney Incision

Author's left excised malignant kidney incision

Author's left excised malignant kidney incision


I can list other examples of how God and my guardian angel helped me overcome difficulties. The five events in this article are most noteworthy.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Paul Richard Kuehn

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