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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter cheating death, time to enjoy our beloved Christmas Tournament.What I do know is, I should be dead. Two different cardiologists told me 80 percent of the time the aortic dissection I had would have been fatal.

Wikipedia defines an aortic dissection as “an injury to the innermost layer of the aorta which allows blood to flow between the layers of the aortic wall, forcing the layers apart.”

Let me tell you, you don’t want the layers of your aortic wall forced apart.

But with a lot of love from family and friends and a world-class doctor in Dr. Stanley Tam, I’m back.

For the first time in 42 years, I missed the highlight of my year last December, the annual Commonwealth Motors Christmas Classic. For my money, the premier boys basketball tourney in the state.

But it’s not going to happen again! I’ll be at Methuen High with bells on Dec. 23, 27 and 29.

Here is my story.

It was just about a year ago. I had returned from the Christmas Tourney banquet at DiBurro’s in Haverhill, written my story and proofread The Eagle-Tribune Monday sports pages.

I was heading home at about 2 a.m. the morning of Dec. 12. Suddenly, I wasn’t feeling well and/or my car broke down in an early-morning snow storm. It may have been both.

I woke up my wife, Yadira Betances Muldoon, and she was going to pick me up on the side of the road on Rte. 495 in Lawrence.

She sensed something was wrong and thankfully called the police. A kindhearted state trooper, I still don’t know his name, took good care of me and that was blessing No. 1 in a series of blessings that enable me to write this story.

MedFlight to Boston

The next thing I remember it was three days later. I was in intensive care at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Boston, where I had been MedFlighted that Monday morning from Holy Family Hospital in Methuen.

After an 18-hour emergency surgery, I now had a patched up aorta, a nasty 9-inch scar on my chest and too many tubes to count.

Facebook pronounced me well on the comeback trail. But the well-meaning friend couldn’t have been more wrong.

At about the time I was getting flooded with relieved compliments on social media, I was actually being rushed to a second 12-hour emergency surgery for internal bleeding.

Against doctors’ advice

Drip by drip I heard I was less than an ideal patient. I pray that was due to medication and the extraordinary situation I found myself in and not that I was once again being a jerk.

But when you are comatose for a few days, then semi-comatose, well, that’s my excuse.

I was pulling out all my tubes to the shock of my saintly nurses and wife. Hospital orderlies had to tie me to the bed.

One day I was frantically calling every number in my cellphone looking for a ride home to a comfortable bed, a stocked refrigerator, a computer with Wi-Fi and a clicker I had mastered.

Four things St. Elizabeth’s couldn’t offer.

I tried to bribe one colleague with $300 for a ride from Brighton to Methuen. Since I probably don’t have $300 to my name, that was pretty preposterous.

About 30 horrified people called my wife, “Um, Yadira, did you know Mike was planning on leaving the hospital against doctors’ advice.”

I still can’t believe that one, but I looked all sorts of doctors and administrators in the eye and said, in so many words, “Get me the %^&*# out of here.”

I actually told them, “I’m going home to sleep and will be back later.”

The fact they were some of the best medical minds in the world and I was a sportswriter who flunked Mr. Cayot’s sophomore biology class in high school, didn’t dawn on me.

Thankfully, enough relatives and friends convinced me I didn’t know what I was doing and all but restrained me.

If you have to die, you don’t want it to be because of Irish stubbornness.

But shortly before Christmas, I was released. I figured I’d dance an Irish jig and then take in the Christmas Tourney. Maybe cover the tourney for my 31st straight year.

Not so fast. I tried to walk down the hall at St. Elizabeth’s and nearly collapsed due to overwhelming fatigue.

No, I was bed-ridden for another month.

Defying long odds

I’m not a very introspective man. When I heard those chilling “80 percent dead” odds, my reaction was something like: “Wow, aren’t I lucky. Pass the clicker.”

My second reaction was that this will give me an excuse to stop dying my hair after 35 years.

But I am blessed to be here and I wonder if I would be here if it weren’t for my wife, Yadira, who moved into St. Elizabeth’s for 12 days and was there every step of the way.

I was hoping Yadira was with me in the helicopter ride to St. Elizabeth’s so that might count as a unique Christmas gift. She wasn’t, it didn’t. I’d better get her some Louis Vuitton red shoes this Christmas!

So many people to thank

I’m still working on some cool stories to explain the 9-inch vertical scar down my chest and two-inch horizontal one.

Maybe something like: “The Gronkowski brothers were acting up and I got right into Rob’s face …”

There are so many people who were so good to me. My wife, my mother, Joanne, my stepson Gabriel Martinez and my four siblings (Bobby, Kevin, John and Maura) certainly top the list.

All my Tribune sports colleagues were wonderful especially sports editor Bill Burt, a regular at St. Elizabeth’s, and Dave “Duffy” Dyer.

Even today, if I’m having a bad day I’ll go to the article Duffy wrote: “No. 1 Christmas wish: Full recovery for Mike.”

It’s an immediate pick-me-up.

My friend, former Andover basketball great Ted Kelley, hurried back from some far-flung locale thousands of miles away.

So he could be in my room for an hour while I was comatose!

St. E’s had a special nurse, and again I hate to say I don’t even know her name.

But when you have urine and feces on you, cramped in the bed at my height (6-foot-6) and frustrated beyond belief with no computer handy, a gifted and kind nurse can make all the difference.

Through the entire ordeal, and I’ve been just about 100 percent for 8-9 months now, this is what I was struck most by: People are so nice and so caring.

Other people in the newsroom I could never thank enough include photographer Carl Russo, community news editor Betsy Curry, who made a massive plate of her world-famous brownies when I returned, and our former night editor Joel Barrett.

Time to go to work

When a major storm hit, I panicked. I’ll be housebound for a week. I’ll have to miss work … on the heels of missing almost two months! The guys had already worked themselves to the bone carrying me and now this.

Muldoons are a lot of things, but we’re workers. I’ll never forget my the 50-something-year-old mother trudging three miles through 20 inches of snow to get to her job one time as a nurse at Phillips Academy.

And 40 years later, she has never mentioned it once.

But now I was going to be “that guy” everyone wanted to strangle.

So self-pity was setting in. Would I even be able to go back to my job which I enjoyed so much?

Then I hear the early-morning hum of a snowblower. It was my Methuen neighbor, PMA basketball coach Brian Martin, cleaning every nook and cranny of the driveway.

And he did it the entire winter, refusing to take a penny. What a guy.

Another huge boost came from Central Catholic. Raider athletes and coaches put together a 3-minute video, which was better choreographed than “Hamilton.”

I’ll never be able to thank them enough for it.

Love of Christmas Tourney

In addition to a life-and-death medical situation, taking enough drugs to put down an elephant, and battling what seemed to be depression, I so missed “The Christmas Tourney.”

The 42nd annual Commonwealth Motors Christmas Classic was right around the corner and for the first time ever I wouldn’t be there. Heck, I’d covered it for the last 31 years and it was always the highlight of my writing career.

No. 2? I couldn’t even answer that it was so far down the list.

Since my father is gone, I can admit it. I used to skip church to go to those early tournaments. It was hoops heaven.

I watched my buddies Ted Kelley and the Perry brothers become legends. I watched in awe and was determined to properly capture the greatness of Scott Hazelton and Carson Desrosiers and all those great Central Catholic teams.

I always wished I was as cool as Lawrence legends Rigoberto Nunez and Elinton Rosario.

This was my baby, my turn to shine. And it was taken away.

I might not know as much about sports as Hector Longo. Or have Bill Burt’s resume. Or Dave Dyer’s work ethic.

But dammit, I would leave no stone unturned so that you might get the occasional, “Hey, I really enjoyed that Christmas Tourney story you did on …”

So this year will be special. More special than people will ever know.