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March 29, 2003 --
When I'm sitting there backstage and I'm getting ready to go through that curtain, I'm just waiting for that glass to break and when it hits, when that crowd explodes, I might as well be a junkie and I'm hooked on a drug.
-- Stone Cold Steve Austin
Damn, I think I'm dying, dying for sure. I'm getting off the elevator on the twenty-seventh floor of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Seattle, the night before WrestleMania XIX, and my heart's beating so hard it feels like it's going to crack a rib jumping out of my chest.
I'm saying to myself, I'm thirty-eight years old and I'm fixing to freaking die, right here, right now. I'm having a damned heart attack!
And I'm wondering how the hell it could have happened.
I'm Stone Cold Steve Austin -- the toughest SOB in World Wrestling Entertainment, better known as WWE. This is Saturday night and tomorrow is WrestleMania XIX, the biggest Pay-Per-View event of the year. I'm in one of the biggest matches of my career, wrestling The Rock in my first real match after being out of the business for over eight months.
I've been working out twice a day at the gym and doing nothing but focusing on this match. Mentally, I'm ready, despite all the challenges I've been through in the last couple of years -- injuries, surgery and rehab, divorces and -- most unexpected of all, maybe -- my leaving WWE.
Physically, I look like somebody who deserves the name Stone Cold. But truthfully, I'm a walking disaster area. My back, neck and knees are a mess. I've got two fused discs in my back and others just barely holding together.
But tomorrow is WrestleMania, and I need to perform the best I can and put on a hell of a match. Hell, it could very well be the last one of my career. I want to go out in a blaze of glory, like anybody would.
Standing here on the twenty-seventh floor of the Grand Hyatt, my heart pounding against my ribs like a gorilla trying to bust its way out of a cage...that wasn't in the plans at all.
I had woken up that morning feeling all right. But the more I thought about it, the problem went back before that morning...
The day before, which was Friday, I had bought a couple of those high-energy drinks from the gym. I was in the habit of drinking from three to five of those things a day, plus anywhere from one to two pots of coffee, while I was off and working out. Those drinks are loaded with Ephedra and that Ma Huang crap and lots of caffeine. I should have known with all the warnings about ephedra, but it never bothered me until now. Famous last words.
I worked out at the gym on Friday and went back to the hotel. I was a little emotional, because I figured this was the last match of my career, so I didn't sleep so well. When I woke up, it was one of those mornings where you need a crane to pull yourself out of bed, so I opened up one of those energy drinks and drank that thing down.
This was before I had coffee, breakfast, whatever. Then I ordered some room service and drank the other energy drink. And then breakfast came, my normal breakfast, egg white omelet and a large pot of coffee. I drank the whole pot.
Then I called Kevin Nash and went to see him before going to the gym and had a couple more cups of coffee with him. When we went to the gym, I noticed that over the last couple of days the reflexes in my leg were really jumpy. I have what is called a sustained clonuses reflex in both legs, which is an involuntary shaking of nerves, knees, whatever. I was nervous about this whole weekend, this probably being my last match. I was nervous about hurting my neck or back, plus there was all that crap I was putting in my body, and I had been doing this stuff for months on end. Looking back, I think I was wearing myself down.
I went to the gym, but I didn't really work out. I didn't feel like doing a whole lot, so I had kind of a BS workout, a light back workout. I did the recumbent bicycle for my knees, just peddling on it, not really trying to raise my cardio or anything. Kevin had come over after he finished his cardio exercises and we were sitting together talking.
I said to him, "Look," pointing down to my foot.
My foot was resting on the bike pedal, and the reflexes were just firing like crazy in my foot and leg. I said, "Look at that crap."
He looked at my foot as it jumped uncontrollably on the bike pedal, and said, "Jesus Christ."
It was just a lot more jumpy than usual. You could see the muscles twitching away like they had a mind of their own.
When we got through with cardio exercises, we just shot the breeze for a while. Then we crossed the street over to the Grand Hyatt, where we were all staying. There were a lot of fans out there and we signed autographs for a while, and everything was fine. I felt like my normal self. This was about three in the afternoon.
After that, I went through the lobby, got in an elevator and rode it up to my floor. As soon as I got out of that damn elevator, that's when everything started happening.
My heartbeat might be doing 160 or 180 beats per minute. It just feels like my heart's going to jump out of my chest. I've been fatigued in matches before, totally out of gas and winded, but this is scaring the hell out of me. I'm sure I'm having a heart attack.
I start walking to my room, but my feet are going crazy and my legs are shaking uncontrollably every time I lift my weight off them. I finally get to my room, which is right by the elevator, and get the door open.
I say, "Okay, you're having an anxiety attack or something," so I take a couple of deep breaths to settle myself down. Maybe it'll pass, I think. But it doesn't pass. It's still as bad as before.
Hold it together, I tell myself. Getting over to the phone, I call the front desk to see if they have a doctor. I say, "I need someone up here. I need help."
They put me on hold, probably transferring me to someone else. The hell with that. I hang up on them and call back down and say, "I got an emergency. This is Steve Austin and there's something wrong with me. I need some help. I think I'm having a heart attack."
That's when they call Bob Clarke of the WWE Talent Relations Department in the WWE greenroom. In the meantime, Liz DiFabio, one of the WWE executives, just happens to be walking down the hall. I have my door wide open, waiting for some help, so I see her and yell, "Liz! I need help!"
I guess I'm as white as a sheet and I've got some weird kind of look on my face because I'm freaking out. My legs are shaking and I can't make them stop. Liz rushes in to help and then Bob Clarke and Chris Brannan, the WWE Raw trainer, come into the room. Then Dr. Robert Quarrells, the WWE team doctor, comes in.
This is all in a matter of a few minutes, I guess. I don't really know. They call the paramedics, but in the meantime they're all trying to settle me down. Dr. Quarrells has got my heartbeat down to 124. Then the EMTs get there and they take my blood pressure. It's 198 or 188 over 105, or something crazy like that. It's normally about 135 over 80.
That "bad feeling" I got when I stepped out of the elevator feels like it's going to come back at any moment. I just want to keep walking around the room, walking around the room. They all want me to sit down, but I don't want to. I really feel like this is my day to die. It's that kind of feeling.
The EMTs hook a bunch of medical stuff up to me. Then they want to get me to a hospital. Easier said than done.
There are so many fans downstairs, it's a madhouse. We do our best to be inconspicuous, so none of them will know what's going on. A group of us just walk out of the hotel in a pack, with me in the middle. But a bunch of fans see me being taken to a waiting ambulance. There's a funny moment when I look in their eyes and they look in mine, and it's crazy because no one knows what's going on.
Not even me.
We go down to the parking garage, where hotel security has put up a barricade so the fans can't see me being loaded up in the ambulance. I get inside and sit down. But as soon as they close the door, I lie down and they pull the blankets all the way up so no one can look into the ambulance and see who I am.
Finally, we arrive at the hospital, and they keep the blankets pulled all the way up over me so no one can see who they're carting into the place.
I'm thinking, Jesus, Stone Cold against The Rock at WrestleMania in Seattle. That's tomorrow, for crying out loud. But I don't think I'm going to be wrestling The Rock at WrestleMania. Right now, I'm a helluva lot more concerned about just stayin' alive.
I curse myself for my bad habits of drinking all those high-energy drinks and so much coffee every day. I rarely drank any water. I was just such a big bundle of nerves, with my health and everything else on my mind going into this match, plus my not wanting to stink the joint out. And now it's all just caught up to me -- BANG!
They take me into the hospital and hook me up to a machine that monitors my heart rate and my blood pressure. They also get an IV going and start giving me some fluids. They end up putting five bags of fluid in me, I'm so dehydrated. An average person might get two bags, but I get five.
So here I am, lying in the hospital in Seattle with tubes and wires hooked up to me, the night before I'm supposed to face The Rock at WrestleMania XIX. It doesn't even seem real. It's like a dream -- a bad one. J.R. (Jim Ross) and Vince McMahon arrive while I'm still in the emergency room. After it seems like I'm okay, they leave, thinking I'm coming back to the hotel that night.
Then the doctors decide they want to keep me overnight for evaluation. So J.R. and Chris Brannan come back to the hospital. When J.R. gets there, he asks me what I ate today, which was practically nothing. He sends Bob Clarke back to the hotel to get me some good food from hotel room service.
When he gets to the hospital with the food, I eat pretty good. That's a good sign. After I finish eating, we talk for a while. Then everybody eventually goes back to the hotel.
I just hang around the room, check out what's on TV and listen to some CDs. The nurse says she's going to give me some sleep medication. Of course, I'm still wound up and wide awake. I've been drinking those energy drinks for eight months, and I had two that day plus all the coffee, so I'm still pretty charged up. I lie in bed for a while just thinking, not falling asleep. It's only now that I start to think I can still work my match with The Rock the next day. I know there are going to be a lot of damn people there, and I've been away from the company for a long time, and there's been a lot of anticipation -- on the fans' part as well as my own.
After everything that I've done with this company, and everything this company has done for me, I want to do business with The Rock. I want to do it right. The Rock is going to beat me, and I want him to do it right in the middle of the ring. He's done a lot of stuff for me in my career, and vice-versa, so that has to happen. I wouldn't have it any other way.
I lie there in my hospital bed for quite a while, thinking about my life, my career...where it began, where it had taken me, my family, my daughters, my future. And what would happen tomorrow.
Finally, somewhere around three or four in the morning, I calm down enough to fall asleep.
Jim "J.R." Ross: I had just walked into the greenroom to see how things were going for our staff and talent on what, to that point, had been a pretty uneventful Saturday afternoon. The greenroom is the command center for our staff and talent for WrestleMania. It's kind of like going to the only coffee shop in a small town. At some point during the day, everyone drops by the greenroom to see what's going on and to use it as a point of departure for the appearances the talent make at 'Mania. Shane McMahon informed me that Steve had just been taken to the hospital. Steve had gone through hell the previous eight months or so. Some of it he had brought on himself, and some he had little or no control over. Stone Cold deserved a break and something kept telling me that this story was going to have a positive ending. When we walked into the emergency room, Steve was hooked up to a slew of monitors that were supposed to keep an eye on his heart rate and blood pressure. I could tell he was glad to see us because he tried to crack a few jokes. But the Texas Rattlesnake was scared, and he had every right to be.
Eventually Steve's vital signs started to improve, but the doctors wanted him to stay overnight so they could continue to evaluate his heart function. I suggested to Bob Clarke, who along with trainer Chris Brannan did a helluva job that day and night on Steve, that on the company's behalf, they hop back in the van and go to our hotel and get Steve some food. Steve's appetite returned, to say the least. He ordered two steak dinners and two grilled chicken breast dinners, so I felt confident, as I left his hospital room well after midnight, that Stone Cold would be able to lace his boots up -- perhaps for the last time -- in just a few hours at Safeco Field in Seattle. Stone Cold had a close call, but he was going to survive, just as he has done his entire life. And what a life it has been....
Copyright 2003 by World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.