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Marc Sacco, 58: The Language of Healing

Having worked for 30 years in trauma as a paramedic and ERnurse,  Marc Sacco not only experienced his own share of trauma — physical attacks, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury — he also co-authored a book on healing through hypnotism. He discusses how he rediscovered his love of bike racing, and how he defines winning as simply showing up and finding joy.

As a paramedic, one sees a lot. There is trauma, there is saving people, there is PTSD. Marc was at Sandy Hook, lost a dear friend on 9/11, and has survived 2 personal physical attacks requiring considerable rehab. There is a strength and a joy for living that can come out of trauma, and for Marc that came in the form of racing bikes at the age of 58 for the sheer fun of it. His career is about giving, and he continues to help and heal people. Wherever he finds himself, be it using his very special gifts to calm a patient or competing at the Senior Olympics, he wants to know he gave it his absolute best, as much as he can in every way. 

How old are you, Marc?
I am 58 or, as we say, race age 59.

Oh. What’s the difference between age and race age?
Yeah. Your age, when you race. It’s calculated by how old you’ll be at the end of the year. December 31st, whatever age you’re going to be, that’s what you race at that whole year. My birthday is in October, so I’m still racing as a 59-year-old.

Hypnosis and NLP for Healing

How old were you when you started studying hypnosis?
At about 51. I cowrote a book called Verbal Medicine: The Language of Healing. I’m now a nurse manager, but I’ve worked in trauma as a paramedic and ER nurse for close to 30 years. In that time, one of my coworkers, Roger Woods, he and I had been doing ER nursing together, and he had always had this interest in hypnotism. We added NLP, neuro linguistic programming, later. 

One of our mantras is, “Wouldn’t you agree that your brain controls every cell in your body right down to the chemical releases? It’s something that you can’t refute.” So, then we said, “Well, why don’t we make it work for you instead of against you?” And that opens the door because the brain doesn’t distinguish between reality and imagination. You dream it and you experience it. You imagine it, and your brain thinks you’ve done it. So, why not imagine that you’re having less pain? Why not imagine that your arm can go numb, and you can have sutures put in?

The more we learned, the more we were able to distill it because one of the problems with traditional hypnosis is you go into a relaxing state, you’ve got the lights down, you’ve got the music going, and you’ve got all this calmness and time to do this. Well, we’re in an emergency department. It’s full of noise, full of chaos, and we have to figure out: How can we make this still work in this environment? And we did. We tested stuff and we invented ways to do it for over 35,000 patients, and it worked.

We distilled it into what we call verbal medicine; the language of healing. And then, we wrote a book.

One of the things we realized is we wanted to walk the walk and talk the talk. We have to prove it to ourselves in order to be able to prove it to others. I can’t tell you how many shoulder dislocations I have been able to assist in putting in with either no medicine or a lot less medicine. Just the other day, I went in and relaxed this gentleman and put him into a nice, deep trance. And we did it without any medicine, and he was gone. Put it in, put it in a sling. 20 minutes later, he’s out walking out the door.

There’s actually a video out there of me getting five stitches in my arm with no anesthesia, no topical, nothing, just Roger putting me into a trance and making my arm go numb.

Paramedic at 9/11

You lost someone at 9/11.
I was a paramedic in Danbury, Connecticut and for a 911 service, and I had a deal with my paramedic partner. He was Christopher Blackwell, and he was an FDNY paramedic, Rescue 3. What he would do is he would call me the night before and say, “Hey, can you stay late? And I’ll let my relief come in on time, or do you need to get out on time and I’ll have my relief come in early?” And of course, September 10th, evening, what did I say? “Don’t worry about it. I can stay late.” So, he was still at the fire station when the alarms went off, and he went and was up in the tower.

He was Rescue 3?
He was in Rescue 3. So, I was on duty. Obviously, I stayed late because he went into this and we were watching it on TV. The really sad part about it is his wife was our dispatcher, so she was literally standing next to me while we were watching the TV, hoping against all hope, and then watching it just come down. It was just devastating. For a good 10 years, I couldn’t tell anybody that story because I felt so much guilt that I said, “Don’t worry about it.” If I’d have said it the other way, he would have come. In reality, he wouldn’t have. As soon as he heard that on the radio, he would have turned around and went; but that guilt. I credit the hypnosis and the NLP with being able to release that. Because while I was doing the NLP training, we had to do some releasing techniques and I was able to release it and start talking about it. I don’t have that overwhelming guilt anymore, but it was quite tragic to feel like I caused that.

I was there for that. First plane went right over my building. I saw the whole thing happen up close.
We will never forget.

Airplanes have a very different meaning to me now.
Yeah. Oh, yeah.

You have been personally physically attacked a couple of times?
The first time we were helping a patient who had tried to kill himself. He took the opportunity, while we were holding him, that when I leaned forward, he took his knee and drove it right up into the back of my head and nearly knocked me out. I was kind of hanging onto the railing. It was my first healthcare-related major TBI, and it went a little bit untreated and I was not happy about that. I said: It’s time. It’s time to semi-retire. So, I found this wonderful hospital up here called Mt. Ascutney Hospital in Windsor, Vermont. I started doing night supervisor and had been there a good amount of time.

Then, on January 30th at 7:15 at night in 2020, we had a young man brought in by the police department who was a bit homicidal and was wanting to break things and hurt people. Typically, one shift in the emergency department is going to be one nurse, one supervisor, one tech, and a PA. So, it’s four people. We were lucky at 7 o’clock, shift changed, so I was just coming on. So, we had seven people. But I went in and because of the verbal medicine and the language of healing and stuff that I do, Roger and myself are known as the Patient Whisperers because we have this ability to talk people down, calm them down. I was attempting to calm him down, talk to him and, unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. 

“Roger and myself are known as the Patient Whisperers because we have this ability to talk people down, calm them down”

He had just learned that he was not going to be released and was going to be held involuntarily; that angered him even more. He escalated. I could tell he was looking around the room. Now we clear out everything we can to keep it as safe as possible. But he was looking around. He wasn’t looking at the door to escape, because here in Vermont, we would just step aside and he could leave. He wasn’t doing that. He was looking for something to break and use as a weapon.

There was a coffee. He hit me and it splashed all over me. I remained calm, but he looked at — right over my shoulder was the paper towel dispenser, so it’s made of plastic. And it’s really the only thing. He looked at the cabinets, but they were too solid. What he was trying to do was, he was trying to break it to create a shard, like a shiv, and stab us. He literally said, “I want to stab you to death, and then I want to go out and I want to stab every one of them to death and then kill myself.”

He went to go punch it again to break it into pieces; finally, I had to grab him. And I did. I grabbed him in a therapeutic hold. I got most of him. Unfortunately, I didn’t get his punching hand. As I moved him to the middle of the room, he started punching my backside and the back of my head. I didn’t know it at the time, but he had hit me so hard, multiple times in the right side of my back of my head, I lost hearing in one ear. 

We were attempting to control him so we could put him in restraints. As we put him down, the PA has the lower half, I have the upper half. He catches me with a good hit. I go back enough for him to sit up, and he starts just punching the back of the head of the PA. I caught the third punch and when I did, he grabbed this muscle and he attempted to rip it off my arm. It was just horribly painful, and I’ve got these big bruises on it. But I was able to put him back down, hold him down. The rest of the people came in, and it took all seven of us to keep him down. He was trying to bite and kick and just do as much damage as he could. I subsequently tore all the tendons in my elbow, damaged the ulnar nerve, injured my shoulder, and had another TBI.

“He had just beat the living crap out of me, and I had to turn around and take care of him”

The odd thing is, as a nurse, we are always taking care of our patients. So, as soon as we restrained him and he knew that he was not getting out, he had a panic attack. He became a patient again. I immediately turned on my nurse hat and took care of him. I was giving him comfort. I was helping him breathe. I was talking him down. He had just beat the living crap out of me, and I had to turn around and take care of him. And that’s what we do. They pulled me out of this room, and I became a patient. It was all a downhill spiral from there.

You mean a downhill spiral because of the TBI?
Physically, mentally, it was difficult because one of the things I didn’t know: I had the most severe case of PTSD I had ever experienced. And I only found that out about a month later, when I was going into the PT, the physio doctors, to get my evaluation; and I would be sitting in their waiting room and my heart was just pounding and I was on high situational alert. I was marking every single person that would come in. I was checking threat level. I was watching and I was sitting; I found myself back to the wall, sitting in the corner so I could see all the exits. And I knew I had a problem.

Unlike times in the past, because being a paramedic, going through 9/11, being at the receiving hospital for Sandy Hook victims, I had a lot of other PTSD incidents but, back in the day, you didn’t really talk about it. There wasn’t a lot of treatment for it; you buried it. This time, I told the doctor, and it changed my life. It really did.

Recovering from PTSD

And what did you do? What was the recovery?
The recovery was immediately getting into therapy with a one-on-one doctor. We did try some medications because one of the things that I was experiencing was just escalating thoughts. My brain would go over the incident. I would analyze every second, every movement, and that’s okay if you can control it. The problem was it would run continuous, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it; I couldn’t stop it. What was happening was I was getting less and less sleep. At one point, I was at my wit’s end because I was getting exactly one hour of sleep. I would wake up screaming or fighting and be like “Ugh, it was an hour.” And try to go back to sleep, and then it’d be an hour and I’d be back into the fight mode, and we had to start some medications.

The problem with the side effects of the medications was ravenous hunger. And she warned me that this may start and here I am, I’m eating olives out of the refrigerator every five minutes. And I gained over 40 pounds during this. But I was able to finally get a little bit of sleep. We were finally able to reset. We did have to get off that medication and start doing therapy and the hypnosis, and the NLP, and EMDR, eye sensitivity training.

The first time I went to the hospital for therapy, it was on the opposite side of the building from the emergency department, so it was easier to walk into. I could not go across the hospital to the entrance of the emergency department. Couldn’t do it. Here I am, an emergency department nurse, paramedic, almost 30 years in the business, and I couldn’t actually walk into or near the emergency department for the longest time. And it took a lot. It took a lot of work over and over to get where I could stand in front of the door, and then I couldn’t go in the back door because that’s where, near room 5, that this happened. I could go in the front door, stand there, look around, and then walk away. 

Again, my hospital was fabulous. They supported me so much. I mean, the CEO called me the next morning: “What do you need? What can I do for you?” That was a big shift from the previous hospital that nobody called. That time I sat in my bedroom for eight days with no therapy, no help. This was a huge change, and it made a big difference.

Bike Racing

How did you get to bike racing?
From the first assault, the first attempt on my life, and the second attempt on my life, I could not bike. I had a huge, major shoulder surgery, torn rotator cuff completely, bicep tendon almost completely off, re-injured the elbow, another head injury, everything, and a meniscus tear. So, I started square one, being able to finally walk around the block with my arm in a big sling. And this time I told the ortho, “You’ve got to fix me. You’ve got to get me ready. I have got to get back on my bike. The running was okay, but I need my bike.” That’s what I was doing when I was 20, and that was my happy place. I’ve got to get back there.

I started riding with a club up near Dartmouth College. I was the slowest guy. I was getting dropped. They’d have to wait for me. I was in the slowest group, and I was the slowest guy. I kept telling them, this isn’t me. I used to be a racer, and they’re like, “Yeah, okay.” I started improving, and I kept improving. Now, I’m in the front of the pack.

And one of the guys that I’ve been riding with, he said, “You know what? You’re getting pretty good. You should go do this senior game.” “I’m not an old person. What are you talking about?” He goes, “No, it’s 50 and above. Not 65. It’s 50 and above.” I go, “Oh, really? That’s great. When is it and where?” He goes, “It’s over in Vermont, across the other side of the state.” And he says, “It’s about two or three weeks from now.” And that date was September 10th. I’m like, “That’s great. I’m doing it. I don’t care what I got to do. I’m going to be there.” Because that was exactly one year after this huge change in my life again. “I’m going to prove it to myself. I win if I show up on the starting line; I don’t care if I even finish. If I get on the starting line, I win.”

“I’m going to prove it to myself. I win if I show up on the starting line”

And I did. I showed up. I had my old bike; it’s nothing special. I’m still a little overweight. And I gave it everything I had. I took two silvers, both time trial and road racing, and that qualified me for Nationals. So, I’m like, “I’m going to take this journey. I’m going to go further. I’m going to see how far I can take this.” My wife decided — because of COVID, the National Senior Games opened up registration, so you didn’t have to necessarily qualify if there were spots open — she jumped in too, and she was training. She was inspired by what I had been doing. The both of us competed and we had a wonderful time. It was such a great experience. And both of us did top-ten finishes in all four events.

Congratulations.
Thank you. 

Looking ahead. You’re 58, racing age 59, looking ahead. So, another five years. What are your goals?
I’m going to be doing this till I’m 95. It was a passion when I was young and, unfortunately, I got hit and run, left for dead on the side of the road while I was training to get to the Olympic level. There were trials coming up, and I got hit and knocked into a ditch and left there back in Louisiana, where I was going to college. I had injured myself bad again, a head injury and a bad knee injury. I ended up using my bike as a crutch and walking 2 miles back to the campus, and somebody threw me in a pickup truck and took me to the emergency department. I don’t remember a lot of it, but it messed me up. I was not able to get back competitively, and I didn’t understand why until the flashbacks came.

What would happen was I would go back out on my bike and I would be riding along, and then a loud truck would come behind me and pass me, and I would just be in the ditch shaking, just absolutely shaking. I didn’t understand why until I went to another college, and I was walking past their motor pool and I saw their trucks, and it all came back to me. I realized that one of their university trucks was going from their agricultural department back to the campus, and probably a student, graduate student driver or something hit me and panicked and left. So, I’d been a recreational biker. I hadn’t been competing until the Vermont Senior Games hit, and now it’s my passion again. I love it.

“I had a blast and I was absolutely last place. I was lapped and I loved it”

What are the three non-negotiables in your life?
Integrity. You have to have integrity, and if you don’t, it’s not worth it. 

Joy. You have to have joy. If you’re doing something that’s not joyful, you shouldn’t be doing it. 

Settling. I don’t want to settle for anything. I want to know I gave my absolute best. And that was something that changed in my point of view from having these two attempts on my life, that I have a different perspective on how I look at things. Like I said before, I set these goals. I’m not setting a goal to be on the podium. I’m setting a goal to just be on the start line. I win. I win, and I’m going to have fun.

Last July, I had taken in an energy gel on a training race and it got sucked into my right lung, and I damaged my right lung aspiration pneumonitis, and it set me way back. I couldn’t walk from the couch to the kitchen without being out of breath. I spent a month recovering and then trying to get back into shape. I went and I had the best time and I was absolute last place, and I loved it. Because it’s a criterium, you’re doing 14 laps, you’re seeing the same audience 14 times. And some people gave up. They’d lose the back of the pack and they would quit. And I’m like, “Why? Enjoy the experience.” So, I kept going and I waved to the crowd as I’d go by, I’d race the ref in the straightaway. I had a blast and I was absolutely last place. I was lapped and I loved it. And that’s what I came away with this experience in my life is: enjoy the moments. It doesn’t matter if I’m on the podium or if I’m last place. Enjoy the moment.

Connect with Marc:
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See medical disclaimer below. ↓

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great article David! You’ve told my story well and I thank you! I wanted to clarify a few things. I was at the receiving hospital for Sand Hook not at the scene. I ended up taking care of more responders, nurses, and friends who were devastated by this tragedy since unfortunately very few victims were able to be transported. Also, the second attempt on my life happened September 11th 2020 and I competed almost exactly one year later starting my amazing journey back!
    I truly hope my story inspires everyone to reach beyond what they think they are capable of!!! Thanks again! Marc

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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.

AUTHOR

David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

 

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