I’m a great believer in making “to-do” lists. “Almost dying” has never been on any of them, but that’s what I faced in late October.
I certainly don’t want to cause myself any bad luck, but honestly I live a pretty safe life. There are, of course, the crazy moves I’ve made either driving or being driven somewhere, or the crazy moves other drivers have made upon me. (Being rear-ended isn’t fun!) There was a time a pilot almost had to ditch the private plane I was on in a New Jersey cornfield. I’ve been on runaway horses, and I’ve shot photos of crashing race cars with only a little guardrail between them and me. But by and large, I’ve escaped injuries, hospitals, and their horrid needles. I am not a patient patient, and I used to say that God kept me well as a blessing to the medical community.
That’s why getting sick so unexpectedly really gave me pause, which is a phrase my grandmother used to say that I always liked.
I’ve stayed overnight in a hospital only three times. I was born in one, but I don’t remember that at all. When I was 12 or so I stayed in the hospital three days to have my impacted wisdom teeth extracted. They do that in the dentist office now, but there was some concern over excessive bleeding so I was hospitalized for that procedure, for wisdom teeth would have surely played havoc on the braces I was about to get.
And that was it, until a few weeks ago. I’d only ever been in an ambulance once before, which was simply to accompany one of my clients, Jeret Schroeder, to the hospital when he slammed into the Turn 2 wall at Phoenix International Raceway in an Indy car many years ago. Although he showed some symptoms of shock on the ambulance ride, he came through mostly unscathed and that afternoon and evening was mostly spent going with him as the hospital staff performed numerous tests on him to make sure he really was OK.
So that’s my basically boring backstory about the world of medicine. Sore throats have been my most common malady.
But on a Monday evening last October I got what I thought was the flu, even though I had gotten a flu shot. I couldn’t keep anything down. My family doctor couldn’t see me, but on Wednesday I kept an appointment with one of her colleagues, who guessed that I had an upper respiratory virus that was beginning to crop up in Indiana. He said it was common in Guam, a place I’ve never been. I don’t know anyone from Guam, either.
He gave me a prescription for a flu pack of pills, which I filled and started taking. He said it wouldn’t cure it, but it would cut a few days off the illness, and he promised I’d feel better by the weekend.
So I toughed it out and waited to feel better. I drank lots of liquids, to no avail. Nothing was helping.
On Thursday two of my girlfriends said I wasn’t making much sense when they talked to me on the phone. One of them is a retired nurse who has a key to my house because she takes care of my four cats when I travel. These two friends decided that the cat-sitter would call me on Friday morning, and if I still wasn’t making any sense, she’d go over to my house, let herself in, and see what was going on.
I never heard her phone call. When she arrived, I was wearing a nightgown and my fluffy socks, and I was sitting at my kitchen table holding a cat food bowl. I was trying with all my might to get enough energy to pour cat food into the bowl.
She took one look at me and said I was going to the emergency room.
“But the doctor said I’d feel better by the weekend,” I reminded her.
It was hard to talk. I could see the words I wanted to use flying through the air above me, but I couldn’t quite catch them and say them. It was an astonishing experience for someone who loves words, reading and writing.
My friend asked if I could make it to her car. I thought about having to go upstairs to get cleaned up, dressed, and then to walk out the door, down the sidewalk, and into her car. I remember telling her “I don’t think so,” and the next thing I knew there was an ambulance in my driveway and about six paramedics in my kitchen.
The Chapel Hill Village Homeowners Association may never get over the sight of me being loaded into an ambulance wearing nothing but a nightgown and fluffy socks. Embarrassing is the only word to describe it.
The ambulance crew started me on liquids intravenously before we even left my driveway. As it turned out, I had a weird virus coupled with a kidney infection and I landed in intensive care with severe sepsis. I had never even heard of sepsis before this, but it’s what most people die of when the obituary reads “died from complications from surgery.” The body is so overwhelmed fighting infections that it just shuts down.
For some reason getting enough oxygen was a problem for me. The fancy monitor I was hooked up to should have read 98-100 as a normal oxygen level.
At one point, mine was 12.
Luckily the antibiotics worked. I learned later that people with severe sepsis have a 50-50 shot of living. Luckily I was on the positive end of those odds.
I could barely walk when I was discharged a couple days later, but that came back. My energy level and endurance level are not up to snuff at the moment (another one of Grandma’s phrases), but the doctor assures me they’ll come back too, and they have been improving.
But the whole experience has given me pause, as Grandma would have said. The illness did a real number on my usually very dependable body, and it did so without warning. After all, I was following the doctor’s orders, and was expecting to feel better by the weekend.
My family doctor said later that if my friend hadn’t intervened, I would have gone into a coma and died at my kitchen table, still trying to get enough energy to feed my cats.
Surprisingly, I didn’t feel any fear while I was in the hospital. People were praying for me, and I am not lying when I say that I could feel their prayers going through me just as sure as all those antibiotics were dripping through my system. One of my pastors came and prayed a very dynamic prayer with me in intensive care, and it took away all my fears. If I were going to die over this, it would be OK because Jesus would be there to help me through that process.
My sister dropped everything and drove from Pennsylvania to Indiana to be with me, the friend who insisted I be admitted was with me as much as her schedule permitted, and even a neighbor checked in. They all had to wear surgical gowns and face masks just to enter my room. My friend who is the ex-nurse was even my “patient advocate,” and raised an alarm to the nursing staff when my fingers and toes turned gray.
I guess I have more work to do on Earth though, because I didn’t die. Everyone has been great helping me as I recuperate.
But right now, there are four main things I’m trying to work through:
- How do you thank people who saved your life? You can say thank you, but it seems so inadequate.
- How am I going to pay these bills? I’m going to take that one month at a time and at least try to make the minimum payment plan the hospital and I set up, but I might really be dead before these bills are paid off.
- I could often push myself to do all-nighters if necessary for work in the past. That’s unthinkable now. When will I regain my previous strength?
- The fourth one is perhaps the most unsettling. How do you regain the confidence you had in living a general life full of hope and expectations even though it’s been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that something unexpected like this could happen at any time? I realize that life throws curves to people all the time, and they’re often curves that are a lot more destructive than what I experienced. But the whole thing has made me less confident and a bit of a wus, which has never been an adjective anyone has ever used to describe me.
I’m going to take it day by day, count my many blessings, and hope my mojo returns along with my strength.
Maybe I’ll even put that on one of my “to-do” lists.
Universal links to Linda Mansfield’s books:
Stories for the 12 Days of Christmas: books2read.com/u/m0xny0
Twelve Stories for Spring: books2read.com/u/bMr8Jv
Twelve Stories for Summer: books2read.com/u/3nOjdo
Twelve Stories for Fall: books2read.com/u/bPJj2Y