One year ago, today, I almost died.
It feels weird to say that. It feels like an exaggeration. But it’s not. I’ve spent the past ten days reflecting. Almost obsessively, and maybe it’s PTSD because I’ve walked over the events in my head, step-by-step as if reliving it, over and over, and so yes, obsessive and post-traumatic stress seems to fit. But I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to reflect on an anniversary of a major life event, so I’ll say the “disorder” part of PTSD isn’t quite right.
It was November 7th, 2019 when I went in for a very routine surgery. And by routine, I don’t mean to undermine the seriousness, and the recovery period, and the pain and mental trauma that can go along with the surgery, a hysterectomy, I just mean to say, it’s fairly common. I know six other people personally, plus now myself, who have had this surgery and I don’t think I can say that about any other surgery that people may have. So, I consider it routine, or at least common.
I was afraid before the surgery. But I wasn’t afraid of dying. And after the surgery, I was in intense pain, but I was happy. I had really needed this surgery and I was on my way to recovering and the thought of the life I would lead after recovery kept my spirits high. I did everything right, I went home and took my medications at the right time every day, I exercised lightly, in small amounts, by walking around my dining room table. I was feeling better every single day and thought I was doing great.
Ten days later, on November 17th, 2019, I was sitting on my couch next to my husband while my kids took turns playing on the Oculus. We watched them laugh and tease each other and at that exact moment I was distracted by my phone, looking down at the screen I felt something go wrong. I ran to the bathroom and felt immediate terror as I saw the dark red blood pouring out of my body. I was hemorrhaging and I knew it was bad immediately. My husband’s face said he was in shock as he told me to calm down and I told him I didn’t want to die.
We didn’t call 911. We didn’t want to end up at a hospital that wasn’t my doctor’s hospital. So instead he drove me and the kids to our hospital and the whole time I bled. When I first got to the emergency room the nurse didn’t look too concerned but the ER doctor looked terrified. He wasn’t going to touch me, he didn’t want to make it worse, he would wait for my doctor to get there. At this point what I remember most was my youngest daughter, seven at the time, announced, this would be the day that Mommy almost died. That we’d all remember this as the day Mommy almost died. And it struck me, that the thought of almost dying was acceptable to her brain, but the thought of me actually dying wasn’t. And that’s how she was processing it, that I could only almost die. Thank God she was right. I only almost died.
At that point, my husband thought it was time to usher the three kids out of the emergency room and my mother-in-law appeared like an angel to help.
And then the bleeding got so much worse.
I can never explain that feeling perfectly, as it felt, as I was lying there in the bed, light-headed, with the anesthesiologist leaning against the wall, waiting to put me under as soon as he got word, my husband and mother-in-law holding my hand. The disbelief of what I was feeling, the blood spurting as I’d seen in movies, when people were dying, felt like I was swimming in my own insides. If you lie in a bathtub, you know that water belongs outside of you. But when you lie in your own blood, and you know it belongs inside of you, that it’s vital to you, and that it’s still coming out of you, and it’s so much you feel like you’re swimming it, you feel helplessly over.
That moment was traumatic. That moment I couldn’t even let myself fully remember afterward because I thought just remembering it too well might take me back to it. I’d close my eyes and involuntarily feel it and be terrified, my eyes would fly open and I’d panic that I would start bleeding again, that maybe I was supposed to die, and my body just remembered that fact. And so, as I sit here and type this and I see I can let myself remember, I know, I’ve healed some. In my trauma.
The last thing I remember when they wheeled me back to the surgery room was the look of horror on the nurse’s face that was gathering up all of the paper tissue that they had kept stuffing around me to try and soak up the blood. Her arms filled with them, she looked at someone out of my vision and asked what she should do with all of it. The way she said it told me it was more than she thought it should be, so much so she didn’t know what to do with it. And all I could think was, “put me to sleep, put me to sleep, put me to sleep.” I was terrified. And then I was out.
When I woke up, I felt clean. I couldn’t believe I was okay. I specifically remember being shocked by not feeling the blood gushing out of me, no longer surrounding me, and then the next thought being modern medicine is absolutely amazing. I was elated and blissful. And then I crashed.
That’s actually when I almost died.
I had no blood. Not enough at least. The male nurse who had been holding my hand, trying to wake me from the anesthesia stopped talking to me and started talking to someone else. I was fading and my brain couldn’t focus. There were several people in the room, but all my brain could grasp was this man, because he was touching me. And if you, the reader, take anything away from this I hope it’s that if you ever find yourself in the position where a loved one is slipping and they can’t speak or don’t seem coherent, hold their hand. Touch them. A step away may be too far.
The man yelled for an epi, and a woman’s voice floated from somewhere in the room asking me about insurance. Yes. That’s right. I was crashing and she wanted to know what insurance I had. Remember that, you know, when you’re considering your own healthcare or maybe voting. Your health insurance may be life or death. In America. I couldn’t answer her. My brain couldn’t find the answer though it was trying SO HARD. I remember how hard I was trying to make my brain answer her. It was trying very hard. But it couldn’t. I don’t know if she found the information in her computer or decided I should be cared for anyway, I don’t know any of that, but it still blows my mind today that at that moment she was asking.
The man, the one holding my hand and asking for an epi, was saying “look at her lips,” and then he was touching my toes and saying, “look at the color of her toes.”
My heart was sinking, I couldn’t move or speak, but I knew if my toes and lips were discolored, and this man was panicked, it was probably bad.
The next thing I remember is getting the blood transfusion started, and then vomiting. While I was vomiting was my darkest moment of despair, I thought it was over and I was dying, I thought my body wasn’t taking the transfusion and I even thought I was bleeding again. I started crying. But in actuality, I was coming back to life. It was before that transfusion that I had been dying, once I stopped throwing up the male nurse held my hand again while the transfusion started bringing color back to my lips and toes, and he talked to me about random things and he kept me calm.
Eventually, they decided I could be moved to a room and before I left, the man told me I was going to be okay. He said he’d seen both people that would be okay and people that wouldn’t, and I’d be okay. And he was right. I got two blood transfusions and other liquids and painkillers and more days in the hospital and when my husband brought me spaghetti it was the best spaghetti I’d ever tasted in my life.
I went home eventually and went through the holidays in a blur, family and friends were the best support system, and then I finally could put on a pair of jeans, and then I started taking my kids out for short amounts of time. I took my oldest to a basketball game and then I got sick. And so, did a lot of the kids on that team. And then we saw them shut down that school because a kid there got Covid-19 and then people started shutting down everything. But we had already gotten sick. I didn’t know if I had Covid, I had no fever, just a cough that started with a sore throat, there were no tests at that time, but we isolated immediately. My cough lasted forever while the kids got better immediately, and I tried to tell others to be careful, and finally, I got diagnosed with Asthma and on inhalers. And we moved. And I published my first Indie Book. And now it’s a year later and I’m okay.
So, what did I learn? There’s a difference between living and surviving. But sometimes you have to survive to get anymore living done. But do try to get as much living in, even if it’s while you’re surviving, because you might not make it. Enjoy today. Be happy. Life is so fucking fragile. Sometimes we forget, but it is. It’s so fucking fragile. So be thankful. For yours. And every life you love. While it’s here. One day it will be gone. It could be today, while you’re sitting on your couch looking at your phone, or tomorrow, and honestly, if it’s later than that, be fucking thankful. Because life is so fucking fragile.