Almost dying changes you.
I’m not talking about seeing your life flash before your eyes in a car accident or having a gun held to your head. I mean where you’re lying in a hospital bed with all sorts of wires hooked to you, not knowing whether you’ll wake back up if you doze off to sleep. Factor in that no one truly knows what’s wrong with you and your outlook on life will change really fast.
The good news is, I didn’t die. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this. But nearly four weeks of uncertainty will wear you down.
The date was May 5, 2017. Cinco de Mayo. It was also my last day at my job with the magazine. I had spent most of the day packing up my cubicle and saying goodbye to all of the friends I had made throughout my 18 months at the office. I felt very tired. Like so tired that I could have laid down on the floor and fallen asleep. An exhaustion that was bordering on passing out. I chalked it up to being stressed about my upcoming endeavors as a graduate student, my lack of financial plan once I left a very secure job and the sadness I felt about leaving my friends.
You know all those jokes on social media about googling symptoms on WebMD and how the website is soooo overdramatic? I’m here to tell you that you should never doubt that because anything is possible. That night, my throat was a little scratchy. The next morning, I woke up at 5am with the worst sore throat of my life. Worse than breaking a bone. Worse than the pain after having my tonsils removed four years prior. Worse than a broken heart (I know, is that evenpossible?!). Yes. Yes, it is.
Naturally, this tragedy was unfolding on a Saturday when my doctor was not seeing patients. So, I drove myself to CareNow. One negative strep screen and a prescription later, I was headed back home with no answers. Things went downhill rapidly. By mid-afternoon, I couldn’t swallow solid food. By dinner time, I couldn’t even swallow my own saliva. Talking was impossible as well. I had resorted to texting my mom when I needed something, and I finally told her I needed to go to the ER.
Another negative strep screen.
A CT Scan of my neck/throat.
An X-Ray of my neck.
A shrug from the ER doctor.
Some IV antibiotics, steroids and morphine got me talking and drinking water again. By midnight, I was home and feeling 30% better.
I woke up the next morning determined to be back to normal. It didn’t happen. There was no improvement. About 4 that afternoon, I took a deep breath in an attempt to deal with the pain in my throat, but my effort was met with a sharp pain the ran from my sternum to the middle of my back.
I looked at my dad and told him I needed to go back to the ER. When the same doctor from the night before walked back into my room, he knew something was truly wrong. The morphine high got me through the evening as they prepared to move me up to the heart cath floor. Because if the pain in my chest, they diagnosed me with pleurisy and wanted to monitor my heart.
Real answers did not come until nearly 48 hours later, when the results of my blood culture had come back. I had Haemophilus influenzae type A, and it had gone systemic.
I remember my best friend, Ashley, asking my mom, “Is she going to die?” To which my mom replied, “I don’t know.”
My body was weak from trying to fight off this fatal infection, my veins were shrinking from the dehydration of not being able to eat or drink, and I was an emotional wreck from the steroids that were being pumped into my body (and from, you know, thinking I might die). Nurses came in at all hours ready to stick needles anywhere they thought they could get those precious drops of blood. Bruises covered my arms and hands from failed blood draw attempts, and hives speckled my body from reactions to IV medications.
We began to see slow progress, but nothing shook the fear of dying from my mind.
Semi-random side note: hospital food is the worst.
Eventually, my doctor decided to insert a PICC line in my arm so that my mom could administer IV antibiotics at home. To be honest with you, I don’t know how I made it through those three and a half weeks with that thing stuck in my bicep. But I did.
I still have a faint scar on the inside of my right arm as a reminder of what I went through a year ago. I look back and giggle about how many steroid-induced crying episodes I had. If you have ever wanted to cry because a family picked the ugliest house on HGTV’s House Hunters, just get yourself a Medrol Dose Pack, my friend. I think about how my entire body ached and how exhausted I felt during that month and realize how fortunate I am to be able to lead a normal life today.
The amount of love I received during that time was incredible and beyond anything I could have imagined. I am stronger physically, mentally and spiritually because of it. While it was happening, all I asked was, “Why me?” Now, though, I realize that maybe I needed that wake up call. I needed some perspective. I needed to realize that life isn’t guaranteed. I have no words besides the fact that I am so so so very blessed.