Underneath my yellow skin

Oh the lessons I’ve learned

It’s been seven months since my medical trauma, and it’s been heavy on my mind in the last¬† week. Probably because of my birthday because I should not be here. I made it to the second half of my first century, which is incredible. It’s not something that I can really quantify, though, or offer to other people who are going through something.

Before my medical trauma, I hated it when people tried to chirp positive tropes at me. “Life is what you make of it!” “Live and learn!” “Mind over matter!” and the such. It still sounds trite to my ears, but I can at least understand the sentiment behind it now.

The problem is that it’s not actionable. I mean, I can tell people that they should just live their life, but that doesn’t really help. I will say that Taiji helped before I had my medical trauma. I was in a minor car crash in July of 2016. That was roughly nine or ten years into my study of Taiji, and when I saw the car hurtling at me, I thought, “I’m going to get hit” and immediately relaxed. My car was totaled, but I only sustained a large bruise on my stomach–probably from my seat belt. My body was fine other than that, despite the dire warnings that I would inevitably get whiplash. Which I did not, thank you very much.

That’s when I first realized that my body was pretty damn cool. It’s sturdy and strong, and it’s seen me through some shit. Taiji also helped me with crippling back pain and other assorted physical problems. But, again, it’s not immediate. With my back pain, it took a few months before it started easing up after my teacher showed me one specific stretch that she said I should do every day (three times to each side). After a year of doing this stretch, the back pain was completely gone.

Taiji has also helped me with navigating relationships and the emotional minefields thereof. I almost said mindfields, which, while wrong, is also apt. I’ve gotten better with being in crowds even though I still don’t like it, and I am not as hypervigilant as I used to be.

Mental health-wise, my depression and anxiety eased up little by little as I studied Taiji. Then the pandemic hit. And, honestly, for me personally, it actually lifted my depression and anxiety. Why? Because it made the outer world match my inner world. I was in mental crisis all the time, so it was weirdly comforting. And it didn’t change my day-to-day that much except Zoom Taiji classes and online grocery shopping.

My anxiety and depressing continued to decrease until roughly a month before my medical trauma. It started inching up and then, wham. Walking pneumonia, two cardiac arrests, and a stroke. The last is still not something I think about that often, I will say. It’s an afterthought to the two cardiac arrests and the lack of oxygen.

When I woke up in the hospital after a week of being unconscious, I was scared, angry, and ready to fight. I didn’t know who needed fighting, but I was sure there was someone I needed to fight. I was high on drugs and delusional, and I was feeling no pain. I babbled about Dark Souls III and picking a fight with the devil to Ian. I told K that I could not have made it without her. I kept asking the nurses for iced water. Which was the best ice water I ever had, thank you very much.

For the week I was in the hospital and awake, I had no autonomy. I pretty much had to do whatever my medical team wanted me to do whenever they wanted me to do it. I had 2 to 4 people caring for me 24 hours a day. I had a tube up my ass for shit–which was not fun. Three days or so after I woke up, I started moving from my bed to a chair. then, day four (or was it five?) I started walking. I was like a baby bird leaving the nest for the first time. I was shaky and unsure, but I did it.

I walked down the hallway and back without using the walker. The second time my physical therapist walked with me, she said she had nothing left for me. I walked out of the hospital two days later–a week after I woke up. I will admit that I was reluctant to push the button to call for my PCAs when I needed to go to the bathroom because I wanted to do it myself.¬† Then, I would make a mess because I couldn’t make it. One asked me in exasperation if I had forgotten I had an emergency button. I said sulkily that I hadn’t forgotten–I just didn’t want to press it.

I was so stubborn, they put me on lockdown. Meaning if I moved off my bed, an alarm would sound. When I started walking by myself, my PT lifted the alarm because she wanted me to walk by myself as much as possible.

I don’t think I can overemphasize that I was not supposed to live. My brother was starting to plan my funeral. The doctors were going to talk to him about pulling the plug when I suddenly woke up. I am very glad he didn’t have to make that decision. In general, I feel worse for my friends and family than I do for me because I just laid there for a week doing nothing. They were the ones who had to worry and wait, wondering if I was ever going to wake up.

My medical team laid out the facts for my brother. There was a 10% chance that I would survive. That’s the base survival rate for a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), and I had two. The survival rate does increase if you have a bystander who can apply CPR, which I had. But, still, the survival rate only triples, which meant 30%. I’m not sure if the fact that I had two within ten minutes does anything to the survival rate because there isn’t much research into that. Let’s face it. There isn’t much research about survival rates because not many people DO survive. If the SCA happens in the hospital, then there’s a 20% chance of survival–still not great.

It’s different for a stroke. In fact, it’s nearly reversed–10% to 20% of strokes are fatal. Having a stroke can shorten your life expectancy, though. But it’s nowhere near as brutal as a cardiac arrest, let alone two. The fact that I had all three within 20 minutes and survived with no residual side effects except a bit of short-term memory issue? Fucking incredible.

It’s miraculous that I am sitting on my couch and typing this. I heard the word ‘miracle’ enough during my week awake in the hospital (and beyond) that I never wanted to hear it again, but it’s true. I should be dead. Barring that, I should still be struggling with writing, talking, walking, etc. The fact that I have to take notes when I didn’t before, and that’s the extent of my damage, well, that’s mind-blowing.

On the plus side, my body issues have vanished. My body got me through some shit, yo ,and I have nothing but love for it. I’ve been grooving on Lizzo, who I somehow missed out on, and really identifying with her ‘I fucking love my body’ messages. My parents still try to shame me about my body and I just can’t with them.

I’m trying to eat better, yes, but that’s because I want to be good to my body–which has been so good to me. I treated it like shit for so long and hated it with all my might–and it said, let me carry you through that dark and stormy night. It had an unimaginable amount of stress put on it and it didn’t even fucking blink. It just said, “I got this” and did what it needed to do.

I also think I’m cute as fuck now. It’s partly because of my new glasses, but it’s mostly because, well, I’m not exactly sure. I just don’t think I’m ugly any longer. It’s as if the negativity lens I used to wear have been shattered and I can’t go back to that way of thinking. But, again, it’s not something I can recommend to people because it’s not really repeatable. “Go have walking pneumonia, collapse from a lack of oxygen, suffer two cardiac arrests and a stroke. Then you’ll have a different perspective on life that will make all your mental health issues melt away!”

Which, by the way, is not true. I still have some anxiety and depression; it’s just not nearly as bad as it was before. I’m still trying to find a way to spread the word without seeming totally disconnected from real life. Not quite there yet.


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