Underneath my yellow skin

Five month anniversary

A few hours after this post goes up, it’ll be the five-month anniversary of my medical trauma. That’s astonishing to me because I didn’t think I’d make it past the third month, but not for health reasons. Healthwise, I’m lucky that I haven’t taken any sustained damage. I have been checked out and given a clean bill of health. I have a little bit of short-term memory issues, but it’s no big deal. It only comes into play during my private lessons and my note-taking, which I need to improve. Other than that, I can watch a video of the same movement time and time again, which helps.

It’s almost been half a year. That’s mind-boggling to me. And I still can’t remember what happened during that fateful night itself, but I can talk about it because my brother and I have talked about it several times. I can tell people what happened as if I were there (well, I was, but you know what I mean), but it’s all because of what my brother has told me and from what I’ve read in the Caring Bridge journal. He wrote daily entries there, which I’ve read several times and have been invaluable to my understanding of what happened to me.

To recap once again, this is the story. Roughly around three at night/in the morning on September 2nd/3rd, I couldn’t breathe. I called 9-1-1 (which is not like me at all) and they told me to unlock the front door. I did before promptly passing out in my front hallway. The cops came and bagged me (oxygen) until the EMTs came along. Then, they took over. I had a cardiac arrest and the EMTs had to shock my heart so it would start pumping again. I had another cardiac arrest and they shocked it again. One of these times, they also jabbed me with an Epi pen. And I had a stroke as well. This was all in a 20-minute ambulance ride.

Here was where a lot of luck came into the picture. Remember, the pandemic was still raging at this time. Beds were at a premium. My brother had a friend who had a very similar experience a month earlier (pneumonia, couldn’t breathe, etc.). His wife rushed him to Regions Hospital and they didn’t have a bed so he was taken elsewhere. He had a cardiac arrest at some point and he died.

Regions has the best heart center in Minnesota. They do innovative techniques like lowering the patient’s body temperature to protect the innards (brain, lungs, heart, etc.). I was lucky to be accepted there. I was unconscious when I was admitted. My brother found me roughly fifteen hours after I collapsed, with a healthy assist from Ian. He and I Facebook message every day when I get up, which in those days was between ten a.m. and one p.m. When he didn’t hear from me ,he messaged my brother around seven p.m. his time (after messaging me and texting me from noon to six or seven or so).

Once my brother called 9-1-1 and found out what happened, he sprung into action. He went to the hospital and took charge. He set up the Caring Bridge journal so he could order his thoughts and so he could keep everyone updated in one place.

I was unconscious for the first seven days–in a coma. I did not move on my own. I was probably too heavily sedated because I’m very sensitive to medication–something that has been with me all my life. I mean, I was also in a heap of trouble, but that didn’t help. My brother hosted Zoom calls with my parents so they could see me. Also¬† with my bestie, K, my good friend and Taiji teacher, and my other BF, Ian.

My brother visited me every day and kept the journal faithfully updated. I can’t emphasize enough that he was the glue that held everything together. He fucking held it down. Everyone on my medical team called me a miracle when I woke up, but he’s my hero. He’s the one who talked to the doctors every day and made decisions about what they could and couldn’t do. He did this while still doing his job and taking care of his family. He did it without complaint and he did it with complete efficiency. When I thanked him for it after I woke up, he shrugged and said, “We’re family. It’s what we do.”

Which, true, but not many people could do it so well. I would have not held it together the way he did if I were in his shoes. He visited me twice a day most days. He faithfully recorded all the big events that happened to me–like my body rejecting the first attempt to raise my temperature to get me off the breathing machine and the first time they tried to put me in a MRI. He was honest about my chances in the updates, which I appreciated as I read them afterwards. He told me a story about how he was meeting with the care team to discuss the options when the social workers asked him how he was doing and tried to probe where he was at with where I was at. He looked at them and said, “If she dies, she dies. I’ll deal with it when it happens.” I burst into laughter when he told me that because I could just picture the look on the social workers’ faces at his bluntness. I knew what he meant, however, and that that was his way of showing love. He shows love by doing and that was what he’s best at. He didn’t want to waste time talking when he could be doing something.

To be honest, that’s what I needed at the time. I needed someone who got shit done with military precision. Someone who could talk to the doctors, make decisions, keep everyone updated about what was happening to me, and keep my parents from having a complete meltdown. I didn’t need someone to wail and moan, gnashing their teeth and rending their garments. I mean, I’m not sure I could have kept my shit together if I were in his shoes, but I’m grateful that emotions are secondary to him.

Before I woke up, the medical team was pretty blunt with him that the chances of me making it were very slim. 90% of people who have a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) die if it’s outside the hospital. Inside the hospital, it’s still a dismal 20% who survive. The odds to survive triple (from the base) if there is someone who performs CPR on the person as the cardiac arrest is happening. So while the medical team repeated the 10% stat to my brother, I did improve my odds by having my cardiac arrests in the ambulance with the EMTs there. Still. I had two of them and a stroke, not to mention the walking pneumonia that kicked it all off. Let’s just say that I was not expected to live. My brother told me that he was thinking about planning my funeral. One of the reasons my parents planned the trip for three months was because they thought they might have to plan and attend my funeral.

If I did survive, my medical team told my brother, then it would most likely take months if not years for me to return to ‘normal’, if that was going to happen at all. They stressed that it might not happen because I was without oxygen for some time (not sure how long), which was not good for the brain. I did a Google a little while ago (because that’s what I do) to see what it mean to have a low blood oxygen level. 95% to 100% is considered normal. Anything below 90% is considered low. Under 85% starts affecting the brain. I had 10% when the paramedics came to my house.¬† (That’s what my brother wrote. Maybe it was the cops? Because they bagged me before the EMTs arrived. Oxygen bagged, I mean). We’re not sure for how long, but death is a very real possibility at 5 minutes; brain damage is almost inevitable at 10 minutes; and survival is nearly impossible after 15 minutes. Again, I was really lucky that the cops and the EMTs arrived so quickly.

I should be dead. Barring that, I should be permanently damaged. The fact that I am alive and better than ever is, indeed, a damn miracle. I call these my bonus days and I intend to enjoy every one to the fullest. Happy 5 months anniversary to me.



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