Underneath my yellow skin


Before I woke up in the hospital, there were dire predictions of the damage my brain and heart would sustain if I came back at all. That was the first hurdle. I was not expected to come back at all. I’m sure the doctors didn’t say that in so many words, but that’s what my brother got from the conversations. And how hard must that have been for him to digest while he was striving to do all the things. I’ve said several times that I appreciate my brother more than  I can say because he held it down when I collapsed onto the ground and ended up in the hospital, unconscious.

But, it’s one thing I feel guilty about. How burdened the shoulders of my brother were while I lay unconscious in a hospital bed. He’s very good at dealing with difficult situations (well, as long as roiled emotions aren’t involved), but he’s not an automaton. His voice shook when we talked about a few of the harder details of my experience and it pains me that he had to go through that because of me. Intellectually, I knew it’s not because of me, but it still feels that way in my heart.

Speaking of my heart. Let’s talk about it. And my brain. I’ve mentioned that I had to wear a heart monitor. The results came back with no atrial fibrillations or any other irregular rhythms. In other words, my heart is solid.

Yesterday, I had an appointment with a neurologist. The nurse asked why I was there and I said because I was told to go. I got big laughs, but it was true. I assumed they wanted to check my noggin after what it went through, but I didn’t know for sure. When the neurologist came in the room, I apologized if I had met him before and didn’t remember–since that’s what happened with my heart doc. The brain doc laughed and said it was the first time he’d met me. I gave him a primer as to what had happened tome. As with almost every other medical person I’d run into, he was astounded by what I’d gone through and how well I had come out of it.

I appreciated that he talked to me in plain English. He did use a few medical terms, but then explained when I asked about them. I mean, it’s unavoidable sometimes in a medical situation to use medical terms. We mostly chatted, but the one pressing question in my mind was whether I could have prevented what happened to me. He said no, which relieved me. I was pretty sure that was the case, but he’s a doctor so what he says has more weight.

It didn’t feel like an appointment, honestly, because we were just chatting most of the time. Not even about what happened to me. That was maybe half the conversation. But about life in general, including my realization that the coronavirus wasn’t going anywhere. He agreed. He said it was endemic (rather than a pandemic) and that we had to live our lives with it rather than despite it. Which means taking the usual precautions, but not letting life be put completely on hold as I had been before I ended up in the hospital. I told him that being in the hospital radically changed that for me. I went from being almost paranoid about the coronavirus to realizing that it wasn’t the only thing out there that could kill me. I know that sounds depressing, but it really isn’t. It made me realize that I had to live my life, not–not die. I wasn’t going to go crazy and party 24/7, unmasked and unvaxxed. That’s not me. It never was and probably never will be. But, I wasn’t going to hide away in my house, well, I was because that’s my personality, but I wasn’t going to allow COVID to stop me from going to the damn co-op if that’s what I wanted to do. Masked and vaxxed, of  course. I need to get the booster.

*Makes note to self*

I told my brain doc that I consider these my bonus days. I should have died. I should be dead. That’s not me being melodramatic; that’s me facing the truth. I died on September 3rd, 2021. Twice. I was also brought back to life. Twice. Shocked back to life, I should say. Twice. And Epi’ed at least once. From two cardiac arrests. Oh, and I had a stroke. It doesn’t get less surreal, no matter how many times I type it out. Pneumonia. Which made me pass out. Which caused two cardiac arrests and a stroke. And kept me unconscious for a week. The last is a little squishy because the medical team kept me unconscious for reasons, but it’s close enough for my purposes.

I was joking about it with my brain doc as I had been with my heart doc because that’s the way I deal with it. I joke about things. My brain doc said I was funny, but at least half of it was to cover up the fact that I don’t know what the fuck to do with this information. I mean, I’m relieved that I’m ok. I kinda knew I was, but to get the official clean bill of health is gratifying. But there’s still a part of my brain that is grappling with the fact that this all happened and that it ended in the best possible way. The odds of the situation ending with me not needing any rehab is…well, I’m not a statistician, but I’d say it’s close to 0%. Obviously, it has to be slightly higher than 0% because I’m back, but it’s probably something like .000001%.

There’s a small part of my brain that says I have used up all my luck for the rest of my life. I mean, this was a big ask, even if I didn’t know it’s what I needed at the time–because, unconscious. And there’s another part of my brain that doesn’t know how to repay it. I’ve talked before about how Taiwanese people expect me to do something great with the rest of my life because I was granted this miracle. While I don’t want to agree with that, I can’t say I don’t feel the pressure at times.

I came back from the dead. Twice. 

The impulse is that I have to make the rest of my life count. Thank god for K and Ian telling me that my being alive is the only gift they need. Same with my Taiji teacher. They are emphatic that seeing me alive is the best thing ever. Anything else is just frosting on that cake for them. I need that because I still tend to default to having to prove that I deserve to be alive. Not as much or as corrosively as I have in the past, but it’s there. Like if I don’t do something amazing with what I call my bonus days, then my coming back to life has been a waste.

I will confess to some survivor’s guilt. Why did I live when others have died? Why did I come back basically intact whereas others have to suffer and struggle in rehab? Those are the questions that haunt me. I have mentioned this often, but I never once questioned why the actual events happened to me because why shouldn’t they happen to me? I’m not special in any way (except in the way that we are all special and unique human beings) and I don’t take especially good care of myself. I will say that I think being a practitioner of Taiji for fifteen years was helpful, but it can’t be just that. And this is my point. I question why I came back the way I did. Why was I so lucky?

I don’t think I’ll ever get an answer to that question, however. I’m mostly fine with that, but it couldn’t hurt to get some therapeutic reassurance.


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