Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: medical trauma

Nine months and birthing a new person

It’s been nine months since that fateful night. That’s enough time to create a new person–which is pretty much what I did. Yes, I’m the same person as I was before that night, but I’m also–not. This is something I’ve had to live with for the past nine months–the tension between two seemingly disparate things. I’ve mused often about how everything is the same and everything is not the same at the same time.

I’m sitting on my couch, sipping coffee, watching YouTube videos (in this case, an infuriating video by Legal Eagle about how cops don’t have a legal duty to protect individuals) while eating grocery store sushi. Shadow is in his little cat house taking a long cat nap. The sun is shining, but it’s not too hot out. I’m sipping a low sodium V8 as I’m typing this post. This is on the actual 9-month anniversary and will be posted the day after.

Up until this point, I’ve been coasting along and just appreciating the fact that I’m still here. I call these my bonus days, savoring each and every one. I should not be here so the fact that I am with nothing more than a bit of short-term memory issues is truly miraculous.

The first two months, I worked on getting back my stamina. Wait. Getting even more granular, the first week out of the hospital, I was waiting for my eyesight to get better. I spent most of my time at my computer. Not being able to read computer fonts was frustrating, not to mention worrying. My brother enlarged the font on my laptop, which helped, but I still took twice as long to read something as I normally would have.

In addition, the faces of all people (and my cat) were melty/fused. Everyone had one big eye and a candle wax-looking mouth. It was really bizarre and disconcerting. I could gauge how my eyesight was improving by how Shadow’s face was doing. His was the first to revert back to normal. I rejoiced when he had two eyes and a distinct mouth again.

The first two months, I had a nurse’s aide who came every week to wash my hair. I didn’t need her after a month, but my mother kept pushing to have her (and the weekly nurse check). When I pushed her on it, it turned out that it was more superstitious than practical. She wanted the weekly nurse check because they could catch anything wrong with me. But that wasn’t their job. Yes, they took my vitals, but it wasn’t as if they were doing a full physical every week. my mom helped me dry off after my showers, but I didn’t need her help after a few weeks. I allowed her to do it for a few more weeks just because it made her feel better.

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Birthing a new life

It’s almost nine months since I died twice–and came back twice! The latter fact is very important to the narrative. Obviously. If that hadn’t happened, then I wouldn’t be able to write this. That still trips me up when I think about it, by the way. The fact that I should be dead. It’s also not something I find easy to talk about because it’s pretty much a conversation stopper. It’s not something I want to whip out casually, but it’s also very important. It literally changed my life, even if it didn’t change the day-to-day aspects of said life.

When I came out of the hospital, I said that I did not want to talk about what I was doing with my life for six months. I had the luxury and privilege of focusing on my recovery, not that I needed it. The biggest issue I had was my stamina, which was roughly 10% of what it was pre-trauma. But even that is lucky because so many people could not even get out of bed.

There was someone in an Ask A Manager thread a month ago who talked about having a stroke in January. She was unable to drive any longer and had to work from home on a reduced schedule. She had trouble typing and basically, her quality of life was dramatically reduced. Her whole life was turned upside down in the matter of minutes.

This is one of my issues with finding a support group. First of all, to put it bluntly, there aren’t many people who survive one cardiac arrest, let alone two–and a stroke. Those who do, have stories like the commenter on AAM. It feels almost cruel to stroll in with my story about evading death without a scratch. I know my story is my own and that I don’t need to feel guilty about it, but I do.

I’ve said many times that I don’t question why this happened to me. I’m not in great shape, don’t always eat the best, and am pretty sedentary. Why NOT me? I’m susceptible to bronchial issues, which is how it all started. Non-COVID-related walking pneumonia. That stressed my heart enough to trigger two cardiac arrests and then a stroke. I have no problem accepting that this all happened to me.

But, what happened next just may surprise you as it did me (yes, I just Buzzfeeded that sentence. What of it?).

I should have died. I did die. Twice. But I should not have come back. I. Should. Be. Dead.

You know what gets to me the most? Survivor’s guilt. I don’t ask why the initial events happened to me, but I question why I was the one who lived. Why me? My mom insists its because I’m a fighter, but that’s giving me way too much credit. I’m sure she also thinks it’s an act of God, but I think that’s giving ‘Him’ too much credit.

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You’re the inspiration–aaaaaargh no!

When I was in the hospital, so many of people on my medical team had to comment as to how I was a miracle. When I got out of the hospital, any time I talked to medical personnel, the phrase, “You’re a miracle!” was pretty inevitable. One of the nurse aides who came to my house once a week to check on me had to take a basic inventory for me because she couldn’t find it on her app. I told her what happened to me and she started ticking things off on her chest list. I was half-listening when I heard, “And you had heart surgery.” Wait, what? No. I hastened to correct her that I hadn’t had any surgery at all, and she set down her phone so she could look at me in shock. She placed a hand on my arm and said, “You are literally a walking miracle.”

I was talking to my brother last night about this and I still couldn’t quite grasp what had happened to me. He said, “You are incredibly lucky to be alive. You should be dead.” Which, yes, it’s true, but how do you really internalize it? I call my life now my bonus days and September 3rd is my re-birthday. I am much better psychologically since that day than I’ve ever been. I’m cute AF and my body is STRONK. The anxiety that used to flow through my brain has cut down by three quarters. My depression is almost gone. I get eight hours of sleep a night rather than 6 1/2, and I may wake up once rather than three or four times, but I have also slept through the night as well. More often than not, I sleep a solid eight hours, which is unheard of for me.

I started resenting being told I was a miracle. I understood why everyone thought that, but I was still just me. I still had to live my life and go on with it. My mom got it into her head that I had to write a screenplay and get my life made into a movie because it would be so inspiring for other people. Now, I’m not objecting to having my life be a movie, but something about the way she said it rubbed me the wrong way. Like she was fetishizing what happened to me, which made me uneasy. I should have just smiled and nodded (which is what I tell myself every time I talk to my parents), but it’s hard not to want to straighten the record when talking to her. I want to be seen for who I am–not just as a symbol.

Besides, I don’t see how I’m an inspiration. Someone who is a quadriplegic and works hard so they can walk again? That’s inspiring. Or someone who is homeless because they’re gay and their family didn’t want them any longer and managed to become the president of their own nonprofit? 100% inspirational. I can see finding  something someone did inspiring. But, I didn’t do anything. I’m not being falsely modest here. You know what I did? I called 9-1-1 and unlocked the front door. That’s the extent of my involvement. I spent the next week unconscious and was high as balls when I woke up. I was scared, discombobulated, and ready to fight someone. I had no idea who, but I was sure someone needed fighting. Then I spent the next few days getting tested and regaining my strength before I was released a week after I woke up. I went home and resumed my life.

That’s it. There was nothing miraculous about what I did. I think that’s my biggest gripe with being told I’m miraculous/inspiration–I didn’t do anything to earn it. So, again, I get why my story is miraculous and why it might be inspirational to some people. But, for me, inspiration means there’s something I can take away from a story and do myself. What can someone take from my story? Have walking non-COVID-related pneumonia, two cardiac arrests, and a stroke? Hope you don’t suffer any side effects from all of the above? Not losing any ability to talk, walk, or type? None of that is actionable!

I would love t o be able to tell people that so much of what we worry about on a daily basis is just meaningless. I would especially like to tell women that your body is fucking amazing and you are beautiful just as you are. But, I know how that sounds–facile and flippant. Also Pollyannaish. And we don’t live in a vacuum, sadly. We lived in a society that does judge fat people harshly, especially women. But what if we all just did not give a shit? If we laughed in the face of fatphobia (whenever it’s safe to do so)?

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We are *sigh* family

I’m back with more on that family dysfunction tip. I left off the last post with the amusing anecdote about how my father had told me after my return from the hospital that I didn’t know how hard it had been for him and my mother. As I said in that post, it surely was difficult for them; I’m not disputing that. But, I will 100% guarantee that as difficult as it was for them it was that much more difficult for me. I have said that I felt for my friends because they had to deal with everything while I just laid in bed, unconscious, but that doesn’t negate the physical carnage the trauma inflicted upon me. I can tell you with absolute certainty that it was harder on me than it was on my father. He got mad when I pointed out that I had been there and that what he went through did not compare to what I went through. He got upset at that, but it’s fucking true. More to the point, do not emote at the person who went through the experience and expect them to be sympathetic to you. That’s asking too much.

So I’ve outlined all the ways in which life has been better since the medical trauma. Better body image (better self-esteem in general), a better appreciation of life, less depression and anxiety, etc. I have less time for bullshit and am more ‘get to the point’ in general. I can affirm the good decisions I’ve made in my life (such as choosing not to have children) and be happy that I’m in a fairly comfortable place. I am tender towards my body after all it’s done for me, and I no longer hate my looks with a passion. In fact, I’m downright cocky in feeling that I am cute AF.

But when it comes to family, that’s the sticking point. I love my brother and appreciate him taking charge while I was in the hospital. He did what needed to be done without complaint or question. He met with doctors, wrote daily entries on the Caring Bridge website, connected an unconscious me with my family and friends, and saw me twice nearly every day while simultaneously taking care of his family and his business. He was the one who had to make the decisions concerning what to do with me, medically. He talked to my medical team every day, and he was the one who had to absorb what was happening to me. He was the one who had to watch me lie in a hospital bed, unconscious, with tubes hooked up to me (including a ventilator).

The story that  I will never forget (that he told me) is that he had a talk with my medical team about pulling the plug. He was thinking it over, taking into account what my parents wanted to do (my father: keep me alive at all costs. My mother: waffling because she knew I would not want that), what he knew I would want him to do (pull the plug if there was no chance of me coming back intact), and what he felt about it himself (not sure). As he was thinking about it and fumbling with what to do, the hospital called him to tell him that I had woken up.

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More lessons I’ve learned

There are many lessons I’ve learned from my medical trauma. I mentioned some of them in my previous post and I want to expand on the topic in this one. When I started that post, my intent was to talk about my family dysfunction, but I got caught up in other things.

I would never wish what happened to me on anyone. It was terrifying, confusing, and messed with me on many levels. However, ultimately, I believe it was a net positive for me. Why? Let me count the ways. One, it cleared up the is there an afterlife question for me (no). Two, it made all my body issues disappear. Three, it helped me see that life is short and that we really do only have one life. Er, maybe not so much that as I did die twice. Four, I’m cute AF! Five, I don’t have the patience for nitpicky bullshit. Six, I have a point of view that is unique and worth expressing. There are some other ones, but they’re similar to the ones I’ve stated.

I used to have low self-esteem. I thought I had to earn the right to live. I was disgusting, toxic, and bad for the planet. Yes, that’s what I earnestly believed for decades. I thought that it would be better if I was dead, but I didn’t have the courage to kill myself.  I’m not saying this was sane or logical, but it was the way my brain worked at the time. Therapy couldn’t shake the belief that I had to earn the right to live.

Taiji helped me start inching my way to a healthier outlook. I could go into a crowd without flinching, even if I still didn’t like it. I was more at ease with my body, even if  I still avoided looking in the mirror. I didn’t like the way I looked, but I didn’t hate it, either. I had reached a detente  with my body (and my face), which was the most I could hope.

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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.

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Birthday greens

Yesterday, I maundered about my birthday and why I never liked it in the past. As is my wont, I rushed near the end because I was tired of writing and because it was getting too wordy. I talked about how I had gotten to the point of neutral about my birthday during the pandemic. Neutral to slightly warm. I got myself a nice little treat, gritted my teeth as I talked to my parents, and that was about that.

I didn’t hate my birthday as I had in the past, but I didn’t much care about it, either. I would tell anyone who asked when my birthday was, but I didn’t proffer the date on my own. This year, however, everything changed. I wasn’t expected to live to this birthday, so it feels extra-special. I call these my bonus days and I’m glad that I’m still alive to enjoy them.

This is new territory for me. I was suicidal for decades, both actively and passively. It wasn’t until the last five years or so that I didn’t want to die. Or at least, that I didn’t NOT want to be alive. I wasn’t glad to be alive, but I didn’t want to die, either.

When I woke up from my coma, I was angry, scared, and ready to fight whomever needed fighting. I didn’t know who that was, but I was sure it was somebody. It was an abrupt return to life, and I was not happy about it. At first. Then, when I was able to process what happened to me, I became profoundly grateful to be alive. It might have been the powerful narcotics and sedatives coursing through my veins, but I was thankful in every bone of my body to be alive.

I was verbally effusive to everyone I ran into. I thanked them for taking such good care of me and for bringing me ice water. This was an ongoing thing, by the way. The hospital was really hot. I prefer to be cold. I asked every nurse to bring me a glass of ice water. it didn’t matter how many I already had; I always wanted more.

Side Note: A nurse I know on Twitter told me I was not just imagining things. There is a special brand of ice machine that every hospital has. Her colleagues go in on their days off with a cooler in order to stock up on ice.

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Happy birthday to me

I used to hate my birthday with all my heart. Even as a kid, I dragged my feet when my mother wanted to have a birthday party for me. In part, it was because I didn’t have any friends and felt as if the girls I asked only came on sufferance. Was that true? Probably not. They were really nice girls–it really was just my own insecurity speaking.

I remember my tenth or eleventh birthday,  sitting in the dining room, miserable, as they sang happy birthday to me. The candles on the princess cake were lit, and all I could think about was how gross and fat I was, and how they must have hated being there. I was a hot mess as a kid. All I really wanted was to be left alone, but that was not acceptable. My mom was firmly convinced that she had to give my brother and me a normal American childhood (for which I do not blame her. It was really pushed on immigrants at the time), which included having a princess cake at your eleventh birthday party, damn it!

By the time I hit college, I hated my birthday. Not only because I did not want the attention, but because I started thinking of it as a mark of another wasted year on this earth. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be alive, and my birthday reminded me that I was digging myself deeper into a negative balance. It’s not logical, but mental illness rarely is.

When I first joined Facebook, you HAD to put your birthday in your profile, which you could not make private. So, I did what anybody who hated their birthday would do–lied about my birthday in my Facebook profile. I made it a random day in January and was always surprised when I got a flood of happy birthdays on that day in January on my FB wall.

Then, FB finally came to its goddamn senses and allowed me to make my birthday private. Once I could do that, I didn’t have to deal with my birthday on FB again. Yay!

Why did I hate my birthday? Because. What? That isn’t a good enough explanation? Ok. Let’s do this then.

*Deep breath*

I’ve been told since I was a young girl, explicitly and tacitly, that my worth was in how much I could support other people, namely my parents. I wasn’t enough in and of myself, oh, no. I was only worthwhile through giving of myself emotionally.

More to the point, I got it in my head that I was toxic. Not because of anything specifically, but just me in general. I felt like I had to continuously earn my ‘right’ to live. I lost ground every day because the way it was set up (in my head), there was no way I could get back to neutral, let alone be in the positive numbers.

This all seems so bizarre to me now, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

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I wrote a thing about my life and Elden Ring

I wrote an article about my medical trauma, Elden Ring, and Taiji weapons–and it was published by PCGN, who are a big deal. A really big deal. I got the gig through networking (Ian works for them), which is the first time that’s happened for me. Ian approached me with the idea and in the past, I would have dithered until the time had passed when it would have been optimal for me to accept the offer.

I am often my own worst enemy. I delay doing something until the decision is out of my hand. I feel bad the whole time, but not bad enough to actually do it. This time, however, I jumped on it for two reasons. One, writing about Elden Ring! That’s all I’ve been doing for the past month–might as well make it official. Two, my life in the last six months! It’s become normal to me (for lack of better word); it’s nice to be reminded that it’s truly a remarkable story.

It was an interesting process. I always think about my pieces before I actually write. I basically write it all in my head. I don’t do outlines, by the way, at least not written ones. Then, I regurgitate everything onto paper (screen), writing madly to capture every thought.

Side note: My brother and I used to argue about how to use Google. He liked to use as general terms as possible to get more results than less. I, on the other hand, use very restricted terms because I want the best possible results. About a year ago, my brother admitted I was right (oh, how sweet!).

I bring this up because it’s the opposite of how I write. When I write, I just put every possible thought into the piece. I was given 2,000 words as a soft limit; my rough draft ended up at 4,000 words. That’s right–I doubled it up. That’s not uncommon with me. I used to write 2,500 words on the regular for a singular post.

Now, it’s more like 1,200 – 1,500, just because I have learned to hold myself back a bit. I can still get verbose, however, as that is my true nature. Still. 4,000 words? That was pushing it quite a bit. And I left a bunch out as well.

It took me three or four days to write it all down. Then, I got the metaphorical red pen out and started slashing. In my mind, I wanted to cut out a thousand words from when I was in the hospital and a thousand words from when I left the hospital and went home.

Basically, if I waffled at all about a paragraph, it was out. Normally, I have a hard time editing, in part because I was very precious about my words. Even though I am prodigious with my words and can vomit a million words a minute, I felt as if each one was a polished pearl. Which, obviously, is bullshit.

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I’m not a saint


“You are a literal walking miracle.” That was what the nurse said when she came to do my weekly at-home checkup after I left the hospital.  I understood what she was trying to say, and I came up against it again and again every time I met with a medical person–or just talked to them about it. I get it; I really do. They have to deal with unhappy cases all day long, especially in the ICU. There aren’t many people walking out of there on their own power, sadly. I had a nurse from the ICU who had sat with me while I was unconscious come down to the PCU (Progressive Care Unit) while I was awake so she could talk to me. She had tears in her eyes as she recounted sitting with me while I was unconscious. She said she had to come talk to me while I was awake, which I didn’t mind.

At a certain point, though, I started resenting being called a miracle. It doesn’t see the totality of me, which, again, I understand why my medical team would be focused on it. But it made me feel like that was the end of my story–not the beginning. If what happened to me was a movie, it would end with me waking up to a big swell of music. Then, credits would roll and everyone would go home.

In reality, that’s just the beginning. I’m still alive, living my life. I still have to navigate how to go on when something so monumental had happened to me. How do I bring it up when I meet someone new, for example? I don’t see it as first date information. “Hi, my name is Minna. I do Taiji weapons, video games, and, oh yeah, I died twice last year. You?”

K insists that it’s my life so I get to decide when to bring it up. That’s true, but at the same time, it’s not something that you come across on the regular. In fact, if someone said that to me out of the blue, I’m not sure how I’d react. If it hadn’t happened to me, I mean.

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