Underneath my yellow skin

The last year of my life

As 2021 comes to a close, I can’t stop thinking again about how I should not be alive. I died–twice–and came back to life–twice! So much happened to me that I can’t remember and perhaps my favorite exchange of the year is one that was told to me in retrospect. It  was when I saw my heart doc for the second time outside the hospital. He mentioned again that I had cracked him up when we talked in the hospital. I had no memory of that and asked him about it. To back up a second, the first time we met outside the hospital, I told him I was pleased to meet him. He laughed and said he had met me in the hospital after I woke up. I apologized immediately for anything I might have said to offended him. He laughed and said I had cracked him up. I was intrigued, but I let it go because I was too drugged up at that point to go further into it.

The second time I saw him, which was a week ago, he mentioned it again. I was intrigued and more  in control of my brain, so I asked him about it. Actually, we were talking about how quickly and unexpectedly I had woken up. He had been gone for a day or so while I was under. The prognosis was dire. When he came back, I was awake and talking. He said that when he went in to talk to me, he did what he always did. He recapped what happened to me because he found that to be helpful when he talked to his patients–reiterating what they had experienced every time he talked to them because of memory issues.

He was saying, “So you had pneumonia which led to two cardiac arrests and a stroke.” I listened to his renumeration before saying, “So I died?” He said yes. Apparently, I looked at him and then said, “That’s so fucking cool!” That’s what cracked him up and I laughed when he retold it because it sounded exactly like me.

One thing that has pleased me during this whole ordeal is that I’ve kept my sense of humor. My brother joked that maybe the brain damage made me funnier, which made me laugh when I read it in the Caring Bridge. I never lost my sense of humor during my ordeal because that’s how I deal with bad situations. I tend to see the dark side of things and I put an even darker spin on things, but in a funny way. The fact that I died was not something to shy away from, but to embrace and explore. I mean, I was fucking alive–that was all that  mattered, right?

I wear it like a badge of pride, really. My tagline is the one from the Dark Souls III ’80s trailer: When you pick a fight with the devil, you better be stronger than hell. While I was under the influence of the drugs, I went on this rant to K about how I was better than Jesus because I rose from the dead twice. It was funny as hell, at least to me, but there was a soupcon of truth to it.

I should be dead. I don’t dwell on it, but it’s always in the back of my mind. My brother told me bluntly the second or third day I was awake what exactly happened to me and just how lucky I am that I survived. I know a lot of people wouldn’t want to know, but I did. I’ve always preferred to know the harsh truth than to be swaddled in a comforting lie. Plus, I am a research addict and will Google the shit out of anything–which is exactly what I did a few months after leaving the hospital. I didn’t have the fortitude to do it immediately after leaving the hospital, but I did already know that I had died twice. When I finally researched sudden cardiac arrests (SCA) and ischemic strokes, well, let’s just say I had a newfound appreciation for the work my medical team did for me.

I can’t get over my luck, by the way. I’ve mentioned this before, but Regions Hospital is has a nationally-recognized heart center. It’s probably the best place to go for heart issues in Minnesota. A month before my medical trauma, my brother had a friend who had a heart attack and was rushed to Regions. They didn’t have a bed, so he had to go somewhere else (in part because of the pandemic). He died at the other hospital. I was lucky enough that when I was rushed to Regions, they had a bed for me. And I was extremely lucky to survive after two cardiac arrests and a stroke. Not to mention the non-COVID-related pneumonia that kicked off the unfortunate chain of events in the first place.

I’m trying to find a support group, local would be better, even though it would be online, anyway. But the problem is that, well, the survival rate of SCA (sudden cardiac arrest) is 10%. That’s not high ta all. And many people who survive are not in any shape to be in a support group, probably. It’s weird. I had an ischemic stroke as well as two cardiac arrests, but I never really think about the stroke. I don’t know why, but it hasn’t really sunk in the way the two cardiac arrests have. It seems less tangible in some way? I dunno. I suppose I could look for a stroke survivor group, too, but that seems less relevant to me.

Actually, I would prefer a general medical trauma survival group, but I can’t seem to find that, either. I would lie to find a therapist, too, but I’m starting with a support group because it seems easier in theory. There’s a bunch of them under the umbrella of WomenHeart, but that gets into the gender thing.

I could start my own, I guess, but I wouldn’t know where to begin. We have to acknowledge that most people die from sudden cardiac arrests. The ones who survive do so with various amounts of damage sustained. I’m looking for people who survive SCAs and have thrived.

2021 sucked in so many ways. I’m looking forward to a new year, hopefully one that will be better than this one.



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