Underneath my yellow skin

What I’m thankful for this year

I don’t do holidays. I did them as a kid and when my niece and nephews were kids, but I’ve never liked them. Holidays, I hasten to clarify, not my niece and nephews. Them, I like a lot. More and more the older they get! They’re really great young adults. But holidays? Being forced to be around people I may or may not spend time with on the regular given my druthers? Nah, son. Not for me. My mother once said to me indignantly that just because something is a tradition, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Which, true. But, I would counter that just because it’s tradition, it doesn’t make it good, either.

This year, my brother is having a Thanksgiving lunch. I am not going because I don’t feel comfortable being around groups yet. If I hadn’t been in the hospital recently, I would consider it. Well, no, I wouldn’t because if I hadn’t gone into the hospital, my viewpoint would be not to do holiday things as it’s been in the past. It’s the hospital that changed my thoughts on many things, including the pandemic. Which is now endemic. It’s here to stay and I’m not letting it rule my life any longer.

So, if I were a year out of being in the hospital, I would consider going to my brother’s for Thanksgiving. This year, though, it’s too close to my hospital stay for me to consider it. I don’t want to get sick again. And while I’ve relaxed on the pandemic, I’m not ready to be around a group of people again.

So. I do feel grateful this year, though. Thankful, if you will. I’ve spent the last few months pondering my life and the fact that I’m still alive. A brief recap: I somehow got pneumonia. Not sure how. I wasn’t going outside much at that time, but I did open it up a crack from my earlier days of self-isolation. I called 9-1-1, opened the front door for the cops, then collapsed in the front hallway. The cops bagged me when they arrived (with oxygen) while waiting for the EMS. During the ambulance ride, I had two cardiac arrests and a stroke. They had to shock my heart twice and applied an Epi pen once.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was unconscious. Or at least that’s what I’ve gathered/assumed because I was kept unconscious for a week. They did this because I fought the breathing tube. They also lowered my body temperature dramatically to protect my brain and lungs. The medical team was quite frank that my chances of making it were not high. My brother told me later that he was preparing for me to die. And if I did come back, the doctors warned, they weren’t sure what my brain would look like. They were pretty sure I’d take damage because my brain was without oxygen for some time (not sure how much time), which it’s not designed to do.

I was out for a week. A week. Then, one day, I decided I had enough of that and woke up ready to fight whomever needed fighting. I didn’t know who that was, but I was sure there was somebody who needed fighting. They did all their tests on me and I passed all of them with flying colors. Seriously. Before I woke up, they were talking about the months if not years of rehab I might need if I made it through. After their tests, there was no more talk of rehab. The physical therapist told me on the second day of us working together that she had nothing left to teach me.

I heard the word miracle over and over again until I instinctively cringed upon hearing it. I was told I was literally a walking miracle by one of my home nurses after she erroneously assumed I had had heart surgery once I told her what I went through. No, no. No heart surgery. No surgery of any kind. I did have an angiogram, but that was just to make sure everything was working fine in my heart. Every medical person I met marveled at how ‘normal’ I appeared to be after a life-changing event. A traumatic event. I forget that sometimes. I’ve said it before, but sometimes, I wish I had something visible that signifies I went through something big. I have needle mark scars on both arms because I scar easily and I had so many needles stuck into me while I was in the hospital. And I still have the sore on the back of my head, but it’s nearly fully healed.

If you look at me now, you would not be able to tell that I had gone through a traumatic event that changed my life. And, I don’t know if I could say it actually changed my life. It both has and hasn’t, which is the duality that has been sitting with me since I left the hospital. I woke up mostly intact with the biggest issue being my vision. People’s faces were melted so that they had one eye and the lower half of their faces were a molten mess. My dear sweet Shadow (black cat) had the same issue when I went home. I clocked my progress each day by how much Shadow’s face was morphing back to normal. His was the first to have two eyes and a distinct mouth again.

The other major issue was that I had something called Ticker Tape Synesthesia. It’s when two sensory inputs are mixed together. In my case, I would see…hm. How to explain. This is how I explained it to my heart doc. His name is Jeffrey. I said, “Let’s pretend that you like dogs.” He said he did, which isn’t surprising. I said that upon seeing him, I would see a label that said something like ‘heart doc’ above his head with dogs frolicking around the words. Same as when he spoke. A ticker tape would unroll with words that had maybe words in hearts and puppies playing around them.¬†It was fascinating, but I wasn’t sad to see it go. I had no doubt it was just part of the trauma (and probably the drugs), which meant it was temporary.

The only other negative effect was that I had a slight tremor in my middle left finger. And my stamina wasn’t anywhere near where it used to be. It’s funny. When I met my occupational therapist, she told me it might take up to a year to get back all my abilities. I was back to 99% of my abilities one month out of the hospital. (Not my stamina. That’s taken longer.) Ian has marveled at how quickly I seemed back to my usual self. He’s not wrong. I’m pretty much back to where I was before going into the hospital. Sitting on my couch, tying a hundred-plus words a minute about whatever’s on my brain. Playing a FromSoft game and eagerly awaiting Elden Ring. Practicing my Taiji weapons and learning as many new ones as fast as I can. Well, not as fast as I can right now. But I’m learning a new form again. I have not attended a Taiji class since I returned home, but that’s more because my parents are here than because I can’t hop on Zoom for an hour. I’m contemplating my next step in life, but I’m trying not to pressure myself about it, either.

I’m grateful to be alive. I shouldn’t be. By all rights, I should be dead right now. My brother had been ready to plan my funeral when I woke up. Then, he was prepared to have me stay in a rehab facility (home?) for months while I recovered. Then, he had to scramble along with my mother to get the house ready for me to come home without any rehab at all. One week after I woke up, I was discharged form the hospital to go live my life.

I’ve been checked over by my heart doc and my head doc. I have one more EKG (EEG?) for my heart doc in a few weeks, followed up by an appointment to talk to him, presumably about said EEG. Then, that’s the end of my doctor’s appointments from my hospital stay. My heart doc said my heart is perfectly fine with all my labs coming back acceptable/good. I went to my head doc appointment, not knowing why I was seeing him. I mean, I was pretty sure they wanted to make sure my brain didn’t get too damaged during my trauma, but I didn’t know specifically why I had to see him. After I caught him up on what had happened to me, he was astonished at how well I was doing. He said I didn’t need an ongoing neurologist, but I could message him any time I needed. He told me to work on my stamina every day and to do the age-old wisdom of watching my diet and my exercise. In other words, normal people stuff. His last words to me were to go out and live my life.

I did ask him if there was anything I could have done to prevent the stroke (his focus, obviously). He said no. Both he and my heart doc said that it was the pneumonia that caused everything and there’s not much I can do to prevent that, especially as I always have bronchial issues. I know it sounds weird, but I was relieved to hear from both of them that there was nothing I could do to prevent what happened. It soothed my anxious brain that had been quietly murmuring to me that it was my fault this all happened to me. Even though logically I knew it wasn’t true, it still bothered me. To have two professionals affirm that it was just the way life goes was gratifying.

I have commented that these are my bonus days because I was supposed to die. In the first few weeks I was awake, I was drugged out and so happy to be alive. I was thankful to my medical team for taking such good care of me and to my friends and family for loving and supporting me. I was thrilled by everything, including the ice water. That was amazing to me and I made every nurse who came in bring me a glass of fresh ice water.

There have been days since I’ve come home from the hospital that I’ve wished I stayed dead, but for the most part, I am grateful to be alive. I am thankful that Ian contacted my brother when he didn’t hear from me and that my brother found out I was in the hospital.

I’m extra-grateful that my brother was the rock that held it down while I was unconscious. He set up a Caring Bridge journal where he could direct everyone to find out what was happening with me on a daily basis. He made sure my parents were kept in the loop and he talked to my medical team regularly. He visited¬† me once or twice a day and just in general made sure he was on top of things.

I’m thankful for all of the love, positive vibes, good chi, and prayers that were sent my way as I lay motionless in my hospital bed. And, of course, a massive shout-out to my medical team who brought me back to life and kept me alive. It can seem far away these days (not even three months later!), but I’ll never forget it.


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