Underneath my yellow skin

Gratitude–and guilt

I was reading Ask A Manager and there’s a question about COVID, working from home, children, and more. The context was a letter writer who moved during the pandemic and now was unhappy as to be asked to go back to the office. The comment in question is from someone who had a stroke at the beginning of this year and can’t drive any more.

It got me thinking about my own stroke (which I rarely even think about unless I’m thinking about my medical trauma in general). I felt guilty reading this comment because, well, it should be obvious why. This person had a stroke and can never drive again. They can only type with one hand and they can’t work in an office again.

Me, on the other hand, was never forbidden to drive except for a few days after having my angiogram (and I was in the hospital, anyway). In fact, it was deeply funny to me (in a dark way) that while my parents were warring over my father’s ability to drive (very poor) and my mother’s ability to drive (problematic), the person most capable of driving was the one who had non-COVID-related walking pneumonia, two cardiac arrests, and a stroke.

I have slight memory issues, but nothing to complain about. Plus, I have a workaround that isn’t difficult (writing things down) and I feel blessed that I can still type 100+ words a minute. My eyesight is back to where it was before the medical trauma (poor), no longer blurry. I had no rehab. None.

While I was in the hospital, I talked to the chaplain. I made it clear that I was not a believer, which did not faze him at all. I told him that I didn’t question why the medical trauma happened to me. I don’t take the best care of  myself and I have bronchial issues. I’m not special and exempt from bad things happening to me. I’ve never questioned that. But the fact that I came back without a scratch? That eats at me from time to time. Why the hell was I so lucky when others have suffered so much?

I should be dead. There is no way I should have survived what happened to me. When I Google similar situations, I  come up with nothing because there is just no parallel. When I tried to find a support group for people who had gone through what I had, I couldn’t find any. Not even any who had just survived cardiac arrests with no lasting effects.

I am called a walking/living/literal miracle every time I mention what happened to me. People who are in the medical biz just are amazed that I survived what happened to me, let alone thrived. People not in the medical field are floored when I tell them. I’m not bragging or even humble-bragging when I say that I am one of a kind. I have done hours of research and cannot find anything even close to what I went through.

I should be dead. I don’t think I can overstate that. I should not be here.

I am fucking grateful. And I feel guilty. Survivor’s guilt, I have it. This person writing in to AAM, they are struggling because of the stroke they had. Their boss is grateful they are alive. They can only type with one hand. They cannot drive any more. For me, the stroke is the part I keep forgetting. Walking non-COVID-related pneumonia? I can’t forget that asshole because it’s what kicked off the whole thing. Plus, I have had bronchial-related issues my whole life.

Two cardiac arrests, complete with CPR and a jab with an EPI pen? Oh yeah. I think about that a lot. And often. That’s not something that’s easy to forget. But the stroke? Oh yeah. That happened, too. I don’t mean to be dismissive, but it truly is an afterthought to me. Even though it’s what caused the residual short-term memory issue.

Here’s the thing, though. Any time when I think about a way of packaging this (ugh) to help other people, I’m lost because when you strip everything away, what’s at the core? What can I offer people in terms of actionable steps? I’ve said it before, but telling someone to go through all that to get a better perspective on life is just not reasonable.

It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s also the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. And it’s only the best thing because of the outcome, obviously. The last time my brother was here, we talked about how I should be dead. And how he struggled with the question of pulling the plug or not. If this was a movie, people would walk out because it’s not believable. Oh, he was told by the docs to think about pulling the plug and then got a call from them saying I had woke up? Oh, sure. Right. Then, wait, what? I don’t need any rehab or therapy?

I won the lottery without even buying a ticket.  My brother joked that he should have bought lottery tickets that day. I joked back that he wouldn’t have won because all our luck went to me waking up. We have that kind of relationship that we can make morbid jokes.

Back to the chaplain. I expressed my survivor’s guilt and the fact that I could not come to grips why I had gotten so lucky. The chaplain told me that it was important for me to think about these issues and glean what lessons I could learn from what happened to me. Then, he added that at some point, it was as important for me to stop thinking about it because I would never know the answers for sure. I’m not putting it well, but basically, he was saying that I was going to have to get comfortable with uncertainty.

I hated hearing it because I’m the ruler of knowing things. If I don’t know something, I Google it. If it’s on Google, I’ll find it. In this case, I couldn’t find much about surviving two cardiac arrests and a stroke because, well, to be brutally honest, it doesn’t happen. The survival rate for one cardiac arrest is bleak, let alone two plus a stroke. (Pneumonia cleared up at some point, obviously.) Honestly, I could not find stats for that situation. I could find stats for having one cardiac arrest (depressing) or a stroke (not quite as depressing), but not for having both and another cardiac arrest. Not to mention that pesky pneumonia.

I don’t know how to deal with all this sometimes, honestly. Why the fuck was I so lucky? Why me? I will never know. I have to accept that, no matter how much I don’t want to.

Leave a reply