Underneath my yellow skin

Survivor’s guilt

When I was in the hospital, I had a chat with the chaplain. I was not asked if I wanted to have this chat beforehand, but I did not mind. At that point with all the drugs pumping through my veins, I would have talked with anyone.

He told me that I may feel survivor’s guilt at some point, which I didn’t while I was in the hospital. Wait. That’s not exactly true. One day, while I was lying in bed as I was for much of my first few days awake, I overheard my care team talking about another patient. She was a young woman in her twenties and had just died from COVID. I felt survivor’s guilt then because she was so young and had died. More info came out such as she had not been vaxxed, nor had her entire family. And it turned out her mother died as well.

Later, I realized that the whole thing probably did not happen. I hallucinated a lot while I was in the hospital, and this was probably one of the delusions. It just did not make sense that they would all be talking about this patient and that they all knew her outside of the hospital, even though the family were ranchers with a website. Yes, this was what my brain was telling me was the truth. I don’t think any of it happened, but it did make me feel guilty that I had survived while this mythical twenty-two year old had died.

When I went home, I was mostly profoundly grateful to be alive. I was amazed at how brilliant everything was. Well, not everything as I had to deal with the family dysfunction, but apart from that, everything was awesome.

I didn’t think about much of anything, to be honest, for the first month. I was just resting up and regaining my strength. I started slowly with my Taiji, only doing stretching the first few weeks. I did try the sword on day three, just three movements. That was way too much, but it also showed me that I would get it back again eventually.

That was the important part. I needed to know that I would still be able to do my weapons. I didn’t care about anything else, really, in the first few weeks. I could not see properly, so I could not do much online for the first week. My brother made the font larger so I could read websites, but that was for very brief amounts of time.

Of course, I wanted to be able to write again. That is so important to me as well. I am on my keyboard most of the time and type, as a conservative estimate (over several different places), 4,000 words a day. This includes posts, fiction/memoir, work, messages (Discord, Ask A Manager, to friends), and emails. That’s nearly 1,500,000 a year. I know that I write at least that much because my keyboard is a mechanical keyboard. A regular keyboard lasts roughly 5 million keystrokes. A mechanical keyboard is supposed to last up to 50 million keystrokes. My first one lasted 2 years and 2 months. That means I was doing roughly 25 million keystrokes per year. I will note that the keyboard of the laptop itself lasted two months. Which means it’s official crap. I have not used the internal keyboard since–well, I can’t, obviously, but I’ve never liked it. At all.

The other thing I was anxious about was can I play Dark Souls III again? One of the physical therapists in the hospital mentioned that video games could be a part of rehab. She had a really sweet story of her and her son playing Breath of the Wild an hour a night. My brother joked that he thought I could handle playing video games, but I was nervous going back to it.

It was  probably three weeks or so when I hesitantly picked up my Xbone controller and turned on Dark Souls III. It’s my favorite game of all time. I have platted it (that was agony), and it’s my comfort game. I played it nearly every day before I ended up in the hospital as my way to end the day. I love the game so much. The new tat I want to commemorate a year of being alive will have part of DS III in it.

The trailer for Elden Ring dropped a month or so before I ended up in the hospital. At that time, I started planning how I would play the game. I would have one character with whom I did the game my way–soloing all bosses and exploring the hell out of the game. I would have a second character for co-oping and there would be no rules. This was my aim, and I could not wait for the game to come out.

Then I ended up in the hospital and it wasn’t a sure thing that I would even get to play the game. There was a week when, let’s be frank, my life hung in the balance. My friends and family didn’t know if I was going to live or die. Or, more to the point, they were planning on me to die. It was that dire. My medical team was very honest with my brother about this. They told him he was going to have to make a decision–and then I woke up.

Six months after the crisis, I was reading Ask A Manager as I do. I don’t remember what the topic was, but there was a person writing about a stroke she had in January (this was April when I was reading it. So seven months later. Sorry). She said that she would never drive again. She could not work fulltime any longer, either. She was struggling to type, one-handed, and she could only sit up for a few hours at a time.

It was sobering. I didn’t focus on my stroke because it seemed to pale in the face of two cardiac arrests. The thing is, though, that living with a stroke is shitty. Once I actually looked it up, I was shocked at how far-reaching the damage could be. In the last month, I watched a video with a doctor at Mayo Clinic (number one clinic in the country, right here in MN) in which he explained what a stroke can do to you and how you will have to deal with it. He was upbeat, but it was clear that he was trying to be gentle. He wanted to say, “Your entire life has changed and nothing will be the same again. You will never be anything close to normal, so you better get the fuck used to it.”

What he actually said was something closer to that you can still have a fulfilling life, but you have to change your mindset. A stroke is brutal. There are people who could not walk again or talk again. And this is why when I woke up, my team was careful about prepping me for life after leaving the hospital.

I remember the second or third day I was awake, the occupational therapist was explaining to met that I might need rehab for six months to a year to get back to anything approaching normal.  left the hospital a week after waking up and did not need any rehab. At all. I needed about a month to regain my stamina, but that was it.

It’s not easy to accept that I won the lottery when it comes to having an ischemic stroke. On top of two cardiac arrests. I have noted my short-term memory issues and my inability to do simple math in my head any longer. Neither of them are really even worth mentioning; I just do to show that there were some ramifications. Just not many and not any that I can’t deal  with.



Leave a reply