IntrepidWoman's Journey

A Near-Death Experience, Thank You Very Much!

Posted on: May 5, 2013

Well, it finally happened. After 12 surgeries and surviving cancer twice, I was THISCLOSE to the final exit. Going into my 13th surgery, which was for hernia repair that I had left way too long, I had a sense of impending doom that I kept pushing away in my mind.

My long-time doctor, who actually attended the same high school I did in pre-historic times, came to my rescue when I phoned him because of escalating pain and attacks which were symptoms of hernia strangulation. I had not lived there for the past 4 years, but he immediately connected me with the surgeon in the small town where I had lived and taught for many years.

The surgery seemed to go well, although it lasted many hours and others scheduled after mine had to be cancelled. The surgeon repaired at least five herniated areas and the next day I was up and walking the halls, expecting to go home soon.

On the second day, my blood pressure suddenly plummeted and my kidneys shut down. Staff packed my belongings onto the ambulance gurney for my trip to ICU in the closest city. Ambulance attendants were standing by. I was unaware of this at the time, but I do remember thinking that I was in a very dark place and mentally decided to pull myself out of it. I can only guess that this is when everything started functioning again and they did not send me to the city. My doctor had waited and watched, hoping….

I was alive and functioning again, but was full of drugs from surgery and post surgery that had not been eliminated from my body. This resulted in 6 days of drug detox. I could only have Tylenol Extra Strength every 4 hours for pain, nothing else. During that time, I experienced really horrific hallucinations and thought that I was trapped in a very terrible place forever. I was afraid to close my eyes because I would sink into mind-chilling dreams that ended with me waking in full terror, trying to breathe and attempting to pull out all the tubes that I became tangled in by thrashing around.

The nursing staff was with me constantly, trying to keep me calm. Their voices and those of my sons kept me anchored briefly in reality. Each day got a little better as the dreams lessened. In the beginning, I would try to stay awake all night. One night I remember the nurses appeared to have floating heads and their faces were ghastly white with very bright, scarlet lips and blue-black hair. There was a nauseating floral fragrance that nearly choked me. The room seemed to be a long tunnel with walls moving inward, and I thought I was imprisoned in a terrible institution where I was trapped for the rest of my existence. Only the voices of the caregivers and my sons would bring me back to reality, sometimes only briefly during the first few days. When I was lucid, I would joke with the nurses, calling one The Mean Nurse because she was so firm, making me concentrate on her voice. I trusted her and sensed she was there for me. Later she told me she had over 30 years experience helping people in trauma situations. What a wonderful way to have spent her career years, taking care of people during such dark times in their lives.

This has to have been one of the worst experiences of my long life, but it is also one of the very best. I have always been ‘a rock and an island’, keeping people at arms length and attempting to suppress most emotions as I pounded my way through life. There was lots of happiness along the way but I never let too many people get too close…. once hurt – you likely know that story.

This time I was totally helpless. I had no control over anything about my circumstances. If I had been in a large city hospital, I do not think I would have made it. In all my previous surgeries over the years, I cannot remember any faces or conversations with the many caregivers and surgeons as it was all so impersonal. But this time I knew all the staff. Having lived in this town for over 30 years, I had either taught their children or the younger staff were my past students. Everyone was overwhelmingly kind. The young woman who came daily to take blood had been my student and she would stop in everyday and visit before her shift. Nurses would come in and ask if I remembered them. I have never felt so loved and so cared for in my entire life.

My doctor was there throughout the dark days, making the call to send me to the city, and then deciding to keep me there. The surgeon came in several times a day, even on the long weekend. He was kind and humorous and very compassionate, spending time as well talking with my sons. They were never in a hurry.

When the day finally arrived that I was able to take care of myself, shower and look human, I walked the halls and received numerous hugs from staff as they came on shift, telling me how great I looked.

I am filled with such joy as a result of my near-death experience. I left that hospital after two weeks filled with a humble sense of thankfulness and a desire to live my life differently. I have begun to really listen to people and look them in the eyes when we talk. My sense of my job being the top priority is gone. Nothing matters now but the people in my life. I am thankful to have a good job that I love, but I am most grateful for my family and friends and for that incredible hospital staff that cared for me with such love and compassion. I will never forget how my sons came and were my life line with reality, keeping me sane. It is my turn now to use my gift of more time to make a more meaningful difference in the lives of others. The first person I am starting to take good care of is me.

A post surgery visit with the surgeon a few weeks later ended with him warmly shaking my hand and saying, “Say hi to the boys from me.” Imagine! I grinned all the way home.

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