Scars, God, and Grit
One of the last things I remember is the surgeon holding my hand and asking if he could pray with me.
I woke up in the ICU one induced coma, two surgeries, and three days later. The week before, I had been admitted for a “routine, minimally-invasive” surgery with plans for one overnight stay and two to four weeks off of work.
Immediately following the first surgery, I had complications. As the week progressed, I began to hallucinate and was very confused. I saw spiders on the walls and the drums of the medical equipment became voices around me. Something felt very wrong despite their assurances that this was due to pain medication.
I was scared and felt alone (not to mention out of my head!), so I reached out to a close friend, asking if she would spend the night with me. She saved my life.
My friend called in late for work the next morning, waited for my doctor to round, and insisted that something was wrong. I had been delirious and talking the entire night; I never slept. For the first time, a CT-scan was performed which showed there was a hole in my intestine. My body was toxic. I was in septic shock.
Everything after that point is a blur.
A new surgeon was called in, and before surgery, he held my hand and prayed. I was no longer in control. Doctors stopped talking about when I might be released and began talking about recovery in terms of months and even years before I would feel “normal” again. My surgeon told me that full recovery could take as long as five years.
What was only supposed to be an overnight stay, lasted five months. Halloween, Thanksgiving, my birthday, Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day. I watched the seasons change from my hospital bed.
At times the physical and emotional pain was beyond anything I could have imagined. I almost died three times. I was completely overwhelmed. I felt vulnerable and helpless. I lost hope, and gave into feelings of overwhelming despair.
Before surgery, I worried about everything. Every. Little. Thing. People would tell me to “let it go,” but I had no idea how to accomplish that. In that hospital, depending on others for every need, for my survival, forced me to let go.
Nighttime was the most difficult. One night, when I felt like I could not breathe, a respiratory therapist was paged. He held my hand and talked with me through my breathing treatment. He listened with compassion and continued to visit me, finding me on his break just to say hello and ask if I needed anything. He told me that he had asked his congregation to pray for me during their Sunday services. He said to ask for him anytime I was scared and having trouble breathing.
My wound care physician’s assistant would also magically appear in the middle of the night to check on me because there were no wound care staff during the night shift; usually arriving just as I began to have trouble.
I began to feel God’s grace and love through the care and compassion of everyone around me; from the physical therapist who would not take “I can’t” for an answer, to the husband of a former supervisor who decorated my hospital room for Christmas with glitter, light-up snowman, and all! I began to feel hopeful and to find courage in my despair.
I began to fight.
While it was the worst experience of my life, it was also the most important; real-life lessons of faith, humility, grace, love, and hope. Through those five months, I learned to:
Breathe… I learned to pause and bring my attention inward. Slow, deep breathing, visualization, and prayer refocused my thoughts from the intense pain, fear, and endless examinations; helping me find a sense of calm and peace.
Live in the moment… and only focus on that moment. I finally learned to “let it go” and stop worrying about the uncertain future; to focus only on what I had accomplished that day that was better than the day before. That made it tolerable.
Take baby steps… I learned to literally walk again, but first, I had to overcome my fear of falling. My legs were dead weight. I measured my progress by how many minutes I stood unassisted, how many steps I took, and whether I was able to walk to or through the doorway of my hospital room. Eventually I counted my progress by the number of doors I was able to pass by in the hallway. My soon-to-be father-in-law, who had lost his leg, challenged me to walker races. If he could overcome that in his late 80’s, then I had nothing to complain about!
Find the happy… to celebrate the little things in each situation, no matter how small. I was not allowed to eat or drink anything during those five months. Ice chips became a special treat when I was allowed to have them! I became an ice enthusiast and could taste a difference according to which ice machine it came from (the staff break room machine produced “wet” ice). I began to make jokes about everything with my doctors and nurses, and each setback became a visit from “my good friend Murphy” (Murphy’s Law). I also watched a LOT of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and other sitcom reruns. Laughter heals.
I experienced amazing kindness and generosity from caregivers, family, friends, and complete strangers who prayed for me.
They gave me hope.
I am not supposed to be here…but God had a different plan! Since my surgery, I have wanted to use my experience to help others in some way. This October, I celebrate five years post this “life altering event.” I have a massive scar that spans my entire abdomen that has been a constant reminder of what happened.
My invisible wounds took longer to heal.
My scar is in the shape of a cross, and is now a constant reminder of faith, strength, courage, resiliency and survival. GOD and GRIT. This is my story, and I pray it reaches someone in need of hope. You are not alone.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” - Isaiah 41:10