Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Scream

Have you ever had one of those days where you wanted to just walk outside, throw your face up in the air and scream as loud as you possibly could and didn't care if everyone in the rest of the world could hear you? Well, that kind of day turned into the next couple of years for me.............
My internal version of this kind of screaming began to bottle itself up inside of me shortly after I returned home from the hospital. I had barely escaped death and found it was not as easy of a transition back into my old life as I thought it would be.
My mind was still groggy, my body was undeniably weaker and I faced more demands than I had ever expected. Frequent check ins to the coumadin clinic, healing from a Cesarean section surgery AND a pulmonary embolism at the same time, a thriving newborn and a busy two year old, it was all just too much to blend into the life I was able to balance so well before.
So, I began to split myself into two separate figures that had no resemblance whatsoever to each other: Who I was (pre blood clot) and the person I had become (post blood clot). It was both amazing and disturbing to me what a little, yet, furious clot of blood had done to me.
Once the dust had settled from the whole experience that I had been through, the depression and the anger began to show almost immediately. It was not a soft "why me?" but a very hostile "why me?" that began to build up inside. Then, it turned into the harsh realization that it was not a simple injury that would eventually disappear with time. The sharp and jagged pain was, undoubtedly and unfairly, here to stay.
I felt robbed of enjoying the pure bliss you feel from having a baby since I was so rudely plucked out of his homecoming, the offerings of support became fewer as people had to return to their own responsibilities and I was STILL not able to admit that I needed help, even given the circumstances.
So, the internal scream I mentioned before began to fester inside of me even more......side splitting pain, shortness of breath, pressure to return to normal.....well, made me want to SCREAM.....feeling guilty for hating the way I felt even though I should be thankful for my life, work calling and telling me I need to return despite my injuries, you, guessed it, more SCREAMING.
Why couldn't I pull it all together? The old me would have booted feelings like this to the curb but not this new version. This wounded, bitter, and sad version wouldn't let me shake off the trauma or severity of the situation so I could return to normal.
Maybe I just needed time, but, life doesn't work that way. There is no grace period or pause button or even much compassion, for that matter, when you re-enter the world and realize that you are still not up to it.
I reluctantly returned to work, sadly put two children into day care, and I silently learned to ignore the pain....or so, it seemed. All the while, the world began to drastically change and I had, unfortunately, changed along with it.
Our glory days at work were over and the recession began to rear its ugly head. For someone already hiding an underlying pain and depression, the beginning of many lay offs were even more hard to bear. One by one, I said goodbye to dear friends and respected coworkers as I was always left to wonder when my inevitable turn would come.
Our youngest son began to show signs of a feeding issue and another scary and unknown chapter was about to unfold in our already disheveled lives.
I yearned for the old me, the stronger version, that could have handled this turmoil and stress, but, she was definitely gone, and, at that moment, it didn't feel like she was ever coming back. How could she leave me now when I needed her more than ever?
So, yes, I felt like screaming, a deafening and desperate and necessary scream, in the hopes it would shatter this ugly barrier and free the old me again. Was she still there, somewhere, trapped inside of me?

Image Credit: The Scream By Edvard Munch

Friday, January 15, 2010

Nothing To Do But Think

What would you think about if you had an endless amount of time to literally do nothing but just sit there and think?

Okay, let's kick it up a notch by adding that these thoughts you come up with might be the last ones you may ever have? Well, if you are ever aware that your life is in danger, you may surprise yourself with the random, emotional, selfless, and surprising things that will fill your mind...........

There was a slight tug on my left arm and a faint voice calling to me when I slowly awoke the next morning after I was given a partial death sentence. To my surprise, I had made it through the night; A night I had sworn to stay awake through for fear that I would never wake up. I quickly reminded myself that I was still alive, but, barely. My mouth was dry, the entire right side of my weak body was immensely aching and my confused mind was searching for answers.
The faint voice I had heard was a nurse and that tugging was her effort to untangle the I.V. I had managed to wrap around my restless arm. She thoughtfully asked me, "How are you feeling and do you needed anything?" I wanted to tell her, "I feel like I have been to hell and back, I am trembling with fear inside, and I really need my family," but, I defiantly shook my head, and whispered, "No, I'm fine."
After she left, I curiously looked around the room and tried to gather my thoughts. My first reaction was, "What time is it?" They always say on those medical shows that the "first 24 hours" are the most important. I knew it was early morning and I wasn't out of the woods just yet, but, I did wake up this morning and that seemed like a good beginning.
Secondly, I was a little surprised that no one was there with me. There was a room full of family in here last night. No bedside vigil? Nobody clinging to me and begging me not to go into the light?? Come on, people! I know I matter to you and you could, at least, be here cheering me on or tearfully saying your goodbyes!
At that moment, my husband quietly peaked through the door. He seemed surprised that I was awake, and, had apparently stepped out into the hallway but had been there all night. The others had gone back to our house nearby and were taking turns attending to our children.
It was so good to see his encouraging face, even though I could see the strain caused by worry and lack of sleep he was trying to hide. My last words to him were the kind of words a spouse never wants to hear. An explosion of unwanted words caused by fear and a plead to be strong and make sure our boys knew how much I loved them. I repeatedly told him to raise them to be good people and encourage them to do wonderful things with their precious lives.
So, here we were, face to face again, and, he was still trying to reassure me that my fears weren't necessary. He reminded me it was the morning after a very long and scary night, but, I had made it. I had broken through to the other side, and, today, and everyday after that, I had to keep doing the same thing. "Agh," I thought. "That was just what I needed to hear! That loving voice of encouragement." It made this difficult task of healing a little easier.
That first day turned out to be the first of many days that I would spend in that room. I aimlessly stared at the walls, endlessly hoped to see my children, and tried to forget about the relentless pain. I eventually learned that the most comforting thing to do was to let my mind wander and where it took me became my best distraction. It was not a far stretch for a chronic daydreamer like me, but, the days I spent laying there and thinking these thoughts were not typical days either:

I pondered about my shortcomings and how differently my life could have been if I wasn't my own worst enemy.

Why didn't I stay focused and care enough about myself and my true passion for Art when I had the opportunity? I worked so hard to get accepted into that incredible Art School and I would have really enjoyed every moment of it, and, now I will never know where it could have taken me.

What ever happened to that fast bike with the sparkly blue seat and handle bar streamers I had loved so much as a child? I vividly remember disappearing on it down that uneven sidewalk in front of our old house and racing straight into a magical place without a care in the world. I miss that burst of excitement and freedom. Would I ever feel that way again?

My best friend from the past. I had an amazing one for a really long time. She was the only person I have ever completely opened up to and I am sure we knew every little and monumental thing you could possibly know about each other! Our crazy hopes, silly fears, frequent laughs, and heart wrenching tears, we shared them all and MANY times! I always knew it was a "once in a lifetime" kind of friendship that could never be duplicated. She had made a permanent impression on my heart and my mind had never let me forget the memory of her. Why is it making me re-hash it all again now? The disagreement that had torn us apart and that I held onto as an excuse for not talking to her all of these years had completely escaped me now and why did it take something like this to make me realize how much I still needed her in my life? Did she ever still think about me?

My Mom. Every child expects to lose a parent but no parent ever expects to lose a child. Even though I wasn't a little girl anymore, I was still her little girl. She turned to God to help us both through this and reached out to a priest to come and bless me, as it was not clear if I would survive through the night. It was important for her to let me know that God was there for me and I will have to remember to thank her for that. It was a comforting feeling.

My Dad. I missed him so much and there are so many things I want to tell him. Is there such a thing as afterlife? If so, I would really love to see him standing there on the other side of this world with that playful grin that always warmed my heart. I would run to him, hug him dearly and ask him to share that dance with me I had always imagined,but,we never got to have at my wedding because he left us way too early.

My husband. Wow, what a huge predicament I would have put my him in! You never get married and have children with the assumption that someday you would be doing it on your own, and, especially, so soon. We had only been married 3 years and he would have been 31 years old with a 2 year old and a newborn and a wife to bury. That just didn't seem fair. Our wedding was an absolute fairytale come true and how did we almost get to this point from there?

My boys. My sweet little boys. It had not been easy getting either of them here but I would do it all over again if I had to. Both of them mean so much to me and they are too young to realize how much their adorable faces inspire me to get stronger. I want so much to be there for them throughout their lives and I can't imagine just being an unfamiliar face in a photo if I have no say in this situation. Could I rely enough on my family to tell my sons about me often and what I was like since they wouldn't be able to remember at this age if I left them?

I thought about my sister and how different we were. We had never made the effort to put aside those differences long enough to really entertain the notion that we could have a meaningful bond from being siblings. Where did we go wrong and why was it so difficult for us to show each other affection?

My beautiful niece and how she was always like the daughter I never had and I hope she knew how important she had been in my life.

It was hard missing my nephew's first birthday and I watched the clouds form outside my window that day. The rain began and I knew it was going to interfere with the outdoor party they had planned for him.

Strangely enough, I thought about flowers....the intoxicating smell of gardenias, the unexplainable fondness I had for tulips and how pretty the Calla lilies were at my wedding. I wish I had an arrangement with all three kinds on my bedside table right now.

Food. I thought about that too. The hospital trays were good. Better than good. Why did people always complain about hospital food? The coffee was fresh, I asked for pancakes and I got them with lots of maple syrup and fruit, just the way I like them. So, if I had to die, I, at least, enjoyed my last meal.

I was surprised and touched by the frequent visitors drifting in and out of my room. Some I expected, many I didn't, and some I hadn't seen in years. They came bearing get well wishes, baskets of homemade goodies, magazines to help kill time, and, most of all, sincere expressions of real concern and encouragement.

Everyday, I awoke in that hospital bed and mentally marked off another day of victory! Then, I would allow myself, once again, to get lost in many hours of endless thoughts. Sometimes, as cruel as it may seem, life has a way of abruptly reminding you that there is no such thing as immortality. However, my life was spared this time and I chose to use my near death experience as an opportunity to explore myself and come to terms with a lot of thoughts and issues that had been bottled up inside of me.
When I finally grew strong enough to leave the hospital, the hot and humid July air had never felt so good as it swept across me when the automatic double doors opened. It was hard gazing out the window and helplessly watching the outside world go on without me and I loved being a part of it once again.
So, I re-entered the world that day and began my new life. I decided in the hospital that I would leave my temporary home with a lot of baggage that I no longer wanted or needed and, as a result, I knew I would never be the same person I was again.
I survived the unthinkable and I was determined to never forget I was given my life back for a reason. So, I embraced my new lease on life and I was truly amazed with the renewed appreciation I felt for myself and the world around me.

Image Credit: The Thinker - By Auguste Rodin (

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Stairway to Heaven.....Or Not

It is hard to understand why a few people survive things that many others do not. Is it from divine intervention, maybe sheer will or how about pure luck? I don't know, but, I have asked myself that question many times in my head and I have never found a real conclusion.
So, when I was told quite sternly by an E.R. doctor four days after my C-Section that "You have a pulmonary embolism and it doesn't look good." I am not quite sure why I am still here, but, I am. I have also come to the conclusion that I believe God, willpower and luck have ALL played a huge part in it......
When I found out that my blood clot was severe enough that I had about a 20% percent chance of making it through the night, well, there are not many positive ways to respond to something like this. I was not expecting such a grim prognosis and I am sure I reacted the same way as most that have ended up in this quite sudden and completely horrifying moment. A tale spin of shock and disbelief, followed quickly by fear and overwhelming panic. Then, outrageous anger, and, finally, profound grief.
However, even in my weakest state, my strength started punching its way through. Despite the unbearable pain, my mind was screaming at me to refuse to accept this. We have all heard the phrase before, but, is there such a thing as mind over matter? I didn't know then, but, I was about to find out.
I tried to unscramble my thoughts and stay focused on all of the less hurtful facts that were, for obvious reasons, being over looked:
Fact #1: I wasn't dead....yet!
Fact# 2: I was in a hospital, a really good hospital, which seemed like the best place to be and they fix things like this....sometimes.
Fact# 3: I had just given birth to a sweet and wonderful baby boy that deserved to have his mother...... There was no way on Earth anyone or anything was going to block me from being in his life! Only four days together? No way in hell was I leaving that child or his brother behind!
Then, I tried to rationalize the situation. I thought about how the most important challenge to combating a potentially fatal blockage is time. They have to be recognized as soon as possible and treated immediately. So, how long has this one been there and how much damage has it already done? I did no justice to myself by spending an entire half a day ignoring the symptoms. It was my fault. I gave it time to fester in my lung and now I was asking the medical staff to jump through a lot of hoops to save me but I was not going to just lay there and do nothing. It had to be a team effort. So, I did the only real things I could do to help. I prayed. I pleaded. I fought.
Despite the annoyance of many tubes running in and out of me, the drunken effect of the strong painkillers, and the constant drip of heparin acting as my toughest soldier in the beginning of, what seemed to be, a long battle, I was starting to feel optimistic. It's weird to say it, but, I did! Something inside of me told me that today was not the right day for me to die. I know it sounds crazy, but, I honestly did not feel like I was at the end of my too short journey through life, and, if there is such a thing as a stairway to heaven, I was determined that those magnificent pearly white steps were not going to appear in my room that night!

Image Credit: Stairway To Heaven - by Jim Warren: