Where does resilience live? Is it born from experience solely or is it innate?
On Monday, October 14, 2013 I thought that my resilience was in good shape as I participated in my 5th Tufts 10K. I walked solo this year. My choice, partially driven by not feeling connected enough to anyone in particular to walk with. It now seems emblematic of my journey. How much I invite and accept others in my life and how much do I crave to stand on my own and walk solo on my journey?
I had trouble getting to the race. I left too late and got stuck in traffic. I started the race in a fluster. I got going and felt good. Pushed hard. Made good time. Noticed different groups of colleagues and co-workers along the way. Cheered on the elite female runners. Marveling at their individual strength and stamina. Walked the same pace as a senior woman (70+) who ran the majority of the race. She floored me with her enthusiasm and how her spirit infected the crowd around her. At the very end of the race I was joined by my favorite little person who walked across the finish line with me and we put our hands in the air.
Next day, in the morning of Tuesday, October 15, 2013 I was in the emergency room at Newton Wellesley Hospital with severe abdominal pain and trouble breathing. What was going on with my body?Always calm under pressure I called my boyfriend on his way to work and asked him to come home to take me to the ER. The pain was bad but not unbearable. It got worse as we sat in the ER.
At one point, the pain was so severe I decided in a fugue that I should stand up (meet my unseen foe on my feet) and my blood pressure plummeted and I moaned “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t” and almost passed out. Thankfully a smart nurse and my boyfriend had ahold of my shoulders and guided me back into the hospital bed.
When the nurse asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10, I chose an 8. My thinking was “it could always be worse”, “this isn’t so bad.” I can handle it. The nurse said, “I think your 8 is a really a 10.” I just nodded up and down. Smart observation.
After a CT scan (who doesn’t want to drink barium liquid when nauseated?) they determined that I had a perforated stomach ulcer that needed immediate repair surgery. I had several moments (which could have been minutes or hours) of panic, shock and distress. I was relieved they figured out the source of my pain and were going to fix it. I also felt like “What the fuck? What else? Why me?” I remember struggling to “digest” the situation and my mind flying wildly in many directions like a wounded animal flailing.
How did I not know I had an ulcer? What symptoms was I ignoring? I thought I was in touch with my body, I was doing this whole “wellness thing”. I gave presentations on my weight loss journey and my self-care. I was a Wellness Coach. All my thoughts and pain came crashing down on me. I felt utterly defeated. I can also pinpoint the exact moment I felt a complete loss of control. I started to panic. “Must ask more questions before they put me under.” The Surgeon didn’t seem to walk to talk through why this happened. Only that it happened and he knew how to fix it. I quietly tried to calm myself and accept the situation as it was. I was having surgery.
Hours later as I came round after surgery I had this push and drive inside myself to get up and walk. Again meet this challenge on two feet. I pushed through the fogginess and asked for a magazine to occupy myself. When I got up to my room I got up out of bed and did laps around the recovery floor. I didn’t feel that bad. Some discomfort and tired but ok for someone who just had emergency surgery.
The Surgeon checked in on my and we had a striking conversation where he proclaimed that I would “never drink coffee again”. I choked back tears. It was so final. I was NPO for 6 long days. That meant no food, no water, no ice for 6 days. They wanted to insure that the surgical repair was successful. It was painful emotionally to not eat or drink for 6 days. Again another realization of loss of control. This was not my choice. I felt like I didn’t have any choices.
I did more laps in the recovery floor, pulling my IV poll with tubing and hoses and IV fluids. I discovered a peaceful channel on the hospital Cable TV. It was nature scenes with classical music. Good background music and an alternative to one of the Law & Orders marathons which my roommate had on a 24/7 loop. During one of my laps around the floor I saw my Reiki teacher (who also happens to be a nurse at the hospital). She didn’t recognize me at first. Then she asked me, “Would you like some Reiki?” I was so relieved that she was there. She gave me a Reiki treatment and I felt the peace and calm wash over me. The next day one of her volunteers came back and gave me another Reiki treatment. Both helped my healing process I have no doubt.
I got caught sneaking ice chips. Again choking back tears I relented and gave up my ice after the surgeon scolded me. Every day I took a shower which was an elaborate process of unhooking my IVs and wrapping my arm in a series of plastic bags. Then reconnecting me after I was done.
About six different times my IVs became infiltrated which means the vein collapses and the IV must be removed and relocated. It hurts like hell and the location gets red and hot and swollen. I began icing my arms and hands in the different locations where the infiltrations happened. Ironically with ice I couldn’t ingest.
I saw 2 or 3 different roommates cycle through my hospital room. All generally nice women. The first was a very large woman with newly diagnosed Type 2 Diabetes and sleep apnea. Her snoring was volcanic and was a motivating force behind asking for earplugs and a sleeping pill at night. The next roommate was a woman who had a common surgical procedure but pronounced her arrival with profuse vomiting and moaning “I am dying.” Her attentive family so worried about her wanted to sleep in the room with us. Again I was motivated to advocate for myself and say “no way” to family members sleeping in the room with us.
All the roommates gave me time to reflect on how people react to their circumstances. I recognize I am more on the “stoic” end of things. I don’t really complain much and have an extremely high pain tolerance. So when something is bothering me I need to pay close attention and ask for help. Other people tend to be preoccupied with every little physical feeling and react with extreme fear in the hospital environment. I marvelled at how the nurses were able to determine when a patient was complaining of a real ailment and once that was more a fear than an actual compliant.
I was so thankful for the care I received. The nurses and nursing assistants were beyond fabulous. With one exception. Nurse Ratchet incarnate. The oldest and meanest of the bunch. She literally made me cry. She was administering a caustic IV of magnesium and I could tell that the IV was becoming infiltrated. The pain was making my hand clench into a claw. I told her about it and she brushed off my complaints. I asked her to remove the IV she flat-out refused. Through tears I asked for the Nursing Supervisor and Nurse Ratchet send me to another floor for a test. When I got back to my room the shift change happened and my evening nurse immediately addressed my pain. We reported the nurse to the nursing supervisor.
When I was finally allowed to drink after I passed my swallow test which including drinking something nasty and standing in front of a x-ray while they took pictures of the liquid going through my esophagus and stomach. I got the hiccups. For 6 hours. In the 5th hour I asked the nurse to see what they might be able to give me to stop the hiccups. They gave me Ativan. It was great and I fell asleep and the hiccups stopped.
I was so anxious to move forward and be home that I don’t think I ever considered how hard the rest of my recovery would be. When I was finally released from the hospital, I didn’t know that I would be frustrated with my diet, pants with a waistband, bending or moving in general, being alone, bouts of anxiety, racing thoughts, and insomnia. Missed connections with well intended family and friends. Feeling completely isolated and alone. I was out of work for 6 weeks.
My recovery story at home continues in the next blog.