That Night I Almost Died
For a few unbearable moments, I would have been grateful to just die so that it could be over. In the back of my head, a small voice worried that my screams might wake up our small children. I did not want this scene to be their last memory of me. My fingers were twisted up in the sheets. My feet were kicking as I writhed back and forth. Sweat was dripping off of me onto the bed.
A few hours earlier, I had finally gone to bed after sitting up with a terrible stomach ache. But I never did get to sleep that night. The nagging, burning pain just kept increasing. Suddenly, like a volcanic eruption, the pain exploded. My stomach clamped down much like a contraction during labor, only this contraction never let up. I had rolled to one side and vomited. Much later, I found out I had been vomiting blood- and a whole lot of it.
Impossibly, it got worse. All my muscles began to "lock" and shake like a seizure and I realized that I could not breathe. I could not pull any air in to scream anymore. I thought, "I really am going to suffocate." My panicked husband knelt over me, now wide awake, trying to ask my questions. "What is going on?" "What should I do?" I could not answer. He called 911.
When the paramedics arrived, I had stopped seizing and my muscles suddenly relaxed. I still struggled to breathe due to the pain. It felt like white hot lava making its way through my abdomen. The paramedics did not see all of the blood on the far side of the bed by the wall. They carried me down the stairs to the ambulance. I was able to whisper to my husband, "Stay with the kids." I could not imagine us leaving them home alone. As they closed the ambulance doors, I said to Scott, "Call my mom." I knew that my mother would know how to pray. REALLY REALLY pray.
I do not remember much of the ambulance ride. I do remember hearing the paramedics say, "How do you rate your pain?" It was at a 12 out of 10. Beyond description. They said, "We can't give you any pain meds until a doctor assesses you." I also remember thinking, "This can't be happening. What is going on? This isn't real."
At the emergency room, a doctor did approve several shots of morphine. But they did nothing for the pain at all. I watched the second hand on the analog clock, counting the seconds to get through. My arms and legs kept shaking as if I were very cold. Five hours later, a doctor finally came in to say that he figured I had stomach flu and that I should just go home. They had never done any tests or checked me out. I knew this was not stomach flu. But what do you do when you doctor says you are fine?
My husband had called my mother at 2 am. To his surprise, she was already awake and interceding for me. She said that God had woken her up with an urgency to pray for me. She felt that my life was on the line.
My friends came by to bring me home that morning. I could not straighten myself up at all. I found myself "stuck" bent over at a 90 degree angle to the ground, shuffling to their car like I was 126 years old. I was still wearing my oversized green nightgown from the night before. With every pothole my friend hit and with every small bump in the road, I fought not to scream. I bit down on a pencil in the car until I left teeth marks in it.
I lay in bed for several days afterwards still unable to straighten myself out. On day 2, I started to run a fever. I struggled to tell me boss and family what was going on because I had no idea what was going on. I said, "The doctor says I have the flu." Alarmingly, I found it almost impossible to eat. Everything I ate hurt like gnoshing on broken glass and razor blades with a side of gravel. The night I tried 2 bites of pizza, I was doubled up in agony, literally thinking I was going to die. So for almost 2 weeks, all I could manage to eat was a little bit of white rice. After 2 weeks, I could finally straighten up a bit, but the pain was still very severe. I made an appointment with my regular doctor, desperate for some answers. I do not enjoy going for doctor's visits. I worried that he would say, "Yup, it was stomach flu. You're fine, go on home you raging hypochondriac!" But my own doctor said that there was no evidence that this had been flu, because no tests had been done. He also said that I should have recovered by now. So he ordered a gall bladder test. In another week, I went in for that test. My doctor was surprised that I scored a "zero function" on that test. He theorized that my gall bladder had quit and that was the source of all my complaints. So he scheduled me for a gall bladder removal surgery. I remember him being so cheerful, that this would, "Fix me right up." I thought, "Can a non-functional gall bladder really be THIS bad? I remember my mom having hers out, but it wasn't like this..." But, I am not a doctor.
Six weeks from that terrible night, I arrived at the hospital for my gall bladder removal surgery. All night and into the morning, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of dread. The surgeon tried to calm me as they wheeled me in, "Young lady, don't be insulting. I've been doing this surgery for 22 years. This is what I do every day. I don't get surprised." My last thought before going under sedation was, "Well, you haven't done surgery on ME before."
As I slowly began regaining consciousness after the surgery, I tried to make sense of my husband shifting his body in a rocking motion in the chair next to me. He was mumbling, "I can't raise these kids alone." This did not bother me because of the heavy medications still in my system. I remember the surgeon trying to tell me something very important, but I couldn't not make my brain focus on the words. I caught, "opened up" "white specks" "cancer everywhere" "sent to pathology" "outside all organs" "so much old blood" "did all we could." Again, I wasn't nervous just sleepy. When I "came to" again, the surgeon was looking very relieved holding a manila folder out for me to see. I couldn't really read it at all because I did not have my contacts in. He said, "It wasn't cancer. The samples we sent down to pathology were all white rice. All over the outside of your organs. It looks like most of your recent meals ended up outside of your digestive track." The surgeon probably told me more, but I cannot remember.
A few days after I got home, I began to read through all the materials and look at the pictures and reports from my surgery. Apparently, on that night, March 9, 2011, around 1:30 am, a bleeding ulcer, that I did not even know I had, burst open. Most ulcers are in the stomach, but mine was a "duodenal" ulcer-in the small intestine. When the ulcer ruptured, it tore apart the gall bladder that was next to it, leaving quite a hole in the intestine and pieces of gall bladder everywhere. A major blood vessel that runs right through there was torn open and I bled out into my abdomen. The surgeon had done a lot of work to "remove" a lot of dried blood from the outside of my liver. Just about everything I had eaten- 2 bites of pizza, a few handfuls of white rice, were outside the intestine, some sticking to the outside of my liver. The surgeon did not have to repair the ulcer hole, because the area had "encapsulated", meaning that my body had now healed over the torn area.
When I went to my followup appointment with my regular doctor, he was astonished at the pictures in my file. He explained, "I do not think you understand. This is so rare. And a duodenal rupture is almost always fatal, 99 percent of the time. Even when it happens when someone is IN the hospital, their chances of survival are not good. You are a walking miracle." At my followup appointment with the surgeon, he agreed with my doctor's assessment. "Yeah, you don't survive these. Even if you are in the hospital. I am an atheist but I don't have a good explanation for how you lived. It must have been some kind of "evolutionary leap" I suppose. I could work another 40 years and still never see this kinda thing outside of a textbook."
I felt a bit like a freak of nature when he brought in a few interns to meet me. I did ask, "What can I do to make sure this never happens again? What can I eat differently?" The doctors looked around at each other in silence. My surgeon shrugged. "Who knows. I don't know of anyone who has survived before."
In the weeks that followed, I wanted to talk with someone about what happened and what it all meant. I looked for a support group, or another survivor like me online. No luck. This really was rare.
Unlike my surgeon, I am not an atheist; I have always been a person of faith. And so I try to make sense of what happens in my life, in view of God's plan. Sometimes, I have to admit that I will never fully understand. Other times, I begin to see the outline of God's hand guiding the events of my life. That night that I really should have died stands out as a night that changed how I live. Here are the most significant ways I have changed since that night.
I realized how very little control I actually have. I have always been a person that liked to appear in control of my own life. I like to make decisions for myself. Anyone who has experienced a health crisis knows how helpless you feel in that moment. I now know that any "control" we seem to have is not that much. Many of us fool ourselves into thinking we are in charge. Really, as Scripture says, "No one, by worrying, can add an inch to their height, or turn one hair white or black." This actually, surprisingly, brought me a measure of relief. We always spout off quickly, "God is in control." But we live like we are on the throne. After my experience, I am convinced, more than ever, that my life is really in God's hands. He really does make the ultimate decision of when my time is up here on earth. And Jesus paid the ultimate price so that my life goes on no matter what. I also believe that God uses every thing that happens to us for a purpose. He does not allow what He cannot redeem.
There is a reason for me to be here on earth. This is another Christian platitude that suddenly became vividly real for me that day. God could have easily taken me home to be with Him that night, simply by sitting back and doing nothing. Perhaps, He would even rather have me there with Him. But He decided to keep me here, which means that I have a job to do- or several. And He will let me know what those are. And that hammers home the point- if you are here on earth still breathing, then God isn't done with you yet. Everyone has a purpose. There is a plan for every life.
Just about everything and anything are not worth stressing over. No I'm serious. Not once while I was in the hospital did I think, "Oh I'm so glad I remembered to run the dryer." Anyone who has been in an intense medical situation knows, that suddenly, nothing else matters. That dental cleaning you are putting off, the PTA meeting that went poorly, that missing shoe, that person that aggravates you so much at work- in a moment of time, what seemed SOOOOO important doesn't matter at all. That day, I stopped stressing about a lot of things. There are days I get anxious, but not like before.
Some things are not worth your life. I have always been the poster child of workaholism- driven to the inth degree! After this happened, my doctor discovered many other bleeding ulcers in my intestine. I was prescribed medications, but he also sat me down and said, "Trish, these 80 hour work weeks stop now. If you don't change, you are going to die. Is this really worth your life?" His words hit me like a slap in the face. And for once in my stubbron life I finally listened. My work life radically changed- hours drastically reduced. I wrote books and began traveling once a month. I started being home most nights of the week and having dinner with my family. Within 6 months, all of the ulcers were gone. They have never been back. "Burning out for Jesus" "Dying in the Pulpit" "Ruining for health for the gospel" is not a noble goal- it is a tragedy. It also shows undue emphasis on our own importance and strength, rather than trust in God's power to do the heavy lifting.
Every single moment is precious. Every single summer. Every Christmas. Sunrises, sunsets. Life is short, precious and so so fragile. I used to live like I had endless chances to take a trip with Mom. Endless summers- why not just do that some other summer? I really felt like my friend and I could go to coffee anytime. We can have a better Christmas with the kids next year. Well, maybe not. It is a gift to realize that all now is all you really have. I believe that no matter how long or short you live- 25 or 105- it goes by sooooo quickly. Everything in life is a season. And every season ends. So after that night- I take those vacations. We try to make every holiday- every birthday- full of memories.
I began to wonder what kind of legacy I would leave behind. The worst thought I had during my experience was, "If I die right now, and these years are the only memories my kids have of me, how will they remember me? Have I given them enough training to grow up well? Did I guide them to know and love Jesus? Did I pass on our family's faith and key traditions? Why didn't I write that book I always wanted to? I never traveled overseas....Did I make any kind of an impact for Christ? How will the kids in kid's church remember me?" Since then, I have traveled overseas and many places, I've written 3 books, I've worked hard to tell my kids all the stories I need them to hear....What absolutely needs to get done before I die? What legacy am I leaving? These are the questions I think about a lot even today.
What about you? Have you ever had a near death experience? Did you life change? How so? I would love to hear your answers!
Know that you are loved, your life has a purpose and you can leave a legacy for those around you! God bless, Trisha