One of the most challenging parts of my life right now is living in poverty. I've been disabled for a couple of years now. Even before my big health crisis in June 2011, I was finding it difficult to show up every day to any of my commitments. My energy would wax and wane and I never knew ahead how I'd feel on a particular day. It made working a real issue when I was sometimes several hours late, or ended up calling in frequently to work because I was in too much pain or too fatigued to actually get up and dressed and out the door to work. Rheumatoid Arthritis is one of those illnesses where you never can judge what your day will be like. One day, I'll go-go-go and then, bed for three days. Pain, fatigue, mental fog are all frequent realities of my life. Because of this, my goals went from becoming a Certified Nurse Midwife, to a therapist, to hoping to to find some way to support myself, eventually landing in the world of unemployable.
Its a scary thing when you don't know how you're going to survive. Even worse when you have kids. In an effort to improve my condition, I started one of the RA medications that requires an IV every eight weeks. During that time, I suffered a series of urinary tract infections. Once, in June 2010, I was hospitalized with sepsis that occurred when a kidney infection turned into a blood infection. I was in the hospital for several days getting IV antibiotics and recovered but that was just the beginning. A few months went by where I had more UTIs and then the following spring, the kidney stones came. I had three kidney stones in three months. (Yes - they really are as bad as childbirth.) In June of 2011, I went in for a kidney stone that wouldn't budge. The urologist did tests and determined that I didn't have a UTI, although I felt like I did. I had a chills and an all over body ache that always accompanied my infections but my labs came back showing no immune response. There was, however, a kidney stone stuck about half way down the ureter and urine was backing up into my kidney.
The doctor determined the only choice at this point was to go in after the stone and place a stint to keep my ureters open while they recovered from the damage the stone did. (Kidney stones are tiny mineralized rocks that feel like BBs covered in razor blades. So,understandably, my ureters were pretty inflamed and angry.) The procedure is a simple one. Done under general anesthesia, it doesn't take long and is pretty much an outpatient procedure.
Everything went fine during the procedure and I was sent to the recovery room. My doctor came to check on me and was chatting with me when I started shaking. This is a common reaction to anesthesia, so they gave me some Demerol and expected my shaking to improve quickly. However, it got worse and continued to get worse in the minutes that followed. What happened next, shocked my doctor so hard that at one point, he called his wife and told her, "I think I just lost a patient."
I don't remember any of this. I didn't know about anything for over ten days when I finally awoke from a coma and learned how close I had come to dying. Apparently, while chatting with my doctor, following the Demerol, my blood pressure started to drop. And kept dropping. And kept dropping. Until there was nearly no blood pressure at all. They called a code blue and like on TV, the code team came crashing into my room and started doing all the things possible to keep me alive. My blood pressure had dropped so low that they were worried about brain damage. They slammed new IV lines into my veins and forced fluids into my blood vessels while a doctor (luckily for me a pulmonologist) intubated me. I had stopped breathing.
The code team rushed me into the ICU and continued forcing fluids into my body just trying to keep my blood pressure above the line that would cause brain damage without proper oxygenation. In the end, it took 33 liters of fluid before I started to stabilize. My family was contacted and told that I was likely not to survive and that they needed to come if they wanted to say goodbye.
My children were ages 4, 7 and 16 years old. Babies. And their mother was slipping away.
My friends and spiritual community joined my family at the ICU. In the middle of that first night, when everyone else was sleeping, my friends took over the chapel and cast a circle of witchcraft so strong, they pulled my soul from the brink and kept me anchored to this life. During that circle where my friends who had known me through thick and thin, through birth and triumph and challenges, they invoked the Gods and Goddesses and asked that they assist my blood pressure in rising to a safe level and to keep me connected to this body. This life. And it worked. My median blood pressure rose to five points above the number the doctors had said was necessary if I was going to survive as more than a vegetable.
I remained in a coma for ten days. During that time, I was stuck in a lucid dream where I was aware of sounds, feelings and experiences, including painful medical procedures, but had no idea where I was or why I couldn't wake up. I remember texting my friends, in my dreamstate, trying to get someone to help find me and tell me where my kids were. I couldn't find them and I was alone and didn't know why I couldn't get out. I was trapped and had no idea why. All I knew was that I couldn't find anyone and my body hurt.
To be continued.