I feel better these days, but this story from nearly six years ago now still haunts me. Probably it always will.
Friday, 9 March, 2007
I've written about this before.
So today, last year, I got very sick.
My kids - the older two - had Scarlet Fever. My doctor looked at me and took my temperature and worried that I had bronchitis again because I did have a deep, gross cough and so she gave me some antibiotics and sent me home.
I didn't mention that I'd pretty much stopped peeing several days earlier, because it didn't strike me as a big deal. I'd realize mid-afternoon that I hadn't gone to the washroom all day and think, hmm, maybe I should. My urine - and this is way too much information but anyhow - was deep brown and fetid, something that I noticed with a detached interest, like I was already on the moon, from someplace far away where little details like that no longer mattered. The Baby would cry and I would look at her and wonder where she'd come from and why was she making that sound?
And so this day last year - the first Friday of the March break - I'd been having weird irregular heartbeats all day, like my heart was suddenly jackhammering out of my chest and I was falling down a lot while I walked and I noticed, with no real interest, that my temperature seemed to be a bit high. I phoned my husband and told him that I was feeling very well and could be come home? I didn't tell him any of the things that struck me as irrelevant - that I wasn't peeing, that my heart was being weird, that I kept falling down - and he said, quite reasonably, to put the tv on for the kids and just to rest until he got home at his regular time.
He got home and looked at me with some concern. I wasn't acting quite like myself, was obviously very sick. He wanted to take me to the hospital but I just wanted to have a bath and go to bed, and I lay there in the dark with my heart going BOOM BOOM BOOM like something dreadful walking towards me.
The next morning my husband insisted that I go to the hospital. I wanted to phone Telehealth first, because I was sure that all of this - the not peeing, the heart stuff, the high fever - was nothing. The nurse on the line suddenly sounded tense when I told her what was going on, and told me that I had to go the hospital immediately, that I had to promise to leave within the next 20 minutes. We dropped our sick older kids off at my in-laws and drove to the nearest tiny rural hospital, 20 minutes away. The emergency department led me straight to the Serious Emergency Room, with me dreamily thinking the whole time that they were making an awfully big fuss.
They were worried primarily about my heart, and asked me to give them a urine sample to rule out pregnancy so I could have chest x-rays. I obliged and handed the cup of urine to the waiting nurse, who gasped out "JESUS, HONEY," when she saw what I'd given her. And then a young girl came into the emergency room who had been kicked in the head by a horse and needed to readied immediately for air transport and there was only one doctor and one RN in the whole hospital. They paused midway through getting her ready to run into my room and tell me that I should file a complaint with the hospital, that they were horribly dangerously understaffed and that I wasn't getting adequate treatment. I wanted to go home. The young curlyhaired RN came running over and whispered to me that she wasn't supposed to say this, but that if I went home, I would die.
I spent two days in the emergency ward. My fever would suddenly spike. I had seizures, came close to going into a coma, my white blood cell count plummeting and my heart rate at 145, 155. My husband sat beside me crying, holding our baby. I remember almost nothing of this, just little scraps. My dad came into the hospital with a chocolate dog and a note that said "Stop malingering." They moved me into a regular room - and regular hospital beds are like airy pieces of Heaven compared to the hard, flat examination tables that I spent the last several nights on - but moved me the next morning into isolation. My mom was back and she took my baby away, bringing her over for me to kiss first, and I kissed my little baby thinking that I was never going to see her again. You can imagine, I suspect, how that felt.
I spent a week in isolation. There was a chair overlooking the parking lot and the endless snowy field going away from the hospital and I'd sit there, feverish and feeling like this was the last of my life. I was on massive doses of iv antibiotics, on a constant heart monitor, on oxygen, and I felt lost in the massive tangle of tubes and wires. My husband printed out recent pictures of the kids and my daughter made me a long chain of buttons that I held onto almost constantly, like it was the thin thread keeping me from floating away. The nurses were kind - one red haired nurse would come in and sit with me, talk about American Idol and sneak me treats from the cafeteria to try and tempt me to eat. I slept most of the time.
The doctor released me from the hospital when my heart stopped acting up, when the massive infection was gone from my system and my fever was gone. He had a serious talk with me about my low white cell count, how hematologists in the nearest Big City had been following it with some concern and suspected that I had leukemia, that I had to go the next weekend once I was strong enough for massive testing. And so I went home, desperate for my children and sure that I was only going home for a little while, that I was going to die horribly.
A few days later, my white blood cell counts went back up. I had a viral infection that had sent them shooting down, nothing worse. (edited to add - that wasn't what caused me to get so sick, though - I had a septic kidney infection, which means that the infection in my kidneys had spread into my blood and from there into my other organs. By the time I was in the hospital, my lungs and heart were beginning to fail.) Friends came and stayed with me all day for the first few weeks out of the hospital (I don't write about them often, but I have lovely friends), watching the kids, keeping me company, and I felt frail and like the rest of my life had been thrown into this high relief, because I came so close to being absent from this, from my life.
And so that is today's anniversary. Tonight I will drink some wine and likely eat some pizza and feel a mixture of gratitude - I do enjoy being alive - and a darker emotion that I have trouble expressing, this animal terror that I can so close to dying and now know that someday I will.