Monday is my official birthday, but one year ago today, I had a medical crisis. Although it was an extremely scary ordeal for my parents and me that we hope never happens again, it was also an interesting spiritual experience in which I felt like I had a re-birth of sorts. I have heard this feeling is common for people in medical crises, but now I understand it first-hand.
On Wednesday March 22, 2017, I had just finished my typical work-day breakfast of oatmeal, a banana and an apple with peanut butter, when I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. Because of underlying medical conditions, we had learned that stomach bugs are riskier for me than the average person. I have had to go to the emergency room by ambulance twice in the past when I would pass out from sudden dehydration. So I called in sick to work so that I could rest and drink plenty of fluids. My dad had an important meeting for work that day, and my mom was supposed to leave for Indiana after dropping me off at work. Four months earlier, my grandma on my mom’s side had been in a bad car accident and Mom and her sisters took turns accompanying her to many doctor appointments. I felt bad inconveniencing them but they understandably didn’t want me staying home alone given my past history with stomach bugs. Grandma’s appointment was not until Friday, and Mom was going to go down early to visit, but instead, she stayed home with me that day. After taking it easy all day just watching television and eating Mom’s home-made chicken soup, I felt much better by evening. Mom made up some bland chicken and rice, and some egg salad for me to have on hand, and if I had no more stomach issues by the next morning, we all felt comfortable with her leaving for Indiana. With my part-time schedule, I was now off on Thursdays, so the plan was for me to take it easy one more day and by Friday I would be fine.
Thursday morning, I woke up with a headache, but headaches are not unusual for me. I took some Excedrin, went back to bed for a little while and before long it had gone away, so we all felt comfortable with Mom leaving for Indiana, especially since Dad would be able to work from home most of the day. Looking back I remember being a little less energetic than usual, and my appetite was slightly diminished. I could barely finish a can of Amy’s French Country Vegetable soup I had made myself for dinner, something I can usually finish without a problem, but I chalked it up to the fact that it had beans in it. Maybe that wasn’t the smartest food choice so soon after a stomach virus, but I kept it down and a couple hours later even felt well enough to do my usual exercise routine on the treadmill before going to bed. I fully intended to be recovered and ready to go back to work the next day.
But the next morning when I woke up, I just didn’t feel right. I was tired beyond just the usual “it’s cold outside and I don’t want to work today” tired that is natural for working adults when the alarm goes off at 5:30 in the morning. When I stood up, I felt dizzy and chilly, and I had no appetite at all. My dad offered to make me scrambled eggs, but all I could stand the thought of eating was a banana. I felt terrible missing work again now that I was on a part-time schedule, but after a phone conference with Mom, she convinced me I needed to stay home. So I called in sick, and thinking I just had a fever, I took a higher dose of cortef, a stress hormone that my body does not make naturally due to Panhypopituitarism. Usually when I have a fever, this medicine is like a miracle pill. I feel so much better in a relatively short amount of time. But that day, it wasn’t the miracle cure it usually is. In fact with each passing hour that day, I felt worse. My dad cancelled all of his work appointments for that day and worked from home while I slept off and on. At some point, I remember him running out to Walgreens to buy a thermometer. I cannot remember if we didn’t have one, or if he just couldn’t figure out how to work the one we had. At any rate, when he got back with the thermometer, it showed I had no fever, even though I felt like I did. I also just felt like I was in this weird fog I never experienced before. My dad would ask a question and I would be really slow to respond, and I kind of remember watching coverage of the unsuccessful attempt by Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but later I would ask if it really happened or if that had been a dream. My dad called Mom regularly but since neither Dad nor I knew what the heck was going on as I had never felt that way before, we probably didn’t give her the best description of the situation. Sometime in late morning or early afternoon, I had a bowl of applesauce, but water and applesauce were the only things I could stand the thought of consuming. Thinking maybe I was just dehydrated, I took a few water bottles back to bed with me and drank water every time I woke up. But I kept felling worse. Around 3:00, my parents and I came to the conclusion that something more was going on. I remember Dad giving me the phone, and despite being in this fog, I was able to call my primary doctor’s office to see if I could get in last minute. I remember being told by the receptionist that there were no appointments until Monday, but the next day, I would not be able to remember if I actually scheduled an appointment for Monday. (When I told my sister about this over the phone in the hospital the next day, she laughed and said that now I kind of know what it is like to be drunk) At any rate, since I could not get into my primary doctor, Dad was going to take me to urgent care. I remember him giving me my purse and a pair of shoes which I put on in my fog, and then I stood up from the couch in the livingroom, walked a few steps, and then in the blink of an eye, I was lying in a hospital bed.
Here is where I felt as though I had been born again. When I had passed out in the past, I would lose consciousness for a few minutes, but when the paremedics arrived, Mom and Dad had gotten some water and medicine into me so I was extremely sleepy and weak, and my blood pressure was low, but I was aware of everything. This time when I woke up, I knew I was in a hospital bed. I could feel the familiar monitors, especially the oxygen monitor on my finger, but that was literally all I knew about myself. It was as if my mind had gone completely blank. I literally forgot who I was, how old I was, even what month it was. I felt like in some distant life long ago, I had a job, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what it was. I felt like in some past life, it was March, but that seemed like years ago. In an effort to make sense of things, I remember having some crazy thoughts. Maybe Buddhists and Hindus are right. Maybe I was a newborn baby about to start a new life but was the rare case where I felt like I had lived before. Of course now that my brain has recovered, I realize that such thoughts made absolutely no sense. Babies don’t have words yet, so they aren’t even aware of the word hospital. Then I wondered if this was all just a really vivid dream an at any moment, the hospital room would dissolve and I would be back in my own bed. But when I opened my mouth and groggily asked “what day is this?” and a nurse answered that it was Friday, I knew this wasn’t a dream as in the past, I have woken myself up from dreams by talking. Now I know that in medical terminology, I was disoriented, a common occurance with people who lose consciousness like I did. Probably because emergency room staff are used to such behavior, I remember the staff didn’t seem concerned that I didn’t know what day it was. Instead, they told me my dad was there, and he came to my bedside. I knew something serious must have happened because I could tell he had been crying. But I don’t know if there was a spiritual presence with me those first few moments, or if I was just too foggy and weak to care what happened to me, but I felt a strange sense of peace about me.
It turned out that I had a grand mal seizure due to low sodium. All of my life, I remember my endocrinologists mentioning they were testing my sodium levels, but had never given it much thought. When my mom found out what had happened, she had said this was the cause of my seizures as a baby during treatment for my brain tumor. But since my dad was at work when I had these seizures as a baby, and I was too young to remember them, neither of us knew what was going on. I was admitted into intensive care Friday evening because sodium has to be increased slowly and under doctor supervision or else the brain could swell. I didn’t sustain any brain damage, but that evening, I remember my processing was slow. I still had all my data saved deep in my brain, but like a computer that crashed and needs to re-boot, it took me longer to search my memory and answer basic questions the staff had such as if I had any vision at all. When Dad said he had talked to Mom and she was on her way home, it took me a few minutes to remember why she had gone out of town. The emergency room nurse had told me it was Friday, and I remember that it was a Friday when I was at home, but that seemed like so long ago I couldn’t believe it was the same day until my dad casually mentioned that he was going to watch college basketball with the sound muted. Slowly, I connected college basketball with March madness and realized that way that it really was still March.
By Saturday morning, my appetite had returned to normal, and gradually, my sodium level returned to normal as well and with it my energy and cognitive function. I was released from the hospital on the afternoon of my birthday, but for the first couple weeks after I was released from the hospital, I was struck by two things. Other than a bitten tongue, a common injury with people who have seizures, and some sore muscles as if I had overdone it at the gym, I felt great. Perhaps because my immune system was kept busy healing me from my seizure, I didn’t have any headaches for a couple weeks, and I felt well rested. I also noticed that I didn’t want to sit still and sometimes had a hard time staying focused on things like reading. At first I feared that I had sustained some brain damage, but I think my dad’s theory was more accurate: I was just antsy. It was as if my body got a re-set, and I had a new lease on life. In addition, I found myself striving for a spiritual re-set to match the body re-set I was enjoying. I found myself appreciating the love and kindness of family and friends more than I used to, and took renewed delight in simple things like fresh spring air or a good song on the radio. I found myself striving to speak more kindly to and about people, even when I was upset with them, and feeling more guilty when I was unkind. I returned to work on Wednesday March 29, and while I used to get all worked up over office politics and gossip, I found that I had no desire to be part of petty matters like that anymore. And that peace and calm I had when I regained consciousness in the hospital lingered weeks later so that little things which used to aggrevate me didn’t ruffle me at all, as if I were in a persistent meditative state, enveloped in impenetrable calm.
By no means has this spiritual re-set been perfect. Just as all newborn babies lose their innocence and fall into sin, so even people like me who are blessed with a new lease on life slip up, especially since time has a way of dulling the powerful emotions surrounding a significant event and the resolve that came with them. And in my case, I noticed that when my crisis had passed and a new family trial took its place, I forgot about the peace and calm that I thought I had acquired. But while I am still far from perfect, I have definitely made progress in my spiritual maturity because of this event. While I often fall short of being the person I would like to be, I find that I am more self-aware when I do fall short, and strive to make things right by being quicker to apologize to someone I snapped at, or taking a deep breath when something petty is about to ruffle me, and put it into propper perspective. I hope that I never have another seizure or other life-threatening situation again, but I meditate on this event often and strive to live as someone who recognizes what really matters in life, and appreciates how fragile and precious life is