(last day of plasmaphresis)
September 9th, 2016. It was day 10 in the hospital. I woke up in my room, got up, did some yoga, and prepared for my last plasmaphresis treatment. Excitedly and with much anticipation, I prepared to finally go home. I rolled into my treatment and relaxed through my last 3 hour infusion and said my “thank yous” and “good-byes” to the dialysis staff that had been so wonderful to me during my stay.
Back in my room, it was time for my temporary dialysis catheter to be removed. The nurse came in and pulled the long, thick catheter out from my jugular and I lay in my bed as instructed. When my timer went off, I was up and ready to be discharged! As I was awaiting my transportation, I began packing up some things in the bathroom when, very suddenly, I couldn’t catch my breath and started experiencing a searing sensation in my chest. I felt my vision start to narrow and knew, immediately, that something had gone very wrong. I made my way back to my bed to call my nurse. I could barely get the words out “Help, I can’t breathe” before a whole team of nurses and doctors were in my room, and then my world went dark.
For the next four hours I was in and out of consciousness as doctors and nurses hurriedly got me from one imaging machine to the next trying to grasp what in the world could be happening to this girl who was just about to leave. I barely remember any of it, but my nurse did have to chuckle that the only coherent words I was able to speak in response to painful sternal rubs were “Starbucks” and “Football”. (I was suppose to be going to my sons football game the evening of my discharge and Lord knows I was getting some Starbucks on my way in!)
When I finally came to, I was extremely short of breath, my blood pressure was dipping down to about 60/30 (Super bad BP), and my heart rate wouldn’t slow to less than about 140 beats per minute (Super fast HR). I spent two days in my room like this. Short of breath, confused, on oxygen, with no answers. On day three, I could feel my body beginning to lose the will to fight and even remember asking, in a semi-conscious state, if I could just take a break from breathing for a little bit.
And so I did. My respirations were down to about 8 and I lost consciousness again. Four hours later I woke up and I was moved into ICU and put on a respirator to help me breathe. If you ever want to know what that’s like, just go stand in a wind tunnel for a while. Oxygen was being forced into my diminished lungs like gale force winds but I was thankful for having some help doing this very impossible task of just taking a breath. I didn’t think I would make it. It’s an interesting place to be, that place where you are face to face with death. I faced death and found peace….and a golden frog (but that’s a weird story for another day)
(It’s ok, you can sing “Highway to the Danger Zone” in your head when you see this pic”
But it wasn’t my time to go just yet. Over the next two days I had a total of 2.5 liters of fluid drained off of my lungs. I had no idea that my lungs were Olympic swimmers but I’m thankful they got the Gold medal for treading water. I was able to be removed from Oxygen and was finally sent home, still pondering the great mysteries of what could have gone awry on the fateful day of my first discharge.
(selfie with the fluid drained from my left lung because….why not?!)
I took home a few lessons from that near-death experience that I’d like to share:
- Death is not scary. You need not be afraid of dying. It’s the only thing in this world that holds any guarantees. We will all pass in our time, but it is a peaceful journey.
- It’s really hard to eat or drink when you can’t breathe. And I really like eating. I think that part sucked worse than almost dying. Like, who can go 3 days without Starbucks?!
- There can be beauty in suffering. My family and friends came together in the most beautiful and heroic ways. They cared and reassured my children, held my hand for long and sleepless nights, wiped my tears away when I was exhausted and frustrated, and bared their souls and hearts in my time of great need. I witnessed the very best of every one in my life in those moments and I will forever be grateful. There is nothing more humbling than being given a gift of service that you are unable to repay.