Have you ever had a moment where you really think, this is it — I’m dying?
Were you scared? Resigned? Courageous?

In my dreams, when I die .. I am fearless . But when it just happened in real life, I was terrified.

Did I feel like I was missing out, hadn’t had a full life? No. Totally satisfied with my life. No, the horror was that I would leave the world like that– in pain and shock. I was afraid I would go to a bad place. I wouldn’t be spiritually alert, I would be scattered, dazed, HORRIFIED that it could end so unexpectedly, pointlessly!

I had an ectopic pregnancy and my fallopian tube ruptured. What amazes me is how utterly common ectopic pregnancy is, and that nobody talks about it. It seems like everyone and her aunt has had an ectopic. Of course, if you catch it early, it’s minor surgery. If not, it can be fatal. You bleed to death internally within minutes.

My cell phone saved my life. I went to get a cup of coffee, and grabbed my phone out of the kitchen to make some phone calls while I drank my coffee. Then suddenly came the most extruciating pain of my life. I though, oh, this is what they mean by pain. I never really knew. I kept trying to get to the bathroom, and would find myself with my face on the cold bathroom floor, throbbing. Some part of me understood that I had passed out, and that I kept passing out whenever I stood up. Another part didn’t care. Just let me rest. This will pass.

The part of me that understood that I was about to die crawled to the phone and text messaged my partner, HELP. He came with friends. He got socks on me and a robe on (clothes too horribly painful) ,picked me up, put me in the car. I remember the drive to Alta Bates. I remember looking at the trees and wondering if I would see one again. I don’t remember getting into the wheelchair or throwing up all over when he wheeled me into the ER. It’s a good thing I did throw up, because someone saw and didn’t make us take a number. They waved us straight into the room. By this time I was gulping for air and not getting any. That was .. the worst feeling the world. Oxygen mask. Ah.

A few things I remember from the next few hours. Heavily sedated while they drilled a huge hole from my neck to my heart. My friend Bronwyn held my hand but I didn’t even feel that. I dimly remember the cool feeling of the thick plastic sheet that covered my face. (Bronwyn said later it was to prevent the enormous amounts of blood from going all over). And I remember hearing a doctor say that if I was lucky the surgery scar would be small. But if there was damage to other organs, they would have to open up the whole abdomen. Dully I thought, so much for belly dancing. My blood pressure was so low I was barely alive. They told me later I was yellow and freezing cold to the touch. I remember hearing a psychotic person, who was in the hallway, ranting and abusing everyone who walked by. I listened to his rants while I was getting the hole drilled. Later, when they rolled me past him on a gurney, I was the one person he didn’t insult. Is she ok? he asked.

I remember the CT scan. Later, I remember shivering mightily as they clamped down my legs getting ready for surgery. Then nothing. Of the 4 days I spent in the ICU, almost nothing. The amazing nurses — Amy and Carmen. My amazing partner, pacing, on 30 hour vigil. Lots and lots of blood transfusions. Eyes so swollen I couldn’t open them. My throat aching and parched from the throat catheter, but not allowed to drink. (I could sponge off my throat with a tiny sponge.)They took my vital signs every 15 minutes.

I got lucky! They didn’t have to split me open. My surgeon was a tiny Indian woman, Dr. Sandhu .. with the smallest fist in the world. She only made a 2 inch incision to get her slim little fingers in there. The incision is already now getting covered over with hair. As a woman she understood that not only life, but beauty is important. šŸ™‚

When my vital signs started to stabilize I was moved out of the ICU. My first roommate was a nasty woman who screamed at the nurse for being late with her pain shot. My energy started to drop and thank Goddess my partner got me moved to another room. A bright sunny window spot with a great view. Alta Bates is as good as it gets as far as hospitals go. They even have Dr. Iwamoto’s water molecules on their wall. Still, it’s toxic like all hospitals. No fresh air. Stench. I couldn’t believe what enormous bags of antibiotics they dumped into my veins. I was nauseous 24/7 — worse than the pain. It had been a week since I had eaten but it was nearly impossible. By this time, my Mom had flown out from the east coast. She forced me to eat. Blecch.

I felt like a child. First bites of food. First steps. First trips to the bathroom. First shower. The first shower was where I lost it — I saw myself in the mirror. They had given me too much fluid so my body was swelled up like a tiny obese person (I weighed almost 150 pounds!) I had a black bruise that covered half my midsection (from the internal bleeding). I ended up sobbing then, feeling sorry for myself. I had missed my flight for my 3 month research trip to Greece and Turkey. Instead, I was in the underworld, feeling horrible. That feeling like you will NEVER feel good again.

Zorica, the Yugoslavian nurse’s assistant who kindly changed my sheets more than once a day when I would sweat through them, set me straight. She kindly reminded me how fortunate I was to be alive, with my family, in my own country. When she was in the hospital, and her bladder burst due to a misplaced catheter (OW!!!!), she was alone, without a friend in the world, her family and friends dead, her county gone. My situation — a piece of cake.

Goddess, I was lucky. I thought about all the times I had driven by Alta Bates. Right there on Ashby by Whole Foods. It had only dimly occured to me that it was a hospital. Or what a hospital really entailed. So many women and men working there tirelessly. (Alta Bates seemed to me like a matriarchy — all the doctors I saw were women. I was surprised also by how many of the nurses were men). Such an enormous organization of beds, charts, medicines. So many suffering people.

The worst suffering was definitely the blood-taking. All the IVs in my arms and neck were collapsing and my veins were tapped out but they kept needing to take blood — to check potassium levels, or some such inane protocol. They went after any vein they could find. It was when they dug into the tiny little ones in my wrist that I couldn’t help screaming. No blood could be coaxed. Finally they had to bring in the specialist to dig the special tunnel, the “pic” line. Things were better after that.

Then it was the lungs. Since they gave me too much fluid, my lungs filled with fluid and I couldn’t breathe. I had to sleep with the oxygen tube that made my nose bloody. Of course, I don’t mean “sleep” literally. There is no sleep in the hospital. They come in every 2 hours to prod and poke you. And of course there’s the noise. The clanging of carts in the hall. The constant beeping. The moaning and sobbing. I remember one night when it became rhythmic: the snoring of my roommate, the beeping of the IV machine, the hydraulic hiss of the blood pressure machine: snore snore, beep beep, hiss hiss. Snore snore, beep beep, hiss hiss. I listened to this for hours.

Then I started to feel a little better. And I wanted to give back. Thank Goddess for the pink roses of loving kindness that grow from the compost of suffering! All I wanted was to help my roommate who was worse off than me, to get her blankets, make her laugh. We lay in the dark talking for hours. Two people who never would have met otherwise. I feel so grateful for how my heart was broken, for all the people I met there I never would have even seen in Berkeley, the brave nurses, brave patients, ordinary amazing people. The one nurse who shared her story about how things you don’t plan can end up being so much richer than the things you planned. (I had been planning our trip to Turkey for months .. ). The nurse who came in and gushed about how good the energy was in our little room and how honored she was to know us. The big kind male nurse from Cote d’Ivoire. And Zorica, the Yugoslavian nurse whose old-world wisdom reminded me of what I already knew.

I was in there for 8 endless days. Finally, with all my breathing exercises, my lungs were filling back up. (I was so grateful for my yoga and pranayama training. My roommate, when they gave her the breathing exercise, didn’t even know the difference between an inhale and an exhale). We finally survived the endless protocol (3 doctors had to sign me out which took half a day) and I was free!

I walked blinking into the hot sunlight, my legs rubbery. I asked Andres to take me straight to the Berkeley Marina. I needed lungfuls of fresh air . I sobbed ardently. We went home, that miraculous place. I can’t even describe the deliciousness of a real bed — of real food, eaten without nausea — of being able to lie on my side, without 10 feet of tubes running through my arm — of quiet, precious peace and quiet, and air, real air.

For 3 days I was high on emptiness. Each breathe into my healthy lungs was bliss. Each bite of homemade food (my wonderful partner made for us) a revelation. It felt so good to be clear, sober, off all the pain medication, that I didn’t even want to take Advil. Ah, to focus the eyes!!! I didn’t bother to fill my Vikodin prescription.
And I seem to have broken any attachment to eating food in any non-nourishing ways. I’ve been eating small healthy meals, without any snacking or sugar.

Inevitably, the amnesia. Taking for granted the cool smoothness of a real bed. Forgetting, The breath. I got a bad cold, and the racking cough was torture on my wounded belly. The spacious emptiness turns to the void. I’m fearing the BILL from the hosptial. And the epic obstacle in my life — the horror of the legal system that has trapped me — overwhelms me.

For moments, I can still weave it in — the bliss of existence. But why is it so difficult to breathe blissfully and consciously, to REMEMBER??? Ah, the body, so dumb and wise, so simple yet infinite, so resilient and fragile.


~ by elishashekinah on June 13, 2008.

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