When I was recently sick, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was dying. I had been in tremendous pain and suddenly the pain was gone. I closed my eyes and could hear people around me yelling numbers, demanding information, soon yelling words I could no longer understand but I could tell they seemed to be in a state of stress. Meanwhile, I was thinking, “oh my god.. the pain stopped… we’re good. I’m so sleepy.. let me sleep now.” And I’m sorry to not use a more eloquent word, but I felt nothing but calm. A true sense of peace. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt peace like that before–or since. I did not know that my kidney, lungs, and heart were failing. I wasn’t thinking of my family. I was only thinking, “thank god the pain has stopped…” I felt amazing and I’m not sure if I’ve ever really felt that good before. My way out of this world was a calm and pain-free event, but when they brought me back it was violent and hurt quite a bit.
After my several day stay in the ICU, finally off all the heavy narcotics, and could carry on a conversation, my doctor told me what had happened to me. I was admitted to the ICU with a condition that is the number one killer of people in the ICU, with only a 50/50 chance of survival. And, the thing that causes the issue (in my case, my right kidney) is usually lost. Up until that point I had no idea. My family had no idea. The only one they could speak to was me or my 18 year old son. I’m legally divorced and he is considered my next of kin–not my three brothers, not my parents, not anyone but him. When I would ask why I was in the Critical Care Unit they didn’t tell me (or him) anything except, “you’re where you need to be right now…” .
I’ve spoken about how many times I’ve walked away from pretty bad events. I’ve always joked, “ya can’t kill me.” I have honestly felt invincible for most of my life. But between you and me? This time? I was scared. Have you ever seen those video clips where a person unwittingly crosses train tracks, a train rockets by, narrowly missing them? For about three weeks after I was released from the hospital I could not stop feeling like I was that person–who had crossed the tracks, not paid attention, and by sheer luck had not been hit by a speeding train. For about three weeks I was afraid of everything–every sensation. Why was my back hurting? Was my kidney failing again? I was afraid of being alone. Afraid to fall asleep in case it happened again but this time I would not wake up. For about three weeks I did not want to leave my house, drink alcohol, or do anything even remotely destructive. I was afraid.
A few years ago, a very close friend of mine found out she was no longer fighting cancer–cancer was winning and all she could do was sit back, wait for the inevitable, and survey how this was going to affect her family. She was my age and our three children were all the same ages. She was, quite understandably, very angry. She had been diagnosed many years earlier, went into remission, spoke openly and often about it. It had most certainly become part of her identity. But then it metastasized one Fall and she never made it to watch another Spring arrive. We spoke privately about it–but her public display was very different. She wanted people to remember her for finding “bits of beauty” wherever they could in life. I still will occasionally see people mention that on social media. I’m not saying my friend was lying–I’m saying that she wasn’t sitting there thinking, “Oh gee, I’m going to die soon.. let’s look at the pretty flowers and be grateful for what I have.” She was pissed! This was completely unfair and frankly, as a friend, it was so hard to watch the destruction.
At the same time as my friend, my young sister in law found out she had a rare and aggressive form of lymphoma. Her children were much younger–the youngest only an infant when she was diagnosed. She was as brave as she could portray to the world–but to me I knew her anger and fear. Her fight was very short and she died in only seven weeks.
I spoke to a person I used to know yesterday–very briefly. I told him that I had heard a song (sorry–I’m a music lover and often impacted by lyrics) and thought of him. There’s a part where she sings, “thank you for seeing me, I feel so less lonely.” I said that I missed that–he saw me. He knew me. And when I knew him I finally didn’t feel lonely. But now I feel invisible again. He said I was never invisible. I knew what he meant–it’s not like I quietly enter a room and am unnoticed. I’m more of the kick the door open and say, “Hey! I’m here!” type. But.. there is (and you’ll never believe it) a lot I hold back. There are parts of me that I keep locked away because if most people really knew me? They’d run far, and fast.
Well, after the initial three weeks of fear, I started to look at my life differently. Here’s the thing–I’m one lucky motherfucker. I KNOW this. I also looked at the people in my life differently. Most people look for joy, they look for beauty, they look at things like, “wow.. I’m alive–this is wonderful” and want to love/hug everyone.
Yeah, well, that’s not me. I have never told so many people to fuck off in my life. I have been trying to be cordial and civil with my ex husband since our divorce. When he saw me at the ICU I mistook his daily visits as caring about my health but then realized he was thinking what everyone else was thinking–she’s not coming home again. The fear had to be real for him–the fear that he was going to have to raise these three kids on his own. Once I got home, and he realized I wasn’t dying anymore, he went right back to his asshole-state. And while I had been holding my tongue and trying to be decent these last few years–I’ve decided I don’t give a fuck what he thinks anymore. So when he sends me a bitchy email, I bitch right back. Fuck me? No… fuck you.
I’ve cut a lot of people out of my life too (whether they realize it or not). I look at the time I was in the hospital and I think, “where the fuck were you?” I have a lifetime of helping others–but when it came time to help me there were a small few that showed up (took my daughter on playdates, watched my children, took care of my dogs, watched my home, brought my children to see me). There were people I was angry with before the hospital and I’ve since decided they weren’t worth the effort and have wiped them from my psyche. But those of you who were there? The ones that took care of my kids, brought us food, made sure my kids had rides to where they had to go, called me at the hospital, sent dozens of emails, texts, sent me funny memes, and sent flowers–I know every single one of you and will never, ever, forget your kindness. The rest of y’all? You can suck it.
You need to understand something–I’m not angry. But I have a new perspective on life and it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. I was fairly real before–but NOW? Ooofa. Some guy I didn’t know saw me in a bar. As I walked by him he said, “you’re too skinny.” Now, he’s an ass–clearly. But there was a time I would have let that bother me (plus I fucking hate the word skinny and that for some reason it’s perfectly appropriate to say to someone “you’re skinny.” I don’t tell people they’re fat–there’s no difference.) So I looked at him, smiled, kept walking and I said, “Yeah? You know what? Don’t fucking look.”
My daughter came into my room the other day when I was watching a movie. The man on the screen was in the ICU and she quietly remarked, “He’s in the ICU.” She turned and looked at me and I said, “yes, he is. It’s not a good place to be.” She climbed up onto my bed and while sitting on her knees she looked at me and said, “Mom, I used to always think you were joking when you used to tell me that nothing could kill you.” I looked at her and said, “and now?” She looked at me seriously and said, “I believe it. You’re like… you’re like a bear. Nothing can kill you.” And I smiled, pulled her down to my chest, wiped her hair from her face, and looking straight into those beautiful blue eyes of hers said, “and don’t you ever forget it.”