Thursday, October 8, 2009

Six months ago tonight... the critical care unit at Honolulu’s Straub Medical Center, I didn’t know if I’d wake up the next morning here or on the other side of eternity. The day before, I left work early and drove myself to the ER because I had a sinking suspicion that something sinister had invaded my lungs. I even told my general practitioner that it felt like a baseball was rolling around in my left lung. She didn’t seem too concerned but told me, since I had a minor blood clot in my leg a few years back, to get a nuclear scan…just in case.

Good thing I did because it was during that radioactive scanning session that I suddenly lost the ability to breathe properly. Flat on my back, I lay there in the basement of the hospital, unable to notify the nuclear tech girl that I was in trouble. Strangely, I didn’t panic, but I did pray. It was the Monday before Good Friday, and I likened my discomfort to what I imagined the Lord went through while suffocating on the cross. When I silently asked what I should do, I saw Him (like a vision) there on the cross, twisting his upper body to breathe. So I did the same thing. Without much wiggle-room, I twisted as much as I could within the strict confines of the scanning machine. Nuclear Girl alerted me to remain still, and I tried to wave my hand at her. To my surprise, the twisting worked. Air was able to siphon into my lungs with each painful twist.

I must not have looked too well because when Nuclear Girl finally approached me, she instantly lugged me onto a wheelchair and whisked me down a long hallway, up an elevator, down another long hall and straightway into the ER. The pain in my chest was insurmountable, and the only way I could get air in was to continue using the Jesus-twist. Before I could blink twice, my clothes were being ripped (literally) off my body. I could almost hear my mom’s voice from Heaven saying, See? I told you for wear nice- kine panties ‘cause you nevah know when someone going see dem, laddat! Unfortunately, I could not remember which undergarments I had put on that morning. Being that it was a school day, I’m assuming they were suitable for a medical audience.

The next eight hours in the ER are more like vague snippets of a House episode. None of the ER doctors seemed to know what to make of me, this outwardly healthy-looking girl who couldn’t breathe; but when the blood/oxygen-level machine revealed that I was going down fast, chaos took over. It was at this point that I remember an ambulance medic bursting into my little curtained abode with an enormous hypodermic needle. As he shot me in the upper arm, I heard someone’s cell phone ringing with the Indiana Jones theme song, which somehow comforted me. Within a minute or so after my knight-and-shining ambulance medic’s shot, I was able to take in more air with less pain. This was a good thing, as I needed to make a few phone calls.

At some point, a nuclear specialist stood above me and told me I had a pulmonary embolism, and that it was very serious. A whole team of random people joined us and began asking me questions. Do you want a priest or a chaplain?...Do you have a living will?...Can we phone anyone for you?

To these questions, I answered respectively: No. No. Yes, I need to call my sub. We’re supposed to start Shakespeare tomorrow…oh and my husband…and Tina, my unofficial secretary who knows how to contact aliens on Uranus. The living-will lady came back at some point to pursue the issue. Look, I told her, all I have is a Mini Cooper, so just make sure my 19 year-old doesn’t get that because he can’t drive a stick. She left without another word.

The specialist came back and told me I had a 50/50 chance to survive this—that basically if the blood-thinners don’t thin fast enough, I’m doomed. At that point, I think my family had joined me, along with Tina, who assured me I was being covered in prayer by everyone she could contact. I pictured the Uranus dwellers on bended knee for me and again, felt comforted.

After I was deemed stable enough to be moved, I was delivered to the ICU for a sleepless night of constant attention. My personal nurse catered to me as if I were his favorite movie star. He checked on me constantly, and when he finished his middle-of-the-night rounds, he gave me a five-star foot and neck massage. I wanted to sleep, but I didn’t. What if I didn’t wake up here? What would happen to Noah? He’s only eight. Ryan will be okay. Husband even better. But Noah, my little guy, he needs me. And I need him to need me. I stayed awake by choice and watched the morning sneak in. The woman in the room next to me didn’t make it, and I had to listen to the family weep, the quiet voices, and then the rolling away of her bed.

The pain subsided quite a bit, so they upgraded me to critical care. I got a new room with a nicer view. My room had quickly become a forest of flowers from students and friends. The dozen yellow tulips from my faithful Vicki all mysteriously turned with bended stems to face me that night. At first I thought it was perhaps because of all the nuclear radiation within me, but then reasoned it must be because of the light glowing from behind my bed.

That same day, a new, super-specialist gave me the specific details of my condition. Wide-eyed, she explained that I had not just one blood clot, but several in both lungs, the largest consuming 30% of my left lung—baseball sized. She educated me on the ins and outs of blood clots, but I couldn’t process it all because I was TIRED! All I remember now is the way she explained that these clots had to travel through my heart first and then build up over time, like snowballs. It all started to make sense as I remembered how weary I’d been feeling over the past year. She also told me it would take at least a few months for the clots to reabsorb into my lungs.

The white areas show oxygen intake.
The black areas are the sinister clots (there's the mondo baseball one above)

So that was on the 7th of April. I remained there until the 13th. Two weeks after that I went in for a new scan, and to everyone's surprise, my lungs were clot-free. The super-specialist deemed it an "unexplainable and extraordinary case." The source of the clots still remains a mystery. I’m still on Coumadin, the main ingredient to poison rats, which means I still can’t shave my legs (Veet works best, but it’s expensive and it stinks).

Tonight, after my hip-hop class, I worked out…harder than normal. The guy on the treadmill in front of me wore a shirt that said, “Carpe Diem.” I spiked up my elliptical trainer to the highest level and thought to myself between deep breaths, You got that right. And I will continue to carpe as many diems as possible.


  1. So. I could never be a doctor. Like, if you asked me to do something like "Read these scans plz." I'd be like..."Hunh?...It's a blob!"
    That was super funny though like "He can't drive stick!" or "My husband, even better."
    I love how you turn even a life threatening situation into something funny. Carpe the diem!

  2. Hey it wasn't just the aliens on Uranus, it was 4 other planets too!

  3. Of course, how could I forget about them...

  4. I remember getting the phone call from Tina....and then crying....I'm so glad you stay hea and neva wen leave me cuz life would suck without you hea!

  5. wow, power of prayer my friend.

  6. Debbie! I just found your blog in a link from Trisha's Facebook page. I laughed -hard- out loud as I read your story of God's grace and care for you. YOU've got skills. Good storytelling! Thanks!

    Now I have to figure out how to get this comment to post...hmmmmm.