Twenty years ago my parents were given the news no parent ever wants to hear, “Your daughter may not live through the night”.
It was Wednesday February 19, 1997. I was on my twelfth night stay at Western Medical Center and I had been in the Critical Care Unit (CCU) since Sunday. I was on my third day of dialysis, heavily medicated yet the insomnia was brutal. The sounds & smells of the hospital were starting to get to me. The constant lights and noise in the CCU are bound to drive anyone mad. I would later come to learn, when my sister Alejandra ended up in ICU 4 years later, that I developed PTSD from it. You are stuck in a bright white room that measures, I’m guessing 14ft. x 8ft. (Any medical staff is welcome to correct me) There’s a counter with a sink, numerous medical equipment behind you and enough space for a body to stand along every part of the bed. Worst of all, due to my kidney failure, I was limited to only drinking 4 oz of fluid a day. Four ounces!!! Measure it! It’s nothing, especially when you are extremely thirsty. Let me tell you something, there is no worse feeling than thirst. I have felt hunger for at the most four days & the hunger pains eventually go away but the pain of thirst is awful.
Before that day I had never had an anxiety attack. That day however, I felt like I wanted to rip my skin off. I could not think straight and all I wanted was to tear every cord off my body, jump off that bed and run out of the room. It was between 5 & 6pm when my Mom came to visit me. As soon as she walked in I remember jumping up on my knees and telling her that something was wrong. Quickly blurting out that I didn’t feel right when suddenly I saw the look of complete and utter terror fall upon my Mothers face. I suddenly stopped speaking mid sentence, stuttered a bit, everything went silent and I felt my body lock up and begin to twitch. I can only assume she screamed for help because it felt like within seconds a doctor ran in, grabbed me by the shoulders and pinned me down to the bed. That’s when I blacked out.
Due to my severe pneumonia, the fluid in my lungs had reached my heart and I went into cardiac arrest. Fortunately for the quick response of the code blue team they were able to use a defibrillator to get my heart back in rhythm but I had to be Intubated, Intubation is the process of inserting a tube, called an endotracheal tube (ET), through the mouth and then into the airway. This is done so that a patient can be placed on a ventilator to assist with breathing. The tube is then connected to a ventilator, which pushes air into the lungs to deliver a breath to the patient. (verywell.com)
I recall waking up twice during this whole episode. Once the doctor was standing at my head with a nurse next to him and they were manually pushing air into my lungs when I heard him say, “she’s back”, then I was out. I then remember opening my eyes again, my mom & brother Uriel were in the room. I assume they were cutting my clothes off of me (once I went home I would find my favorite pair of PJ’s cut straight down the the side from foot too neck) because I felt a tug on my neck, I had been wearing a scapular, a Catholic pendent, when I heard my mom insist in Spanish that they could not remove that from me. Then I was out again. At this point my kidneys and lungs had failed and I had just gone through cardiac arrest. Most of the doctors felt that I was too ill to overcome this and informed my parents that I may not live through the night. Being the devout Catholics that they were, they called the Priest and had him give me my final sacrament and perform my last rights. Last Rites refers to the sacraments that Catholics receive at the end of their lives, especially Confession, Holy Communion, and the Anointing of the Sick, and the prayers that accompany them. The phrase is less common today that it was in past centuries. (catholicism.com) Family was also informed so they could come and say their goodbyes.
Surprisingly I made it through the night. Then Thursday night I woke up. I did however have a tube down my throat that hurt and made me gag every time I moved my head even the slightest bit but I was awake. Due to the severity of my condition, I could not be given sedatives. So for over 15 hours I had to concentrate on keeping my head at a curtain angle so I would not be gagged by the intubation tube. This was a very difficult and frustrating task. If I would doze off, I would instantly be awaken. On Friday morning I was informed that my oxygen levels had improved greatly so the tube would be removed that day. I must have bugged the nurses every hour on the hour asking like a little kid, “Is it time yet???”. It was well after noon when the doctor came in, even writing about the moment brings me joy. Seeing that long tube removed from my throat is definitely an experience I will never forget.
At this point my medical team was amazed at the speedy recovery I was making. My lungs were quickly healing. Even though my kidneys had failed and I would soon have surgery to implant a permanent dialysis shunt in my left arm, I was making great improvements. Being that I was expected to die only a few days prior.
One week after my parents had been told their daughter would not make it through the night, I was released from the hospital. I still had a long road ahead of me which would include hemodialysis three times a week and daily chemotherapy in pill form but I was home. I had beat the odds. Never let what a doctor says be your only options. As long as one does not give up hope anything is possible.