Last Thursday I almost died.
I’m still gathering all the pieces of why I didn’t, and I want to capture for you my perspective on what I hope is a one-time occurrence.
(For some background you could check out my post “Inspiration” from August 8, 2019.)
I’m really big on gaining knowledge and understanding. So when my asthma and allergies (still unnamed) started ramping up and causing attacks, I went into research mode. I made an appointment with a pulmonologist, but it was almost two months away. So I responded to a Facebook post about an asthma clinical trial, and found my asthma and allergy doctors instead.
Since then I’ve participated in two clinical trials designed to test generics of an effective asthma drug that makes it more affordable to do what should come naturally.
So in a two week time I had already had two serious asthma attacks: one after visiting a very musty used-book store, another that woke me up coughing and choking in the wee hours of the morning.
That second one got me thinking that I needed a better strategy of how to communicate that I was having trouble. I was alone in the family room to use my nebulizer for an albuterol treatment at 4am, taking my phone in case the distress didn’t let up. But my husband’s phone charges overnight in that room, so it would be down to my teenagers or 911 if I couldn’t walk and breathe at the same time to get help.
I freely admit I have control issues. Four and a half years of Celebrate Recovery have gotten me to the point where I can clearly see my problems, but I still don’t want to admit that I need help.
I don’t want to be powerless.
Seriously, I have been in places where I had no control over what was being done to me, and as a girl I decided I would do my best to control everything I could to make sure nothing bad happened to me again.
Yet Thursday night I had almost no control over what was happening to me.
Just the day before my third attack in two weeks, I met with my mentor, who I hadn’t seen for a month, and we talked about my need to have a written and easily communicated way to let my family know what I needed. So while working Thursday, my mind was on doing this, making a list from the most drastic to least invasive things to do for me or ask me about.
In my controlling mind I never wanted to entertain the idea of needing to call 911. That was for people who couldn’t analyze their own situation and be proactive about doing for themselves all they could.
Joke’s on me.
My niece, a firefighter and EMT, will give me a look next time I see her, but on my list was to ask her what to expect if I ever needed to call for emergency help. Because I like to work it out in my head before it ever happens.
Someone else was doing the working out, way better than I ever could.
Simple things like me feeling inspired to clean the garage. Okay, boss the teenagers around to get the garage cleaned. This happened a few weeks ago after moving Middle Son into college, when I was feeling the need to clear out the staging area in the house, and do the every-ten-year garage purging. It wasn’t completely cleared, but in organized piles at least.
I just want to park inside it this winter.
And getting stocked up on my regular asthma meds for when the current trial ended, something I would normally wait to spend the money on.
Way farther back, two and half years ago, Baby Girl had taken the classes and gotten certified for adult and infant CPR training. Though she had never had occasion to use it, she wanted the knowledge and confidence it gave her to work with young children in many areas of her life.
Let’s go farther, to 8-year old me, who was learning to use a riding mower and wanted to hear herself sing over the noise. And who was almost drowned by a neighbor boy in our pool, so I decided to learn to breathe deeply and be able to hold my breath for long periods calmly. Who loved to be onstage and belt out lines or songs, no cheating with microphones. Who toughed out labor every time with no help from drugs.
Just breathing deeply.
So when very suddenly Thursday evening I went from laughing over pictures of a cake I’d had delivered to Middle Son at school, to not feeling right, to labored breathing, sweating, feeling a little nauseated, all the pieces (much more than I could ever list) from my whole life’s story came together in some of the hardest words I’ve ever said.
I need help. Call an ambulance.
I guess I’m not shocked this didn’t register. After all, I’m the one who handles these kinds of things. Because nobody else can (Ha! My deluded mind talking again.)
But as I stumbled back into the chair by my nebulizer and with shaking hands broke open a vial and poured it in, I heard my husband making the call.
My ears quit working. I couldn’t make out all the words. I could see my younger daughter trying to catch my eye, saying something I couldn’t understand. I barked out a few one-word orders on the exhales, but I couldn’t stand not having the little push of air helping with my feeble inspirations.
I was hardly breathing. In only a couple of minutes.
And several more passing while the ambulance rushed from five miles straight up the road.
There was no white light at the end of a tunnel. My whole life didn’t “flash before my eyes”. I don’t think I was that close to death. But then again, what do I know? Why do I try to minimize the seriousness of those moments?
The reality is, if the EMT’s hadn’t gotten there quickly, I probably wouldn’t be writing this.
There was a lot of activity going on around me. Kids rushing out to make sure the garage was wide open and shoving those piles farther out of the way. Moving one of the cars so vehicles could pull close to the house. Clearing laundry baskets and shoes out of the floor and away from the door so there was clear access.
Me begging wordlessly for another vial of albuterol, frustrated at how long it took me to communicate what I needed. (Should have gotten that plan down in writing.)
And the overriding need to breathe.
Out is possible. It’s a relaxing, a release, as little as it may be it didn’t take much effort.
I didn’t fully understand what I was talking about until Thursday night, when every thought, every bit of my will was focused on moving that magnificent muscle, my well-developed diaphragm, and feeling a pitifully small whiff of air making it’s way into my wheezing, mucus-filled, inflamed, closed-up lungs.
There were suddenly strangers, one kneeling beside my chair talking in my ear, others carrying things, holding things up, putting things on my face and in my veins, asking questions I couldn’t answer.
The voice by my ear telling me to hold just a quick second before breathing out, to get the medicine in.
I’m just as sure as I can be that it’s like Luke described it: “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God…”
Not the people, don’t misunderstand me. There was a battle going on in that room that was far beyond the working of my labored lungs. There was an eternal question that was being answered:
Who is in control here?
It wasn’t me.
In fact, I fought some of the things they wanted to do. I couldn’t stand the mask (they said it was like a CPAP, so that’s out for me in the future), but I wanted the oxygen and aerosol drugs it was providing so they let me hold it as close as I could. When they couldn’t get a clear oxygen reading, I heard something like 84%, they talked about intubating, and I motioned the kids to leave the room for a bit. Thankfully they didn’t need to do that.
The hardest part was hearing them ask questions I knew the answers to, but couldn’t speak.
Yet within an hour and a half of getting to the hospital I was talking to everyone and walking out on my own two feet.
Two days later Baby Girl (who is 16 and my hero right now) shared what she had been trying to tell me. She had her CPR manual out and was preparing herself mentally to be able to break her mother’s ribs if I went unconscious before the ambulance arrived and she needed to keep my heart beating. Because she is the only one in the house trained to do that.
And in the emergency room I learned that the EMT who took charge of me is also a nurse at the hospital we wanted to go to. He knew exactly what they would do, and did all he could ahead to avoid any delays in my care.
My family rushed madly to gather things I might need if I were admitted, let our grown kids know the situation, reached out to our church, got there quickly to be with me, though I was pretty unaware of my surroundings for a while.
The next day I canceled work and appointments, let myself be chauffeured to get more meds and run necessary errands, and was able to go to Celebrate Recovery.
I got there late because I’d run off without my phone and had to turn back. Got caught by a train, and after arriving during worship had three people I needed to talk to before I paid attention to the song.
And then I looked up to the screen and I got my answer.
“From life’s first cry, til final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.”
Thank you, Jesus, that you have not yet let me reach my final breath!