|Tubing on the Potomac River, July 2011|
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Slipping Into Darkness
My downfall began at a Dunkin Donuts – and this time it had nothing to do with cinnamon twists or Bavarian kreme filling.
It was Thursday evening, December 1, 2011. I had been battling the flu for well over a week by then. I’d told myself it was the flu, anyway, which was odd since I’d gotten my flu shot a few weeks before. But, no matter. I was sure it would run its course and I’d soon be feeling better. If there was anything I’d learned from seventeen years of listening to my physician ex-husband field patient telephone calls in the middle of the night, it was that a virus can’t be treated with medication – you just have to let it run its course. So that was my plan.
Unfortunately, I began to feel so sick that night that I didn’t have the strength to watch my daughter’s school choral performance at the nearby community college. I told her I’d pick her up when it was over, then drove a few blocks to the donut shop and ordered a cup of hot tea. As usual, I had my laptop case with me. I was on deadline with a book and tried to grab whatever time I had to write. My plan was to sit down, drink the tea, and type.
I began to feel incredibly weak and stiff. I could barely lift the Styrofoam cup to my lips. I felt a strangely intense pain shoot up the left side of my neck. All I could do is sit at that table and stare.
This damn flu would just not let up, I told myself. I must have worked out too hard in the gym, I told myself. Clearly, I must have looked like hell, because a customer at a nearby table got up and walked over to me.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
I told him I was.
Why the hell did I do that? What if I’d told him the truth – that I felt like I was going to die and probably needed to go to the hospital? Would I still have my leg? Would I still have my life?
I dragged myself out of the Dunkin Donuts and picked up my daughter. I barely made it up the steps that night, and immediately fell into bed.
I lost a day. The next thing I remember it was Friday evening. My daughter, Kathleen, was spending the night with a friend. My son, Conor, came home for the weekend from college. Many months later he would tell me he’d planned to go out with friends that night but changed his mind for no particular reason, and caught a ride home.
That move saved my life.
Conor was there when I started to go under. He brought me an ice pack and ibuprofen when my left knee began to hurt so much that I was in agony. I became violently ill with vomiting and diarrhea, so embarrassed that I was making such a mess that I forced myself to gather up the soiled pajamas and bedclothes and put them in a laundry basket. I even managed to drag myself into the shower, not once but at least three times. I recall standing under the hot water, shaking from head to toe. I had to hold onto the wall of the shower to stand. Conor called his father, my doctor ex-husband, and told him how sick I was. John instructed him to call an ambulance.
I vaguely remember coming downstairs, so shaky I had to grip the oak banister with both hands to keep from falling. I remember sitting in a living room chair to wait for the ambulance, in some kind of bizarre dream state. I remember the ambulance crew putting me on a stretcher and taking me outside my front door, down the front steps, and into the dark and cold night. They began to ask me questions.
What is your name?
What medications do you take?
What medical conditions do you have?
What are your symptoms?
I knew all the answers, obviously, but couldn't seem to answer. It was the weirdest damn thing, but my brain was no longer connected to my mouth. I couldn’t remember how to form words. And I had this strange sense that I was watching myself slip away. It was as if I had become an objective third party living in what used to be my own private body and soul. I know that sounds bizarre, but that’s what it felt like. I remember thinking to myself, “Oh look. She’s slipping away.”
That was the last coherent thought I had for many, many weeks. It would be three months before I'd see my home again. And when I did return, I would have to crawl up those same steps, backwards, on my ass.
That book I was writing on the night of December 1, 2011? I'm still trying to finish it.