I would survive. We had no idea what would happen at the time. But I get to live. Even with a partially collapsed lung, lung infarction (dead lung tissue), and a massive blockage, they would get to me in time. The doctors and nurses and medicine would save my life. I get to live. It is an overwhelming miracle.
The first thing I learned is that not many Pulmonary Embolism victims get to say, “I get to live.” About 1/3 of people with blood clots in the lungs have one symptom: death. My first sign that something was off was the excruciating pain in my upper arm, neck, and shoulder. And that pain gradually moved to include: my chest, jaw, and down to the middle of my back. I had sharp shooting pain all over my left side. And then with each breath I began to experience a stabbing pain in my lower back – right beneath my rib cage.
When it first started, I thought I had pleurisy and a cold in my back– which I did. I was nursing a two week old infant. I thought perhaps my nursing positions was throwing out my shoulder and neck. But as those symptoms increased to include others – when I couldn’t lay down to sleep that night without a terrifying panic and complete inability to breath I knew it was time to get help. If I had laid down, and fought through the pain as we women so often do – I probably would not have awoken the next morning.
When God says that He goes before us…. I believe Him. Because of what I have witnessed in my life and in the lives of those around me. On that particular night in the wee hours of the morning I walked into the Emergency Room alone. My husband and our five children dropped me off at the curb. I remember leaning back into the truck to tell them that it going to be OK. As he parked the car I struggled to stand and take a breath to speak to the woman at the checkin desk. They took me back to triage right away. That triage nurse – saved my life. Even though the labor and delivery floor upstairs did not want me rushed up to them right away…. She got me through all of the steps they required for me to seen (even skipping a few in the process).
A few months after my PE I got to see that nurse again and I thanked her – because she did save my life that night. If they had sent me to sit in the waiting area…. If I had had to wait I wouldn’t be here. If the radiologist reading the scans had waited… but instead with the scans on the screen he called up to have the doctors begin treatment right away. He didn’t wait. The blockage was 90%…. tissue was dying. I was dying.
Instead I get to live.
I am not sure why I was allowed to stay – and I try not to live in that “why” for very long. I try to live in the overflow. The overflow of gratitude: that in standing before that very thin veil of now and eternity – I got to see a clear picture of what my family’s life and this world would be like without me. I got to witness what my death would mean to my husband, my children, for our newborn daughter, and for my parents and the extended people who love us.
They came to see me, my mom and dad, rushing in the early hours of the morning across state lines and highways. The nurses brought them in to where I lay hooked up to all those machines. I was trying to lay still and give the medicine time to work. Every breath was such a struggle that the anesthesiology team members were hovering – watching, waiting, monitoring. I will never forget my parents’ faces when they pulled back the curtain to enter the room. I begged them not to cry because I didn’t want to start crying again – crying made it impossible for me to catch my breath.
I saw it – how in one moment families can be ripped apart from one another. How in one moment we could lose each other. Many are never given the opportunity to reassess what leaving will mean– to say goodbye. Many are never given the opportunity to choose differently or to speak goodness over one another – because life is gone in seconds.
Daily I get to consider the overflow – because I get to live.
The overflow of my life in that moment was:
- a husband’s watchful presence – as he cradled our newborn daughter to his body, as he adjusted my slipping oxygen mask that I hated to strap to the back of my head.
- My aunt rushing to my house in the middle of the night – taking the day off work to be present for my children and present with me in the days to follow. To have an advocate at appointments when I could NOT do it all. To have her there when I was afraid, had no voice, and needed help is something I will never forget. I give thanks before God for that act of presence and strength often.
- My brother up in the middle of the night – a state away – praying.
- My grandparents – always steady prayers in the flooding, stormy places.
- People who work with my mom, or go to my dad’s church – their prayers and their actions to help, to make the way smooth, to step in and offer strength in the midst of terrifying places.
Oftentimes God is very present to us in times of trouble through the acts and courage and love of other people. (He grants us safe people, safe places in the midst of our stories)
When we are struggling to breath – they are His hands and His voice and His love and His presence and His breath to us.
I felt His strength through them.
Today we will remember – as we often do on the anniversary of such things. We will sit down together during this Monday of advent peace, we will pull items of significance from our family Ebenezer box and we will remember the Prince of Peace who is a very present help in times of trouble through people of peace.
We will remember with gratitude.
I get to live.
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