After every crisis, there is a time of rebuilding. Even as I write this, our country of Canada is beginning to rebuild after six weeks of closing all non-essential businesses and mass quarantine to slow the spread (flatten the curve) of the COVID-19 virus. Rebuilding can be slow and painful, but it is necessary. This narrative is a recollection of the rebuilding that I experienced following my recent health crisis.
In Part 1, Life Tsunami: Surviving the Unexpected, I lay out the facts that lead up to my surgery, two weeks of sedation and the aftermath I woke up to. Part 2, Life Tsunami: Through the Looking Glass, describes the imaginary experiences I mistook as reality during my sedation and ICU psychosis. Today, the final part of this trilogy describes how, through determination, grit and God’s grace, I fought my way to rebuild the health and mobility I had previously enjoyed.
As I mentioned in the articles linked above, I woke up to many physically debilitating issues after my two-week sedation, some of which felt very permanent at the time. My doctors cautiously adjusted my expectations for the future. No travelling, swimming or cycling for me in the foreseeable time. I cried at the seeming loss of physical ability, freedom and activities that were vitally important to me. If you had predicted then that a mere two to three months later, I would be able to do home renovations, rollerblade, cycle and kayak, I would’ve had difficulty believing you. Even the weekend before my hospital release, I needed a day pass to convince me that I would be able to function at home without the assistance of hospital staff.
Starting at the Bottom
The one blessing of hitting rock bottom is that you have a newfound appreciation for what you had. Rarely do we revel in the simple privilege of being able to speak, write, adjust pillows and blankets, sit up, walk, toilet, shower and dress oneself. The ability to squeeze out toothpaste onto a toothbrush, comb one’s own hair and apply makeup is precious once it is lost. When all your ability is stripped away and you are 100% dependant on others for all your care, your life perspective is altered. Suddenly, not having your home exactly as you would like it, not being as thin or pretty as others or not having achieved everything you’ve ever dreamed of in life becomes petty. Now you realize that there is more that you can be deprived of. If you have the dignity of being able to care for your personal needs and the freedom to live and move as you choose, please cherish it.
In the weeks after waking up, everything was therapy. Every day I fought to do more for myself. My well-intentioned family would offer to help, but I would ask them to let me try first, even if it took a long time, and I was fumbling. I promised if I was too tired or I was “losing the battle,” I would ask for help. This approach worked well because I did get more robust and more independent as the days went by, but I was free to ask for assistance when I ran out of steam or was having a bad day.
I have worked out reasonably consistently since my late 20’s, but this was the first time I was performing exercises, not to lose weight or to look better, but to regain my mobility and independence. It was a new challenge, and it took every bit of determination in me to fight the weakness, heaviness and exhaustion to move several times a day and to complete my prescribed therapy exercises.
Renewed Desire to Live
In my very first article on this website (Mental Health: Finding Hope in the Crisis), I talk about a mental health crisis I experienced and how I was struggling with a desire to live. Not actively suicidal but feeling despair in my daily existence and not feeling hopeful about the future. I made some bold life choices that helped remedy my malaise and experienced some hope as a result, but nothing sharpened my desire to live and thrive like a close brush with death. I find myself reaching out to embrace all the joy that life has to offer unapologetically. Here are some examples:
1. Embracing Joy of Eating
I may carry a few extra pounds, but I will NEVER fully deprive myself of the joy to be found in eating ever again. I will fight for some moderation, but I will eat ice cream, drink espresso drinks, enjoy ice-cold soda and eat carbs, including corn stuffing at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
Having said this, experiencing some hunger and balancing treats with fresh produce and nutritious choices is important because there is no room for digestive upset, acid reflux, disrupted sleep and other dietary-related issues. I’m just not pursuing dietary and bodily “perfection” anymore.
2. Embracing Joy of Movement
I will walk, jog, rollerblade, kayak, cycle and do all the activities that my body can do and push through the stiffness and soreness I feel afterward. I will jump on every beautiful, sunny day and do something outdoors to enjoy it. I will feel the burn in my arms and legs, the sweat on my body and the raggedness of my breath and glory in the fact that I can move. I can interact with the world around me and experience the beauty of nature.
3. Embracing What Works for Me
Embracing my differences has been a journey since my sabbatical began over a year ago, but experiencing a health crisis solidified my realization that living up to the status quo wasn’t going to make me happy. At my core, I am a writer with an artistic temperament. I can slug back work projects and live by logic, but if done too intensely and for too long, my soul begins to suffer. I recently concluded that I was ready to return to work, but it needed to be part-time and somewhat menial to allow me to dedicate one full day to writing every week. Any job with too many hours and too much responsibility would inevitably steal my mental and time capacities to do what I love to do. Having left a full-time profession with a generous salary, it felt awkward to take a minimum wage job instead, but it was the right fit for me. I love the practicality of what I do, how busy my workday is, how quickly the time goes by and even how physically taxing it is at times. I leave my work at work when I clock out, and I sleep like a log at night. There are some things that a prestigious title and money cannot buy. I have found those things, and I will protect them even if it looks as though I am making inferior choices.
4. Embracing Life’s Opportunities
When I have the opportunity to experience joy, I will take it. I will look for every small way to indulge in the beauty of life and freedom. Walking my dog. Playing games with friends (restricted to online for now). Going for drives. Making plans and dreaming dreams. Take the vacation. So long as I am not setting myself up for a backlash of deprivation later, I am saying “YES” wholeheartedly to as much as I can.
A great example of this was the decision we made to fight for our vacation this year. The doctors weren’t crazy about the idea, so we almost cancelled it. The biggest issue was that I needed to stay on antibiotics to ensure that my original tooth abscess was completely healed. Weaning off antibiotics prematurely would put me at risk of landing back in the hospital. The trouble was, I was on intravenous antibiotics that required daily home visits from nurses, which couldn’t continue if I travelled. We later learned that there was an oral version of the antibiotic I was taking, so we advocated for our vacation by requesting that medication instead. We also opted to drive instead of flying so that if I did experience medical issues, we could drive back to Canada for treatment and avoid flight rescheduling complications. It was a bit of a risk, but I felt an urgency to reach out and grasp for this bit of joy. I knew the benefits to my mental and physical health would be worth it. What I didn’t realize was that the window for taking vacations was rapidly closing due to COVID-19 and that the first case in Kissimmee would be reported just days after we left. I am so glad we didn’t say “no” to our vacation this year.
I talk a lot in this article about the actions I took to rebuild my health and mobility, but I didn’t do this alone. It was the presence, encouragement and help of others that boosted me in my journey. A considerable part of closure and healing for me was in finding ways to thank those who rallied around me.
There were shoutouts on Facebook for those who cared for me and sent gifts followed by written thank you cards. I was so grateful for those who surrounded me in my time of weakness.
It was also important to me to thank the healthcare providers who looked after my every need during my hospitalization. I will never forget the kindness that accompanied their physical care. I wish I remembered all their names and could thank them one-by-one in person, but the best I could do was bring a group basket to be shared by each floor. Even then, I had to slip in the eve just before the hospital closed to visitors due to COVID-19. I never got to see any faces I recognized. If any of these wonderful healthcare providers are caring for COVID-19 patients, they are in good hands.
The realities of 2020 have suppressed my solitary activities. I left the hospital and home care to vacation and then shortly after that into quarantine with my husband and now a new job. I have had very little of the solitude I enjoyed in 2019. Instead of hours of writing, playing piano and other introspective activities, I have been enjoying the constant companionship of my husband and the rebuilding in my home by finishing renovation projects that we had difficulty fitting into our previous schedule. It is a new season, and I am embracing it. There is a sense of striking while the iron is hot and an urgency to seize the moment. I recognize, though, the necessity of finding consistent pockets of solitude with enough mental and physical energy for the activities that feed me emotionally and spiritually.
If I had to sum up the effect of the events this year on me and my approach to life, it would be that they have made me FIERCE. I feel very deeply and passionately. I know now, more than ever, what is important and how precious life is. There are still some challenges I have to face, some introspection and growth that need to take place. It will, in time.
My prayer is that in reading this, you feel hope in your effort to rebuild following a personal crisis. Due to COVID-19, many people are experiencing ventilation and extended sedation much as I have and waking up to similar devastation. If you are one of those people, may you find inspiration and hope of recovery. If you are blessed in your health but find yourself in a place of having to rebuild your business or your financial situation, may you find the mental and physical strength to fight for your future too! 2020 has brought us many obstacles, but we are resilient and strong. Together and with God’s help, we can rebuild.
Thank you for reading this series covering my 2020 Life Tsunami. I am joyfully moving on from this experience, but just like the fading scar on my throat from the tracheotomy, it has left an indelible mark on my life, and I will never forget it. Thank you for being part of my healing process.
The world’s battle with a highly contagious virus called COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is still raging, although it seems the initial wave has subsided. North America is now fully immersed in COVID-19 infections and deaths with a significant hotspot in Detroit, right across the border from where I live in Canada. The Canadian/US border is still closed except for essential travel of health professionals and supply chains. The hardest hit in Canada are those in long-term care and retirement facilities. Federal and provincial governments are slowly reopening the economy but with recommendations and restrictions with the hope of avoiding a more severe second wave of the virus. Store shelves are less bare, but certain items are hard to find, and most quantities are rationed to avoid hoarding. Multiple divides have emerged in North America over the wearing of masks, the government imposition of business closings, quarantines, vaccine development and possible future mandatory vaccinations, gun control and the balance of personal freedom versus sacrifice to protect others from infection. Please continue to follow my posts for my reports on this unfolding storm.
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