I just reached the tenth anniversary of the night I almost died. I’ve been thinking about a whole decade passing since that night. So much has happened, and so much is still to come. As we move through November and people talk about being grateful and having gratitude, I wanted to repost part of the first blog I wrote about the experience. I originally wrote this story because it was 2020, and the healthcare community was dealing with so much. I wanted to make sure I shared my appreciation. Today, I again want to say…
Thank You, Nurse Kevin
Is that the real-time or the old-time? I repeatedly asked my ER nurse, Kevin, who was attempting to keep me drugged, pumped with antibiotics, and as comfortable as possible until the doctor could see me. The fall time change occurred the night I went into the ER at the beginning of a five-day hospital stay. Every twenty minutes or so, I emerged from a swampy nightmare with my pillow soaked from tears and sweat that broke through the morphine he pushed into the IV lodged in my right elbow. By the end of my hospital stay, that vein collapsed and filled scar tissue. It’s still unusable.
I don’t know why I cared about the time. I barely have clocks in my house, and I’ve never been able to keep a watch without breaking it. But when I emerged from the iron sheet haze of morphine and fever, curled onto my right side, gripping the rails on the side of the ER bed, the first thing I saw was the clock. Is that the real-time or the old-time?
Nurse Kevin gave me funny looks and asked why it mattered. It didn’t. Maybe it was the thing I could visually cling to the same way my hands gripped the bed railing—the two things keeping me from shuffling off this mortal coil. I wasn’t in a brightly lit space surrounded by floor-to-ceiling curtains being whipped open and closed by fast-talking doctors as you see on TV. I had a private room off the ER, with dim lights glowing green from the forest-colored wall and Kevin walking softly and speaking in hushed tones. It was tranquil compared to the packed waiting room full of costume-clad revelers.
I’d been vomiting for days, gotten better, and was getting hit again. We later learned my gall bladder had died, turned gangrene and was taking my liver and pancreas with it. My husband and I drove an extra half an hour to a hospital we trusted. The one we didn’t trust was only five minutes from my house. I threw up in layered Hannaford grocery store bags on the ride. All the pink Pepto I’d swallowed earlier was in the kitchen garbage can, along with a ruined pair of socks. All I had left was highlighter green bile.
The ER waiting room was packed with inebriated people whose celebrations had gone wrong. Everyone was angry and talking loudly, and it was hot. I decided to keep moving in the hallway because I worried my heart would stop beating if I sat in the chair. My husband David stayed there waiting for them to call me. My shoulder and head dragged along the bumpy wallpaper as I closed my eyes and counted doorways between the ER and the bathroom. Groups of beer-soaked dudes passed me in the hallway, shouting, “Look, the zombie apocalypse started!” and laughing. Each group thought they were original and hysterical. I couldn’t waste the energy to flip them off.
When the triage nurse looked at me, she jumped on the phone and placed me into Kevin’s care. He tried to examine me and, at one point, asked me to hold my breath, and I started to hyperventilate. Tears rolled down my face. My husband spoke up, “She’s a swimmer. She thinks she’s drowning.” I don’t know how he knew that, but he was right.
Nurse Kevin looked me in the eye and took a deep breath, “I’m a swimmer too.” Before that, he’d tried talking to me about work, if I had kids, and the weather, but I was so scared and confused that I barely answered. He spoke with me about my favorite strokes, speed, distance, and anything to calm me and keep me focused. It was the first subject that seemed to ease my frazzle.
Before he distracted me with talk about swimming, I was conversing with myself about not wanting to die. It was a conversation my brain was having, well, I guess, with my brain. It was a conversation that happened too often after this event. The severe anemia I was dealing with already only got worse afterward and was probably the cause of this happening the way it did. I was close to dying when I arrived at the ER. If we hadn’t gone in when we did, I had less than half an hour, if that. None of the staff could understand how I was still conscious since I was well past the ten on the pain scale. The morphine pushed into my veins kept me quiet, but it didn’t touch the pain. Nurse Kevin made sure everyone who came near me saw a scared person in excruciating pain, curled up in the bed in the dimly lit room, dying—more than just another patient on Halloween weekend.
All the nurses I had over the five days were amazing. They brought little things to me to let me feel more human. Like shampoo so that I could wash my hair in the sink. They would walk with me in the hallways, keeping track of my distance on a board. The doctors were great and did their jobs well, but the nurses made me feel seen.