On an ordinary Sunday morning in February, 2007, my husband and I were enjoying a coffee and the newspaper in our local Starbucks. We’d each had a scone (or muffin, I can’t recall) and a hot drink. The air was frigid, and the clouds were low and pearly grey. As people came and went through the big glass doors, we braced for the icy gust that would hit us. We joked that we were getting old, and we shared a laugh.
I began to feel rather unwell, however, with pain in my stomach that seemed at first like normal gas pain. The suddenness of it must have shown on my face, because my husband reached over and took my hand, asking if I was okay.
“Sure,” I said. “Just gas pains, I think.”
The restroom was occupied, so I suggested to my husband that we just head home. I really preferred my bathroom at home over the public restroom. We only lived about a mile from the Starbucks. Our son had once worked there, at the end of high school, and he had walked to and from work.
“Look!” I said, putting on my coat. “It’s snowing.”
As a Southerner, I was always fascinated by snow. We never saw enough of it for it to get old. That morning the snow started as a light flurry. Soon it was coming down in flakes the size of quarters.
We went home and retreated to two of our bathrooms. He went to the master bath and I opted for the powder room downstairs. Paul had grabbed his book on the way up. (I swear the master bath should have been called his reading room!)
By the time we got home, my need to “go” was urgent. What had started out as sporadic pains had increased to a feeling of a lava flow in my stomach. I felt queasy. When I relieved myself, the toilet was full of bright red blood. I felt better afterwards, but worried.
Maybe I’d better call the doctor’s answering service, or see if I can get an appointment for tomorrow, I thought.
I yelled up the stairs for Paul, but with the doors closed and the fan on, he never heard me. The pains hit again and I hurried back to the powder room. Again, there was a lot of blood. A lot.
I called the doctor and left a message with the answering service. I sent a text to Paul, because I didn’t feel steady enough to climb the stairs. By this time, my head was swimming. Before I could get Paul’s reply, the phone rang. It was one of the partner’s of my physician. After I described what was happening and told him how much blood there was, he said, “You need to call 911.”
“Are you sure I can’t just come into the office in the morning?” I asked. The last thing I wanted to do was to go to the emergency room. All I really wanted was for the pain to stop. I was so tired…
“Yes,” he said, firmly. “This is a medical emergency. Either have someone drive you there or call for an ambulance.”
The snow was beginning to pile up on the deck. I nodded, “Okay.”
I hung up the phone and yelled up for Paul again. He came out of the bedroom and peered over the railing. “I get that all the time,” he said. “You should go see Dr. Shah this week.”
“I just talked to the doctor on call,” I told him. “He wants me to go to the hospital NOW.”
He sighed. I had a feeling he’d been heading to the bed for a nap. We had been through enough weird health issues in our family (and ourselves) that we both understood that instead of having a nice nap on a snowy day, we were going to be sitting or lying in the hospital for hours upon hours. I felt bad for us both, but now I was very worried.
We got into our Honda Accord and headed out. The snow was sticking thickly to the roads, and I could feel the car shimmy every so often when the tires tried to find purchase. We weren’t far from the hospital, but it seemed like a very long drive. My stomach rumbled angrily. I pressed my hands against it and willed it to hold everything until I could get into the ER and find the restroom.
Paul, who grew up in Minnesota and Michigan, navigated his way through the snow easily, but some cars were already sliding out of their lanes and onto the shoulder. Visibility was low, as the snow continued to blow around us. It got a little slippery on the overpass just before the hospital exit.
I put my hand on his arm. “Please get us there. Hurry! I don’t feel well at all.”
He assured me that we would be there soon, and we were. As he pulled into the drop-off area by the ER doors, I said, “Can they bring a gurney? I don’t think I can stand up.”
He went inside and came back with a nurse. She said, “We don’t bring gurneys out to patients who arrive by car. What seems to be the trouble?”
I explained that I had been bleeding — a lot — and that I was getting really dizzy. I didn’t think I could stand. She ran back inside and came out with a wheelchair.
The next parts are spotty. I don’t remember if they stopped at triage or not. I do remember hearing the nurse who was pushing the wheelchair ask another nurse which bed. She said something like, “Bed 5 in the red zone” or “red bed 5”.
In my mind, they were taking me to the red zone or a red bed because I was bleeding. It didn’t occur to me that it was for the more critical cases until much later. A nurse walked over from the nurses station to meet us. She seemed a little cranky. The two of them said I had to change into a gown. I said, weakly, “I can’t. Can’t do it.”
The room spun.
“We can’t do anything for you until we can get you in the bed,” the cranky nurse said. She started pulling my sweatshirt over my head. I tried to say (or maybe I did say), “You’re caught on my chin,” but then I went unconscious.
I don’t know what happened in this realm during the time between the sweatshirt coming up to my chin and the moment I came back. I can only assume that I went down to the ground, that they had to scoop me up and pour me onto the gurney, that codes of some sort were called, speeding up the movements in the red zone and shutting up the cranky nurse but good!
When I opened my eyes, I was surrounded by people. Orders were being shouted back and forth, and everyone seemed to be going in rapid motion. The bright white lights were beaming down on me. So many hands were on me. Two nurses were squeezing bags of cold IV solution into both arms. There must have been at least eight people surrounding my bed.
“When did they put IVs in me?” I wondered.
One of the doctors was shouting lab orders. “And type and cross! We’re going to need blood.”
“A negative,” I murmured. That’s when they knew I was regaining consciousness. “I’m A negative.”
“We still have to do this test,” said one of the nurses who was squeezing a bag of fluid into my arm. She had a ruddy but friendly round face that was circled by blonde curls. “You just stay still!”
“Paul,” I called. “Paul!”
I heard a tensely spoken, “I’m here.”
The nurse said, “He’s back here, out of our way, but he’s here.”
Once the fluid had had its time to work, the noise level began to come down. They had pulled me back, but now they needed answers as to why this was happening. More doctors came and went, all asking the same questions. The nurses slipped me out of my jeans, which were blood-soaked, and sneakers. They cleaned me up as best they could without moving me. My clothes went into a bag under the gurney, and they piled warm blankets on me. Still, I began to shiver.
When you lose blood, and certainly as much as I lost, you get very cold. My shivers eventually turned into hard shakes and chattering teeth.
A radiology technician came in to get a chest X-ray. “Can you sit up for me?” he asked.
The blonde nurse came running. “NO!” she shouted. “You cannot sit her up! You’ll have to slip that film under her.” She helped him do it.
After they were done, Paul was allowed to come to my side. I grasped his hand. “I was having the nicest dream.”
“Dream?” he said. “Seems more like a nightmare. You’re white as paper.”
“When I was sleeping, I was having a dream,” I said. “It was warm and cozy, peaceful. I felt like I was meeting friends there for coffee. It was kind of dim, but there was laughter. I could see people moving around. I wish I could go back there.”
He is not one to show emotion, but there were pale lines around his eyes and mouth from fighting back tears. “I’ve never seen so many doctors. When I came back here, people were running toward your room. And all I could smell was blood.”
In some ways, I think he had the hardest part that day. He had to be awake and aware, and it had to have frightened him to think he almost talked me out of going to the hospital. I just don’t think he knew how much blood there was.
As soon as I was in ICU, they began prepping me for an endoscopy and a colonoscopy. They had to find the source of the bleeding, because I was still losing blood, though not at such a rapid rate. Around midnight, they sedated me and performed the tests. They were inconclusive. The doctors decided to watch and wait rather than open me up. (I would later have an outpatient test using the camera pill. The doctors found angiodysplasia in the small intestine, just out of reach of the scopes.)
During those days in the ICU, I had time to think about my “dream”. It began to dawn on me that I had not had a dream in the ER. I had had a glimpse. Those people around me? I felt they were friends but mostly family. I felt my grandfather’s presence. I heard familiar voices. I felt so loved, but it is nothing I can truly explain. All the pain of this world — mental, physical, and emotional — was gone. What replaced it was an all-encompassing love that seemed to move through me and over me. I was warm.
It was the most spiritual experience of my life. I knew we were all connected. There was no doubt. There was no fear. I still have no fear of death.
That day, I lost half my blood volume. The IV solution helped, and the plasma, but they ended up giving me whole blood when they got me into my room in ICU. For the first time since I woke up, I began to warm up. “So this is why people want to be vampires,” I thought as I fell asleep.
I hoped to fall back into the beautiful dream that day, but it wasn’t time. I had things to do here, but I will never forget how wonderful the other realm felt. Whether you believe in Heaven doesn’t matter. I can tell you this place didn’t have a name. If it had a name, it would be Love.
NOTE: The artwork shared in this post is a new acquisition of mine from my friend, the artist San Meredith. You can see more of San’s work at Convergence Gallery, Canyon Rd., Santa Fe, NM.