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Jael Reeber

Survivor

It was January of 1991. I was 18 years old and had been helping my Mom clean a house. We had just been living in Northeastern New Mexico for about 3 months. After we finished cleaning ( I never used gloves back then), I was unusually tired and on coming home had a bowl of Ramen noodles, a little piece of cheese and then decided to take a nap.

I was awakened from the nap by the violent urge to vomit and that continued for the next several hours. Every liquid my Mom gave me came straight back up. The dry heaves were brutal. Evening came and my parents had to go to a meeting. Half way through their meeting, my mom called to check on me. I was burning with fever, horribly weak and dying with thirst. I begged my Mom for help and  7up which always made my stomach feel better when I was younger. She came home and brought the drink. I sipped it but it felt so good to have fluids it was hard not to drink it all.

I was so weak I just lay back down hoping to hold down the liquid. About 45 minutes later a family friend brought my father home. The friend, Paul, was an EMT. He came to check on me. I was again violently ill but could not even get from the bed to the bathroom which meant I ruined my comforter. My Mom was insistent that I had the stomach “flu”. Paul did not venture his opinion but left promising to return the next day to check on me.

That night I knew I was facing death. My head and body were racked with terrible pain. I felt like I had nails in my blood and I weakly tried to call for help but my parents could not hear me. Somehow I made it till morning. I still could not hold down any food or liquids. I could not stand up but since they thought it was the flu, my parents figured I would begin to improve that day. By noon, Paul stopped by on his lunch break to take my blood pressure. It was dangerously low. He called his father and had him check with the local (small town) doctors. It was Friday and many were closed. The only doctor who was available was a surgeon who was in the middle of his birthday party. He agreed to see me. I was helped to dress and carried to his office. He took my blood pressure laying down and then he and his nurse stood me up and he immediately called the hospital. They admitted me to ICU and began poking around for a vein to start an IV but everything was collapsing. Finally they got the IV started. They tested my blood and found sepsis. Not knowing the cause at this point they asked my parents to sign for the high risk antibiotics that would be needed to try to save my life. Fortunately they worked. I was monitored for the next 24 hours. Then I was moved to a regular room for 24 hours and Paul promising to look after me, had me discharged.

Paul and I fell in love and that was everyone’s favorite story. He saved my life and we were married. But the nightmare was just beginning. My health never recovered. Had numerous infections and was always deeply fatigued. For years I battled my health problems and the emotional scars were even more difficult to cope with. I was in my mid-twenties and desperate for help. I remember sitting in my living room floor with books all around me crying because I could not understand where to turn to get help. A relative suggested I go to a TCM college in Santa Fe, NM for acupuncture. I thought, “what can I lose?” In 3 months of treatments and herbal tea compounds my health made a lot of improvement. But the lingering neurological systems never went away. It hurt to think. My mind was trying to cope with memory loss and many problems that people 20 to 30 years older than me were coping with. No one understood.

I could not lose weight and struggled with dietary restrictions due to long-standing gastrointestinal symptoms and most likely damage. I am in my late 40s now. I had 3 forms of arthritis and seizures. My health is always in flux. I eat very carefully and take supplements I have targeted to keep me going but I have never been the same as that last day in January 1991 when I was a healthy young girl ready to take the world by storm. The depression that I survived was done on my own and in silence. Even my dear husband never fully understood. I lost him to cancer 8 years ago and married another wonderful man who is even more my soulmate. He has seen me through so much already. Without support I could never have made it. Without my deep faith in God Jehovah I would never have wanted to make it. Just take this as a real warning to prepare for being understanding to those who experience this and survive. They survived but never truly recovered.

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