It was 1997. I was in my mid 40s. I had been diagnosed with a beginning stage cancer of the colon after a long family history of colon cancer and a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease. The doctors informed me the colon had to be removed now. Two weeks later I found myself in the hospital for total colectomy–or complete removal of the colon. This was to be replaced with an internal pouch that hooks up to and is formed from the small bowel and the rectum. This is called a J pouch, and I felt fortunate to be getting that instead of a ileostomy– or waste collecting bag attached to the outside of my abdomen. Normally this procedure is done in two stages with a temporary ileostomy that is made during the first surgery. After two months of healing, they take it down and hook up the J pouch that has been constructed during the first surgery and is finally ready for business.
However, In my case, the surgeon became over ambitious and decided to do the entire surgery in one step–so no ileostomy.
At the conclusion of the surgery, they inserted a NG or nasal gastric tube in my nose to my stomach in order to keep my stomach fluids drained until the small intestines starts working again. After a couple of days, it seemed that was the case, and I was eager to get that out of my nose–so they pulled it out. What a relief! (Sepsis and Cancer, Sepsis and Surgery, Sepsis and Perforated Bowel)
By the next day, I started throwing up. I don’t think I was completely aware of much, but I do recall that all of a sudden my bed was surrounded by a crowd of medical personnel. I heard someone say my heart rate was 160 and someone else was on the phone with ICU looking for a bed for me. ICU was full, so suddenly they were racing me down the hall in my bed to Telemetry where they parked a nurse next to my bed full time. I kept throwing up and throwing up. The nurse was trying to crack jokes with me, but I found no humor in any of it and couldn’t have laughed or smiled had I tried. Finally they inserted another NG tub down my nose, which helped quell the vomiting.
After awhile I began to hallucinate. Suddenly I was in New Orleans during the Jazz Festival. There was a jazz band on the stage in the middle of the street with huge crowds everywhere. The female lead belted out a great song. I could see her clearly. However, she kept singing that same song over and over and over again until I was sick of it. So I yelled at her to change the music! Then I was at Ellis Island in the early part of the 20th century watching long lines of men and women and babies snaking through the line past ropes and lines, exhausted and desperate for a new life. I watched as some were granted permission to enter the country, while others were turned away, hysterical and crying. I watched them for hours and hours on the wall, or so it seemed, in front of me like on a giant movie screen, but it felt as if i were there. (Sepsis and Hallucinations)
People came and went out of my room. Visitors, family, hordes of doctors and nurses and technicians. There were tests and more tests and procedures. I was scheduled for another surgery to clean out my abdomen which had filled with infectious fluids. I was unable to talk to anyone. And if I made any attempt, I would be throwing up again. I slept a lot, couldn’t stay awake. I was so extremely ill, restless, anxious and wanted to be anywhere but inside my body. I was in the VA hospital, and the room I was in had no natural outside light coming in. It was small and dark with water stains on the ceiling. There wasn’t a single picture on the wall. I wanted to see the sunlight so bad. I wanted ice tea fiercely and all I could think about was getting out of there and going home and sitting in the sun on the patio and drinking cold iced tea. In the end, it was the iced tea that saved me. It was the carrot that kept me there. And when they did finally allow me to have a little institutional apple juice, well, let’s just say it tasted like ambrosia of the gods to me.
In the meantime, they informed my family to prepare for my possible death, to start making arrangements. The Red Cross contacted my my daughter who was in the military, and she was flown home to be with me and say her goodbyes should I pass. I didn’t know I was close to death. They had bags of antibiotics hooked up to me and lines and machines everywhere..
I was in the hospital for three weeks.
At one point after the hallucinations stopped, my room began to fill with clouds of light. I couldn’t decipher what it was, but felt comforted as if I were not alone. After awhile I slipped out of my body and left the room without looking back. I visited the man in the room next to me to see if he was going to be okay. I knew he would be–actually, he died later, and after my experience, I knew that he absolutely was just fine. I then found myself suddenly on a grassy knoll with people welcoming me–some I knew and some I didn’t, people who had passed on. Suddenly I was laying in the arms of a great being in the form of light and spirit, which I could only interpret as God. I knew this was the original source of Love, Itself, and experienced that force with such an intensity that there are no human words for it. I was told that I did not have to earn love in my life, there was nothing I had to do, that it was already mine. I came from it, lived in it and would return to it when I was done with my life on Earth. Also there was nothing I could ever do to escape it. It was my birthright and I was part of it.
Then I would find myself back in my body in my hospital room for awhile with the clouds of light. Just as suddenly, I would be pulled back out into the arms of Love. This went on from 1pm to 6pm. I had no idea what was going on around me or in my room the entire time. Towards the end, I was told that it wasn’t my time, that I had something I had to do in life and when I was done, I would return home.
When I finally returned to my room, the doctor came in to see me. I was very emotional, thanking her for saving me–I hadn’t even known I was that close to death at all before this experience. I told her I knew how hard they had worked to save me. She said, “On the contrary. It was all you. You are a survivor. Most people in your position give up and die. But you have fought every step of the way. The doctors are all amazed at you, coming in to your room. They know how sick you’ve been, and there you are in your bed singing.” Who knew?!
It was a rough recovery that took several months to regain my strength. In less than three weeks, I had lost thirty pounds. I was weak as a newborn baby, and my mom nursed me back to health, changing my ileostomy and feeding me little bits of food. For six months after my experience, the world seemed different to me, and I saw colors in the clouds I’d never seen before as they rippled across changing colors one after the other. Call me crazy, but it was if the filters had been removed from my eyes. Gradually, that faded over time. However, some things were changed forever. I began to live a different kind of life. I don’t know that it was a revolutionary all at once change, but more of a course correction and opened my eyes to a different world I’d not seen before that continues to this day.
I will never forget my experience and think of it often as the years go by.