Into The Woods

It’s really easy to float along in life and rarely think about death, if at all. Some people have been lucky enough to avoid loss in their life so the idea of it ending seems removed from their everyday existence, like a thing that happens only on the news or in movies. I’ve experienced enough loss in my life to have an uncomfortable relationship with death. I’ve seen it take all my grandparents. I’ve witnessed my father slowly accepting that his was coming at the age of 54. I’ve gotten the phone call that my step-brother found death at 26. And I’ve had a friend choose death on her own, while conversations of future camping trips hung in my memory like candle smoke.

In the back of my mind, I’ve become strangely convinced that death will come to me one day in the form of one of those diseases we have yet to cure, but still like to run for. My mind generally jumps from topic to topic, like a polar bear jumping to the next piece of ice before the entire thing melts, and every now and then, mortality is the glacier it lands on.

Recently I found myself closer to the Grim Reaper than even my over-active mind could have prepared me for. Let me tell you the story of how I almost died recently, probably.

It started with a bubble bath

This story begins at the beginning of February, the morning after a bubble bath like any other, filled with berry bubbles and providing the backdrop for “surprised-cute-face bathtub Snapchats”. The morning after the soak, I slipped on the bubble residue while getting into the shower. I slammed against the side of the tub ridiculously hard and quickly developed an epic bruise. I won’t lie … I was pretty proud of that bruise, even if it was just on the side of my knee and not on my ass.

Said bruise, 5 days in. It still had a ways to go to reach maximum black.

Said bruise, 5 days in. It still had a ways to go to reach maximum black.

It’s hard to remember the timeline because at first I wasn’t really paying attention, but it was most likely a week or so later that I woke up in the morning with severe calf pain. Used to having random muscle pains or knee pains after an active night’s sleep, I brushed it off. Perhaps I just needed a leg rub, or a bath, or some heat, or a massage on our vibration machine. So I did all of those things over the course of a few days.

And the pain continued. But still, I didn’t really pay much attention to it. It did seem to be accompanied with some strange foot pain, close to the two puncture wounds from a few days before the tub accident, when I stepped on two separate nails within an hour of each other. Perhaps the leg pain was a reaction to that? Still, nothing to worry about, I told myself. I’d had my tetanus shot within the last 5 years. This would go away eventually. Everything does.

Not long after, the shortness of breath took over. It’s hard to say when exactly as it crept in more quietly than the leg pain did. We’d done a bit of research at this point and had guessed that the leg pain might have been DVT (deep vein thrombosis), but it didn’t feel like it was doctor worthy yet, nor did I have any symptoms outside of the pain. The shortness of breath made me strongly aware of the fact that I’m out of shape, as it got worse and worse. I wasn’t able to walk down the street without feeling wheezy after a few hundred metres. Walking upstairs in my own house made me have to hide in another room, if Steph following me, as I didn’t want him to see how terribly pathetic and out of shape I was.

Because of course that’s what the fat kid defaults to. My leg obviously hurt because I haven’t trained in forever and I couldn’t breathe because I was emulating Adam Sandler’s Fatty McGee. “But I LIKE the stairs!” It was easier to be embarrassed about the reasons I suspected I was suffering. (Which, in hindsight, was ridiculous because I live with the most supportive man ever.)

Eventually, I spoke to a woman I work with who suggested that if it continued that I go to the doctor right away. I decided better safe than sorry, but that evening around 5 pm the leg pain stopped. And then it was completely MIA the entire next day and half of the one after that. It was almost like it knew I was taking it in for pokes and prods and was trying to be good.

So I ignored it, and of course it returned and I was popping all the ibuprofen I could to stay on top of it. I knew that eventually I would have to take myself to the doctor; something felt *off*, but I still wasn’t in a mad rush. If I had to go to work, or go out for brunch, or lounge around and finish watching Star Trek: TNG, I was going to do those things first. Walk-in clinic? That could wait another day or two.

Then I had a date. Yes, a real date. With a real live boy, in my house! (More on this later!) As I was giving him the tour of the house, we travelled from the basement to the top floor (to obviously end up in the bedroom, duh). I found myself completely out of breath, but unlike the times when I travel upstairs with my husband and can easily pretend that I’m going into a different room than he is, here was a guy who had never been in my house before. I couldn’t just leave him there, looking at the random artwork in my hallway. So I quickly grabbed a glass of water, and had to pretend I could breathe, before taking him into the bedroom … where he also left me breathless. (ba dum ching!)

The next morning as I walked upstairs after breakfast to have a shower, and found myself wheezing in the bathroom, I thought about that moment with him the night before. I was no longer able to convince myself that nothing was wrong. There was no writing it off as me being out of shape. So I decided to do a combined google search of both symptoms: leg pain in the calf and shortness of breath. When I started to flip through the results, I realized that there weren’t that many things that this combination could mean. I was self-diagnosing myself as having pulmonary embolisms (blood clots on the lungs), and started to cry uncontrollably, the more I saw the words “sudden death” or “fatal” pop up.

That Google search was possibly the most important one I’ve ever made. Definitely more important than “How much cheese can a human consume?” or “Best cat Vine compilation videos”. (Though that one CAN provide lots of entertainment.)

Everything I was reading about pulmonary embolisms suggested that they were fatal. I wasn’t sure if I was going to die that very second, if it was coming soon, or if I’d narrowly escaped it, but I knew I was closer to death than I’d ever wanted to be before. We decided to skip brunch in favour of the hospital. I was shaking and full of fear; nothing that 8 hours in emergency ambulatory care – seeing someone for blood work, then sitting down again; seeing someone else for chest x-rays, then sitting down again; over and over and over again – couldn’t fix.

Honestly, the most torturous part of that first day was having to watch the gold medal hockey game in the waiting room two more times. It took all the magic out of it, knowing the outcome, listening to Don Cherry telling us over and over again who was playing well and who needed work, while a crew of us sat, waiting to see if our medical issues were next to be the most important in the room. I decided that my strategy for mentally surviving the day would be a combo of Steph’s shoulder and social media. I had to share what was going on with friends and family. I never want to be someone who hides illness and death from those I care about the most. If it’s going on with me, no matter how sad it is, I need the people in my life to know. Also, I think it’s important that we allow ourselves the safety to talk about personal health problems without it becoming a big deal. Eventually we’re all going to suffer something. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about and there’s a lot to be said for the healing power of community. (Although I did shy away from seeing people in person as much as possible the following week.)

At the end of the day, when I was at my breaking point, I was finally told that I would be coming in the next morning for my first ever cat scan to determine for certain that I had pulmonary embolisms (Hi-five for self-diagnosis! Not so hi-five for the actual diagnosis!). The nurse injected me in the belly with lovenox, a drug I learned later acts quickly to anti-coagulate the blood before the warfarin pills kick in (which takes 7 days). I quickly bruised on my tummy – I’m covered with post lovenox / blood work bruises still. Finally we went home and ironically, I decided to sit in the tub to think of the overwhelmingday I had just had.

Last week was filled with more hospital visits and mixed emotions. It started with my first ever cat scan and then the confirmation of the results; I definitely had blood clots in my leg and lungs. They were more than likely caused by the trauma to my leg. From the bathtub. It all seemed so unbelievable. I asked the post cat scan doctor in emergency if I was … ok. His face scared me and told me more than his words did. Basically, I was only just past ok. If I had waited much longer, or if the drugs didn’t work … I wouldn’t be ok. The next morning, at 6:45 am, I asked the next doctor basically the same question, and his answer was the same. I had come unbelievably close to not making it. The fact that I decided to come in when I did basically saved my life.

Had I not? I would have gone out for brunch on Sunday. And then probably work on Monday, and maybe Tuesday. Wednesday I would have had a deep tissue massage that I was really looking forward to, and if that hadn’t killed me, I most likely would have passed out at home, while Steph was at work, on Thursday. This fact started to kick in after a couple of early mornings in emergency getting my injections and pills, but really hit me on Thursday when I went to see the nurse pharmacist who will be taking care of me for the next six months or so. There I was, having a perfectly normal conversation about my blood clots and how we were going to deal with them moving forward – something that’s quite simple and not scary at all – on the day that maybe I would have died.

Last week was, as I’m sure you can imagine, a trip. I tried to embrace death with humour, posting pictures of funny things I found in the hospital that made me smile. I tried to talk about death in a very matter of fact manner, to accept it as a possible reality, even though I really didn’t want it. I tried to think about the funeral I want to have, because it’s very important to me that I’m able to plan my own (event planner 4 lyfe). I tried to connect with my online community because I needed them more than ever, and they were there for me more than I expected. I tried to ignore the fact that some people in my life that I thought really cared about me didn’t check on in me once throughout the entire week, while also allowing myself to accept that maybe some of those relationships have changed in my life and I hadn’t realized. I tried to keep a brave face on for daily phone check-ins with my Mum in England, balancing the line between being 100% honest with her about how I was feeling, but not enough to worry her so much that she would spend non-existent money to get on a plane to be with me. I tried my very, very best to keep it together, because what else is there to do?

But sometimes you just have to let go. After a week of holding it together, I found myself at home listening to my iTunes on shuffle; some sad song came on and the floodgates opened. When you get so close to death but then find yourself escaping its grip, you’d think that your reactions would be jubilant and joyful all the time. You expect yourself to feel celebratory because you’re alive, and being alive is pretty damn ok. And yet, here was this emotion sitting on top of my chest that I didn’t recognize. It’s a combination of grief and fear and loneliness, mixed in with ecstasy and relief. It doesn’t know where to file itself away, so it sits on top of the skin and you just have to feel it. You just have to accept the fact that you came this close and that now everything’s the same, yet different.

My bullshit tolerance has vanished. I still fear death, but feel like we have a platonic love and understanding now. Relationships feel different too. I want to bury hatchets of the past and make nice with unnecessary enemies. I want to acknowledge the relationships that need to admit defeat, and save the ones that prematurely thought they were over. I want to tell the world how honesty can heal, and how life is so short and so precious and not worth worrying about in the ways that we do. I want to help people discover the confidence that sits inside all of us and I want to know the pleasure of watching people shed their skins in favour of one that suits them unlike any before.

I want to hug and kiss and compliment the people that matter. I want them to feel unbelievably special when they’re around me, because they are. We all are. You are. In those moments when we feel alone, there are always people going through the same things. There is always someone sitting in emergency, worried that this is the end of their days. There is always somebody new going into the woods.

I’m just so glad that I’m slowly on my way out of them.

<< Addendum: If you think something is wrong with you, don’t wait! Get yourself to a hospital or doctor as soon as you can. What’s a few hours in a waiting room, when compared to possibly dying?? >>