Come Listen to a Story - Part 2

Part Two of Four


So began my five weeks and one day stay at St Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota. During the early weeks that I was in the hospital I remember bits and pieces.  It was as though I would come in and out of times of awareness but as far as wanting to communicate with anyone that was a no-brainer.  I didn’t have the energy or the desire to let others in.  They tell me I stopped talking completely.  I was even diagnosed at one point as being catatonic because all I would do throughout the day was sit there and not speak to anyone.  I had no malicious intent by not speaking, in my mind I just needed a moment of quiet, of peace, some stillness to just take a breath.

During those first few weeks they were doing their doctorly thing and running every test they could think of trying to figure out what was going on.  I wasn’t really communicating with anyone at that time.  I underwent constant blood work.  I was told later that the first time they came to draw blood from me I screamed at the top of my lungs and had to be held down.  The lab tech was in tears.   And I have no recollection of the episode.  They were looking for clues as to why I was behaving the way I was, among other things, they were looking for signs of drug or alcohol abuse.  My husband and family were asked repeatedly if I had a drinking or drug problem.  To which they correctly answered, “no”. 

It was an odd time because I often felt as though I was the observer, not the one being observed.  I remember trying to figure out why I was there?  What prompted anyone to put me into the hospital?  Was it because I had done something wrong in my past?  I watched as my husband and my father would come to my room every day.  Others would come to visit as well.  They would be talking about me as I observed them.  They seemed sad and concerned.

Me on the other hand, I mentally, felt like I had all my faculties.  I could recognize the people in the room, I could hear their conversations, I just had no desire to speak with them at that time in my life.  I don’t know if I slept a lot during the day and kind of came in and out of consciousness?  That is a possibility because I recall that my nights were horrible, and I don’t think I was getting much quality sleep.

The nights were a constant circus in my head.  It was almost as though I was living in the movie “Groundhog Day”.  Every night after people said their good-byes, I would lay down, close my eyes, the curtains in my mind would part and the show began.  It was characters from television shows I watched as a young girl.  One of the storylines had Captain Kangaroo in space.  I was on the rocket ship with the Captain and the rest of the crew.  I know that at one point we were in danger of crashing or exploding.  Something dire was going to happen unless we were able to get a 26-digit code correct.  And there were these little bugs or creatures that were playing that old kids game Telephone with the code.  So, besides my job of remembering the code I had to remember where they messed up so that when we needed the accurate code, I would have it.  It just never stopped.  That was one of the experiences I had.  There were others.  But it always started with the parting of the curtains when I closed my eyes.

Other times I would be having dreams of death and litigation.  Had I been part of a study?  Had someone in my family cheated another member out of money?  I felt as though my brain would NEVER shut off.  Then there was the creature that would grab my legs every time I was almost asleep.  And when it would squeeze my legs I would wake with a jolt and be perfectly still until it went away.  Later, much later, I realized that the creature was the inflatable cuffs they put around the calves of people who are bedridden to help prevent blood clots from forming.

I underwent 57 procedures:  MRI’s, Cat scans, lumbar punctures, x-rays, ECT (shock treatments), blood draws, a brain biopsy, PET scan, plasmapheresis which is a process where they separate your blood cells from your plasma and put your blood cells back into your body with saline or albumin – kind of like cleaning your blood.  I was also seen by physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech pathology.  And don’t forget the medications they had me on.  And I am not one to use medications if I don’t have to so my system was very sensitive to anything they gave me. 

The longer I was in the hospital the more I felt as though someone was out to get me.  I never felt 100% safe.  I can remember one of the times they took me for an MRI.  I can recall having a cage placed over my head and I was not able to move.  This literally freaked me out!  In my mind, I was screaming at the top of my lungs to “GET THIS THING OFF OF ME!!!”.  But if you review my records all it says is that the patient was agitated, and they were unable to do the MRI that day.

Another day I remember having a lumbar puncture test done.  I can remember being wheel through the halls deep in the hospital to get to the place where the test would be done.  I remember the person doing the test was genuinely nice to me and was great about explaining what was going to happen.  At one point he asked me if I was doing okay and that we were almost done.  I remember feeling such pain but saying, at least in my head, I can hold on.  Let’s get this done.  Now whether I actually spoke those words out loud I couldn’t tell you.

A test that I had done later in my stay after weeks of total bedrest was the PET scan.  The tech that was positioning me for the test had me standing and holding onto this bar above my head.  As the test went on, I began to cry, tears streaming down my face because it took everything in me to stay standing and keep my arms up.  I had lost so much of my strength, I just wanted to collapse in a heap on the floor.  When the tech came back to me and saw that I was crying and visually shaken his comment to the aide who had transported me there was, “What’s her problem?  Why is she crying?”  And the aide, bless his heart, said I think it was really difficult for her to stand that long.  He was my hero in that moment.

There are many of the procedures I don’t remember, like the electric shock treatments.  And everyone tells me that’s for the best.  I think it was after the third attempt of ECT that some of my family were afraid that they were losing me and that I may be dying.  And I can remember thinking to myself at one point in time that I just had to hold on a little bit longer.  

One night when I was trying to go to sleep and I was afraid that the curtains would part and the show would go on again and again and again.  So, I sent out a message to my mom.  Remember, she had passed away four years earlier.  I let her know that I really needed to talk with her.  And suddenly, she was there, not physically.  It was more like she was there energetically.  It was definitely my mom and it felt amazing to share this space with her.  We were able to communicate not with words, but just by sharing the same space.  I didn’t know what to do, should I stay?  Should I go?  It would have been so easy to stay there.  There being a place not of this world.  I believe I may have been in heaven or close to it.  It was so beautiful, so peaceful, so…..indescribable.   I communicated with mom that I didn’t want to leave Jim and my family.  I had things I still wanted to accomplish.  And my mom’s response was, there’s your answer.  And with those three little words the path was clear.  It was time to get back to my life. 

“Never compare your grief.  You – and only you walk your path.”

- Nathalie Himmelrich

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