“I didn’t get the opportunity to love life a lot until recently and that has been hard to do in a sick body. It’s been harder to swallow the realities with being physically limited.”
“Give Me Life”
Fiction. Based on a True Operation.
All journal entries are inspired by true events. Some of the characters, names, businesses, incidents, and certain locations and events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
“You have to get operated,” hearing those words at twelve years of age is traumatic. I mean, I’m twenty-two years old now and still think about it. Not only was I terrified of the pain but the orthopedic surgeon had said there was a risk of being paraplegic. What twelve year old kid wants to hear that? I didn’t even know what a paraplegic was and suddenly that term was used as a possible outcome of what I would be. Everything was happening so fast I had no time to think about what I was going into; it was all happening at 100 miles per hour. I started with asthma and all of a sudden, I needed a spinal operation.
It started on February 22, 2010. I had been asthmatic since a baby but that certain date, it was beyond control. My lungs stopped working and I couldn’t breathe. I was at school when I started to feel breathless. I grabbed my pump, took two pumps and nothing; it just got harder to breathe. I tried to inhale through my nose and exhale through my mouth but I was already starting to feel dizzy from the lack of air. It all happened in a blur, or at least it felt like that, and suddenly I was at the doctor’s office with a respiratory therapy and my mom holding my hand.
That week I was given multiple pills, an injection and was taking respiratory therapies every four hours. Nothing worked though, and after a week I was still getting suffocated. The doctors amped the therapies for every two hours and that was how I was living. Feeling a pair of hands grasping your neck or pushing down on your chest is no way to pass time. It was like that for months, some days better than others. I took different medicine as well, more injections but nothing worked. Everything was triggering my asthma. Any little fragrance would make my lungs collapse. I was obligated to a life inside. I lived in quarantine where there could be no smells, no dust, and the air had to be purified.
After a month, my doctor started to get desperate because nothing worked. So my room turned into a hospital room where I would take my therapies and try to breathe. My room had become my safe haven. My parents, scared of anything triggering my asthma, cleaned the entire house constantly, buying everything without fragrance. I couldn’t go to school because we didn’t know what was triggering my asthma. Even though my house was spotless clean, I would still have my asthma attacks often.
Not only was I breathless, I was restless as well. Since I couldn’t skip the therapies I had to be woken up every two to four hours. Respiratory therapies also have a side effect of making the heart go a thousand beats per minute (or at least it felt like that) so every time I would take one it would take about an hour for my heart to calm down and when I finally fell asleep, it was time for my next session. I couldn’t sleep, my parents couldn’t sleep, even my sister couldn’t sleep because they felt the need to be checking up on me every five seconds. We, as a family, started seeing a psychologist because we were going a little insane. We couldn’t really go out, we didn’t know what would happen to me. We were having a very hard time.
I started seeing a pulmonologist. She gave me a new batch of medicine which ended up not doing much either. I would go every week and she would see my lungs and take my breathing but no changes. I was still in bad conditions. My life was reduced to drinking pills, taking respiratory therapies every two to four hours and still being breathless. It wasn’t until the pulmonologist ordered a chest x-ray to check for the third time that a curve was visible in the spine. It wasn’t that prominent but the doctors, my parents, and I were desperate so we decided to check it out.
My pulmonologist then referred me to an orthopedic and that was when it all got scarier. The curve was a rotated scoliosis. On that x-ray, we could see how my right ribs were squishing down as the left ribs were pushing up. My ribs were almost touching my heart. So literally something was pushing down on my lungs, my own ribs. Multiple studies were done only to tell me exactly what I had feared all that time; I needed operation. Not only was I the one who was scared but my parents as well. The operation needed to be fast, since it was only getting worse and could make the difference between life or death.
I was operated on July 14th of 2010. Arriving at the hospital I was actually relaxed because of the desperation to get better already. My whole family had gone to support me so I didn’t feel alone. That night before, my cousin had slept over at my house resulting in us staying up all night. I couldn’t eat, so she didn’t as well. I was very happy to have her with me and she even accompanied me to the hospital. It wasn’t until I was lying down on a bed with all those cables tracking my whole body that extreme fear flowed through my body, like a wave hitting and drowning me. I shook it off thought, I didn’t want to upset my parents and I knew that in a couple of minutes I would be sleeping and I would get better. The anesthesiologist administered the anesthesia and it knocked me out. My last memory was seeing my parents wave good-bye.
After the operation, I don’t remember much about waking up. It was like waking up drunk with no memories of the day before just a horrible hangover to remind you how bad it was. Everything was blurry and I couldn’t even remain with my eyes open for more than 5 seconds. I guess that was the anesthesia. I was glad though, because for that whole day I barely felt any pain for the first time since February, but I wasn’t sure if it was due to the surgery being successful or because I still had anesthesia in me, maybe both. I was in intensive care and my dad had stayed with me the first night, but I didn’t talk to him much, all I could do was sleep.
On the second day there was no left-over anesthesia. It was constant pain, like having someone pull you from your head and toes in different directions. No amount of pain medication calmed it. It was just constant. So were the tears. I couldn’t sleep anymore because of the pain. I couldn’t even eat. Even moving a toe made me cry. I screamed and screamed. I needed morphine to calm the pain. It wasn’t time for the medicine. I kept screaming. I called my cousin crying hoping to calm my pain. My mom was desperate. She couldn’t help me. All she did was pray.
The third day, I had visitors. I think for some time, I forgot the pain, or the medications were starting to work because I stopped crying. The orthopedic doctor and the pulmonologist came for my checkup. The pulmonologist said my lungs looked great and that I should continue with the therapies for at least a week to make sure they were working properly. The orthopedic said I was in excellent condition. Everything was well. He said he was going to take the stitches out. He also said I was ready to get up and start walking. The stitches hurt a bit but if I thought I was in pain before, it didn’t compare to walking for the first time with two titanium bars in my spine. It felt like my whole body was breaking bone by bone, limb by limb, at the same time. I only took a couple of steps but after, I was afraid of walking.
The doctor decided it was time for me to be discharged from the hospital. I was happy to go home. The pain had calmed a bit, or I think I was getting used to it. Arriving home, I was ecstatic to be away from the hospital. When I finally made it to my house and my bed. I was so happy I didn’t have to be in a hospital anymore. I could walk but very slowly and what would usually be a 30 second walk to my room turned into a 3 minute walk. The best thing about coming home was that my parents let me recover in their room which has a queen size bed and a t.v. I was as comfortable as I could be.
Recovery went smooth. I am not going to lie, I still cried because of the pain but as time passed there was less. I couldn’t go to school for the first month and I couldn’t do sports for a whole year. I look back and thank God I had the operation because after it, I could breathe perfectly. There were no more hands squeezing my lungs.
When I went back to school I had to walk around with a pillow for my seats. Even so, all my friends had asked me about what I went through. I had talked to some of them during recovery but didn’t see them. When seeing them, I felt better. I couldn’t move as fast as them or do some things that they could, like running or playing hide and seek, or even push them around jokingly. But they were extremely supportive for those few first months. They helped me with everything from my backpack, to walking, to doing homework, to as much as they could.
After a year, when it was summer again, I got very self-conscious. I was very aware that I had a huge scar on my back that no other girls had. So for a while I struggled with that, I dressed to hide it all. It wasn’t until I was in 11th grade that I accepted my scar and now I even forget that I have it.
Seven years have passed and sometimes I still get sad from thinking about the months before my surgery. I still get occasional asthma but my medicines work and in a week I’m good. I hope it never gets that bad again. The only thing I still struggle with is back spasm. It was one life-changing experience but I am extremely grateful for it. I still struggle through it sometimes but nothing compares to that pain. I matured more because of the experience; it made me a whole different person. After having gone through that I developed confidence, as should everyone who goes through something difficult in their life, and everyone does. Even though at the moment of pain one can’t see the bright side of the situation, there is always a bright side. My bright side of all the suffering was that I was never alone, and after it all, I was in better health and became a stronger person.