The nurse did not ask for my identification. She did not ask how she might help me. She lifted her index finger, flicked her wrist, and declared “Let me get you a wheelchair.” Her name is Linda. She works in the emergency room of a hospital. Along with physicians and multiple blood transfusions, Linda saved my life on September 17, 2013.
This summer was busy, full of changes. Plagued by fatigue, I trimmed my calendar. I assumed the problem would ameliorate itself. It always had before. Women’s health is a focus of my work and yet, I often neglected my own. My regular physician and I worked on a pretty holistic program. Improving my diet, adding iron rich foods, getting more rest, eliminating stress, negativity, toxic people and unnecessary projects from my life became a priority. Over the course of the summer, the fatigue came and went.
On the evening of September 16th, I hemorrhaged. After convincing myself that I could handle the bleeding and the pain, I went to bed. Faintness consumed me when I laid down, then I felt an incredible peace descend. Warmth enveloped me and I was carried off to a deep sleep. I dreamed of being with my grandparents, swimming in the small irrigation canal along the edge of their property, breathing in the smell of the pasture. I dreamed of sitting on the ottoman and laying across my grandmother’s lap. For the first time since March of 1996, I heard her voice. She was telling me it was time to go back, that it was okay to want to go back. I dreamed of the tree house in their backyard and the sound of the willow branches swishing in the wind.
Then came the dream with my late husband. We were nowhere, sitting together bathed in light and warmth. He held my hand. He did not speak, only smiled as I told him about our daughter. We sat in silence. After some time, he was gone and I was alone. I felt total peace for the first time since I was a child playing in the backyard waiting for fireflies to make their magic. I felt a flood of love, or forgiveness, and tremendous letting go. When the letting go began to feel like separation, I asked and prayed for God to help me. A moment later I was awake.
I stood and went to my mirror. My normally pale skin was almost ghostly, the whites of my eyes were milky white. My nail beds had lost every tinge of pink. The bleeding slowed. I went back to bed, knowing I would be okay. The warmth and sense of peace were still within me.
After a cup of coffee and breakfast with my daughter, I assured her I was going to the emergency room. I would call and text her. The look of relief on her face, the too tight hug, was all we needed. Love communicates with honesty, not always with words. Never have I been so grateful to wake from a dream. I did not realize how accustomed to fatigue and menorrhagia I had become.
Linda took my identification and wheeled me into the emergency room, immediately nurses and doctors flooded the room. A young man appeared and with some frustration was finally able to insert an IV into a vein in my hand, draw blood, and begin intravenous fluids. A rush of tests, ultrasounds, exams, and consultations between the emergency room physicians led to a terrifying moment. Consent forms for blood transfusions needed to be signed, as my hemoglobin and hematocrit were dangerously low. Stress and average grade anemia were not at work here. I had hemorrhaged. I had been hemorrhaging on and off all summer. I was not superhuman. I was human. And they were moving me to the Intensive Care Unit.
The gynecologic surgeon met me in ICU. She introduced herself and we went through my results. Two large fibroid tumors were at the center of my drama. One, a pedunculated fibroid, was dilating my cervix and starting to prolapse. It was time for some real talk. It was time to consider a hysterectomy. It was time to prioritize my health. This inspiring woman assuaged my concerns about my immediate situation and left me to my own thoughts. Before anything else happened, there would be five blood transfusions.
The body is one big miracle. Mine had compensated mightily but the window was closing when I arrived that morning. I called my daughter. I called my mother. I texted my two closest friends. And nobody else. I tweeted as if I wasn’t afraid that my life was hanging in the balance. I replied to emails. I wondered what to say in my email’s vacation responder.
With nothing to do but wait for the blood to drip, drip, drip into my veins, I rested. The warmth and light came again, and I was alone with what I can only describe as God. In that space, the sounds of life support machines down the hall disappeared. My body began to heal. A stranger donated blood that saved my life, as much as Linda or my surgeon or any of the skilled, loving people in that hospital. An act of kindness that will never be taken for granted by me, or those who love me.
I live in a country where experienced professionals provide superb healthcare services. Gratitude seems inadequate but it will mark every day of my life.
This was a reality check. Not only personally, but professionally as well. My work often straddles human rights, women’s health, foreign policy and politics. The women of Congo, suffer traumatic and obstetric fistulas. The women of Sudan are often forced to bear the children of genocidal oppressors. Women held in bondage in Cambodia or India. Forced labor. Forced marriages. Poverty. Hunger. Illiteracy. Women across the globe enslaved by poverty and evil. Basic health services, let alone services for complex medical situations, are scarce where oppression and impunity reign. The voiceless, the vulnerable deserve equality.
Tomorrow, I will have a hysterectomy. The power of unconditional love and the power of science and skill, will give me back my health. New adventures await.
Prayers and good juju are welcome. It is time for rest.
— Media Lizzy