Miracle Max: It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.
Inigo Montoya: What’s that?
Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.
~The Princess Bride
(Our family has been quoting this scene and laughing a lot since my recent doctor visit.)
I’m sitting in a hard chair in a chilly room staring blankly at my pulmonologist. I’m here for my two-week post-hospital check-up, and I still feel like a zombie. I’m recovering from pneumonia.
So far I’ve huffed and puffed like the big bad wolf into a little blue beeping box. But I don’t feel big or bad.
Then I carried another contraption tethered to my finger while walking up and down a long hallway. The nurse asked for six laps, but after three I started to see little black spots in my peripheral vision, and they pulled the plug.
Now I’m watching the doc look over all the results. He frowns, then says. “Well, I was just checking to see if any permanent damage was done, but everything looks pretty normal.You still have some fluid in your lungs and your alveoli [little air sacs that collect oxygen] are having trouble inflating. But that’s normal. You’re pretty much right on schedule.”
For the hundredth time in the past month, I am completely puzzled. And finally I just blurt it out: “If everything looks normal, then why do I feel like this? Why can’t I stand in front of the microwave for 2 minutes without collapsing on the floor? Why is it so hard reaching my arms over my head, even to brush my hair? And why can’t I shower without almost passing out?!”
The doctor pauses, then really looks me in the eye for the first time: “Do you remember anything that happened in the hospital?” he asks.
No, I don’t remember much. Just flashes. In the ambulance, an EMT commenting that he can feel the heat radiating off my body from several feet away. In the ER, the doctors consulting each other, not sure what is happening. One says I might need emergency gallbladder surgery. A CT-scan. I know the drill. I could do it in my sleep. During a spinal tap, the nurse comments: “Wow, not even an ‘ouch’?” I’m barely aware of the prick. In ICU, my body is so swollen: my fingers look like sausages, my legs like tree trunks. Everything is so red. While stitching a main line into my neck, one nurse explains to her student in training that it reaches all the way to my heart. My children come to see me but are yanked from the room. I ache for them. An oxygen mask is strapped onto my face. I’m choking. I can’t breathe with the rhythm of the machine.
And then one day the main line comes out and I get a normal IV. I’m wheeled from ICU to a plain old hospital room. People I love come to see me. I’m weaned off the oxygen. Then I’m home. And that’s all I remember from the two weeks. Just flashes. Bits and pieces floating in no particular timeline. But why?
I’ve had 4 major abdominal surgeries now, so I’m no stranger to the hospital. But all those times I was on serious pain medication, so I understand the fog. But why is everything so scrambled this time? There was no morphine drip. (When my littlest came in, he said: “Where’s your ‘happy button’ Mom? Can I push it?!” HAHA! “Sorry Buddy. No ‘happy button’ this time.”) So why can’t I remember?
“You were in shock,” the doctor repeats. I’m yanked back to the present in the cold little doctors’ office. “You almost died.”
My heart skips a beat. What?
“Your blood pressure fell and your pulmonary function declined so severely and so rapidly, we weren’t sure you were going to make it,” he explains gently. “To be honest, we’re not really sure exactly what happened to you …. but you’re not recovering from just pneumonia. I don’t think you realize how sick you were in the hospital. It’s going to take some time to heal from that much trauma.”
I’m stunned. But grateful. It’s been four weeks since the flu diagnosis followed by hives and a 104-degree fever (reaction to meds?) and the ambulance ride, and no one has really sat down and given me the scoop. Finally I know. Sort of.
But … As one of my dear friends recently asked me: What am I going to do with this newfound knowledge?
I have been pondering this question a lot as I’ve gone about my daily tasks–which mostly include lying in bed trying to be productive on the computer.
With all these things tumbling around in my mind, I can’t help seeing parallels between my healing experience and addiction recovery.
Just like I’m walking around feeling like a zombie, do those struggling with an addiction feel like the walking dead? I’ve heard recovering addicts describe a similar feeling.
It’s an eerie thing having sick lungs. No one can see them. I can’t watch them heal. I just feel them. I hurt. I know something isn’t right. Isn’t an addiction just the same?
Given the fact that it’s White Ribbon Week, I thought it might be interesting to pair the lessons I’m learning about physical recovery with some skills that are essential for addiction recovery.
Throughout my life, I have watched loved ones struggle with addiction, and as I’ve dedicated my life to the work of fighting sexual exploitation I have learned so much! I hope my insights will be helpful.
- Patience. This is the biggest, most important skill I am learning to master as I’m recovering from my ordeal: strengthening my weak muscles and pushing myself a little more each day. With addiction, patience is also key. In both cases it is imperative to have patience with ourselves, with the process, and with those around us too. My poor husband! I’m sure I’ve been quite the handful. Being stuck in bed for a month has brought on some not-so-pretty mood swings!
- Acceptance. I had a huge “aha” moment sitting with my doctor. He was right. I didn’t realize how sick I was. Now that I do, I am giving myself permission to slow down and heal. I have seen those struggling with addiction go through a similar process. It’s crazy how sometimes we don’t realize how sick we are.If you are struggling with addiction, I hope you will reach out to a professional who can help give you perspective, just like my doctor did. If you don’t know where to go, contact me, and I will help point you in the right direction.
- Tenacity. If I want to get better, I have to be willing to fight for it. Sometimes I need rest, but I can’t stay in bed forever. I have to get up and push myself, or I will never get stronger. Once in a while I push too hard and I suffer for it, but then I have to recover and get up again the next day. It’s the same with addiction. We have to be willing to fight. We have to push ourselves past our limits in order to grow. And when we relapse, we get up and start again. We don’t throw in the towel. I once heard an analogy: “Just because you get a flat tire, doesn’t mean you throw away the whole car.” I’ve thought a lot about that on my hard days.
- Humility. There’s nothing like being completely physically helpless to humble you to the dust. This has been a hard one for me. I don’t like to ask for help. I don’t want to inconvenience others. But I have been overwhelmed by the amount of love and help my family and I have received since I got sick. I’ve seen this happen in the addiction realm too. It definitely takes an element of humility to admit there is a problem, and even more to confess to a spouse, counselor, or religious leader. But so many times I have seen an outpouring of love and support following a confession like this.
Sometimes we just have to bite the bullet and ask for help.
- Self-care. I am very bad at this one too, even when I am not sick. So actions like napping during the day, taking long baths to ease my burning lungs, and sometimes “taking a day off” from everything have been accompanied by a nagging feeling of guilt. But I’m getting better about it. I’m learning that I need to take care of myself if I’m going to heal. Caring for ourselves is always important, but especially if we are struggling, whether in body, mind, or spirit. Forest’s book goes into a lot of detail about self-care and its importance in relation to addiction recovery. I really appreciated those chapters, and I think anyone–sick or well, fighting an addiction or not–can always use a little more self-care. We just have to give ourselves permission to go there, right?
Be well, everyone! And Happy Halloween / White Ribbon Week!
Here are some pics of my little hooligans, “Rocky” from Paw Patrol and “Sans” from Undertale, and some of our Halloween fun!