The First Day of the Rest of My Life
From the cath lab I was wheeled directly to the ICU. A collagen plug was holding my femoral artery closed with its anchor stabbed through a major nerve. I was gritting my teeth through incredible pain while being told that I shouldn’t move at all, not even to turn my head, and that I should try to suppress any sneeze or cough. After finally transferring me stiffly to the bed, thankfully, the last nurse turned the lights out as she left the room. I was finally left alone with my thoughts, the disordered beeping of my heart monitor, and an incredibly worsening itch on the top of my foot.
I honestly didn’t know what to think about or how to feel. For the moment I narrowly avoided death, but I could still feel his presence at my bedside. I tried to feel sorry for myself, but after three seconds of nothing about that feeling right, I threw in the towel and focused on resting. Not long after that was the first of a series of faces that would appear before mine to say the most awkward things.
The first face was that of my nurse. She introduced herself and updated me on what I could expect for the rest of her shift. I asked her for some help rolling over, then she started going through her list of questions. Halfway through, she developed a quizzical look and asked me if I was a doctor or in the military. When I told her that I was neither, then she asked me her real question:
“How are you so calm right now?”
“Should I not be?” I was fully prepared to fly off the handle if it was the least bit appropriate.
She laughed a little, then explained that most patients in my situation would not be – that they would have already pressed the call button a few dozen times or would have showed a lot more signs of distress.
“I can definitely freak out if you think it would help.”
She spent at least a minute talking about how unusual it was that I had the kinds of problems I was having at my age. The rest of the faces that followed were mostly about as awkward. The closer my visitors were to me, the more hilariously awkward things came out of them. I managed to bite my tongue and not say things like “thank you for coming to my near-death experience” as the faces left my field of view.
Alarmingly, the doctors pushed me out of the ICU and the hospital pretty much as soon as the packaging of the collagen plug said I could move around unsupervised. Even with two untreated major blockages, an irregular heart rhythm, continuing chronic pain, and no idea whether I would get better or worse, they put me in a wheelchair and took me to the front door. I was handed instructions to start swallowing a bucket full of pharmaceuticals a few times a day, appear for a handful of appointments in the coming weeks, and was told to take it easy as I recovered from my procedure.
My brother picked me up shortly afterward and I made him drive me across the street for chicken kebobs. If I was going to face the future, I was going to do it with Americanized naan sangak and cucumber yogurt. I remember eating with immense focus and attention to sensory detail. On reflection, I hadn’t really enjoyed anything in the past year so I tried to enjoy my kebab after several days of not being allowed to eat aside from a single bland hospital meal before they allowed me to leave. I tried to ignore the abnormal beating of my heart as I cleared my table and walked back out to the car. I would not enjoy much of anything after that for a very long time.