It was Sunday June 12th, 2016 and I sat enjoying a Wendy’s chicken sandwich, fries & a fountain coke. My friend Gabby had brought it, at my request, when she came to Inova Fairfax Hospital to hang out with me for the evening. This was my last memory. A rare and unexpected fungus ignited my cystic fibrosis lungs. After an all night effort to keep my lungs breathing, I was intubated and placed in a medically induced coma. My life was saved that night by an ICU pulmonologist.
My next memory, sometime in mid July (I am not sure the exact date). I lay in a bed in the Cardiovascular ICU, turning my head to the left and seeing my mom in the hallway. My mind was blurry, I couldn’t move my limbs, my body was still. Tubes were coming out of my chest, my neck, my arms, and a tube was coming from my mouth, breathing for me. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t move even if I wanted to. I learned that movement would come back in time but not right then. What happened? Where was I? Why couldn’t I move? My eyes looked left, looked right, up and down and back again.
My mom hurried in telling me she loved me, telling me I had a double lung transplant. “The doctors saved you. You had a lung transplant. Do you understand?” Apparently this was the 5th day she’d come in to tell me this. The medication they use in a medically induced coma has an amnesia effect. I understood what she was saying but still had so many questions running through my mind that I wanted to ask, but couldn’t. The only way to communicate was raising my eyebrows, they told me, to only “yes” or “no” questions. So I raised my eyebrows, signaling that I understood.
The following weeks, patience was tested.
Is the pain below your waist? Is it this foot? Is it that leg? Communicating only with yes and no questions is frustrating. Like a puzzle that sometimes goes unfinished. I just wanted to be able to tell them what was hurting or which way I wanted to be situated. My family adapted and quickly learned my facial expressions when I was annoyed, unhappy, or in pain. We are meant to communicate with our mouths, being specific. I couldn’t do that.
I became the best listener. I would overhear my doctors in the hallways talking about my medical care or my mom talking with visitors. When my friends came to visit they would sit there and tell me what was happening outside the hospital walls. Sometimes I would try to mouth words. Some were understandable while others not. I would feel frustrated they didn’t understand and would mouth more drastically thinking that would help. It only made it harder. Finally I would give up.
Communication tests people’s patience. Communication prevents confusion and let’s people relay their thoughts. Communication saves lives and ends wars. Communication is key to, well, everything. I was so happy when I was able to write, even though chicken scratch, with hands just beginning to reconnect with my brain, just beginning to move again.
The feeling at the time was helpless but I knew that I was going to make it through. I knew it would take a long time but one day I would be able to enjoy my new lungs. That’s what happened but those memories of last year remain clear in my mind.
Have you ever been in a situation where you had a hard time communicating?