Waking up every Thanksgiving Sunday ~ grateful to be alive

For the past 13 years, waking up on Thanksgiving Sunday has had an extra special element of profound gracious meaning, for on October 8, 2000  I was released from Vernon Jubilee Hospital after almost 3 weeks of bed ridden care.

It’s one of those stories of how your life can change in a moment.  On one mid September afternoon, my fiancé (who, after a 3 year courtship, had proposed to me only a month prior) had taken me out for lunch.  After lunch I was not feeling quite right so he drove me home to get some rest.  Moments after he had left the driveway, I felt queezy and vomited – blood.  And for about 10 minutes, I continued to vomit globules of blood.  He rushed home to rush me to the hospital and by then the vomiting had subsided – only to be replaced with blood slicks leaving my body from the other end.  After a few days of tests, my blood levels rapidly decreasing and being fed by IV (I had no appetite), I underwent a gastroscopy….

The findings were not good.  They had found a “mass” inside of my stomach.  The timing was not good either – on many levels!  First, the region had a health care strike, which meant that only emergent cases were being operated on.  Because my bleeding had subsided I was not considered emergent. Second, on a personal level – there is never good timing for a health scare.  It was definitely one of those “why me?!” situations.  As mentioned, I was on top of the world with my relationship – he had just proposed! My daughter was only 5 years old – I was a mama – I had no time to be sick – nor did I want her to scare her by having her see me this way (for the first week we had her stay at her friends and made it sound like she was having an extra special sleepover party – she was so excited for the first few days, but midway through the week she was missing her mama) Those days were so difficult.

I was still not eating and I was refusing all blood transfusions – my blood levels needed to be monitored hourly.  They had sent the biopsy to Vancouver for testing.  The specialist came to my bedside and had “the talk”.  Oh God, I remember that talk.  If it was stomach cancer, time was not on my side – as little as 3 months, depending.  My GP came in later to go over the same thing.  I had “the talk” twice that day.

By my side through it all was David.  He held my hand, we cried together and that night he crawled into my hospital bed with me and slept with me.  During the nights that I insisted that he went home, I cried myself to sleep.  On one of those nights a nurse had to come and console me because I was hysterical. 

The days were bleak. I was becoming weaker, thinner, had been hooked up to a catheter.  I remember being so cold. And sad.  I had my daughter come and visit and snuggle and I remember telling her that “mommy had a bad cold” and I was going to get better really soon – but I also remember sobbing uncontrollably after she left because no one in the medical profession could back that up. And on my worst inconsolable night, a voice spoke to me – it was a profound spiritual moment in my life because I instantly became calm, and was at peace.

Meanwhile behind the scenes, David was impatient and getting furious.  I was basically being kept in this “state” without an operation because of the health care strike.  He was considering options of taking me south of the border or to the next province over.

Then, one morning mid week, the specialist came in to say that they could operate.  He would remove the mass, despite still not having the results.  Later that day I would be rolled into ER.  It was the best news we could’ve hoped for at the time – that is, until hours later when I was being rolled down to ER, with David by my side and the Specialist came up to us in the hallway and exclaimed that he had the results in his hands – the mass was benign!!  I’ll never forget crying so hard and being hugged by David so tight – literally  in the hallway right before being rolled onto the elevator.  I remember thinking – “just rip me open, get that bastard out of me so I can get on with living my life!!”

And so they did!  I woke up from the operation with a vertical cut through my abdominal way – pretty much from breast bone to belly button.  For a bikini wearing chic, this normally would be a horrific thought – but I didn’t give a shit!

During the surgery, the specialist and his team managed to “rip out” a 6”x3”x3” mass (the size of a mini loaf of bread)…the bastard has been clinging to the inside of my stomach wall and it had ruptured – thus all of the internal bleeding.

My daughter was there when I was recovering, dear friends were there and David was grinning from ear to ear – we knew we had a lot to be thankful for.  I was going to live!

Initially, the pain was severe, but manageable – especially with morphine.  To get through the next 24 hours when I whimpered, David was there to press the self-administer button for the dose and he kept me as comfortable as he could – laying next to me at my request so I could smell his chest. Mysteriously  he was also having matters arranged behind the scenes.

We were approaching the Thanksgiving weekend and now I had to start walking again.  Let me tell you, when your abdomen muscles are cut vertically, you are weak in a whole new sense.  I could not laugh, sneeze or cough, sit down or get up without support.  (I didn’t have a few stitches or staples, I had been sewn together like a quilt lining!) I managed to walk the complete circle around the ward on Saturday. On Sunday – Thanksgiving Sunday I was released.

That Thanksgiving I vividly remember the drive home from the hospital – the colours of the leaves, the smell of fresh autumn air. I remember David ordering Greek food.  (I was craving Spanakapita of all things!)  He lit candles and we celebrated.

He had hired a nurse to come to the house.  I was really weak – hovering around 90+/- lbs and low blood levels. For the first week I could not even sit on a toilet by myself, nor have the strength to open the refrigerator door (I had to use a spatula – wedge it in the door and push my body weight against it for weeks to pry that sucker open). 

The fondest memories of those days were being told that I would live, holding my daughter – the smell of her skin.  Waking up next to David – in our own bed, not the hospital bed.  I remember making phone calls to a friend that I needed to make things right with.  I remember my dad coming to visit after several years of minimal/no contact. I remember a friend from Florida sending me a gorgeous autumn arrangement (an artificial one) that I bring out and display on my table every October since.  I remember being urgent with thoughts of things I wanted to do with my life  (and since then, every time I put on a bikini, I wear that scar with a joyful pride – it’s an obvious reminder to me signifying how grateful I am to be alive.)

Thanksgiving 2000 was a memorable transition in my life; a time of new found appreciation – a time when I made some pivotal life changing decisions and began to strategize how I was going to make the most of the rest of my life.  Striving to live a life of simplicity where is matters and abundance of what matters. I remember being so grateful that Thanksgiving morning – and each once since.