What I keep going over, in my mind, is that if I had collapsed anywhere but in the doctor's office on September 2nd, I would very likely be dead. If my doctor had sent me home, agreeing that I had a "muscle pull" instead of an infection, it would have been the same result. Hours later, on the emergency flight from Bozeman to Billings, as all my organs failed, so did my heart. But when the doctors tried to revive me, my body chose to live.
I don't think I have any memories of Billings; but once transferred to Salt Lake City, I remember a moment when I, barely coherent, muttered over and over to my vigilant identical-twin brother Tom, "I want to live, I want to live, I want to live..."
Tom's presence during the early days is hazy but vital for me -- vital in the sense that life felt like the only possibility when he was there, the alternative being too awful: a breaking of symmetry. My irrational thought ran, "I can't die, because he would be so alone." (This is not the place to go into the metaphysics of twinship, but it is true that tighter bonds are rare.)
Of course outsiders have their own take on events: one of my nurses, Martina, later said "I never expected to walk in the room and see someone who looked just like the patient standing next to the bed. It startled me! You almost think, 'God, is that a ghost?'" Perhaps more like that I was Tom's ghost, moving in and out of reality, or planes of existence.
My sister Mary was likewise present during some of the early days, and I only have a hazy vision of her departure, and her voice in my ear. My feeling of her presence and then absence became oddly, hallucinatorily, bound up with a dry erase board on my wall, which I interpreted as a large calendar that my sister left me as a gift. The calendar had on it shifting letters that variously indicated that it had something to do with Allison Kraus and "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." This strikes me as an amazing premonition, given the trouble that my knees have subsequently been causing me. (My right knee and leg will be much closer to healing after an operation this Wednesday, December 7th, to graft skin and close up various open areas, including my wide-open knee. My left knee will undergo a patellectomy during the same surgery.)
The other constant and crucial presence for me in the early days of my illness (and, as it would happen, rather far into my recovery) was Angel. Angel, from Providence. My dearest Angel. His keeping vigil, like my brother's, filled my heart and kept away some of the worst darkness during long and unsure nights.
Tomorrow marks the third month since my collapse. It's hard not to think of these days as time to reflect on what's happened to me since September 2nd. Yet such reflection is also overwhelming. My memories of the early days of my illness are patchy, which may be a blessing. One foggy incident in my mind involves a test in an x-ray machine. I couldn't understand why, as the machine moved and squeezed me into and out of the proper positioning, the nurses had chosen to leave overstuffed pillows covering my body, which made such movement extremely difficult. I felt claustrophobic and suffocated. But I realize now that the overstuffed pillows did not exist; they were me, as I had swollen up to 220 pounds with fluid. In turn, a memory of the nurses struggling with my bloated body, as they transferred me to a bed comes to my consciousness. Such memories are uncomfortable, yet they pale beside others, in which I can see my blackened and dying limbs, in which I try to move them and fail, in which my doctor asks me what I think about my right hand's potential for viability. A nurse reminds me that I responded to him, "At least I learned to play the violin." I'd like to write soon of my days of hallucinations -- those memories will have to wait for another post.
Reading my brother's post about the early days of my illness also makes me think of the tremendous outpouring of support that I had at that critical time. I'm certain that reading the cards sent by friends and hearing of all the good thoughts directed toward me contributed to my recovery: my kidney function picked up and gradually returned to normal. The team of kidney doctors and the dialysis machine have not been part of my routine for several weeks.
It's my intention with this blog to work out some of my memories, experiences, difficulties, and also my progress and hopes, as I adjust to this new life. I am so grateful to be alive.