This is it. This is the day that broke me: the day that I sort of tried to kill myself. I have never talked about this publicly- only to the people closest to me. (If you haven’t already, see this post and get caught up for context.) For about a week or so I had been complaining of a severe headache, which I have to admit is probably not unusual in the neuro ICU (NICU). This headache was different, though. It continued to build and nothing could give me any relief- I would definitely describe it as the worst headache of my life. My husband and nurses took turns putting cold packs on top of my head for days. I can’t tell you why my head wasn’t scanned again, but my husband got very irate on October 21, thirteen days since I’d first came in after my accident. He was demanding to see Dr. Godzik, and INSISTING that something was very wrong to anyone that would listen. There was a female doctor in my room that day- a trauma surgeon I think. Lee demanded a CT, she informed him that they would not be doing one. Two hours later my husband watched me turn blue, quit breathing, and blow a pupil.
My husband is also a paramedic, and thank goodness because I think my nurse that day was brand new to ICU- my regular nurses were off. I had recently been extubated (had my breathing tube removed) so I was able to talk at this point, and had been doing fairly well other than the headache and vomiting. He said they had just given me some more morphine for the headache when he noticed my oxygen levels dropping so he started trying to coach me to breathe a little more. “Take some deep breaths, baby”; “I need you to breathe”; “Alright now, you’re not breathing enough. Breathe!” He watched my oxygen go from the 90’s…. 80’s…. 70’s…. 60’s…. 50’s…. *breathing stops*. “Alright now, dammit! This is MY territory now!” He yelled at whoever was in my room. He said she just sort of stood there with big eyes not knowing what exactly to do, so he took over. He barked at her to go get Narcan (he was concerned that the morphine may have caused it, and that was before he saw the blown pupil), and then he barked at someone else to start bagging and get a doctor. He said that she started bagging, but all the air was just coming out around my mouth because she didn’t even seal the mask properly. He then snatched the bag away from her to do it himself when about ten white coats came into my room. The halo that was fixated to my skull prevented them from being able to reinsert my breathing tube, so their only option was to go into my neck at bedside. A tracheotomy is ideally done in the operating room in a non emergent situation. When it’s done at the bedside like this, it’s a last resort airway. My sister had been called into the room at this point- lost in a sea of white coats, my husband and sister were in the room while they cut into my neck to try to save my life, and the rest of my family (minus the kids) were called to get to the hospital.
After establishing an airway, I guess they had to figure out WHAT was wrong with me, right? They figured out that I had developed hydrocephalus which is a buildup of CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) in the ventricles of the brain that causes pressure to build up. This increased pressure is what caused my pupil to blow and my breathing to stop. It’s safe to say that I was well on my way out. The theory from what I’ve been told is that the mechanism of my accident and the internal decapitation caused my brain to sit just a little lower than it did before which occluded the CSF outflow. This blockage explains the building, crushing headache I experienced prior.
When I came to, I was on the operating table. I could hear lots of voices- not necessarily panicked, but definitely serious. I could hear feet shuffling around the floor and the sound of equipment being moved around. For some reason, the sound all the tools made when they would hit the table is something I remember very vividly (this would come in to play again on my most recent surgery seven months later). It was the sound of things being done hurriedly; metal clanging against more metal. Then I realized that I couldn’t move. It only took a second for me to realize what was going on: they were trying to save my life, and had no idea I was aware and could feel everything they were doing to me. The worst part of it all was that I had no way to tell them! They were having to place an EVD (external ventricular drain) to drain the fluid from my brain and allow my pressure to normalize, and cross all fingers and toes that I didn’t have brain damage.
At one point I could hear drilling, and I can remember feeling intense pain in my neck where they had just done the tracheostomy. I had no idea why what was happening to me was happening, but I knew that I could not take anymore and I knew that I had to figure out a way to let them know that I was still here! I thought to myself that if I could JUST move a finger, then they’ll know that I’m here and they’ll knock me out so I put forth every ounce of mental energy I had into trying like hell to move a finger. I didn’t know if I was paralyzed from a spinal cord problem, or if I was sedated, but I literally could not move at all. Somehow, though, I figured it out! I wiggled my right index finger and I even heard a female voice say, “hey, she’s wiggling her finger,” but that was the end of that discussion and they kept working. I remember the following thoughts I had like it was yesterday; I’ll never forget it:
It’s just as simple and just as complicated as that. I was in pain, I was exhausted, and I was done, so I was going to somehow will myself to die so I wouldn’t feel like this anymore. I think it also shows kind of how the brain works when it’s injured as well- not rational. I’m ashamed to admit to this, but I don’t think I thought about my kids or husband at all during this ordeal. I hope that doesn’t make me selfish- I hope it just means that I was so overstimulated that I just needed it to end. In my mind at that time, this was a completely rational thought; it was the next step in a plan that I had made up spontaneously in a desperate attempt to get myself out of what was happening to me. With my eyes closed tightly, I put all my focus into trying to make myself die. For obvious reasons it didn’t work, and the thought that I really thought I could take myself out just like that is sort of comical to me now, but my injured brain really thought I could control something like that in the moment.
All these months later, I still get uncomfortable when people say things like: “You’re such an inspiration”, “You’re such a fighter”, “You never gave up” etc. because the truth is that I DID give up and I have some guilt about that. I just didn’t have the ability to do anything about it. Does that make me a fraud? Only if I was pretending and lying about having these moments, but by telling you this story I feel like I’m coming clean. I’m sure there are a few people out there who have been through the wringer and truly never did give up fighting, but I’m not one of them and I’d be willing to bet that it’s more common than you’d think.