Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The fully operational death star meets the killer clots from outer space

The day after I got out of the hospital, I went out to the trails where my running buddies go on Thursday evenings. They would run, I would walk, and while of course I wished I could go with them, I was satisfied just to be upright and mobile and not wearing a baggy green gown or pushing along an IV stand. Before the 6pm start, I chatted with some of the runners who had not heard the (truly) gory details of my ailments, starting by showing off my freaky, gruesome scar. If my audience was still with me at that point and not hunched over puking or screaming and fleeing, I’d tell my story.

One runner in particular shook his head over and over again as I told him about the extensive clotting in my leg. “Wow. It’s kind of amazing you’re even here right now.”
I laughed. “Yeah, I know. Crazy to think about, since you can die from clots and all that.”

He gave me a hard stare. “It’s a lot worse than that. If they go untreated, it’s not just that you can die: You will die.”
I had a sudden weird image of the climactic scenes of Return of the Jedi when the pasty-faced Emperor gets ready to hand-zap Luke Skywalker into oblivion before Dad intervenes. “And now, young Skywalker, you will die.” Shazam. There are many ways a person can react to realizing that their time on earth might easily have just been up, but this wasn’t one I’d ever figured on, as I tried not to picture my running pal in a black hood with jaundice-yellow eyes peering malevolently beneath it.

When my father had his quadruple bypass a few years back, he was in the hospital two days. My mother’s stroke incarcerated her for only a couple more than that. I was in the clink for ten. I had a perfectly healthy heart and brain, but if your left leg is bigger than your right leg, you can forget about getting out early for good behavior.
I bitch and moan plenty about having been in—the clink, the slammer, the hoosegow—for so long, but now that I’m out and about, perhaps it has finally sunk in that you don’t keep a person in the hospital for a week and a half if it isn’t serious. Those five nights being wired up in the ICU really were for a good reason: a clot that gets into the heart or lungs can kill you faster than the Emperor’s hand-zapping, and according to the surgeon, I had enough clot in my leg to kill a good-sized squadron of Stormtroopers.

A few people have asked me if I was scared. I had to think about that—shouldn’t I have been scared? Regardless, I wasn’t. This isn’t because I’m so very brave; I think you have to be scared to be brave, otherwise you’re just being ignorant. There’s the method, first of all. Death by blood clot just doesn’t have the scare factor of cancer or plane crash. Of course, that’s definitely ignorance talking, the way it talks when people emphatically say they’d rather die of a heart attack than cancer because the former would be “quick and painless.” Uh huh, right. Ask someone who’s survived one just how quick and painless it was, and then get ready to run.
The truth is I was more…uncomfortable than scared. I hadn’t gotten any sleep, hadn’t bathed; the tube in my neck kept oozing fluid and there wasn’t anything they could do about it, and there was simply no way I could position myself in that hospital bed that would satisfy my body for more than about a minute. As all good torturers know, tiny aggravations can be just as effective as genuine pain in reducing a person’s ability to function, and at some point you just want the whole damn business over with one way or another.

I will admit there was a moment when I made myself think about it. And I will further admit that the conclusion I came to was not particularly original: if I have to go, so be it; I’ve had a good life. Even coming from my own mind this sounds like a huge rationalization, though at least I didn’t tack on “I have no regrets” because that would have been a belly-flop into the river of denial. I’ve got plenty of regrets, thank you very much, but I’ve also gone places, done things, met people, and ate a lot of tasty food.  I’ve also spent a lot of time going nowhere, doing nothing, being alone and not having so much as a snack—simply being, quietly but fully, alive.
It’s hard to know what to make of all this. Do I accept the fact of my own mortality without fear, or am I still in denial about it? There were times in my life when I wanted to die, one time in particular when I tried to make it happen. This, for whatever reason, wasn’t one of those times. Maybe it’s the control freak in me: nuh-uh, clots, you don’t determine when I go; I get to decide that. It would be nice to say it’s because I feel like I have so much more to live for now, but honestly my life isn’t all that different than it was two years ago. A couple things are different now, though: I have to wear a compression stocking on my leg and I have a gnarly knife-fight scar on my arm. Old-lady chic meets biker-bar badassitude. Throw in a light saber, and I’m ready, more or less, as much as I suppose I will ever be, to face the rest of my life.



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