Air. We take it for granted. Well, I know for sure I did. I woke up, took my breath in, leapt out of bed, hummed along to music each morning as I put my makeup on, yelled across the room to my son I love you, laughed and chattered like a songbird with my friend at work, sighed when overwhelmed at the end of the day, cooking, bone-tired and feet-sore, then a last deep breath in and out as I meditated before bed.
I can do very few of these right now.
I look at people running on the street below and watch their lungs with a hungry desire as they puff out and relax in, giving the runner as much oxygen as they need to drive their sweat-covered muscles down and around the corner in a flash of health.
I’m left to sit and look out the window and wonder how I got here?
It seemed like I could will myself to do anything. I never asked my body, are you okay? Is this too hard? Are you tired? Do you need a break? Are you completely burnt out and feeling you can’t go on? I only cared what my mind wanted and the body could go to hell in a hand basket.
And it did.
I recently found myself wanting to lie down on a public sidewalk in the middle of the day. I wanted this more than anything I’ve ever wanted. The brown brick was calling to me to curl up on it and just stop. I managed to make it another 20 feet into my doctor’s office where I staggered in and lay down, shaking uncontrollably, the room spinning all around me. I was convinced I was dying. My lovely, compassionate doctor said, in her matter-of-fact way: “Your body is shutting down and you have to go to the hospital.” For some reason I couldn’t speak and couldn’t make my limbs do what they were supposed to do. I was playing second fiddle to my body and had no say in what happened next.
Luckily for me, an unusually heroic friend from work offered to drive me as I live in an area where cabs take up to half and hour and apparently so can ambulances unless you are hit by a car or actually dead. It was the longest car ride of my life, longer even than the one I took from my house to the hospital on a bumpy country road when I was knotted in contractions and in labour. She had to get a wheelchair for me because I couldn’t walk. I realized suddenly as the doors opened with a whoosh to the emergency room that I’d not been there for seventeen years since my brother had died of head trauma in that same hospital. I quickly pushed that devastating thought away and focused instead on my shallow breath and tried to keep it steady.
I had been on antibiotics for pneumonia for a week but then still very sick, headed back to work and about one hour in found I couldn’t’ finish sentences and was out of breath and having that feeling of wanting to lie down on the ground and sink through it. Did I listen and go home? No, I stayed until 3 pm, until I couldn’t breathe and when I was driving home nearly blacked out from lack of oxygen in my blood. Was it really any surprise I was now in a hospital gown?
At the hospital they wanted to test for possible blood clots so they wheeled me into the CT scan room. I’ve never had one but it is an unsettling experience. They place you on a narrow bed and put an IV in you which they fill with dye so they can take better pictures of everything happening in your body. They slide you into the circular machine that whirs and whirs around you as you feel the heat crawl up through your body from the dye being injected into your veins.
I began to think, what if, just say, this comes back and it’s bad? Is this my life? As in, what I’ve done to this point, this is it? I started to cry. I really didn’t feel like it was a story that was fully written yet. In that moment, I realized how much I wanted to live and be well again. I promised my body to listen to it and care for it. I promised to be a better steward of this vessel I’d be given.
There were no clots but there were some dots and they’re hoping it’s just the pneumonia and it will clear up. It’s nearly four weeks since I first got sick which is the longest I’ve been incapacitated since I was in the hospital as a kid. I have to rest and rest some more. My lungs ache. I am unable to walk up and down my apartment stairs. It’s humbling. My body is in charge. I’ve softened and opened up to its needs. I am gentle when it tells me to lie down at 10 am then again at 1 pm then again at 7; I don’t argue, I don’t ignore, I don’t minimize. I read things that will soothe it and eat things that will nourish it. I calm the interior voice when it screams get back to work! I pray.
I ache to breathe deeply again. To walk as far as I want. To finish sentences without running out of air. To sing off-key, very loudly in the shower. Most of all, I want to hike with my son again and be able to keep up.
You knew that I was going to say this but I’ll say it anyway: don’t take your body for granted. You are as vulnerable as air without it.
*I want to give a special thanks to the amazing nurses and doctors at Vancouver General Hospital. I saw genuine compassion under mind-numbing hours and challenges. I was wrapped in warm blankets and cared for and for that I am deeply grateful to live where I live and have access to the hospitals I do.
**Special uber thanks to my friend A. I’m so grateful it turned out to be her with me. That was a gift.