I Choked, Coughed, and Sputtered
The smell of smoke… It woke me. It’s just the candle I had left burning I thought, and it was but the waxy smoke had filled my poorly ventilated room. I started coughing and couldn’t stop… I stumbled down the narrow wooden staircase, groping as I went, feet slipping, holding tight to the banister. I made it to the bathroom on the first floor where my inhaler sat in the medicine cabinet. I sucked in the life-saving medicine which had saved me so many times before. But after two puffs, I still couldn’t breathe deeply enough to catch my breath. I hesitated and took another puff of my albuterol rescue inhaler. Two small children slept upstairs in the room next to mine. I coughed again, but my chest continued to tighten even further. I didn’t want to panic, but I knew that my inhaler not working was very bad news. I could feel the air getting thin and the room begin to swirl. I crawled to the wooden stairs and pounded my fist on them with all my might, too weak to yell. My husband appeared in no time, finding me collapsed. He lifted me as I gasped, Take me to the hospital now.
He called my mom, who lived close by, to come to the house to care for our sleeping daughters as he swept me off my feet and out the door. I collapsed in his truck, passing out before we even pulled out of the driveway. He drove the short distance to our local hospital. During that time, my bronchial tubes relaxed enough and I was able to get enough air to come to, I walked into the ER on my own but collapsed again, just inside the hospital doors.
I died that night.
I stopped breathing and had to be intubated right there in the emergency room. One of the doctors escorted my husband outside the curtained room and indicated that he didn’t know whether or not I would make it – that he didn’t know whether or not I would live. Thirty-six hours passed. I could feel pressure on my right hand. Someone was squeezing my hand and telling me he loved me – it was my father. But I couldn’t answer him back, I had been sedated. He kept apologizing to me and telling me to fight. I didn’t have the strength to open my eyes but even so, I tried to reach up and pull the tube out of my throat and soon realized that my arms were tied down, I couldn’t move and the mechanical, rhythmic force in my chest was tremendous – a machine whooshed and whirred next to my head, making me breathe. A nurse appeared with more sedation, my dad patted my hand continually telling me he loved me and he was sorry over and over again. The world swirled away.
Later that day (42 hours in), the breathing tube was finally removed and I was able to breathe on my own once more. Three doctors appeared at different times that day, each asking if I remembered anything – if I’d had an “out of body” experience…, I had died. I had been dead for several minutes. I had somehow survived complete respiratory failure. When a doctor draped by a stethoscope, wearing a white coat leans in and quietly asks if you had an “out of body” experience, you take notice. You remember. You remember it all.
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Asthma plagued me for many more years. It was a curse I learned to live with, I learned to survive – I had to, as I had no intention of dying from it. Again.
We each have our own curse or challenge that can have its way with us. Or we can rise above and make that curse work for us. I did – I battled on and won, and in the winning I learned more about survival and what I am capable of. My curse finally eased when I moved to the ocean and learned the lesson well of what I can eat and what I cannot. Nearly 25 years later, I continue to learn from life and death lessons. How to survive divorce and foreclosure, disappointments and job changes, and sadness that always rises to joy.
It is a battle. But I am armed for the fight…
by Rayanne Thorn