1/28/2020: Today marks the one year anniversary. Of what exactly, I’m not so sure. A year ago today I was carried out of my home on a stretcher, semi-unconscious, yet doubling over and groaning “owe, owe” as the paramedics pressed me back down on the flat surface. At least this is what I’ve been told by my mom who was the one to make the 911 call. I didn’t ask for more details. I wasn’t sure I wanted to sharpen my assumed image of my young girls watching this scene as they huddled close on the couch. The truth is I don’t remember any of it and maybe it’s better that way.
I remember waking up two weeks later in the Intensive Care Unit of Marin General Hospital. I remember explanations of flu, meningitis, sepsis, stroke, and pneumonia that had all tumbled together like an internal avalanche. I remember drifting in and out of dreams, someone standing over me, squeezing my hand.
I remember my first attempt at communication. I couldn’t speak so I tried writing the letters with my index finger in the air. P-E-E. I had to pee. It hadn’t occurred to me that I would be hooked up to a catheter. I clearly wasn’t thinking about how I must have been going pee up until that point. I wasn’t even aware that I had been in the ICU long enough for the need pee. I only felt a strong sensation of something pressing in my bladder. It turned out that drawing the word “pee” had led the doctors to discover that I was also battling a unitary tract infection.
I couldn’t speak because there was a tube the width of a garden hose down my throat. I tried to push it to the side of my mouth with my tongue to relieve the constant urge to gag. I remember chewing on it as a way to pass the time and maybe as a way to trick my mouth into accepting this intruder as something useful.
I can still feel the restraints around my wrists, shackles in disguise. Thick fabric straps that clung tightly to my swollen wrists, pulling my arms against the mattress with barely an inch of give. The constant feeling of being bound and unable to raise my arms was unbearable. It was almost worse than the garden hose down my throat. They go hand in hand, it turns out. The restraints were there to make sure I didn’t lose my shit and try to pull the tube out of my trachea. It was all too much to manage and was precisely why I was constantly knocked out with drugs.
Sometimes I would be allowed a reprieve. A few moments where they ripped the tight velcro apart and allowed my arms the freedom they were so desperate for. These were the moments that allowed for the “air writing" that soon lead to scribbling words across the pages of a notebook for communication. I look through the notebook now and all I see from my end is “gag” or “tube out” written over and over again. My guests took to writing me back on the notebook when a nurse discovered that I was having trouble hearing. I was awake, looking straight ahead and she was calling my name loudly from the doorway. I didn’t even flinch. While I’m not so happy that my hearing hasn’t fully recovered, I am glad that my guests communicated to me in writing. I like having a record of what was happening from a perspective other than my own. Mostly people asked about my comfort or explained my procedures.
“The tube is coming out soon. Stay calm.” Wrote my husband, Aaron.
And later, “The tube came out, but you still need help breathing. They made an incision in your neck to attach the breathing machine. It might be painful and cause coughing, but we can give you medication to help.” This was in handwriting that must have been my brother, Scott’s, or my dad’s. I’ve seen that writing before, large letters, all uppercase. But mostly the pages of the notebook are full of reassuring notes about more pain meds on the way.
During the moments of release from my shackles, I was conscious of the situation and fully aware that I shouldn’t try to pull on my tube. But any movement of hand to face—even just to scratch an itch on my cheek—was cause for alarm. I remember Scott was on guard during many of these moments and with the slightest of arm moves, he would grab my hands and hold them down, fear falling over his tired face. He would plead for me to keep my arms still so he didn’t have to strap them in again. I remember thinking, Geeze, relax, I’m not going to pull the tube out. But who knows what I was capable of in those moments of drug-suppressed pain and confinement? He surely didn’t want to take his chances.
I also remember the other moments. Looking up to see Scott’s face, smiling reassuringly above me. A smile I haven’t seen in years, I thought. He picked up my hand and told me about his visit with our sister, Caitlin, to see Esther Hicks, a spirit medium who channels a collective called Abraham.
“Hey!” I tried to silently convey with my face. It suddenly dawned on me that weeks had gone by in my slumber. That my plans to see Abraham Hicks in early February had come and gone. I pointed at myself, trying to announce, “I was supposed to go to that!”
How funny, I thought. Scott going to see Abraham Hicks? I didn’t even know that he had even heard of Abraham.
It had been a thoughtful gesture by Aaron to offer my pre-purchased ticket to Scott and purchase an additional one for Caitlin, in order to gift my siblings a magical morning and the chance of hope.
“Megan would be happy to know you guys are going,” Aaron had told them. And it was true. I didn’t even mind that I had missed it, knowing that Scott and Caitlin had the opportunity to experience something they most likely would never have experienced under different circumstances. It was something they may have scoffed at previously, but now seemed glad that they had been open to it.
Then back to sleep I drifted while loved ones moved in and out of my room. Aaron, my ever present rock. Scott and his protective gestures. Caitlin, dressed in scrubs and a face mask to safeguard her unborn child. My parents, moving in and out in a steady flow. I’m pretty sure I had other visitors during those weeks in the ICU, but my immediate family is who stuck in my memory. Them, and the sinking absence of my beautiful girls. The ICU is no place for kids.
The only memory of someone else visiting during that time in the ICU is of a friend, Colin. He came towards the end of my stay there when the garden hose was out and the ventilator was attached to a Trach tube inserted snugly into my neck. I remember him standing over my bedside, his back to the large window that framed the misty hills of Marin. Aaron was there too and he asked me, “Do you know who this is?” Even though the tube was out of my mouth, I still couldn’t talk—something about the air flow through the new trach tube and the fact that it was bypassing my vocal cords.
I looked up at Colin, his face full of anticipation and hope. Of course I do, I thought, why is he asking me that? Then I mouthed, “Colin!”
Aaron let out a sigh and told me later that he had been bracing for the unspeakable, for the possibility of such brain damage that many people might be unrecognizable to me. There were a lot of possibilities during that time.
Before I woke up and came out of the induced coma was the height of “coulds” for Aaron.
“She could be in a vegetative state forever.”
“She could be half-paralyzed.”
“She could lose the function of her left eye.”
“She could lose her voice completely.”
“She could lose her hearing.”
“She could not make it.”So many frightening possibilities, so many chilling “coulds.”
But the power of prayer and positive thinking can work miracles. The people who knew me best would wonder, “What would Megan say about all this?” And they knew I would be confident that everything would be okay.
When word got out about my illness and Aaron requested prayers, they came in droves. Around the world people prayed for me. They prayed at home, alone, they prayed in community, in church, in the synagogue, they prayed with Indian Gurus, they lit candles for me. The tsunami of prayer and positive intentions for my full and remarkable recovery swept over Marin General, poured over my dormant body and filled me with healing waters. The doctors had told Aaron, “We can’t rule out a miracle,” so he prayed for exactly that.
As I steadied, the doctors began making plans for my lung surgery. After life support, emergency head drainage tubes, a tracheotomy, and two blood transfusions, this would be my final step in calming the chaos that had wreaked havoc inside.
I was transported to two more hospitals for surgery and recovery before making my way to the rehab center where I would spend a month gaining my strength, re-learning how to talk, to eat, to walk—learning to live again.