I went to bed on a Wednesday night in May last year, not long after my birthday. I had the next day off, so I was a little high, a little drunk and I planned on sleeping in the next day. Instead, I woke up around 9AM, violently nauseous. I ran to the bathroom, hurled up what I could and staggered out of the bathroom. Was I hungover? Seemed like it.
One of my two roommates at the time, Matt, was getting ready to head down the hill. He knew I was sick, and I debated staying home, but I really wanted to see the new Star Trek movie. He agreed to drop me off at the mall and I walked up to the theater with a body that feeled ten times heavier than normal. I bought my ticket and a soda and sat down.
I threw up twice more within the first 30 minutes of the movie.
I don’t know if you’ve ever vomited so hard that you sat, back against the wall with your legs tucked against your chest, crying in the handical stall of a shitty theater bathroom but let me tell you, it isn’t ideal. At this point I thought it was the flu or some kind of food poisoning I got from the seafood I had the day before. Only one thing to do in that situation: sleep it off.
I left the theater, Star Trek thirst unquenched and walked down the escalator. One of my former bosses was walking by and waved to me. I didn’t notice. She told me later that I looked blue (physically, I mean. Not sad, although I was that, too) and she thought I was fucked up out of my mind. I mean, kind of. I had no idea.
I cabbed it back to my house. I barely remember the ride. It must have been around 11, 11:30. Matt swung back by. He had been to the gym and was no prepping for work. He could tell I was seriously ill. Let me tell you something about Matt: I firmly believe that he has zero respect for me at all. He’s always first to shit on me, has never congratulated me on an accomplishment and never had my back in a fight. On this morning, he was so worried about me that he made me soup while I was laid out on the couch, hesitated leaving and called our other roommate out of concern. It was serious shit.
I spent the next 9 hours fucked up. I was in and out of consciousness on the couch. My phone was untouched on the floor. I had two cups next to me. One was full of water that I could only sip out of because anything more triggered vomiting (and I was dry-heaving pretty well on my own at that point) and the other, disgustingly, was reserved for whatever phlegmy spit I could muster. I had no concept of time or self beyond pain and suffocation.
Around 9PM, I found myself in the bathroom yet again, trying to find something other than stomach bile to bring up. My throat was so raw that I was spitting a little blood. My other roommate, RJ, got home. He had tried to call me twice, neither of which I had noticed because I had practically forgot I owned a phone. He knocked on the door and said, “What, you’re too good to answer my phone calls now?” I told him I was spitting up blood. He asked if we needed to go to the hospital. I told him I didn’t know.
I walked, poorly, out of the bathroom. I was pale, he said. RJ used to be an EMT and he sat me down on the couch, my prison for twelve hours, to take my pulse. He couldn’t find it. “We’re going to the hospital.”
They checked me in at the hospital. The triage doctor, who had a particularly active cold, was a huge dick who disbelieved the seriousness of my situation and blamed my low blood pressure on the equipment. RJ, God bless him, argued that no, something was very wrong with me.
I was in the emergency room from 10PM until 4AM, with RJ by my side. My blood pressure was 80 over 40. My temperature was 103 degrees. My heart was going three times the rate it was supposed to. I was almost completely dehydrated. My magnesium and potassium levels were almost nonexistent. My body was shutting down, and that’s when I got the news: I had septicemia. Septic shock. Blood poisoning.
I knew it was bad. That is bad. Shit. But it has levels, right? So I asked the nurse, “How bad is it?” and she looked me dead in the eye.
“Well, you could die.”
I looked over at RJ, RJ looked at the nurse. I let out a laugh that was a few pitches higher than I’m proud of and laid my head down on the bed and struggled not to cry, tried not to panic.
After 6 hours of fluids and tests (“Maybe it’s a UTI that went septic. Nope? Okay, a kidney infection? No? Huh. Well. This is, uh…hm.”), they admitted me eaaaarly Friday morning.
I spent four days in the hospital. I had multiple IVs in me the entire time. The saline was constant until I checked out. The magnesium wasn’t so bad. I opted for potassium pills every two hours because turns out liquid potassium burns like a motherfucker when it’s being pumped into you, a fact no one told me until I was writhing in pain on my gurney while my roommate (hospital, not RJ or Matt) shit on the floor.
I couldn’t piss until Saturday. Didn’t have the fluids in me. My blood pressure and temperature didn’t even out until Saturday night. I slept like shit and finally asked the nurse to give me some percocet so I could even try. Saturday night I got moved into a different room, one with a window and the first sunlight I had seen in three days. The doctor told me, “Wish these things opened up more but some lady tried to kill herself jumping out of it, broke both of her legs.” He went on to tell me that he had no idea what happened to me to put me in septic shock but it seemed to be under control. Prescribed me some medication, let me check out as soon as I showered and felt up to it.
So there’s the bare bones of it. My brush with death. Once it looked like I was going to be okay one of the nurses told me, “Hey, man. You were hours away from dying. If you had waited until the next morning to come in, if you had made it, it would have been weeks in the ICU, minimum.” Several times while I was in the hospital, I thought, “Hey, it could be worse” and then immediately reminded myself that at that point, worse was dead.
Now, you find out certain things when you’re on your deathbed. Like who gives a shit. Turns out, for me, it wasn’t many. Word got around on FB between my friends and I. I mentioned how serious it was. I texted some people to tell them I loved them when things were still looking shaky. A woman I care about very much but who was on the outs with me texted me to make sure I was going to be okay. The girl I loved and knew for years? Not even a text.
I would come out of delirium to find the last people I expected there to make sure I was alright. Seriously. These were people I cared about a lot but was by no means close with. They brought me thoughtful gifts. Superhero writing materials. Books to read. A flute. They kept me company.
I cannot express to you the emotions that come from not getting love and concern from the people you expect it from and then getting it from people you never expected. That’s a rough ride.
Now, here’s another thing I didn’t expect. Dying gives you a sort of perspective on life. What matters and what doesn’t. The things you haven’t finished or haven’t done. The words you wished you had said. The people you want to see again. I left that hospital with a sense of zen that lasted for almost three months. I stopped worrying about money, relationships, where I was at in life. It eventually crept back in and wore me down, but I was so content. Euphoric. It was beautiful, truly.
I didn’t expect that and when the shit started piling back up, I didn’t expect wishing I could be back there. It suuuucked. It hurt and I was exhausted for a month afterwards because of what my body went through. But people worried about me and gave a shit and things were much more clear-cut.
“Things were so much simpler when I was dying” is a tweet I sent and there’s a macabre truth to that. It sucks when you have a birthday where nobody shows up, like this year. Especially following a birthday party for a friend where a hundred fucking people showed up. That sucks. And it’s hard not to long for waking up and seeing someone unexpected who cares about your well-being.
These are weird feelings. They come and go and stay gone longer than they linger. Honestly, if I should take anything from it, it should be that zen perspective I got upon walking out ibto the sunshine and not the cascading disbelief that came with the bill for $22,000.
I almost died and it taught me that I don’t want to die. That I love love and I love life and I love people even when I hate them because over a decade of retail work demands it. It taught me attention is addictive, especially when it distracts from a lack of accomplishment. It taught me that if you live one life, you can sometimes find more in less.
It also taught me not to get septic shock, because that shit sucks hard.