In November, my boyfriend and I spent 10 days exploring Scotland. It was our first trip abroad together, and we got to explore the cities, seaside towns, Loch Ness, and The Highlands. It was stunning, and the people of Scotland had so much charm. My health was great the entire trip. My head was full of inspiration and excitement with the inevitable afterglow I always feel when I travel outside the US. I had a sketch book in tow to prepare for the long haul flight back home, and was able to sketch a little on the flight from Edinburgh to London.
We had a layover in Heathrow, and just as we were about to board for our flight home to Atlanta, I began to feel very faint and nauseous. My boyfriend asked if I wanted to stay behind, but I was not about to let my body stop me from getting on that plane. I blamed it on a combination of things: a lack of sleep, no food that morning, and the news of the election of Donald Trump that was all over the tv at the airport. I had never passed out in my life, and I sure as hell didn't think this was going to be the day that would happen. But I definitely knew deep down, that I was feeling something I hadn't ever felt before.
Then, less than an hour into the flight, I did pass out. Just before it happened, my head started to feel so light and my breathing became so short that I told my boyfriend, "I think I'm going to pass out". Next thing I knew, he gently nudged me and I awoke to see I had vomited all over myself. And I'm not talking a little bit; it was in my hair, and all over my jacket, tee, jeans, and my seat. I was embarrassed and horrified. Luckily, I had a wonderful British Airways crew there to help attend to my needs (they even gave me a change of clothes) and a boyfriend who did his best to make me feel comfortable. I was not looking forward to another eight hours on the plane, because I knew that I was most likely going to be sick and in extreme discomfort for its duration, but I did my best to keep calm and drink lots of fluids.
Once we got home, I spent the next few days in bed, very sick. In addition to the nausea, I noticed was that my heart rate was on the rise and didn't seem to ever fall back down.
We went to urgent care, and the doctor told me that I most likely had a stomach virus or food poisoning, and it would pass out of my system soon. She also told me that my heart rate was probably due to lack of fluids, since being dehydrated causes a higher heart rate.
So, I went home and diligently sipped water all night and day. My vomiting stopped, but my heart rate was continuing to get higher. It felt like my heart was beating outside my chest, and when I would get up and walk around it would increase so quickly that all I wanted to do was lay back down. I was beginning to feel like this was a big issue of concern, but I also wanted to have faith in what the doctor told me. I woke up the next morning feeling even worse and we returned to a different urgent care. They gave me fluids, and I was hoping that that would be my cure. But my heart rate was still high. They told me that I just needed to go home, eat, and drink plenty of fluids and I would be okay. But deep down, I just knew it wasn't okay.
Later that night, I felt a huge change in my mental and physical state. My intuition was really beginning to kick in, and my heart rate was becoming increasingly higher. It got so bad that I didn't even want to walk to the bathroom. I had the feeling that something was really wrong, so I told my boyfriend that we needed to go to the ER. By that point, I already felt that I needed to mentally prepare myself for some bad news, and to be admitted to the hospital. It's strange how sometimes we just know things, and I knew I needed to listen to my heart. It had never felt this way before, and it was obviously in distress.
As soon as they checked me into the ER, they noticed my heart rate was way too high. I had walked from the hallway to their entry and my heart rate was at 140. And I was feeling light as a feather all over my body. They took me back, and I laid in this white room that almost seemed like a bad dream. My doctor proceeded to ask me many questions and told me I looked pretty pale. They took my blood, and found my blood hemoglobin levels were very low. A normal level for a woman is between a 12-14. I was at a 4.6.
Holy shit. What does that even mean? That's how I felt. Why had I not felt any pain? What was happening to me? This is when your mind can't help but wonder and think the worst things. The doctor then began to ramble off a list of things that could be potentially be the culprit. That was not a fun thing to listen to. But a few things were certain: I was bleeding internally, I had lost a lot of blood, and I would need 3-4 blood transfusions right off the bat. I was admitted that night and sent up to ICU. The first test they wanted to run would be an endoscopy to see if I had bleeding in my stomach. I wanted to have hope that the first test would be the one where we would get answers and I could be released.
The following morning, three of my closest girlfriends—Maggie, Nicole, and Katie—came to be by my side and brought me flowers and a Beatles album I could listen to when I went home. My dearest friend Michelle visited too, and she brushed my hair, gave me a facial, and, most of all, gave me incredible emotional support. My boyfriend sat by my side and his parents came right away. I felt so loved and cared for, and all of the company helped time go by faster.
In the early evening, I was able to have the endoscopy that I needed—many of the doctors that I'd spoken to thought my bleeding might've been caused by a stomach ulcer, and that's one thing they wanted to check for. They put me under, and I remember waking up to hear my boyfriend and his parents say, "that's the best news"! I couldn't wait to hear. The doctor told them I had a tear in my esophagus that caused the bleeding (as a result of the vomiting a few days before), but it had already healed and I would be probably released the next day. It seemed too good to be true, and it was.
The main doctor over the hospital noticed that my heart rate was not going back down and my blood pressure was dipping as well. She also wasn't convinced that my blood loss was only a result of the esophagus tear. That meant more tests, a longer hospital stay, and the threat of a bigger issue at hand. This news was difficult for me to deal with, and I realized that when you are a patient in a hospital, your mental strength and attitude is the only thing you have left to control when you feel this helpless and your body is so vulnerable.
That night, I felt more mortal than I ever have before. My boyfriend had fallen asleep, and I sat in the quiet of the night, alone with my thoughts. It had been a couple days of testing with no answers to speak of, and my heart rate was still high, even after three blood transfusions. I started to feel overcome by anxiety and fear. I knew I wasn't invincible, and that seemingly healthy people die every day. I was not above that. I said a prayer. I wanted to be accepting of whatever the outcome would ultimately be. I told God I was grateful for the life I have been given. That I have been able to fulfill a lot of my artistic dreams through him, that I was so happy to have so many wonderful friends and loved ones, a compassionate boyfriend, and that I had traveled the world and seen many beautiful things. I wanted to accept that if this was it, that I was grateful for the 34 years I had been given. I also prayed that if I was able to continue living, that he would be able to allow me to share my story and make more art to help bring comfort to those in similar circumstances. And also allow it to help me heal and process this all out.
The next day, they finally decided to do a chest CT scan to see if I had a blood clot in my lungs. This is something that happens to many people when they travel abroad on long haul flights; if your blood doesn't circulate in your legs enough, it can cause a clot that will eventually break free from your leg when you are mobile again and travel to your lungs or other areas in your body. Blood clots in your lungs can be fatal, and in fact 1 in 4 people who get them, die from them. (I didn't know this at the time.) But once they told me they were doing the CT scan, I knew they would find something there. It seemed like the most logical answer to my condition.
After the test, I was sitting in my bed in ICU with my boyfriend and his parents when the main doctor called me and told me they had found a clot. She said that I would need blood thinners to dissolve the clot, and that I would need to be on blood thinners in a pill form upon my release. But they also needed to test other areas of my body to make sure I didn't have any more clots. When you have one, you can sometimes have multiple ones. Scary, right? Luckily, the colonoscopy and heart and leg sonograms didn't find any other clots, and the blood thinners were at work to help me heal. My body was getting a real cleanse, and a tune up! Haha. I had to laugh at some of these things in order to get me through. The night of my colonoscopy prep, I had the funniest nurses and technicians who helped me to get through and laugh about it.
When I was finally upgraded to stable condition, I felt hope. And ultimately when my body began to become more stable (when they finally took out the IVs that I had in both arms), I felt so free and happy. I felt like I had begun to win a battle. I ended up in the hospital from Saturday night to Thursday evening, and in those 5 days I cannot believe the whirlwind of emotions I felt. I know for a fact that I could not have survived without the amazing care from the hospital at Dekalb Medical, the sweet nurses and technicians, and all my family and friends sending me love and support. And my Instagram followers too! I needed the sunshine of positivity and well wishes to shut the dark thoughts out of my mind. Also, watching Dave Chappelle host Saturday Night Live on my laptop really lifted my spirits up, and a night of eating my favorite takeout pizza in our hospital room with my boyfriend and his family was one of those bittersweet moments of the experience that I'll never forget.
My heart goes out to those who have experienced—or had someone they love experience—similar circumstances. I think I'm still wrapping my head around what happened. And a way to let go of this and move forward in a positive way, I have painted some works and also am sharing this post as a form to let go. I want to do nothing but to put messages of hope and love out into the world. I'm grateful that my art allows me to open that door for a conversation of love, hope and positivity. There is always beauty to be found, even in the dark moments in life. And I'm glad I was able to see everyone around me step up to the plate for me. It makes me want to be the same for others.
Wishing you a fabulous New Year!