The Woman Inside
All mirrors were removed from my sight. I was not to see myself as I was now, lying in my fifth consecutive hospital room after I had awoken from a 3 month coma.
I grew up self confident about my looks. Not to say I didn’t have insecurities, because I did, but not about the way I looked. Through the years, that became the one thing I was told that I had going for me, my image. I longed to be talented in other ways but I felt deficient. I wasn’t a great student or athlete in my youth. I was just attractive in a way that people noticed. That became my THING.
Who knew I would lose the very thing I felt good about? When you are challenged with loss you have to develop other strengths, like fortitude, patience, humility, courage, and STRENGTH. My biggest test was yet to come….
My first cogent memory as I was slowly coming out of toxic and septic shock was a pair of doctors stopping by my hospital room. My bed covers were off of me, and the young handsome doctor looked away immediately. I was puzzled by this because I had smiled at him, but he looked as if he were ashamed to look at me. I shrugged it off, thinking he must feel embarrassed looking at a patient so scantily dressed.
Scantily dressed! I was a living corpse, a skeleton with no hair and dead black fingers and feet! On top of already being a slim person, I had lost 50 pounds. I ‘m 5’8”, and the first time I was weighed I was only 90 pounds. That’s 30 pounds under weight! I truly looked skeletal.
I was to learn later that this seasoned doctor had never seen such a pitiful sight. In all his years as a top surgeon at Northwestern Hospital, the sight of me truly shocked and dismayed him. Years later when I met him again, he didn’t recognize me. I had to explain who I was, and only then he admitted that he had been so frightened for me that he had doubted I could recover. But this time, he joked with me and complimented me. I was back on familiar ground.
The other doctor, my dear Doctor Pearse, looked at me kindly from the first moment we met in those dark days. He spoke with all the charm, warmth, and guile in the world. I felt feminine, human and cared for by this great man.
Doctor Pearse became my lifeline, my grandfatherly surgeon who made me feel like things could turn around for me, repeatedly telling me that “the body is a wonderful machine- it can do some incredible healing”. He never made me feel abnormal or hopeless. In his eyes I was still beautiful and bright.
I stayed in several more hospitals for 4 more months after I woke from my long sleep. My limbs had lost their blood supply while I was fighting for my life, and I worked diligently in rehab so I was actually able to walk the moment my prosthetic leg was fitted. I had trained hard and had always been fit. That served me well and I was able to graduate very quickly from outpatient rehab. I willed myself to walk limp free almost immediately, instead of enduring months of outpatient rehab, I opted to do mainstream yoga, Pilates, and weights at my local health club.
One year out, I went to visit Doctor Pearse at the hospital. I had been trying in vain to reconnect with him over that year to no avail. Finally, we were face to face hugging and smiling. He just kept staring at me with happy disbelief. Doctor Pearse had never seen me standing, in all those months, nor had he seen me with hair or any weight on me at all. He then told me that in his 42 years of practicing medicine, he had never seen a recovery as dramatic as mine. For someone that far over the edge, coming back was nothing short of miraculous!
“Kill Bill” starring Uma Thurman as an embattled warrior, had been his favorite movie, and he joked that my plight had been more harrowing than her screen character, Beatrix Kiddo. For that, Doctor Pearse nicknamed me “Kiddo”
I confided to Doctor Pearse that my existing partial foot was still in unbearable pain, and I had an open wound on the top of it that was still seeping pus continually. Something was very wrong with my foot, and I was always affected by the pain. After visiting a league of specialists, I was told I had osteomyelitis, a severe bone infection, and was in real danger of losing what was left of my surviving foot.
Although I was walking and talking now, my problems were far from over. I had come light years from my vegetative state, but after all that time and rehabilitation I still had a serious infection coursing through my body, threatening not only my foot but my overall health. I could very well suffer a relapse if I was not careful.
Our plan for recovery was a lengthy one. I was first to undergo 8 months of a strong antibiotic IV which was attached to my arm. Jeff had to administer 3 doses a day. I then graduated to the next 9 months of hyperbaric oxygen therapy which entails 4 hours a day, 4 days a week in a sealed tank underneath the hospital in a sterile laboratory. Sound like torture? It was actually heaven compared to what I had already endured! I then underwent another surgery on my foot to try to take out the infection in my bones and rebuild those same bones with a putty solution used by neurologists. I was then unable to walk for another 8 weeks.
Another casualty at this time was my eyesight. Because of all these radical treatments, my eyes developed cataracts! For a time, I wore glasses until I underwent eye surgery to remove the glaze that had grown over my eyes and impeded my vision.
After all this was completed, I was so physically exhausted that I struggled to stay awake. I was barely able to function at all, and was completely unpredictable. I couldn’t even drive when these “spells” came on. I had to keep going for my family, and I was so determined to still lead a productive and active life. I forced myself to go to exercise and often would fall asleep during class!
Next, I went for doctor prescribed immunity treatments called IVIG, which are blood transfusions administered in a chemo lab to bolster your immune system. After 4 months of immunotherapy I then decided to turn to eastern medicine.
With the help of a healing counselor, I went on a health cleanse. We concluded that after all these various medications, treatments, and infections, it was an important part of my recovery to rid my body of all the toxins and regenerate my blood and organs through clean eating and drinking. Organic fresh fruits, vegetables, and loads of vitamin supplements became my medicine. I still subscribe to healthy eating and believe it is one of our best defenses against sickness.
This is a small synopsis of my long difficult journey back to health. It has been a six year odyssey thus far. I have tried many times to overview my experience, but there are still many layers to this story.
Through it all, what was most important to me was, and still is, my relationships with my family and friends. I want my children to have good happy lives in spite of our hardships. It all comes down to me and my attitude. I have to be fun, loving, and involved. I have trained my mind to accept and live with the constant physical pain. I cannot control it, but I will not let it control me, or our lives.
I try to smile often because smiling is contagious. I try not to complain much because that only brings everyone down. I want our lives to be good regardless.
I feel that becoming angry and bitter would lower me as a person. I want to preserve my dignity. I did not let it defeat me in my darkest days in those hospitals, and I will not let it defeat me now. It is a matter of pride, and a gift to my loved ones.
Anyone who has lost limbs can tell you that you feel as though you are on fire, like you are burning at the stake. It takes all your energy and focus not to go mad from the pain.
It’s a constant reminder of that moment 6 years ago when everything changed in an instant without warning.
6 years later… lessons learned? Not really. I always embodied the very qualities that became more apparent while dealing with this huge tragedy. To those who knew me, they had faith I would pull through with tenacity and courage. To those that didn’t, I pleasantly surprised them.
I have managed to put myself back together, piece by piece so that I look the same as before. And very often, many people forget all that has happened to me. But it is impossible for me to ever forget the woman inside.
Writen by Penny Fisher
Penny Fisher has not only survived an unbelievable trauma, but also she has thrived. She is working on her memoir, and is available as a motivational speaker and mentor. To contact her, email: [email protected].