The Nightmare

The sound of sucking. Such a loud and foreign sound that I imagined there was a rat living next to me. Sucking on his food, growing larger. I couldn’t move away. I was trapped.
Sights and sounds.

Sight. Three pairs of big black claws, so scary that I went back to sleep to get rid of the nightmare I surely thought I was having. But I awaken to the same daunting sights and sounds. Suddenly I see a welcome and familiar face looking serenely back at me. It is Pam, my beloved sister in law. I try to tell her what is bothering me, but I am having trouble speaking and my voice is altered and sounds inhuman. I sound like a robot. I ask Pam about the  growing rat beside me and the visions of black claws. Pam will make everything okay — she always does. Her face changes for a moment, “hmmm let me see … No rats here; we are in the cleanest hospital,” she reports. Hospital? I didn’t even know where I was. Pam recognizes the sound that I am describing to her. She realizes that the “sucking”noise is from my oxygen support machine, I look beside me. I am hooked up to a device that makes a foreign noise. There are tubes coming from my throat connecting me to this machine that helps me breathe. I now notice another tube coming from my belly button.

Okay. Pam was able to make sense of the noise and assure me that no rat was living beside me. Now could she explain away the claws to make them also innocuous? Pam’s smooth intelligent face sets into an expression of resolute sympathy. “Penny, I’m sorry my love.”
This is real.I go back to sleep. I hope I can sleep forever and not face what is waiting for me. I wake up again to the sound of Jeff’s flat voice. “Penny, why are you shaking your head like that?” I don’t know. I guess it feels good. I try to stop. I lay back down and there is an explosion of pain coming from my skull. I try to scream but my throat is still blocked from that tube. I look down again and see the black claws. I pass out again and sleep for an interminable amount of time.

I awaken to the presence of multiple doctors and nurses. Pam and my father in law, Marshall, are sitting beside me. They both explain in a soft but matter-of-fact way that I have been sleeping for almost three months. I had a condition called Toxic Shock Syndrome “TSS” and I had been on death’s door for a very long time. The good news: I’m back. I’m sane. My loved ones have all been here with me and will continue to support me. Just by staying alive I have done a very brave and selfless thing for all the people who love me, namely my two young children, Ross and Sloan.

The bad news: Those limbs are no longer alive.My mind grabbed all the positive news it could. I was in survival mode. And that’s how I survive — with optimism. I was going to come back better and stronger. Everyone will see. I fell back asleep again. I could hear conversations going on. There were a lot of visitors. A steady stream of doctors and nurses. Always a few friends and family members were present. I didn’t listen to their conversations but I was touched that my friends who meant so much to me had bonded with Jeff’s family who were now as close as blood family. That’s where my brain always lands. With my heart. As bad as things were, I felt warm and cozy surrounded by love and caring.

Some of the time I heard  whispers about my black claws. What would happen to them, to me? How would we proceed?
I heard the word amputation more than a few times. Once, a young intern directed that conversation to me. I just went back to sleep. A kind surgeon came in. He was smiling and joking with me. He looked familiar. He told me not to give up hope and that the body is a wonderful miracle and things can heal. He said that I had shown that already. He said miracles can happen: In fact he said he was looking at one right now … Me!

IMG_4260 I chose to believe that everything would be alright. Somehow it would work out. Maybe my limbs would regenerate, I somehow hoped. If not, we would figure out a solution. There’s usually a solution. Right? In my case not.
So what does one do when faced with a situation that is difficult and permanent? One option is to give up. To basically not go on living. I have two kids — I could not do that to them.The only other option was to make the best of a bad situation and move on.

Reconstruct and recreate your life to the best of your ability. The latter is what I chose to do.

Ultimately my marriage did not survive my catastrophe. My husband and I divorcing is another situation that can be painful or can work out, depending on how it’s perceived by me. Once again, I choose the latter and welcome a new beginning.



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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: