From Living to Dying and Back

by close the books

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Read how a prenursing student goes from living, to dying to thriving. See how this experience has changed my view of life, death and interactions with clients. Come with me on my journey and see how my belief in myself as well as encouragement has enabled me to continue on despite the odds. Come take a trip with me to a busy telemetry unit in Northeastern US where this story begins.

  1. 18

    From Living to Dying and Back

    As I lay in the hospital bed, hooked up to a monitor, I wondered how long I had left. As I heard them resuscitating my roommate, I contemplated my mortality. Was it not just a month ago that I had taken my entrance exam to nursing school? I was supposed to be the one taking care of patients, and here I was on strict bed rest, not even allowed to get out of bed for a shower. And I lay here wondering how much longer I would be alive.

    I had been falling a lot in the weeks prior to my hospitalization. Some of these incidences were issues of balance, but most of the time I had passed out. In the span of five days, I had fractured my ankle, sprained my wrist, and fallen on the way out of the emergency room. Over those five days, I had fallen five times. Each of these incidences was serious enough to necessitate an emergency room evaluation.

    On the fifth day, I arrived at the emergency room after someone found me passed out on the street, and the doctors decided that there might be something more serious going on. I was immediately transferred from the Fast track area of the Emergency Room to a bed, hooked up to a monitor, and told that I would be admitted to the Cardiac Care Unit within the hour. I remember thinking, not only am I on a monitor and being admitted to a cardiac unit, but they’re expediting my admission. There must be something really serious going on.

    I arrived on the unit, was transferred to a bedside monitor, and situated in bed. Then I decided that I needed to use the restroom. So, I got out of bed, put my soft cast on, took the monitoring device, and headed to the restroom. As soon as I closed the door, I proceeded to black out and fall. I was awoken by three or four healthcare workers standing over me. Apparently my monitor had alerted them to my fall, and they had run in. Of course, I was brought back to my bed and put on strict bed rest. I was not allowed to leave my bed, except by way of stretcher, until my discharge.

    As I lay in bed that first night in the hospital, I looked through the contacts on my phone. Was there anybody who I needed to make up with before I died? During those first two days in the hospital, I called people I hadn’t spoken to for months or years, I begged people who had done me wrong to forgive me, and I asked sworn enemies to come and visit me in what I thought would be my last days. I didn’t really stop and think about the fact that I was just hospitalized for testing. In my mind, I was dying, and I didn’t want to die before I tied up all loose ends.

    My roommate was a ninety-two year old lady. Her children would come every day, and as she lay unconscious, her children would argue about treatment methods. Her daughter advocated allowing her to die peacefully, while her son felt that they should fight to the end. I lay there listening to their arguments and thought about how if families would communicate more earlier on in life, it would be easier to make such decisions. It’s interesting how one track minded you become when you are faced with death.

    One night, when neither her son nor her daughter was present, my roommate coded. Because her family had not come to a decision regarding her care, the hospital proceeded to administer CPR, defibrillation, and other forms of life support. Unfortunately, they were not successful in bringing her back to life. As I listened from behind the curtain, I wondered, “Would I be next?”

    While the nights were fraught with worry, the days were full of tests. I had an electrocardiogram, an echocardiogram, a tilt table test, and a stress test. And all of them came back normal. The doctors were stumped. It appeared that there was something wrong, and yet they could not find the cause. They spent hours reviewing all of the tests I had ever had at that hospital. Because of all of my falls, I had quite a few radiographic images of my brain and head. One of the doctors suggested that perhaps they do more neurological testing because there was, as they told me “What appears to be a malformation in the brain.”

    At that time, I, like most lay people, did not have much of an inkling as to what that meant, but when I heard, “malformation in the brain”, the first thing I thought of was a brain tumor. So I thought to myself, “I guess I’m not going to die right away. I guess I have a few months to play with.” I gave up on my dream to become a nurse, I quit the job that I hadn’t even started yet, and I started thinking about how I should spend the next few months. I also called a friend of mine who had a brain tumor removed when she was in high school. I begged her to come and keep me company until I received my official diagnosis.

    I was transferred to a medical unit to wait for the results of the MRIs. I had difficulty sleeping, I couldn’t eat, I lost seven pounds, I cried, and I prayed. Finally, on Monday, one week after I had been admitted, the doctors came in and told me that they had verified my diagnosis of Chiari I Malformation. In about two sentences, they described this as a condition in which the cerebellum is herniated through the foramen magnum. They then told me that I was discharged and that I had an appointment with the neurologist in two weeks.

    An hour later I was home, sitting in front of the computer, doing the worst thing possible. I was Google searching “Chiari I Malformation” for hours and hours. I found out that I would need a surgery, after which there would be at least six months of recovery time, that I would have horrible quality of life, and that I would always be in pain. Imagine my shock when the neurologist considered this a minor disorder, encouraged me to go to nursing school, and told me that I would be able to get rid of my pain!

    I graduated nursing school 1 month ago. Those years as a nursing student were very difficult. There were semesters that I thought I wouldn't make it. The pain was so bad. I fell often. There were a few occasions that I came straight from the ED to a class. I studied for exams with the lights off because of excruciating migraines. I almost dropped out of my program three times.

    I can only credit my completion of the program to the support that I had from my fellow students, professors, and health care providers. Their belief in me was a crucial component to my perseverance. The encouragement that they gave me was my lifeline. I credit them with my graduation.
    Last edit by Joe V on Jan 30
    annaotis, 117800, SWM2009, and 15 others like this.
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  3. About close the books

    I am a recent graduate of an AAS in nursing, currently pursuing my BSN and job hunting. I enjoy writing, reading, and playing with tots.

    close the books joined Apr '12 - from 'Brooklyn, NY, US'. Posts: 217 Likes: 166; Learn more about close the books by visiting their allnursesPage


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    18 Comments so far...

  4. 1
    WOW!! This is a well-written story of courage, tenacity and drive! What a wonderful knowledge base to bring to nursing! Not every nurse truly understands being ill, worrying about diagnoses. testing and results. You fought a long hard battle and WON. Welcome to this crazy nursing world!!!
    close the books likes this.
  5. 1
    I think that one of the main things that I learned from this experience that will hopefully benefit my patients is that we cannot expect patients to "get it". I knew what telemetry was, I knew basics of cardiac physiology, but I had no way to know that an expedited admission to that unit for monitoring did NOT mean I was dying. I think that it is essential to make sure that our patients are given the opportunities to express questions and concerns.
    anon456 likes this.
  6. 2
    thanks mds1,

    However, this is a lifelong battle. I have this condition, and I need to understand that it may effect me at any time. However, that is one of my major motivators. I know that the dice may be stacked against me. I know that I'm not expected to succeed.

    I will shock them all!
    117800 and anon456 like this.
  7. 1
    Chills....been there.
    Thanks for sharing!
    close the books likes this.
  8. 1
    Quote from LadyFree28
    Chills....been there.
    Thanks for sharing!
    I have often read your articles and been inspired through them. I should have also listed that as one of the things that helped me get through.
    LadyFree28 likes this.
  9. 0
    Wow, what an experience! You are amazing and a tough cookie! I'm so sorry you had to go through that. It will make you a good nurse. I am PMing you.
  10. 1
    Quote from anon456
    Wow, what an experience! You are amazing and a tough cookie! I'm so sorry you had to go through that. It will make you a good nurse. I am PMing you.
    You know what they say, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger"!
    LadyFree28 likes this.
  11. 0
    You've been through a lot. All I can say is, you've been who you are. Stay strong and healthy. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.
  12. 0
    Congrats on getting through school, especially in the face of your health issues! I'll be there in a few months, and I know the phrases "whatever doesn't kill you makes me stronger," and "never say 'whoa' on a hard pull," will help get me through.

    I am interested to hear what supports your school was able to provide, and if and how the "brain hernia" affects your career. Please continue sharing your journey if you are comfortable doing so.


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