Chapter 1:1 Brain Salad Surgery
It was almost three o’clock in the afternoon before my eyes fluttered quickly, then opened. The artificial light in the intensive care unit at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City glared back at me. Disoriented, I squinted up from the hospital bed. A smile backlit a face that seemed too close. My husband Tom. His deep green eyes twinkled in the harsh light. I struggled to make sense of his bright expression. Bewildered, I reached up and attempted to get some sense of space.
Tom’s mouth moved and I strained against a brain that seemed made of cotton. Words entered and got stuck in the fibers before I could make sense of them. His cheery tone kept pulling at me, forcing me to wake out of the anesthetic fog. I had gone into surgery at 6:30 a.m. Now I longed for the unconsciousness of the operating theatre.
Moaning, I shut my eyes and tried to turn toward the wall, away from him and the others in the room. I couldn’t move my legs. I was aware that I must have survived brain surgery, but I wasn’t sure I felt happy about it. I tried to take stock of my condition. I didn’t know what I expected to feel like when waking up but this wasn’t it. This was bad. Frightened and bewildered, I went back to sleep.
Hours later, fully awake, I thought about that look of joy on my husband’s face. It had been quite awhile since I had seen it. We had both weathered our share of storms since our wedding in 1994. The stress of moving across two states, blending families, a new job that didn’t work out, and a business venture that did but took a ton of sweat equity, had taken their toll.
The first strong tempest hit six years after we said I do. Soon after Tom had started his business with a piece of paper and a dream, I fell down a flight of stairs at our Victorian cottage in Montana and broke my neck. His first year of struggling to make break-even was spent running back and forth between the office and our home to help me to the bathroom, feed me, and then help me back in bed before running back to work.
Within a year of that fall I became dramatically addicted to Oxycontin, a powerful drug doctors believed was relatively harmless at that time. “How long can I take this stuff?” I had asked each of my team of medical professionals. “Oh, for a long time,” they all concurred. But one day Tom came home to find me gray and almost lifeless on the bathroom floor. I had been prescribed Oxycontin, Prozac, and Ambien and was taking them at the same time. An extra pain patch had sent me into seizures the night before.
My physician decided the best way to help me was to get me off of everything at once. “The first three days will be the hardest,” he said. Without scaling back or cutting down, he stopped all prescriptions, throwing me into opiate and anti-depressant withdrawal immediately. Ice water flowed through my veins as I lay in bed or on the living room floor. My legs shook and kicked uncontrollably. I threw sheets and blankets onto the rug as my body attempted to sweat the drugs out my pores. Other times, I piled the blankets high, chilled to the bone. I raged. “Lord? Could you please just let me get run over by a truck?” I prayed. It was six excruciating weeks before I began to feel like I was going to make it.
With the pain reinforcements gone, I had nothing with which to fight against the unrelenting spasming in my neck and upper back. I couldn’t lift my head without bringing on a sharp knife-like jab between my shoulder blades. I continued to attend church as much as I could but invariably a hug by a friend sent me home in excruciating agony. Everyone seemed so sure that the Lord was going to heal me. When asked how I was, the truth of my suffering was met with looks of disappointment. One woman told me that I had allowed Satan to steal my ministry, sure that a demon had pushed me down the stairs and that was why I was no longer working. Eventually, I stopped showing up.
The voice of the angel of death was beginning to seem like a comforting companion. If this is my life I didn’t want any part of it. How long Lord? I can’t take this torture much longer. And then something totally unexpected happened.
…and call me in that day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will honor me. (Psalm 50:15)
This is the first in a series I am posting that is part of a manuscript of my memoir, “Becoming Who I Might Have Been.” Stayed tuned if you are interested in reading it for free on this website. Better yet, sign up to receive updates straight to your email inbox. But mostly, please comment or ask questions in the comment section below. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.