I survived to find my purpose

I grabbed my laptop and decided to write this at my kitchen table. As I sat down I almost played out word for word of how this entry was going to go. It went like this. I sat down at my kitchen table and opened up my laptop, and fired up WordPress… The door bell rang.

This is going to be a raw, real post and it may not be too pretty. But I wanted to put this out there incase anyone else is going through something and needs something up lifting. Back when I was 17 years old, my family and I went on a trip to beautiful New York City, it was amazing. The history that radiates off the old buildings as you walk by, the business people doing their thing and the other tourists just as mesmerized and captivated as me filled the streets. We walked miles upon miles and absorbed as much of the city as we possibly could. We went during Easter Break when my brother and I had some time off of school. My family and I decided to go down to Times Square on Easter Sunday to check it out at night. What we didn’t expect was to be met with SWAT teams and being instructed that the area was not safe and it was suggested we go elsewhere. What was happening (unbeknownst to us all) Was a massive beef between 1000s of bloods and Crips, literally each side walking their respective sides of Times. The energy buzzing off the crowd was like nothing I’ve ever felt. There was an uneasiness. Being a white kid from small town Alberta, I’d never seen a black person in our town, but having recently moved to the City of Calgary, I was becoming a little more familiar with cultural differences and the acceptance that people are people no matter who or what color or country they came from. I’d always been raised this way so the color of their skin wasn’t a hate related observation, it was the first time in my life I felt like a minority, and it was overwhelming to be right in the middle of a buzzing beehive of hatred and anger. One wrong move or action from either side and I feel it would’ve been a headline of “Calgary family caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.” The story was just waiting to be written.

Was it smart to be in the middle of it? Absolutely not. But for some reason my mum decided that come hell or high water we were going to check out the lights and that this was apart of life. I think she was oblivious, or feeling invincible that this was a place for families, the SWAT team directing us away should have been her first clue. If I could repeat the experience I wouldn’t. Terrifying to put it lightly.

A few days later I woke up with an extremely sore stomach, I’d chalked it up to it being that Time of the Month when females get a special little visitor. Special is what my Grandma called it. I now refer to it as the “Thank god I’m not pregnant, visitor” – I’m kidding, well, kind of. So that morning I was popping Extra Strength Advil, Tylenol, anything that is supposed to relieve pain. This was odd, nothing took the edge off. I got out of my PJ’s and threw on my comfy pair of jeans, as I was doing them up the button on them blasted across the room. My Mum laughed and said maybe I’d had a little too much street food, and would have to hit the gym when I got back home. I knew there was more to this. In some weird way it was a dramatic foreshadowing of what was to come.

That afternoon we were leaving to head home. We had to fly from NYC to Toronto with a 2-3 hour layover in Toronto and then fly to Calgary. I was popping pain pills like they were tictacs. My parents had no Idea how many pills I’d been taking until we landed in Calgary. When I was on the plane there was no pain, once I landed it came surging back like a knife being stabbed into your abdomen, repeatedly.But in Calgary, I felt normal, almost pain-free – I should have gone to the hospital then given the pain I’d been in, but didn’t. I waited 3 days before pain overcame my body, rendering me completely useless and unable to walk. My dad suggested I go lay down for a couple of hours and see how I felt when I woke up. My dad thought it was ‘just gas’ – how embarrassing if gas can bring that kind of pain. 4 Hours later my dad asked if he should call and ambulance. I said no to the ambulance but definitely time to head to the hospital. Where my parents lived was basically off a back road about 20 minutes outside of Cochrane, when I’d taken my sports medicine class a lady who was doing a presentation said “If you’re close to Cochrane go to the Emergency room there” We drove down a pot hole filled back country road with each bump pushing my pain limit beyond its previous set mark. We drove to Cochrane and there was no such thing as an Emergency Clinic. We high tailed it to Foothills Hospital.

Little did I know, this would be my home for the next month. After waiting in the triage, having a CT Scan, they’d come to the conclusion that my appendix had burst and it was only a matter of time before the infection spread through my blood, killing me. They told me when the pain stopped after my flight with only a nagging pain that it was then my appendix had likely burst. I went in for surgery that night, but I had no idea it was something you could die over. You know in movies where they wheel you on a gurney to a certain threshold where they then tell your family member that they can’t go past? I remembered saying goodbye to my Mum and signing a waiver that basically said “If you die, we aren’t held responsible” I literally had no idea that’s what it said, by that point I was so high on Morphine. The last thing I remember hearing before going under is “10…9…8..7…”

When I woke up I had no idea what planet I was on. I remember waking up and a guy in the bed next to me staring over his bed at me like he’d just seen a dead person come back to life. I then lost consciousness when my family arrived and woke up in a strange room with 4 other women with various issues. The only thing on my mind was getting some food because I was starving. I learned you can’t have food for like a few days when you’re post op, or at least that’s what happened for me. A few days turned into about 10, before I was allowed to have shitty chicken broth or beef broth with other disgusting soft – baby food like foods. I stopped eating all together. There were complications throughout my stay, like stomach bile needing to be pumped out through a tube that was out my nose, and abscess that needed to drained which resulted in another minor surgery to put a drain in.

The part that vividly sticks out in my mind is the medication I was on, literally made you shit yourself. As disgusting as it was, please see this like I do, hilarious. There’s absolutely nothing worse than ringing a nurse to tell them you couldn’t make it to the bathroom and as a grown up you made a god damn mess of yourself. I was then put into adult diapers for about 5 days, after the cowboys and indians finished their war against my bowels. I was so high on whatever I literally imagined this. Little cowboys and indians inside me just beating me up. Indian in the cupboard was a popular movie when I was a kid, so I imagine it had some influence. When you’re sick though you don’t give a damn, how you look, how you smell, nothing. You’re so god damn high on the good stuff and fresh oxygen being pumped through your nose you begin to question how people on the outside survive without it. At least I did.

Day 23: I hadn’t eaten, really anything. They decided to install a P.I.C.C. line into my arm. I was so exhausted from everything that had happened that I bawled my eyes out. It’s a pretty simple procedure but when you’re coming off meds, haven’t eaten, lethargic and just want to die, everything is pretty overwhelming. It’s a brand new level of low. I’d say I probably sunk into a deeper depression than before I’d gone to hospital. I’d viewed my depression as teenage angst and figured it was normal. Now I was over it. They performed the procedure and screwed up. It was supposed it hit a main vein to your heart so they can pump nutrients right to the source of delivery. Instead of re-doing the procedure they turfed the idea. I was then moved into a new room, supposed to be shared with someone else, but no one ended up joining me. During this time my mum was admitted to hospital with a ruptured appendix. It was the first time doctors had ever seen or had a mother and daughter in the hospital for the exact same issue. Personally i believe my mum wished it on herself. There’s only so many times a person can say “I wish it were me instead of her” before the universe makes it happen. She was in and out 5 hours after her surgery with no down time. I visited her that day, we did take a photo together, but it got lost in oblivion, or I’d show you. This was before Facebook and that so sharing it wasn’t an option.

I was soon released after my begging the Doctor only to be back in for another week 4 days later. I lost a total of 25 lbs. I originally weighed about 140  lbs. I was disgusting, 60% of my hair fell out, I looked like I was at Deaths door. I recovered at home before enrolling into summer school. As far as I’m concerned that’s about as close to being dead as I ever want to be, until the time comes for me to go. What I will say though, is through the chaos and mayhem there’s a peaceful sense of calmness in distress. I don’t remember being scared, i remember counting down and in my mind feeling completely at peace with whatever was to come my way. I hope dying is like that. I don’t think we should be scared of something we can’t control, but I hope its peaceful, calm and beautiful like being put under was for me. Waking up was like being ‘reborn’ in a way. I faced a major uphill battle in recovery, walking, gaining weight, having my hair grow back, I wore baseball caps for about a year and a half. We’re put through experiences to grow from them. I didn’t know my lesson then, but I know it now. No matter how low life takes us, we can bounce back.

Please for the love of God if there’s a pain you can’t explain, go to the doctor. I was fortunate. Many others before and after me aren’t. A 3 hour surgery took 5.5hrs to get all the infection out. My doctor joked and said I must be made of Iron, because an infection that bad should have killed me twice. I have a purpose in this life and so do you.

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About CassieNeil

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