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Later, I drift awake, in great distress. This is way worse than I imagined. I can’t breath. I can’t move. I am in unfamiliar surroundings that seem lab-like. A woman sits outside a sliding-glass door, working on a computer. She looks at me in a curious way, seeing that I have stirred. I can tell she’s thinking that everything is fine. I’m not sure why I can’t breathe or move, or why she doesn’t seem to get that I’m having an issue here. It’s like a bad dream. Can’t she tell that I’m on the verge of drowning? Life seems so heavy on me.

The totality of everything comes rushing in. I am not drowning. I am at the hospital. They were going to operate on me — if I remember correctly — so…what happened? For a while, I felt as if I’d been transported to some twilight zone and found myself at a crossroads. I felt God communicating to me that it was okay, everything was going to be okay. I instinctively understood that to mean that I had fought enough, I had done enough, I would be forgiven if I wanted to go with Him now, that everyone would be fine if I didn’t return from this.

Then His voice becomes my sister’s. I can’t see her, but I feel like she is reassuring me, saying that it’s okay. In fact, she is saying exactly that. She appears from behind me. I’m surprised that she’s here, but my real concern is that I need her to shut up. I’m trying to make up my mind here alone. But she won’t stop with the it’s okay stuff, and it’s not okay, I’m fairly certain. I do the only thing I can, under the circumstances. I flip her the bird. I’m weak, and it’s more of a curled finger on a slightly waving hand, but she notices. The nurse thinks it can’t be, until I rotate the hand toward her. I become focused on shutting them both up, before I buy the farm, before I make up my mind whether I am even a farmer or not.

The nurse tells my sister that I am too sedated to be communicating and not to worry about me. But my sister is worrying, I can tell. Worse, she is still telling me that it’s going to be okay, when I know it isn’t. Somewhere in here, with no fanfare or warning, God withdraws His offer. Maybe it’s my hesitation, the need for more time to decide that has decided for me. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I need my right hand unbound. I need a pen and paper so I can convey a message. My sister makes that happen while the nurse ups my dose of meds. I’m too sedated to be this aware, the nurse insists. And, holy shit, the Dilaudid is hitting me hard. But I’ve been loaded before a time or two, I must admit, so I start writing what I can’t say. I’m not sure what I write on the pages — although my sister shows me the pages later, and I don’t know how she even read them, as my writing is so sloppy — but it’s clear I need that breathing machine out of my throat, and pronto. I am going to fight to live, not fight against that thing.

A couple of hours later, I am cleared to have the tube removed, and they pull it out. It is like I have won a war. I am now in charge of my breathing again. Finally, a breath when I want it, not when that machine pushes one into me. All that other stuff is still hooked up, those three IVs, but they are child’s play as far as I’m concerned. I can move a bit more, but ohh, does it hurt everywhere.

Yeah…what’s up with that? What happened with the surgery? I remember to think about that now that I have caught my breath. It’s hard to tell what’s going on, but it looks like my intestine is sticking out of my side into a clear plastic bag. I have all these bandages on my stomach, and I feel so strange. I’m horrified yet somehow indifferent. It all seems unreal. I want to panic but realize I already must have done that because I just can’t anymore. It’s as if I am on a boat, floating between wanting to overcome what is happening and wanting to pretend it isn’t happening, with neither offering safe harbor. It takes two or three days before I can accept my situation, before I realize that overcoming it is the only option left. No matter how much I sleep, I’m going to wake up from this. It looks as if I am going to stay alive.

Unbeknownst to me, during those first few days, there were two versions of the same event unfolding: mine and everyone else’s. On my end, I was busy contemplating life-and-death issues, drifting between denial and acceptance, while lying there in a suspended state. I was alternately in tremendous pain and deep in the haze of heavy-duty narcotics. This was a time of reflection, so much was weighing on me, about me. I really didn’t consider anything beyond myself. I just was lying there, trying not to move, think, or feel. But there was a hustle and bustle going on around me. I wasn’t the only one who knew I was sick. The doctor had told my family the seriousness of my situation. My sister, who had taken me to the hospital, vowed to stay with me until I recovered enough to tell her to go home to her husband and family. People who knew of my situation told others, and they collectively prayed for me, however they saw fit. My family agonized to see me like this again and endured the drama of this kind of event. The medical team hovered over me, with all the monitoring, measuring, and medicating. My employer stood by me, as they also made preparations to continue without me.

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