The Voices of Survivors
Many of my friends and family would describe me as a survivor. I agree. I am a survivor. On February 13, 1997, biological warfare was waged on my body. I lost several battles before I eventually won the war. I lived. I survived. And like many veterans of war, I lost limbs in the battle. The loss of my legs and my right arm, below the elbow were casualties of the Strep A bacterial infection that entered my blood stream, and began eating me alive from the inside out, almost declaring victory. It wasn’t until I regained consciousness, forty five days later, that I realized what had happened to me- the full ramifications of that war left my life reeling out of control, left me a triple amputee, and re-defined me as person. On February 13, 1997, my life was changed irrevocably- permanently- forever.
If I told you that my recovery was an easy one, that I hit all obstacles in my path head on, and that I was driven by my sunny disposition to get better, I’d be lying to you. Once I became totally lucid and aware of what all had happened to me and what little I was left with, I came undone. I knew I was out of the woods as far as living was concerned, but I had to figure out how I was going to live. I was overwhelmed, I was desperate, and frankly I was holding on simply because I didn’t know what else to do. I became a prisoner of my own war.
Two events occurred soon after I came out of my coma, which held life altering consequences for me. The first one came from the doctor who flew with me on the fight for life helicopter. He would stop by my room-still in ICU- and greet me with a cheery “Good morning miracle lady.” I am the first to admit that his words were not connecting with my heart. I was angry that he continued with this daily repartee, because frankly, I didn’t feel like any one’s miracle.
I stopped him one morning, dead in his tracks, before he got his usual greeting out. I asked him why he called me “miracle lady”. He told me that during our flight, my heart stopped twice. When we landed at Porter hospital, and met the ICU team who was assigned to my case, one of my nurses asked him what my prognosis was. Was I going to make it she implored? And his response was, “If she makes it through the night, it will be nothing less than miraculous.” He looked at me with the most tender and sincere smile, “and that’s why I call you ‘miracle lady.”’
It was that very moment hearing his words that I felt my life literally do a “180”. I felt enormous gratitude that I had survived a death sentence. I had not a clue of how close I had come to not having a life, and came face to face with my own mortality. The full knowledge of knowing that I was fighting the war- even on an unconscious level- was almost unbelievable and certainly overwhelming. This time, however, I was overwhelmed with the knowledge of how close I had come to dying, and overwhelmed with gratitude that I had survived. Believe me being overwhelmed with gratitude is far better than being overwhelmed by depression. That very morning of that very conversation gave me an opportunity to choose between going forward with a new life or staying stuck, wanting a life that no longer existed.
The second event came shortly after that. I was having a particularly difficult evening. Even though I knew now that I was going to live, and I was tremendously grateful for my life, I was still desperately ill. I began to panic. Missing three limbs and half of my chest literally stripped down to my rib cage, I was painfully aware of what I had left to work with. I lay there wondering how I was going to manage my two small children, a husband, a home, my job… I began a mantra of “how am I going to make it?” I was spiraling down that tunnel of fear and desperation. I had my eyes closed, and my hand resting on my pillow close to my head. My frantic mantra was playing over and over again in my mind.
And then amidst my panic, I felt something shift. My fear subsided a little, and my thundering heart began to slow. I felt the calm in my chest before it reached the other parts of me. I had an inkling of something refreshing like the way the air smells right before a rain shower on a summer’s day, and then I felt it entirely. An incredible presence in the small confines of my hospital room enveloped me. I sensed a giant hand encompassing my battered useless hand, which was lying next to my head on the pillow. I knew what it was without looking. The words “I am with you” were spoken in my ear. My desperate mantra uttered seemingly so long ago, was replaced with peace, with a settled calm within my soul. As I opened my eyes, I saw an amazingly beautiful Ivory Gold light shimmering right by me. That light held for me more love, and more peace than was imaginable. I was transcended, and forever transformed within mere seconds.
My nurse came running into my room. She was well aware that something had happened. I was hooked up to many monitors reading my vital signs, and those readings were sent to a central area in the ICU. When the person monitoring the read-outs noticed that my vital signs were rapidly changing, he alerted my nurse.
“What just happened?” She said as she flew into my room.
“Oh Sarah,” I was crying now, “I just saw my angel.
She had witnessed indirectly what I had witnessed directly. The evidence came from the changes in my vital signs. My blood pressure, which had been precariously low, had increased to a normal state. My heart, which had been racing, or what the doctors had referred to as “tachycardia,” had slowed to a normal rhythm, and my blood/ oxygen level which had been low increased to a healthy normal level.
She wrapped her arms around me, both of us in awe of this incredible life altering event. I knew without reservation that I was going to live and live well. I had survived totally, and completely. I had survived another battle! And I finally recognized that I could claim total victory over the war! I started anew, and never looked back.
It took me almost six months to get out of the hospital, out of rehab, and back home. It took me almost a year to reclaim my role as mother and wife. When I left my family, my baby had just turned a year old. My oldest son was four. When I re-entered my life- my home- nothing was the same. My baby had no idea who I was, and my four year old was terrified to go to sleep every night. He was certain that when he awakened in the mornings I would either be gone again, or dead. I had a lot of work to do bonding with my little guy, and re-establishing trust with my older son. To say that it was heartbreakingly sad and difficult would be an understatement, but I dug in and began the work of healing me and my family.
I used every survivor’s tool I had acquired in the hospital for the repairs. I woke up every morning grateful for another day, with the determination to make it a good one. I recognized that every second with my children and my husband was a gift. I had desire, I had determination, and I had purpose. There was a reason why I had been given a second chance, and I wasn’t about to squander it.
When the other shoe dropped, I again opened up that survivor’s tool box. Because I had lived through my own tragedy and survived, I was much better equipped to handle the events which would once again rock my family.
A year and a half after I had come home, my husband Michael was diagnosed with stage four, adrenal cortical carcinoma. He died twenty months after his diagnosis. I was devastated, and left to pick up the pieces of three broken hearts. I dragged all three of us back up on the proverbial horse, and we eventually began to ride it. My children and I began our long journey of healing. Our battle cry was “one foot in front of the other.” We won the war. And once again my life was changed-irrevocably-permanently-forever.
We still have obstacles to overcome, and sometimes the odds seem skewed and stacked against us, but we continue our battle cry. We move forward, we don’t look back, and we live each and every day as survivors.
I have had a wonderful opportunity to meet many people through different projects of which I have been part. I meet with individuals who have survived limb loss, or are faced with amputation. I have facilitated a support group for amputees, and have helped families deal with the effects of cancer. I run into survivors everywhere I go. I have heard stories that have raised the hair on the back of my neck. I have heard stories which have been heartbreaking, and devastating. But always, the survivors of those stories leave me feeling up-lifted and inspired.
I want to shout these stories to the rafters! I want everyone to have a chance to hear the stories of survivors, because without a doubt those stories will leave the listener changed, and changed for the better. So, the question begs how am I going to do this? How can I share my own story and other survivor stories with the masses?
Here is the answer. I am asking people from all over, from all walks of life, to share their stories of being a survivor with me. My intent is to compile these stories and put them in a book. And my desire is to have that book published, and get it out into the world. I truly believe that the world needs to hear “The Voices of Survivors”.
I am asking anyone who has a survivor’s story to share, or if anyone knows a survivor whose story needs to be heard, to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put “survivor story” in the reference line. Each person whose story appears in the book will be recognized as a contributor to this book.
I am asking everyone to share this blog with everyone you know….there are survivors everywhere in this world, who need to be heard.