Good Morning Ladies,
Our We Survive stories continue. I am mixing them up a bit so we get a good spread of the stories, some are on similar subjects. Highlighting all your stories in their own way is my goal so I do not want them to blend together at all. This next survivors story is a story of strength and quite a will to live. Now this one is a bit long so grab a snack and a drink!
Here is her story:
“Her body is riddled with infection. Her will to live is unlike any I have seen from someone her age. Were there no warning signs previous to this?”
“No. No! She never said anything. We never noticed anything.”
If I could have made a sound, I would have laughed. There were signs. I mentioned my fears, my worries, my pain, many many times. Over the last 4 years, I had tried to tell my parents that something was wrong with me. I had tried to get them to understand too many times to count. But when a tube is breathing for you, there is no sound… When your throat is swollen shut so tightly that not even air can pass through it, the only thing to hear from you is silence. My mind, however, was anything but silent. So while my mother lied to my surgeon, I let my thoughts take over…
His office was like a bad 1970’s flashback. The scent of stale body odor, dust, and old shag carpet assaulted my senses as I waited to be called back to his chair. Everything in me screamed LEAVE!!! But I was two weeks away from my sweet 16. I had no authority. He looked like his office, faded and forgotten. I sat down in his old dental chair shoved against the wall and tried to occupy as little of the chair as humanly possible.
His gloved hands slowly came towards me, and I realized my mother hadn’t told them about my latex allergy. “I’m allergic to latex” is the only thing I have ever said to this man’s face, though since then, I have cursed his name to Hell and back. His halitosis blinded me as he huffed in annoyance. He ripped off the gloves and proceeded to check my teeth with his bare hands. This was not right. This was not okay.
He washed his hands in a small sink behind him, walked back to my mother. I heard snippets of ‘cavity’, CHIP only covers a portion, and $50. I hoped that meant I could leave and research my own dentist that would take our state welfare insurance. I didn’t trust him. My intuition was on fire, and there was absolutely nothing I could do. He shuffled back in and started fumbling around in a cupboard door. I sent up a prayer begging for protection, or at least a magic appearance of hand sanitizer and Listerine. Again, with bare hands he set to work, drilling, prodding, poking. I thanked the Lord for my high pain tolerance because there was no numbing either.
As we left my mother informed me I would have to come up with the remaining $50 balance. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have any money, and I never paid the bill. The notices kept coming.
I pushed through the persistent fatigue and tried to ignore the stabbing pains in my lower jaw, shoulder, lungs, and abdomen for the next year. My parents insisted it was acid reflux or heartburn. I knew it was something more. It didn’t feel right. My body felt as though it was made of sludge. My brain was fog. I didn’t feel like me. My energy levels could only maintain my bubbly personality and quick-witted dry humor for a few hours a day. I gave all of my energy to my schooling and my friends. At home, I couldn’t keep up my facade. I was on edge, and always near breaking. My family didn’t understand why I always seemed so angry. But they refused to hear me when I tried to explain, I wasn’t angry, I was exhausted. I just wanted someone to listen to me when I said something was wrong.
My liver was giving up. My heartbeat was irregular. Over the next 3 years, I lost my gallbladder, my tonsils, (which were so full of infection the ENT didn’t understand how I was still breathing) and developed re-occurring appendicitis as well as high fevers.
By sheer willpower, I graduated from high school and passed my AP class despite missing half a semesters worth of classes and having major abdominal surgery in February of my senior year.
I started cosmetology school, took a few classes at SLCC and began working at both Target and Deseret First Credit Union. I stopped trying to get someone in my family to listen. My last two surgeries they hadn’t even been there for. My friends had been the ones to drive me to and from. My family had no interest. I was being “dramatic” and a hypochondriac, or so they would say when they didn’t think I was around.
I just didn’t think it would start while I was on a group date. Worst. First. Date. Ever. I can promise you that. Nearly passing out on his kitchen floor, and then vomiting all over Copperton Park is not a good first impression. I wouldn’t have texted me back either… No hard feelings Josh. Promise.
4 days, a dental visit gone horribly wrong, and an ambulance ride later I find myself tethered to a hospital bed by wires, monitors, and tubes, staring at the faces of my parents, waiting for them to say something. I was in the Alta Hospital ICU. My throat swollen shut. A trach tube my only means of air, bandaging along my neck and under my chin. My chest was heavy, my arms and legs seemed to be floating, the taste of saline in my mouth, and my eyes full of questions. I looked at these two people in front of me. My parents, who just didn’t quite know what to say to me.
Dr. Pearl was my general surgeon. Dr. Sharm from the U of U was given special privileges at LDS hospital at the request of Dr. Meads, so he could be my new ENT, Dr. Collins was my heart surgeon. I was immediately taken to the ICU room 34, a room with the view, also a request of Dr. Meads, where I was prepped for immediate throat surgery.
Dr. Sharma put in a throat drain and permanent trach. I woke up to voice in the dark whispering around me. I tried to ask for water, but as I mentioned before, when a tube is doing your breathing, all you get is silence and post-surgical breath. My Dad was the only one in the room watching my face. It was the first time I had seen my parents in almost 2 days.
A nurse in pink scrubs was putting motion leg wraps on my calves and talking to my parents about what would be happening next. The movement of the leg wraps made me instantly seasick. As the nurse left to get a syringe of anti-nausea, I grabbed the notepad and wrote WATER!!!!! My Dad sat next to me, a cup already in his hand, and said water was the first thing he had wanted after his first open heart surgery too. He slipped me a few ice chips from his ice water just before the nurse walked in, for which I will always be grateful.
I went into surgery at 6 am. I was calm. I knew God had me. I woke up in immense pain, but a heart full of comfort. Bishop Leatherwood was the first person I saw as I opened my eyes. He had been waiting for a few hours and had to leave, but he sat with me for a few minutes and told me I was lucky to be alive. The OR nurse who wheeled me in said that it was a miracle I had survived any of it, and couldn’t understand why I was alive. Leatherwood kiss my forehead and said he knew exactly why I was alive. He also left a massive vase full of 4 dozen roses on the nurses station for me. He knew I couldn’t have them in my room, but he wanted to make sure I could see them, and smell them. His roses scented the entire ICU unit. They survived for another 2 months after that surgery. Not even I know how that was managed.
I spent another 2 weeks in the ICU at LDS hospital. 1 more week in the ICU, 1 week in recovery.
My first meal after the feeding tube was removed was spent with my Bishop. He cut my sandwich, cooled my soup, and kept my water glass full. Dr. Meads, who had called to check on my progress every. single. day had made sure I had a bowl of fresh strawberries, and a nurse I will never forget ran to get me a second bowl before I had finished my first one just because she wanted to see me smile. Nothing in this world tastes as sweet as a strawberry, after weeks of not eating anything. Family and neighbors stopped in every now and again, as they could between kids and jobs. My best friends were there for me every single day, some of their parents even visited. Brooke’s parents were there with me nearly every day.
I spent another month on in-home healthcare, with a 24/7 penicillin drip and a rigid set of rules. I lived in a good place for it though. The Luna family had 2 very well equipt NICU nurses living in the house, and Dr. Hancey lived across the street.
The “dentist” we learned, had been practicing under a revoked license. He was also nowhere to be found… until 2011… on a whim, I decided to check facebook for him. I found him. He was living in Belize. He was untouchable by the means of this earth, but one day he will have to face what he has done.
I will forever feel the repercussions of that first dental visit. I have since lost my appendix and had various other medical issues that were caused by leftover scar tissue and the war-ravaged remains left from the infection. My heart is permanently damaged. I will always have the scars on my neck and throat, my back, my abdomen, and both sides of my ribcage. But I will also always have the emotional scars, not all of which are negative. My testimony of my Savior is no longer just a belief. I know who He is. I know the power of the priesthood, and the power of prayer, and fasting, and most importantly, the power of faith. I know the impact one life can have on many, for better or worse… I also know that we have the capacity to survive more than we think we can, we just can’t do it alone.
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