ICU and Beyond
My eyes were closed. I could hear a voice calling me from a distance. I knew that I was supposed to do something, maybe call back out to the voice, but my mind was too fuzzy to figure out how to respond. The voice beckoned me again; this time, it sounded closer and clearer.
“Welcome back. You gave us all a bit of a scare. Don’t worry, we will take very good care of you. We will get you the help that you need.”
I parted my lips to speak, but they were too parched to form any words. I tried to move, but I was being held down by a force I couldn’t see. Panic swelled in me and collided with a sense of danger that I had become all too familiar with from times before.
“Relax,” the voice said, “we had to restrain you for your own protection. You are at Nash General. Do you remember why you were brought here?”
I realized the voice came from the doctor. A flood of images came rushing back to me. I remembered going to work the night before. I remembered getting off and going home. I remembered my shower and my personal dance-and-karaoke party in the kitchen. And I remembered Joe. I remembered what he had done to me. I remembered putting up a weak fight to fend myself. I remembered I couldn’t find my voice to tell him to get off of me once he was inside of me. Then I remember going to work the following day and watching Joe standing with other co-workers. And I remember Michael asking me if he could make a special delivery. I remembered everything. Taking the pills, drinking the vodka. After that, I didn’t remember how I’d gotten here and what had happened. I needed someone to fill in the blanks.
As if seeing the confusion on my face, the doctor continued, “Your neighbor noticed your front door open and called out to you. When you didn’t respond, she let herself in and found you unconscious on the bathroom floor. She called the paramedics and you were brought here. We intubated you to administer the charcoal elixir to your stomach. You pulled the tube out and nearly choked. We were able to restrain you, which is why you are restrained now. You are a very lucky lady. You took some very dangerous drugs and the amount that you had taken could have killed you had your neighbor not intervened. You’re not out of the woods yet. We will be admitting you to the ICU for further treatment. Upon discharge, you’ll be IVC to Coastal Plain psychiatric hospital.”
I lay there still and quiet, not knowing how to process everything that had just been explained to me. The doctor interrupted my thoughts. “Before I go, is there anything else I can do for you to help you be more comfortable?”
I made my best attempt to lick my lips; they were so dry and my tongue felt like cotton. I opened my mouth and in a hoarse whisper that didn’t even sound like it belonged to me, I said, “Yes, let me die, please.” Tears were falling down my face.
The doctor moved closer to my bed and placed his hand lightly over my own and gently squeezed it. “I’m sorry, Karen. I can’t do that. I noticed your scars and I know that they are self-inflicted. I can’t image what demons you are fighting that are convincing you that you deserve to hurt, but you don’t deserve it. You’re so young and you have your whole life ahead of you. Hang in there.”
I was transferred to the ICU, and I had nurses in my room constantly checking my vital signs and noting any changes. They were all nice, but they didn’t let on to anything. The only thing that was explained to me was any procedure they were going to do. For instance, before they took my temperature, they told me that they would be taking my temperature. The same with my blood pressure, etc. I had my blood drawn several times while there too. I had no visitors, but that was because no one knew where I was, and I was perfectly happy with that.
I couldn’t believe that I’d failed at yet another suicide attempt. These weren’t feeble attempts. I wasn’t confused or looking for attention. I really wanted to die. I didn’t see the point of living a life full of misery. At nineteen years old, I felt like I was sixty. Physically, I had pains that couldn’t be explained medically. It was chalked up to me being a hypochondriac. Mentally, I was just so broken. I suffered from terrible nightmares. I felt isolated, alone, and I was convinced that no one would ever understand me or what I had gone through. I just knew that death would welcome me. Death was indiscriminate, so it was only fitting that death would be the only thing to truly get me.
I didn’t know when I could be discharged from the ICU, though I knew I wouldn’t be going home anytime soon. I would be admitted into the mental hospital as soon as I left the medical hospital. The idea of going to another mental hospital made me uneasy. I didn’t want to be stuck in a facility with anyone that would hurt me again. A nurse walked in my room carrying two bottles of a very light-brown liquid. It looked like gallon bottles of apple juice, but I knew it wasn’t apple juice. She verified my information on my hospital band and then pulled out a package that contained a long thin tube. She hastily explained that she would be inserting the tube through my nose to place down to my stomach. She inserted the tube and instructed me to swallow when necessary. That was not a pleasant experience. She remarked that when she took the tube out, it would feel worse than when it went in. I didn’t know why this nurse was being a bitch, but she had a chip on her shoulder as soon as she walked through the door.
The nurse began to pour whatever the liquid she carried was into my tube. It was strange; as she poured, I could feel my stomach filling up. It is a sensation not easily described. I told her that my stomach was getting full.
“Don’t throw up! You need to keep it down!” she snapped.
I stayed quiet as I felt my stomach expanding from the liquid she was putting in. “Please, it’s too much, I feel like I am going to throw up. Stop,” I begged.
“I told you, if you throw up, you are going to clean it up. You had no problem taking those pills and keeping them down. All of these people on this floor are fighting to live, and here you are taking advantage of life and trying to end yours. You better keep it down.”
No sooner had she finished her lecture to me than I leaned over the right side of the bed and threw up all of the liquid she was pushing inside of me. Looking at the massive puddle on the floor, I couldn’t believe my stomach was even capable of holding that much fluid. Visibly disgusted, the nurse called for housekeeping, and then she walked over to me and all but yanked the tube that was going through my nose to my stomach out of my nose. She said nothing else as she walked out of the room. Fortunately, for the rest of the time I spent in the hospital, I didn’t have any more encounters with this nurse.
I was admitted to Coastal Plain. I hated being there but I was able to make phone calls and I was able to go outside every two hours to smoke. I became a smoker. I looked forward to the smoke breaks. My diet mainly consisted of Sunkist and Newports.
I was compliant and took part in all of the groups but I must say that my favorite group was always art. We would do different things during our art therapy. We painted welcome mats, we drew, we made baskets and painted them, and we painted small treasure boxes that could be used for a variety of purposes. I never gave my full attention in any group except for art. I had no artistic abilities but I found that when I was being creative, I felt good on the inside. I was more open to talk about what I was feeling. I looked forward to art therapy and I wished that all of the groups contained some sort of art therapy. I remember asking for a coloring book and crayons to take back to my room and one of the therapists gave me one. It wasn’t quite art therapy, but when I would color in my room, it was enough to distract my mind enough to provide me with some peace, even if it was only a little at a time. I was in my room coloring a page from my coloring book when I decided that I would stop trying to kill myself. I knew that my life had to have a purpose. I had died and was revived when I was ten months old. I’d tried to hang myself, I’d attempted several overdoses, with this latest attempt nearly killing me, but I’d lived through it. Maybe God hadn’t forgotten me after all. Maybe I had a higher purpose that I hadn’t fulfilled yet. I had no idea if this was the medication coursing through my central nervous system talking, or if I had come to the conclusion that I should give life a chance. Give myself a chance. I was counted out from the beginning. I had no choice in any of that, but I was a nineteen-year-old adult now. Maybe I could change it all around after all. At least, I was finally willing to try.
After being discharged from Coastal Plain, I moved back home with my mom. I needed to be with her. She ended up finding out from Linda that I was in the hospital, but the details leading up to that I had no intention of ever telling her. I loved my mom so much that it hurt. I could not hurt her by letting her know how much I was hurting. I was in protective mode.
My mom was still getting over the death of her husband. She was married to him for several years––I don’t know how many, but I was just a toddler when they’d begun seeing each other. After he died, his family took over his funeral arrangements. My mom, who was legally married to him, had to find her own way to his funeral, which was about forty-five minutes away. There was no family car sent for her, or my brothers, who were his sons. I picked my mom and family up and we all piled into my 1989 Ford Crown Victoria station wagon. That car was my baby. I will never forgive them for how they made my mom feel. So I knew that I couldn’t add my misery onto the pain she was already in. I wanted to protect her from it.
Even though the P.H. program was no longer going on, I still had regular appointments with my therapist and psychiatrist. And after a year and a half, I was ready to go back to school. I enrolled into the local community college. I spoke with my advisor and was honest with her about how fragile my mental state was so I didn’t want to overwhelm myself. She helped me sign up full time, five classes, and when I doubted my ability to have such a full load, she reassured me, saying that based on my placement test scores, I was more than capable of handling the course load. I didn’t like saying no, and I wanted to believe her. Maybe I wasn’t giving myself enough credit.
It was only two months into the semester when I knew that there was no way I could keep up. My anxiety was through the roof and my depression was pulling me down into darkness again. I left school one day and just never returned.
I became a recluse after that. I wasn’t working. I wasn’t going to school. I just stayed in the house all day. I would sleep all day and stay up all night. More often than not, I would stay up for two to three days at a time and then sleep for a full day. I just didn’t have the energy or the drive to do anything. I wouldn’t go out with any friends, I would go days without showering. I didn’t see the point. I just wanted to be left alone, and I was. It was during this time that I decided to get a computer. Once I had a computer, I spent all night on there. I would go to chat rooms and make friends with strangers. They were the best kind of friends; I could talk to them without them seeing me. Without me having to leave the house.
In one of the chat rooms, I met a guy named Will. Will and I would talk all of the time online. We even exchanged phone numbers and we would call each other. Will was in his late twenties and I was twenty-two. He lived in Virginia so every other weekend I would travel to Virginia to visit him. Things got sexual pretty quickly. I never did enjoy having sex, but I liked Will and he was nice so I wanted to give myself to him. It didn’t matter to me if I wanted it or not.
After the first two months, we didn’t use protection anymore when we had sex. It was the end of February 2003 when I found out that I was pregnant. I wasn’t sure how Will would react. We’d never talked about kids, and I didn’t know why the thought never occurred to me until just then either. I remember the phone call; I had just told Will that I was pregnant. There was a long silence on the other end of the phone. The silence was so long in fact that I checked to make sure the call hadn’t been disconnected.
“Hello? Are you still there?” I asked to the silence on the other end.
“Yeah,” he finally responded. “How much will it cost to get rid of it?”
“Get rid of it?” I repeated. I don’t know if it registered with me what he was really saying. “I’m not getting rid of it,” I answered.
“Well, I’m too young to be anyone’s daddy. You can keep it if you want, but I don’t want any part of it.” I hung up the phone with Will and that was the last time I spoke to him. He blocked me from emailing or messaging him online and his number no longer worked when I called. His attempt to avoid responsibility was all for nothing anyway. On April 9, 2003, I began to have heavy bleeding and clotting. I went to the emergency room, where they performed an ultrasound. I was told that the baby was OK and that I was six weeks and four days along. I was instructed to return if the bleeding continued and I was put on bed rest.
I had been here more than once so I knew that things didn’t look good. I had gone to bed on April 10th and when I woke up, I used the bathroom and could feel the blood and clotting coming out of me. When I wiped, the toilet paper was filled with tissue shedding from me and inside was a beige fleshy object that was no bigger than the size of a kidney bean. I say kidney bean because it was sorta shaped like one. I didn’t know what to do, but something inside of me told me that I had just completed a miscarriage. I called my sister in the bathroom and she told me to flush it and she took me to the emergency room. I gave a urine sample and after an ultra sound, it was confirmed that I had miscarried.
The doctor that came in to confirm my miscarriage was very kind and gentle. If anyone had to break the news to me, I was glad it was he. He stayed with me for as long as I needed, but I realized I was in the emergency department and I didn’t want to take him away from someone else that needed him more. Physically, I was OK. My body was going through the process and I was to follow up with my OB/GYN to be sure an additional procedure wouldn’t be needed in case my body didn’t complete the process on its own. Mentally, it was just another depressing blow to add to the long list. I have never been the “poor me” type, but I do believe in karma and generally believe that you get back what you put in. I couldn’t understand what I had done that was so bad that I was being bombarded by tragedy.
I went back to my habit of spending hours on the computer. I went to websites for people who were cutters, I went into chat rooms for mothers who have had miscarriages, etc. I wanted to find people who had things in common with me, without actually having to speak to them. In the four years of being in North Carolina, I had had five therapists. Three female, two male. My current therapist was male and he was an asshole. I don’t know how he expected me to open myself up when he would make snide comments about my weight, even going so far as to change the subject to do so. I could be talking about how I wanted to go to school to become a therapist and he would mention that I would feel so much better if I could just practice self-control and lose weight. Really? Thanks, asshat. No, I’m not self-conscious at all. Please continue to tell me how worthless I am while fat. The strange part was, he was not a small guy. He had thinner legs, but his belly was very round and hung low. I wouldn’t call him out on it though, because it was rude. And I wasn’t a medical doctor; I didn’t know what his issues were. I wish he would have extended me the same courtesy. This was why talking to strangers online was kinda therapeutic to me. I could be myself, and not worry about someone judging me based on my appearance. Making these friends made me feel like I had people to talk to. Even if they were just online. Although, I did manage to meet up with a friend I met online. Meeting him changed my life forever.
I met Ed on a website. I can honestly say I don’t even remember what site. It may have been in a Yahoo chatroom, but I don’t remember. What I do remember is that we hit it off pretty well. Ed was funny, smart, and kind. He was much older than me. I was twenty-three and he was fifty. I didn’t mind the age difference as our friendship blossomed into a relationship. Ed and I would go out to eat lunch or dinner, and not once did he appear ashamed to be seen with me. He would grab my hand to hold as we walked, and instinctively I would pull away so that he wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen with me. But he wasn’t embarrassed at all. He proved it when he would hug me while we stood in line at the grocery store. He showed it with how he would rub my shoulders or back. It was the first time I had been with someone who didn’t pretend to not be with me. I would visit him at his job, bring him lunch, and just sit and talk with him. I worked late nights at the homeless shelter and he would come and sit with me until I clocked out once it got dark outside, even though he had to be up early for work the next day. I was unofficially living with Ed six months into our relationship. I was at his house more than I was at home. The week before my twenty-fourth birthday, we spent a romantic night together. I don’t think we left the bedroom for more than bathroom and food breaks. I didn’t even have to disappear in my mind to be with him. I was able to fully focus on him.
As the weeks went by, I felt off. I was always so sleepy and I was constantly hungry. I could eat breakfast at 7:00 a.m., and by 9:00 a.m. I felt as if I hadn’t eaten in three days. I scheduled an appointment with my doctor because I felt that I might be pregnant. I couldn’t wait for my scheduled appointment time, so I bought two over-the-counter pregnancy-test packs. I had four tests in total. I took one and it was negative. I thought I might have done it wrong so later on that day, I did another one. Even though I know that it’s better to get the early-morning urine to test with, I couldn’t wait that long. Before my appointment three days later, I had opened and used the last two tests, all of which said negative. Maybe it’s just in my mind, I thought. Maybe I just wasn’t pregnant. But I felt sluggish and nauseous all the time. I was nauseous when I ate, I was nauseous when I didn’t eat. If I wasn’t pregnant, something else was wrong with me.
I sat on the hard table, swinging my legs back and forth nervously as I waited for my doctor to come back with the results. I had given her a urine sample and the wait seemed forever. Twenty minutes later, I heard a tap at the door and my doctor walked in.
“The test results are negative. You are not pregnant.”
I was kind of surprised. I knew that something was wrong with me, and if I wasn’t pregnant, than what was it? I left the office confused. I didn’t have any more answers other than it could be stress, or depression. I knew the feeling of depression all too well and this was something different. I was no stranger to stress either, but I wasn’t willing to dismiss my physical symptoms to stress. After two more weeks and no improvement to my fatigue and constant hunger/nausea, and now the added symptom of frequent bathroom trips, I decided to make another appointment. Maybe I had diabetes? I was overweight and gaining because my pants were fitting tighter around my waist. These were elastic-waist yoga pants and they were snug. I made an appointment and in four days, I would find out if I was now a diabetic.
I felt a sense of déjà vu as I sat on the cold exam table waiting for Dr. Chesnutt to return with my results. I had given a urine sample and a phlebotomist had come in to take some blood from me. I had just pulled the Band-Aid from my arm when I heard a familiar tap at the door and the doctor came in.
“Well, congratulations, Karen, you’re pregnant!”
I didn’t say anything because I was taking time to process what she said. “I’m pregnant?”
“Yes. What was the date of your last menstrual period?”
I didn’t remember. I know I should have, but my periods weren’t regular anyway so it wasn’t unusual for me to skip a month or two, or even to have a lighter-than-normal flow. Dr. Chesnutt gave me the name of an OB-GYN that she knew. His name was Dr. Collins and she highly recommended him. I left her office and made the appointment.
It wouldn’t be until May 11, 2004, when I would have my appointment with Dr. Collins. Exactly thirteen months since my last miscarriage. Suddenly, I was very worried. I tried to calm myself down to avoid having a full-blown panic attack in front of the new doctor. The first thing I noticed about Dr. Collins when he came into the room to introduce himself was that he was sexy as hell! Sheesh, how could I expose my lady parts and not feel self-conscious with him? I also noticed how nice he was. Not once did he bring up my weight, which is the focal point every time I meet someone, it seems. He was kind; he genuinely seemed to care. His bedside manner was great. I tried not to drool as he spoke to me. He sent me off to have an ultrasound to see how far along I was since I had irregular periods and didn’t seem to know. I walked to a room just down the hall and the ultrasound technician left a gown for me to change in and told me she would return in five minutes. I stripped completely from the waist down like I had been told to and climbed back on the examination table. I lay there for just five minutes when the ultrasound technician returned. She sat down next to her machine and explained that she would be doing a vaginal ultrasound because I might not be far enough along to detect anything with an abdominal one.
The exam wasn’t as uncomfortable as I had imagined it would be. Soon, there was a picture on the screen and clearly I was pregnant. “There’s your little butter bean, Momma,” the tech said as she took pics and measurements. I saw the screen change and then I saw a picture of two small sacs with babies in them.
“Uh-oh,” I heard the tech say.
“Uh-oh, what’s wrong?”
She said, “Nothing’s wrong, it’s just that you have two butter beans in there, Momma.”
Two, like as in two babies? There was no way. Surely she was mistaken. She took all of the measurements and pictures that she needed and told me she would be right back while she conferred with the doctor. Yes, please get the doctor, I thought to myself. Because there was no way in the world I was pregnant with two babies.
Dr. Collins appeared five minutes later and helped me to a sitting positon. “Wow, Karen, you’re having twins! You are eight weeks and two days along with a due date of December 5, 2004. I will step out while you get dressed and we will talk more when you’re dressed.”
He left and I put my undies and pants back on. I decided to sit in an available chair in the room instead of sitting back on that exam table. Dr. Collins returned and asked me if I had any questions. I asked him if he was sure I was having twins. He chuckled and handed me the printouts of the ultrasound. One baby was labeled baby A and the other baby B. Before giving me a time to return to his office, he asked me if I had any other questions. I told him no and I walked out of the office. There was only one place I wanted to be right now. There was only one person I wanted to talk to.
I got in my vehicle and drove to Target. I drove my car around back where the vendors would ring the bell to be let in. I rang the bell once. I rang it again. A familiar face opened the door and I broke down crying as soon as I saw my mom standing there. She was afraid I had miscarried again. She kept asking me over and over what was wrong. I could hear the panic in her voice. I tried to stop crying enough to explain. Instead, I just handed her the pictures I’d received from my ultrasound.
She studied them for a moment and then looked at me. “Is this what I think it is? Is this saying what I think it’s saying?”
I shook my head in agreement, took a deep breath, and said, “I am having twins.”