I’m not a doctor but I know exactly what it feels like to be dying.
In May of 2014 I had an operation on my stomach called a sleeve gastrectomy. Basically, my surgeon removed approximately 80% of my stomach and then stapled the remainder up. Right after surgery, it was apparent that something was wrong. My white blood cell count was elevated which would indicate infection or inflammation. I had also complained about a feeling of air in my stomach. My doc put me on IV antibiotics for one day. She dismissed my feeling of air in my stomach as “normal.” After two days, my WBC had come down some but was still elevated. The surgeon dismissed this as, “your body’s natural reaction to surgery.” She discontinued my antibiotics and sent me home.
For a week I followed the doctor’s orders in regard to my diet. I worked my way up to eating soft foods. Throughout the week though I continued to have pain in my stomach. I thought this was normal and was hopeful it would subside as I continued to heal.It was a Tuesday night when all of a sudden I got hit with severe pain in my upper left abdomen (where my stomach is), the left side of my chest, and in my left shoulder. For the first time in my life, I called 911 for myself.
In the ambulance, my blood pressure was only 80/50. The paramedic worked quickly to bring it up.
At the hospital, a CT scan showed that part of my spleen was infarcted (dead) and that I had air in my stomach which would indicate a leak. The next morning my surgeon operated on me to try and find the leak in my stomach. A simple upper GI series would have found the leak right away but she decided to try and find it by herself. She did not find the leak so she sewed me back up and pretty much left me to die.
By Thursday morning I had started to weep and pray to God to let me die. The pain was that bad and I had been suffering since Tuesday night. None of the pain medicine helped and I kept telling everyone, the nurses and doctors about the pain. The pain had started to spread now throughout my abdomen. I remember laying in bed and trying not to move or breathe too deep because that made the pain worse. All my surgeon did that day was talk to me about drug addiction like I was some kind of addict.
Sometime later that night, all of a sudden I started feeling ripping and tearing sensations in my abdomen. It felt like someone had taken a butcher knife and was stabbing me and dragging the knife across my abdomen over and over again. (I am literally crying now just thinking about it.) I started SCREAMING! I remember screaming over and over again, “Help! Help me! It’s ripping and tearing. It’s ripping and tearing! Help!” A panicked looking nurse came rushing into my room. I kept screaming, “Help me! It’s ripping and tearing! Some thing’s wrong! Help me! Call my doctor. Tell her something is wrong! Tell her it’s ripping and tearing!” The nurse rushed out of the room. I continued to scream.Sometime later, still screaming, the nurse came back and handed me two pills. I asked her what they were. She said, “Xanax.” I remember thinking to myself, “do they think I’m nuts?” I swallowed the pills and continued to scream until I passed out. I think maybe that the Xanax in combination with my pain medicine helped to sedate me. No doctor came in my room that night to save me. Again, I was just left to die.
I did have a leak in my stomach and all the contents of my stomach had spilled into my abdomen. I had peritonitis and I was in septic shock because my doctor was a f*cking idiot. I was literally dying.
Friday morning came and my surgeon saunters in and asks, “how are you feeling Ms. Young?” I turned to her and replied, “how do I look?” She said that I looked very sick and that she was going to order the upper GI series or “leak test.” FINALLY! Ten days after my surgery, she finally ordered the appropriate test. She still seemed to remain absolutely clueless that I was dying and had no sense of urgency about her. I remember another doctor coming in the room and telling me I was in septic shock. I think he may have been the one to get the ball rolling to try and save my life. Things moved quickly after he came in.
At this point I was paralyzed in pain. Also, sweat was coming out of every pore in my body.
My hair was completely soaked through and through. My bed sheets were soaked. The sweat would roll down my forehead and into my eyes. Someone had to keep wiping the sweat out of my face.
I vaguely remember the leak test. I remember that the doctor who did the test found it right away and practically ran from the room. I had a huge abscess of infection just outside my stomach where the leak was. Also, my entire abdomen was filled with infection. From there I was whisked away into the surgery holding area.
I remember some doctors talking to me, telling me everything they were going to do. I remember being told again I was in septic shock. I remember having to sign paperwork. My health care proxy was not notified. No one was notified.
At this point in time, I just laid there on the stretcher barely able to move. My heart beat was racing. I couldn’t take a deep enough breath. Sweat just poured from me. Also at this point, a feeling of peace had encompassed me. I remember feeling like it didn’t matter if I lived or died, that either way, I was going to be okay.
The next thing I remember was waking up as they rolled me out of surgery and into ICU. I remember a doctor telling me that I was very lucky because they almost had to ventilate me. As I entered the ICU room, I sensed something bad. I did not want to be in this room.
As I lay on the stretcher, I could feel a Foley catheter coming out of my bladder. I also had 4 drains sewed into my abdomen, two on each side. They had also attached 2 stents onto my esophagus that went down into my stomach. I was on oxygen and all sorts of machines. I was completely disoriented. I remember seeing pink blobs on the ceiling. I remember speaking out loud as if I were having a conversation with someone who wasn’t there. I was hypoxic. I was not getting enough oxygen to my brain. Both of my lungs had partially collapsed.
It really feels like an absolute miracle to be alive.
I could go on and on. It’s been two years and I’ve been hospitalized 6 times and had 6 operations. I am still suffering from complications. I cannot eat or drink without pain. I cannot take a single breath without pain to my now damaged lung. My stomach and abdomen are a mess and still painful. Emotionally I am a mess. I struggle with the guilt of begging God to take my life even though I had a child to care for. I struggle with questions about death and why I am alive. I struggle with flashbacks and nightmares.
A critical care surgeon and medical expert has told me that my surgeon should have ordered the leak test the very next day after the initial operation. Had she had done that, everything could have been avoided.
So what does dying feel like? In my experience, it was the most painful experience of my life. However, there came that point in time when I felt absolute peace.