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Right Choice #10

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TUESDAY, MAY 11, 2010 11:16 AM, CDT

Right Choice #10

This post may be hard for some of you to read – it is hard for me to write. But I want to share my entire experience – the healing, the fears, the angels, the challenges, but also the vulnerabilities that I faced during this mis-adventure in medicine. For any of you who have had a panic attack, and who suffer from anxiety, I am sorry. The power that my mind had to take over my body was both terrifying and humbling. My experience, in the end, was a lightening bolt realization of my strong desire to make sense of my universe, to have control over my life. At the same time I was powerfully reminded that there are lots of things in life that just don’t make sense…both good and bad. In the end, the only real choice I have is my response to what life dishes up, and in times of duress I may have less control over my response than I would prefer.

Nearly a week had passed with me laying about the hotel, trying to manage my pain, striving to stay connected with the outside world, making certain I diligently walked to avoid the risk of clots and to speed the recovery process. The doctor’s visits reminded me that I still needed to pay careful attention to my health. My over-active brain ran through the risks I had been exposed to during my time in the hospital. My heart ached to be with my kids, to be at home healing. Another week lay before me before it was safe to fly home. A week filled with the same monotony, the same pain, and the same worries.  Even with Jeff at my side I felt alone and vulnerable. I still didn’t know what exactly the doctor had done inside me while I lay exposed on the surgical table. Had he resected my intestines or merely pulled them from the hidey-hole they had worked themselves down into? Had the lack of proper care put my blood at risk? My heath at risk? How could I know?

And then I was attacked by the what-ifs and the why-me’s. I had felt a tinge of this right before Phil had said good-bye. A tightening of my throat, difficulty breathing, a tingling in my legs. With Phil I had put it off as a response to the medicine, perhaps an allergy to the bathroom cleaner the maids used. I meditated, listened to music, thought positive thoughts and took a sleeping pill. When the sun shone the next morning life seemed a bit brighter, convincing me it had just been a bit of an allergic response. But now the feeling was intensified. Students were posting pictures and tales of the great time they had experienced while on safari without me. The safari I had so carefully planned. The safari I had highly anticipated.

And Jeff had to cancel the teen trip I had scheduled with Katie. After 18 months of delay due to her brother’s health issues, Katie and I were finally scheduled to take her Teen Trip – a five day cruise, just the two of us sailing out of Los Angeles, California, down into Mexico, upgraded to a suite so we could sit out on the balcony and connect. The cruise line told us there would be no reimbursement for our cancellation. They weren’t even kind about the fact that due to proper notification, we would forgo all but the $82.00 we had paid in taxes. And my recovery time clicked into months, not weeks. The first summer I had taken off work, ever, and instead of carefree days riding and writing, I would instead be slowly rebuilding my health. It wasn’t fair.

And this was a result of my commitment to trying to create sustainable change in the world? We were in South Africa creating micro-credit loans, and creating awareness about the realities and risks of abject poverty. I had committed my teaching to informing students how they could be part of the solution. Where was the good Karma that was supposed to accompany good works? Was this it, then, to spend two years fighting to keep my son alive so that I had the medical lessons necessary to manage my own healthcare crisis in a third world medical system? This was my good Karma? This was my reward from God?

These thoughts bounced around my mind and collided as I lay in bed for another 24 hours. His office needed Jeff, and so he slipped away into the lobby to handle the complex business decisions still needing his attention while he was half a world away taking care of me. And my mind went into overdrive. I had a strange premonition going into this trip, my friends had reminded me. I wasn’t excited about the journey, merely relieved to be getting it done. I was nervous in a way unnatural to me. I had insisted in upgrading to business class for the flight. Never before had I insisted on spending money so frivolously, especially not THAT much money. And yet without a flight upgrade I would be unable to fly home even in a week. If flying coach, the doctors let me know, I would have needed to wait a month to return home. Had I somehow known this calamity was going to strike? Is that why I insisted that Phil join me, or that I had taken the exactly wrong medicine when I began to feel badly?

As these thoughts took hold, my body began to respond. It was terrifying. I became convinced that clots were forming in my legs – perhaps I would die. I couldn’t breath, my body felt caught in a vice. I pulled at my hair and curled up I in a ball feeling the oxygen leave my body. I imagined aches in my calf and a tightening of my lungs. I had said my goodbyes to Kevin (in the book) and to Phil (in the blogs) but I had not honored Katie, and this bothered me. I called Jeff back from the lobby to sit by my side. I tracked the medicines I had taken, the symptoms I was feeling. Jeff sat next to me and it seemed he was confused and maybe a bit irritated by my irrational behavior. This was not the positive, proactive, organized Vicki he had been next to through the crises that span a twenty-five year relationship. Over time he became increasingly alarmed by the magnitude of my fears.

All the while a little tiny part of me sat outside of my head. This tiny voice of reason informed me over and over that I was having a panic attack, and yet I was powerless to stop the physical response that had taken over my body. I couldn’t bear the thought of the ambulance coming back and taking me once again to the hospital. Out of desperation, Jeff placed an emergency call to my doctor back in Utah. She left a patient’s side and got on the phone with me. I was crying and gasping and couldn’t talk. Jeff tried to explain what was going on.

She started asking questions. I was forced to think. Symptom by symptom she forced my mind to relate what was going on to her, and slowly I moved away from the edge. She told me to take the Klonapan (sp?) that I had brought along to help me sleep, told me I could take up to eight times my normal dosage, a double dose every twenty minutes until I finally could breathe. She told Jeff the real symptoms to watch for, the symptoms I was worried were going to kill me. He took her words seriously, and this gave me comfort. He could watch out for my body, I could look after my mind. It took 6 times my normal dosage to be able to breath; to fall into a drug induced slumber. The next day was better.

I had my follow-up appointment with my doctor yesterday. It’s comforting to be home, it is good to be surrounded by familiar healthcare providers, and it is critical to see my kids each day, to feel their hugs. And yet the anxiety hasn’t magically left. I still question why it was me that suffered this traumatic health crisis during the short window I was away in a third world country. I still shudder at how close I came to dying while half a world away from everything I know, and most everything I love. I know that it is up to me to make sense of the event. It is my choice to paint the adventure in the colors I choose, to share the stories and lessons in my voice. I don’t know yet what those colors will be, what that voice will sound like. The experience is still too raw, still too frightening. And so today I am here. And today that is enough.

Eventually I will make the right choice in conveying the profound lessons that came to me during my panic attack, but for today I make the choice to merely share the story in its raw unedited form. While hard to read (I imagine,) I hope, for you, that my sharing this tale was the right choice.

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About the Author:

Professor and award winning author, world traveler, Mom, thought leader, mentor, friend, and advocate Vicki Whiting, Ph.D. is dedicated to the facilitation of learning and the development of leaders in all walks of life.

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