Thirteen years ago today I almost died. It’s not something I’ve ever written about but now feels like the right time. Someone shared with me this week that the thing they enjoy the most about this blog is the reminder to tell our stories.
Every person on this planet has a story. This is mine.
I was a teacher, and it was the last day of spring break. Kelsey had just turned nine, and Hunter was almost seven. The girls and I decided we’d spend our last vacation day going to the mall to Build a Bear. I can’t honestly remember what animals they made. Hunter would know. She remembers all of it.
As we were checking out, I had a sudden and painful feeling in my throat. I felt dizzy and nauseous. The girl checking us out offered me a mint. In hindsight her gesture of kindness has provided us plenty of laughs. “Like a mint was going to save your life.” How could she have known?
I have a connective tissue disorder called Marfan Syndrome. It causes parts of my body to weaken over time, the most significant of which is my aorta. And on that day I was having something called an aortic dissection. There was a tear between the layers of my aorta, but I did not know it at the time.
We paid, left Build a Bear, and headed to the food court where thankfully a friend of mine was there. We call her my Guardian Angel. I knew something was wrong, but I was insistent that this could not possibly be an aortic dissection. She took over in that moment and drove my children and me to the hospital.
The story gets long and complicated from that point, and I’m sure someday I will write it all. But not today. Suffice it to say that several hours later I finally had a CT Scan, was diagnosed, and was taken in to surgery. The surgery lasted five hours, but the recovery took months. Those five hours were so much harder for my family and friends than they were for me. I honestly only know the details of the next few days from the things people have told me.
So many people. One of the most important things I took from the experience was the power of our tribe. A friend prayed over me before I went in to surgery. Friends and family spent time in the waiting room and countless hours sitting with me over the next days, weeks, and months. People cleaned our house and brought us food. One friend who lives out of town sent me a card and a package of some kind every day, every single day, for weeks. My students wrote letters, and one even recorded her piano music to soothe me. People are good beyond measure.
I also learned to be patient. I dissected a week before my Master’s Degree comps and a week before my first interview for an administrative job. Obviously neither of those thing happened then. But they did happen. Eventually. I have learned that for me things work out eventually, just not always in the way I envisioned or on the timeline I choose.
I also tell people that the most powerful lesson for me was to enjoy every day. Every single day is a gift. We say that, and it is true. Thirteen years ago today I almost died, but I didn’t. I have had 4,749 extra days to learn and love and laugh. I have had 4,749 extra days to make mistakes, to fall down, and to get back up. Each one of those days is a gift.
My scar has faded. I feel like it is no longer the first thing people see when they look at me. It’s a good analogy. For a time, the experience consumed us. It was all we thought about. Over the years though that has faded too. It is now but one of many stories.
Still, I am grateful for the scar. It is a visual reminder that each day is a gift.
I was wrong when I said that every person on the planet has a story. In fact we all have countless stories, countless moments that changed who we are and how we see the world.