Finding Gratitude in the New Year After Another Hospitalization
Medical trauma resurfaces with a hospital stay years after a transplant
I take note of several things as I walk the familiar route through the three different hospital wards on my floor. Pushing an IV pole, my eyes scan my surroundings as Taylor Swift sings loudly in my oversized headphones — the universal alert that says, “Please don’t talk to me.”
I see the familiar faces of the nurses and aides whom I’ve gotten to know during my stay. I notice the fake Christmas tree and other halfhearted holiday decorations. I take note of the signs on several doors warning of infection risk, making me wary of walking the halls at all. Each sight takes me further and further away from the holiday season I had anticipated this year, a reality that is tediously common for anyone with critical health issues.
The end of the year presented me with some difficult and unexpected challenges for my body. In November, I had a PICC line placed to receive IV antibiotics for a stubborn lung infection I’ve been battling off and on for months. A combination of dehydration, antibiotics, and other transplant medications resulted in an episode of acute kidney injury.
This is what landed me in the hospital in early December, but a blood clot from the PICC line, fluid overload, and overall worsening illness are what kept me there. A perfect storm.
A tough ending to a hard year
Ultimately, I was hospitalized for 12 days. This particular hospitalization was tumultuous for both my health and emotional well-being. My health had been in decline for much of 2022, and these events put a sharp exclamation point on the exhaustion and frustration I felt throughout the year.
It was also my first hospitalization since my heart and lung transplant in 2018, which caused a lot of unexpected emotions. When the blood clot was diagnosed, my cardiologist wanted to admit me to the ICU for observation, at least for the night.
My mom was immediately resistant on my behalf. We had spent so much time in the ICU after my transplant, and we still live with that trauma. But we quickly realized the cardiologist’s intentions, and I was moved to the ICU shortly after.
The next morning, around 4 a.m., my nurse told me they would have to start another IV to give me a dose of calcium. This reminded me that my medical trauma goes back much further than my transplant journey. It doesn’t take much to prompt memories of my childhood self, when I was scared and asking for numbing cream for my IV, but would end up crying anyway as the needle pierced my skin.
I know it’s different now. Through age and experience, I have grown tougher. Now, the IV placement doesn’t bother me, and I’m reassured that memory is not reality. The past is not how it will always be. Still, these repetitive and invasive procedures over the years have formed an irreparable wound that will always be tender whenever prodded.
There’s a lot I could say about this recent setback. I’m saddened to watch my body continue to fight so hard for life. I’m humbled by my family, who shepherds me selflessly through these experiences. I’m joyous to be feeling better in the new year. I’m hesitant to trust any of it.
These are the cycles of gratitude, grief, and uncertainty that I live with — the same ones I grew up with and the ones I will always know going forward.
A close friend recently asked me if I had any intentions for the new year. My answer was to no longer set intentions. I explained that life for me has become regularly unpredictable. My body is unreliable from day to day. I’d rather put energy toward being at peace with this truth, rather than consistently setting myself up with unreasonable expectations and goals.
My greatest joy is this moment, as I claim it. What a beautiful achievement to be here, now. This day and its soft offerings of humor and wonder amid the greater effort of survival that I will continue to face will always be enough redemption to keep me going forward. And I know that even on difficult days, these delights will always work hard to find me again.
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