In August, Steve and I spent a gorgeous week on the shores of Posey Lake near Hudson, Michigan. While I worked in the gardens around the cottage, Steve trolled his friend’s fishing boat around the lake, searching for bass and bluegill. The days were long and lazy, the nights cool and peaceful. It was a far cry from the often stressful summer we’d been having. I’d spent the majority of July and early August sick with an unrelenting fever, and Steve had been dealing with a lot of stuff in his personal life, so a week away was a welcome relief from life in Toledo.
One sunny afternoon, Steve and I were boating around the lake when we saw a man working on his dock. Steve admired the man’s luxurious ski boat, so we stopped to chat for a bit. In less than five minutes, the man regaled us on all of the bells and whistles, saying that since the boat was last year’s model it only cost him a certain amount of money.
While I kept a straight face, I thought to myself, Good night! That boat costs more than my house!
“Of course I added some more stuff to the tune of $20,000.00,” the man continued. Then he proceeded to describe the extras he and his family couldn’t live without.
Later on when Steve and I were alone, I asked him, “Why in the world would he tell complete strangers all that stuff?”
“Because he identifies himself with what he has,” Steve replied.
“I think that for him, nothing will ever be enough.”
For the rest of the week, I didn’t give the man and his luxury boat much thought…until I came home from vacation.
For months I knew that, come September, my financial life was going to change. Big time. My part-time work would end, and that meant a significant loss of income I would somehow need to recoup. While I’m not frivolous and have lived within my means for decades, I realized that with the cost of living continually inching up, my income needed to be proportionate.
In a last ditch effort to get my work into the hands of a new literary agent, I rewrote query letters, then sent more than a dozen in the hopes that one of my novels might appeal to someone. In less than a week, five rejections had piled up in my inbox.
“I need to find work...now,” I told Steve. “I don’t want to quit teaching yoga, but that might be inevitable. I just can’t get ahead doing what I’m doing.” Tears ran down my cheeks when I said, “After seventeen years of trying to get published, after hundreds of query letters, after writing ten books, it just doesn’t seem worth the work anymore. I've not made a penny's profit in all the time I've been self-publishing and I don’t want to write if it’s not going anywhere. It’s just a waste of my time.”
“What do you want to do?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I need to take some time and figure it out.”
I had planned to spend the month of September writing my resume and looking for meaningful work. But life had other plans. On Friday the first, I went to the gym for a fitness test. The week before I had been running a low-grade temp and knew I had lost some weight due to lack of appetite. Even though I was in pretty good shape, I wanted to see where my weaknesses were and how to improve them. After being put through my paces, it was surprising to learn that for a woman my age, I clocked in at athlete status.
I decided to get a workout in before I went home, so I hit the weight room. But half an hour into it, a relenting ache in my lower abdomen forced me to cut it short and go home. Two hours later, I called Steve and asked him to bring home some ginger ale as I’d developed an upset stomach. Shortly after sipping some soda and nibbling on corn chips, I was projectile vomiting. An hour after that, the pain was excruciating and had radiated to my back. On top of all that, my temperature had spiked to 105.4 which terrified me. By six thirty, Steve and I were at the ER where I was immediately taken not to a triage room, but to the surgical corner at the far end of the floor.
After being poked and prodded by a host of doctors, after enduring the hell of drinking what seemed like a gallon of barium for a CT scan, after lingering in pain for a few hours, I was diagnosed with a kidney stone that was blocking a ureter.
“You’re septic,” one of the ER doctors told me. “We’re going to treat this as quickly as possible.”
So at two in the morning, I went in for emergency surgery to move the stone aside so the infection could drain. Inserting the stint only took twenty minutes and afterward, the surgeon talked to Steve in the waiting room.
After explaining what had happened and that I would soon be moved to ICU, the doctor told him, “We sometimes lose patients like this.”
Of course, it devastated him and when Steve told me a few days later, I cried because during the first day in the ICU, I wasn’t sure I would make it. I was in and out from the anesthesia, but when I was awake, I could hardly move. The sepsis was pretty severe and my blood pressure kept falling. After having a central line put in, I was given a lot fluids to stabilize my vitals and in the end, developed pneumonia because my lungs got too wet from being on bed rest.
By the third day, I could only sit up for an hour or so before needing to lie back down, but had gone from critical status to stable. By that night, I was moved to a step-down room.
“You’re really lucky to be young and healthy,” one of the nurses told me. “I’m sure it’s what pulled you through.”
But I didn’t feel lucky when all night long, I woke up coughing from the pneumonia. When I could hardly roll over, let alone sit up and slide on my flip-flops. When standing up took an eternity. When walking to and from the bathroom seemed like a marathon. But I did it anyway. Every so often, I made myself walk up and down the short hallway outside my room. The first day, I could only do it three or four times, and always with the help of the railing or Steve, who supported my snail’s pace. Every time, I came back to my room exhausted, even though I had only been on my feet for less than ten minutes.
By the third day in the step down room, I had been on antibiotics for nearly a week and felt stronger. When the doctors came in for their morning rounds, I asked if I could go home that day.
“I don’t see why not,” the internist replied.
After calling Steve and letting him know I was going to be released, I packed my duffle bag, then went for a walk. After shuffling up and down the short hallway, I was heading back to my room when I stopped for a moment. Looking down the long corridor past the nurse’s station, I thought to myself, Try it…just try it once.
So I did.
Scuttling along, I gradually made it all the way to the end of the hallway, then was able to make it back to my room. Along the way, I marveled at the fact that in six days I had gone from being a seemingly healthy athlete to being utterly septic and unable to move. Now, here I was, on the slow road to recovery, grateful beyond words to be on my feet. I could finally walk on my own, and that was more than enough to know that eventually, I would be just fine.
I’ve been home from the hospital for a few weeks now and am back to teaching yoga in my home studio. Still, I sleep a lot and rest and sit outside while I can. I take walks, reminding myself that these days, it’s better to be the tortoise than the hare. Just yesterday I slowly ambled through the local metro park, watching for signs of autumn. After this week’s heat wave, we’re going to have to wait a while longer, but I don’t mind at all.
Time, I’ve learned, is the most precious thing we have…and I’ve been given more than enough to meander my way forward in this unfinished, uncertain, yet incredible life.