Tuesday, November 09, 2021

What I've Learned

Let's see if I can get through this. 

These are the kinds of things that it's easy to forget when something terrible happens and you can't breathe. "Do you know what it's like on the outside?" is exactly what it feels like, and while it's happening, it's happening to you every second of every day. It's suffocating to a degree that I can't even explain.

Then there are the other things. 

The first time I needed to cross a street after the accident, the street looked a mile wide. I just stood there, staring at the crosswalk, until finally I could force my way across. I still struggle with it now.

When I was about to leave the apartment in the morning to go to the hospital, I'd start crying at the door and have to go back in for a few minutes. 

When I slept at night, which wasn't often, I was in mortal fear of the phone ringing, because it would be the hospital, and no good news ever comes from a hospital in the middle of the night. 

The entire week was a slow decline from despair into hopelessness.

Because of COVID, only two people were allowed to be in the hospital room with Gloria. I was one. The other person was her best friend, who had been crossing the crosswalk with her. 

No one else was allowed, although they did make an exception when Eli 20.3 came to say goodbye. 

I've learned some things, and (god forbid) if you're ever in this situation, maybe this well help. 

I lost six pounds in three weeks. That's bad. You won't think as clearly when you're losing weight at this rate, and you have to make decision after decision, all day long. My problem was twofold: I never thought about eating, and I wasn't hungry when I did. 

I recognized, though, that losing weight at this pace was unsustainable, so I put my eating on a schedule. I had plenty of protein bars, and I set a timer to go off every few hours. I had to choke them down, most of the time, but at least I was eating something. 

It's not easy to stay hydrated in a hospital during COVID. So many places are closed or not easily accessible inside the hospital. You need to have a big water bottle with you, and you need to keep drinking. Don't depend on hospital vending machines, because they break (personal experience, trust me). 

On the fourth day, I finally, fully understood how wrecked I was. I bought one of those stupid Garmin watches so I could monitor my heart rate, because I felt like I needed to be more aware. My resting pulse is around 60, and it was consistently in the 90s (with spikes into the 100s). When I would notice, I would close my eyes and try to breathe deeply for thirty seconds or so. It wasn't much, but it was something, and it stabilized my anxiety to at least a small degree. 

Yeah, you're not sleeping. There's nothing anyone can do about that. Try, though. Even laying in bed for a few hours and just trying to breathe deeply and be calm is a good thing.

Doctors will take time with you and answer every question you have, but you're probably only going to see them once a day. You need to have a notebook with you, and you need to write down every question you have during the day. Organize the list before they come by, and have space to write down their answers. The doctors I talked to were exceptionally helpful, and having a detailed list of questions was very, very useful. 

Talk to the people who you think will help you. Some will know exactly how to do that. Some will want to, but won't have a clue. On a personal level, though, reach out to the people you care about, because they will make you feel better. They certainly did in my case. 

There's another communication layer that's much more complex, and that's notifying everyone about the accident. I felt like many people deserved to be called, and so I called them all, and it was a mistake. I didn't understand how much pain I would absorb when I was already in terrible pain. I broke the heart of everyone I called, and it make me hurt even more. 

If you want to contact people personally, think about using a pod system. Gloria had pods of friends, and I would contact one person in a pod and ask her to contact everyone else in the pod. I eventually just gave updates to her best friend and had her contact the pods. It took some weight off my shoulders. 

When this happened, I thought I could manage it all, and keep everyone satisfied. I couldn't. 

Tragedy reveals character, but not always in the way you expect. Some people will amaze you (Gloria's brother, who has various struggles with mental health, has been the most incredibly gracious, supportive person). Some people won't, and it's guaranteed that someone will be hurt and disappointed by you, even though you're doing absolutely everything you possibly can while you're in inconceivable pain. 

You need to accept that it's going to happen, and you need to let it go. People respond differently to tragedy, and some will respond in a really unhealthy way, and you might be in the crosshairs. Acceptance is hard, but in the context of the tragedy that surrounds you, it's not important. Set up whatever boundaries you need to, but do everything you can to let it go. 

This was the most difficult for me, and I think it's true for most people. So be prepared.

I don't know if this works for everyone, but this is what Eli 20.3 and I are trying to do right now: when we have a bad moment, we let it happen. We feel everything in that moment, and when it passes, we go on. Not having to choke anything back is a relief, really, even though it's painful. And it lets some of the unbearable pressure inside you escape, instead of staying where it could eventually explode. 

I'm much, much more aware when I'm driving now. I see pedestrians and monitor them much more quickly (there are lots where I live, because it's very walking friendly). I'm eating more healthy and making sure I get more exercise. I don't want Gloria's death to not have meaning. Eli and I are already talking about how we can affect other people's lives in a more meaningful manner. 

In that vein, I'd also like to mention organ donation and how it saves the lives of many people. In this case, two kidneys that will give people the chance to continue their lives. 

I don't know if this will help any of you. I hope none of you ever need it. 

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