Photo by Amir Marandi Productions
TOO YOUNG TO DIE
I was always very healthy and active in sports and was scheduled to have a tonsillectomy while I was about twenty years old and in college. I was working part – time at a spa as a personal trainer and informed the club manager that I would need several days off for a minor surgery that I needed. At the time I had been going through a series of viruses and sore throats back to back and after a throat culture was taken – my doctor felt that a tonsillectomy would be the only solution. She informed me that it was a nothing operation, and that it would just be a routine procedure; it would be less than a tooth extraction. I questioned how long would it take to heal and the doctor said less than a week. I was tired of being sick and decided to get it over with and have the procedure done. Little did I know that it would be several months – maybe even a year before I would be back on my feet.
I was admitted to the hospital the night before and went into the OR early the next morning. I didn’t think much of it one way or another. I woke up in the recovery room and didn’t feel anything. The surgeon came over – checked my throat and said everything looks good. I was in recovery for several hours which was routine with a tonsillectomy. I felt an intense soreness in the back of my throat as the anesthesia wore off. I was able to eat some lunch and by the evening my throat really hurt. The next day it was no better and the day after the pain was even worse.
I went home the day after surgery and experienced the worst pain that I ever felt. It was worse than a strep throat infection. I couldn’t eat anything because it burned like fire and even water made it burn. Unlike what they tell children about eating ice cream – I couldn’t tolerate much of anything. I had scheduled the surgery about ten days out before Christmas so I could be healed in time to enjoy the Holidays with my family. One week after the surgery – I went in for my annual checkup and the doctor said I was completely healed. I questioned about the extreme pain that I felt in my throat and in my ears and he just said – sometimes that happens and tonsillectomies are not always a piece of cake to go through. Every time I tried to eat my throat burned like fire and drinking water was almost impossible because it felt like it hit the back of my throat and then it would come out of my nose – it was awful. I had two large holes like pockets in the back of my throat and food would get lodged in there a little. It was hard to swallow and sometimes the food felt like it would back up a little. The doctor even jokingly said that the food that was stuck in the holes would give me something to eat later. There was nothing funny about it – this was horrible.
Today was Christmas day and I was still in agony with my throat and ears. This was about nine days after the surgery and two days after my routine doctor visit for follow care. I was in the shower and still had the extreme pain in my ears that felt like a sharp stabbing pain followed by a burning sensation. It was excruciating to say the least. Anytime that I moved or tilted my head from side to side I had this awful pain followed by a burning sensation that felt like hot mouton was poured back my throat and through my ears. They say it was caused by the nerves when the tonsils are removed and they called it deferred pain. They normally don’t give pain killers for a tonsillectomy because of the possible threat of bleeding – they want you to be more alert. All of a sudden I felt something let go almost like something burst or unraveled and the pain almost disappeared. Relief at last I thought to myself. In the shower I bent my head forward to rinse the shampoo out of my hair and saw the bath tub water mix and fill up with blood! I stopped and stared in horror! I couldn’t believe what I saw! There was so much blood! I got out of the shower and dried off and grabbed a dish towel and spit blood onto the towel and then it stopped. It was like a nose bleed. I was shaken so bad I couldn’t stop! I went into the living room and informed my family about what happened and they said, “That’s it, you’re going to the hospital.”
THE NIGHTMARE JUST BEGINS!
My mother had to drive me to the ER and the surgeon on call used a large instrument and soaked something in a solution that smelled like Pinesol and placed this wad that looked like a small golf ball in one of the holes where my tonsil once occupied. I thought I was going to lose it – the pain was horrendous! He first sprayed the back of my throat with a numbing medicine – but you could still feel it. It was so strong that my eyes watered and I tried not to move because he had to hold this object in the back of my throat to stop any bleeding. I kept choking and the nurse tried to coach me to breathe because I was holding my breath without even knowing it. He then cauterized my throat with silver nitrate – that was beyond excruciating! That must have been the worst pain I ever experienced! I cannot even describe what it felt like other then it felt like someone placed a hot sword in the back of my throat and pulled it out my ear! The doctor assured me that it was just a little bleeding from some irritation and that I was OK and could eat anything I wanted. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t eat. The lidocaine made it possible to eat a little before it wore off.
THIS WAS THE SCARIEST INCIDENT I’VE EVER SURVIVED!
I went home and starting putting my Christmas gifts away and I felt like I got an incredible burst of energy. It kind of felt like a second wind if there is such a thing. About five to six hours had passed and I was in my bedroom when suddenly I had this terrible overwhelming feeling of dread come over me like I was going to die! I could feel my heart pounding wildly, my blood pressure fell, and I got so dizzy and light headed I thought I was going to pass out! Something terrible was happening to me and I didn’t know what. I again felt something let go in the back of my throat kind of like in the shower only worse! I didn’t know what was going on until I started to feel something warm running in my throat and I put a Kleenex in my mouth and it was covered with blood! I tried not to panic and ran into the bathroom – I opened my mouth and bright red blood was gushing out and shot everywhere! It looked like a dam had let go! It was not at all like a simple nose bleed – I knew at this point that I was hemorrhaging to death!
I ran into my mother’s room and at this point I couldn’t even talk – so I pointed to my throat and my mother grabbed a flashlight and looked back my throat and said, “Oh my God, I’m calling the doctor!” Just then my mother started to call 911 and I informed her that we would never make it – the only chance I had was to drive to the emergency room – that was our only hope. Because at that point I was bleeding to death and didn’t have any time to waste and besides Paramedics and EMT’s would not be able to handle this situation other than treat for shock and trauma and by that time I would be dead! My mother said, “Get your coat on – we are going to have to fly to get there.” I bent over to put my winter boots on and blood just spilled out of my mouth and formed a pool of blood right before my eyes onto the carpet! I could hear my mother calling the hospital and telling them, “I’m bringing my daughter in – she is bleeding profusely I think she’s going into shock.” I was trying to get dressed and there was blood that had splattered on the wall, my furniture, my shoes – I couldn’t believe it! It almost looked like a homicide had taken place. I was really in survival mode at this point.
ALMOST DIED ON THE TABLE AND FACED AN IMPOSSIBLE RACE AGAINST THE CLOCK!
I can’t remember how we got to the hospital just that we rushed to the hospital against a snow storm which made it worse because of the snow, visibility, and driving conditions. Several times my mother hit my back so I wouldn’t choke to death from the enormous amount of blood running down my throat. I could feel myself bleeding to death in the car and didn’t think we could make it to the hospital in time. We made a ten minute drive in five minutes or less and I informed my mother that I didn’t think I had the strength to even walk it into the ER Dept. My mother called for help and tried to get me into the ER as fast as possible! Once we were inside they wheeled me back into the ER Dept. and the doctor was setting his tools up and was ready to go. They helped me onto the table and the doctor looked back my throat and turned white. He immediately grabbed a long instrument and removed a large eight inch blood clot from the back of my throat! It looked like a big red snake – and I felt my self-starting to bleed out! Blood was gushing and I had seconds left! I was surprised that I didn’t choke to death on the huge blood clot that he removed. He moved quickly and started inserting a large silver instrument that looked like a giant set of tweezers with a large cotton ball on the end into the area that was bleeding the most. He would no sooner remove and insert another wad of gauze or whatever it was and that was again soaked with blood! I thought for sure I was going to die right there in the emergency Dept. He kept the process up between inserting and applying pressure to cauterizing it. Beads of perspiration were forming on the doctors head as blood splattered everywhere – even on his glasses. I can still remember people in and out of the room and he worked furiously and nothing was working – I was still hemorrhaging. The doctor would pack the back of my throat with gauze and it was repeatedly soaked with bright red blood. He would then use a large suction hose to remove more blood and clots then cauterize all over again. I felt myself losing consciences and even though my eyes were half shut – I could still hear everything they said. My heart was beating so fast that I feared I might go into cardiac arrest. My mother later said that I was dead white and then turned purple and my eyes just rolled back into my head! She said it was the worst thing she ever witnessed. At one point I heard the nurse say to the doctor – her pressure is falling – I can’t get a blood pressure – we’re losing her. This was beyond a nightmare! The pain was so intense but at that point all I could think about was living. I didn’t care how bad the pain was – all I thought about was surviving. I didn’t want to die! I could feel my self-falling almost like I was falling through a bottomless pit – as the doctor worked at a faster pace than ever. I just wanted to grab onto anything that I could but I was too weak and lost so much blood to even move. At one point I must have stopped breathing because even with my eyes half closed – I could hear the doctor yelling, “Breath, come on breath, your turning blue, breath!” How could I ever survive this I thought to myself? There is no way that a human being can lose this much blood and live!
Finally the doctor was able to get the life threatening bleeding under control and it was just a trickle. I was still bleeding and he worked on me all night long until he was able to get it stopped. The challenge was it would stop and then start all over again. He went all over me – checked vitals, and admitted me to the hospital. They ran tests for bleeding problems and tried to find what was wrong. They had no real answers. He even asked my mother if I was diabetic or did I have hemophilia and she said no. Needless to say I was admitted to the hospital on Christmas day. They had left my mother spend most of the night with me because they were very short staffed due to the Holiday season.
The next morning I woke up with the worst headache from so much blood loss and trauma from the night before. I had only slept a few short hours. I was afraid to go to sleep for fear that I would never wake up again. There was a nurse standing at the foot of my bed holding a baby. I asked who she was and she informed me that she heard what happened last night in the ER. She informed me that tonsillectomies can be very bloody and hard to deal with. I asked where the baby came from and she said the the parents were in ICU from a bad car accident the night before and the baby was fine. Seeing the cute baby was a pleasant surprise first thing in the morning because it seemed like a new life was just beginning.
I started to bleed not too long after I was up and called for a nurse and no one responded. I didn’t bleed that bad – but I started to panic because I was alone in the room. Still weak from the night before I grabbed the IV pole for support and walked out into the hallway and made it to the nurse’s station. There was no one there – where was everybody? This is crazy. I heard rumors that hospitals were cutting back on staff to cut costs – but this is dangerous. I was now going from room to room leaving a bloody trail while searching for help when a nurse came down the hall and questioned why I was not in bed until she saw blood dripping down my hospital gown. She called the doctor and I hemorrhaged about twelve to fifteen times total and was in the hospital over a week from Christmas through the New Years. I lost a tremendous amount of weight and went from a rock solid 120 lbs. to about 74 lbs. I was strong and healthy before this happened and could bench press my own body weight – when it was over I couldn’t even walk through a room without having to hold onto something. I was too weak to even get up. They say I lost so much blood that they didn’t want me outside for fear that I would freeze to death.
I had to eat liquid food because it was so difficult to swallow from all the bleeding. I begged for an IV because I was losing so much weight – but they insisted that it wasn’t a good idea because I would lose my ability to eat solid food and swallow. I almost had to learn how to swallow all over again. My body temp was so low that they feared I would go into pneumonia. My white count was terrible. I had to see internal medicine specialists every month and was put on iron tablets for almost a year until I was built back up again. Whenever they took blood – it looked pink and watery instead of red and robust. It didn’t even look normal. One time the nurse took blood when I was getting back on my feet and it was finally dark red. She went to pass the vial of blood to a technician and I asked her if I could hold it and she looked at me kind of funny and said ok. I held it and admired it and said to her, “You don’t understand – I almost lost all of this.” And I handed it back to her.
Being in the hospital was the worst thing I ever went through. Because I swallowed most of the blood – I got a really bad case of diarrhea and had the worst pain in my abdomen area. When I went to the bathroom the stool was mostly in the form of diarrhea and it was black like tar from the blood. I was so weak from losing so much blood so rapidly that I remember just barely clinging to life. I was failing every day and my mother was out in the hallway talking to my doctors and specialists and they assured her that they were doing everything possible for me. Every day I become weaker and weaker and just seem to drift into an ocean of despair and hopelessness. I felt like I hovered between life and death. I was terrified to go to sleep for fear that I would start bleeding and never wake up again and with my medical condition – that was a very real possibility. I woke up many times to feel something warm and wet running down my neck – only to see a pool of blood on the floor and all over my pillow case. During multiple bleeding episodes – I had a cup of ice and would slide the ice cube on a tongue depressor down my throat and into the open cavities where my tonsils once sat. The ice would slow the bleeding down and I knew from biology classes how ice could freeze tissue and slow things down. Due to the circumstances that I was faced with – I had to survive anyway I could. This was one of the most depressing times of my life – because when you don’t have your health – you don’t have anything. I was too weak and drained to fight back and wondered how this all happened in the first place. I was in top shape – what went wrong? I prayed to God for a solution and a way through things. I was terrified of dying at too young an age. I wanted a career in medicine, I wanted to have a family some day. How could I ever be well enough to do it all? Even if I lived through this – what would my life be like? What would the quality of life be like? I had so many questions. I kept asking my doctors what was wrong and no one seemed to have any real answers.
My mother broke down one day out in the hospital hallway outside my room and I could hear her crying. My grandmother tried to calm her and one of the nurses assured my mother that they were doing everything possible. My mother brought a friend of the family in who was also a physician and he talked to me and I finally got answers. Dr. Kost was an older man and a wonderful person. He read my medical charts and told me that he didn’t’t like what he saw. He felt that I lost too much blood and would be susceptible to many health issues and complications. He wanted to try an alternative approach to medicine. This doctor believed in the power of the mind and how to get the body to respond to positive thoughts. He also felt that I would survive but my road to recovery would be a long one. He also believed in the power of prayer. I was finally sent home when they felt I was more stable. They tried to release me from the hospital several times but I would bleed every twelve hours and had to stay. When this was finally over – I was exhausted!
The doctors informed my mother that I shouldn’t be alone – I always wondered why I was being sent home so prematurely. I was released from the hospital and my uncle had come into town with his family to try and help out. My uncle had taken several days off work to help my mother. When we drove into the driveway – I was happy to be home and alive at this point. My uncle had carried me into the house because I was still too weak to walk up the steps and he put me in my bed. He kneeled at the side of my bed and just broke down and sobbed. I knew that I must have looked pretty sick at that point because my uncle was a strong person and didn’t believe in getting sick. My mother was faced with a nightmare because parents are not supposed to bury their kids. Thankfully we had many friends who tried to help during this very difficult period. I started to bleed one night while I was sleeping. I woke up and there was blood all down my neck and on my pillow. My mother had to take me back to the emergency room and the doctor cauterized my throat with something different. He claimed that this medicine would work and it did. It still burned like fire during the procedure and even the ER nurse got sick and looked away from the sight of blood.
I had learned many years later that I had Von Willebrands disease type I and that was the reason for the extreme hemorrhaging. Its a rare bleeding disorder and I didn’t show classic signs. It’s hard to diagnose unless you test for specifically this bleeding disorder and some insurance companies won’t pay for it because it’s so expensive. I had to wait for years to be able to afford this blood test because they do bleeding times and everything. By this time I had entered a career in law enforcement and was getting ready to apply to the FBI for special agent. The Hematologists assured me that it was unlikely that I had this bleeding disorder. I begged and he did the tests. One week late the nurse called me and said that they had a mix up and lost the lab results and they would need to redo the blood work. I couldn’t believe it – so I went back to the hospital and had to go through the process all over again.
I worked the second shift and it was business as usual until I came home and learned that the doctor had called and said that it was important that I call him back. I knew that when a doctor calls your house – its never good. I called his office and the nurse put me on hold, then he got on the phone and informed me that I had Von Willebrands disease. I got sick to my stomach – but I had to face it. He sent me to another specialist who was considered the best in the city and considering the line of work I was in – this was my only option. This doctor that I met with ran more extensive blood work and she informed me that thankfully I only had the milder version of the disorder – otherwise I would have died from the tonsillectomy. This specialist was amazing – she was able to really pin point the disorder and clarify some things. Now I finally had answers. Just hearing this unnerved me a bit – but at least I knew what I had to deal with. The doctor did warn me that this was in some instances a life threatening illness and she tried to talk me out of a career in law enforcement and said that if I ever get shot or stabbed – I would have issues. I kind of laughed and said that’s what bullet – proof vests are for. She just looked at me and said, “Lisa as long as you are in the kind of work that you’re in, I’m going to be one nervous physician.” The doctor informed me that as far as my health went – I was exceptionally healthy and had a lot to be thankful for. I did have options to control the bleeding – I even made it onto a SWAT Team several years later. When I told the doctor what I was doing – she kind of looked sick and just said be careful. I thought it was pretty funny in a way – I believe in living life to the max!
THERE IS LIFE AFTER AN ILLNESS EVEN THOUGH IT DOESN’T SEEM POSSIBLE AT THE TIME!
I finally made it back to the gym and was surprised to learn that I didn’t lose much strength. I had retained some muscle – only I had to try and gain weight back. I ate lots of pizzas and that gave me an excuse to hang out with my friends and within a year I was back to 100 lbs. This was a very long and painful journey – I was very depressed at the time because I felt like I had nothing – when you lose your health – this is what you often feel like. I prayed to God every day that I would survive this and thankfully I did.
I never dreamed that I would someday be standing on the stage and competing in the figure division of bodybuilding. If you would have told me that I would be competing someday at this level during this very difficult period that I went through with my health – I would have never believed it nor would I believe that I could do such a thing after what I survived. There are many different things that one can survive and I believe that others have gone through far worse then I. The important thing is when you do survive – what are you going to do next? What are your goals in life? My greatest goal was to get back into shape and rebuild my health to what it was before the surgery. I had many challenges to overcome and my goal is to help you overcome your greatest challenges whatever they may be. Please feel free to drop me an email and let me know what your challenges and goals are and how can I help.