In early July, a week after our retirement party, my husband Jim and I were taking our regular hike in the coastal woods of Connecticut when I had to slow down. I felt warm and fatigued. A heat wave thickened the air, and I thought, I guess I can’t take the heat like I used to. That week I was treating myself with cranberries to clear a urinary tract infection, and I thought, maybe UTI is causing these symptoms. When a mild headache and low-grade fever persisted, I saw a doctor who confirmed UTI and prescribed antibiotics.
A couple days later, my fever shot up to 103 degrees and my doctor ordered me to the emergency room immediately. I was admitted to Norwalk hospital on Sunday July 21, 2013.
Examination and tests had revealed an unhealthy count of platelets, white and red blood cells; My spleen had swelled up to abnormal size. I was dehydrated and anemic. My heart raced, and my blood pressure was dangerously low.
After seeing my alarming numbers, doctors told me that my body’s systems were “out of whack.” My problem was more dire than UTI. They suspected a tick had bitten me, and infected me with one of the three diseases ticks carry, but not knowing which, they treated me at first with drugs for all three diseases. When under a microscope they detected tiny parasites in my red blood cells, they knew I was suffering from the rare but most dangerous tick disease – babesiosis.
For the past three weeks, I thought, I had no clue that a tick had bitten me and a parasite was eating my blood! No tick was ever found on my body. In early summer, they are in the microscopic nymph stage, yet can transmit babesiosis, a life-threatening disease for people over sixty.
Doctors dropped the other 2 antibiotics and gave me quinine, an anti-malarial drug. I was admitted to a floor where nurses closely monitored me. They loaded me up with fluids to raise my blood pressure from 74 (bad!) and to hydrate me. But too many fluids caused fluids on the lungs. Now I had a lung problem, therefore a breathing and oxygen problem, and therefore a heart problem. I told my loving husband, who spent his waking hours by my side, “Darling, this could be curtains.”
Soon, nurses rushed me to an Intensive Care Unit and hooked me up to an anal continual temperature monitor, catheter, then strapped a C-Pap, over my mouth. Though they told me it would force oxygen to my lungs, I felt suffocated. All the equipment: IV drips, wires, tubes around my neck, a heavy heart monitor, left me immobilized. My mouth felt parched by the C-Pap breathing mask, but no one swabbed my mouth.
A doctor informed me that I was in ICU in case I had “respiratory failure and they had to perform an emergency operation.” I was put to bed without supper. Burning with a high fever, shaking with chills, I knew then it was a real possibility I could die this night. I never had faced MY OWN death before.
I said to my body: you fight off this attack, my soul is flying off to find some peace. I reflected on myself as a part of an interdependent web of existence, a principle of my life-long Unitarian Universalist faith. Over the previous two years, I’d meditated with Shanti Mission on peace and the compassion of the feminine divine. I thought of my mother who’d died five years before, and the unconditional love she had gifted me. One of the avatars of the feminine divine is Mother Mary, and I drew on the religion of my grandparents to conjure her. I imagined myself crawling into her lap, with Jesus standing by, and I pictured them comforting me.
Calmed, I received a message, not heard but felt, a sense of knowing: “Your body may fall off, but YOU, your eternal soul, never dies.” I noticed that I was not experiencing fear of death. I felt peaceful. However, I did mentally suggest, I could still possibly be of service on Earth, you know, spreading the light of love.
A shining golden circle warmed me, as it rose in the large picture window at dawn in my hospital room. I had made it through the night and wept with joy and gratitude for being alive.