Sometimes things don’t turn out as we expected.
On November 8, 2016, I put on the watch my grandfather gave my grandmother when he returned home from service after World War II. I wanted my grandma to be with me in spirit when I cast my vote. I brought my 10-year -old daughter to the polls so she could one day tell her grandchildren about the historical moment her mother voted for a female presidential candidate. On November 8, 2016, my heart was full of hope, optimism, and excitement.
On April 26, 2006, I put on a hospital gown and was brought into an operating room for a scheduled C-section. Waves of that same hope and optimism rippled through me. Visions of locking eyes with my daughter danced in my head, while thoughts of taking her home with my husband and 3-year-old son filled me with exhilaration.
On Election Day, I thought about my grandma who was a tough-talking business savvy woman in the 1950s - long before it was commonplace. I smiled, thinking how happy she would be to know, that in just 12 hours, America would most likely elect our first female president.
12 hours after my daughter was born, I suffered grave complications. What began as a postpartum infection, quickly spiraled out of control. Fifteen days later, I was brought into another operating room. Doctors performed an emergency colectomy and told my family I may not make it through the next 48 hours, due to the massive amounts of infectious fluid that had ravaged my abdomen. My husband faced the real possibility of being a 32-year-old widower with a newborn and toddler.
The night of November 8, 2016, I watched as the election results rolled in. I am, by nature, an optimistic person. I remained positive, and fought the nagging reality that was slowly creeping into my consciousness. I couldn’t face the reality of what was happening.
Ten years ago, I latched on to optimism with a fierce grip. Against all odds, I had survived the emergency colectomy. Yet, 3 months after giving birth, I was still in the hospital with 3 IR drainage bags sucking infected fluid out of my mid-section. I also had an ostomy bag, a G-Tube, and a J-Tube sprouting from my stomach and wasn’t permitted to eat or drink. Still, I was joking with friends about not having to worry about swimsuit season. I missed my kids with an intensity no parent should ever have to endure, but remained hopeful that my path would soon bring me home.
As the polls closed and results poured in, I kept thinking there was still a path to victory for Hillary. After all, I am a Chicago Cubs fan. I considered my Muslim and Hispanic students and their families and thought of my beloved high school theatre teacher, who fought most of his life to marry his husband. Reproductive rights being overturned, what the future would hold for the transgender children in my community, my pre-existing medical conditions, my neighbors being deported and separated from their loved ones…....these frightening thoughts tumbled through my mind, as my panic escalated.
In July of 2006, I was once again rolled away from my loved ones and into another operating room. As my family grew smaller in the distance, I shouted out to them, “Think Positive!” During the surgery, doctors accidentally hit my splenic artery, causing my hemoglobin level to drop to four, as I hemorrhaged on the operating table. The trauma and transplant team stampeded through the doors in a desperate attempt to save my life. I was left open and packed for two days, as my ruby-red blood drenched the ICU bed sheets.
Eventually, the surgeons closed me up, gave me a tracheotomy, and told my family to keep praying. I spent most of July and August, 2006 in the ICU. All my hair fell out, I weighed under 80 pounds, suffered from sepsis, and terrifying delirium, induced by ICU Psychosis. That September, I emerged from a cloud of confusion and learned that I had lost total function of my limbs and could no longer hold a pen to write. Because of my tracheotomy, I couldn’t talk either. I was physically and mentally locked in. Doctors said I may not ever walk or eat again. If I was lucky, I would survive and might live out my days in a nursing home. I was 31-years-old.
On November 9, an eerily familiar feeling of despair seeped back into my soul. It was like I was lying in the hospital powerless again; my voice muffled by a tracheotomy, my body unable to move, my heart shattered.
10 years ago, I expected to give birth and go home with my baby girl, but life threw me a major curveball. Regardless of who we voted for in November, most can agree the unexpected outcome of the election threw our country a major curveball.
I’m no longer the eternal optimist that was rolled into surgery, but I’m not a pessimist either. I’m the last person who will blindly believe that everything will turn out okay if we just sit in a circle and sing Kumbaya. But I know it’s possible to rebuild a broken heart, body, and mind. I understand that sometimes you don’t get over it, but you do get on with it. I’ve learned that no country or person is all good or all bad, noble or despicable, hateful or loving, never or always right.
So where do we go from here? How do we heal as a nation that is so terribly divided? I don’t have the answers, but I do know a thing or two about dealing with curve balls. In 2006, most didn’t think I would ever return home. Yet after 218 days in the hospital, I made a remarkable recovery. I didn’t do it alone. It took the love, support, and devotion of friends, family, doctors, nurses, and colleagues to pull me through my darkest days. Cruelty, hatred, bigotry, selfishness, and arrogance played no role in my recovery. I suspect it will be the same for our country.