April 15, 2003. The first doctor we consulted after my collapse thought that I had heavy metal poisoning. He prescribed a series of chelation therapy treatments. April 15th was my first treatment. Rick and I were excited; maybe this would help.
I arrived at the doctor’s office and I was hooked up to an IV. I sat there for four hours as the concoction entered my bloodstream. The chelation agents work to strip all heavy metals from your blood and system. I’m not a fan of needles, but I was reading my book, Lincoln’s Virtues, to pass the time. After about three hours, I began to feel sort of weak, but, of course, when wasn’t I weak at that time?
Finally, it was over and I was unhooked. By this time, it was lunchtime and the doctor had left. As the nurse, Rick and I walked down the hall towards the receptionist desk, I began to feel a little lightheaded. As Rick paid for the visit, I decided to step outside, thinking that maybe the fresh air would clear my head. Unfortunately, it got worse and I became very dizzy. I stepped back inside and tried to reach out and grab Rick’s arm. I couldn’t quite reach him. By now, everything was spinning, off balance, and going black. I whispered, “I feel dizzy.” And, then everything went black and I sunk to the floor.
Everything was still black, yet I was aware that someone was cradling me, elevating my upper body. I was also aware that I was completely drenched. I had the fleeting thought, “Who the hell threw hot water on me?” before sinking into the warm, welcoming darkness.
I became aware of someone taking my blood pressure. I have exceptionally good blood pressure. It’s so good that whenever I’ve had it taken, the nurse always comments about how good it is. As I was lying there, still curiously drenched and resting in the utter blackness, I was fully expecting the nurse to make the same type of comment. Instead, I heard her say, “Oh. That can’t be right.” The other nurse said, “Why? What is it?” The other nurse said, “It’s 50 over palp.” I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t good. At that point, I could tell that Rick was holding my left hand. I heard him say, “She’s sweating so bad. She’s burning up.” I could hear how worried he was – and he’s never worried. That concerned me.
The nurse who was holding me said, “I think she’s coming to.” The blackness slowly cleared, my heart was racing and I was – in fact – burning up. They got me back to one of the patient rooms where I rested for a bit. The doctor was called back from his lunch and he checked my vitals. By this time, he pronounced they were “close to normal enough.”
We later found out that this doctor had been sued multiple times due to patient deaths during his chelation therapy. When subsequent doctors heard of this experience I had, each one said that I was incredibly lucky to be alive. It all could have ended that day.
I don’t think that either of us really wanted to face that reality immediately. Instead, we stayed focused on trying to find a doctor that we could trust and doing all we could to help me recover. It was a full two years later when we discussed how close I came to dying that day. I don’t think I will ever forget it. (And, I did not have heavy metal poisoning.)
It’s odd in some ways. The day that haunts me more is the following day, April 16, 2003. That was the day I went back to the doctor’s office for the vitamin I.V. The chelation drugs remove all heavy metals, including minerals and vitamins that your body needs, so you have to go back for replacement vitamins and minerals.
At the end of the treatment, I felt so good. I felt like I actually had life in my legs. I hadn’t felt that in so long that I was thrilled! Maybe this had worked! It lasted for about four hours and then slowly the feeling of life, of energy, began seeping away. I wanted so desperately to hold onto it. It seemed so cruel – this glimpse of feeling healthy and strong – and yet it was surely slipping away. And then my legs went back to feeling dead; every step I took I had to will my legs to move. It reminded me of the story that I read in Junior High, Flowers for Algernon. It was so frustrating and painful to know that the brief respite from the fatigue was ending and I was slipping back into the shell of my former self. Inside, I was crying out that I knew the real me was the one that had energy and life and strength. On the outside, I appeared calm and accepting so I could be brave and strong and not make it any worse for those around me.
That is the day that haunts me, that scares me the most. Not the day I almost died. When I am riding my bike or hiking or skiing and I feel strong, I often whisper a silent prayer that it won’t be taken away again. I silently promise that I will take care of this gift and honor it and cherish it forever.
This past Saturday I was traveling back home from Newark and I was going through security early on Saturday morning. The TSA agent was very friendly and he was attempting to be cheerful with some other passengers who were having none of it. He looked at me and he said, “Now you look like someone who is happy with life.” We had a nice little conversation and a laugh together. As I walked away, I thought he really has no way of knowing just how true that statement is. And as I continued walking, with legs full of life, I felt the deep gratitude that has become my constant companion.