By Claudia Costa-Jacobson
Often when I think of my life it doesn’t seem to feel like anything to be grateful for. I’m writing this sitting in a hospital bed in my living room. My home health aide, Sandy, is sitting on the couch, and a good friend is cleaning my kitchen. My in-laws have gone to the pharmacy to pick up medications so a nurse can fill my medicine box. It is too uncomfortable to sit in my wheelchair at my I-Mac, so my husband will have to re-write this and e-mail it for me. This is not what I wanted for my life, but I realize I’m blessed just to be alive. It was only last month that I began to write much at all again.
It has been a long journey from being a Registered Nurse. On my birthday, April 4, 2007, I got sick. I was nauseous. I fell down, not realizing I was passing out. My heart rate slowed down; then I couldn’t swallow. Eventually I became unable to move. At the Bassett Intensive Care Unit, I begged a doctor not to let me die. When I could no longer breathe, I pleaded to be intubated while my husband watched and held me. Intubation means a tube is placed in your mouth, then into your airway and the tube attaches to a respirator, a machine which does the work of breathing. I could not talk, but it didn’t matter because I was too sick to care.
Fortunately I can’t remember much of that period. However, I can still see the ambulance lights as I moved from hospital to hospital. My husband John recalls all of the details and tells me that he was told to let the nurses know whenever he left my room so that they could reach him quickly. He remembers a doctor who kept a vigil outside my door, sometimes repositioning me in the bed himself, turning me to face the window when the sun shone.
I was taken twice to Albany Medical Center and spent a total of five months there, most of that time in Intensive Care. John’s sister Linda and her husband Walt came and spent the night with John when it looked as if he would lose his wife. When John ran out of leave time and went back to work, driving from Albany to Margaretville, my in-laws came faithfully 3 days a week, spending the nights at a hospital apartment on Myrtle Avenue. Our church gave us so much. I don’t know how we would have made it without them. At Albany, doctors started talking to me about an illness I knew nothing about. It is called Devic’s Syndrome. I would call it a nightmare.
Looking back, I hope I’m never that sick again. But the sickness brought with it an opportunity. I now know that the family and community I joined when I married John are incredible. My in-laws, Bob and Alice Jacobson help me in so many practical ways. Our church continues to include us. Sadly, my daughter struggles with wanting her mother to be who she was, not who she is. At the same time, Michelle’s relationship with John has grown and I love it. Writing this, I remember a chaplain at Albany Medical Center, “Mark, the Rabbi.” I love him dearly. Mark and I navigated fear and pain while I held his hand. When his youngest daughter celebrated her Bat Mitzvah, I had someone else to think about, which was excellent medicine.
I still struggle with gratefulness. I want to be who I was. My head is still an R. N. in charge, but my body will not cooperate. I dream of walking, but I was “fired” by a Physical Therapist because I was not making the regular measurable progress required by our insurance company. There are blessings to count, though. My chemotherapy at Albany Med continues monthly. I am so grateful for Jimmy Johnson, a friend and colleague of John’s who takes a day of his vacation time every month to go with us and help get me in and out of the car and onto a bed at the clinic there. John and Jimmy are my “pit crew,” and we find things to laugh about the whole way there and back. I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving. We hope that Jimmy will be able to join us. It will be quite a day. I will be able to eat turkey, something I was unable to do last year. I’m grateful. I’m very grateful to be alive.