I have cried on Valentine’s Day every year for the past 10 years. Today was no exception. Ten years ago, I lost weight quickly, started losing my vision, couldn’t give a lecture to my college students coherently, was extremely thirsty, and peeing every few minutes.
I didn’t know those were signs of hyperglycemia. I would learn only two years ago that it was also an indication that I had developed an autoimmune disease.
What I knew on Valentine’s Day 2011 is that I was tired beyond measure and believed that a hot bath would rejuvenate me.
Instead of reenergizing me, the bathtub is where I closed my eyes for what would have been the last time. In the bathtub, I passed out. In the bathtub, I remained unconscious for hours. In the bathtub, I died.
I don’t remember seeing the light; I only remember complete darkness and silence. I was in a void where time had no meaning. I didn’t know then that I was lowering myself into the last place that I would be until a neighbor eventually noticed that my car hadn’t moved for days and would knock on the door, and after not getting an answer, they’d run and tell the landlord who would have found me nude in the tub. That is how people who live alone are discovered.
Instead, I found myself naked, nearly submerged in cold water. I opened my eyes only by the grace of God. For a while, I questioned why I came back? Why had She chosen me? I have found the answer to that question in my diabetes advocacy. If I can help one person, then this second chance has not been in vain.
I don’t recall there being a light, but I do recall feeling as though I had been placed inside myself. It required effort to make my brain move my limbs. I remember staring at the ceiling shivering from the shock of icy water. I remember not remembering where I was or how I got there.
I am certain I died, if only for hours.
I was terrified.
I knew whatever was killing me would succeed. How could I defend myself against the unknown? I tried to learn. I had seen a doctor the previous week, and after taken her advice to “drink Gatorade,” my symptoms only got worse.
After I got out of the tub, I trusted in the God that gave me another chance to keep me through the night. The next morning, I packed an overnight bag, determined not to return home until I knew what I was dying from. I returned to that same doctor but the visit didn’t last long. She seemed unsure and I was starting to lose consciousness again. She couldn’t help me because I knew that I was in a race.
By the time a co-worker retrieved me from the doctor’s office and drove me to the ER, I couldn’t stay awake for long nor stand up on my own.
I just wanted to know what it was before it killed me, permanently. I took a selfie while sitting in a wheelchair inside the hospital’s Emergency Room. I sent it to my husband and told him this may be the last picture I send you.
After two harmful and pointless doctor visits, I had partially given up. I knew that this ER visit was my last hope because there was no way I would have survived another night. Before they called my name, my hope was to at least know what would be written on my death certificate as my cause of death.
“How long have you had diabetes?” the Triage nurse asked.
I didn’t understand the question. “Diabetes. I don’t have diabetes and don’t know anyone who does.”
“Yes, you have diabetes,” she was sure of it.
I was instantly relieved to know that what I had, had a name, diabetes. But what did I know about diabetes? Diabetes kills. Diabetes causes blindness, which I was already experiencing. Diabetes was killing me. Diabetes had killed me. When this registered in my mind, all I could do was scream, “I’m gonna die.”
It was awful. The whole ordeal was traumatic beyond words. I haven’t gotten into a bathtub comfortably since then. Soaking in a bubble bath was my haven before my diagnosis.
Here I am 10 years later. Still shedding tears over the experience. I haven’t read anything about the trauma caused by surviving death or a near-death experience to help me unravel the multiple layers I carry. Perhaps this blog post would be a lesson to others that incidents like this are haunting. And, there may be no end to the lingering effects.
Each year, I am in this emotional valley by nightfall.
Usually, however, I never talk about it, and I smile big and bright for my diaversary highlighting the LIFE that came on February 15, 2011. Still, today, after 10 years of closeted crying, I think it’s important to share the complete context of why I celebrate LIFE on my diabetes anniversary. I celebrate life because it is a reflection of the death I experienced.