The last thing I remember before passing out was saying yes to the help that was being offered to me by the voice on the other end of the phone.
I don’t recall giving her my name, location or any other identifying information. I am still unclear as to how they found me. But find me they did.
I was lying unconscious on the floor of the hotel room. The rise and fall of my chest so shallow as to appear absent. They were forced to intubate me then and there. I arrived at the hospital approximately 12 minutes after being intubated. I was told it took 40 minutes to stabilize me before being moved to the ICU.
Everything I know about the following three days is from other people as I was in a coma, connected to a respirator, as I could not breathe on my own.
The ER nurse used my phone to find a contact number for my husband. It shouldn’t have been difficult as he was saved under the contact name “Sweetie.” Using my iPhone she called him. After identifying herself she informed him that his wife had overdosed and he was needed at the hospital. When he asked her if I was okay she said, “You need to get here now.”
He told me later that he had been at the office all day drinking whiskey, numbing the pain he felt over his decision to end our marriage. By the time he got the call at 5:30pm he was well into a bottle of Jamesons and had no business driving. But that is exactly what he did. He drove drunk and recklessly 30 miles to the hospital with tears streaming down his cheeks.
Once he arrived they led him to a small dark room. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust and when he saw me the tears he’d been shedding were suddenly accompanied by sobs as his body shook with grief. I was but a small fragile shell of myself, laying on a gurney covered in a white sheet. The only sound in the room was the whoosh, whoosh of the respirator as it pushed precious oxygen in and out of my lungs as I could not do it for myself. He was stunned but had no time to react as they only allowed him a few moments of privacy before moving me to CCU.
He didn’t know what to do so he called his parents. They lived across the sound which was approximately an hour and a half from away so it took them a while to get there but they came. He was hesitant to call our daughters. When asked why he said it was because he didn’t know what to say to them.
When he realized I wasn’t waking up anytime soon or possibly not at all, he made the calls.
The first was to our oldest daughter. He didn’t give details. Just that your mom is sick and in the hospital and you need to come. Fortunately for her, her husband was home and could drive the 90 minutes to get there. He tried several times to get ahold of our youngest but for some reason she wasn’t picking up. Her husband was out-of-town and he could not reach her. Finally, they got in touch with a friend who went to her home and told her to check her phone.
When I think about this moment I feel so sad for what I put my daughters through. My poor youngest was by herself, trying to get to the hospital in the dark and got lost. She was frustrated and in tears when her dad told her to stay put and he would come find her and lead her the rest of the way.
During those three days I was in a coma I don’t recall much. Flashes of images:
Both of my girls sitting next to me in a chair. The youngest practically in the lap of my oldest so they both could be next to me.
My oldest and her husband sitting in the window seat.
The youngest and her husband sitting in the window seat.
Lights and someone shouting at me, “Natalie Wake Up!” over and over again
My youngest sitting as close as she could get and rubbing my arm gently.
Over the next three days they repeatedly attempted to remove the breathing tube to see if I could or would breathe on my own but I couldn’t. I would occasionally open my eyes and everyone would get very excited only to feel the weight of disappointment when I closed them again.
On the third day I began to wake up.
I recall sitting straight up in the hospital bed feeling as if I was suffocating. It was the breathing tube. Instinctively I tried to pull it out but was restrained from doing so by the blurry faces surrounding me.
I fell back into a deep sleep.
When I woke again a few hours later I was in a panic. I felt as if I couldn’t breathe and my wrists were tied to the bed posts to prevent me from trying to remove the tubes. I heard the soft voices of my daughters encouraging me to relax, lay down, relax. My eyes were able to focus for a moment to see their beautiful but anxious faces looking down at me.
The third time I woke up I was calm. I was able to move my hands and arms and gestured to my youngest.
“She’s AWAKE! SHE’S AWAKE!” my daughter shouted. Soon there were many people in the room all talking at once.
I focused on my youngest since I knew she had learned sign language. I was trying to sign that I could breathe. She was under too much stress to understand. I motioned for a writing utensil but they were so flustered they didn’t understand that. Finally, someone handed me an iPad and I was able to type, “Can I breathe?”
At that point my husband told the nurses that if I could type on the iPad I could probably breathe on my own. This was the first time I noticed him. Although later, the girls told me he never left my side, I only recall seeing my daughters and their husbands, a random nurse or doctor.
As I lay there waiting for someone to come and remove the tubes from my throat and nose I drifted in and out of sleep. When the doctor arrived and announced that the tube could come out they prepped me verbally for what would happen and what to expect.
“We are going to pull the tube from your throat very slowly. We want you to cough as we draw it out. Whatever you do, don’t pull on the tube.”
As they slowly and tortuously began to pull the tube from my throat, reactively I reached up, grabbed and pulled it out within a few seconds. The pain was overwhelming. The tube itself disgusting. Next was the nasogastric (NG) tube in my nose that was used to remove any remnants of drugs in my system. This time it went quickly.
I had been unconscious for three days with a tube down my throat. However, that did not stop the medical staff from asking me questions that I was unable to answer due to my lack of memory and voice. It was frustrating for everyone involved.
As discouraging as it was to be unable to have clear communication with the professionals and my loved ones, the one BIG positive was:
I was alive.
I was breathing on my own.
I had survived.