In 2022 I Almost Died, But Instead I Grew

Growth is an opportunity not afforded to many, and a path many don’t choose to take. If anything became apparent to me over the course of 2022, it was this.

2022 was my year of growth. I wish I could say that growth showed itself on my blog, but I still can’t seem to post regularly here. It’s not that I don’t want to… I do… I just am busy working too many different jobs, so my blog does often get neglected. Also, to be frank, I have no idea what anyone wants to hear from me. If you have anything you’d like to know – please comment or respond to me… but that’s a different topic.

My topic for now is growth.

Growth is uncomfortable. When we are children, we experience growing pains as our bodies morph and change at rapid speed until we reach our “adult height”. Then we become adults and we still continue to grow. Our bodies get bigger in places we might feel self conscious of and softer in places society tells us to keep tight. We can fight this growth by forcing our bodies to counteract growth – our modern world has plenty of antidotes from diet culture to surgeries. Using our bodies as a metaphor makes it clear that, like aging, the forces of growth are unavoidable… and often uncomfortable. Whether that discomfort be in our minds or physical bodies, growth asks us to look inward, even when we don’t want to.

I almost died twice in 2022. Both times were within weeks of each other in June, and were caused by diagnostic procedures going wrong. The first time was after I had an investigative procedure performed. I went into a delayed anaphylaxis reaction once I had gotten home, and my husband had to rush me to care a 45 minute drive away – we made it in 28. Since that procedure went wrong and the results were compromised by the anaphylaxis, I had to undergo a different diagnostic procedure just a few weeks later. The second round of diagnostic injections went wrong quickly. I went from feeling a little off to delirious within minutes and for the second time in a month, my husband rushed me to care. In the moment I couldn’t remember where we lived, but I knew I couldn’t afford an ambulance to cross the hospital campus to the emergency room – this is America, after all. We didn’t know what was happening at the time, but it was later determined that one of the injections, containing lidocaine, accidentally entered my bloodstream because the needle nicked one of my unusually fragile veins – another side effect of the very disorder we were tying to investigate. When we arrived at the ER just 2 blocks away from the doctors office, they were waiting for me. The valet put me into a wheelchair and nurses rushed me into a room where a team of healthcare professionals got an IV into me, hooked me up to machines, and everyone watched as they waited for my heart to stop. The lidocaine made its way through my bloodstream numbing and paralyzing as it went, but thankfully my heart didn’t stop. I didn’t know who I was – lidocaine toxicity also affects the brain – but I did know that everyone around me, including the doctors, looked nervous. Later my doctors brought other doctors to come see me because of the novelty of my case, they had “never seen this” in their career. Perhaps most surreally, by the end of the day there was no physical sign that I had almost died. Lidocaine is lidocaine, and it eventually wore off the same as it does after a visit to the dentist. Emotionally though, for me, a cascade of personal change had just been set off.

When you are forced into situations like this, you rarely come out the other side the same person. I suppose some people could choose to avoid the growth presented to them, but I didn’t. June 2022 forever changed the fabric of my being. Not only do I know my limitations on diagnostic workups now… but I also know that life is short and fragile. Especially when you live with chronic illness, like I do.

You don’t need to confront death to grow. Growth is afforded to us in opportunities daily from small choices (organic or non-organic?) to larger ones (how do I see the world?). Conversation could be argued as one of the most basic form of growth we are presented with regularly. In brief conversations, our perspectives can be shifted if we are so open to it. We watch people around us be presented with opportunities to grow and we watch them choose to take those opportunities or not. We also watch people we love grow in ways we might not wish them to grow. I want to note too that growth is not always positive – cancer is technically a growth.

The positive that came out of almost dying twice in one month is that my healthcare team got some of the answers we were looking for and put me in touch with a chronic pain team. For the first time in my medical career – and it really is a career when you have between one and ten hours of doctors appointments each week – I have a team dedicated to helping me get rid of the chronic pain that my illness and life experiences have given me. A verifiable charcuterie board of problems I would rather not have to deal with. This team is helping me grow. They want me out of pain. They want me living my life. The most important thing about working with them is that I also want this. I want to grow in ways I know I cannot do on my own and I know that my growth is dependent on doing it with the support of others (something I haven’t had before recently). I can’t help but apply that to other facets of my life.

It is not my job to determine if someone is growing or not. However, it is my job to determine if those around me are growing in ways that serve me as I grow. The world isn’t black and white – its full of shades of grey. Those shades are messy because humans are messy. But sometimes the growth patterns of those around us can influence us in ways that harm our own growth… and we can make the hard – or not so hard – choice to leave them behind.

In 9th grade when my hips got too big for my favorite J.Crew skirt, a blue and green one with cars on it, I had to donate my skirt to charity. I loved that skirt. I had envisioned myself having it for my whole life until suddenly when I zipped it, it pinched my skin and was no longer comfortable. It was a weird and silly skirt that encapsulated so much of how I saw my style then and how I envisioned my style for the future. To this day, I think about that skirt. I’ve even looked it up on Poshmark only to find it in sizes too small for my still changing body. I couldn’t fit into it anymore. The solution wasn’t to change myself to fit the skirt, the solution was to adapt to the new hips that puberty had bestowed upon me. Hips that I didn’t want, but hips I have grown accustomed to.

Growth is an opportunity not afforded to many, and a path many don’t choose to take.

In 2022, I had to choose growth as a way to heal. It felt unavoidable, but still like a choice. In 2023, I willingly choose growth in myself and those around me… so that my world can be full of more understanding, kindness, and experiences I want to help make happen. Growth is bittersweet. It usually means leaving things behind when they don’t fit. And though we can still look back fondly at what was… we know that that isn’t how it is anymore. That the skirt we thought we’d wear forever just doesn’t fit. That the body we thought worked one way, doesn’t. That being a different person now doesn’t mean the person we once were was bad… just that we are somewhere else now. On a new path. On a different path. On an unexpected journey…

We grew.

3 Replies to “In 2022 I Almost Died, But Instead I Grew”

  1. River says:

    First of all, I am beyond grateful you’re still here! Second, I feel honored to read this and that you shared this experience with us, especially since I know how important it is for others to hear what life is really like as a chronically ill person. Things really can change in a heartbeat (even literally!). And I really love hearing your thoughts about growth. Moving forward with growth in mind can be healing when one of the only certainties in life is change. A lot of people look at chronic illness as something to be inspired by rather than people to relate with, and while I do think that people who experience hardships are powerful, it’s not for the same reasons. I think it’s powerful to survive, it’s powerful to sit with the pain, it’s powerful to be vulnerable, and it’s powerful to share, but it’s also powerful to not do any of those things because you simply can’t and need to do what’s best for you! So I’m so glad you took a break when you needed to and took some time to process this. I know with trauma it’ll probably be a lifelong journey rather than a destination but your voice matters regardless. :) Thank you for your thoughts on this! Sending my love ❤️

  2. Amy says:

    💜💜💜 We grow with you

  3. Lily Williams Art says:

    So beautifully said, River! Wow. Thank you for sharing your words!

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