It’s Been Five Years Since I Nearly Died (It’s My Anniversary!)

Top & bottom lefthand photos: Andrea Coon Photography

Trigger warning: there is a photo further along in this article of my ostomies and wound vac. If you have experienced medical trauma, you may want to skip over it.

The first photo is from June 19th, 2018, 3 days before my myomectomy on June 22nd to remove my 8cm fibroid.

The second photo – upper righthand side – is from July 4, 2018, 12 days after my myomectomy, and two days before I landed in the ER with sepsis. What followed after about 12 hours in the ER was exploratory surgery, since they needed to figure out why gastric juices, bacteria, and stool were dumping into my abdominal cavity.

The third photo – lower lefthand side – is from July 9, 2018, sedated, intubated, and with an NG tube, 1 day after the exploratory surgery where I lost half my colon and 8 inches of small intestine. It was also 1 day before the surgery where they crafted my ileostomy and mucus fistula (technically, two ostomies), and gave me a wound vac.

The fourth photo is from June 24th, 2023, 5 years and 2 days from the beginning of the end of my old life, showing the physical remains of the end of my old body.

The Reality of How Trauma Impacts Us

I’ve talked in-depth about what happened with my fibroid-surgery gone wrong (you can read about it here in case you missed the details), so I won’t bore you with going over it again.

What’s maybe more interesting is to consider what life looks like 5 years after being on the brink of death.

…did I know I was on the brink? No. All I knew was that I was in a lot of pain that entire day in the ER, and then they were wheeling me into surgery around 9pm that night. I think it was only once they cut me open from top to bottom of my torso did the surgeons even realize how bad things were, as my medical notes told of three hours worth of cleaning out my abdominal cavity with bags upon bags of saline solution, followed by searching for holes in my intestines.

At the end of that 5-hour surgery, after cutting out nearly half my colon, they decided my body needed to rest before they placed the ostomy. So the whole middle part of my body remained open for the next 36 hours or so, protected only by a lot of gauze and bandages, and many tubes sucking gastric juices out, or putting pain medication, sedation, and vitamins and minerals into my body. I was not aware of any of this during the first three days I spent in ICU.

I think our general approach in this culture is to feel like we go through something hard, a trauma, and we work through it and come out bigger and better on the other side (that’s what all those triumphant stories on the cover of People Magazine, or videos on TikTok tell us anyway).

It’s very “American” to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, even from completely unfair trauma inflicted on you, and to be happy, successful, and life just being grand on the other side.

I’m here to call bullshit on that. Trauma keeps on providing lessons throughout our lives, and though they may not be easy, they are what make us continue to evolve, get a bit better at empathy and understanding, cull a sense of both power and frailty, holding these seemingly opposing extremes as we continue moving forward.

I know many people look at me as if I’ve at least physically healed from the experience. The truth is, I will never physically be the same. The simple fact of having half the colon I used to, as well as losing about 20% of my terminal ileum (lower part of small intestine) means I will never absorb nutrients from food in the same way I used to.

Photo: Kaye Bentley

B Vitamins, in particular, are absorbed in the terminal ileum, and these vitamins are not only vital to our hormone and liver health, they are also so important for our mental health. That means I will have to pay particular attention to getting enough Bs – but not too much – via supplementation for the rest of my life.

Genetically, I was already set up towards inflammatory responses in my body, and that has worsened with less intestines. Dairy really creates inflammation now, luckily I had already been gluten free beforehand, as that would have been tough but necessary to cut out of my diet, and coffee as well as other caffeine triggers an intense reaction in my stomach.

There are lots of other little things around diet that aren’t worth going into here, but suffice it to say, attention must always be paid on a completely different level than before 2018 (and if you knew me then, you know I already paid a lot of attention to my diet!).

Random pains in my abdomen are most likely caused by the multitude of scar tissue I have from 4 surgeries and sepsis (yes, even sepsis creates scar tissue!), but there’s still the fear sometimes of an abdominal hernia forming, which would require more surgery.

Not only am I not interested in any more surgery in my life, but a hernia surgery requires mesh, which doesn’t “mesh” well with a lot of people. Not to mention the long-term weakening of my abdomen if more surgery was needed.

Fears around “simple” procedures like colonoscopies abound, as there is a possibility of being nicked during a colonoscopy. There’s also a higher threat of colon cancer because of what I’ve been through. There’s lots to think about in these situations.

My energy systems took a major hit with these surgeries and trauma, so my thyroid and adrenals are something I’m always having to work with, and chase for answers. Some days, I feel like I’ve found the holy grail; others, I have to extend myself a lot of grace.

These are some of the hard parts, and I have to work on a lot of acceptance around unknowns around my physical health, while still doing everything I know to support all of my body’s systems.

But there’s a lot of beauty that has come out of these last 5 years, too.

An Exercise In Growth

I spent part of my anniversary/birthday weekend (I think of June 22nd as a second birthday, of sorts, since it deliniates my old life from the one that I live now. It’s also pretty darn close to my half bday) contemplating the ways my life has changed in the last five years.

I made a few lists, and wanted to share them with you, as this kind of exercise may be helpful for you in some form of your life, too. Here they are:

5 Things That Have Improved:

  1. Periods have improved
  2. Handle money better
  3. Clearer on my desires
  4. Lots of outdoor time (lakes in summer, hiking year-round)
  5. Paid down all my debt that came from my surgeries

5 Things That I Appreciate About Life More:

  1. Heart is more open (though that means crying more easily)
  2. I have the freedom to come and go as I please (which was impossible in the hospital and even in the first few months after I got out)
  3. How my body works, and how incredible it is
  4. I’ve gotten better at speaking my truth
  5. I understand the importance of boundaries in a totally different way

I also made a list of 5 things I want to happen now, but I’ll keep that one to myself until they’ve come true (then I’ll share ;).

There’s a lot of power in sitting with what we’ve learned from a situation, and the lessons that keep coming, year after year. It’s something that I do with my clients, and something that is a part of the programs that I lead, because trauma and what follows has one of the biggest impacts on our overall health (not to mention our hormones).

The Power Of Learning About My Body

Probably the biggest gift I’ve gotten over the last few years is learning about my menstrual cycle and reproductive system in a way that I can’t even believe I had very little knowledge about beforehand.

If I had that knowledge, I fully believe I would not have needed that fibroid surgery in the first place. But of course, that was part of my path to learning about all things uterus-related, and finding the passion to teach other women these lessons, too.

I’m now 44, and am in perimenopause. I still have a totally normal cycle – in fact, it’s better these days because I now know how to better take care of my body – but I still understand that I’m in peri and even was at 39 when I grew that large fibroid because my estrogen tends high, and my progesterone tends to middle-lower range.

I know that utilizing bioidentical progesterone for the luteal phase (second half) of my cycle helps me in a myriad of ways, from staving off further fibroids to sleep support to leveling out moods and maintaining energy levels. Plus I’m helping to keep my bones strong and helps protect me against breast and uterine cancer.

These are things that I believe all women should know about their own bodies. Which is the biggest reason that my colleague, Marieke Steen and I decided to create Perimenopause Like A Boss. Because if you are a woman over 35 (or any age, really!), you deserve to know how to best take of your body.

If you find yourself in this confusing time of life, we’d love for you to join us and learn how to take back control!

Continuing Forward

Though it’s a myth that all of our cells completely overturn in 7 years, there’s something to be said for that seven year number. I’m looking forward to seeing where I find my body and my life in two more years.

What I know is that while wounds heal, we are left with something different, something missing. But hopefully the new growth around those wounds allow for a richer, more nuanced and connected life, if we decide to make it so.

Let us know in the comments – have you experienced something that changed your life completely? What has your life been like since?

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