(Severe) Sepsis and (Soulful) Sentiments

Jesus, if this is my time, I’m ready. You’ve blessed me with years beyond cancer and expected death. You’ve given me family that loves me, friends that care about me, and experiences of travel that have been so dear to my heart. I do not have regrets, and I feel that I have done the best I could with the hand you’ve dealt me. Just please remember to tell Rick my favorite hymn is In The Garden #425.

This was my prayer at exactly 4:22 a.m. on July 8, 2020. It was shortly after this prayer that I texted my husband telling him that I loved him and that I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through to see daylight.  Obviously I did make it, or else you wouldn’t be reading this. But it was later that morning my fears were confirmed and the doctors in the hospital informed me that I was fighting severe sepsis and the good news was that my body was responding to the intravenous medications, but that I wasn’t yet in the clear. My sense of organ failure that night was very accurate, even without knowing what was happening, and in the midst of that time I was forced to ask myself some of the questions that I was challenged with in Kendall Keeler’s book Your Last 24.

My parent’s classic truck

The whole situation was such a shock and disappointment to me, how did I end up here? On July 5th I woke up to celebrate 31 cancer free years. My father showed up with his classic truck to take me a ride, and from there my family spent the afternoon at my sister’s pool. When I got out of the pool, I laid down, became violently ill, and was barely conscious as I burst through the front door and made it as far as the couch. The next day I remained sick and Tuesday my mother marched through the door and told my husband, “If SHE says she should go to the hospital, get her there, NOW.” Less than 24 hours later I wasn’t sure I was going to see the light of another day.

Back when I went into the hospital for cancer 31 years ago, my parents had just gutted the kitchen in their home to begin extensive remodeling. I underwent cancer treatments and my parents juggled caring for me and my sister, work, and the remodeling of the kitchen all at once. 31 years later, I was admitted to the hospital on the day my parents gutted the same kitchen in the same house a second time for remodeling. What was happening? DejaVu, anyone? All I could muster up from the hospital on the phone to Mom was a simple, “No more kitchens.” On the plus side, she informed me that they found my silver bracelet, lost when I was 3 years old and my Dad’s wedding ring. 

I can confidently say that my mind was not filled with regrets. I didn’t consider negative things that I have gotten through. Instead, I thought of the wonderful memories and the beautiful moments that have enriched my life. I thought of the way that I was so near death at 4 years old and yet I gained a bonus of 31 years to live on top of that. I know that I am not perfect and I have many sins in my short life, but thanks to grace, I did not feel shame.

Celebrating 31 Years Cancer-Free

The hospital was lonely since the pandemic restricted visitors to only my husband. I was there five days with no shower or bath, only a wet cloth, dry shampoo, and my insistence to dunk my head in the sink for a quick one-IV-free-armed swish of shampoo (utilizing my husband to protect the IV equipment and electronics flowing into my arm and after the forbidding nurses would leave the room). Yet as gross and awful as it was, I did discover a few things about myself in those five days.

Bible school songs never leave you.

Thinking that I was about to die, as I truly was, my mind considered the possibility of an afterlife. I did not once consider that my transition into paradise would be a disappointment. There was a peace and knowing in my heart and I was increasingly confident that Jesus would meet me on the other side when it was my time. I remembered an experience I had in the hospital as a child when I felt I encountered Jesus, and the memory flooded my mind anew with hope. Ironically, and surprisingly, children’s bible songs, parables, and hymns seemed to play on a reel in my head during this time, ministering to me. I kept hearing The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock, and I’m In the Lord’s Army like I was teaching Sunday school!

Prioritizing people is key.

I didn’t think about the people I have had fallings out with over the years in a regretful way. I rested confidently that I handled those relationships the best that I could given the capacity and circumstances of those times. The things I’ve done wrong I left in the hands of Jesus. I thought about this blog – was I ok with the fact that the last article published here may be my final word with you all? All of my busyness with school, volunteer work, etc. faded into the background and I wondered if it was worth the price I paid: Being too busy to connect with loved ones.  I thought of family meals we’ve shared over the years, the last conversations I’ve had with each of my loved ones, and the things I wouldn’t mind doing one more time if I get out. 

Mindful moments matter.

I longed to smell these beauties one last time!

Taking a psychology course at the beginning of the year reviewed studies that showed with overwhelming results that experiences make people happy and material items do not. There is real science and some reasons to explore behind this theory. These include: Experiences are not permanent, so more satisfying; Experiences do not have the opportunity to “grow old” or “normal” to us like material items do; We anticipate experiences more than material things; and more. Regardless of the study or the outcomes, experiences are very important to me. Reading, learning, growing, traveling, making adventures even right in my own backyard, all brought nostalgia and hygge feelings to my heart. My husband’s kindness when pushing me in a wheelchair, my grandmother teaching me how to can peaches, my mom faithfully calling me almost daily for as long as I can remember, my sister lighting a candle for me at a Relay for Life event, my aunt sending a surprise package in the mail just for me, my dad taking me on vacation with him, and teaching my niece/nephew piano, wheezing laughter with a cousin, and all the fun we’ve had together. It was these things that I experienced, remembered, and treasured the most.

It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.

While I’ve been feeling a bit as if I am floundering the past few years (see my post Smidgen of Hope), I have a renewed sense of belonging. My aunt summed it up best for me saying, “I know two people that survived sepsis lady, and you are one. You survived cancer, amputation, and now this. God is not done with you yet.” The truth in her words resonated deeply with what I felt and still feel. I do not know what my purpose yet is, or where I am called to be, but I do know that God has a plan.

Life’s too short to save good tea.

The first thing that I savored when I was placed in the car to go home was the sun hitting and warming my skin. I don’t know what it is about the sun, but it heals and warms me from the inside out in a way that reminds me of love. The second was my ability and strength – I couldn’t walk from the car to my house without taking breaks after being so weak in the hospital and not using crutches for a week. I appreciated and savored the gift of strength and movement, longing to see my body regain those things. Third, I got in the shower and just bawled as the fresh water poured over me, my bruises, and needle pricks from head to toe. The smell of shampoo and the feeling of squeaky clean skin were savored in a new light.

A few weeks after being released, my mom and I drove to the beach and I stuck all 5 toes straight in the sandy surf!

After my shower I remembered that I had been saving a gifted tin of really good Darjeeling tea. I pulled that baby out after my shower and decided life was too short to save good tea. In fact, life is too short to save anything that is meant to be savored and enjoyed. Other little things that I wanted was a cheese-steak, the feeling of my 5 toes in the sand, and an opportunity to play piano for people even if it sounds terrible. I wanted to taste real ginger ale (no more hospital diet crap), suck on a piece of chocolate, and smell the lilies in my front yard one more time. I wanted to hug people and savor everything and every moment from photos in magazines to the smiles of my niece and nephews.

Midway checkpoint mission accomplished.

It’s been a few weeks now that I’ve been out of the hospital. My strength is not fully regained, my bloodwork is not back to normal, and my immune system is still nearly nonexistent. From what I understand the risk of contracting severe sepsis in the next three months is high, and they still don’t have a specific answer for what caused the blood infection to begin with. But I’m alive, and I’m confident it is for a reason. I don’t know yet what all of this means, but I guess that will be part of the experience, right?

I look at this experience as a good midway/midlife check in with the Lord. I’m to be 36 this year, reasonably approaching the halfway point of life, and this eye opening experience afforded me a chance to review my life, choices, and values. I was able to re-prioritize and adjust to be sure that I am living a life worthy of the questions in Your Last 24. Hopefully, the Lord sees it this way too and keeps me out of the hospital until my final lap. Yet I realize that nothing is guaranteed in my life except one thing: My parents won’t be replacing that kitchen again. 

One Comment Add yours

  1. Mervin Charles says:

    Engaging, insightful, transparent, vulnerable, humorous, revealing, suspenseful, hopeful…this post was all that and more. Thank you, Ashly, for inviting us to reflect, take a second breath, move on with hope rooted in a God of love and care. I am better for reading and pondering. (I also found myself “holding my breath” as I read!) And Laurel and I would so love to see you and Rick when that works out! Take care. We’ll be remembering you during these next weeks and months.

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