Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Life Changing Moment (Part 1)

I was exhausted. It was the end of a school year in 2002, students had just left campus and it was now time to catch up. Catch up on sleep, on my relationship, and on life. But unfortunately, I was having a hard time. The contractors were in our bathroom, at 7am, and they were noisy. Sleep was not possible. I had been recently feeling sick. Nothing horrible, just a low-grade exhaustion coupled with dizziness, and unexplained body aches. Early that morning, desperate for sleep and not feeling very good, I ventured back to my apartment to curl into my bed. A bed that had been vacant for a few months, since I, unofficially, moved into my boyfriend’s condo. It was quiet and I began to doze. I was hopeful that a little sleep and going into work a couple hours late would fix everything! Unfortunately, when my alarm went off, two hours later, I was torn from a deep sleep – leaving me feeling heavy, drained, and yearning for more shut-eye. But, I couldn’t. I had stuff to do. After showering, and getting ready, I headed into work. Still not feeling fully awake, I answered my ringing phone to Beth*, a colleague’s voice. “Kim, have you heard about Carole*?” “No,” I replied, “What’s up?” She took a long pause and then I heard her take a deep, shaky breath, “She’s at the hospital and it doesn’t look good.” My brain was not understanding. I just could not wrap my thoughts around what she just said.

Carole was a Graduate Assistant (GA) that had worked for me for the past nine months. I was the director of student activities at a small liberal arts college and she was one of two GAs that helped to provide various activities and events for the undergraduate students. Together we had worked with student leaders putting to together leadership retreat, advising student groups, and coordinating events. We met weekly and saw each other almost daily. And, while I wouldn’t have said that we were great friends, we got along well. I liked her. She was an unexpected mix between a truly, compassionate, thoughtful, fiercely religious woman, with a fun streak of rebel rocker. She was a great role model for the students and fun to be around.

As with many of us, as the academic year was winding down, she was wiped out. Furthermore, she couldn’t seem to shake a flu bug that had been hanging on for a month or so. Weeks earlier, she had gone to see her doctor, who had suggested that, she had mono and began to treat her for it. Since this meant that she was going to have to slow down, she let me know about the diagnosis. As she told me about her symptoms, I remember thinking “is that what is wrong with me?” We figured out what to do to reduce some of her stress – including extending a deadline for turning in her project notebooks and having others cover some of her events. And, after a few days, with lots of sleep, and less stress, while she was not 100%, she seemed to be on the mend. She was excited about an upcoming trip to Ireland and was glad the year was slowly coming to an end.

And so, that day, with the fog of sleep still looming over me, I was trying to comprehend what Beth was telling me. “What do you mean that it doesn’t look good?” I inquired. “What happened?” Beth explained that earlier that morning, while I was curled up in my bed, Carole, who was suppose to leave for Ireland later that day, had plans to go to breakfast with her best friend. When her best friend called Carole answered the phone, but something was wrong. She didn’t sound right and complained about not being able to move one side of her body. And then, her best friend heard her collapse. When there was no response by yelling through the phone, Carole’s best friend and husband hightailed it over to her campus apartment. CPR was performed, campus staff responded (including Beth), the ambulance arrived and she was transported to the hospital. As Beth told me all this, I nervously glanced over my emails, looking for some sense of normalcy, and there it was. At 2:03am, Carole had sent me an email. “Kim, thanks for the extension on my notebooks. I am so excited for Ireland! I’ll get them done when I get back.” And, that’s when I heard Beth’s shaky voice say, “Kim, I don’t think she’s going to make it.”

A voice inside my head screamed, "What?!!?? No! That can’t be true!" Deep down, I knew – I knew that something terrible was happening. Beth was never one to overreact. She had been there, helping while the rescue squad arrived. She followed the ambulance to the hospital. She had talked to the doctors. She was trying to let me know – but I wasn’t ready to hear, that while I was sleeping, when I should have been at work, someone I knew, someone I saw all the time, someone who was only twenty three years old, was barely clinging to life. I was too shocked to face it.

To be continued...

Today I am participating in Pour Your Heart Out hosted by Shell at Things I Can't Say.

*names have been changed.

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