June 21, 2011 was a great day for an open-water swim. Summer solstice. One of those early days of a Pacific Northwest summer where a cloudless sky and the warmth of the sun were still a surprise. I had done three sprint-distance triathlons, and I was ready to train for an Olympic distance, graduating from a half-mile swim to a mile. My friend and I met, donned our wetsuits, and got started. Soon in to the swim, I felt my lungs tighten.
Not long after, I called out. “I’m having trouble breathing. I need to get to shore.” My friend, who is precisely the type of person you want next to you in a crisis, stayed close enough to encourage, but far enough away to keep from being dragged under. Once on the dock, I could not get enough air. Gasping, I leaned back. “Relax”, I told myself. “You have to relax.” So, I did. And found myself looking down at the scene from above. I knew I had a choice. Keep relaxing, and just go away. Or, get down there and fight. So, fight, I did.
After that, things moved fast. From the paramedics that were located in a firehouse just two minutes away to the nearby police boat that transported me, I made it across the lake quickly. The last thing I remember, I was being loaded on to an ambulance. “We’re going to give you something to relax”, they said. Then, darkness …
Voices. My sister’s voice. The beeps and whir of machines. I could not move. Couldn’t lift a finger, open my eyes, or turn my head. But I could hear. “Deb, can you hear me?! Deb?” I raised an eyebrow. Fractional movement, but enough for her to notice. My sister, insistently, “She can hear me! I know she can!” “It’s just reflexive”, the nurse said. “No”, said Amy. “She is here.”
And I was.
On life support, with a balloon pump inside my heart, but I was here. As I continued to stabilize, they began to wean me from the paralytic drug that dripped in to my veins to keep me still. Soon, I could move my finger; and then my hand. I signaled for a pen.
fine yesterday wtf … At that moment, my family knew I was going to be okay. Since that day, I’ve healed. Changed jobs, traveled … bought a home. Celebrated life with my beloved family. I may be healthy for many, many years. Or, I may not. But I am not going to waste my second chance. This is a collection of stories that explores the gift I was given.
I’m still here.