This is part two of the story of the night my attacker attempted to murder me, the surgeries to save my life, and the recovery process. Part one can be read here.
I was alive when my attacker pushed me out of the car onto the ground in front of the Emergency Room doors at Portland Adventist Medical Center. The ER staff stabilized me as we waited for the Life Flight crew to arrive and fly me to Emanuel Medical Center. I was alive when I arrived at Emanuel.
I was on a gurney and rushed from the helicopter into a surgery room. I could see and hear the doctors and nurses rushing around, talking, and preparing for the multiple procedures that would be necessary to save my life. I was going in and out of consciousness. I was conscious when one of the doctors noticed the cotton ball taped to my arm from the blood tests earlier that day, and remarked to the others present, “we might have an intravenous drug user here.”
I had tubes in my throat to keep me breathing and I couldn’t talk to explain that I had a blood test earlier in the day to test for anemia. He immediately took the tape off to inspect the needle mark. I could see the rush, the activity, but I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t say a word. I could hear the conversations going on around me, but I couldn’t explain what had happened to me and what I was doing with tape and a cotton ball on my arm.
I went back out of consciousness, and was put into a medically induced coma. They worked for hours to close massive head, neck, back, and chest lacerations. Doctors inserted chest tubes to re-inflate my lungs, and closed the stab wounds in my heart. Surgeons worked on the skull damage and brain injuries. They repaired my right arm and hand, reconnecting tissues, muscles and tendons, and reattaching my nearly completely severed thumb. They sutured wounds in my legs, neck, and back. And, for a while, I watched the surgeons work methodically and feverishly to save my life in an out-of-body experience. I heard the conversations. I saw my bloodied body.
A few weeks into my recovery I asked one of the doctors about part of the surgery. He asked me how I knew about what I was asking. I explained how I watched from above. I explained I recognized him as one of the doctors who came in after the surgery started. I was able to describe in detail what had been done to me. He explained that was the moment I had flat-lined. I died on the surgery table. It was matter-of-fact to him; he’d heard many patients describe the same experience. I flat-lined a second time while in ICU and a second time they were able to resuscitate me.
After surgery I went to critical care in the ICU. I slept for several days before I came to. I woke up slowly, and dazed. I felt the tube in my throat. I was confused. I saw the machines, and I began to realize I was in a hospital. I was in and out of consciousness again, but after a couple of hours I was able to open my eyes and keep them open. I knew then where I was and I had no idea why. I had no memory of what had happened. Nurses were coming in to check vitals and ask me questions about what I could feel: if I could feel my legs, if I could feel my hands, and if I could feel any pain.
One of the nurses explained to me they would be removing the tube from my throat in a few hours and that there were a couple of detectives who would come in to talk to me once the tube had been removed. She said they had some questions for me, and I didn’t know why they would want to talk to me.
Over the next few hours pieces of the attack starting coming back to me. I saw the memory of my attacker, I remembered he stabbed me. It felt like trudging through a fog, like being drunk and trying to remember what happened after a black-out. Piece by piece, it all started coming back. I was becoming more and more aware of where I was, what had happened, and how seriously I was hurt. I looked around and saw the respirator, the bandages all over my body, and then it hit me: my kids! Panic set in and I immediately wanted know, where are my kids?
A nurse brought in an alphabet board and I pushed letters around with my bandaged hands until I could finally make the word “kids”. She explained that they were safe and who they were with, and that they were in good hands and being well cared for. I recognized the name as a good friend of mine. With that comfort, and still being heavily drugged, I went and in and out of sleep for the next couple of hours. I would wake up and question, how do people know I am here?, and then fall back asleep. I would wake up and question, where is my attacker?, and then fall back asleep.
Finally a nurse came in to remove the tube from my throat. She explained the process before she did it, and that even after it came out I could only have ice chips and that I needed to limit my talking to give my throat a chance to heal. She explained that there were some detectives waiting to talk to me, and that they would be coming in to ask me questions after she removed the tube.
Two detectives came in. They introduced themselves and told me why there were there. They wanted to know who did this to me. They already had their suspicions, but they needed confirmation from me. I confirmed the name my son had given the police was the correct name.
The officers explained they had started a search to find and arrest my attacker. They had so far searched his house, his cousin’s house, and his sister’s house and had been unable to find him. They took what information they needed from me, and then they left. It was frightening to hear that my attacker was still free, that he hadn’t been caught, that I wasn’t safe.
I had staples in head, stomach, legs, and arms, and I had chest tubes keeping my lungs inflated. The chest tubes were hooked up to two machines that would show how much lung capacity I had. Even as the stab wounds started to heal, my lungs weren’t improving. This was the biggest issue on daily basis. Everything else was showing signs of improvement, but not my lungs.
The doctors were worried about a hole in my lung and a surgeon came to discuss what would be required to try to fix the issue. He explained that my lung wasn’t healing and he needed to do a thoracotomy to try to seal the hole in my lung. He explained the process and the risks; that it was a serious procedure with a 50/50 chance of survival. I would need to assign a Power of Attorney.
I was scared and overwhelmed and I started crying. I had survived so much only to be told that there was a 50/50 chance that a surgery necessary to save my life might take it instead. The surgeon told me to talk it over with my support system and take a day to make my decision. He was very clear that this was the only option there really was, even with the bad odds, it was the best chance we had because I couldn’t live with chest tubes. I decided to have the surgery, assigned Power of Attorney, and was put on the schedule for surgery.
The night before the thoracotomy I was very nervous. My surgeon came into my room to check on me and talk about the surgery. He asked how I was doing, and told me he felt positive about the surgery. Then he told me about a ritual he had had since his days in medical school. He had already had a long and esteemed career, and he explained that before he performed a risky surgery he would visit his patient and say his version of a prayer while holding his medical school scalpel over the patient’s head. This made me even more nervous. It seemed like a quack move. Once he finished, he patted my leg, said he’d see me in the morning, and reassured me that everything would be fine.
I went to sleep, only waking slightly when the nurses came in to check on me throughout the night. They would check the lung machine and write down my oxygen and capacity levels. Sometime in the middle of the night, one of the nurses came in to check things, suddenly switched on the light, and said out loud, “what the hell? I can’t believe this.” By now I was fully awake. She called in another nurse to check on what she thought she was seeing.
Everything was normal. My oxygen levels and lung capacity levels had returned to normal. They notified the surgeon and he rescheduled the surgery for the next day. He came in to visit with me and told me they would monitor everything for another 24 hours before doing any surgery. The surgeon commented that this was first time he had ever seen this happen. He wanted to be sure the levels stayed stable before the surgery was cancelled. My levels stayed up. They determined the hole in my lung had healed and they removed the chest tubes.
The next issues to resolve were the skull injury and the infections in the wound, and preparing me for a life without the use of my right arm. When I grabbed the knife, my hand was sliced in half, and the tendon in my arm had also been severed with one of the stabs. I was warned that I was not likely to regain the use of that arm, and that my muscles would atrophy and my arm would become limp and skinny.
I still had a long road to recovery.