Mechanical Ventilation

Breathing. It is an autonomic function of the body. Yes, I looked it up. I breathe without having to consciously tell my body to do it.

On November 16, 2018, my conscious was sedated while a surgeon operated in my airway. The origin of the problem is unknown, but it is recurrent and incurable. It’s another circumstance under which I was born. It is not a consequence of bad judgement from my past. Just like kidney failure is not. It is simply something that I live with.

This time, living with it was difficult. My breathing was labored. I could not talk long without getting dizzy. My blood pressure seemed to drop as I ran out of breath. I could not walk at any pace without losing my breath. I coughed throughout the day. I don’t have COPD, but I think that I may now understand what it feels like.

I was exhausted every day, every moment and every week. There was never enough breath getting into my body was my conscious thought. With some trepidation, I was in surgery. This was necessary. But I already could not breathe well.

I normally wake up from surgery in a recover room. This time I woke up to a ceiling and something weird in my vision field. I can’t move. My hands are secured to the sides of the bed. Not in handcuffs, but something like them. I am not in surgery because I am alone.

Inhale in. Exhale out.

Oh, great God! I can breathe! Wait, I’m not breathing. I am on a respirator. But I can breathe. I am so relieved. Then I realize that this breathing tube became necessary. My friend. She must be concerned. She brought me to the hospital for outpatient surgery and I am here with a tube. (She wasn’t worried by the way. She believes God.}

A nurse came in and asked if I want to turn. I smile and try not to move. She assures me that they can do it. They tug a sheet and I rotate just a bit to shift the weight of my body. They suction the air tube. It is a scary feeling because for a moment you can’t breathe. You can’t talk. You can’t move. You can’ take a deep breath in. Someone else is just caring for you.

I slept. I loved that. Breathing and sleeping. Something that I had not done well for weeks. Now I could without interruption.

When it was time to remove the tube, they decreased the sedation medicine. It was very uncomfortable to have a tube down your throat. Furthermore, no one can understand you. My sign language was spotty, and the medical team didn’t understand any sign language. It was mostly me responding to verbal language with thumbs up, smiles, head nods and sign language for applause.

It was truly terrifying to be in a position where you cannot communicate. You feel trapped inside your body. I am writing this to encourage you take the time to make your preferences known by a living will or advanced directives. Don’t place you or your loved ones in a position of having to guess what you may want. If something unexpected should happen, as it did in this one case for me, you may not be able to communicate with those that need to know the most.

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