Nuggets of Wisdom After Nearly Dying

sarah caliendo
Apr 5 · 4 min read

5 weeks after surgery, and several months after I’d been on Yaz, I could barely carry on a conversation without extreme shortness of breath. I’d be in terrible pain just inhaling, and feel sharp shooting pain in my back/chest with any slight movement. I’m exceptionally fit, and I was still recovering from surgery, so I wrote it all off. But after two visits to urgent care, failed breathing treatments, and tests, I got a diagnosis. I had extensive pulmonary emboli in both lungs.

When the PA told me they were taking me over to the ER, I was hysterical. I’d done research on PE, and to me, the stats were scary. I was alone, terrified my daughters would be stranded at school, and worse — that they’d be motherless. I was admitted to the hospital, scared out of my mind.

I’m very lucky. After a few anxiety wrought days of testing and treatment, I was deemed stable and given a good prognosis. I was discharged with strict orders for rest, and a prescription for blood thinners. Then, I couldn’t complete a sentence without struggling for air, I could barely stand in the shower, and I was petrified to fall asleep and not wake up. Now 2 weeks later, I’m blissed out doing all the ordinary things I took for granted, and I’m steadily improving each day.

Alone in the hospital, I was a definitely a mish mosh of bored, and preoccupied with medical research, but mainly I was reflecting deeply on my life, and the people in it. Here are some of those tidbits I am taking with me as I move forward in my recovery, and my life.

Listening to your gut can save you

I should’ve listened to mine sooner. I’m hyper-aware of my body from a number of different practices over the years, but even still, I largely dismissed the signs something was off. When I finally gave in to what I was feeling, my awareness of how my body operates in various states (normal, stressed) + attunement to new symptoms, triggered my intuition that something was wrong, which put me on a path of further investigation. Your body is your first indication something is going on with your health, relationships, or even strategic decisions, and that should prompt some further questioning. But if you’re unaware of your body’s baseline, how do you know when something is awry, or even spectacular?

You are your best advocate

My loved ones were supportive and insightful from afar, but no one was physically present for most of the days this was going on. This was the daunting reality. My well being depended on my ability to adapt to the circumstances, calm myself enough to focus, synthesize lots of information, ask questions, and push for answers. There are countless times in the past where I’d had questions or didn’t understand something, and was afraid to speak up, but that simply wasn’t an option. In the hospital, I didn’t have the opportunity to “just rest”, like everyone was telling me, but it ended up not being a bad thing. It was a reminder that in the worst of situations, I have more strength and capability than I realized (we all do). I managed to pull it together in spite of the stress, and that in of itself was empowering.

People handle tragedy in mixed ways

Over the years, I’ve suffered personal traumas, and have had those close to me experience them. So I wasn’t surprised at the mixed bag of reactions to my situation, but it was hard to see them play out. There were many who were wholly supporting me, but I was still feeling pretty sorry for myself, focusing on the disappointing reactions. I made these perceived “poor handlings” all about me; what it meant about their feelings for me, and how differently I would’ve handled things in their shoes. But really, there are many instances in the past, where I’ve reacted to someone else’s pain in odd ways; ways that I’m not proud of. So I realized these reactions aren’t about me at all. No one is perfect. We’re all complicated, have our own histories, personalities and lives we’re dealing with. People are all doing the best they can, in the best way they know how.

Human connectedness is everything

Throughout this ordeal, I was feeling isolated, and missing the sustenance that my close relationships provide. My loved ones were obsessively on my mind. I was running through all the experiences we’d had, and hoped to have. I thought hard about how to be better, and more available to them. I also mourned my old relationships. In that present, I was on the prowl for any level of engagement from nurses and doctors, to acquaintances on various social medial platforms. The flip side to my tragedy spiel above, is that there was an outpouring of visits, calls, texts, and care-taking from my community, and I was hungry for a lot more of it. Building a bigger, and rooted network of deep relationships in close proximity, is fundamental to me.

I’m content with where I’m at

If this had happened to me a few years ago, I’d have felt undone. I would’ve wondered a lot about what could’ve been, and I’d have been still struggling to find myself and my place, in spite of my accomplishments on paper. But in the hospital, I was very much at peace with my life, and my part. When I thought about my career, personal development, travel, creativity, parenting, and new relationships, I had very few regrets if any, and was happy in where I was. Now more than ever, I’m energized about the possibilities in front me, and while I don’t know exactly where I’m going, I’m grateful for the ability to explore and see where I can take myself for much, much longer.

sarah caliendo

Written by

Bringing humanity into business. Executive Coach. Startup ex pat. Instructor at CycleBar. Creative. Passionate about people.

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