I had status epilepticus: a life-threatening condition in which the brain is in a state of persistent seizures. Definitions vary but this condition has always been considered a medical emergency with continuous or recurrent seizures causing the loss of consciousness. I was intubated. A tube was inserted through my mouth into my trachea to enable me to breathe. For five days, I was put in an induced comatose. I never imagined this could ever happen to me.
Yes, I had leukemia (mental note, I used “had” because I’m in remission already) and still undergoing chemotherapy, but I never expected that something like this could happen. I don’t think anybody did. I wish I could vividly tell you what I felt during those trying days but God’s goodness erased my memory from the night I had seizures at home on December 17 up until His birthday, December 25, when He awoke me from this long deep sleep.
Believing that I will wake up soon, Tita Elong (the best step mom in the universe) kept a diary for me so she could tell me every detail while I was gone. I want to tell you about my dreams (or the doctor side of me would consider them as hallucinations because of the numerous drugs I had to take in). At one point during my slumber, I felt a chilling cold coming from above and a heavenly song surrounded me.
At that point, I knew that was it for me; it was time to go. What I felt and heard made me assume that I was being led to heaven but when I tried opening my eyes, I saw a not-so-good-looking creature. He was a contrast to the music and the coldness. Standing outside my cubicle in the ICU was a green Kamatayan (yes, he was colored green, cartoon version of Kamatayan). He looked like the late comedian Palito holding a sickle and waving at me as if trying to call me. I laugh at the thought now when I look back at it but during that time, I was really scared. The only comfort that I had was the thought that I got a bigger God than this green Palito-look-alike. Why should I be scared?
I might be dying that moment but there wasn’t a chance that I’d go near that scary creature. That was one of the moments I talked to God. I poured my heart out to Him. I sincerely asked for forgiveness for all my sins, for all my shortcomings, for all the things I should’ve done but didn’t, for hurting people. I begged Him to find it in His heart to forgive me so I can go with Him to heaven. I begged Him not to give me to that scary creature. I told Him that if it was time, I was ready to go. It was a short life but I was happy, blessed and fulfilled. I asked Him to take care of my family and loved ones and that they can accept my death with grace.
I hoped that I was able to inspire people during my battle. I would have wanted to spend more time with my family but maybe those months that I was sick were our given time to bond and reconcile. I honestly told Him that I still wanted to stay but I needed Him to completely heal me because I felt that I still have a lot of things to accomplish. He knows the desires of my heart but His will shall be done. If it was time to go, I prayed that He will let me go home with Him. If He still wants me to stay, a second shot at a more meaningful life was all I hoped for. And with that thought, God breathed life to me once again.
On Christmas day, I received the best gift ever— I woke up from coma. When I opened my eyes, the first person I saw was Tita Elong . “Sars nakikita mo ko?,” she asked. I simply nodded because I couldn’t talk. That was the time I realized I was in the ACSU—an intensive care unit for patients with brain problems. I felt all the tubes and needles inserted in my body—a tube in my mouth, another tube in my nose for food, an arterial line on my left arm, multiple ports of intravenous line connected to my portacath (a device implanted under the skin of my right chest with a long catheter directly connected to my right atrium and where my chemo meds are administered for four months now), compression stockings on both my legs to prevent embolism caused by prolonged immobilization, and worst of all, a foley catheter to help me urinate. I looked at Tita Elong with an expression on my face asking her what had happened. She smiled at me and told me that I was asleep for five long days.
That was the first time I remember myself crying. I was crying because for the first time in one week, I felt tremendous physical pain. Both my arms were bruised because of frequent difficult blood extractions. My legs were hurting because of the machine compressing them. Every muscle in my body was aching. I was feeling hunger pangs. I was struggling pointing at correct letters when I was trying to say something. And the most heart breaking was when I realized that I couldn’t move my right hand and arm. I was devastated. I am a right-handed person and more importantly, I am a surgeon. Knowing that, I wished I never woke up. I was scared to be in a wheel chair, wearing diapers for the rest of my life. I was scared of being invalid at a very young age. But, what right do I have to complain? I faced a lot of hurdles for the past week but I don’t remember and I didn’t feel anything. I was merely asleep.
I closed my eyes and tried to compose myself. I prayed hard and told God that I will keep my faith in Him amidst all these trials. I tried remembering the lines of my favorite Christian song: Find rest, my soul, in Christ alone. Know His power in quietness and trust. I will be still and know You are God. I tried remembering my prayer when I was asleep. God will heal me completely. He brought me back because I still have a purpose. I knew very well that anything can happen when they remove my breathing tube. I can either tolerate it, or not. And so, I asked for a Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) order form. It is an order from a patient to not administer any form of life-saving measure when something goes wrong, to allow natural death. I signed the DNR form for a number of reasons. I didn’t want to live with fractured ribs due to chest compressions. I didn’t want my parents to see another bout of agonizing sight. I didn’t want to endure a vegetative state. It was a decision I had to make, but it is not a sign of giving up. This decision only means that I was putting my complete trust to God and submitting everything to Him. At the end of all this, I believe there is a time to let go.
Last July 22, 2011, I had a vision of God saying these exact lines: “It is already done. You’ve won your battle. Pero, hindi magiging madali ang daan. Kapit ka lang.” It was indeed not an easy ride, but He carried me through it. Erasing my memory from December 17 until the day I woke up on December 25 is a proof that He did not allow me to suffer any more than what I was enduring. My family and friends were telling me how I cried hard because of stomach pains and severe headaches few days before I slept. I was telling them how tired I was because of my seizures. I couldn’t imagine how my regular hospital room became like a battlefield full of doctors when code blue was sounded because of my frequent seizures.
While I was sleeping, I experienced a lot of God’s miracles. My first CT scan of the head dated December 18 showed a mass on my right occipital lobe and was signed out as infectious (beginning abscess) or metastatic in etiology. My hema-oncologist strongly believed that it can’t be metastasis to the brain because I was always in remission every time we had bone marrow biopsy. So a lumbar tap was done to analyze my cerebrospinal fluid where results turned out to be normal. No cancer cells were found in my brain’s fluid. Yet, I had seizures again the following day. A repeat CT scan was done. The single mass that was previously seen increased in number and found scattered in my brain. I was started on intravenous anti-fungals thinking that it might be infectious in origin. A third CT scan was performed on December 21.
The results worsened; it was signed out as a possible consequence of brain infiltration of leukemia. I was immediately referred to a neurosurgeon for a brain biopsy. Sounds easy but that’s one thing I wouldn’t allow if I was awake that time. I could imagine the fear my family felt when they were told that they will drill a hole in my skull to access my brain. Family conferences with my attending physicians were constantly held. Some of my doctors were priming my family for the worst. But some remained hopeful that I will recover. My neurosurgeon told me that I was already scheduled for brain biopsy, but one doctor went against it and suggested to do a cranial MRI first instead. MRI showed extensive vasogenic edema (swelling of the brain). There was no mass, therefore there was no need for a brain biopsy—another miracle for me. I was diagnosed with Posterior Reversible Encephalopathy Syndrome, a disease I’ve never even heard of. It is apparently a rare disease entity which was most probably due to my intrathecal chemo medicines.
Whatever it is, what matters is that it is a REVERSIBLE condition. However, because of the extensive brain swelling predominantly in the occipital area (area of vision), my parents were told that I might lose my sight. I understood then why Tita Elong asked me if I could see her when I first opened my eyes. And I could. I didn’t lose my vision. Another miracle. All the tubes attached to my body were removed on Christmas day. I fed through my mouth for the first time in one week on Christmas. My family and I celebrated Christmas in the hospital. We celebrated God’s blessing, my second life. I still couldn’t move my right arm and hand. I told God that I’ll be needing my hands to go back to work to treat my patients. I requested for an early rehabilitation for my right hand and arm. My rehab doctor said that it might take 6 months to 1 year before my hand and arm can fully recover. I felt downhearted again because that seems like a long while. The next day, I started physical and occupational therapy for my fine motor movements. It felt like I was a stroke patient. I had two options: to dwell on self-pity or be strong and rehabilitate myself. I chose the latter. Even without the therapist, I walk around the room. I tried eating by myself and practiced texting with my right hand which turned out to be the best rehab. In three days time, my doctor re-examined me and said that I won’t be needing the therapy anymore. The strength of my right hand and arm was back.
Yet again another miracle. In those trying days when we pray, He will listen. If we look up to Him whole-heartedly, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). Countless miracles have been unfolding. I wonder what I could have done to deserve all these blessings. I am grateful for all the blessings behind all my trials. I’m grateful that He always makes me understand why I had to go through all these difficult hurdles. I believe He carried me all throughout this ordeal exactly like the story in the Footprints on the Sand. I did not have a vision of Him this time, but faith is the means by which we are able to believe that He is a listening God.
I would like to sincerely thank everyone for praying for me during my slumber. A few people honestly thought that I’d slip away. But, more believed that I will win this battle and wake up again. Thank you to my best friends, friends, colleagues, my ENT family, doctors, residents, nurses who took care of me and comforted my family. To everyone who helped me financially, thank you so much. I feel so loved I couldn’t express my gratitude enough. To the Ramen for Sarah admins and my spokesperson Lacierda (Jojo M.), thank you so much for constantly updating everyone. To my great team of doctors (headed by my Hema-Oncologist, whom I love and respect so much and who has always been optimistic that I’ll survive this ordeal. She’s no other than the DOH first lady, Dra. Ona), you all have been God’s instrument in my healing. I’ll be finished with my chemo really soon. I claim complete healing and recovery. No more leukemia. No more cancer cells.
Honestly, as a doctor, I sometimes find it hard to believe in miracles. But it does happen. I’ve experienced it. I’ve felt it. Believe that miracles happen and that prayers can move mountains. Trials may come your way. We may stumble, but if you just hold Him by the hand, He will never let you fall. God allows adversity in our lives not to break us but to better us. Maybe at one point in our lives, we will be called upon to trust God completely as we endure sickness, grief or disappointment. That’s when we “walk by faith, not by sight – 2 Corinthians 5:7”
By: Dr. Sarah MoralFebruary 10, 2012 7:03:46 PM GMT+08:00