Published on www.amyoes.com
I’ve always loved nature—ever since I was a little girl. My nature walks were my time to daydream and collect little treasures along the way. I’d often come home with pockets full of acorns, mulch, flowers I picked off neighbors’ lawns, pebbles, and a bit of dirt. My fantasies were vivid, and the world felt so alive around me—the trees had faces, the sun had a song, and even as a kid I knew I was living in a world of miracles. Nature was how I continually rediscovered myself—every day, the world felt new.
I grew up happy, healthy and confident with who I was. But my life took an unexpected turn when, two weeks after I turned 18, I fell into a coma for months due to a sudden blood clot. When I awoke, I was told I no longer had a stomach and couldn’t eat or drink. It was not known when (or if) I would ever again.
Waking in the unfamiliar world of the ICU (full of beeping machines, nurses and IV pumps) was earth-shattering. Discovering medical appliances all over my immobile and foreign body, feeling as though I woke up as someone else, and not knowing when I would leave this alternate universe was frightening and overwhelming. But what I want to share with you are the blessings that came from starting anew.
As I became more and more alert, I slowly rediscovered the world that I had been away from for so long, and it felt like every smell, every sight and every interaction was being experienced for the first time. As my family sat by my bedside, I noticed things about their demeanor and our dynamics that I had never taken time to see before. I realized that the quiet, intimate moments can speak volumes. In a way, being snatched from the hustle and bustle of everyday life provided an opportunity to connect more deeply with my loved ones. We had been given the precious gifts of quiet time and no distractions. Things I hadn’t noticed before—my mother’s smile, a friend’s laughter, the love and support all around me—now evoked feelings of profound gratitude.
The beauty of a near-death experience is you realize the things that matter in life. However, I wouldn’t say that falling into a coma is necessary to realize this! Every day is an opportunity to remember the things that make us feel grateful. Once my hands were able to write again, I would make a list from A to Z of what I was grateful for. Even on some of my hardest days, I found that by the time I got to “Z”, there were at least a few things to smile at and be thankful for.
Soon my alphabetical list turned from “Almost walked, Better heart rate, Coughed less” to “Awesome walk outside, Best afternoon ever, Cheerful spirits today.” It was amazing to see each day slowly improve and to feel myself gradually claiming ownership of my world again. Bit by bit, I started to feel myself materialize back into the girl I knew before my coma, but equipped with a deeper wisdom and a vivacious new desire to discover the world.
As my spirits lifted, I got better from the inside out, hungrier than ever to re-experience the world. Eventually, I didn’t need to be plugged into as many machines, so my family started taking me on high-speed ride, racing through the halls of Columbia Hospital in my wheelchair. We’d explore all of the hidden nooks and crannies of every floor, though I’m sure we weren’t supposed to be in half the places we went to! Finally, one day, we found a beautiful spot outside where I got to enjoy my first breath of fresh air in months. I remember seeing the sunset for the first time since the coma… I felt like a child being born all over again. Even the mundane became glorious—seeing people having lunch outside, the roaring of traffic, birds overhead—and the more I saw the more I wanted to be a part of it.
Now, here I am, a decade later. I’m healthy, grateful, and part of the world again. It’s the wonderful world I knew before as a nature-loving, happy-go-lucky teen, yet there’s a little spark that lies behind every sunset, every friend, and every routine experience. I admit that I still get caught up in the rush of everyday life, when it’s easy to take things for granted, but I always try to remember what it felt like to breathe in that sunset in that rusty old wheelchair. When I do, the overwhelming sense of gratitude floods my senses again.
How would you live your days as if each experience was being felt for the first time?
Subscribe for updates on Amy’s upcoming book, “My Beautiful Detour.” Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, speaker for RAINN, writer for The Huffington Post, award-winning health advocate, actress and playwright, eagerly sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, performance, art and speaking. All artwork was created by Amy on her detour. Catch her touring Gutless & Grateful, her one woman musical, to theatres, colleges, conferences and organizations nationwide. Learn about her mental health advocacy programs for students and follow her on twitter @amyoes.