There have been many miracles over the years…taking a sip of water for the first time after three years of not being able to eat or drink, a coma and 27 grueling circumstances is certainly a significant one. When I was 18 – a week before my high school senior prom – I randomly found myself in intense pain. I woke up six months later, only to learn that my stomach had literally burst to the top of the OR and exploded, and after both my lungs collapsed and 122 units of blood, I almost died. Here I was, suddenly displaced from my former life as a carefree, audacious, musical-theatre-loving teen, and thrust into a world of tubes, bags, beeping machines, and a world of crisis where everything became minute to minute – a fight from physical, emotional and spiritual survival.
I could talk about how every night I prayed to God while tied down to a stiff ICU hospital bed that one day I would be able to just suck on a ice cube again. Or pacing through the aisles of a grocery store in tears wondering if I’d ever be able to have dinner with friends. How on my 21st birthday after a 19-hour surgery and three shifts of nurses and doctors, I finally took my first bite of food. How my three older brothers and devoted parents camped out in the ICU and stayed by my side through every up and down, and one was even inspired to go to med school and become a doctor from my ordeal. How despite my bleak circumstances, I was determined to never feel like a victimized patient, and while I was only sustained on IV nutrition, I taught nursery school, put up three professional art shows, starred in musicals, learned karate and yoga, and eventually wrote, directed and starred in a one-woman musical about my life. I could talk about how miraculous it was that I was able to maintain my sanity when I was once again living at home but prohibited from eating or drinking indefinitely – where even turning on the faucet could be a lethal temptation for me.
I could write about how I fell into my coma the week after I had gotten all of my college acceptance letters, and I mourned the loss of what seemed to be a natural progression of my maturation and education. How would I finally come into my own, become an adult, be part of a community and learn how to operate in the real world? Was I forever to be the sick patient, chained to machines, going from doctor to doctor – would I ever be normal again? Was this my life now? Once I said “yes”, it became my life – a beautiful, miraculous blessing. And at 27, I am finally in college feeding my brain with knowledge and my belly with campus grub.
But I’d just like to write about my Grandma. She is my miracle. My grandmother was in Auschwitz at 18 – a survivor like me in a way. The Nazis forced her to sew their uniforms because she was an amazing seamstress, which is how she was able to stay alive, along with her determined spirit and unwavering faith. Growing up, her and I would take nature walks, she would sew buttons on my coat, make her delicious noodle kugel, yell at me for not wearing socks on the cold tile, and although she never liked to discuss the pain of what she went through, I could always see that depth in her eyes. My grandmother always filled our house with joy, gratitude, love and food. She always exclaimed that she “was going to dance at my wedding,” which would be her biggest pride and joy.
My grandmother passed away while I was in a coma and it pained me deeply that I would never see her again. My mother and I often searched for her spirit in the many seagulls that flew around our tiny house by the water. We would pray to any seagull we saw, feeling my grandmother’s presence in their glorious flight. The seagulls helped us believe in miracles, that things would get better, and that my grandmother was still with us, watching over us all in loving protection. It made us feel less afraid of what the uncertain future would bring us at a time when it was hard to keep believing in anything.
Years later in November 2012, I had to have another surgery. What was supposed to be minimally invasive turned into three emergency surgeries within a week, and a few more months stuck in the hospital unable to eat or drink. When finally discharged, I was discouraged and depressed. I felt lonely, like I had lost all connection to the outside world once again. With a gaping wound that has not healed to this day, all my physical strength depleted, and no road map for recovery, I was too tired to be the feisty and fearless warrior that had enabled me to not only to survive, but to thrive.
One day, a girl named Sara called my mother. She very assertively stated, “I just moved here from the city and I don’t know anyone. I grew up with Amy and I’d love to get together.” Still wearing hospital pajamas and barely able to get out of bed, I was in no mood for company. But I reluctantly agreed. Sara popped right over and casually mentioned that she had met her boyfriend online. I thought nothing of it.
A month later, when I could no longer stand my loneliness or my medical situation, I decided to tell myself “I’m healthy enough” and make my first online dating profile ever – in fact, I had never had even a casual boyfriend my entire life! I used the same mentality that had helped me endure everything else: If you act healthy, you’ll feel healthy.
That day, a man named Brandon sent me a message. By the end of that day we were writing novels back and forth to each other – I couldn’t believe how scarily alike we were. We had all the same likes and dislikes, we had visited all of the same places, had the same exact values and family memories, and the same quirky sense of humor! He made me feel like a person again and to realize who I was before the medical ordeal – who I still am. I was so ashamed of the terrible shape I was in after these surgeries that I tried to put off meeting in person – but we did meet…a week later.
Since meeting in March 2013, we were inseparable. I had not felt joy and life within me like this since before I got sick. After so many surgeries, invasions and setbacks, it was hard to feel normal, human, or even real. It was actually hard to know what feeling felt like anymore from all the numb years of being forced to deny my starving body food or water, while nutritional IVs mechanically streamed through my veins. Now, love flowed through me instead – for the first time.
Brandon put me back in touch with me, my vitality, my spunk, my hunger for life. Fast forward through countless hours of stream of consciousness discussions on any topic under the sun, hikes, grocery store strolls (our favorite date night!) dinners, escapades, and everything else, Brandon proposed to me that July ’13 during our visit to his family back in Arizona. And now I’m planning my wedding for June 2015, while in college and doing my one-woman autobiographical show!
My grandmother always told me she would dance at my wedding. And I feel her spirit guiding me more than anything – I don’t need a seagull to know that! She was there as I twirled around in the first wedding dress I tried on, and she’ll be there as I declare my vows under the chuppah made of her own lace. The miracle is learning that she has been with me all along, watching over me and ensuring that not only did I keep my body alive, but my spirit, my will, and my heart. She is the music as we dance, the food that will warm my newly fashioned digestive system, and my guidance into the unknown world of married life. And every now and then as I walk out of the new house that Brandon and I own together and will spend the rest of our married lives in, I sometimes see a seagull soaring over my head…
Also published in Sassee Magazine