Facing your own mortality

scott-dl1I grew up in Orlando and often listened to Mix 105.1 FM on the radio. Scott & Erica hosted the morning show for pretty much as long as I can remember. Scott McKenzie was diagnosed with cancer before I moved from Orlando. It was very sad news for many Orlando residents.

Just this weekend, I read that his battle was not going well. He’d posted a blog on Aug. 7 about his ongoing battle with cancer. He and his loved ones were facing the fact that they’d exhausted all options. An effort to get into a clinical trial was really his last hope, and, in facing reality, he had called hospice care upon returning home.

I understood that this signaled the beginning of the end-of-life process. I just had no idea how fast that end would come for Scott. He passed away just four days later on Aug. 11.

Reading his last blog post gave a unique insight into a person’s life and thoughts when they know death is imminent. We all will die; none of us knows the exact day or hour. Scott was far more cognizant of his imminent death than many people will ever be.

It made me think of the time recently where I thought death might be at my doorstep. Ten days after giving birth to my son, Daniel Jr. (DJ), I woke up with a very bad headache. Since I’ve faced migraines throughout my life, I took my prescription right away. This was a bad one. But the medication didn’t help in the least.

I was still home on maternity leave, and my husband had returned to work. Throughout the day, as I worked to care for my son, I noticed that whenever I stood up or leaned over to pick up something, my head hurt worse. I could feel the blood pulsing through my veins and beating in my temple.

Late that day, after my husband was home from work, it occurred to me to check my blood pressure. It was around 165/95. My blood pressure pre-pregnancy always ran around 90/60. I was very alarmed and called the doctor. A couple hours later, my blood pressure had soared to 185/100. We headed to the emergency room.

Doctors eventually diagnosed me with postpartum pre-eclampsia. I also had fluid around my lungs. Magnesium is a typical treatment for pre-eclampsia. At 6 a.m. the next morning, my OB doctor was explaining to us, though, that magnesium can cause further respiratory issues since I already had fluid around my lungs. So they opted to try a couple other treatments first. Nothing seemed to be working. The doctor explained that the longer my blood pressure stayed high, the more likely it was I could have seizures or other life-threatening complications.

We got to the hospital around 10 p.m. the first day. It took more than 12 hours before my blood pressure really started to come down to a reasonable level again. During that time, I honestly began to wonder if this would be what caused my death. I was afraid to leave behind my husband and son.

Even though I am well aware I’m going to die someday, it was “some day,” as in the future. Far off. Not soon. In my head, I had years ahead of me to enjoy with my family. Years to do things still undone. Years to watch my little boy grow up.

Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure anymore. I was also scared of this particular manner of death. I was afraid of being unable to breathe.

Clearly, I did not die. I feel grateful that medicine eventually brought down my blood pressure. However, I am still on blood pressure medication almost a year later, and any subsequent pregnancies will be deemed high risk. I will be at higher risk for heart disease and hypertension the rest of my life, as well. My cardiologist informed me that what I experienced was the beginning of congestive heart failure. I was only 36 years old.

Fortunately, I can do things to better my health. But reading Scott McKenzie’s blog post was very somber. I imagined what it would be like to know without doubt that modern medicine wasn’t going to keep me alive any longer. What would it be like to know your final day was not years away or even months away, but just days or hours? What would you say to family and friends those last moments? How would you spend your remaining time?

My thoughts and prayers are with Scott’s family and friends. Orlando lost a great one this week.