Excerpt for Fractured: My Journey Back from Death and the Lessons I've Learned Along the Way by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





Fractured

My Journey Back from Death

and the Lessons

I Learned Along the Way



Elizabeth Antonucci



easp publications


Copyright © 2017 by Elizabeth Antonucci.

Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of others.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright holder, except brief quotations used in a review.

Cover design by Melissa Tenpas.

Cover image: rost9/stock.adobe.com.

Ebook formatting by www.ebooklaunch.com

Author photo by Ian McLaren, ianmclaren.photography.

All other photos are the author’s.

ISBN 978-0-9989104-0-6

Published by easp publications

www.elizabethantonucci.com.

Manufactured in the United States of America.

Published 2017.





dedicated to sam wasson

and my family


A Letter to the Reader

I don’t have many true fears in life. People who know me know I’m terrified of bridges and those grated things in the sidewalk. Definitely irrational, but I don’t have any plans to conquer those fears any time soon—I am 100 percent okay with being scared of these things for the rest of my life. But my biggest fear, the one that I am in the process of overcoming, is my fear of the unknown. It has held me back from a lot in my life. In a weird way, while it sometimes paralyzes me and creates a block, it is also my biggest motivator and source of excitement. Signing up for a class, writing this book, deciding to pursue a different career, waking up every day … all of these terrify and excite me because of the unknown. While some cause me less anxiety than others, the common denominator is fear. My dad has always told me, “Anything worth losing is worth chasing after. If you aren’t scared of it, maybe it really isn’t worth doing.” Just think about that … isn’t that so true? Oh, how I wish I would have learned how right my parents were at an earlier age.

The first time this hit me in my core was in 2011, shortly after I founded my theater production company, Step Up Productions (now called Step Up Chicago Playwrights). I had spent quite some time trying to figure out what our first show was going to be. Not wanting to rush into it, I read countless scripts, many of which I loved, but none really felt like the right one to have as our debut. But then, in the fall of 2011, I read The Sweetest Swing in Baseball by Rebecca Gillman and I knew, from five pages in, that this was the one.

I immediately took the script to my dad and asked him to read it. He loved it and said we had a hit on our hands. Then I took it to my mentor, Audrey Francis, whom I asked to direct. When I applied for rights and was granted permission to produce the show, it finally became real. I vividly remember sitting on my parents’ living room couch and my dad asking me, “How do you feel?” My response was, “Terrified.” He said, “Good—that means it will all be worth it.”

This was a turning point for me. I’d never really thought about fear in that way. I’d always viewed it as a negative, as something that will hold you back from doing what you want and accomplishing all you can. From that day on I learned that fear can be your biggest motivator. The fear of making our Chicago debut was what drove me to work as hard and as smart as I could to make it a success.

For the longest time, the fear of writing this book kept me from doing it. I first conceived the idea for it back in 2008. Since then it has taken many forms but always with the same intention—to help others. Yet it actually started as therapy for me. After a serious car accident that took my friend’s life and almost took mine, I started writing down my memories as a way to process what I was going through and what had happened. I originally thought I wanted to write a one-woman show based on different stories from my recovery process, but that didn’t get very far. Something always kept me from writing, from releasing the information in my brain to the page. It was a block created mostly by fear, but I now know the one-woman show wasn’t the project I needed to write—this book was. Once I knew the story I wanted to tell, and clearly defined the message I wanted to share, it was like the floodgates opened. But as soon as I decided I needed to tell my truth, fear came rushing in. I had ideas, stories, and experiences I wanted to share, but every time I sat down to write, nothing came out.

Things started to shift for me in the summer of 2015 when I decided it was time to stop running from the fear and instead lean into it. I met with a friend from high school, Dana Marie (an amazing singer-songwriter now living in Nashville), who gave me the name of a literary company, KN Literary Arts. I was so excited after my initial phone call with them that I called my mom and said, “This is it. I know I can have this book complete in the next two months.” Ha! I was a little overconfident. What followed were a few very trying months of not getting as far as I thought I would, numerous back-and-forth phone calls with my writing coach, Rebecca, and lots of time spent staring at a blank page. I was ready to give up. But something in me told me to keep at it. So early in 2016 I made a decision to write every single day for an hour a day and not judge myself for what I had written, what I had (or hadn’t) accomplished. I would just sit down at my computer for an hour, look at the outline I had created, and write whatever inspiration came. I decided it was time to stop running from the fear of this huge unknown adventure and start diving into it head first.

I had made this promise to myself before. I told myself to just sit down for sixty minutes a day and write, but I got frustrated staring at the blank page. I let the fear of certain points in my outline keep me from developing the story. My fear of being vulnerable and really opening up about an experience kept me from wanting to delve into it. Finally, though, I decided it was time for me to make the conscious choice to develop my ideas and really share the most vulnerable and scary parts of myself with you. I do not know what will happen to this book or how it will be received. I do not know what people will think of me before, during, or after reading it. But I do know that if I help one person, share my truth, and let people know they are not alone, I will have done my job.

When I was thinking about what I wanted this book to be, I always said, “If I could go back and tell my high school self everything I know now, life would be so much easier.” That’s what I want from this book. I want to help those who have gone through, or are going through, something scary or difficult to realize that they are not alone. Life is terrifying, life is exhilarating, and life is challenging all at the same time, and it is helpful to know someone else has gone through the same craziness. Someone else has done it and has made it out alive—in my case, literally made it out alive. The unknown can keep you small. It can keep you quiet and make you into someone you’re not, preventing you from embracing who you are truly meant to be.

When I broke down on my thirtieth birthday, my therapist and my mom both kept telling me, “You are not being as big as you know you can be.” I had no idea what they were talking about. They kept saying, “You have so much to share and you are not doing that, you have no clue what your true potential is. Why are you keeping yourself from your bigness?” After my frustration settled and my tears dried, I realized it was because of my old friend fear. Once again, I had let fear of the unknown keep me on the sidelines.

I can’t say that every day is a great day, or that I’m always able to prevent fear from getting in my way, but I can say that now, whenever I start to feel like I can’t do something because I don’t know what the result will be, I try to reframe my thinking to focus on the positive. “When I finish this (fill in the blank), imagine what can happen.” It is a little way for me to keep my fear under control. I spend some time visualizing the outcome. What that success looks like to me. How I will feel and what I will wear. I try to recognize the types of scents I might smell and to relish in them. This helps me feel more in control.

For you, the reader, I hope this book helps you find love, laughter, power, and relief. I hope you are able to recognize yourself in some of my stories and know that there is a light at the end of whatever tunnel you are traveling through. I hope my words resonate, and you are able to take what I have learned and apply it to your life.


While all these stories and events are true, some of the names have been changed to protect privacy.


Contents

A Letter to the Reader

Part One: The Accident

1. The Details

2. From Utah to Chicago

3. Struggle to See the Light

4. Laughing Through the Pain

5. Being Home

6. Spiritual Medium—Julie Walker

7. Spiritual Medium—Jenniffer Weigel

8. Another Session with Julie Walker

9. Session with Therese

10. James Van Praagh

11. Maddy: My Angel Dog

12. Graduation

13. Not a Victim

14. Oh, What a Night!

15. October 23

Part Two: Lessons Learned

Thoughts on Beauty

16. The Struggle to See Beauty in Myself

17. My Weight Struggles Continue

18. My Struggle with Weight Needs to Stop

19. Beauty Is More Than a Number

20. Finding the Beauty in Yourself

Thoughts on Finding My Voice

21. Drama, Drama, Drama

22. Losing More Than My Voice

23. The Bad Boy

24. Finally Making the Choice to Do Things for Me

25. Chase

26. My Thirtieth Birthday

27. Learning to Say No to Others

28. Morning Routines

29. Being “Good”

30. Powerful Beyond Measure

Thoughts on Theater

31. Speak Your Truth

32. Staying Outside the Box

33. Cupid and Psyche

34. Black Box Acting Studio and the ACADEMY

35. Baggage

Afterword

Acknowledgments

Further Resources

About the Author





Part One

The Accident


1

The Details

It was the fall semester of my senior year at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. I was a theater major, working at a wonderful production company, Mandalay Entertainment. I was enjoying life and had just been cast in the play The Laramie Project. Following in the footsteps of the Tectonic Theater Project, the original group that wrote the play, we drove to Laramie, Wyoming, to conduct research. We spoke with people who had known Matthew Shepard and interviewed members of the community. Five of us had to return to LMU earlier than the rest of the cast because we were going into tech week for another play, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Steve, David, Jack, Tony, and I left Monday night.

Early Tuesday morning, October 23, 2007, around 3:00 a.m., we were driving through Utah near a town called Fillmore. Tony was at the wheel, Jack was sleeping in the right front seat, Steve and I were sleeping in the backseat, and David was sleeping behind us in the far back of the Infiniti SUV. Tony set the car on cruise control at 90 mph and accidently nodded off. When he woke up, he overcorrected his driving; the car flipped and rolled seven times. David and I were ejected through the sunroof, and I landed fifty feet (some reports say fifty yards) from the car. Steve, who was shaken up but conscious, got out of the SUV, ran up the exit ramp, crossed the highway, found a pay phone, and called the police for help. Then he went back to the car, pulled Tony and Steve out, and laid them on the ground.

The town we were near was so small that there was only one police officer, and the person who answered Steve’s call had to reach him at his home. He then had to call the highway patrol and, since Steve wasn’t familiar with the area, it took them over an hour to find us. Then the highway patrol had to contact the emergency ambulance unit and they had to come get us. All told, we lay there for at least an hour, maybe two.

We were taken to a very small regional hospital in Fillmore where our injuries could be assessed. The doctors determined that David’s injuries and my own were too severe to treat there (I had a broken neck, nose, shoulder, shoulder blade, arm, and ankle), and we needed to be transferred to another hospital more than a hundred miles away. David was airlifted out first. I was airlifted next, and Jack followed by ambulance to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo. During this time, I was unconscious except for probably ten seconds when I woke up long enough to whisper my dad’s cell phone number to a nurse.

I can’t even imagine the terror my parents felt that night. It haunts me every time I think about it. I don’t remember anything, but from what I was told, my dad answered the call. I think the words he heard were “Your daughter has been in an accident—we don’t think she is going to make it. You better come out here.” He then called my mom, who was on her way to work out. They got the last two seats on a flight to Utah. When they arrived at the hospital they were told, “Your daughter is going to live, but she may not walk or talk again.”

From what my parents have told me, the next three weeks were a nightmare. I have a vague memory of them walking through the door of my hospital room. I was going in and out of consciousness and remember them having to explain to me what had happened every time I came to. Everything was such a blur and moving so quickly. Doctors were in and out of my room, people were poking and prodding me in different places, and I was submitted to test after test. My parents knew David had passed away, but they didn’t tell me for about a week because my condition was so critical. And I was already agitated enough.

The doctors advised my parents that I needed a spinal fusion and neck surgery. These were risky procedures so my dad called a family friend, a surgeon who gave my parents the name of a doctor in Salt Lake City, the head of neurology. My dad called him and explained the situation, and I was transferred by ambulance to Salt Lake City’s University of Utah Medical Center. It was there that I would have my surgery and spend the rest of my hospitalization. My dad eventually had to go back home—my younger brother was just a freshman in high school—so my aunt flew out to stay with my mom by my side.


2

From Utah to Chicago

I spent about a month in hospitals, with the doctors monitoring my recovery from my shoulder and arm fracture and the fusion of the C6 and C7 vertebrae. They were trying to anticipate and address any further complications, and put a plan into action for when I returned home. The most pressing concern was vertigo, the result of my brain injury—I was dizzy whenever I moved. I wasn’t yet able to sleep through the night and my pain wasn’t completely under control. I would need to undergo extensive rehabilitation once I was back in Chicago.

In November 2007, I was finally released. I was excited and scared. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to make it to the airport and onto a plane—I could barely make it around the nurses’ station with help. I had no clothes with me, so my mom went out and bought me something I could wear for the trip home. It took some time to get me dressed and into a wheelchair. I was terrified to get back into a car. My mom drove extremely slowly and carefully, but even so I was nauseous and extremely anxious. I believe the airport was only about thirty minutes away, but it felt like a two-hour trip. When we finally arrived, I waited for someone to bring a wheelchair to the car.

Next we had to battle our way through the security line. They wouldn’t let me go through in a wheelchair so my mom and my aunt had to help me through a special portion of the line. Security had to swab my neck brace, which I couldn’t take off without a huge hassle. They also had to swab my arm, which was in a sling, as well as my wheelchair. I finally got the okay to continue, and we headed to the gate. I was really nauseous and wanted to take pills for that, but couldn’t handle them on an empty stomach. My mom got me something to eat, but I couldn’t really lift my arms or hold a fork, so she had to feed me. This scared me. How was I ever going to get better? Would I be able to have a normal life again? Everyone was staring.

I took my pills, and we were the first ones to board the plane. Thank goodness my mom had gotten us seats in the first row—I don’t think I could have walked much farther.

The flight felt like it lasted a lifetime; I thought I would never get off that plane. I was particularly nervous about the takeoff and landing because I know those have the most impact on your body. Thankfully, they weren’t that bad and I had my mom and aunt on either side of me, which was a huge comfort.

In Chicago we were the first ones to get off the plane, and there was someone waiting with a wheelchair. We made our way down to the baggage claim, where my aunt and my mom collected their bags. It was freezing in Chicago! I was so cold, and nervous about the ride back to my house. Chicago is not known for the best drivers in the world, and getting in the car was the last thing I wanted to do.

My mom and my aunt helped me in and explained to the driver that I was really scared—they didn’t care how long it took to get home, but he needed to go slowly. He did, and thankfully I made it without any major problems. Yes, I was dizzy and nauseous but, other than that, I was okay.

We pulled into the driveway and I was thrilled to be done with travel. My mom, my aunt, and I squeezed through the door of our house and my whole family was home: my dad, my older sister, Cristina, my younger sister, Jenna, who had flown home from college, and my brother, Joe. My aunt and my mom helped me into our living room and brought me a chair. I was so happy to be there, but I felt like someone had sucked the life out of me. I didn’t respond to anyone. My parents tell me I just had a “void” look on my face. I lasted about two minutes before I got so tired that I needed to go to bed.

My cousins, who own a medical supply company, gave my family a hospital bed so I could sleep in my dad’s office on the first floor of the house—there was no way I was going to be able to make it up the stairs. It took a long time to get me out of my clothes and into some sort of pajamas. For five months after the surgery, I would have to wear a large cervical collar brace. Whenever I got into bed, I couldn’t lie back because of the neck brace and vertigo, so I was almost always sitting up. At this point, I wasn’t talking much either. I had a very limited vocabulary, and it was hard for me to retrieve words and formulate sentences.

Those first couple of nights my dad slept in the room with me. There wasn’t much sleep. I was up every hour or so with terrible night sweats—I would wake up dripping. I also suffered from night terrors, flashbacks of the accident or of me lying on the side of the road. I heard cars screeching or crashing outside the window. This continued for the first couple of months I was home. Actually, to this day, I am not able to sleep with my window open because, inevitably, I will wake up in the middle of the night hearing imaginary cars colliding.

Within the first few weeks of being home, I got the flu, a bladder infection, and horribly high fevers. I was on round-the-clock medication and pain pills. I had no appetite, and I don’t think I smiled once. I didn’t do anything except sit in bed and take naps.

My aunt visited almost every day, and Cristina came over whenever she wasn’t in school. Veronica, who had entered our lives when I was five in order to help my mom with our home and to raise four kids, and who had become part of the family, was also often by my side. They sat with me whenever my mom was in the other room. I never wanted to be alone—that’s when things got scary. I heard things, the room spun, and flashes of the accident flooded my brain.

As soon as I returned home, friends and family wanted to come over right away. Some of my parents’ friends stopped by to say hi, but due to my energy level (or lack thereof), I wasn’t really able to spend time with anyone. I can’t remember much from those early months (a lot of these stories are pieced together from what my family has told me), but I know everybody was very supportive and loving, and I am so appreciative of that!


3

Struggle to See the Light

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass … it’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Vivian Greene

I wasn’t even home a week when my mom and my therapist and family friend, Wini, walked into the room. I had been seeing Wini for therapy since I was about fourteen years old.

My mom told me I’d be starting rehab later that week. I was immediately overcome with fear and broke down sobbing. How was I going to get through rehab? I argued that I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t get dressed by myself, I couldn’t go to the bathroom by myself, and I couldn’t have a conversation for more than two minutes without passing out from exhaustion. All I wanted to do was sleep. My mind was flooded with questions and fear of the unknown. What kinds of people were going to be there? Would they be my age? Would they all be older? Were the therapists going to be nice? Would they know how slowly I was going to have to take things? And the biggest question of all, and the one that scared me the most: was I going to have to leave my mom? I didn’t want to leave her side for more than thirty seconds. I couldn’t do anything without her; I depended on her for everything.

Clearly, I lost the argument about starting rehab. Three days a week I went to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), and the other two days I went downtown to Rush University Medical Center to see my neck surgeon and an orthopedic doctor for my shoulder.

On a typical day I woke up between 6 and 7 a.m. (depending on whether I had to shower in the morning), got dressed, had something for breakfast, and was at the RIC by 8:30 a.m. I went to rehab from 8:30 to 11:30, and then my mom took me home and I slept. Sometimes I napped until dinnertime or until my mom woke me up. She didn’t let me slumber too long for fear that I wouldn’t be able to sleep through the night.

She also had to make sure I took walks around our house to prevent bedsores and keep my muscles from atrophying. At first I could only walk down the hallway and back. In time, I made it all the way around the kitchen and into the living room. My mom always put on music, usually Elvis (he’s our favorite), and she danced and sang along while trying to get me to laugh and have a little bit of fun. But all I ever wanted to do was get back in bed and sleep. Eventually, as I started to get my strength back, I sometimes sang or laughed while walking with my parents or Cristina. My mom tried her hardest to schedule my doctor appointments for days when I didn’t have rehab, but occasionally I had to do both. On those days I came home and crashed.

For the first couple of weeks of rehab, I was completely out of it. I had that same “blank” and “void” look—my mom calls it “the trauma look”—as I did when I first came home. At rehab there were mostly older people: stroke victims, car accident victims, MS patients, motorcycle accident victims, among others. There was really only one other person who was close to my age. She was about thirteen years old; a gymnastics accident had left her with limited limb function.

The old men did anything and everything they could to get me to smile, but I wasn’t having it—I was completely checked out and not myself. I would get there, my mom would sit me down in a chair, and I would wait for one of my three therapists to come and get me. I had physical, occupational, and speech therapists. After my first hour-long session I would go back to the waiting area and wait for my next therapist to come get me. This repeated until all three of my sessions were complete. For the first couple of months or so I made sure my mom came with me to all of my therapy. I had such bad separation anxiety and was so vulnerable that I got extremely panicky and broke down if she left or I couldn’t see her.

As I started to warm up to the people at rehab, I began to make friends with the other patients there. The old men saved chairs for me so I could sit beside them. One man in particular, a stroke victim named Arnie, wouldn’t leave for his therapy sessions until I arrived. I eventually started to look forward to talking with him and hearing what he had done the night before. One thing I remember vividly is that every day at 10:30 a.m., Arnie ate a banana. He was in a wheelchair and always pushed it as close to mine as he could. He had the best stories and one of the most positive outlooks. I remember being so amazed that he could laugh as much as he did.

As time went on, I slowly learned how to walk on my own and regained my balance. I discovered how to swallow again in a way that decreased the risk of choking, and I did a lot of word retrieval exercises to improve my brain function and recover the vocabulary I had lost.

One day my doctors and therapists told me that instead of having my occupational therapy session, I was going to see the psychologist. I broke down in tears. My family knew I was depressed, but I was in denial. Plus, I already had Wini, and I didn’t want to talk to anybody new.

For the first few sessions, I asked my mom to come in with me. I didn’t want to be left alone for a whole hour with someone I didn’t know. The therapist basically helped me understand that it was totally normal for me to be depressed. Before the accident, I had been very independent. I was living in California, finishing school in a theater program I adored, and really enjoying my time working at the production company, surrounded by an industry that I loved. And now I couldn’t do anything and was dependent on everybody.

The therapist explained to me that feeling ashamed that I had lived and David hadn’t was normal. “You have survivor’s guilt,” I remember her saying. But why would I feel guilty for being alive? It was a subconscious and natural reaction for anyone who had gone through something like I had. My mom kept telling me that things would return to normal and everything was going to be okay, but at that point, I wasn’t so sure I believed her.

The doctors, therapists, and other patients at RIC played a major role in my recovery. Every single one of them really took an interest in me, as they do in all their patients—their top priority was to help us get better. They took time to get to know me and learn my likes, dislikes, hobbies, interests, and background. They treated my mind, body, and spirit, which is extremely important after any kind of traumatic accident, and aided in all aspects of my recovery.


4

Laughing Through the Pain

Sometimes, in order to make it through tough moments, you have to find things to laugh about. Here are a few of my favorite stories that my family still likes to tell. If you are going through something difficult, just remember there is humor in every situation, even the darkest, scariest ones. Try to surround yourself with people who can help you find the funny and who can make you smile. Even if it’s just for a short moment, it makes all the difference.

No, Dad, I Have to Go!

Whenever I tell this story, people laugh. Although I don’t have much memory of it, my parents repeated it to me all the time whenever I felt like I wanted to give up.

When my parents first arrived at the hospital, I was going in and out of consciousness—every time I woke up, my mom or dad had to explain to me what had happened and why I was lying in a hospital bed. Over and over, my dad told me that I’d been in a car accident. I had different responses each time: shock, tears, disbelief.

One time, after he explained to me what had happened, I told him I had to go. He said I couldn’t leave and asked why I was in such a hurry. Trying to formulate sentences, I frantically explained as well as I could that I had a meeting with James Gandolfini’s agent and a casting director from Warner Brothers Studios (which was true; it had been set up for me before I took my trip out to Wyoming). He carefully told me that I wasn’t going to be able to make it to the meeting and that I would have to reschedule. Needless to say, I was not happy at all. As an aspiring actor at the time, I knew this was a big opportunity. I told my dad to get on the phone, call my friend in LA, have him pick up my headshots, and make sure they got to the meeting. He did, and my headshots made it to the meeting, even though I did not.

Paging Dr. McDreamy

One of the few things I clearly remember from my hospital stay is all of my hot doctors. They were all so cute! I thought I was at Seattle Grace Hospital in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Every doctor who came into my room was cuter than the one before. It made all the exams, tests, and needles a little bit easier to handle. Toward the end of my stay, one of the hunky doctors arrived to take the stitches out of my chin. As soon as he came in, I shot a look at my mom—she knew I was thinking about how cute he was. She started to laugh a little and I wondered what she knew that I didn’t. When he was done removing my stitches he rubbed my shoulder and told me I had been one of his favorite patients … I about died. When he left, my mom and I chatted about how attractive he was and she couldn’t hold it in anymore—she started laughing. She then filled me in: he had been the one who had to do my vaginal exam when I was first admitted in order to make sure none of my bones or muscles had been damaged … great!

Halloween

It was three days after my C6-C7 fusion—I was still very out of it and on a lot of heavy drugs. My mom and aunt had been traveling back and forth between the hospital and the hotel where they were staying. They were usually there when I woke up, but this morning they hadn’t yet arrived. I remember watching the nurses and doctors walk by my room and noticing something weird—people were dressed up. I couldn’t understand what was going on; why did everyone have costumes on? As soon as my mom walked in, I explained to her that I was hallucinating. “We should have the doctors check my meds because there is something wrong.” She started laughing and told me that it was Halloween—it was completely normal for people to dress up.

Why?

This is one of my sister Cristina’s favorite stories. Coming home from the hospital, I was still very much out of it and my thought process was not very clear. I was lying in my hospital bed with my mom and sister in the room and we were talking about the accident. I asked them why, if I was ejected out of the sunroof, the rest of the people in the car didn’t just pull me back in? Both my mom and my sister started chuckling. I was dead serious; I was even crying at this point. I didn’t understand why they hadn’t just pulled me back into the car. They both must have been laughing for a good two minutes before they stopped and noticed that I was serious and crying. They then had to sweetly explain to me that the car was going so fast and everybody else in the car was scared and didn’t know what was going on. I now realize that my question was pretty funny, but at the time, I was serious.

If You Can Cure Cancer …

You Can Help Me Pee!

When I was in the hospital I couldn’t get in and out of bed to make it to the bathroom, so I had to have a catheter. Toward the end of my stay it came time to take it out. The catheter wasn’t painful, and up until this point, it wasn’t something I even knew I had. The thought of it really creeped me out, though, so I was thrilled when it came time to remove it … I should’ve known better. I had no clue about a major side effect of taking one out: I had to relearn how to pee.

I figured, no big deal, when I had to “go,” I would just “go.” Ha, right! Think again. One day I had to pee so badly and I couldn’t. While the catheter was in place, the muscles in my bladder didn’t have to work, so they weakened and, as the doctors phrased it, “got lazy.” When it came time for me to “go” on my own, I simply couldn’t. My bladder would get so full that it was extremely painful. I’d sit on the toilet and try so hard to pee, but I’d end up in tears. My mom and dad were laughing at the situation (I guess if I was in their shoes I would have been laughing too). Looking back now, it was pretty funny.

It got to the point where it was so bad, I made my dad call Jon Sweeney, the healer that I work with, to see if he could get me to pee. If you saw what this looked like, you would be dying laughing. I was on the toilet, my mom was holding me there (I had no balance), and my dad was on the phone in the hospital room with Jon. I was screaming at Jon from the bathroom, “You can put cancer into remission, Jon, you should be able to make me pee!”

Ultimately I couldn’t pee and the doctors had to put the catheter back in. I hoped that the next time I had to pee it would be easier.

Don’t Choke

My sister Cristina is a hypochondriac; she thinks she has every disease imaginable. She has a PsyD in clinical psychology and has spent countless hours researching, studying, and reading about every possible disease, neurosis, and condition, which only makes her situation worse—she thinks she might have everything she studies in her psych books. Cristina came up to the ’burbs whenever she had a chance to, and I loved being able to spend time with her. It made me feel less damaged. She brought me my favorite snacks and goodies. I couldn’t eat large portions and I had difficulty swallowing, so my food always had to be cut into bite-size pieces, the way you would cut up food for an infant.

For someone who is neurotic, this was quite a predicament. Cristina took it one step further and tried to cut the food even smaller. Every time she did this I made fun of her, which made me laugh, which only made her fear of my choking greater. I never actually choked, but maybe I pretended to once or twice in order to mess with her.


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