I’m a month short of my two year Death Day anniversary. Two years ago, I suffered from a ruptured aortic aneurysm, ascending, and the road to recovery has been anything but smooth. I don’t say Death Day in jest. In the process of my rupture, I hit the ground, hard, seized for almost a solid minute, and lay dead on the ground - no breath, no pulse, blue in the face, and cold as ice - for almost three solid minutes. But I digress.
I have my functionality back, for the most part. I have my strength back, for the most part. I did gain a decent amount of weight in the time that has passed, but that’s to be expected when your body undergoes such an extensive trauma. Although it’s caused me some body image issues and depression, I am very slowly losing the weight.
The problem that I wasn’t expecting was the never ending, lingering chest pain. Right in the center. The exact center of the incision where they cracked my chest open. It doesn’t even span the entirety of the whole scar, which is pretty large in itself. It’s in that middle part, that small divot in between my breasts. The area of the chest is even slightly concaved. But it’s a small, specific spot within that that hurts. Most of the time it’s just a dull little ache; kind of like how it feels when you press on a bruise that’s on the verge of healing. But then sometimes, it seems like every two to three months, the pain… escalates. A consistent stabbing pain from the outside in will start to occur. And then that pain will radiate in a smaller pulsating circle around the area. Then finally, I’ll feel a consistent crackling sensation, like my sternum is cracking open again from the inside out.
As I said, it has been a very rough road trying to deal with this. I don’t currently have any regular doctors, which is insane given the extremely low survival rate of people who have experienced my condition. Adding in the extra complications that surrounded my situation, you would THINK that people would want to provide me with some quality health care. Unfortunately this isn’t the case.
I would pitch to say that in the last twenty four months, I have made at least ten trips to the emergency room due to the complications with my incision site. Probably more. Every single time they treat me with some pain meds and send me on my way. No additional suggestions of who may be able to help me with continued care, nothing. Just constantly shuffling me around from doctor to doctor, office to office.
This last time I had to take a trip to the emergency room, to my pleasant amazement, the onsite physician was far more helpful. He recommended me to a pain management specialist, and I was able to get an appointment within just a few days.
I was giddy with anticipation that entire morning leading up to the appointment. I got into the office, and the wait wasn’t long. I was growing more than just antsy. I noticed that the longer I sat waiting, the more the pain in my chest was growing. It wasn’t an anxiety type of feeling. It was that accelerated cracking sensation, like my chest plate was going to break open at any moment. My hand instinctively went to my chest and I got the strange nagging feeling like I shouldn’t put my hand there. I withdrew it and brushed the thoughts aside.
The nurse assistant called me back to the office. She took all of the usual vitals required, and asked all the run of the mill questions that are asked each time you go to the hospital. She yammered on about what a unique phenomena it was for me to still be alive, just like all the other hospital personnel did. I had heard it so many times before that it was almost a second nature conversation at this point.
Finally, the specialist arrived. The encounter did not begin well. They had a very condescending attitude. Instead of asking me about anything related to my pain - my physical condition - they focused on my ‘emotional state’.
“This can be a very traumatic experience. Have you ever considered speaking with someone, to deal with all the mental drama?” they asked. They didn’t even try to sound nice.
“Yes, actually, I have. I see a therapist and a case worker both once a week. We actively work on the trauma associated with this. Not only do we talk about the effects of death and coming back from it, but we also frequently talk about the massive amount of stress caused by this hospital system which can’t seem to make heads or tails of what to do with me since they shuffle me around so much. It’s like I’m a deck of cards or something.” I replied, not hiding my irritation.
They called the nurse back in so someone else was present as they began my physical examination. I lifted up my shirt, and they instructed me to lie back on the table. That took great effort, as laying flat was one of many things that worsened the pain I felt. They began prodding at the area and I winced and squeaked out sounds of pain with each press they made.
They finished up their examination and the nurse once again left the room. After a decent amount of… heated discussion… we decided on a lucrative treatment plan that hopefully would help with the pain. The doctor left the room again to get the paperwork together so I could be on my way,
I was alone in the hospital room. An eerie silence fell over the room. Suddenly, I felt a massive burst of pain erupt from my chest, far worse than any experience thus far since my surgery. I screamed out in pain, clutching at my chest. What I least expected was to feel another hand underneath my sweatshirt. I lurched my hand back and quickly lifted my shirt.
Two black, tar dripped like hands were protruding from my chest. The fingers attached were wriggling like they had never felt fresh air before. There was no blood dripping down my body, just thick, black, oozy tar. Panic stricken and nearing the point of hyperventilating, I began screaming for someone to please come help me. As I heard feet thundering down the hallway towards me, I looked down and saw the hands from my chest pull the shirt back down so it was covered again.
Multiple nurses, a security guard, and my doctor burst into the room. I was shaking, and the doctor stepped forward.
“What’s wrong, what is it?” they asked.
In barely a whisper, I said, “There’s something underneath my shirt. It’s coming out of my chest.” I looked down and sort of pointed towards my incision area.
“Did one of the wires pop through? Maybe that’s what’s causing all the pain you’re experiencing.” as the doctor finished speaking, they reached forward and lifted my shirt.
In a flurry of motion, the black hands grew into long arms that bent in all the wrong directions, still protruding from my chest.
A voice began coming out of my mouth that wasn’t my own. “You think you know everything, don’t you? With your clean white coat, and your fancy degrees.” the voice said. One of the hands grasped the doctors throat, lifting them off the ground, and the other began marking streaks of tar down the front of the once white coat.
I realized I had regained control of my own voice. “Somebody do something! Help me PLEASE!” I screamed. I began to cough, and the same thick tar was coughing up through my body.
The hand coming out of my chest that had been streaking the doctor’s coat reached up and slapped me hard across the face. I once again lost control of my voice.
“You think a simple staple and stitch makes everything all better, don’t you?” the voice spoke, coming out of me. “You have no idea what daily suffering is like. The utter agony of walking around with a fake smile plastered on your face, when you’re so exhausted you want to collapse, and you just beg for even a moment without pain running through your body.” the voice that wasn’t mine continued.
I felt my body standing up, against my will. I tried with all my might to fight it, but ultimately was bested by the beast inside me. It moved the doctor towards the wall.
“Do you know what it feels like to have your chest cracked open? Do you know what it feels like to bleed out for hours, with no help? Do you know what it feels like to have hard titanium permanently residing in your body?” the intruding voice cackled, “How about we give you an idea.” the voice now boomed from my gaping maw.
I coughed more tar like goo out of my throat. I thrashed as best I could with my own arms, trying to pull these new arms away. The long spindly fingers reach into the center of the doctor’s chest. Their screams emanated throughout the room, only being matched by the sound of my own horrified screams. This thing was coming from inside my body, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
As I saw the blood dropping down the doctor’s body, my vision went black.
* * * *
When I awoke, I was screaming.
Clutching at my chest, I said, “Where is it? Where did the arms go?” I bolted upright in the bed. It hurt a lot and I steadied myself.
A nurse quickly came into my room. As I went to reach for her, I realized I had straps around my wrists. I was locked to the bed. “Help me, please.” I said. I began to silently weep.
She patted my hair. “It’s okay, darling. You had a bit of an episode while you were in the office. You’ve been heavily sedated for quite a while now.”
“But the arms! They came out of my chest! And that voice! I’ve never spoken like that before! It wasn’t even me talking! I couldn’t stop my body from moving! I tried so hard!” My voice grew louder and more frantic with each sentence, and eventually I collapsed in on myself in a pool of hysterics.
“Sweetheart,” the nurse said, “You had some serious delusions. We’re not sure what happened, but everything is fine now. You’re safe. Let me give you a little sedative to help you relax and get a more restful sleep.” She slowly pressed a syringe of liquid into my IV, and I did feel myself begin to calm down pretty quickly. I relaxed a little and layed down again.
She left the room, and I lay there for a while, thinking to myself. Did I have another nervous breakdown? Perhaps I hadn’t made as much progress with my therapist as I thought. I never wanted to be defined by my surgery, and now here I was quite literally tied down because of it.
I felt a small itch on my chest. I reached to scratch it and felt something that wasn’t supposed to be there. I looked underneath my hospital gown and saw a new chest scar that wasn’t there before. It ran perpendicular to the one I already had. Then I sneezed. And a little bit of black, oozy tar appeared on my gown.