Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Hospitalization

Hello, everyone :) I've been working up to this post for awhile. It's been a very very hard few months. For those that don't know, mid June I was very close to passing away due to Sepsis (infection of the blood) and Pneumonia. I ended up in the ER for a week. The recovery has been pretty slow, and  as per doctors orders, I've been staying away from as much stress as possible (the reasoning why below) which for me is mostly internet/work related, but I promised I'd post about my experience, so here I am :)

I'll try to be as succinct as possible about everything, but the start of all this actually began last year with the start of Womanthology so I'm afraid this will be a big long post so you may just want to zoom down to the bottom ;) 

When the project came around, I was already over my head with work and family. I'm a mother of two ( one of which is a massively intense two year old :) ) as well as a comic book artist. I never thought Womanthology would be as big as it became. However, it quickly became apparent, not only how giant it was becoming, but how special, important, and just how much good it could do, if only it could be seen through to completion. So at the time I took it on because I really wanted to take this chance to do something positive and good.  Time went on and up until the Kickstarter ended, things were going really well. That is of course when the scrutiny of Womanthology began and the first blow of stress got me.

Just to say, because I have never really before publicly acknowledged all that went on, I don't blame anyone for that stress. I understand that, sadly, in this world where bad things happen all the time, it can be hard to realize that something CAN just be good and pure, with no greedy intentions. I know it can be hard to trust someone you don't know. I know that people can easily say things without realizing just how much harm they can do to people.  It's not anyone's fault, just the way the world is. At the time, I did not let on to people just how much internal pain it caused me, despite me knowing all I just said, to watch people say such untrue and angry things about me. Not just me, but the project I had given up time with my children to cultivate, all because I wanted to something good and positive that meant something. I'm a very sensitive person by nature, but I've become very good at internalizing it and moving on. So that is what I did, because I knew that you cannot just tell people your intentions, you need to just follow through and show them the truth.

For the remainder of that year, throughout production of Womanthology, it became apparent that it was far more work than even my largest estimates. I started sleeping less, I started not eating as much as I should have because I'd forget. Basically, I started giving up too much because I was dead set to finish it, not only well, but on time. Not only to meet the expectations of all the generous Kickstarter backers, but to have more time with my family again. That's when I started getting colds and flus every 2 or 3 weeks.

Of course, the finishing of the book had some technical delays that I could not foresee, both in production and in printing.  Then more delays in shipping to the US, customs, and finally corresponding with the shippers to get them all delivered. So come March, a full 2 1/2 months later than I had intended it, Womanthology finally was out. But what many people don't realize, was the tremendous amount of stress these delays caused me. However unrealistic it is, I always want to make everyone happy, and I take responsibility very seriously. So I wanted badly to make every single one of the Kickstarter backers happy. They showed a tremendous amount of generosity and faith in the project, and in me. I wanted to prove they correct to do so.  The delay started to weigh on me in a very unhealthy way as when I got sick I'd stay down for longer. I took every unhappy comment as my own personal failure, even though I knew that the delays were not my doing. After all, it was my project, so I had to take responsibility for everything, whether my fault or not. 

The work would pile while I was sick, so the stress would be higher when I returned to work. Therefore the stress began to snowball as my health only got worse. As for why I never saw a doctor, it's because as freelance artists with medium income, no health insurance, and no means to afford any coverage that would actually do any good, I was faced with a hard decision of if I was sick enough for the cost to see a doctor. I called to find out just how much it would be for my visit. And with the visit, the tests, and the cost to read the tests, it would be around $500. Was I $500 sick? What if I wasted the money? I still had to pay for the kids' checkups out of pocket that month.  ( it's different for them, we absolutely take care of the kids health, no matter what). I convinced myself time and time again that I was fine, and that I just had to try and be tougher.

Finally in late march, as more shipping problems arose with more delays and international issues,  it seemed to be the final stroke of stress to my system. I just wanted so badly to finish everything completely, to make everyone happy, and to go back to my life and enjoy the wonderful accomplishment and positivity of the project. The months leading up to March I realized, too late, the toll stress was taking. I started to pull back from some of the more stressful elements of my work and Womanthology out of necessity with the help of my wonderful husband Ray Dillon. Together over March, April and May we worked out a way to finalize Womanthology without causing too much stress. As of June, 95% of the books have been delivered safely to backers, and only a few rewards remained to take care of. Most everyone was happy. I started to relax a little

However I think the damage was done. Because my health only got worse. I started getting worse illnesses and infections. And apparently mid June, my body had enough and my immune system, severely weakened by stress,  and overloaded from fighting off so many things for so long, called it quits. 

My family had all been sick with fevers. I got sick too, but I didn't think much of it because Ray and the kids got better within 24 hours so I expected I could too. However I didn't, I got worse. I woke up one day with a 103 degree fever and couldn't stand up. I finally caved and decided to go to a doctor immediately. There they hooked me up with IV antibiotics (and water because I was severely dehydrated) but intended to send me home in a few hours due to my request to stem higher health costs and to only keep me if necessary. Ray took the kids to go get my antibiotic prescription, leaving me alone at the doctor's to rest while the medicine did it's work. But then my blood pressure suddenly crashed deadly low. They immediately called an ambulance to take me to a bigger hospital's ER where I remained for the next week.

There they diagnosed Severe sepsis, septic shock, pneumonia, and a kidney infection, among other things. I was just overridden. Apparently I almost died a few times as my blood pressure wouldn't stay up, and it was uncertain for a long time whether I would live or not.  They told me if I had waited just one more day to go see a doctor, I would not have woken up the next day. Ray got the call of what had happened while he was getting my medicine. He came in with the kids to see me right after I arrived at the ER, but soon had to take the kids home because I didn't want them to get sick (ER isn't a place for kids!). We couldn't afford a sitter at the time, and we wanted to make sure the kids were kept stable and safe while this was going on, so he stayed with them at home (which killed him :( ...) and I was alone at the hospital.

As I watched them leave the ER that night and they said goodbye, I just felt in my heart that it was the last time I'd see them. I don't know why I felt this way, but I just believed it. I was in too much pain to cry, and at one point I just wanted to just go to sleep and end it, it was that terrible. I can still barely stand to think about how dark that moment was.

Luckily, miraculously, I lived through it. I had a zillion tests and procedures done, among them was a Lumbar Puncture ( puncture into the spine for spinal fluid sample to be sure it wasn't infected) and a PICC line (an IV they drive a vein into your heart to be sure antibiotics immediately took effect) which were extremely painful but necessary. My days and nights melded together and were a flurry of pain and tests. I couldn't eat or drink anything for awhile so they had to give me more water by another IV.

It was terrible, but around a week later I was at least able to stand by myself and could eat a little again. They sent me home with most the infection wiped out, but with strict instructions to take it easy and above all, avoid stress as much as possible so I could allow my body to recover. I was told it could take anywhere from a month, to a year or more to fully recover and feel like myself again. Apparently I needed to rebuild much of my body's internal strength from step 1.

My time at home during my recovery has been difficult but wonderful at the same time.

 Difficult because I was very frustrated that for the first couple weeks I could barely walk a few feet without  getting dizzy and needing a break. I couldn't pick up my son, or take care of the house like I used to. I slept waaaay too much for my comfort. I kept trying to force myself back to normal, only to in return be forced to sit down again by exhaustion. Around Ray's 30th Birthday (late June) I was able to walk around, go grocery shopping (if it was a quick trip) again, but always I would feel dead the next day, and utterly exhausted.   Now, almost a full 2 months later, I am doing much better but still get exhausted if I try and do too much. 

Wonderful because, thanks to the generosity of people (Which I'm getting to next!) I was able to not work during my recovery, and spend every waking minute I could with my children while I recovered. After nearly dying, I realized I wanted nothing more than to be there for my kids, always. This experience really showed me that I can't just take care of them, I have to also take care of myself to make that happen. So this new awareness is something I'm trying hard to shift focus to. 

Also it has been wonderful, because upon leaving the hospital, I was told that there was a huge..... HUGE amount of support shown by people who know us :) I got so many letters, emails, get well cards, phone texts, and social network messages than I can count.  People had also without asked given some donations just to help, in which we were able to take care of a few of the more urgent medical bills, and allowed me to just recover and be with my kids for the last two months.

I was completely overwhelmed (in a very good way) by this. I don't know why, but I had myself convinced that everyone was disappointed in me because I couldn't do everything exactly as I'd hoped with Womanthology. I had mired myself in a negative image of myself that was apparently false. I couldn't believe people actually cared about me. And it wasn't until Ray set up all the cards as a surprise one day, that it started to sink in. 

To the wonderful people who have showed support, I cannot truly express just how much what you did has meant to me. You really reached out to me when I was in the darkest time of my life an lifted me up, something not easily done. Being who I am, I wanted to send a personal, handwritten response to each and every one of you, but I know I can't do that just yet. I am still trying to find the very best way to thank all of you, I can only hope you read this in the very least so you can understand that you have made a very big, very positive impact on my and my family. And I will remember it forever.

So I realize now that if you read all this, it may make it look like Womanthology caused this, or negatize the project in some way. I hope you realize that it was my choice to take on the responsibility. I did not realize just how big a toll it would take at the time, but I am incredibly happy and proud of the project, and of all the amazing women on the book. 

I've been through a lot in my life. I had almost died at 18 with a burst 7 pound cancerous tumor, lost my mother at 19 because of suicide, had 5 miscarriages, and have had to live with Misophonia my entire life (which can make living almost unbearable) but this is the one experience I know I will walk away from it knowing everything is going to be okay, because this was the one time I had so much support during it. So once again, thank you all for everything you have done for me. Thanks to Stacie Ponder (friend and artist on Womanthology) for being there for me and my kids while I was in the hospital. And most of all, thanks to my husband for being utterly, absolutely amazing during this entire thing. I love you so much, honey.

Finally, I've been asked what is next for me. There is no way in the entire world I'm giving up drawing. And again because of this experience, I very much realize that I want to spend time on projects that mean a lot to me, so Ray and I are working on our own Kickstarter (the one we were working on before Womanthology). Won't say what it is yet, but it means a lot to both of us, and once we finalize a few more of those remaining Womanthology rewards, we're moving on in a really happy way, and it feels wonderful. :)

So anyway, I'll post again very soon as I continue to recover and have more artwork to show! :) I hope you're all doing wonderful, and big hugs if you made it through this entire post!


-Geo said...

Just get better Renae. You ever walk up a steep big hill? You start going up and it's tough and towards the top your legs are hurting and you want to give up because it's so hard but then you reach the peak and go back down and it's so much easier.

I'm so glad you're ok. Me and Maja were worried. You wrote your own ticket so now, I think, your dreams will be easier to attain.

Ben Girven said...

Wow!!! How AWESOME!! I really love your work Renae, and am very happy that you are doing alright and are getting back to drawing!!!

Can't wait to see more of your Peter Pan!

Mikhail said...

So I just discovered your work (which is amazing!) through an article on ComicsAlliance. I had to see more, so I ended up on your blog. And then I read this post.

You don't know me, so I'm not sure how much my sentiment really matters, but I'm really glad to know you overcame that frightening chapter of your life. Your strength and commitment is absolutely inspirational.

Thank you so much for sharing that story, and thank you for your art. Consider me a fan.