Abigail Marie Wold
My Birthday is June 9, 1980
When I was a little girl, my parents were my heroes and my family was the perfect family. I thought everyone had fun when they went to work. My teachers were my role models (and always right according to my mom) and I honestly thought I was going to grow up to look like a Barbie doll. I also vaguely remember something about Prince Charming whisking me away to a fairy tale wedding and us living happily ever after in his castle.
My teenage years were probably more horrible than they should have been (sorry mom and dad). But I did turn out okay. At nineteen I decided to move two hours away from home with my boyfriend of two years. I attended college somewhat sporadically and two years later, moved back closer to home for a promotion with the company that I had been working for since age eighteen.
When I was twenty-two years old, adult reality began to set in. All of the skeletons began to slowly emerge from my family’s closet and I came to find out several tidbits that I could just have easily done without knowing. I figured out that nobody’s family is perfect. I was completely stressed out and unhappy with my job and ready for a career change. Did I say something about Prince Charming? Oh… well, my boyfriend from high school that I so wisely chose to move in with… ended up being more like a son than a prince to me and I am proud to say that I think I did a wonderful job raising him. He is currently going to college and not doing too bad, surprisingly enough. As for teachers, my favorite high school teacher ended up getting fired for dating a student and getting a DUI in the parking lot of a local fast food restaurant. Pathetic! By the way, I look nothing like a Barbie doll… I am five foot nothing with mousy brown hair and a body more like Skipper’s. Life just did not quite turn out the way I thought it was going to.
I realized that if I didn’t begin to make some changes I would never be truly happy. I took a hard look at myself and my surroundings and asked myself what I needed to do to make sure that my life was closer to what I had imagined in kindergarten than what it was becoming. I think the combination of growing up, being completely sick of where I was, who I knew, and where my life was heading led me to what I did next. I decided to pack up and leave everything familiar to me behind: My boyfriend of five years, my family who I have never lived more than 2 hours from, all of my friends, and my beloved cat. I decided to join the army! My mom thought I was attempting to run away from my problems; I thought that I was doing something to ensure I didn’t have many problems.
I signed my first contract for the U.S. ARMY in October of 2002. I was going into satellite communications for five years and my date to leave for basic training was set for January 14, 2003. On December 15, 2002, my boyfriend and I broke up. We also moved out of our apartment that day. It was one of the hardest things I have ever survived. I prepared myself to leave for the ARMY by doing push ups and sit ups and running at least a mile a day for the two months before I was supposed to leave. I was bound and determined to make it through basic. Two weeks before I was due to ship out for basic training, I got cold feet and renegotiated my contract. The new contract was for a four year commitment instead of five and I selected a military intelligence job instead of communications. My father, who is an ARMY veteran himself, was very excited about the intelligence job. My date to leave was pushed back until February 18, 2003 and I would be training at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri. I quit my job on January 10 because I wanted to have some time for myself before I left. I spent the next few weeks hanging out with friends, mentally preparing myself for the separation anxiety I would feel throughout basic training, and just relaxing.
I was just two days away from leaving for basic training when my world changed forever. I arrived at the Emergency Room at Brandon Regional Hospital on February 16, 2003 at 11:00 am unable to even walk in on my own accord. I had been vomiting since 1:00 am and decided to go to the hospital when I woke up in severe pain and found a strange purple rash on my stomach and legs. My friend Billy had meningitis a few years back, and I recognized the “rash” from the story his father wrote about his struggle to live through it. Upon describing my symptoms to the triage nurse and telling her, “I think I have meningitis,” I was immediately put into an examining room. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was separating me from the other patients so that I didn’t infect anyone else. Within fifteen minutes, a doctor was administering intravenous (IV) antibiotics and pain medicine to me. Apparently with the symptoms I had, the procedure is to assume meningitis until a patient’s blood work proves otherwise. Unfortunately, my blood work only confirmed what the doctors feared. I had meningococcal meningitis and it had entered my bloodstream sending my body into septic shock. I was in for the struggle of a lifetime.
That afternoon, I was admitted to the Critical Care Unit and remained stable through the night. My mother is a nurse, and knew from the beginning how difficult it would be for me to fight off this disease. Upon obtaining my nurse’s promise to call if my condition changed the slightest bit, my family decided to go home around midnight knowing they would need to try to get some rest because the worst was yet to come. They had no idea how soon the “worst” was going to start.
The nurses called my family back to the hospital around 1:00 am (yes, one hour after they went home) because my veins collapsed causing all IV access to my body to be lost. The nurses were unsure if they would be able to continue the medications I needed in time to save my life. An Emergency Room doctor was called to my room in order to start a femoral IV line in my groin (the veins are larger there and easier to access) and to make matters worse, my blood pressure dropped to 40/20 (normal is approximately 120/70). I think the last thing that I remember was watching them stitch the femoral line into my leg. I made it through the night, though, and remained awake and alert until 5:00 am the next morning when I could no longer breathe on my own. I was placed on a ventilator and into a drug induced coma so that I would let the machine breathe for me. By this time, my organs were starting to fail one by one and the purple rash had spread throughout my entire body.
As the days passed, my brain began to swell and my mother kept a close watch over me to make sure the swelling never got out of control. One night, she and my nurses elevated the head of my bed and hyperventilated me on the ventilator without orders to decrease the swelling. I was also diagnosed with Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation, a condition that causes blood to clot almost as soon as it is made by your body which only complicated things further. Two of my fingertips and all of my toes became black due to necrosis caused by the medications I needed to sustain my blood pressure. My family and friends practically lived at the hospital and were very worried about my dad. They thought he was going to have a heart attack. My ex boyfriend stayed by my side throughout the entire ordeal. After several failed attempts, I was eventually weaned off the ventilator on my eleventh day in the hospital. Miraculously, my tiny body pulled through and on my twelfth day in Critical Care, I awoke from the coma with no brain damage.
Although a little confused about what had happened to me, I seemed to be almost normal to my friends and family when I woke up. I saw ninjas and thought there were cats in the bottom of my bed for a few days, though (I like to blame it on the drugs, but, we’re not really sure what caused it). After arguing with my mother several times about their existence, the ninjas and cats disappeared. I wasn’t sad to see them go… they were kind of scary. I did not have much of an appetite for a few days, but it returned. My family and friends say that’s how they knew I was sick. I am usually a big eater! By March 7, I was stable enough to be transferred and was taken by ambulance to Tampa General Hospital for a plastic surgery consult and further wound care. I had eight surgeries in a month and a half to try to salvage what was left of my feet. I ended up having both legs amputated below the knee and the two bad fingertips amputated. On April 18, I finally went home! I am currently learning how to walk all over again on my new prosthetic legs. Today, June 27, I feel almost completely recovered. I only have a few residual medical problems to deal with and feel very lucky to be “out of the woods” finally. Learning how to walk on these new legs is not easy, but I will not let myself give up.
This experience has affected my personal life in several ways as one can imagine. I now have a sincere appreciation for many of the things I used to take for granted. My family has been my stronghold throughout the past four months. Although they still get on my nerves by being over protective, I now truly understand that it is just because they love and care about me and not because they don’t want me to have fun. I used to get frustrated with them very easily and find that I have a lot more patience with them lately. I also have a newfound respect for disabled people of all sorts. It is way harder than it seems to not be able to do things for one’s self. Having to be confined to a wheelchair even temporarily is especially trying because of the looks and comments one gets from others and because it is extremely difficult to be independent in a wheelchair. I never realized how many people stare at the disabled until I became one of them. My faith in God helps me deal with all of the looks and comments I hear people make because I know it could be worse. The relationship that I have with God is definitely different now. Before I got sick, I had doubts about God’s existence and went to church to make my parents happy. When I was sick, hundreds of people prayed for me and I got well. When I woke up, I told my mother that I had a conversation with God while I was in the coma. I’m not sure what I said to him, but, now I never miss church and will never allow myself to lose touch with my spirituality again. There is no doubt in my mind that God exists and that the power of prayer heals. Although there are several ways I have changed as a person, perhaps the most important is the fact that I now realize the importance of internal beauty. I am thankful to have learned this valuable lesson at such a young age. I know that the person is made up of what is inside them, not what they look like. A beautiful mind, heart or soul is much more of an asset than a beautiful face in my opinion.
The excellent care I received from nurses throughout my hospitalization has made a lasting impression on me. I now have ambitions to become a nurse myself and give someone else the compassionate, exceptional care I was given. The nurses were a Godsend to my parents because I trusted them so much by the end of my hospital stay that my parents could go home and rest almost every night. Once I was well enough to understand how to change my own dressings, the staff nurses would send in nursing students so that I could teach them proper wound care because I got to be so good at it. Eventually, I started to figure that if I could teach others to take care of me; I could surely learn how to take care of others. I believe that I have the heart to be a nurse and am well aware of the long hours and hard work it will take for me to become one, but, I know it will be worth it all in the end. I can only hope that one day down the road when I am a nurse, I will be able to inspire someone else the way my nurses inspired me.
Obviously, anyone who has experiences similar to the ones I have had over the past few months will have a different outlook on life (whether good or bad). I seem to have achieved some sort of inner peace with myself through my illness and truly feel happy with my life for the first time in years. It’s amazing how one can change so drastically over such a short period of time. Life is just more meaningful to me now and I have decided to “make lemonade” out of the lemons it has given me. Sometimes I am not even so sure I believe that I have been given lemons. The ARMY is out of the question now for obvious reasons. Academically, I have been inspired to go back to school to become a nurse myself. I have also learned several lessons on a personal level such as the true value of family and friends. My relationship with God is much stronger now, and never again will I choose to ignore the little voice in my head (a.k.a. my conscience) or allow myself to doubt my beliefs. This experience has been good for me in more ways than I can explain and even though I have had to suffer through some unfortunate circumstances, I still believe the saying, “That which doesn’t break you only makes you stronger,” to be true.
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Abby, where are You? I miss you and love you, Frankie
Dear Abby, you are one of the bravest hearts I know. You give light where there is darkness and your faith and strength is way beyond your years. I pray God will bless you and I can not tell you what it means to have you as a part of our Angel Family. Your courage lifts my heart to a new place.
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