By Del Starr, a pseudonym, all rights reserved, posted Oct. 29, 2015
[Editor’s Note: An important question has come up in the comments, and perhaps I should always have had this at the head: this is a factual memoir, written under a pseudonym by the woman to whom it all happened. There is no fictionalizing; everything is exactly as “Del Starr” remembers it. DLK]
Yea, Though I Walk Through the Valley of Death
Now that Tina’s divorce was final, Dianne could rest, knowing that her child was safe, and she enjoyed having Tina living close to her.
The motel took up much of Dianne’s time. When they had first purchased it, she had tried to run it completely by herself, aside from the head housekeeper, who had been there for years. Dianne relied heavily on her, since she herself had no motel experience. Still, she soon was exhausted from the rest of the details of running the business, and they were fortunate to find Alma, an experienced motel person, to live in the apartment over the lobby of the motel and work part of the time. She was also able to take the phones to her apartment. This freed Dianne and Peter and they were able to sleep at home for the first time in four months.
Now Dianne was enjoying her work. She loved people and the motel afforded her a place to interact with all kinds of people from around the world. Her hours were long; she began at 6:30 in the morning and was not free until 2 in the afternoon seven days a week but she felt that she could handle it. She had been a strong and healthy person all of her life.
She had worked the motel now for about a year and a half. Tired? Yes, but happy.
It was the middle of May. Dianne, weary from work, accompanied Peter to a local restaurant for a bowl of soup before heading home. She had finished eating and was relaxing for a moment when she said to Peter, “I feel like I’m going to pass out.”
“Put your head down,” Peter said, reaching over and putting his hand on her head as she lowered it.
She slumped and Peter quickly slipped around the table to support her in her fall to the floor. A gentleman from a nearby table rushed to help. He was a paramedic from out of town and, taking Dianne’s vital statistics, he determined that she had no pulse and was not breathing. He attempted to apply mouth-to-mouth resuscitation but to no avail. Being trained in “precordal thump”, he balled up his fist and hit Dianne squarely in the chest over the heart. Dianne’s eyes fluttered open and she became sick to her stomach.
The local paramedics had been called and now took Dianne to the hospital where it was determined that she must have suffered from a viral attack for they could find nothing wrong. She was kept overnight and released.
In June, Dianne sat at the table in the lobby eating lunch. She was thankful for the break. It had been a busy day. Peter came by on his way to a job he had taken on and he visited with her for a while, then left.
Dianne recalls that one of the maids walked by with sheets in her hands, going out the front door and past the window where Dianne sat. Dianne remembers nothing from that moment until over two weeks later. The story is told by her workers, her children and her husband.
An interview with a housekeeper reveals:
“I saw Dianne sitting at the table when I took the sheets and stuff to the room. When I came back a little bit later, I saw her on the floor. I thought she had dropped something and was looking for it but when I spoke to her she didn’t answer. I called the head housekeeper.
The head housekeeper states:
“When I got to the lobby, I saw that what the maid had said was true. Dianne was on her hands and knees with her face on the floor. I called to her but she didn’t answer. Then I checked to see if she was breathing and she wasn’t. Then I called 9-1-1.
“When the ambulance came, the guys came in and started working on her. There were two ambulances and must have been a half a dozen paramedics. The police came, too. They cut Dianne’s clothes off her and tried to get her to wake up. Finally they used those paddle things like you see on TV. They tried those about four times and nothing happened. Then they brought in the stretcher and put her on it and took her to the hospital. I asked them what was going to happen and they told me that she had less than a 20% chance of surviving.”
Dianne’s husband Peter says:
“I had just talked to Dianne. I was just there! Hadn’t been gone half an hour when I got a call on my cell phone from the police telling me that Dianne was on her way to the hospital. I didn’t know what was going on but I went to the hospital. When I got there, they told me that there wasn’t much hope for my wife. She had not been breathing for from 10 to 15 minutes, they told me. They used the defibrillator a couple of times at the hospital and then they gave her a shot to the heart. Finally she opened her eyes and looked at the doctor and the nurse.”
Dianne recalls a brief moment of awareness as the doctor said, “Howdy, stranger.” Then she passed out again.
“They told me that they were calling for the helicopter from Missoula. They said they didn’t hold much hope though and I should call her kids and her mother. Her oldest son had just moved to New Hampshire the week before and he couldn’t come but I called all of them on my cell phone while I drove to the hospital in Missoula. I took Tina with me.”
“I was so scared. I didn’t know what was going to happen to my mom. I wanted Peter to hurry up and get there and he did drive pretty fast but he was trying to call the kids, too, and I thought we weren’t ever going to get there.”
The hospital in Missoula that usually handles heart cases was full and Dianne had to be taken to the community hospital. Tests were run. She had not suffered a heart attack. There seemed to be nothing wrong with her heart. She continued to hold on by a thread while further tests were run. She was surrounded by tubes of all types. She was on an IV and tubes were installed to drain any fluid on her lungs and others to aid her in breathing.
Dianne would die, of that they were assured, and the doctors eased Peter and Tina into that knowledge.
Brad would fly to Missoula and the rest of the children would drive. Janelle lived close to Grace and picked her up on the way. Dianne was Grace’s only child and for 10 hours, Grace rode in silence, wondering if her daughter would be dead or alive when she arrived.
As Brad walked into the room where Dianne lay, his face clouded over. Tears came to his eyes and he could only say, “Oh man!”
It would be several more hours before Dianne could be transferred to the heart hospital. Meanwhile, a heart monitor was placed on her. Within hours it was obvious what had happened. She had suffered from what is known as a Sudden Death Episode in which the heart races to an uncontrollable level until it can no longer function and then stops. The heart monitor showed that her heart could beat a comfortable 80 beats per minute and suddenly race to 180 beats per minute, immediately slowing again to 80 beats per minute. The stresses of Dianne’s life had finally taken their toll.
She continued to hang on. The rest of her family arrived and she was moved to the other hospital, where treatment continued.
Now she was strapped to the bed to ensure that she would not tear loose the many tubes which were connected to her body. Dianne fought against the straps. It took two male nurses to hold her down. One of them said, “She has been given enough sedatives to put down an elephant. This woman is a fighter!”
The family was well aware that Dianne was a fighter. Many times during her life, that was all that had kept her together.
A cot was placed in her room and Grace now took up residence at her daughter’s side.
Peter must now run the motel, and he had little experience. Dianne had always done that while he maintained a side job, which also took up many hours. He now worked the side job, ran the motel and also traveled back and forth to Missoula on a daily basis.
Three days after Dianne had been admitted to the hospital the family was told, “She is going to survive, against all odds, but she was without oxygen for so long that she will be nothing more than a vegetable.”
The family had mixed emotions. Dianne had always been a vital person and to now see her as a vegetable would be heartbreaking, but at least she would be alive.
She continued to fight. She fought the tubes, she fought the straps, she fought any procedures that might be attempted. It was necessary to maintain sedation in heavy amounts.
Would she ever improve?
She had been moved from intensive care to a private room and now visitors other than family could be received.
Little did the family know that Dianne was at least partially conscious, because she recalls that one such visitor was the doctor from the church board who had called Peter a liar. The one emotion that she remembers from the entire hospital stay was her complete revulsion that he would now feel that he had a right to even darken her doorway at the hospital. The family could not know that she was aware enough to realize who was there or who was not.
It was the afternoon of the fifth day of Dianne’s stay in the hospital when a lady arrived to visit. Dianne had never met this lady in person but had often spoken with her on the phone, concerning business matters. She now came to the door of the room and spoke to Dianne.
“Hello, Dianne. How are you?”
Dianne couldn’t see her; she was still strapped to the bed, but when she heard her voice she said clearly, “Teddy! I’m so glad you came.”
Peter’s heart raced. She would not be a vegetable! It was a grateful Peter who related this event to the doctor.
A new determination was made. Dianne would not be a vegetable but she would probably be mentally retarded.
The doctors stood over her once more. More procedures, more tests. Peter stood by, watching.
“Peter,” the doctor said, “this will continue to happen. The only thing that we can do for Dianne is to install a defibrillator with a back-up pacemaker. This will facilitate the heart’s maintaining a steady pace and should it stop, the defibrillator will shock it within 20 seconds and restart it. We can do that surgery in a few weeks.”
“NO!” Dianne thought. “I’ve had enough of this and if they are going to do surgery, they can do it now. If I don’t have it, I could die in the middle of the night right here in this hospital. No!! They are going to do it now!”
And she spoke. “I want it done now!”
With shocked looks, the doctors turned to Dianne. “You what?” they asked.
“If you’re going to do it, I want it done now!” Dianne repeated.
Surgery was scheduled. Now she would be protected against further attacks.
The doctors considered Dianne’s condition. Was she, perhaps, being kept too sedated? She was obviously aware of what was happening. Her order had been very clear and precise. She would not be mentally retarded, after all.
Peter and the family received this news with glad hearts. They were told that she would probably suffer short term memory loss but it appeared that she would make nearly a full recovery. When Dianne had sufficiently recovered from the surgery, her sedation was lowered and the family could relax.
Brad felt that he could now safely return home He kissed his mother goodbye, and Peter took him to the airport. The other children remained, as did Grace.
Dianne was now able to communicate on a limited basis and the entire family had a chance to converse with her briefly at one point or another. Grace continued to sleep on the cot in her room. The children had gotten motel rooms while Dianne was so seriously ill but now they went to Peter and Dianne’s motel to stay, driving back and forth daily. Tina had been working Dianne’s front desk job all this time while Alma gave more than her share of help.
Grace had been able to go to the children’s motel room to shower but now that they were staying farther away, she had no way to take a shower. She expressed her concerns to Dianne’s nurse.
“Dianne isn’t using her shower,” she said, “why don’t you just use that one? I know you would like to freshen up.”
When her mother went into the shower, suddenly Dianne heard strange noises. “Ooh, aah, oof, oh, aaaaa, errrr!” What in the world?
More noises and finally a voice, “There’s no hot water! This shower is cold!” Grace continued making the strange noises. Dianne doubled over (as much as she could with the stitches from her surgery) in laughter. Grace sounded so funny and Dianne could just imagine her trying to get clean in the cold water.
“I can’t believe your mother!” Grace snapped to Tina. “Here I was suffering in cold water and all she could do was laugh! She has absolutely no concern for others!”
A tinge of smile played on Tina’s face. She, too, could visualize Grace hopping about in a cold shower. She was appalled that Grace would be so self-centered that she would be angry with her daughter who, just days before, had been at death’s door.
“Grandma,” she said, “Mom hasn’t had anything to laugh about for a long time. Let her laugh!” It was the first time she had ever stood up to her grandmother and it was a good feeling.
With little or no sedation, Dianne now showed signs of speedy recovery and it wasn’t long until the doctors were ready to consider sending her home. She had been in the hospital for nearly three weeks.
“Dianne,” the doctor said as he was doing the discharge examination, “are you ready to go home?”
“Oh, yes!” Dianne was emphatic!
“Do you remember what you had for breakfast this morning?” he asked.
“Of course I do,” Dianne replied, “why do you think I want to go home?”
The doctor shook his head. Dianne’s recovery would be complete. “Then you may go,” he told her.
It was a happy family that loaded Dianne’s belongings in the car for the trip home. She was not yet capable of taking care of herself; she would stay at the motel where she had people to help but she would be fine, they thought.
The entire time of her stay in the hospital, Dianne had felt God’s presence at her side and had never once been afraid. Previously, she had been terrified of anesthesia, not knowing if she would ever awaken. When she had the surgery to implant the defibrillator, her mind had been at peace. As she was headed for the operating room, she had remembered the terror she would once have felt, and realized that the peace she now felt was a gift from God. She had been ready, no matter what the results of the operation, to depart this life or to stay. Now, Dianne knew that there must be a reason that her life had been spared. She asked God to show her that reason.
At home, however, she was bored. She had not watched television for several years. She read books, she visited with the motel personnel, once in a while she would turn on the animal channel on the TV, but though she enjoyed the adventures of the animals, she really didn’t enjoy watching television.
A visit from one of their remaining friends from the Seventh-day Adventist church brought notice of an internet forum. This would be a place where Dianne could associate with other Christians and talk about the things of God. It would be her church.
The next time she turned on her computer, she logged onto the Seventh-day Adventist internet forum, a bulletin board service. She read the posts and determined that she would sign up and become a member. She didn’t want people to recognize her, however. She had suffered so much in the church. She just wanted to remain anonymous and share conversation.
She thought long and hard to determine a “handle” under which she would post. A portion of her first name and a portion of her last seemed to be the answer. Dianne now became a member of the Seventh-day Adventist cyber-family.