Updated: Apr 27
When I was in first grade, my grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer. At that time, my mom, a nurse, decided she wanted to help other people going through medical emergencies. So, my mom joined the local EMS squad. She became an EMT, an EMT-Intermediate, and eventually a Paramedic. I was a spoiled rotten child and honestly didn't notice she was taking these classes. I was so busy taking piano lessons and dance lessons and participating in recreation sports that I didn't notice mommy wasn't around for a couple dinners per week.
The first time I actually remember mom leaving to go on rescue calls, I was in Middle School. The pager would go off asking for additional manpower and she'd rush to get dressed, and run out the door, off to save a life. This happened a lot it seemed as I went through Middle and High School. I honestly despised the EMS squad. I felt like mom was always leaving and I hated the place I held responsible. Now, if I'm being honest, she didn't go on additional manpower calls all the time. It was maybe a couple times per week. But I still hated it. By the time I was in high school, mom was working EMS at night, hospital (as an RN) during the day, and home health (as an RN) in the afternoons. I didn't appreciate that she was working so hard so that my brothers and I could have every opportunity afforded to us. By high school I was taking piano lessons, voice lessons, dance lessons, karate lessons, I was a cheerleader at school, always involved in school plays, and my brothers took whatever interested them as well. We were so spoiled because she worked so hard that we could afford to be spoiled. I didn't appreciate it then, but man oh man I do now.
I went off to college, fully intending to major in musical theater. I went to community college and got my degree in arts. I transferred to East Carolina University no longer sure what to do with my life. I was working at Belk at first as a floater, and finally in the men's department. I was also teaching dance at one of the local dance studios. I took a tap dance class while trying out majoring in Communications. That was not for me. Not at all. I tried taking some more dance classes while trying out Theater. But the theater program was quite the clique and I just did not fit into whatever it was they were.
As a college student, I was ALWAYS up for a free home-cooked meal. Mom was cooking at the station for shift change and I was there with my youngest brother, who was 15, watching TV, lounging on the furniture. The pager went off for a Motor Vehicle Collision with injury. Mom said not to worry, the next shift would take it since it was 7pm, shift change. We listened as the radio traffic went a little haywire. Back then, they dispatched the closest unit again, along with the second closest unit district-wise. So, the pager goes off and my mom starts turning off the stove and her partner comes in and says something. I don't remember what he said. My mom looked at me as she, her partner and my brother walked out to the ambulance. She said "you wanna go"? She'd asked me that before. Probably 25 times if I'm being honest. I'd always said no and rolled my eyes. But on this day, I realized I wasn't getting food until she got back anyway, so why not?! I said "Sure" shrugged and followed my brother to the back of the ambulance. My brother was a Junior EMS member. As we were on the way to the scene my mom says "that's a lot of smoke. Something's on fire." I leaned over so I could look through the small section between the front and the back. I nodded. Yep, that's a lot of smoke.
"Put some gloves on" my mom yelled. My brother had already handed me a pair of gloves, but she couldn't see me. The truck stopped and my mom said "Just stay out of the way and do what you're told."
"Yes ma'am," my heart was pumping a hundred times a minute or more. There was a van on fire, a motorcycle that looked like it had been on fire and put out. The motorcyclist was lying in the ditch. The man that drove the van was out of the vehicle walking around, waiting to be "checked out". My mom and her partner, along with my brother went straight to the ditch.
"What do you need?"
"We really need an IV but I can't find an area that's not burned."
"Check a pulse"
"I've got one!"
"Don't check YOUR PULSE, check the PATIENT'S!" "The Patient has a pulse!"
Three people bent down and checked pulses. I didn't know anything at the time, but they were checking the carotid, radial and femoral pulses. Everyone felt a pulse. Their eyes lit up. The helicopter landed in the field across from us while they got an IV and hung some fluids. (If you're in the medical field, there were no IOs back then).
I was literally 3 yards from them. I was staying out of the way for real.
I looked down and saw a motorcycle helmet beside me. There was an eyeball on the shield that was up. What I guessed might be ligaments running down the shield and underneath it didn't gross me out. I always thought this stuff would gross me out. But it intrigued me.
The patient was loaded onto a back board with a c-collar, neither of which I knew the names of. There was discussion about not being able to put him on the helicopter. I didn't understand the medical jargon they were using at the time. They were saying that he couldn't fly because he was likely to code and they couldn't shock him in the air. Everything calmed down after another ambulance arrived from a nearby district and started checking out the van driver. The motorcyclist was loaded in the first ambulance that arrived. Mom, her partner, and my brother, Jacob, started walking to the truck. As they passed me, I followed close behind. We got in the truck and off we went, back to the EMS station to finish dinner.
I looked at my brother and said, "do you think he'll make it."
He looked me square in the eye and said "no way" as serious as could be.
"Why not?" He explained to me that his injuries were too severe and that he didn't think he would survive through the night. He was right.
My interest was piqued. Several times my friends had medical problems and would ask me saying, "don't you know your mom's a nurse!" or "why don't you know this, your mom is a nurse." Uh, I didn't know because my MOM is the nurse, not me.
I was tired of having medical issues around me and not knowing what to do. I wanted to know what to do. So, I signed up for the EMT class, that started the following week.
I was adamant I was just taking the EMT class. I wasn't going to do Paramedic. I just wanted to know what to do in an emergency, not how to fix the world's problems.
Eh. Things change.
I volunteered for about four months after I passed my EMT state test. Not to mention, I volunteered the entire time I was in the class, I just wasn't certified so I was "4th person" at the time.
I don't remember why, but not long after I was released as 2nd person, there were a LOT of holes to fill on the schedule. I ended up working a lot. I worked all weekend, Friday night to Monday morning. I was late to ballet because I overslept. Again. That afternoon I had an audition for a show at ECU. I couldn't find the info I was supposed to use so I just pulled something up and tried to study it all weekend... but we were busy. And I let it get away from me. I went to my audition and sang a song in my low-voice, then they had me sing my second song, in my high-voice. The pianist whispered "great job" to me. And then I bombed. I went to recite that little narrative and I stumbled and stuttered and everything else you can imagine. It was horrible. I realized at that point, the possibility of me making it into the musical theater department was slim to none. They had all seen me bomb, the head of the department, the main instructors that say if you can get in, everybody important was in that room, watching me make an absolute fool of myself.
Around the same time, the dance company I worked for changed hands. The lady that ran it, had pretty much sold us along with her business to the highest bidder. Don't get me wrong. I love her. She hates me now, but I don't care, I love that lady. She was a mentor to me for a short time and I will never forget that. The lady that bought the business was a real B word. I had been around long enough that I was supposed to get a raise AND my pick of certain classes to teach. Well, this lady wanted me to teach ONE class, THREE different nights a week and be excited for the teensy weensy raise. I couldn't teach three different nights per week. I wouldn't be able to work my third job at Belk... the way I'd been paying my bills. She didn't care. She straight up told me that her people that were already with her prior to the merger came first and that I was not a priority to her, but she needed a tap teacher because she didn't have anyone else who could do it. I explained again that I wanted to help but I could not make three different nights per week work. She told me I'd make it work if I wanted the job. Eff that lady.
A dance parent approached me with another instructor from the original studio. They wanted to open a new studio. I needed a job, so I discussed it with my parents, and my main mentor, Dot Dee Slaughter. They all said I needed to do what was best for me. So I went to the new dance studio and taught my pick of classes at my raised rate. The studio was called KTL Dance Studio - because it was run by Kim (the dance parent), Tina (the other instructor), and Lissa - that's me. The first year was great. I was able to quit working at Belk and could pay my bills from EMS and KTL. Everything seemed to be going my way.
That soon changed. We started doing competitions. Dance competitions can be some pretty serious stuff. Make up, hair, costuming, props, and especially choreography. I choreographed for the tap, lyrical, and hip hop competition teams. Tina, that instructor that had brought me on, told the dance parents that their kids would never score well with me as their lyrical instructor. Of course, the parents told me. Then, Kim, the actual owner and dance parent who was back taking dance classes at ECU, cut up my flowers that went with the lyrical dance. One of the students stated she saw her coming out with the scissors and I realized that I'd seen her going into the prop room with the scissors in the first place. I didn't know what I'd done to cause them to both be so mean. I still wish I knew why they turned on me. I was able to replace the flowers before the next competition. My Tap group got a 98 from Michelle Dorrance (who is an amazing choreographer for Dorrance dance, in case you didn't know.) With that 98, they got scores in the 80s by two guys that weren't qualified to score Tap. I mean, one of the comments said "don't scuff your shuffles." My dude, they were doing scuffles, not shuffles, and in case the word doesn't tell you, you definitely scuff scuffles. Tina grabbed the review of my lyrical group and read the only review to the kids and parents. "I don't get it," it said. How could you not? If you're not Christian, I could see that. Here's why.
The dance was to "Love Hurts" by Nazareth. It starts with 3 crosses on stage with flowers draped across the biggest one in the middle. The music starts with boom, wait, boom boom, wait. The kids symbolize the nailing of Jesus and the thieves to the cross. pound, wait, pound pound, wait. The rest of it was just symbolic of what the words said. Choreography directly related to the lyrics... Lyrical. But he doesn't get it.
Tina smiled so big as she read off the poor review. Kim looked smug beside her. Those kids didn't deserve this. Hell, I didn't deserve this.
I talked to my parents about this. Lots of things were happening, these were the highlights. One of my dance student's mom got so pissed about how mean they were being she started fighting back. I don't remember all what she did, but I remember she glued the phone to a bookshelf or something. She didn't glue it shut, just made it immovable. It was weird, I know.
I talked to my mentor, Mrs. Dot Dee. She thought it best I open a dance studio and I convinced my parents of the same. Mrs. Dot Dee named it for me, using her slogan from her dance studio that had been open for 50 years.
I never really wanted to own a dance studio, I just wanted to dance. And this was on the only way I could think of to keep dancing. So I did it. I opened a dance studio. I talked to a close friend and told her I couldn't do it without her. She helped out so much. Eventually she went to go perform at Disney World. Up until then, she and her friends made the studio work. I'm forever indebted to her.
As I worked EMS more and more, I started to realize that I had said I wanted to know what to do in an emergency, and I didn't. Because the paramedic knew what to do, and I just knew how to help the paramedic. So, I did what I said I'd never do. I signed up for the next Paramedic class. I took the math exam you have to pass to get into it, and even found a mistake on the test. I was proud of myself.
The next paramedic class started and I was working EMS and running and teaching at a dance studio. I was busy, but I loved it. I didn't realize just how busy I would be when clinicals started, but I did it. I made it through.
While trying to take my state tests, Sammy Modlin, the EMS director at the local college, hired me to help out with skills which eventually turned into teaching some classes, which also turned into teaching classes online. I miss that. Teaching. I'm not the smartest person, and if you ask me a question I don't know the answer to I will certainly tell you I don't know but I will look into it and find out! I'm not going to bull$hit my way through an answer if I don't know it. Then I'm not the only ignorant person, the students are ignorant as well. I can't do that to people. Anywho. The day of our final skills exam I wrecked my car, bad. Like, hydroplaned going 70mph (in a 70) took out the "ticket protector" fence in the middle of the highway and then took out the railings on the right side of the highway. My rear passenger door was inside out. The passenger side was caved in, airbags deployed, there were literally railings through the back seat into the trunk of my car. It was bad. I already had a bad back: I broke my tail bone in 8th grade because I was thrown off a golf cart, and my hips healed back incorrectly; then I was dropped from an extension cheerleading stunt and broke my tailbone yet again. My poor coccyx is crooked is heck, So, it healed back incorrectly again and by this time my left hip was 2 inches higher than my right hip which caused some curvature in the lumbar and sacral portions of my back. Not sure how I ended up with thoracic and cervical curvature as well, could have been the same incidents, could have been other wrecks - I was a horrible driver; but my spine looked like an S. I was sore, but I went to final skills day anyway. On final skills day we just had to do skills we hadn't been able to do in the field or in the hospital during clinicals. I had done them all, so I was good. I sat there doped up on pain meds watching my peers do intubations and foleys and whatnot. (I got all my intubations in the OR with the help of the amazing Kathy Preuss & got my foley with the help of Kyle Brach who was a CNA at the time, I think; but he's a paramedic now.)
A couple months later, I took my state test, which takes a 70 to pass. Made a 67. F****! I stressed out so badly. I studied and studied and studied and guess what? 69.. Are you freaking kidding me? I felt the world was against me. I felt like maybe the state was right and I had no idea what I was doing. I asked if I could enroll in Module 3 of the Paramedic class again, as a refresher, since I had passed all 3 modules already I didn't see why not. They put me in Module 3 of the next Paramedic class and guess what? Had to do clinicals all over. I have to say, the extra time practicing made me a better medic. Maybe I wasn't that great to start with. Idk. But I felt more confident and more comfortable after re-taking Module 3.
One Wednesday, I received a phone call that I was not allowed to go to class, I was being kicked out and I would need to report to a meeting with the County EMS director and College EMS director the following Monday. I don't know everyone who was involved but I know of 3 GFR (Greenville Fire Rescue) guys who went to the DEAN and told him I shouldn't be in there class because I didn't take the first two modules. BULLFKNSHT. So, a wonderful lady named Cathy went with me to talk to the County & College EMS Directors. She told them exactly what I did, that we were told once we passed a module, it was passed and we did not have to take it again. Therefore, I was allowed to retake any module I wanted since I'd passed them all. They realized we were right and let me go back to class. I was late for class that night and missed the class before since I was "kicked out" for the day so I was behind and not happy. Funny thing is, the guys that tried to kick me out would not look at me the rest of the semester. Only one person in that class paid me any attention. Everyone else was a room full of douchebags. They'd make snide comments about how they didn't think I should be there. I only replied once. The first time something was said, I said "obviously I do belong here, because they let me back in the class." Every time after that I just ignored them. Rolled my eyes, Walked off. It was a rough several months. Finally Module 3 and clinicals were over yet again and I was ready for the state test. Feeling confident, I went and took the test, awaiting my results, SONOFABITCH. 69. Again. At that point one of the GFR guys felt bad and actually held a study session with me. We went over the stuff that we weren't allowed to do in our county that was on the state test. It helped a lot. I'm not sure what score I made that last time, I think it was an 87. Well, the point is, I finally passed. I went the office of EMS and boarded, which means I did every skill that I could do and discussed every medicine that I could give. I was so nervous I thought I would vomit. They'd assigned me a new med student to follow me around and watch me perform and discuss skills and meds to see what we're allowed to do. This made me 10x more afraid I'd eff up and make the whole county look bad. The guy that was nice to me in class, that one guy, went in to talk to the medical director before me. He was in there less than ten minutes. This made me feel a little better. Usually people spend 30 minutes in there. Maybe Dr. March was having a good day and not in the mood to discuss 100+ medications and interventions. Nope. He WAS in a good mood, but boy did he hound me! I don't know if it's because my parents and brothers were both in EMS, or what.... wait. I figured it out half way through. It was the student. He wanted to show that med student just how much we could and couldn't do. I was given scenario after scenario and 55 minutes later, I was walking out of his office with the biggest feeling of relief. I passed. I was released to practice as a paramedic in Pitt County. As a fresh new medic straight out of class I was NOT ready to be 1st person. 1st person means you are the paramedic in charge of what goes on in the back of the truck. I was ready to practice being first person, as 2nd person released as a medic. Does that even make sense? But it took me a couple months before I would agree to be first person. So, there I was, a new paramedic, ready to "save lives and stomp out diseases."
Something I will say for running EMS in your small home town, you are bound to pick up people you know. It's not that bad when it's a simple fix, or something they could have gone to their primary care physician for, but when it's someone you know and they're dead or dying, it darkens a little bit of your soul. I won't go into details because as a small town, people are bound to know who I'm talking about even though I am nowhere close to breaking HIPPA. So, we had a call for a 1050-PI, at least one F-Frank. Meaning Motor Vehicle Collision - personal injury, at least one person deceased. I checked in route and we had two students with us so I was ready to get them some needed skills. As soon as I checked in route, we got canceled. I don't know if this is why, but this is what I suspect... a friend of mine growing up, her dad ran 9-1-1 at the time. He was the boss man. He never got on the radio. Seriously. Never. His voice came over the radio and said "Farmville stand down, we're sending Bell Arthur." They ended up paging out Bell Arthur AND Winterville to this car accident. We were willing, ready and able to help so I came back across the radio and said that we were definitely closer than Winterville. "Negative. Stand down Farmville. Remain at your station." Now, we didn't have GPS on the trucks back then, how did they know where we were??? So it turns out the person that died was my cousin and BFF from pre-school. I honestly think that Mr. Sam (friend's dad that ran 9-1-1) heard my voice and didn't want me to see my friend like that. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm reading into it, maybe there was some other reason we couldn't go to OUR call in OUR district, but I never thanked him for that. And I have to say, I appreciate it more than he could ever know. So we had another call maybe 30 minutes later. Something routine like abdominal pain or sick call or something of the sort. Two of the Jr EMS students had gone to the wreck to see if it was definitely in our district (which it was) and had come back to report on our call. I was getting out of the back of the ambulance to go drive to the hospital when I was told about who died. They weren't exactly sure if it was my cousin that was my age, or her sister. But they knew it was one of them. I was devastated. I cried the whole way to the hospital. I wiped my face and tried to look presentable as I drove down the road to the back door of the emergency department. I took my patient in, and left the stretcher with the students as my partner gave report. I walked out trying to go outside and get some fresh air, but I was met in the hallway by their mom who grabbed me and hugged me. Tears ran down my cheeks as she told me it was my BFF from pre-K, She told me she didn't know where to find her. I directed her to the lobby and went outside and called my mom. My mom was in New Orleans, I believe, at a conference. I was supposed to be there, but I had stayed behind to work on my dance studio to get it ready to to open. My mom gets her work voice on, the one that says I will not cry right now, we will deal with the problem at hand and cry later. She tells me to go back inside and ask the mom if anyone has spoken to her. She said if they haven't, to find the charge nurse and tell her that someone needs to go talk to the family. Unable to think for myself and needing the direction, I went back inside and headed to the group of 20 people in the lobby with the mom in the very middle. I squeezed my way through to get to her. One of her best friends is kinda a bitch. Scratch that. She's a real bitch. She YELLS at me "what do you want?" I looked directly at the mom and said " have they come and talked to you?" She nodded at me and the bitch said yes and a friend of mine sadly looked at me and said "yes they just left before you got in here." I nodded to him my thanks and told the mom I'm sorry. I walked out and burst into tears. EMS isn't all fame and glory. There's a lot of pain and hurt.
Not too long after that we got a call for a dirt bike accident. 1050-F-Frank. I recognized him right away as one of my brother's friends. I won't give the details but he was obviously deceased. I put the monitor on him anyway, to run a 4-lead tracing of no heart activity to prove it. As I'm kneeling on the ground with about 20 of his family members in the ditch across the road, a fireman comes up to me and says "you know you don't have to do that. He's obviously dead," and cited the reasons why. I told him that I was well aware of that but I wanted to do everything I possibly could for the family, and that I would run the 4-lead to be sure for them. He rolled his eyes at me, said "whatever" and walked away. I ran my tracing showing conclusive proof that there was nothing we could do for him, asystole. I found out the next day that he wasn't riding a dirt bike without a helmet, which is honestly the way I got through it. He was pushing the bike in the grass beside the road, and was a hit and run. It wasn't until months later that we'd find out it was a drunk driver.
Back to dance. By this time, the place I was renting from announced it was closing and that I would need to move with it, rebuild my studio, and pay more in rent each month. I didn't like the sound of that. I wanted more stability. I started looking elsewhere for somewhere to build the studio. After a month of looking, I decided my hometown was the best place to go, even though I'd had an interview for a job at what would be my competition at the behest of my mentor, Mrs. Dot Dee, and the studio owner had flat out used it to threaten me, saying "Farmville can't stand two dance studios." She wasted my time just to say that. Psh. My studio catered to adults, but also had classes for children. Her studio catered to children, but didn't have any classes for adults. I figured lil ole Farmville could handle it. So I pulled the trigger. I found a place in Farmville on Main Street and with the help of friends and family I built one large studio and one small studio.
Dance was going well, but I was breaking even so I asked the PDA (Parent Dance Association) if they had any ideas. A couple of people from Greene County said I should offer dance there, since there are no studios in Greene County. So I called the recreation facility and discussed it. I started offering classes that January (2012). Dance was hopping and life was good.
In July of 2012, my husband asked me to marry him.
We were married September 8th of that year. Life was good, everything was going well, we had a late honeymoon planned in Vegas for January. Everything was perfect. Early December of that year, I got my very first migraine after the Christmas parade. I missed my dad graduating from college. I had blind spots in my vision, a horrible headache, and I was dizzy. I couldn't drive to Mount Olive. I was so sad to miss it. I called my doctor and he scheduled an MRI. The MRI people called and told me that it would be $250 up front to get it. It was Christmas, I'd spent nearly everything I had on Christmas presents. I figured I'd just get the MRI after Christmas. Everything kept on going fine until I was at work January 1, 2013, New Years Day. I'd been on for a few shifts in a row and had been sleeping a lot lately. I'd also been having headaches and migraines quite a bit. I had gone to the bedroom side to try to get in a nap when all of a sudden, the room started spinning. I have a history of vertigo and I'd never experienced it like this. It was spinning in circles so fast it made me vomit. I called my partner on my cell phone and told him I had vertigo and he needed to call in a replacement. He came over to the bedroom side and held the trash can for me while I vomited. My head hurt immensely. Something was wrong. Something was very very wrong. My replacement finally arrived and they ended up taking ME to the hospital. I was used to taking everybody else to the hospital, but laying on the stretcher writhing in pain, I was not used to being on this side of things. I got some zofran, which didn't work, some phenergan, which did, and some morphine which I wish I had numbed the pain. But it didn't. I had learned a few years before during some kidney stone issues that pain meds don't work on me the same as normal people. It takes a lot to touch my pain. During lithotripsy, which took 30-60 minutes, I received 9mg of versed, 200mcg of fentanyl, 4mg of morphine and something else I can't remember. At least the versed was good for something. About 5 minutes after versed is administered to me, I come around completely. I remember shaking because I couldn't control my body while the nurses told the doctor that I needed more pain meds. Several times. So seriously, meds just don't effect me like most people. Anyway. I stayed in the hospital until they could get my migraine calmed down and my dizziness under control. My head CT was unremarkable, which means it showed nothing concerning.
Of course my doctor reordered an MRI with and without contrast. It took me like a week to get it, but I finally did. I knew something was wrong. I've had several MRIs in my lifetime, but I had never cried because the noise bothered me so much before. Tears just ran down my cheeks in droves. I was immediately told that I needed to wait in another waiting room (away from my mom) and that they would get back with me shortly. That's not good. There was a nice lady that was probably in her mid-eighties playing games on an iPad with the noise up. I wanted to kill her. Like, seriously. I was gritting my teeth staring at her wanting to say SHUT THAT SHIT OFF! But I said nothing. I just sat there and stewed. About 30 minutes later someone called her and she left the room. THANK GOD. She left me alone with a tv that was on low. I was okay with that. By the time the Price is Right went off someone finally came in and said "your doctor should be calling you shortly." So I asked if that meant I could leave and she said yes. I went out to the main waiting room and told my mom. She's a nurse and paramedic, and my boss. So you could say we're both knowledgeable about medical things at least to a certain extent. We both knew this was bad.
We were barely pulling out of the parking lot when the phone rang. Dr. Pippin calmly told me that my scans showed something concerning and that he wasn't sure what it was but he would get me an appointment with a neurologist today. I said okay and hung up the phone. My mom and I went to lunch; I was still having dizziness issues along with the sensory issues but it wasn't as bad as the 1st. So, Dr. Pippin called me back, yes, the doctor called twice, not the nurse. He told me that I had an appointment at 3 something that day with a neurologist. Okay, sounds good, lets get answers.
I went to the neurology appointment and was told that their was a mass and five lesions on my brain, in my cerebellum - "the part of the brain we know the least about," she said. My mom and I were in medical mode; absorbing information but not letting it truly hit us. We both nodded. The doctor began to cry. Yes, she did. She cried and said she would be referring me to a neurosurgeon immediately. We nodded again. She cried harder. It was weird and awkward. It was too late to call Dr. Pippin back, so mom said we would call him in the morning. "You are NOT having BRAIN surgery in Greenville." She said. I could agree with that. The infection rate was high in Greenville and they were less experienced than some of the more metropolitan areas.
So I called Dr. Pippin the following morning and asked for a consult with a neurosurgeon at Duke... who you would pick if it were your family. He had his staff get me an appointment with Dr. Allen Friedman at Duke. Dr. Friedman had done surgery on a Kennedy, so we thought he was probably a good choice... that's all we knew about him.
It took a month to get in with Dr. Friedman, the neurosurgeon, In the meantime, I had a dance studio that I hadn't been able to teach at for over a week. It would be a month before I had surgery. I needed to do something about the dance studio. I closed the studio in Farmville. I didn't have the ability to do books and take care of bills. I wasn't completely with the program, so to speak. My parents, husband, and a few friends helped load everything up and throw stuff away. I was helpless, laying on the couch for most of it, tears rolling down my face from all the noise. We decided to keep letting the other dance instructors teach in Greene County since it was through the recreation department and they would keep up with the books and paychecks. Bye Bye Dance Studio.
So, remember I said we had scheduled a late honeymoon in January? Well, that was "next week". Do we go? Do we not go? Dr. Pippin said that he trusted my judgement and if I thought I could handle the hustle and bustle (and NOISE) of Las Vegas, then he thought I could as well. So, we went. I had ear plugs in 98% of the time. Babycakes had to walk in front of me by a few feet and I had to follow him. I couldn't just walk normally. I had to have a focus point and stare straight ahead. Were their challenges? Yes. Was it still fun? Oh yes! We stayed at Planet Hollywood, which was wonderful and my favorite casino from previous visits. We saw a few real celebrities, like Dennis Rodman and Pauly Shore; but I had so much fun at the wax museum. We visited every casino on the strip, except Circus Circus and The Strat. We gambled in them all. We saw Penn & Teller. It was just a great vacation. I didn't get sick once!! Until it was time to go home.
The morning of our flight home I awoke with terrible vertigo and nausea. I literally got dressed laying on the bed and said eff the toiletries and whatnot in the bathroom, let's just go. So, as we're standing in line for a taxi, I realize that all the people around me just think I'm hungover. Badly hungover. I couldn't stand, I was literally leaning on my luggage. we finally made it to the Vegas airport and God, was I thankful. But, there was a problem. We had to take the tram to get to our flight. Holy hell. I get nauseous and car-sick on trams anyway. Putting this on top of my vertigo, migraine, and sensory issues, this was just a bad idea. But we had to do it. So we got in the back of the tram where there was a seat, and sat beside some nice lady who told me I'd be fine when it stopped. No lady, no I would not. The tram stopped and we waited for everyone else to get off and got off behind them. I was moving even slower because of the vertigo so I couldn't get off with everyone else, I'd have ended up on the floor. Eh, I ended up there anyway. Jason got off in front of me and I followed him, as we did. I made it about ten feet before I knew... puke was inevitable. I slung my bags to the side so I wouldn't throw up on them and hit my knees. I started throwing up, and throwing up, and throwing up. I slid myself backwards trying to keep the vomit off my clothes. I slid backwards again. The vomit continued and I slid back yet again. I literally vomited for about 10 feet backwards and 3 feet wide. I have never seen so much vomit before or after in my life. Babycakes noticed when I was at about the 5 foot mark. "Babycakes" he screamed and ran back for me. It was obvious he wanted to help but had no idea what to do. Hell, I didn't know what to do. I told him to call my mom in between regurge. He'll tell you that he wasn't, but he was freaking out. My mom answered the phone and he explained the scene to her. She wanted us to stay in Vegas another day and fly home when I felt better. She's so nice. She offered to get us a room and new plane tickets. But I was adamant, I'd made it this far, I was going home! She said she completely understood and asked me if I had any clothes with me in my carry on. I stated that I did. She asked if I could change my clothes. I told her I could not. She told me to get Babycakes to change my clothes. A man appeared near the tram that worked for the air port.
"Paramedics are on the way."
"Oh no sir, I don't need them." Him, looking at the largest pile of vomit he'd probably ever seen. "Are you sure? They're already on the way."
"No sir, I'm sure, you can cancel them.... sorry about the mess."
"I don't care about that, I just want to make sure you're okay"
... he must not have been the one that was going to have to clean it up. "I'm good, I just wanna get home."
He canceled EMS.
We found a "family" restroom and went in and locked the door. I threw away my brand new Las Vegas Sweatshirt that I had bought the night before. I tossed my jeans and my shirt in the trash. Jason put my clothes on me while I did the hard part- standing up. After this we went and waited for the plane. I took my backpack with all my meds in it on the plane. I made sure to take yet another meclizine and Phenergan since I'd vomited up everything I'd taken that morning. (and the night before... mac and cheese lobster does NOT look good when it comes back up! Euw gross, I know.) I was pale as a ghost but I made it on the plane. For some reason it took us a while to get going once we were on the plane. Like, we were chilling on the runway for like 45 minutes. I don't know why McCarran airport didn't have their shit together that day, but they didn't.
We arrived at another airport literally 10 minutes before our next flight was supposed to leave. Here's where Delta Airlines made an enemy. We were literally jogging through the airport, even though I was still white as a sheet and we had luggage (carry-ons plus personal item = back packs). Random Delta airline lady with a radio "are you two headed to Raleigh?"
Her "you better run, they're about to close the doors."
Now, you read we were already jogging through the airport, right? I couldn't go any faster, my face would meet the floor. We arrive at our gate and the lady says "it's about time." "Didn't you see our flight just arrived?"
"and you were gonna leave us anyway?"
"Yep" - then smacks her lips and rolls her eyes as she's scanning our tickets.
You know what? That lady didn't know how lucky she was that I was sick... bc God in heaven knows, I might have made the no-fly list that day. I was pissed. But I was too sick to do anything about it. We didn't have seats together on this flight. I was beside some sweet older lady who took a look at me and said "chile, you look like you seen a ghost". I told her that I felt like I had too and she laughed. Then I got out my meds because it was time for meclizine and Phenergan again. She saw my huge med bag and gasped. "Aw honey, are you okay? Do you need to sit by the window?" I told you she was a sweet lady. She made the flight okay and by the time we arrived in Raleigh I was starting to feel like I might not die after all. So, off we went home sweet home.
Before I knew it, it had been a month and I had my appointment with the neurosurgeon. As soon as I saw him and he looked at my scans he said he needed a new updated scan. He said that he didn't want to do surgery based on an old scan considering that things could have changed. He was so right. Things had changed. At the time everyone referred to it as a tumor, but it was actually a mass. I came back to Duke the very next morning and had another MRI. I had an appointment with Dr, Friedman that afternoon. The mass had shrunk in size. As my pal King David Nelson says, "now we're cooking with gas." Now the mass resembled a clown to me, and a ghost in another picture. What do you think? Do you see it?
So now that the mass had shrunk, Dr. Friedman said "let's hold off on surgery for a couple months " and wait and see if it continues to shrink or what it does. It sounded reasonable to me. The whole while I'm still falling quite a bit with crazy migraines and vertigo. We made the right call. Waiting was all it took. The whole mass and the lesions all disappeared by themselves within a couple months. They left me with the equivalence of a couple TIAs (mini strokes) but they were gone. Glory, Hallelujah, they were mysteriously gone. Now, the only treatment I got for them was prayer, so you do the math.
It took me 7 years to get rid of all the vertigo and most of the migraines. I was finally feeling better, working out, and thinking about going back to work. Then an awful abdominal pain hit me that felt like cramping all along my lower abdomen. It took me a few days before I went to the doctor. Dr. Pippin started palpating my abdomen and as soon as he hit that right lower quadrant, I screamed. My dad and I looked at each other in amazement. We both knew what that meant. Appendicitis, He sent me to the Greenville office to get scans and once again he called me, "Melissa, your appendix has ruptured. I have referred you to surgery. You have an appointment this afternoon."
They put me in the hospital for a few days. I had a drain installed the second day. The pain medicine didn't help, remember the crazy pain med tolerance? That shit hurt. As they were finishing sewing it in, which I could feel quite well, the nurse asked if I'd like more pain meds. I said, if that's an option YES! I had the drain in for 3 months. I went to have surgery but my appendix wasn't in the right place and they were afraid I would need a colostomy bag if they finished the surgery since I didn't do a bowel prep. So they closed me up and left the drain in. A month later, I was admitted back to the hospital. They were finally able to do the surgery, and remove the drain. They decided to withhold all pain meds and see how I would do. Lemme just be the first one to tell you that's a dumb idea. I understand that we have an opioid epidemic. I understand that people have problems. I also understand that surgery is painful and you need some kind of something to deal with it. I was too out of it to understand what was happening. So I just cried. It hurt. Like dude, kidney stones hurt. But this HURT. My belly looks like train tracks from the sutures and staples. It hurt! My husband got the nurse and I remember him saying "this isn't normal" as I writhed in pain. She brought me some Robaxin and a lil bit of some good stuff. Good enough it only hurt some. After that I just took Robaxin. It worked wonders, even for me, the lady with the crazy medication tolerance. 6 or so weeks later I was released to be able to lift again. It took me a while to build up some strength, but two months after that I started back work. I boarded as an EMT in early February of 2021 and began working as 2nd person again. In August of 2021 I boarded as an Advanced EMT, something I've never been before. I quite like it. I miss a couple things about practicing as a Paramedic, like giving anti-emetics and pain meds. But I don't miss so much more. I don't miss feeling like the world is on my shoulders. I don't even remember how to read 12-leads anymore. I don't miss the possibility of needing to stick a needle in someone's chest, or cutting someone's throat open and doing a needle cricothyrotomy... so maybe saying "cutting someone's throat open" is a little dramatic but you get the point. Maybe I was meant to be an Advanced EMT the whole time. *shrug* I dunno. If you've made it this far, you're on this journey with me. So let's figure this out together, To be a paramedic, or not to be. That is the question.
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