How My Brother’s Journal Entries While I Was In A Coma Helped Me Heal A Decade Later
Has a book, a note, or a journal ever changed your life?
Re-membering My Coma
This month, I premiered a reading of a play I wrote, roughly based on my life, so far: Imprints.
It all started with one journal entry from my brother Jeff, as he sat beside me in the ICU:
April 25th, 2005: 1st night. Took part of the stomach out b/c of 4.5-inch tear. Most of it was black and dead. Blood supply not enough. Some of your colon. Stomach and intestines perforated
The night before, we had our Passover Seder. Now, Jeff was typing on his laptop what he could recall:
Sunday night: dad got home, Ame still throwing up. Rock hard stomach. Dad and mom took you to a pediatrician. You went to ER about 8:30. You were there 20 minutes before you saw DR. they put IV in to draw blood. Took three times. Wheeled her to x-ray. Told dad you’d need surgery b/c something was hard with rock-hard ab and asked who he uses. He called les who recommended Garvey and dad called. Garvey started to drive in. The pain kept getting worse and worse. Wheeling her to X-ray, take her back. Then, and air pockets formed on neck and face. Then you collapsed. They stabilized you with IV’s. Garvey operated stomach grew so big, pain so intense. Stomach crushed blood supply to intestines. When they cut into the abdomen, blood hit ceiling b/c of so much pressure from ab blowing up. You went into septic shock b/c all of these toxins poured into your ab sand overwhelmed your defenses. Septcic shock precipitates DIC. Bacteria so overwhelmed your defenses that you couldn’t clot, and everything started leaking. You blew up to three times your normal size.
Yes, I almost died. And my brother’s journal entries – all 174 pages, are raw, potent and hard to read.
My original art
“Friday, April 29, 2005: you are swollen. Your hands, legs feet are so puffy. Same with the body.Surgery + stomach completely out and more colon. Later, dad called Judy, and she said she talked to GI Yale guy and said you can still lead perfectly normal life.With every surgery, Jeff documented my struggles and triumphs: May 12th, 2005: You just went down to the operating room. We all gather where the waiting room meets the hallway each time you go to. And each time you go I get angry about my thought of it not being the last time see you. You are once again in the hands of Dr. Garvey wants to make sure everything inside of you is doing well. I am seeing progress. Four pressers are down to two. Your swelling continues to go down. Your body is not needing as much new blood as it required just days ago. Eventually, I started to show signs of life. 2:30 pm – almost out of coma>?? Today, we want you to wake up. You’ve been sleeping for a while now, and we know your body is strong enough to be awake. They even want you to start breathing on your own, which I know you will be doing soon. I want to ask questions, but sometimes I am scared to get answers. Plus, you are doing really well right now, and I don’t want to jinx anything. The nurse said that she asked you to move your hand again this morning, and you moved your right. You also were opening your eyes for Mom.
I want you to wake up today.”
My original art
And, soon enough, I was back to my old, spunky self – ventilator, IVs, oxygen tanks and all.
“Saturday 6:08 pm: Ame – you are so punchy today. It is wonderful. You want that tube out, and as soon as we get all this residual fluid out of you, it will be thus. I feel you improving. I hadn’t seen you move your legs thus far; you moved both of them when Mom, Matt and I were with you. Mom says you are definitely recognizing her. You are starting to cry, which we hear is great news. You are hating this tube. I cannot wait until it is out.And…be careful what you wish for. Soon enough, I was my talkative, restless self: Wednesday Morning: I’m going to try to catch you up quickly on the last few days. Yesterday, by far, was your greatest day thus far. Mom called me in the morning to tell me that they tested you off the ventilator for an hour, and you did fine, so they were presently disconnecting the ventilator. I came in to see you breathing on your own. I welled up. You were working very hard, and breathing quickly, but your o2 saturation numbers looked great. and, you were talking! I hope you remember some of this when we’re all out of here (though I guess I also hope you don’t remember a lot of this). Matt, Mom and I were with you, and I was trying to tell you to relax and conserve your strength (you were naturally agitated). After not hearing you speak for about 11 days, you replied, “I fucking know that.” we started laughing hysterically. It was beautiful. You also kept saying my name and asking me to get the car and take you home. Ame – it was so cute, and it made me even more eager and excited for the day we get to take you home.”
As I mention in Gutless & Grateful, my one-woman musical, the first time they took me off the ventilator, I talked so much, I used up all of my oxygen, and they had to put me right back on! (Once a talker, always a talker…)
Performing “Gutless & Grateful ” – quite different from “Imprints!”
Jeff’s Birthday went by, Mother’s Day, Graduation, and I was still in the Surgical ICU fading in and out of sedation. But now, there were signs of hope.
June 15th, 2005: Mom asked me to remember everything you I yesterday. It was like hearing your first words all over again. I remember you said that you “were confused,” which makes sense, as you’ve been sleeping for a few weeks. You also mentioned school, to which Mom replied that your teachers discussed it and said that you could just graduate without finishing. “she’s that smart,” they said. When Mom asked you if you were happy that you could just graduate, you nodded your head yes. You kept saying my name. I wanted to grab you and squeeze you. When I would ask, “what?” you would tell me to get the car and take you home. It made me laugh.”
Progress was slow, and for a while, it seemed that I was making no progress at all. As doctors told us, going from “minute to minute” and transitioning to “day to day” meant a major improvement – it means it was probably that I would survive.:
“June 20th, 2005: I can feel things changing. I was just speaking with Sarah, who is your nurse tonight, and she was saying that you’re going to be fine, though it will be a long road. It is nice that we are starting to hear people say that. I want to tell you this myself, and not have you read it, but I will just say that this was not always what we were hearing.And perhaps Jeff’s most important message of all to me: Amy – when you are out of here I want you not to get discouraged at what else you have to do. It is impossible to overstate how far you’ve come and how much you’ve already done. And Amy, we will be with you every step of the way. Expect days where you are so angry and just want all this to stop. But don’t you dare lose hope? You have been through hell. But you have already beat so much, and you are still here. And we all are beside you.”
Turning Trauma to Drama…10 Years Later
Reading through these old journal entries is what inspired Imprints, my first full-length drama. As I’m working on my upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour, I’ve been reading through these again. For a pesky big older brother, he sure cares a lot!
Healing Through Theatre
Ten years of dealing with memories of sexual assault and medical trauma had left me with the severe symptoms of PTSD, including intrusive memories, flashbacks and dissociation. For years, I grappled with two halves of me, desperate to rediscover wholeness and comfort in my own body.
I came to know these two polarities as Wounded and Thriving and learned that only when these opposing halves acknowledged the other, could I really move forward, and heal.
While the story broadcasted in the news emphasized the inspirational message of hope, gratitude and resilience, I wanted my Imprints to show the pain, the losses and ultimately the gift of transformation and growth that stem from trauma – the beautiful marks that imprints can create.
Imprints: My Official Premiere Reading!
My premiere reading of Imprints was/is May 14th at the Producer’s Club in New York, and I’m thrilled to be presenting this to the public for the first time.
So why the title? Because I read this quote:
“The imprints of traumatic experiences are organized not as coherent, logical narratives but in fragmented sensory and emotional traces: images, sounds, and physical sensations.”– Bessel Van Der Kolk “The Body Keeps the Score.”
I’ll never be the same after what happened to me. Neither will my brother or the rest of my family. But that doesn’t mean we can’t heal and lead even better, deeper, truer lives.
Our Words Can Heal
Words have tremendous power. Reading Jeff’s journals has overwhelmed me with gratitude for life, how far I’ve come, and the support all around me.
What is Re-Membering?
Reading Jeff’s words helped me re-member.Why the “dash” in “remembering?”
Because I like to think of re-membering as literally re-membering – putting the pieces (the members) of your life back together. Recalling past events puts back the pieces of yourself. Re-membering may be difficult, scary and sometimes overwhelming, but remembering is healing. Remembering is how we literally put the “members” of ourselves back together! Imprints is a journey of discovery for the audience, the characters, and the playwright herself, who is re-member in and discovering as she goes along.
What do you need to re-member?
Amy is currently touring Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman musical, to theaters, colleges, conferences and organizations nationwide. See where she’ll be next, and learn how to bring her show to you. All artwork was created by Amy. Learn about her mental health advocacy programs for students, and find out how to take part in the #LoveMyDetour movement, striving to create compassion through stories.