"Life changes in the instant—the ordinary instant."
My shoulders felt achy. Normally, I could do several massages in a row at Canyon Ranch, go to the gym for a couple of hours, and still have plenty of energy left over for the Bellagio. But on one Thursday in July 1999, I was wiped. When I got to my third client, it took so much energy to massage him. I kept thinking, Man, this guy is draining me!
I left work early. The second I got home, I put on a white tank and crawled into the one place I've always escaped to when I'm sick—my parents' cozy king-size bed. They had a TV in their room, which meant I could at least watch while I lay there. Mom took my temperature. It was 101. "You don't look so good, honey," she said. I shrugged, sank my head deeper into the pillows, and
It must be a twenty-four-hour bug, I thought. I can probably just sleep it off. The following morning, Friday, my whole family was planning to leave town for an event. Dad had started running these big Harley-Davidson motorcycle rallies, and there was one scheduled in Brian Head that weekend. "You should stay here and rest," said Mom. "Maybe you can come up later if you're feeling better." I wanted to go. The rallies felt like huge reunions, since my whole extended family would be up there. But by the next day, I still felt like crap.
"I hate leaving you," my mother said as she got ready that Friday morning. It was only seven o'clock—and she was heading off for some early appointments before swinging back home to pick up Crystal and then going to Brian Head. Dad had already driven up. "Mom, don't worry about it," I groaned. "I'm sure I'll be fine. As soon as I feel better, I'll just meet you guys there." A friend was driving up that afternoon—so I was planning to just ride up with him. As reluctant as my sister and mom were to go ahead without me, I reassured them I'd soon be feeling better.
I wasn't. Over the next two hours, I became sicker and sicker. Around noon, I made my way from my parents' bed and into the bathroom and threw up. From the road, Mom called to check on me. "How are you?" she asked. I went, "Aagh! I feel like I'm dying," which is pretty much how you do feel when you have the flu. "Try to drink some water," Mom said, sounding concerned—but probably reminding herself of my tendency to be dramatic. "I'm sure you're dehydrated. And if you feel like you need to go to the hospital, then go. I'll send your cousin over there to check on you."
Michelle and Aunt Cindy had been the only family members who hadn't gone up to Brian Head. Back in bed, I wrapped myself tightly in a bunch of blankets and tried to make myself comfortable. About an hour or so after closing my eyes, I felt the need to wake up, but when I tried to open my eyes, I couldn't. Over and over I tried, but the exhaustion overtook me. I fell into a deep sleep.
Out of nowhere, I heard a sound. My eyelids shot open. "Amy, get up and look in the mirror," this voice said. Who is talking? Startled, I sat up in my bed. "Amy," I heard again, "get up and look in the mirror." Is someone in the room with me? The words sounded like a mix between a voice and my thoughts. As soon as I sat up, I realized something was really wrong. I had zero strength, my heart was beating out of my chest, and I was dizzy. When I stood, I couldn't feel my feet; they were numb, that feeling you have when a body part falls asleep. In the dusk light, I glanced down at my feet. They were purple. Oh my God. I then looked at my hands, and the same thing: purple. I looked in a mirror near the bed. What I saw still frightens me.
My nose, my chin, my ears, my cheeks—all pale purple. I panicked. My whole body shook, I broke into a cold sweat, and my heart began beating out of my chest. I felt sicker than I've ever felt. A second later, I heard footsteps. Michelle rounded the corner into my parents' room. "It's me," she said—and then she saw me. "Oh my God, Amy, you look dead!" she said. She dropped her purse and ran to me.
At the time, Michelle was only sixteen—so you can imagine how overwhelmed she felt. "We've gotta get you to the hospital!" she yelled. As I stumbled down the hall, I couldn't feel my feet—so my flip-flops flew in every direction. On my way out, I grabbed a jug of water. I had never been so thirsty. "We need to get out of here right now," I slurred. "Get your car." Clearly, I was in no state to drive—so thank goodness Michelle had recently gotten her license. But just as we'd made it out the front door, she said, "Oh my God, Amy—I don't think I have enough gas!" I could barely even hold my head up.
"Then let's take my truck!" I told her.
"But I don't know how to drive a stick!"
"Well I'll teach you how to drive a stick right now!" I said in desperation.
We took Michelle's car. I figured that if she ran out of gas, we could call 911, which is what we should've done before we even left my house, but panic can make you forget everything you know. "Let's just go," I ordered. So she floored it through the desert while I curled my body up in a ball in the passenger seat. I had to stay alert enough to direct Michelle—we had a new hospital, and she didn't know where it was. The whole way there, I gasped for air. Amy, just breathe, I kept repeating in my head—but I couldn't seem to catch my breath. "Turn ... gasp ... right .... gasp ... here," I managed to say. She did—and her gas tank indicator inched closer to empty.
Fifteen minutes later, Michelle sped through the hospital parking lot and screeched right up to the sliding doors of the emergency room. She helped me out of the car and I fell to the ground. A passerby who'd spotted us getting out of the car rushed a wheelchair over to me. "Here you go, Miss, use this," he said. I was so frail that he had to lift me into the seat.
The ER was packed that evening. A long line stretched up to the front window. We checked in, and forty-five minutes later, a nurse finally wheeled me into the back, and then hoisted me up onto the table. All I wanted to do was lie down—and I tried to. "I'm gonna need you to sit up," she ordered. She then Velcro'd a cuff around my left arm and took my blood pressure. She sat still for a few seconds and listened through the stethoscope. Then suddenly, she bolted from the room. "I need a doctor!" she screamed as she sprinted down the hall. Seconds later, a doctor and nurse rushed in and wheeled me away on a gurney.
My veins and lungs had collapsed. My blood pressure had crashed to a dangerously low level. My temperature was 103.5. In the intensive care unit, the doctor and nurse shouted over one another, trying to figure out what was happening to me. This nurse, a sweet redhead named Penny, poked around in my veins so she could hook me up to an IV—but she couldn't find my vein. My body was so numb that I, someone who has been terrified of needles since I was a kid, couldn't even feel the needle she was trying to stick in my arm. "Why can't I find a vein!?" she shouted at the doctor. "Because she's in cardiac arrest!" he yelled. What? I'm in cardiac arrest?
"Where are your parents, sweetie?" Penny pressed. My brain was foggy. "They're not here," I muttered. "They're out of town." Right then, the nurse grabbed the receiver of a bedside phone,
one of those old-school beige phones with the long, windy cord. She gave me the receiver. I dialed my mom's number and handed the receiver back to her—given the state I was in, I'm surprised I was even able to dial. "Hello, Miss Purdy?" she said. Long pause. "Your daughter is in the Mountain View emergency room. We have no idea exactly what's wrong with her, but you need to get here as fast as you can; her entire body is crashing and at this rate she has maybe two hours left to live." Click.
Right then, frightened to death, the words the old man told me began reeling through my head: "Don't be scared. Don't be scared. Don't be scared." While the medical team shouted across me, all I could do was picture the wrinkly face and dark skin of that man who'd told me he'd crossed over. "I think the same thing is going to happen to you one day," he whispered, "and when it does happen, don't be scared." Was this my time? Was I crossing over? And what did that mean?
Whatever it meant, I clung to his words. I then passed out.
From On My Own Two Feet: From Losing My Legs to Learning the Dance of Life By Amy Purdy
© 2014 by Amy Purdy
Reprinted with permission from William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers