Jillian's Story

This is an incredibly inspiring story from an even more inspiring lady. Our lives can change in an instant. But it's up to us to determine the outcome. Read this post and be encouraged. 

"We all have a past – each and every one of us- and it’s likely that it’s a past filled with more than just rainbows and buttercups. There are things we don’t talk about. The things we try to forget. The things we could have said or done. The photos or letters buried under the bed, the secrets, the memories, the triggers, and the ghosts that keep us awake at night, refusing to be forgotten. There’s a lot of pressure to be fully present, to find peace, to let the past go – but how? If you ask a thousand people, you’ll get a thousand different answers. How do we let go of a painful past? I found out the secret. The secret is that we don’t. We don’t let go. We loosen our grip. That is all. We accept that every experience that we have ever had and everything that we have ever done or that has been done to us, and every person we have ever known, every place we have ever been, every decision we have ever had is a part of who we are and whether we understand it or not, they all serve a purpose."

I was in third grade, when I remember having my very first panic attack. Third grade was a tough year for me and I can't exactly pinpoint why. The panic attacks seemed to subside until high school. It was then when I was clinically diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder, severe episodic which are now chronic migraines, and depression. I mean who wouldn’t be depressed when you are missing out on your prime teenage years. I missed formals, football and lacrosse games, parties, and sleepovers. You know, the typical high school social events that determined "who you were." At least that's what I thought at the time. I definitely learned who my real friends were. 

I would get migraines so often to where I was isolated to my dark quiet room. My mother would have to touch me just to give me a “warning” that she is checking on me or was going to talk to me. Even her normally soft nurturing touch would send pain throughout my whole body. I shut down; mind, body, and spirit. I had no hope. I actually think I got so used to being in pain, that I almost accepted that this is how my life is going to be. 

I graduated from high school in 2007 after going to summer school due to the astronomical amount of school days I missed, I took a year off and decided to start college in 2009 to get my undergraduate degree in psychology. I ended up having to medically withdraw in order to get help for the anxiety and depression that took over my life.

Around this time, my parents started the process to get a divorce. The church that I had grown up in, from kindergarten to eighth grade, shunned my mother. The divorce definitely needed to happen for numerous reasons. It was then that I questioned everything, especially my Catholic upbringing. I stopped going to church and stopped praying.

It was then that I hit rock bottom. I fell seven times and didn't think I was strong enough to stand up for the eighth time. I went to a campus like facility in Boston, Massachusetts at McLean Hospital which is noted as the world's largest private neuroscience and psychiatric research program. Many well known-famous people have been treated there for a variety of psychiatric disorders. It was there that I learned Dialectical Behavioral Therapy in a house on campus with girls my age. DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. It was formulated by Marsha Linehan to originally treat borderline personality disorder. Since its development, it has been used (like in my case) for the treatment of many other kinds of mental health disorders. My family said that I came home, a whole new person with a brand new optimistic outlook on life.

In August 2010, my mom, sister and I took a trip to Boston. I visited McLean, the place that helped me gain back my life. I met with my team of doctors to thank them. I also got to visit with some of the girls that were in treatment the same time I was. 

On August 7th, we were driving home, leaving later than anticipated. We would arrive home, in Buffalo, NY late that night/early morning. My sister Megan asked me during the drive if I wanted to go workout in the morning with her. I said definitely not and told her that I would love to sleep in. Anyone that knows me, knows I love my sleep. My sister said she was rushing down the stairs to make a class at the gym on time, when she literally felt something pull her back up the stairs, just to ask me one more time if I’d like to join her. She found me unresponsive with dried black blood around my mouth from biting my tongue while intermittently seizing throughout the night and no one knowing. She saved my life and will forever be my hero. I was intubated in the ambulance and was manually bagged with a bag mask valve. EMS really tries not to intubate in the pre-hospital setting, unless it's a life or death situation. I was put on a mechanical ventilator upon arrival to the closest hospital, not my parent’s hospital of choice. Due to being intubated emergently, I aspirated. Aspiration is when all the food and liquids from the night before as well as my saliva and vomit came up and went into my airway and my lungs. I contracted ARDS which is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome that I will have for the rest of my life. Also, I had a tension pneumothorax (collapsed lung), earning me chest tubes. I went into witnessed cardiac arrest once and respiratory arrest twice. The second time I went into respiratory arrest my O2 sats (oxygen levels) plummeted down to the 30's. Anything between or below 95 to 90, you'd be put on supplemental oxygen. The doctors made a life saving decision to trach me at bedside (which normally happens in the OR due to the sterile quality) and medically induce me into a coma. At that time, I had the ventilator breathing for me. I was 90% machine and 10% life. The doctors told my parents to call any family or friends in to say goodbye. My parents, aunt, and neighbors all called the priest to give me my last rights or anointing of the sick. When Fr. Gallagher showed up to Mercy Hospital of Buffalo, the nun at the front desk told him I was in ICU, room 7. When he got up there, that room was empty. He thought he was too late. He went to the nurse's station to ask about me and then realized that I was actually in room 8. He still jokes with me to this day about how he almost ended up next to me, in room 8 due to almost giving him a heart attack. He was one of my many angels while I was hanging on to life.

After 32 days in a coma and one hell of a fight, I was weaned off of sedation and moved to a step down unit for observation. Next, I went to the medical rehab unit. Due to how much oxygen that I lost, that was not delivered to my brain during the night I was seizing, I had to learn how to walk, write, and even formulate sentences again. I had the mentality of a five year old and had to work with a physical therapist as well as an occupational and speech therapist. 

If you haven’t been able to gather from everything I previously stated, I am one stubborn person. I spent about another month doing inpatient rehab. I then negotiated with the social worker to release me from inpatient to outpatient PT, OT, and speech therapy, promising I’d go five days a week. My negotiation tactics worked. In December, on my 21st birthday, I was signed off and cleared from the outpatient facility. I only would have to come back for maintenance appointments. 

Little by little I learned bits and parts of what had happened to me. I found out that I had only one kidney. The basic function of the kidneys are to metabolize, breakdown, and remove waste. They produce urine which carries the wastes and is then excreted from the body. I was tapering off a medication that wasn't working anymore. I then took the new medication that was prescribed. Both meds were in the same drug class, therefore I basically overdosed. 

I now knew that I wanted to be on the other side of the hospital bed. I started as a certified nurse’s assistant in Buffalo at the hospital that I owe my life to. I now live in Virginia and had the opportunity to work at one of my dream hospitals (a level one trauma center in the heart of a big city), George Washington University Hospital in critical care. I am now studying trauma and emergency medicine. I will start up classes again in the fall and take my paramedic exam in December. Then I will fulfill my dream of becoming a physician assistant. 

Still to this day, I am dealing with residual effects from that ordeal, which includes; chronic migraines, amnesia, my left lung is 60% inflated, and PTSD. 

It is actually ironic that when I wrote this, it was national nurse’s week and mental health awareness month. I am a big advocate on speaking up and ending the stigma that people still attach to psychiatric disorders. I will be forever indebted to the nurses who not only took care of me but also held my family’s hands and wiped away their tears. Also, to the many doctors, respiratory therapists, and the physical therapy team, as well as my family, friends, and God. I knew that God had me survive what I went through and brought me back to life on three separate occasions for a reason. That reason is to carry out my vocation and care for the sick. Healthcare chose me. 

I found a quote that states, “My life can pretty much be described in one sentence; "It doesn’t go as planned and that’s ok." I've learned on numerous occasions that God laughs when you make plans.

I began to pray again. I began to pray to God as well as my spiritual guides. God gave me this life, because He knew I am strong enough to live it. I also tarted going back to church and speaking to different groups about my experience and how it changed me. I don't by any means let my past or the struggles that I face on a daily basis define my life. It was simply a chapter in my story. I turned the page, and am writing the next chapter. My name is Jillian. The name Jillian means "full of life." I am most definitely full of life and I strive to live up to the meaning of my name despite the trials that I am faced with. 

I would like to end with another quote that I found. “She looked back and marveled how far she had come… She didn’t wonder how she made it… She already knew the answer. Only with God’s help had she powered through. For without His strength, she could do nothing.”