Confronted With the Sudden Realization of My Own Mortality

Even in the ICU, Shalana Jordan was in denial

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by Shalana Jordan |

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banner image for Shalana Jordan's column Walking on Water, which features a woman on the left walking on a greenish body of water.

People die every day. Old age, illnesses, accidents — death is an inevitable part of life. So how is it that even when I was standing face to face with death, I still didn’t think for a second that I was dying?

In September 2020, I almost died. I assumed I had COVID-19 again and expected to be sent home with a doctor’s note. But clearly it was something else. I was admitted to the ICU with multiorgan failure and spent two months in the hospital.

I was in kidney and liver failure, my blood pressure was 245/165 mmHg, and I was vomiting blood and losing feeling in my legs. I’d eventually be diagnosed with atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS), and I’d learn that most of the damage to my kidneys, liver, heart, and uterus is permanent.

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An eery silence

After two weeks in the ICU, I was still in denial about how close to death I was. I was an obnoxious patient. I felt myself getting weaker every day, so I determinedly walked the hallways. My nurses insisted I keep my behind in bed. Obviously, I didn’t listen, so they allowed the walks, with a chaperone.

While walking the halls, I heard only a few sounds — the slow and steady beeping of heart monitors, air moving through ventilator tubing, occasional whispers between the nurses. The ICU was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

Eventually, I noticed that I was the only patient in the ICU who was mobile and talking. This explained how the nurses had time to chat with me and bring me late-night sherbet.

The final instance that forced me to realize I was dying was a new patient’s final hours. She spoke Spanish, and I’d hear her say a few words through labored breathing next door. She’d ask for water or to sit up. Sometimes they’d call a nurse from another floor to translate.

Her last two days were full of pain. The nurses tried to console her and keep her comfortable, but they were losing her. As the night went on, the sounds became unnerving. I could hear water dripping from my bathroom sink. And the moans of my neighbor. Even the nurses were quiet.

A hard lesson

At one point, the woman’s tone changed. She was saying something different.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what she’s saying. I can’t understand her,” the translating nurse said. The nurses chatted about what to do. I pressed my call button.

In school, I sang in choir and musicals. We sang a variety of music, so I can sing in four languages — English, Spanish, Italian, and Latin. My nurse appeared.

“I know why the other nurse can’t understand her,” I said. “She’s not just speaking Spanish, she’s speaking multiple languages.”

My nurse’s eyes widened and she waved the other nurses over. I explained that I had heard her say words in Spanish, Latin, Italian, French, and something Eastern European sounding.

The translating nurse said she’d spoken with the patient’s sons several times and didn’t think she’d know all those languages. It sent a chill down our spines.

Just after 4 a.m., the moaning stopped. The heart monitor flatlined, and alarms sounded at the nurses’ station.

That was the first moment I believed I was dying, too. It was the first time death had lurked so closely by. It was the first night that I sobbed during my stay.

Which brings me to some of the best qualities humans have: perseverance, hope, and the will to never give up. Even though I was weak and sitting in the ICU, I didn’t initially think I was dying.

I was talking, walking, and still eating. My cognitive abilities were unscathed. I didn’t believe in my own mortality until I heard someone else’s.

That made me realize something: I could have died weeks earlier, but I didn’t. Whether it was shock, hope, or denial, something helped me survive. We have no control over when we’ll leave this life, but we’re absolutely in control of our outlook and the manner in which we live.

What’s most important is how we spend the time that we have. Our time is a gift, and I’m fortunate to have been given more. Nearly dying gave me a new perspective on life — it’s important to love hard, celebrate the wins, and live life to the fullest.

Note: aHUS News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of aHUS News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to aHUS.


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