I died.

Almost four years ago, one of my best friends, Jackie, flew out to see me as soon as she heard I had fallen into a coma while vacationing with my family. Just like that, one day I was fine, two days later I was on life support with 10% survival odds. I had Toxic Shock Syndrome, and I had no idea what was happening to me. Within hours after playing tennis and lying in the sun, I felt sick and quickly developed a fever that spiked and spun out of control.

Jackie went straight to the hospital, and urged my husband, Jeff, who hadn’t left my side for 72 hours, to go back to his father’s house for some sleep. Within an hour of being at the hospital, Jackie was told I wasn’t going to make it. Jeff was immediately summoned back to say his final “goodbye.”

My husband dropped down on his knees and prayed for me, the mother of his two young children, that my life was not yet over.

Miraculously, for a short while I stabilized. But I was far from stable. The only organ working in my body was my heart and that, too, was starting to go. If that weakened any more, the doctors said, then I was done — no other organ was working on its own.

And as the fight went on externally, I was teetering into the Other World. It’s strange, even now, I can remember the “traveling.” I was desperately trying to find my way, and I was on my own… looking for where I belonged. Sometimes, in that state-of-mind, I was visited by my mother-in-law, Lola, asking how I was, what I had decided to do. Was I going to come back to “life” or would I die? I would reply that I was okay and still here. She would fade away satisfied, only to return again.

In my dreamlike state, I remember listening to my close friend, Tricia, reading a chapter from the John Lennon book and I somehow felt like a part of that story. I was enraptured by a description of a person whose inner and outer beauty blurred the lines of hetero and homo sexuality; a person who was deeply loved and admired by all those who surrounded him. Somehow I held on to those words, enjoying this exquisite tale almost ecstatically.

As I listened, I envisioned myself walking through gates, the kind of entrance similar to that leading to a quaint English village. I was walking down this lovely path on my way through the gates… I felt really happy and light. I must say, that since my recovery, I have scanned the John Lennon book and could not find the pertinent paragraph.

That was the last time for a long time that I would feel at peace and really happy.

I truly believe I was almost gone, and only when I realized I had a family — a husband, children – did I come back from that Other World — feeling the pain and anguish of what had really happened to me. The noise, the lights, the unbearable searing pain, was all there. That was what was waiting for me when I finally broke the surface of the coma after three months.

In my dreams, even now, I always picture that moment, the turning point, in a dreamlike state when an unknown man had called out my name in the darkness. I replied that I was who he was looking for, and here I was! Strangely, he snapped his fingers at me and it was as if klieg lights went on, followed by noise and chaos.

I was alive.

I came up from the frigid grayish-blue depths, and I had to gear up for the fight of my life — pain and extreme discomfort. This was to be my legacy and my future. So much of who I once was had been lost.

Through the months that I regained consciousness I had to relearn everything, to speak, to swallow, to sit up, to use my feeding utensils, then later, to wheel myself in a wheelchair and eventually, many months later, to walk on a prosthetic leg and a partial foot. It was an Olympian feat just to get through the day.

After many months, I returned to civilian life. Being driven around. Showing up at ballgames in a wig, on a walker hopping on one foot. There was no negative or gossipy vibe when I was out in the community. I was so obviously in “bad shape” that, truthfully, it seemed to bring out the best in people. The warmth and acceptance that I received made me able to go out and face the world before I was fully “repaired.”

As for my beautiful children … they did not get to see me for almost six months and they could not communicate with me for four. I can’t even begin to imagine their pain and confusion, having been sent “home” on a plane without their mother, and not knowing my fate. It still hurts to put myself in their place during that horrific period of our lives. And yet … they seem now really balanced and good. They are very well-adjusted — smart and wise, aware and deep. I have always maintained a positive and fun-loving persona with them even through the worst of my recovery, and for that I believe they put me on the highest pedestal. I would say they don’t take much for granted, and are very loving and appreciative. We all attribute their incredible qualities to having lived through such adversity.

Eventually, my hair grew in, my weight came back, I got fitted for my prosthetic leg… and my foot brace. Somehow, I managed to look almost the same as BEFORE. And yet…. Everything had changed, forever. I landed back to my Suburban Mommy Life.

Yes, reflecting back on what had happened to me, I can truly say that I had landed on the other side of the looking glass. Although the glass was transparent, and I could see through it, I could not touch what was beyond it. It was there for me to look through but not fully experience. It now seems as if I have my old life back, which I worked tirelessly to regain. And yet…

It feels at times that I have landed in yet another alternate universe where I have recaptured the exact mirror replica of my old existence, but nothing is really the same at all.

Penny Fisher 2 weeks after being immobile for 6 months
2 weeks back on feet after 6 months of no mobility!

People mention all the time that when they see me from a distance out and about, they almost forget for a moment all that had happened to me. And truthfully, that is my true triumph. I try very hard to walk the same. To always smile, to dress well, and look healthy.

I crawled back to life like Ulysses from the Odyssey to reclaim what was rightfully mine. I’m here — the same …

But not the same.

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Writen by Penny Fisher

Penny Fisher has not only survived an unbelievable trauma, but also she has thrived. She is working on her memoir, and is available as a motivational speaker and mentor. To contact her, email: pennyfisher11@comcast.net.