By Laura Hieb
I never in a million years thought I’d be near death at age 23. But it happened in November 2015 on a vacation that went seriously awry.
I contracted typhoid fever, a rare form of salmonella, on vacation in the Dominican Republic. It is still not clear what exactly I ate or drank — maybe bad food or the ice in my drinks — that made me sick.
The first three days of the trip were full of sun and adventure with my boyfriend. We enjoyed sand volleyball, boogie boarding and walks on the gorgeous beaches. I didn’t start feeling ill until my last 24 hours there — I was not looking forward to the long day of travel ahead.
The pain started in my hip. At first I thought maybe it was normal pain, perhaps a slipped disk or sciatica, but as the day went on, the pain worsened, and I wasn’t even able to walk on my own. We had made it back to South Dakota, and I went to a small urgent care clinic. They gave me a shot for the pain, prescribed some painkillers and sent me on my way. But when I arrived home, I wasn’t even able to get out of my car. I had to wait for my boyfriend to get there to carry me to my bed.
The next morning, I woke up in a sweat. I could tell I was burning up. My mom came and brought me to the doctor immediately. I had some typical initial tests done, and oddly enough they all came back normal. It was so frustrating. Though my mom thought I should just see a chiropractor, the doctor urged me to get to the emergency room for an MRI. Between the 10-minute drive from the clinic to the ER, my temperature spiked from 101 to 105 degrees.
“People in my social media news feeds did things like take photos and play music and run half-marathons on the side. But instead of making that phone call or sending that email to actually be a part of something new, I would just bitch that exciting opportunities weren’t happening for me.”
Still, it didn’t hit me that something was seriously wrong until 10 p.m. my first night in the hospital. After a long day of tests, I had finally fallen asleep, so my family and boyfriend left for the night. But two hours later, I woke up.
It was almost as if I was in a drunken dream. My room felt like it was the size of a coat closet, while my throat felt like it was closing in on me. My heart was racing at triple the normal rate. I screamed for my nurses and tried to rip out my IV’s.
Even after I had calmed down, I couldn’t form real words. I was speaking gibberish to the rapid response team. In my mind, I was thinking, Will I ever be normal again? What if I have brain damage? But I couldn’t get those words to come out of my mouth to the doctors.
☐ ☐ ☐
Before I left for the Dominican Republic, life had gotten so repetitive. I felt like I could go through my days with my eyes closed.
I loved my job, but I hated that I wasn’t doing much outside of it. I constantly questioned what I was good at and wondered if I even had any interests — people in my social media news feeds did things like take photos and play music and run half-marathons on the side. But instead of making that phone call or sending that email to actually be a part of something new, I would just bitch that exciting opportunities weren’t happening for me.
I didn’t know if my dissatisfaction stemmed from the fact that I was uninspired by my surroundings — I had lived in South Dakota my whole life — or if I really was just lacking that motivation to do something more. But I needed to clear my head.
Cue the vacation.
☐ ☐ ☐
After 10 days in the hospital, finally able to function without medication through the IV’s, I got to go home. Most of my doctors and nurses had never seen an illness like this, so I wasn’t given much information on how my next few months of recovery would pan out. They didn’t know when I’d be able to walk, or if I would need future treatment. I was given antibiotics to take for the next month but was told it could be a long time before my body and immune system fully recovered.
“There was this negativity in my life that I wanted to blame on others when really I needed to make a change in myself. So I’m making it now.”
I thought I would be more excited to go home, but I was uneasy. I felt safe at the hospital, and now I had to return to daily life back without knowing what to expect.
I was unable to walk (unless shakily with a walker and a high dose of pain meds) for three weeks. Frustration, depression and discouragement best describe that time. I even wound up back to the hospital when my intense pain compromised my vision.
I wanted so badly to be able to walk normally and prayed I wouldn’t have permanent damage. Though I practiced walking, I felt helpless, just sitting in the same chair for much of the day, day after day. My mom and dad would work from my apartment because I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without their help. They fed me, helped me shower, helped me get in bed, helped me go to checkups. I felt like a huge burden to them and my boyfriend.
Finally, after six weeks of recovery, I was ready to go back to work and more than ready to start living my life again. It was a drastic change from my mindset before my trip.
After being sick, I was inspired to live my life differently on so many levels — to do things in love rather than in hate, jealousy or negativity. I wasn’t going to do or say hurtful things because I disagreed with someone or something. I was going to remember that people breed negatively because of who they are, not because of who you are.
Newly inspired, I had a second thought, though. How disappointing that I wasn’t able to fully understand that until now. Looking back, I realized I had oftentimes been a bit of a drama queen and felt so sorry for the misery I had caused myself. There was this negativity in my life that I wanted to blame on others when really I needed to make a change in myself.
So I’m making it now.
Before, I was afraid to do things like seek advice at work, or ask someone about their life and their projects and what I could learn from them. I was afraid to write, even though I love writing and it makes me happy. I didn’t want others to think that I was failing. I always told myself, People won’t read that. I will do that when I have more money, more time.
Well guess what. I’m finally asking. I’m finally writing.
I want you to know that you don’t have to get sick to get better. Life is happening now.
Laura Hieb works as a project manager for a website design and development company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She enjoys anything that involves the outdoors and puppy kisses.