When one has a fear of something, it can become gripping. It can consume your whole being. No matter what the fear is, we let it take over what we do each day.
This is a story of a fear I had.
The morning of November 22, 2016, I was scheduled for a vocal cord surgery. This was my second one within a matter of 4 months.
I was sent to the New York Head and Neck Institute by my ENT to be seen by a colleague of hers. She had been taking care of my vocal cord problems for several months during 2016. She operated on me to remove the nodules on my cords and after careful watch, they returned very aggressively. She was not able to treat me further and sent me to be seen by the director of Head and Neck Oncology, Dennis Kraus, at the Head Neck Institute. He was better equipped to test further and look into why they were coming back full force. The initial pathology did not show any signs of cancer from the first surgery.
After my initial apt with Dr. Kraus and his team, he wanted to operate and run more tests on the growth that came back. My left vocal cord was pretty shot with nodes. When I say there was a team, I mean there was a team. It was Dr Kraus, another Dr named Dan, a speech pathologist, a nurse practitioner, and a different nurse. I was very thankful for the care and attention. I knew I was being taken care of but in the back of my mind the fear of losing my voice, having my voice box removed or even dying began to weigh heavily on my mind. I never allowed my fear to surface to others. I had to remain strong because everyone kept telling me everything was gong to be ok. The What If’s began to take over my conscious thoughts. What if I had cancer? What if I lost my voice box? What if cancer had gone to other parts of my body and had not shown up yet? What if I lay on the operating table and they could not help me? What if I died?
How could I live without my voice? My whole life I have used my voice, the music inside my heart, the words to sing and just the thought of not having any of that was scary. The minute you fixate your mind on something, whether it be good or negative, is all consuming.
The fear of losing my voice box was real. I was thinking how would I be able to cover my neck area. People would stare at me and thee would be laughs and snickers behind my back. How could I face my family and friends?
The biggest fear in prepping for this surgery, was the fear of dying. I just had a sense and feeling that was as real as anything I had ever experienced. I experienced anxiety leading up to that morning. I recall one morning on the phone with my Mom, and I believe she sensed I was upset and worried by the tone of my voice. She tried to reassure me everything was going to be ok and I remember get angry and upset, not at her, but at the situation and began to cry, “I just want this to be done. I would feel better if I had cancer then at least I would know what I was facing.” Those words were almost prophetic in a way with what was to come.
As I already stated, my fear was very real to me. I was eating away all my emotions because that is what I have always done. Stuff them down with food. I was not taking care of myself health wise and wanted to crawl into a hole.
The morning of Nov 22 began very early for me. I didn’t sleep well the night before and the reality is the lack of sleep for days leading up to that surgery. I cried a lot to myself. I never let my fear show to anyone prior to my surgery. I was still smiling, carefree, the Rick full of laughter and hope. That is the only thing I knew that would help but inside I was alone and hurting.
My oldest and dearest friend who lives in NYC, Erin, met me bright and early at the hospital. Erin is a Reiki Master and a healer. She had just lost her mom and she was her caregiver so she understood the emotional fear and the uncertainty of not knowing the outcome. I know she sensed it on me that morning. I tried not to bombard her with my worries as I knew she was dealing with her own emotional upheavals at the time. She sat with me in the pre-surgery prep area as I was ever so lovely in my beautiful hospital attire. I was looking around the room at other patients being admitted and not really focusing on our conversation.
The one by one my surgical team came out to speak to me. As they approached my fear was at the forefront. I was scared. This was not the first surgery I have had in my life but yet why was this one feeling different?
The anesthesiologist introduced himself and sat down beside me while looking at my chart. I had never met him before. He explained his procedure. He went over what I should expect with the anesthesia. He said his main job was to keep me safe and he couldn’t foresee anything happening. He said I was in good hands. He asked if I had any questions. I didn’t but in my head I asked myself, “Why would he say that it was his job to keep me safe and he didn’t foresee anything happening?” I have never had a dr of anesthesiology say anything like that before. Of course, it made my fears even more real. What if I was to wake up in the middle of the surgery and I couldn’t ask for help? I wouldn’t be able to move and I couldn’t get their attention. How would I be able to tell them? My heart began to race and I felt anxious. He left.
After several minutes, Dr Kraus came out to speak to me. He introduced himself to Erin and they chatted briefly. He then sat down beside me and began to explain the procedure in detail. He asked me if I knew what I was there for and of course I tried to make a joke by saying I did know, did he know why I was there? Haha He had a serious look on his face and again asked why I was there. I said I was there to have vocal cord surgery. I then understood he had to ask me that question to make sure I understood why I was there. He also explained to that his job was to keep me safe and hopefully all things would go smoothly and he didn’t anticipate any problems with the surgery. He asked me if I had any questions and I really don’t know if I did or not. My head was spinning at that point. He said he would see me in there. My surgeon stating the exact same thing as the anesthesiologist was a little to freaky for me.
After he left, Dan, one of his colleagues came out to talk briefly and check in with me to see if I was ok. I was being taken care of and I knew that but I was a bundle of bad energy and fear. The clock seemed to move slowly. I recall the time on the clock being around 9am because they had the Today Show on the TV. Everything was becoming a little blurry to me. Almost like I wasn’t there but yet I was. Erin looked at me and asked if I was ok. I said I was and we continued to talk. I’m not sure what I heard or what she was saying to me. I’m almost positive I didn’t. I do remember her asking me if she could say a prayer with me before I went into surgery. We held hands and she prayed. She asked for safety and a shield. Those two things stuck out in my mind because safety seemed to be the key theme of the morning.
Why wasn’t I feeling safe? Who could give me safety? No one, but the shield of God. I didn’t feel peace when she was done praying either. My mind was still racing. Why was I so afraid? I have had surgeries before. What was it about this one? It was about to be revealed.
Mr. Criswell are you ready?
I woke up in the recovery room. I looked to my left and saw a nurse and then I saw Erin coming towards me at the foot of my bed. I was crying. I wept. I was sobbing actually. Erin asked me what was wrong. I couldn’t speak and I just wanted to tell her but I knew I wasn’t able to talk. I tried to and may have tried whispering to Erin but the nurse handed me some paper and a pen. I couldn’t wait to write those three words: I SAW JESUS. The first thing on the paper was, I SAW JESUS. Tears were streaming down my face. I continued to write in broken sentences because there was so much to say. I wrote: I don’t know how to explain. I felt him all around me. It was so real. So peaceful. Peace.
When I walked into the operating room and laid down on the table, I looked around and saw so many people in scrubs and I really couldn’t tell who anyone was. I heard their voices as they were talking. They were putting sleeves on my legs, IV’s in my arms, blood pressure and heart monitors, and strapping me down. I laid there in such a surreal moment in time. I thought I was going to have a panic attack. I wanted them to stop. I didn’t want to go through with it. I will die, I am going to die.
The anesthesiologist placed an oxygen mask over my mouth and it was so tight and snug. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move to tell him to stop. I was polarized. I couldn’t move my mouth. I remember letting out some sort of noise and him telling me to relax and breathe. I had tears rolling down the side of my head. I lay there motionless and in my mind I said God please help me. Please be with me. Please.
They always say people know of death before it happens. The days leading up to that moment were like that for me. Everything was being orchestrated. Each moment of fear, every tear, every feeling of uneasiness was about to culminate in something life changing. You see I did experience death. It was not physical death in the way the human mind understands but rather it was a death of the old being released into a new spiritual body.
It is still hard to explain what I experienced that morning. The simplest way to describe what I saw was the beauty of the spirit of God. I did not see a human face of Jesus. I saw the most beautiful color of a rich deep violet purple and coming out of it were the brightest vibrant golden rays of light which was embodied by such a warmth and peace. To me that was God. It was Jesus. It was Spirit. Most importantly it was LOVE. Love, Love, Love…
I was not scared, there was no fear around me at all, in fact I was smiling and able to laugh the entire time. There were no tears. I was in a place of complete peace. A new place. A new birth. New Love. I am new. No words were spoken. No streets of gold, trees or anything physical. It was so real yet it seemed to be in another time, another place. It was an indescribable feeling. One I didn’t want to leave.
I didn’t tell anyone about my life changing moments that day except for Erin. She witnessed it all unfold as I wrote it down. The nurse who gave me the paper listened as I was expressing it to Erin. I asked Erin if she spoke to the Dr and she said she did and they had a difficult time with my surgery. I fought them.
When I went to the Dr. a few weeks later after that surgery, I wanted to ask him some questions I didn’t have answers to because I think I wanted to know that what I experienced was real. I mean it was so real and I knew it was real but what was difficult about this surgery. He said it was a hard surgery for them to get me settled. I fought the life tube. They had a hell of a time getting it in me.
It was that moment of him telling me about the struggle with the life tube that my eyes welled up with tears. I knew it was real. I did see Jesus that morning. I know that 2 years later I still sit and cry with what happened that morning. It changed my life. It changed my core being. I called my Uncle to tell him about this experience because I knew he would understand. I also told my Mom and my Aunt at Christmas of 2016.
I have not been sure what to do with this story and how to share it with everyone but I think it is a story to be told. Nov. 22, 2016 ultimately prepared me for my journey of cancer. No matter what the outcome would have been with the cancer, I knew I was going to be ok. I was able to face every challenge with dignity. It has been the hardest thing in my life to overcome.
I am celebrating my one year of being cancer free today, 11/27/18. There is scar tissue on my right vocal cord. The tumors were on the left vocal cord and it is not as pliable due to the surgeries and radiation. They do not meet in the middle anymore to vibrate so I am not able to sing any more. I have no head voice or flip. Nothing comes out but air. That is the saddest part for me because music has always played a huge part in my life and although I was not the best singer in the world, it was something I loved. I now need to find new ways to use my voice and this is one way of doing it. I will write and help people as I go.
Each day is a new one and with each day brings new challenges but the possibilities within those challenges are unlimited. Take each days challenge and find those possibilities.