Baring It All (for my birthday)

I don’t remember dying, but I did. Twice. It was a chilly Fall morning in October at a dentist’s office in Santa Fe. My mom had escorted me to what was supposed to be a regular wisdom teeth extraction appointment. Instead, something went horribly wrong.

The anesthesia was too much for my little body and my heart gave out. I was a teenager at the time and slight in stature. What’s more, I had never been put under for any type of surgery. I’d always been a pillar of health, barely catching a cold.

Luckily that day, the dentist and his assistant sprung into action, performing aggressive CPR on me until a crash cart was located and wheeled into the oral surgery suite. The doctor shocked my heart over and over again with a defibrillator until he was able to restore my heartbeat and its natural rhythm. Mind you, this all happened with my mother in the room screaming: “What in God’s name is happening?!”

Just when the nightmare seemed to be over and the doctor stabilized me, I flatlined again. This time, though, it was harder to bring me back. The ambulance was called and the attempt to save my life continued. I wish I could tell you that something amazing happened during my near death experience, but for me, it didn’t. Unfortunately, I didn’t see ethereal angels, hear harps strumming, walk toward an omnipresent, powerful light or see Elsa, my beloved, stylish, self-eccentric, gorgeous grandmother, who had passed away just a few years earlier.

Instead, it was like I was in a worm-hole of sorts, watching the entire scene unfold before me. A long tunnel is a better way to describe it. I was on one end and everyone else in the room was on the other. Then, suddenly, as if a strong wind were carrying me, I rocketed forward through the tunnel and woke up. I vomited and passed out.

A few days later, weak and confused, I woke up in my own bed with my mother keeping vigilant watch over me. When she realized I had come to, she rushed to my side, stroked my hair and cried. It took me a long time to fully recover from what happened and when I look back at it now, I realize that after I flatlined, things were never really the same for me.

I became a fragile person; both physically and emotionally, but at that young age, I couldn’t quite explain why things just seemed different. I felt this deep weariness that would take me years to shake. Thankfully, life went on as usual. At least, until a few years ago.

That’s when I contracted a virus/infection that doctors think, more than likely, came from abroad. I could have easily picked it up from a contaminated fork, even a cup, but without the proper diagnosis, I grew sicker. The virus quickly manifested itself into Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome (a rare neurological disorder.) As many of you know, from past blog posts, I was fighting for my life, just like what happened with my wisdom teeth all those years ago.

I would go onto see dozens of doctors, healers and eventually find my way to the Mayo Clinic for help and a firm GBS/Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy diagnosis (try saying that fast a few times.) I was referred to South Florida Neuroscientist, Dr. Jeffrey Gelblum, who prescribed a series of intravenous immunoglobulin treatments; antibodies extracted from plasma that bolster the immune system and trick the body into thinking its well.

A year ago this week, starting on my birthday, I had my last IVIG treatment (an intense three-day, six-hours-a day infusion.) With this all important anniversary, I couldn’t help but think and reflect, as time and distance often does to a person, that somehow, in some way, these two life-altering events are and were connected, perhaps, even intertwined.

I mean, what are the chances that I would “almost die” twice? I’ve been told by many doctors that I’d actually have a better chance of winning the lottery then getting GBS and if that’s true, what exactly is the universe trying to teach me, twice? That’s why I’m writing this blog. I wanted to “Bare It All (for my birthday)”.

I wanted to share what I’ve learned, how I’ve grown and most importantly, I wanted to thank ALL of the people who helped me fight, recover and heal over the last three years. Then, (my blog editor, Matty, will be thrilled to know,) that I’d like to once and for all set this story free, send it into the universe and as my shrink would say: “Screw starting a new chapter in your life. You need to start an entirely new book.”

I’ve learned that every single moment, minute, hour, day and year of my life is a beautiful, unique and fleeting gift; one that I’ve grown to appreciate and handle with tender loving care. Each time, in my youth and adulthood, that I was faced with the reality of losing my worldly existence, what mattered most to me were the people that I loved (not places or things.)

I also found it imperative to GIVE as much love as humanly possible in every way, shape and form in everything I said and did. Believe me, I’m not perfect, I still have my moments, but my heart is committed to being one of a true and genuine intent.

When I styled “Baring It All (for my birthday,)” I wanted the pictures to be pure and simple. I thought about all the things that I had been through: the breakdown of my body, my heart and parts of my mind. I also thought about all of the love, strength and nurturing that I received from so many people: family, friends, doctors, therapists and complete strangers.

When Tod (my blog fashion photographer) was taking my picture, I let all the aforementioned feelings float around in my head and a sense of self-renewal came over me. My experiences, as of late, had stripped me of all the false fashionings I had had about life prior to my illness. The journey had given me hard-won wisdom, unwavering compassion and a new lease on life, literally. If that’s not a beautiful birthday gift, I don’t know what is…and that’s why “Baring It All (for my birthday,)” is one of my favorite things.

Twitter @ShireenSandoval
IG @ShireenSandoval

photography by tod p/t4twophotography
Twitter @todp_t4twophoto
IG @Tod_p

Hair & Make-up by Odette Hernandez
Twitter @Odettehernandz
IG Odett_Herndz

Editor: Matthew Auerbach


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