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  • Drew Dotson

Happy/Sad New Year!

We’re almost a week into the new year, and I’m ready for a do-over. In some ways, I fulfilled my intention to be simple and deliberate. I made a lengthy to-do list for the week and accomplished most of the tasks. I’m five days into a 24-day Pilates challenge. I’ve already finished reading my first book of the year. I accomplished my goal of writing every day.


But, in other ways, there was nothing simple or deliberate about this week, specifically when it came to my thought patterns. I created unnecessary suffering for myself by letting my mind get all up in my business. I had a tough week, but I’m ready to let it go. And, for me, that sometimes means writing about it, so here I am.


During the NFL game Monday night, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field. I didn’t see it as it happened, but the next morning the news seeped its way onto my screen and into my heart. I watched footage of the other players, who were visibly distraught. Some walked around with their hands on their heads, others talked to themselves, and still others were hunched over and frozen, like statues. I hurt as I watched the players pace helplessly on the field, unable to do anything but desperately plea for their teammate’s recovery.


I felt like I was watching myself.


It took me back to the morning of April 19, 2020, when my now-late husband, Ramón, suffered his in-hospital cardiac arrest. Like the other players as they watched Damar, my concern intensified the longer Ramón was down. I recall being ushered from Ramón’s hospital room into a vacant one, where a chaplain joined me as I waited for a report — any report. I could hear the chaos a few doors down.


I remember the relief that washed over me when they told me they’d gotten Ramón’s pulse back. At the time, I naïvely thought his restored heartbeat meant everything was okay — that Ramón had approached death’s door, then was like “PSYCH!” as he fully retreated back to the land of the living.


Throughout this week, I’ve obsessively checked for updates on Damar’s status, hoping his outcome would be better than Ramón’s. I read reports saying medical personnel performed CPR on Damar for about nine minutes. The doctors' best guesses for Ramón were 10 minutes.


My social media feeds brimmed with the celebratory news — the life-saving actions of the medical personnel and the fact that they started CPR on Damar so quickly. Yet we’d all thought the same stuff about Ramón because, within seconds, a surprisingly composed hospital tech, Joe, started compressions.


These were all factors that should have worked in Ramón’s favor.


Tuesday passed with no notable updates on Damar. I found myself thinking, "Well, he’s probably getting therapeutic hypothermia.” As I thought it, I resented knowing the medical protocol post-cardiac arrest.


Then came the news that Damar was requiring less ventilator support, which I remembered oh so clearly. By the end of the first day, Ramón’s breathing had improved significantly. It was another sign that this was just a blip on the radar — something Ramón and I would talk about for years to come. I could already hear his voice in my head, incessantly reminding me of that time he died.


And I would be grateful every time he repeated the joke.


I watched as the nation came together for Damar in such a beautiful way this week. The competitive nature of the NFL all but dissolved, and instead the teams unified around kindness and compassion. I watched with gratitude as Damar’s toy drive raked in millions of dollars.


Yet, in the midst of this outpouring of love, my heart sunk as I thought about how isolating our experience had been. Given the novelty of the COVID-19 pandemic, nobody could visit (including me, for quite some time), which meant Ramón was alone in the ICU. And, when I finally got permission to return to the hospital, I longed to have visits from familiar faces, desperate for a smile or a hug.


I watched as people claimed that Damar was a fighter and, if anyone could survive this, he could. I, too, said those words about Ramón and believed them with every ounce of my being. But it wasn’t really up to him. If it was a matter of willpower, Ramón would still be here.


I was so grateful to learn that Damar woke up and appeared to be neurologically intact. I longed for that day for Ramón, but time continued to pass with no true waking — no clear awareness. People casually attributed Damar’s recovery to the power of prayer, which took me back to all the prayer lists Ramón was on, the prayer blanket he lay under, the masses said for him.


But prayer wasn’t the deciding factor.


Rather, in those moments without a heartbeat — without oxygenation — Ramón’s brain was injured and, in the weeks to come, he never regained full consciousness. Although early, it seems Damar had a much better outcome, and I’m thankful for that.


I am beyond elated for Damar and his loved ones, yet my heart has been crushed this week as I relived some of the hardest moments of my life. I didn't make good use of my spoons by ruminating on the past.


Nothing about it was simple. Nothing about it was deliberate.


I hesitated to write this out of concern that it could come across the wrong way, but it’s just another one of grief’s strange dichotomies. I can be happy for someone else and still feel sorrow at the same time. Despite our desire to label things, emotions can co-exist without detracting from one another.


If your first week of 2023 hasn’t gone as you’d hoped, I’m with you. But there’s a bright side of veering off track. When we realize we’ve gone astray, we have the opportunity to recalibrate.


I look forward to reading about Damar’s continued improvement.


And I look forward to celebrating yours.


Hospital shenanigans. Always.

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