Can’t Put My Finger on It

Sepsis shocked my body into a coma on October 16, 2012. Jefferson Medical Center in Port Townsend applied emergency procedures to keep me alive and then airlifted me by helicopter to Swedish Medical in Seattle, so I’ve been told. A series of procedures followed, and my wife monitored them diligently. I was blown up like the Michelin Man with fluids, paddled to stop my gone-crazy heart, put on dialysis, etc. All the time, I was living in the most vivid and weird world all my own. But I had moments of lucidity. I remember viewing fingers that looked like charcoal sticks and wondering when they would return to normal, then sinking back into my world. I remember finally becoming completely conscious and viewing my heavily bandaged hands.

Just before Christmas, with my kidneys functioning on their own, my wife took me home. I was 40 pounds lighter, no fingers or thumbs, balance problems, and memory problems, but I was one of the lucky ones. My wife had been told by a sympathetic doctor that “Some people have survived this.” I had been in excellent health for a 76-year-old when I was struck down.

At first my recovery was slow. But with lots of physical therapy, persistent encouragement from my wife, and my own desire to “become normal” again, I began to put on weight, recover some energy, learn to maneuver a spoon and put on my own clothes. My recovery took on momentum. Getting healthy was my obsession. Soon people were remarking how well I was looking.

But there were things I would never be able to do. Upkeep of our 2-story house and half acre property fell on my wife or hired help. I could no longer mow the lawn or clean the gutters. And then a year and a half after my illness, I experienced what I learned is often experienced by septic shock survivors: post-sepsis syndrome. Depression, lack of confidence, self-doubt, feelings of worthlessness, and withdrawal from others. I tried to hide these feelings, but they became too painful, and I tearfully confessed them to my wife, and then to my family physician. An antidepressant was prescribed and worked wonders. Counseling was also suggested, but ended after three sessions when the therapist kept falling asleep as I was revealing my feelings of inadequacy.

My wife and I decided we needed a smaller place with less upkeep, closer to town. We also wanted more friends and a sense of community. Coincidentally, a group within our Unitarian church was in the process of forming a senior cohousing project. It was described as a group of like-minded seniors who wanted a community that they formed to meet their needs. After move in, they would share governance, resources, and responsibilities. It promised to fit our needs.

We joined and soon were involved in various committees planning our village. There were social events aimed at cementing a sense of community. It gave us purpose, involvement, friends, and in the end would provide us a low maintenance home in a committed community of supportive people. What more could we ask for? But it wasn’t always easy. We had to commit our money with the possibility that the project might not succeed. There were conflicts and different ideas as to how we should proceed. We decided on three unit sizes in groups of three to four units in eight condominium-style buildings on six and a half acres of pasture close to town. We chose a large common house for shared meals, other social affairs, and guestrooms. Our excitement grew as the earth was moved, the concrete poured, and timbers stretched into the sky.

I had concerns about my ability to participate due to my lack of fingers and an impaired memory, but that has not proved a problem. I’ve written press releases about the progress of our community, have managed to physically set up a platform for speakers at our groundbreaking, and along with my wife constructed a framework to hold the large banner announcing our village. This, in addition to being a member of three committees and on the staff of our newsletter.

There does seem to be compensation, a bright side, something gained from a tragedy. I learned greater humility, empathy, and patience, partly due to my illness and partly by joining a vibrant community of friends. My life in the vivid, weird world of the coma also added something to my psyche. What, exactly? I can’t put my finger on it.

Jim Daly is a published novelist (Running in Darkness), short story writer, and a former fine arts painter. He has resided the last 12 years in Port Townsend with his wife Pam and his 14-year-old feisty terrier. They have sold their house and temporarily moved to a town close by, awaiting move-in to their cohousing village in the summer of 2017.  Photo by Deja View Photography

Discussion8 Comments

  1. What a beautifully written account of your journey. I know more about you and have much respect for how you have been able to cope. I am not sure I would be able to do the same. And, much praise goes to Pam who, it seems, has been your rock through it all. Well done!


    • Jim we knew many years ago, I am don miller of the old probation Dept Christine and shared many happy times with you and your wife . I taught for 40 years and loved it. I am retired, old, and ugly. I now live my with great wife and 3 sons plus my daughter 3 gran kids there in Washington As usual you write extremely well …… your book long ago….. Strange I would meet you again. I am on dialysis. A life savior. I guess we have other shared experiences.

      Don miller

      • Hi Don,
        Just read your comment on my article. Thanks. The last time I had email contact with you, you seemed out of it. You were trying to sell Tupper Wear or something. I hope you are doing well. Our days as JH counselors was a great time. I think of them often.
        Jim Daly

  2. Amazing. I am so proud of you Dad! I am also grateful that you have Pam as you counterpart. She seems to intuitively know how hard to push you (for your own good), while allowing you to be yourself. You both have been through a lot and seemed to have come out of it even better than before.

    Your excitement and pride over the development of Quimper Village is evident. Your & Pam’s passion is inspiring. Having purpose and feeling like you’re a valued part of community is a gift. Ride it for as a long as you can!

    I look forward to visiting, you and Pam, when the community when done.

    <3 Lani

  3. You Dalys are two beautiful people and I do hope QV will be a community which surrounds you with the love you deserve. I love your writing, Jim, about this and other things I have read. Pam: you are a dear and loving life savor, that is for sure. I have fond respect, mountains high, for each of you.


  4. Good article Jim. I still remember so vividly visiting you at Swedish when it was still very much “touch and go” if you would survive. You have been an inspiration to so many of us in your remarkable recovery, thank you for sharing the struggles and the triumphs of these past years.

  5. Wow, Jim!
    You are one lucky guy and we are lucky to have your thoughtful help in building Quimper Village and also Pam’s energy and fortitude as well.
    Jeanette and Howard

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