Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Still Can't Believe This Happened To Me.....Right After Shriners, Part Two

During the first few days of my stay, we visited with lots of doctors and nurses.  With the exception of the ER doctor, most of the hospital staff was so friendly.  It is true what they say about people in the South.  In general, they are hospitable, super friendly and love to talk as if you’ve been friends with them all their lives. The nurses were even friendly and kind to this lady from “liberal” Oregon who was supposedly admitted for an STD J.  But when Sunday rolled around, the situation was not looking good for me.  My primary doctor at the hospital, an OB/GYN, met with Wes and me early that morning.  She had been monitoring me now for a few days and visiting with us pretty regularly.  She sat us down and said, I would like to re-do your tests, with your permission.  My gut feeling tells me this is not an STD.  You are not responding well, and your vitals are not good.  You are developing pneumonia.  Not only this, but you seem like a very different couple then the couples we normally see with this “problem”.

This was a pretty bold decision on her part.  But of course, we knew the diagnosis was wrong, so we agreed to have the tests re-taken.  They started testing me on Sunday afternoon.  The results came back.  Indeed, my appendix WAS the issue.  It was leaking infection all over inside my abdomen.  The appendix needed to be surgically removed as soon as possible.  Wes’s sister had a neighbor who, just a few years earlier, had died from an infected appendix that had been leaking for days without anyone knowing it.  We were somewhat alarmed, but at the same time, glad to finally have the right diagnosis. 

That evening, I went into surgery.  The next thing I remember, I was waking up, and felt like I couldn’t breathe.  People were hovering right over my face, trying to put a mask on me; it was an oxygen mask.  The mask was covering up my face.  All I knew is I couldn’t breathe and in my delirium, I thought it was because something was covering my nose and mouth and blocking my air.  So, I did what anyone normal person would do – I kept pulling the mask off.  The anesthesiologist would place it back on…I would pull it off.  I don’t remember this, but the anesthesiologist told Wes that I got really rough with him.  So uncharacteristic of me!  Turns out, my pneumonia was pretty severe by this time, and I was not breathing well at all.  The surgeon and anesthiologist immediately met with Wes, and said I needed to be brought to ICU.  It was a scary time for him, being told I was not breathing well and not doing as well as they had hoped.  And it was a scary time for my family and friends at home who were being kept apprised of the situation through texts and Facebook.

I did stabilize however, over the next 24 hours.  The surgery recovery would have been fairly straight-forward, but the pneumonia had really taken hold.  I was required to spend 5 more days in the hospital, receiving breathing treatments every few hours, close supervision, and antibiotics.  I don’t remember a lot during this time, except coughing and not being able to breathe well.  One thing I do remember very vividly though.  Sometime after surgery, I walked into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and what I saw was a different person staring back at me!  They had pumped me so full of fluids, and the fluids had been retained, for the most part.  I had gained at least 30 pounds.  If I were not so sick, I am sure this would have been very alarming to me!  The staff assured me that the weight would all come off eventually, and I would look normal again.  Wes did not know whether to laugh or cry!  My normal frame was now twice as big, at least it seemed that way to us.  When I finally was released from the hospital, none of my regular clothes even remotely fit.  I remember Wes taking a dress of mine, and stretching it out as hard as he could.  I was able to squeeze into it then.  And I had a pair of boots, that I could just barely fit my feet into.  My legs were so swollen I could hardly walk.  All this was so ironic, since I had hardly eaten anything for almost 2 weeks. 

We were given permission to fly home a few days after my release from the hospital.  I waddled through the airport, still so swollen and hardly able to walk.  It was humiliating, looking that way and having to walk through an airport.  When I walked through the door of my house, my kids were there.  I know they felt bad, but they couldn’t help but laugh at my appearance.  It was quite a shock to them!  Sure enough though, the water weight came off and I went back to normal.

I relate this experience to add another layer to all the experiences we have been through that have taught us great appreciation for health and life, and family.  And for the prayers of the saints who were lifting me up continually during this time.  I am very thankful for the people at home who were praying.  The whole situation could have turned out differently – in a bad way.  It took me a few more weeks to fully recover from pneumonia.  My church family provided meals for my family and me during this time.  And once again, we came through a trial with a testimony of God’s goodness to us, and of his rescue from a dangerous, even life-threatening situation. J

Monday, March 12, 2012

Still Can't Believe This Happened To Me....right after Shriners Part One

Daniel’s story is basically up to date – except I forgot to mention that after his massive back surgery, he was told not to do anything strenuous for 8 months.  That meant no sports, no biking, not even jumping on a trampoline.  He handled the restrictions well.  But every year our whole family goes on a bike trip through the San Juan Islands with our church youth group, and it was looking in 2010 like Daniel would not be able to ride his bike.  But at his 5 month check-up, the surgeon was so pleased by Daniel’s recovery, that he gave him permission to start riding!  So Daniel was able to ride his bike on the bike trip.  And in fact, he kept up with just about all the other kids, even though it almost did him in.  Throughout the trip, he experienced tremendously painful foot and leg cramps that woke him up at night.  But he was determined to keep riding the whole trip through and he never gave up.  We were, and are, so very proud of him!

The rest of this post is about me.  J A few months after our Shriners experience, Wes had a business trip in Nashville, and as usual, he took me along.  We had previously gone together on business trips to Orlando, Montana, Sun Valley, ID, San Antonio, and Nashville.  But this Nashville trip turned out much differently than we had anticipated.  On the first day of our trip (it was on a Sunday), we arrived in Nashville, and immediately started walking all over the city.  It was a great day.  On the second day, Wes left in the morning for his meetings, and I slept in.  Upon waking up and getting ready, I started feeling achy.  It got progressively worse through the day, and so I walked to a drug store for some Tylenol and Ibuprofen.  The medicine helped, and when Wes was finished that evening, we both wanted to continue exploring the city.  We walked ALL over – for miles.  I started to feel achy again.  When we settled in for the evening, every square inch of my body was so achy, I could hardly lie still that night.  The next day the fever started, and I couldn’t stop shaking.  As soon as the pain reliever/fever reducer would wear off, I started shaking uncontrollably again.  So, I ended up spending the next 3 days in bed, with the exception of being brave long enough to go out to dinner. 

We were scheduled to fly home on Friday.  We both just wanted to get home.  But when I woke up Friday morning, I felt 10 times worse.  Every time I got up, I was extremely nauseous.  I also noticed, for the first time, an ache in the area of my lower right abdomen.  I told Wes this, and we both suspected perhaps I had appendicitis.  Still, we drove to the airport, and as we were pulling into the rental car area, we both knew I would not be able to make this flight.  Wes immediately called his sister, Karen, a nurse, who had already been apprised of my situation throughout the week.  Wes told her how I was feeling, and she confirmed what we were both suspecting.  Something was really wrong with me, and we had better stay in Nashville.

Wes ran into the airport and cancelled our flight.  Then he immediately took me to the nearest hospital.  I was so nauseous and in so much discomfort.  I told the nurses there that my opinion was I had appendicitis.  As soon as the hospital staff brought me in to a regular ER room, I met with a  doctor who gave me medication for my nausea and pain.  He told me the first step would be to get a CT scan to see what was going on in my abdomen.  They gave me some kind of medicine which I immediately threw up, but eventually I was able to keep enough down for the test.  As the pain and nausea medication kicked in, for the first time in a week, I felt better, and I admit I was a little euphoric.  

The ER doctor came in next to visit with me about the test.  Wes had stepped out of the room and was not present at this time. What he proceeded to tell me was such a shock.  It was a good thing I was so drugged up!  He said, there is definitely something going on in your lower right abdomen.  It looks as if your ovary is surrounded by infection.  I don’t think your appendix is the issue.  What you have more than likely, is a bad case of venereal disease.  WHHHAAAAT?  I assured him that was not possible; it must be something else.  He assured me that it is quite possible – for if I hadn’t had any partners, then I must have contracted it from my husband.  The implication was that my husband had been fooling around on me and had not told me.  When Wes walked back in, the ER doctor had left.  Now remember, I was pretty drugged up, and feeling pretty calm.  So I casually told Wes what the ER doctor had just told me.  He was irate!  I didn’t ask him any questions or express any suspicion.  I knew my husband almost as well as I knew myself.  Wes was understandably very angry.  He found the ER doctor.  I am not sure of the words that were spoken, but it was not a friendly exchange. 

Regardless, I was sick and needed to be admitted to the hospital.  The hospital staff immediately started pumping me full of antibiotics and lots of fluids.  The next day was Saturday, and I was still not getting any better.  I FELT somewhat better from the medication, but in reality I was getting sicker and sicker.  Wes was very concerned, he was still upset and confused by my diagnosis, and at a loss for what to do.  I was out of it most of the time, and didn’t realize how sick I was.  And I also didn’t realize that I was starting to show symptoms of pneumonia.  All the fluids I had been drinking over the previous week as well as all the fluids being given me in the IV, well some of it had settled into my lungs. But the hospital continued to treat me for a venereal disease.  By the time Sunday rolled around, my health situation had become critical.

To be cont'd...... 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Shriners Hospital/Halo Traction Part Three

After 2 months in traction, the time came for Daniel's final surgery to correct the scoliosis - this surgery would involve placing rods on either side of his spine, screws in the vertebrae, fusing the vertebrae together, and of course, removing the halo.  The fusion was necessary to prevent Daniel's spine from reverting back to its old shape.  Daniel was ready to be done with it all, so he faced the impending surgery as calmly and stoically as ever.  

Nursing students are a constant presence in the hospital.  We befriended a few during our stay.  One male nursing student asked if he could interview Daniel and me for a research paper. He was struck by how well our family seemed to be coping with all we'd been through and how close our family was.  We got to know another nursing student, named Bonnie, during our stay.  I recall once when I had contracted a bad case of strep throat, that she asked if she could pray for me.  She prayed with us on a few different occasions.  Bonnie had requested to be present during the entirety of Daniel's surgery.  I believe she was required to observe a surgical procedure and she chose his.  She told Daniel, "I will be with you when you go to sleep, when you wake up and will be praying for you throughout."  What a comfort this was to us.  The surgery ended up taking so many hours that she had to leave before the end to attend a class, but we so appreciated her being there, and for praying.

The day came for the surgery, we said our goodbyes to Daniel, and proceeded to wait.  I am pretty sure many other families would be waiting on pins and needles in this situation, but we had been down this road so many times before - with much more serious and life-threatening implications - so we were not feeling the usual nerves or fear, although we prayed a great deal.  The surgery lasted for MANY hours - I think around 12.  We really had no idea how difficult the recovery would be this time.  Although several of his previous surgeries involved tumor removal and were extremely risky, this surgery was the most physically invasive one he'd ever had.  He was under anesthesia for 12 hours, which brings its own set of difficulties during the recovery process.

Daniel, of course, was in a great deal of pain afterwards.  He couldn't move on his own, so he had to be rotated by us or by the nurses, from one side, to his back, to his other side, continually, to prevent bed sores.  The anesthesia affected his stomach, so he felt constantly nauseous.  Even after the nausea wore off, he was not allowed to eat for 4 days.  He craved Cocoa Crispies, and talked about them all the time.  When he was finally given the go-ahead to eat some solid food, we made sure we had Cocoa Crispies on hand J.  Daniel weighed only 60 pounds before the surgery, and lost 10 by the time he left the hospital.  He was skin and bones, and it took many months for him to gain back that 10 pounds.  After several days, Daniel was finally able to try sitting up in a chair, but any movement was still very difficult and painful.  Daniel had already been in the hospital as an inpatient for 2 months.  He just wanted to feel better so he could go home.  The recovery was painfully slow – too slow, it seemed, his his mind.  We had to encourage him to keep fighting and working hard- that he WOULD get better and it would get easier. 

On one particularly difficult day, a music therapist dropped by.  She wanted to sing for Daniel.  At the time she walked in, Daniel’s Shriners teacher, Eric, was in the room visiting, Elijah was there, and me.  We were all gathered around Daniel’s bed.  The music therapist had a list of songs, but Daniel hardly recognized any of them.  But he did recognize one  - “Lean On Me”, and so asked her to sing that one.  She began to sing and play her guitar – it was beautiful.  We all joined in.  Soon tears began to flow down Daniel’s cheeks as he took in the words being sung right to him – “Lean on me, when you’re not strong – I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on….”  By the end of the song, all of us were crying.  Music is a powerful tool for healing, and music was a special gift to Daniel that day.

Eventually, Daniel did grow stronger and began to walk around a little.  This lifted his spirits and his recovery started to pick up speed.  He was so happy (we all were) the day he was told he could go home.  Finally, he could see his house, his room, his friends, and his cat, Benny.  Overall, the doctors expressed a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction with the improvement to Daniel’s spine.  It was more than they had even expected.  Praise the Lord.  We are so grateful to God for taking care of Daniel during this time, and for the progress that was made.  One thing I forgot to mention: the entire stay, surgery, everything was free.  Shriners is a donation-based hospital, and the surgeons, the best in the business, volunteer their expertise.  We are so grateful to the Shriners organization – they do amazing work for children who need special procedures, not normally covered by insurance.  God is good and we give him the praise for graciously bringing us through to the other side of yet another trial!