Barbara Widder

Survivor

It was March of 2010. I started not feeling right on a Thursday night and decided that I would go in to work early on Friday morning to do some payroll and leave before everyone got there to not share whatever I thought I was coming down with. I didn’t feel well over the weekend and it seemed like the flu. My scalp tingled, I had a headache, body aches and just wanted to sleep. I was a healthy 45-year-old and didn’t smoke or drink. By Sunday afternoon my husband told me he should stay home because I didn’t look well, but I sent him off to work and promised I would go to the doctor in the morning, I don’t usually get sick and this is just the flu. Later that day I apparently called a friend who immediately came to my house, put me in her car and drove me to the emergency room at Tahoe Forest Hospital. I remember checking in and sitting in the waiting room, from there my story is just that, a story that everyone has told me as I do not remember much of the next 5 weeks.

I was admitted and spent my first night and day on the Med/Surg unit. During the second night my husband got a phone call asking for permission to intubate me as my breathing had deteriorated. I was extremely difficult to intubate and aspirated during the process. I was bagged for 9 minutes until the anesthesiologist could get there to complete the intubation. By the next morning, when my husband arrived, he would find me in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with a team of doctors around me and told I had less than a 50% chance of survival. It would only get worse from there. My initial diagnosis was severe sepsis, with a secondary of mycoplasma pneumonia with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). (Sepsis and Pneumonia, Sepsis and ARDS)

I had seizures during my first night in the ICU, running a high fever and blood pressure. During my hospitalization there were times my temperature was 102.5, my heart rate would be up to 200 and I had a systolic blood pressure of 200. I was not responding to treatments, along with being allergic to many of the medications I was given. My blood was being cultured in the lab, by the State of CA and UC Davis, no one knew what my secondary infection was. I would eventually undergo a bronchoscopy to find methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in my lungs. I would also suffer from organ failure. (Sepsis and MRSA)

My husband and parents sat by my bedside for the 3 weeks I spent in the ICU and other family members and friends came and said their goodbyes. I was on paralytics, had central lines, was given pressors for my blood pressure, and slept on a Triadyne bed to help with my pulmonary and skincare therapies. My friends would check my hands and feet each time they visited for fear of amputation. There was no way to know if I would recover or what my capacity would be if I did. One of my doctors and a nurse came up with the idea to try the antibiotic, Zyvox which finally led me to take a turn for the better. After 17 days on a ventilator I underwent surgery for a tracheotomy which was successful. I then underwent an additional surgery to have a gastrostomy tube (G-Tube) placed for feeding as I was unable to even eat ice chips.

Following my three-week stay in the ICU I had recovered enough to be transferred to a respiratory rehab center in which I stayed 2 weeks. During my stay I remember waking and asking friends where I was, I was told Easter had passed and so had several weeks. I couldn’t understand what happened. I had a PICC line placed and one additional surgery to remove my gall bladder. My recovery was slow but steady. I had neuropathy in my hands which subsided after a short time but it lasted a year in my feet. I was weak and had to learn to walk, talk and function all over again. I have had memory issues since my illness, Raynaud’s disease which leaves my hands and feet cold most times and my breathing at higher elevations is difficult. I colonize MRSA and had a small skin scraping done on my leg the following year resulting in a 5-month open wound and wound care treatments 3 days a week to get it to heal. I am so incredibly fortunate to have survived and credit my doctors and nurses for recognizing the symptoms so quickly.

I have been told I survived because of my stubborn German roots and will to live, I believe it’s because there is something I still need to accomplish. If my story helps just one person survive like I did then my whole ordeal was worth it.