It all began in June of 2017. My wife and I had planned a long weekend away at Fort Bragg with our dog Dexter. At the time we were both ICU RNs working 12-hour night shifts at a hospital near our home.
We had finished a grueling 3 shifts in a row. I had a cold. I was tired and coughing a lot. On June 9th, I was excited to leave town and have a relaxing few days off, and so was Mary. When we got to the beach, I was exhausted. Mary took Dexter to the beach, and I took a nap. On the 10th, I felt crummy. I told Mary I wanted to go home. She proceeded to pack us up and drive us back home where I went back to bed. On the 11th, I woke up and I wasn’t feeling any better. Late morning, I told Mary something just wasn’t right and that I thought she should take me to the Urgent Care. I had this feeling of impending doom.
When we finally got taken back for vital signs examination, the doctor there told me my oxygen saturation was in the 80s and I needed to be on oxygen. She also said I needed to go the ED and I would have to go by ambulance. I remember the ambulance and arriving at the ED, but after that my memory of events fades. If it weren’t for Mary, I would not know anything about events happening to me for about 6 weeks.
In the ED, my temp was 103.3F, my kidneys had shut down, I required more and more oxygen, the chest x-ray showed bilateral pneumonia, and I had excruciating chest pain. (Sepsis and Pneumonia) I was admitted to the med/surg unit because the doctor “didn’t think I wanted to be a patient on the unit that I worked in.”
By early morning of the 12th, I was on high flow nasal cannula, and was transferred to ICU around 0330 and placed on BiPAP. Around 0745, I went in to acute respiratory distress and was intubated by an anesthesiologist. The hospitalist, a pulmonologist, and an ICU intensivist were at my bedside. While inserting a neckline, the physician punctured my lung, requiring a chest tube. I was sedated with medications that dropped my blood pressure, so I was started on vasopressors. In addition, my cardiac enzymes were climbing and my WBCs were very low. A cardiologist was consulted. I was diagnosed with Takasubo cardiomyopathy on top of everything else. The ICU intensivist told Mary I was in ARDS and severe septic shock. (Sepsis and ARDS, Sepsis and Septic Shock) He told Mary to prepare herself for the worst—I might not survive this.
The doctors began discussing transferring me to a bigger hospital 50 miles away. Making plans to transfer me to another hospital takes time and a lot of planning and coordination, so I remained in my own ICU unit with my cardiac enzymes climbing, my ABGs in the critical range, and my BP still low requiring increasing amounts of vasopressors, and many other IV meds. I was finally airlifted south to a bigger hospital at 1945 on June 13th.
According to Mary, I rejoined the world on the 22nd. I could open my eyes, follow and track movement, wiggle my toes, and could squeeze Mary’s hands.
On the 23rd, I was diagnosed with necrotizing MRSA pneumonia and got another chest CT. (Sepsis and MRSA) It was around this time that the pulmonologist told Mary and I that my right lung had been destroyed and I would most likely need a lung transplant!
Finally had a tracheostomy tube inserted on the 28th, and a gastrostomy tube placed on the 29th. I am now 18 days out. I do remember strange dreams and hallucinations, seeing and hearing people, and other things that I knew were not there, and feeling that my eyes were on the side of my head and not on my face. (Sepsis and Hallucinations)
Over the next 3 months, I spent time at the rehab hospital and back and forth to the general hospital for various problems. Up and down on the ventilator rate and oxygen percentage. Short of breath one minute and gorked the next. Ready for physical therapy one minute and refusing turns and PT the next. Sedated one day, crazy the next. Tolerating liquid food and then not. Labs still crazy too. 10 weeks later, I finally got to eat—strawberry yogurt! It tasted so good! A week after that, September 6th, I got off the vent and just had oxygen by trach collar.
Things moved fast after that. The trach was capped and I was on nasal cannula oxygen! Then I finally got the trach removed! I can’t believe how weak and debilitated I was. I had lost about 25 pounds during this fight. My skin was hanging on me. Mary said I needed to be ironed because the wrinkles were so bad. I had no muscles left!
The doctors, nurses, and case managers decided to have a conference in my room. The option they gave me was a long-term care facility. Mary arrived and I told her I was coming home! It took a few days of making arrangements for care aides, home health nurse visits, oxygen equipment, but finally on September 29th I was released to go home.
From June 18th to September 29th, I had only seen the sky for brief moments during ambulance transport. Now I got the see the sky and smell fresh air. My recovery is ongoing. I am lucky to have survived and I still have all my fingers and toes. I have many issues from PSS to extreme fatigue, insomnia, and no energy, but compared to some of my fellow survivors, I really shouldn’t complain. I will never be able to thank everyone for their support and love during this fight!
Mary, I would not be here today if you were not by my side through this journey…