A Summer Like No Other

As some may have noticed, my last post was at the beginning of summer, right before Memorial Day Weekend. It is now after Labor Day, and summer is gone… Fall is here (even if we can’t always tell that it is by the weather.)

On June 26, I fell in my bathroom, breaking a mirror that I had standing up against the linen closet where it was waiting to be hung on the door. When I was able to get up off the floor, I realized that I had cut myself on the mirror and hit my head. To be safe, I called an ambulance. That was just the beginning.

I arrived in the Emergency Room at Carbondale Memorial Hospital and found that my head and cuts were ok from the fall. However, the big BUT was that I had the dreaded COVID-19. I had been tested multiple times within the past year when I had the “normal” symptoms and tested negative. Fortunately, due to the fall, they admitted me overnight for observation.

I was admitted to the COVID isolation unit. The next thing I can remember is feeling absolutely helpless and being told that I had been on a ventilator in ICU for 10 days. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t see, and I couldn’t do anything for myself. I was absolutely terrified. During what I assume was time that I was very medicated to remain sedated, I remember seeing geometric shapes of bright magenta and turquoise and feeling trapped in some sort of translucent geodome. I remember being afraid that the building was on fire and trying to tell people that I couldn’t swim… Of course, none of that was reality. It was a combination of the virus, medication, and fear.

I didn’t really know where I was at that time. I felt very much like the soldier in Metallica’s video for “One” who could not communicate and felt like he had been reduced to just a box. It amazed me how much the lyrics to the song, written a few decades ago about an injured soldier, related to my experience on the ventilator.

Before I knew what was going on, I briefly felt like it was time to let go. However, I wanted to see my family-including my fur babies. My kids are now legally adults, but still young. I also feared for what would happen to my fur babies if no one was able to adopt them. I knew there were more family memories to be made.

One of my favorite songs from church services kept coming to mind. “Another in the Fire ” referenced when people could see a fourth person in the Fire with Shadrack, Meeshack, and Abenigo. They came out smelling a bit burnt, but they survived. It was a reminder that however difficult the situation was, God was still with me.

When I was able to whisper, I started just praying, “Jesus, please help me.” Eventually, I prayed silently because I had pretty much no voice or strength. I did get a bit amused, finding humor among pain, when one of the medical professionals (I wasn’t able to see at the time to know which one) said to the others, “I’ve been called a lot of things before, but no one has ever called me Jesus…”

Fortunately, God has perfect timing. I finally calmed down a bit once I found out that one of my surgical nurses was a dear friend with whom I had served in children’s ministries. She explained to me where I was and that I was on a ventilator. I had been on it for 10 days in the COVID ICU room.

When I gained consciousness, I had no strength. I could not lift my cell phone or the remote/nurse call button. It blew my mind that I could not move my legs or do anything on my own. I had to begin physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. I was totally dependent upon the wonderful SIH staff to even be moved in the bed.

A couple of the sweet CNA’s and nurses put my hair into little braids with cut up pieces of gloves (brilliant!) to keep it from getting all matted in ICU and the COVID unit. I expect to see this stylish and functional trend pop up on fashion runways soon…

Eventually, I learned that they actually had tried to intubate a second time just a few hours after I had been taken off the ventilator because it was not going well. Doctors explained that I almost had to go on dialysis because of COVID affecting my kidneys. I also found out later that my body had been rejecting the feeding tube. Different medical professionals that had treated and cared for me while I was unresponsive came in once I was more alert to talk to me. They explained that it was a miracle as most on the ventilator, especially two times, do not make it. When I had called the ambulance in June, I had no clue how close to death I was at that time. Within hours, I had to be intubated.

One thing that I had a hard time wrapping my head around was losing 10 days. I had been admitted in June, and I found out that I missed the 4th of July and landed in a whole new fiscal year. All of the Christmas in July specials on TV made things more confusing.

After gaining consciousness, it was a few days before I was allowed to have any food or liquid that did not come through an IV or feeding tube. Of course, every other commercial on tv was some type of beverage. I had never been so thirsty in my life. Once off the ventilator, I didn’t automatically get regular water. Liquids started out being thick–and unfortunately, not at all appetizing. Iced tea so thick you could eat it with a spoon was not refreshing. I was very thankful to graduate to a few ice chips a day or two later. Once the speech therapist determined it was safe, I was allowed to slowly sip some water–but not at the same time as food. Food started out having to be soft until I could demonstrate that I could eat graham crackers safely. Then I went to normal food, and eventually, I could have liquid with meals.

My view from COVID-19 isolation. There were many ambulances and helicopters. I would expect the “normal” admissions and ER visits to be exhausting for the hospital employees. I can’t imagine how many times harder COVID-19 has made their lives.

Once my condition had stabilized enough to leave ICU, I was able to transfer to a COVID-19 isolation room. Because of the severity of my symptoms, the health department determined that I had to spend 20 days in quarantine. When I was in a COVID-19 room, I couldn’t have visitors, and everyone who entered my room had to suit up. They were covered head to toe with yellow scrubs, gloves, and “space helmets” with a facial shield and a constant air flow. The helmets made it difficult for them to hear. My voice was still very weak from the ventilator. It all seemed very sci-fi. I have no idea how they managed the adhesive bandages and tapes with those gloves and all that Scrub fabric. Even though I was freezing, they had to be hot in all the special gear.

My actual first attempt to text my family once I had my cell phone charged...
These were the responses 🙂

I learned that atrophy and “use it or lose it” was real. The amount of time spent on the ventilator meant having to relearn/regain strength to write, type, or walk. Trying to use my cell phone was extremely frustrating. Between my inability to control my typing and autocorrect, the first message I was able to send to my family was basically incoherent.

During the time I was unresponsive, my best friend and my mom spoke often. No one was allowed in to see me in ICU. A couple friends who figured out where I was were able to wave through a door.

People were not sure what happened to me. I posted about being in the ER then just disappeared from everything. A two week absence from social media was odd for me.

Learning to use a walker …

Yes, “Mork & Mindy” still has an influence on today’s physical therapy fashion trends.

On July 16, in the middle of a torrential rain storm, I was wheeled out to a Rides Mass Transit bus and made the transfer to Murphysboro for the Upswing Program. It easy the first time I had been outside the hospital since June. I was soaking wet but did not care–I was outside for a bit.

For the first time in nearly a month, I was able to watch my church service on Facebook live once I got to St. Joseph. I’m sure it was no coincidence that one of the songs was “Another in the Fire. ” I just cried and watched/listened. It was overwhelming to think back at all God had brought me through in the past month. I was thankful for the opportunity to chat through Facebook live with some of my church family.

The view from my Upswing Program room.

Even though St. Joseph was smaller than Carbondale Memorial, they had their share of helicopter traffic. Also, area hospitals had become full, causing them to admit some oveflow.

I was able to go outside for physical therapy on some days at St. Joseph. I missed my little garden at home, but some of the employees did have a raised garden of basil, tomatoes, and a few other things. They also painted my nails for me and tried to help me to find some normalcy again. I felt a lot better once I was able to have my hair washed the first time in almost a month. There were wonderful chaplains and a very nice recreational therapist. I enjoyed chatting with the nurses and CNA’s. Getting to the point I could walk short distances with a walker was a big deal.

Using a cane to do a few steps so that I could get into or out of a house was also an important milestone toward being able to go home. I was finally able to see my kids and my mom. I was able to talk to my best friend and even “mi hermana” in Costa Rica. Social media was available as well. Since I had (and still) have some pain and difficulty with my hand and wrist, I had to not try to type a lot at once. In fact, I started writing this post before I left Carbondale Memorial. It has taken this long for me to type and think through what I needed to say.

The signature salad at St. Joseph was wonderful. I would actually order it in a restaurant. Dietary at both hospitals was excellent. (I don’t blame them for the thick liquid diet before I could have real water and food–that was pre-packaged…) They were always pleasant and patient with me trying to get out words or work through the COVID-19 fog to order meals. I really liked the vinaigrette on the pasta salad at Carbondale Memorial too.

I am very thankful for all of the prayers and well wishes from family, friends, my church, my job, and many others. I am equally grateful for the fine staff at SIH that took such good care of me. I do not envy their jobs, and I am certain many of us had taken for granted all that they sacrifice and do for others.

August 2 was the end of the hospitalization and beginning of the next phase of recovering. (I am still in that phase.) The wonderful staff at St. Joseph in the Upswing Program lined the hall with a sign and plastic clappers to cheer when I was wheeled out to my mom’s vehicle for discharge.

Hospital discharge day in Murphysboro

One of my sweet hospital doctors asked me to please let people know that the most severe cases they have seen had not yet been vaccinated. I told him that I would pass that information on in this blog. I realize that vaccines are a bit controversial now, but this was what has been seen in this area. I had been trying to get an appointment that I could make for one of the options that from what I found, were the most ethical, but I had not yet been vaccinated. In retrospect, that might have been a blessing as there are reportedly a lot of false negative test results. If I actually had COVID-19 when I tested negative, the vaccine would not have been appropriate yet.

Now I am waiting to be told that it has been sufficient time since having the virus to be able to get the vaccine. I still have trouble breathing normal with much exertion at all and have to rest quite a bit. Although I have regained a good amount of leg strength, I still need to use the cane for much walking and the rollator so that I have a place to sit if I wear out walking. I have also found that there is a learning curve to driving one of the motorized grocery store carts. I am rarely out in places with crowds as not only is energy an issue, my immune system is not that strong yet. I don’t yet know how long it will be before I am able to return to my job. I still have quite a bit of physical therapy and occupational therapy to do. Trying to do a bit here and there with my ASOSI posts, cooking in short increments, and some crafting helps me feel like I am still doing something useful. My fur babies have been very attentive, and my kids have really had to assume a lot of tasks I normally do. I’m proud of them all.

From speaking with many of the wonderful people who took care of me in the hospitals, I learned that many had been through the virus and continued to experience varied symptoms for months–including severe headaches and hair loss. (As a cancer survivor, I’ve already been through a season of hair loss and hope to bypass it this time.) Doctors have stressed that the vaccine is not one hundred percent effective, but that for those who are able to have one, it appears to greatly reduce the severity of the symptoms if a vaccinated person gets it.

The loss of time and even finances associated with the virus are real. I found out that some supplemental critical illness insurance policies have cleverly made any diagnosis related to COVID-19 ineligible for those benefits. You may need help to straighten out your indemnity claims so that the system doesn’t just kick it out when it sees the word “COVID-19.”

If you contribute to a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) to help with your medical expenses, you cannot access it when you need it most on temporary disability–unless you continue to pay in pre-tax. If you need to be on disability for a period of time, you have to pay in what would normally be deducted for health insurance and other things. Temporary disability is less than the normal pay on which you have based your costs of living and assorted bills… You likely will need a large amount of medication for a while. (I will tell you that the copay on just one of the inhalers I had to get at discharge for breathing was over $200.) You will continue to have medical appointments and fees and most likely will not be able to use your FSA account that you paid into for that very reason. Delivery fees for household needs and groceries may be necessary as well as transportation costs until you can resume driving. I realize that not everyone experiences the virus at the same severity level, but some may still lose work hours or incur other financial loss.

Although there continue to be unknowns and controversy surrounding the ugly virus and its variants, there are some absolute truths. I know without a doubt that there is power in praying in the name of Jesus. I believe that God absolutely had His hand on everything from the perfect timing of already being in the hospital when my oxygen level required the ventilator to assembling a wonderful, skilled medical team literally from around the world to treat my condition. I also know that I am very grateful for everyone I encountered in receiving help and that I have so much more respect now for those who work in hospitals–regardless of position. I also don’t think I will ever take for granted being able to drink water again!

One thought on “A Summer Like No Other

  1. Thank you for sharing all this Pamella. Many people do not want to be vaccinated. There are many things unknown about this virus so it is important to take all precautions. The consequences is not only to be sick but all the other things after like rehabilitation, bills, medicines, family, etc. Thank God that you are okay and as you said we have to be grateful and do not take anything for granted.

    Like

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