That Time I Lost a Week
It’s been a year since I spent a week in the ICU on a ventilator after having the flu. I blogged on February 15, 2018 about being sick and then didn’t post again until March 3. Some of you are relatively new to the blog, but even those who were close to the situation may not know all the details, so here is a recap of what happened.
One Thursday, February 8, the husband and I went to a fire department dinner. I mention this only because I hadn’t been anywhere else that week and the timing was right; I think I picked up the flu from someone else at the dinner. (My naturopath is of the opinion that I should stop attending fire department functions, as he had seen me after the deck collapse in June 2017 and again after I got out of the ICU.) That Saturday, I went to town to run errands and noticed that I had a nagging little cough. It was the same kind of cough I get when I am around cats, so I assumed that I had been exposed to cat dander. I came home and made dinner. After dinner, I tried to sew. I was working on the Ravenwood Messenger Bag at the time. All of a sudden, though, I felt really awful and nothing was going right with the sewing so I just went to bed. By Sunday morning, it was pretty clear I had come down with something.
[Interestingly, the husband had been sick with the flu at Christmas and was sick again in February at the same time I was.]
I felt lousy enough not to want to work that week, but not sick enough to stay in bed. I was downstairs on the couch, reading and watching TV and getting up to make myself lunch. It seemed, though, that I wasn’t kicking that virus as quickly as I usually do. I am hardly ever sick and even then, never for more than 2-3 days. On Friday night, I went to bed and mentioned to the husband that I was feeling a bit short of breath. (From here on out, much of what I tell you comes from the husband. He had to fill in a lot of the details of what happened, because I just don’t remember.)
I went to bed and I do remember lying there and wondering where that wheezing sound was coming from. By the time he came to bed and woke me up to say goodnight—which he does every night, as is our habit—I was incoherent. He got me out of bed and said, “Get dressed—we’re going to the hospital.” We stopped by the fire hall on the way so he could grab an oxygen tank and a mask for me. It took about half an hour to get to the hospital, and when they checked my oxygen saturation there, it was down to 75%. Normal is above 95%. The husband said he saw the x-rays they took in the ER and my lungs were almost completely filled with fluid. I was admitted to the ICU.
We were supposed to get a snowstorm that weekend. Apparently, I texted the husband on Saturday and told him not to come to the hospital. I also told him to put DD#1 in charge of disseminating information. I even texted him a picture of myself. He had to show me all of this on my phone afterward because I don’t remember any of it. (Being in the ICU did not keep me from being a cruise director, apparently.)
The hospital called him at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday morning to tell him that they had put me on a ventilator. He drove to the hospital in the midst of one of those wicked February wind- and snowstorms and stayed there all day and every day for the next week. He arranged for friends to come and let the dogs out several times during the day and only went home to sleep.
That whole week is lost to me. I was heavily sedated. The husband tells me that he would squeeze my hand and I would squeeze back, but otherwise, I was completely out of it. I don’t even remember being awake when they let me come out of sedation on Friday afternoon and turned the pressure down on the ventilator to see how well I was breathing. My friend Cathy’s husband is a critical care doctor/pulmonologist in the ICU and he was my doctor that day, but I don’t remember him being there. I’ve got nothing until Saturday morning when they removed the breathing tube.
The rest of Saturday was kind of a nightmare. They put me on a BiPAP machine, but that requires that a mask be strapped to your head and I had several psychotic episodes where I kept ripping the mask off (that I do remember). Eventually, they had to sedate me again. The next time I was awake, it was Sunday morning. My ICU nurse was terrific. She came in, got me out of bed and into a chair with a tray of food in front of me (coffee!) and talked me through what was going on. I was having hallucinations coming off the sedation—I saw ants crawling across the sheets (why ants?)—and had trouble holding anything because I had no coordination in my hands. I kept dropping my phone, which was incredibly annoying because I wanted to text the husband. She said that a lot of people who have been in the ICU have a form of PTSD and made sure I knew about possible side effects.
[Thankfully, I haven’t had many lingering effects, although I still get a bit of claustrophobia when my face is covered. On our spa visit over Thanksgiving, I had arranged for a facial. I’ve had them in the past with no problems, but when the esthetician wrapped hot towels around my face, I could feel a panic attack coming on. For the most part, though, I can look back on this whole experience without much difficulty. I was pretty ruthless in going over and over that whole week and having the husband fill in all the details so that I could deal with it and move on. I didn’t want anything unresolved popping up at inopportune moments.]
On Monday, they moved me from the ICU to a medical room on the oncology floor (oh, the irony). I was there until Thursday (that was March 1) when they sent me home. I probably should have stayed a few more days, but I was getting tired of the hospital experience and knew I would recover better at home, so I campaigned to be discharged. I am sure they were happy to see me go. The husband had to go back to work, so he arranged for a friend of ours from the fire department with nursing experience to come and stay with me for the first couple of days. I had lost 18 pounds in the hospital and was so weak that I had to use a walker to get around. Thanks to plenty of nutritious food provided by our friends and a lot of rest, I recovered enough to go back to work by the second week of March, but I wasn’t back to anything resembling my normal self until about the middle of April.
I’ve now survived leukemia (25 years ago) and the flu. The husband opines that sometimes I behave as though I am Teflon-coated and bulletproof, but I think I have a better appreciation of my mortality than the average person. I am keenly aware of how thin the thread is that is keeping each of us here. I escaped this adventure relatively unscathed, all things considered. In the year since, I’ve heard and read stories of other people in similar situations who were on ventilators for weeks and required months of rehab afterward. I was determined to deal with what happened and move on. I’ve got stuff to do. I don’t have time to sit around wondering why the universe keeps trying to kill me.
[One of the inevitable side effects of these kinds of experiences is a fair bit of gallows humor. I know it makes people uncomfortable, but it is what it is.]
That’s the story of my lost week. It’s hard for me to believe that a whole year has passed since it happened. I did get a flu shot last fall and—knock on wood—neither of us has been sick this winter. Let’s hope it stays that way.
This is the pile of quilt tops (five altogether) that need to be turned into quilts.
I can do the smaller ones on my Janome but I might have to ask Tera if we can do the larger ones on the longarm. I also finished the blocks for Bed Quilt 2.0 and have them assembled into giant four-patch units 24” across. Those still need to be sewn together.
And this is Pat and Holly after church yesterday, auditioning quilting patterns for the Ritzville quilt.
They were looking for a design to quilt in the large white triangles on the sides of the quilt. Whatever they decided on, I am sure it is going to be beautiful.