I’m laying in bed as I write this, my head only slightly propped up, my laptop angled on my legs. I’ve pretty much been in a completely flat position since last Wednesday, so this is a little progress.
That little illness I posted about on 11/21? I thought I was getting better that day. Then Tuesday I took a nose dive. Wednesday morning, I decided to go back to the doctor because I woke up and threw up. Fortunately, he was able to see me early. They ran some blood work and I had a chest x-ray. He decided I needed to go to the ER. So I called up a close friend. Larry and Wanda came and got me and took me to St. Vincent’s. The longer I was sitting up, I remember the worse it felt. I was uncontrollably shaking. I got back and the medical staff ran the full gamut of tests. More extensive blood tests, blood cultures, flu swab, strep swab, pneumonia tests, another chest x-ray, and a head and chest CT scan. When they sat me up to take me, tears would just fill my eyes. Wanda stayed with me until my mom got there. I remember my pastor, Allan, coming at some point too. Preliminary tests weren’t causing anything to leap out as to my illness. I was miserable and confused. An internal medicine doctor was called in and she wanted a spinal tap to test for meningitis and they decided to keep me overnight for fluids and observation. So now for the first time in my life, I’ve been hospitalized.
Within the next couple days, I was officially diagnosed with a spot of pneumonia in my lower right lung lobe and viral meningitis. My own opinion, what had me sick since 11/15 was the pneumonia and that had just about cleared up, but then the meningitis took hold. The spinal tap was uncomfortable but not awful. But unfortunately a serious complication arose. It caused a leak of my spinal fluid, so when I was allowed to sit upright again (you have to lay flat for 4 hours after a spinal procedure) I was racked by the most excruciating pain in my head that is imaginable. Thursday morning–Thanksgiving–I threw up twice in my bed. That’s a very humbling experience. A neurologist was brought in and he determined I had the leak and ordered a blood patch. This is where a radiologist draws some of my own blood, goes into the epidural space around the spinal cord, and injects the blood back in. This essentially promotes a scab to seal the hole and is supposed to bring immediate relief.
Once again, after I was allowed to sit up after the blood patch, I was rocked with unbearable pain. My nurse pretty much had to sedate me with alternating injections of morphine and demerol, which really only dulled the pain. Friday night was easily the worst night of my life and I tear up just thinking about how much pain I was in. Saturday, the neurologist ordered another blood patch, but I didn’t end up getting in due to the lower weekend staff. Late Sunday afternoon, I was taken down. The radiologist took a pressure reading of my spinal fluid. He explained it like this: the fluid helps keep the brain buoyant in the skull and should have a pressure of 10 mmHg. Mine was <5. Because of this, my brain essentially comes to a rest on the base of my skull which results in the pain. He said it was “very unusual” to repeat the patch. He pumped in 15 cc of my blood into the space. It hurts like you wouldn’t believe to have that happen but honestly, it’s nothing compared to the headache itself. Fortunately it doesn’t last long, 10-15 min for the whole procedure.
After 4 hours, I incline just about 10 degrees but it’s as far as I can go. The next morning–Monday now–I work my way up to about 45 degrees. The neurologist came to see me. I described how the pain was gone but there was still a tremendously loud whooshing sound in my ears. It was completely disorienting. Plus the longer I was sitting up, the heavier my head would feel. He reiterated that it was unusual to not have gotten full immediate relief from now two patches and would consider a third but the leak would eventually heal itself. I asked him what it would take to go home. He said if I could get up and walk, I could finish recovery at home.
I waited for my stepdad (a retired RN) to arrive and around 1 pm, I got up. He said I walked about 100 ft. I’ve seen plenty of patients at that “first steps” moment after an illness, including family members, but I really had no idea what the experience was actually like. The best way I can describe is that I felt like I forgot how to use my legs. By 3pm, I was discharged, still extremely woozy from the low spinal fluid pressure, but determined to go home.
I haven’t been able to sit up for more than a few minutes at a time still, but here and there, I can make it to my kitchen table, eat, and then go back to bed. I tried to lounge back in my chair and watch a hockey game on TV last night, but that didn’t work out at all. At this point, it just a matter of time for the leak to finish sealing off and the fluid pressure to return. I’m told once the hole is sealed, the pressure should rise pretty quickly because the fluid is generated rapidly, promoted by plenty of fluid intake and, of all things, caffeine (which they had been feeding me a steady diet of in pill form every 4 hours).
So this is where I get emotional and somehow thank all the people who have extended their prayer and practical support for me. First and foremost, my parents for coming and sitting with me every day. My mom has essentially moved in with me for as long as it takes. My goal is once I can stand to take a shower by myself (which I haven’t had a proper once since being admitted…ugh), I think I can be back on my own. My brothers, sister, and family for their encouragement and prayers. Larry and Wanda who got me to the ER, brought food, and regularly checked on me. They are family to me. My pastors who I count as close friends. The coworkers I also count as friends who sent texts of encouragement. And my social friends who did the same. I wasn’t always able to respond being in so much pain or sedated. Sometimes my parents replied with updates for me. I know a lot of people were worried and praying.
My church family is also amazing. The prayers and, now that I’m home, the meal support are so greatly appreciated more than words can express. This is truly a “when you do these for one of your brothers, you do them for Me (Jesus)” moment. My neighbor brought over food Monday night! How blessed I am to have this home and such a wonderful lady beside me.
Certainly not least, many of my medical staff were exactly the compassionate caretakers I needed. Foremost is Nico, my day nurse over the weekend. I remember her telling me during those two painful days how much it hurt her to see me hurt. That so many patients abuse pain meds when they don’t really need them but she could tell I was in great need of relief. A couple of night nurses, Shari and Cassie, were awesome too. The tech, David, who did my CT was actually a graduate of my x-ray tech program! Great guy. The neurologist–sadly I can’t remember his name–and the radiologist–Dr. Schultz–who persisted in figuring out how to repair the hole. My personal doctor, Dr. Ford, who sent me to the ER and personally called one day to see how I was doing.
Never in my life have I gone through something like this. From start to today, it’s been 15 days since I felt normal and I don’t know how much longer it will take. When I think about the worst days of pain and despair, I start to tear up again. Or every afternoon when it set in that I would not be going home again and having to spend another dreadful night in the hospital room. So I don’t dwell on it. I know I have a lot of people rooting for me. I know God is for me, and even though I had extreme doubt and question of why in those moments I wasn’t finding relief despite my own desperate supplications and the hundreds of prayers on my behalf, I focused on His blessings, many of whom I just listed. The healing is coming. He gives and He takes away. But my heart will choose to say, “Lord, blessed be Your name.”