Tuesday, April 26, 2016

I Survived the ICU

So, where was I…?

The last time I posted, I had the flu and was pretty miserable. It was the precursor to a roller coaster ride into a very dark place.

The flu turned into pneumonia, which sent me to the hospital in the middle of March. There was a trip to the ER, admitted into isolation, and then to the ICU with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS — only click on that link if you enjoy chills going up and down your spine). Interestingly, this may have had more to do with my asthma than my being immunosuppressed. Anyway, I was put in an induced coma on a ventilator, and had an emergency tracheostomy.

 Photo credit: Ken Allen

Soon after, I came as close as it is possible to dying, and actually flatlined for 10 seconds during another nerve-racking event.

We figure that officially makes me a zombie.

What? Too soon?

I remember none of it. Well, that’s not entirely true. There is a blank space between the several days before I went to the ER and when my memories started emerging again around March 30, just after waking up with the trach. I was sedated through much of the really scary stuff, leaving my family to cope on their own. Not particularly nice of me, but when you’re given enough sedation to down a horse, there isn’t much choice.

It wasn’t actually enough sedation to down a horse. I fought it hard, so it was enough sedation to put four men under. I find this endlessly amusing.

I’m really grateful to Ken for taking the photo of me sedated and in isolation, for knowing that I’d need it. It helps make the whole thing more real. Although truth be told, part of me is convinced that it is an elaborate Photoshop prank.

Given the crashing episode, everyone decided to be extremely conservative in how my case was approached. After waking up, I spent the next 10 days in the ICU, then was moved to a ward.

And was on a ventilator until two weeks ago. Which meant I spent 14 days being conscious, but not able to talk. I’m sure you can imagine my reaction to that!

It was ... “interesting.” A separate post will follow about that part of the experience. For now, suffice to say that I will never shut up again.

I’ve been home for a little over a week now and am getting stronger every day. It’s going to take a while to get back to normal — lying in a bed for 33 days decimates your strength and stamina. I’m just being good to myself, eating as much as I can, and taking however long I need to get back to normal. And waiting for the tracheostomy stoma to close so I can really start to talk again.

There is so much about this experience that is overwhelming and deeply emotional. Especially hearing my family’s stories of the first two weeks when things were so dire. Noticing the way they keep looking at me with relief and wonder in their eyes, making sure I’m still here, still me, touches my heart and makes me realize how close it was. Which is also deeply weird, because my experience is, as I mentioned, of a blank space and waking up with the trach, extremely weak, but feeling remarkably like myself.

And that makes me a very lucky woman. To go through everything I did and come out the other side physically weak, but mentally just the same is fairly close to a double miracle. Both my GP and my rheumatologist attribute this to me being a healthy person prior to the nightmare. Which also sort of amuses me, what with having a chronic illness and all.

I am overwhelmed with the gift of life I have received.

I am beyond grateful to the staff of the MSICU and the Medical Unit at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto for all they did to save my life and get me back home.

I cannot say enough about the way my family (both biological and chosen) pulled together and rallied around me, their love carrying me through. There are so many moments that I remember — and a whole bunch I don’t — that made this hard thing easier for me.

I’m also so grateful for the support I received from my friends and people in my “real life,” as well as online communities. The comments on my sister’s Facebook posts, the prayers, the thoughts that went my way helped immensely when I was stuck in the ICU, scared and silenced.

And then there is The Boy. My rock, my safe person, the one who held it all together, took care of Lucy, came to see me every day, and dedicated himself to making my first week home as easy as possible. Thanks to him, the reentry into life was a gentle and protected slide.

There is so much more that I’ll talk about in later posts. For now, I’m going to enjoy being alive and being home.

 Photo credit: David Govoni