Monday, February 15, 2010

The First One -- Part II -- Parkland

Knowing we would be in Dallas for a few days I ran home to pack some clothes and feed the Maggie (our dog) right after Marty left in the ambulance. It was time to call the kids and let them know what was going on. I called Matt and Sarah first. They lived in Dallas and immediately said they would be at Parkland to meet the ambulance and be there when Marty got there.

Next was Erin in Austin. I didn't have a whole lot to tell any of the kids at this point because I really didn't understand all of the implications of a ruptured aneurysm. I just didn't know enough about what we were dealing with to be able to explain it to anyone. Erin wanted to immediately get in her car and drive to Dallas. This worried me, it was late and I just didn't know what was going to happen. She wouldn't have it any other way. She and her then boyfriend, now known as the jerk, got in the car and drove to Dallas.

Marty got to Parkland Hospital first, Matt and Sarah got there immediately after and I got there about 45 minutes later. Parkland Hospital is the county hospital for Dallas County and has a world class trauma center and when I first entered the emergency room I felt like a country bumpkin.  I was clearly out of my element.  This was a huge medical center and had a very urban feel, as opposed to the hospitals in Waco. To get back to the ER room for Marty you had to get a pass and go through a couple of checkpoints, one with a metal detector. This was a different world. Parkland came to represent both the place that saved Marty's life and my image of a third world country with a McDonald's that stayed open 23 hours a day (closed an hour a day for cleaning).

I found Marty, Matt and Sarah. Marty, on the surface, was doing okay, but she was getting more and more confused. She was checked and eventually an angiogram was done to accurately diagnose and locate the cause of the bleeding in her brain. A doctor I had never seen, met or heard of came to me and said if they didn't do cranial surgery, now, Marty would likely die. I didn't get a chance to check on him, the facilities or the skills of the people around him, he didn't take me into any little room and show me an x-ray, he simply said there are no other choices. The only question I could think to ask was have you done this before.

By 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning, April 3, Marty was in surgery with her brain exposed at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. Since it was Sunday the only people around were families of trauma patients so it wasn't very busy and we kept looking for a place to wait. The waiting room at Parkland is not great; in fact it pretty well sucks, so we found ourselves congregated in a small room down the hall. We waited and then waited some more. I think we ate McDonalds, Matt, Sarah, Erin, Dylan and the Minister who married Matt and Sarah. We waited and didn't really know what we were waiting for; none of us really understood what was happening. It was better that way, ignorance really is bliss.

At 2:30 p.m. the doctor I had seen once before and actually would never see again found us. He said Marty had come through the surgery okay but there had been a lot of bleeding and a lot of swelling in the brain. He said they had to give her several pints of blood and we wouldn't know about her prognosis for several days, until the swelling of her brain had reduced. He said they had left out part of her skull, the front left bone plate. This was when I finally understood just how devastating, just how intrusive, just how horrible what had happened was. When the doctor left I finally wept, I wept with relief that Marty was still alive, I wept with fear about the future, I wept from exhaustion.

The next few days were pretty much a dream of ebbs and flows, waxing and waning. I learned about vasospasms, the way a brain copes when exposed to blood. I learned about angiograms, CV filters, blood clots, seizures, ventilators, oxygen saturation levels and how nurses do neurological exams. I learned stuff I never wanted to know. I learned that in the morning at Parkland Hospital you can't get a chair outside of intensive care because it's so crowded, I learned about case managers for insurance companies and I learned Parkland was not in my COBRA insurance network so we moved next door to Zale-Lipshy.
I learned that residents really do make grand rounds like you see on the medical shows on TV and that if you want to know something you need to figure out what that schedule is. I learned the nurses are the ones who care for your loved one the best and you should try and work with them, not against them, anger maybe a natural condition, but it is not helpful in getting along in the medical milieu.

Marty was in the ICU at either Parkland or Zale for 36 days. Most of that time she was breathing with the assistance of a ventilator and was unconscious. The unconscious part was good for her. During that time I was able to spend each day by her bed, reading to her, listening to music and telling and retelling her about her life and our life, every day, it's what I did. During that time she had three more surgeries to insert a feeding tube and a tracheotomy and a shunt to help drain cerebral spinal fluid. Marty had vasospasms for two weeks, a couple of seizures and pneumonia. It was the single saddest, hardest time of my life. If not for my kids, my parents and siblings and friends it would have been unbearable. I can't count how much time they all spent with me in the ICU waiting room.


Matt said...

That's a tough read.

The memories are still pretty raw.

I'm disappointed you didn't mention our profound crossword skills though. We got really really good at that.

Erin said...

I agree with your comment of this being the single most difficult and sad time in my life as well. The memories remain very raw for me as well as quite vivid. It was a tough time in which we grew together as a family unit in a way that I am more proud of than anything else in my entire life. Thank you dad, Matt, and Sarah for your love, support, understanding, and presence during this unthinkably terrible few months in all of our lives...