Thursday, July 8, 2010

The 2nd One -- Part II -- Pneumonia

The previous post in this series -- The 2nd One Part I

I went back to Providence Hospital early the next day with a real sense of dread. When I left Marty in the ICU just a few short hours ago no one knew definitively what we were dealing with and I didn’t have a clue what I would find when I got to the hospital. I knew it was good no one had called during the night. I thought I had learned a lot from the previous stroke and hospitalization. I really didn’t know what all I didn’t know.

Marty had made it through the night comfortably. She had been monitored and well cared for in ICU. I figured she would be in ICU for a while, I mean she had a stroke, right? The ICU meant she would be under the constant watchful eyes of the best nurses, right? Wrong. We waited for a regular room to become available and then moved. The constant watchful eyes became my eyes.

We moved to a regular room, we had more tests; we got the definitive results, a run of the mill ischemic stroke as opposed to the hemorrhagic stroke six months earlier. One with too much blood, one not enough blood. It was good to know for sure, it was awful to hear the truth.

All of this happened to coincide with one of the few times Marty’s regular doctor, Great and Wise, took a weekend away from work. His partner took call for him that weekend. Marty had been doing pretty well given her weakness from the previous assault, she was reasonably lucid, starting to try and eat and already beginning what would turn out to be a long, tedious, heart wrenching program of rehabilitation. Then the pneumonia came.

Marty got really sick, really fast. They started her on two very powerful antibiotics. As she got sicker and as her blood pressure dropped the decision was made to move her back to Intensive Care. As I think back I’m pretty amazed at how fast all of this transpired and how truly clueless I was. I thought I knew about the medical milieu, I thought I knew how to deal with the hospital, I thought I was experienced. I really knew nothing about what we were facing. In this case my ignorance once again protected me. Sometimes if you can postpone reality it helps with survival.

In all of that has transpired with Marty there have only been three times when a doctor came to me and tried to prepare me for the worst. Great and Wise’s partner came to me, told me what was going on, what was going to happen, and then said, “I don’t know if she will make it.” The words kind of washed over my numb brain and left me speechless, a condition which just doesn’t happen to me. I simply didn’t know what to say or even how to react. I don’t think I really believed any of this was happening to us, it was all much too surreal.

ICU can provide a needed break to caregivers because in some, in this one, the visiting hours are limited and strictly controlled. The worst part of the ICU is you feel completely helpless and out of control, you are separated from the one you love. I was completely dependent on the snippets of time I got to spend in Marty’s room and the information the good nurses would and could provide. I hated not having constant access to Marty so I could see her condition with my own eyes, I did not like sitting outside of the ICU waiting for the next time the doors would open, and I did not like having to leave my wife alone through any of this time.

Marty’s blood pressure was and is today one of the best indicators of how ill she is. In this case it was precipitously low for her. To top it all off she was clearly allergic to one of the antibiotics she was taking and broke out in a horrendous rash all over her body. This seemed to bother Erin the most, she hated seeing the ugly, painful looking red splotches on her Mom and she hated that she just couldn’t get people to take it seriously.

The worst time occurred one afternoon when I was waiting for the appointed visiting time. I hated the waiting because I never knew what new calamity had hit Marty since the last visit, I hated the tension, I hated the surprises that waited, and I hated the suspense of waiting outside the doors. This day they were late opening the doors as all of the families waiting to visit patients were piled up waiting to enter the ICU. When the nurse came to the door she motioned for me to come with her. She explained the delay, Marty’s blood pressure had dropped so low they were afraid she wasn’t going to make it.

When I walked into her room Marty was very pale, her feet were elevated and they were pouring as many IV fluids into her as they could get. She was barely able to speak and recognize me. I bent over and whispered in her ear, “Don’t you leave me now.” She whispered very quietly, “I’m not going anywhere.”

Days later and the antibiotics started to beat back the pneumonia and Marty slowly began to wake up. I learned that if I stayed quiet and out of everyone’s way I could stay with Marty outside of the regular visiting hours. Occasionally some cranky nurse would make me leave, but for the most part they left me to my own devices and let me stay around and hold Marty’s hand.

The rash from the antibiotics still looked horrendously painful and irritated. Benadryl was given and cold packs were used to help relieve part of the misery. Marty’s overall somnolence was the only saving grace; she essentially was too weak to care and too tired to care. Being ill, having a stroke, is exhausting, and all Marty wanted, what she most needed was sleep.

Then one evening, kind of out of the blue, mostly because there were patients with a greater need for an ICU bed, Marty was moved. It was something of a miracle I happened to be there that night and watched and followed as they moved her out of the ICU. It was good to be leaving but I knew from experience we were leaving the comfort of constant medical attention and Marty’s family would need to be with her 24 hours a day now. I was already tired.

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