respectorcist: (pip)
[personal profile] respectorcist
My therapist told me I needed to deal with my emotions. So I wrote about shit that happened to me. This was more for my use than anything, but whatever, I will put it here because the internet is my safe space. I got very sick and nearly died from necrotizing pneumonia last year. So don't read this is hearing about a stressful hospital experience would be a trigger for you.

A year ago I got out of the hospital after a stay of over 90 days.

It started as a general feeling of malaise, like I had a cold, and then I woke up the next morning with extremely bad neck pain. When I went to the hospital, I didn't do so because I was worried about myself, but because I was worried about my coworkers and clients at work. I worked in a healthcare setting, with people with profound developmental disabilities. My specialty was respiratory therapy for clients who had tracheotomies and were ventilator-dependent.

When you work in healthcare and you get a terrible neck pain, you assume you might have menengitis and get tested, just in case, before it spreads to other people.

They took a spinal tap and it came out clear. They didn't do a lot of other testing at the hospital. They should have. Instead, they sent me home with a bottle of muscle relaxers and told me to take it easy, even though I was very specific to use the words 'I'm in the worst neck pain of my life.'

48 hours later, I was being lifeflighted to UPMC Presbyterian. I was delirious. I was in septic shock and diabetic ketoacidosis. By the time they got me to the critical care facility, most of my organ systems were failing.

They hooked me up to 24-hour dialysis, they pumped me constantly full of fluids to keep my blood pressure up, they hooked me up to a ventilator. It didn't take at first. I kept flatlining. They started compressions twice before they finally got my respiratory system to respond.

My PCP called my mother in Virginia when he got the news. He's been the family doctor since my great grandparents. He had a good personal relationship with the family. He told her to pack for a funeral, just in case, and apologized.

Eventually they got me to stasis, although I still only had a less than 30% chance of surviving for the next few weeks. I don't remember them. They put me in a medicated coma. I'm thankful for that.

When I finally became really conscious again, they explained where I was and what had happened. I listened as calmly as I could and took stock. My fingernails were long. I couldn't shave and wasn't getting my birth control meds, so I had a beard, and longer, crisp, limp hair that was falling out. The skin on my hands and feet was cracked and painful because of all of the fluid they'd used to keep my blood pressure up. I was weak. So weak I could barely lift my arms and didn't have the strength to sit up in bed or reposition myself. I was having trouble seeing. My hands were in restraints. They were soft, but I'd struggled so much when I was unresponsive that my wrists were bloody. Months later, the scabs would go away, and there would be little scars there shaped like raised starbursts.

And there were tubes.

There were a lot of tubes. I had an IV in the side of my neck, with a very thick needle, where they dialyzed me from 24/7, which made me tired, and wearyingly cold. I had another IV in my right hip. They warned me not to shift too much. If it got pulled out, I would bleed out in less than two minutes. It had dozens of little pigtails hanging off of it, to handle the cocktail of drugs they were giving me. 'They're giving you the serious Michael Jackson shit,' one of my nurses joked with a grin when I turned my head to examine it. He was a young, sweet-faced man about my own age.

I would have laughed, but I couldn't breathe on my own.

There was a tube down my throat. It was attached to my face with straps. There was another one in my nose, feeding me formula. There was a tube in my rectum, collecting feces, and another in my urethra, collecting urine, because I had no way of standing up and using the restroom or even lifting up to use a bedpan. There were two more, tiny tubes in my back, attached to a big bag that collected a horrifyingly greenish fluid. I nodded toward it once, and they explained, these tubes go into your lungs. They're collecting the fluid buildup in there. Don't move around too much because if you pull them out, your lung will deflate.

OK, got it. Don't pull out any of the tubes. I guess I can handle that.

The ventilator was the worst. It would get clogged with mucous, which I knew, and the mucous also got worse when you were stressed, which I also knew. I'd worked with them for a year. The mucous needs to be removed with a suction tube that grabs it out of your airway. As well as the vomit. When you accidentally vomit because 'eating' has been a steady drip of formula down a tube into your stomach for a month.

I cried a lot, because it was the only way I had to communicate. I couldn't talk. I could barely gesture. With the ventilator, the only facial expressions I could make involved my eyebrows. Some of the nurses in crit care were nice about it. They would stroke my hair and tell me to calm down and that my family called earlier and said they would be in the next day. Others were rude. I couldn't complain. I couldn't speak. They treated me however they wanted. They complained right in front of my face about how I had diarrhea and how hard it was to change my sheets and how long I'd been there and how much work I was. They dehumanized me. They can go to Hell.

Eventually I got better. Slowly.

The tubes started going away.

The ventilator went first. It was a bad experience, full of a lot of tense whispering: if she has trouble when we test weaning off again, we might not be able to wean her at all. Worries that I may be ventilator-dependent for many years. I tried to decide whether that would be irony, or coincidence. I'm still not sure. They finally weaned me. I spent the first four nights not sleeping at all. The hospital psychiatrist gave me a visit. She asked me what was wrong and gave me a whiteboard and a marker. The sweet-faced nurse from the other day was there, with his same vulpine smile. "You like me, so promise if I take your restraints off, you won't touch any of your tubes," he said, and I nodded my promise because my vocal chords were fucked up and my throat was raw and I still couldn't speak. The restraints went away forever. I wrote on the whiteboard. Badly. I was still on opiates.

afraid i'll die in sleep

The psychiatrist, a motherly, greying-haired black woman, nodded her head in understanding, but told me, essentially, I was going to have to get over it. If I was going to die, she reasoned, I'd have done it already. Clearly, God was looking out for me. I'm agnostic, but I nodded my head and smiled anyway, because it was all damn good advice.

Not that sleeping got any easier, in a freezing cold room with glass walls full of beeping machines, while you're attached to a heart monitor. But at least I let go of that fear.

The tubes in my back went next. My lungs were finally clearing up. I was not going to die. They promised that when the big IV in my leg artery was removed, they would move me to a step down cardiac floor. They removed it, sutured it up immediately, and when they were sure it was healing a few days later, they let me move to the cardiac floor. I'd been in critical care almost two months. I asked, in a croaking voice, if they would swing me past Starbucks while they moved my bed to the new location, so I could smell the coffee. They did; that was kind.

The cardiac floor was a little better. The nurses were less tense than the crit care nurses, things were less busy, and somebody didn't code once an hour on the hour. There were a lot less hush-voiced conversations about calling a time of death.

Physical therapy gave me exercises to do, and eventually I was strong enough to use a bedpan and sit fully up. Some of the exercises were swallowing exercises, so that, after another couple weeks, after two and a half months without real food, I passed a swallow test, and they took out my feeding tube, and let me have some broth and pudding, and it was the best beef broth and vanilla pudding i'd ever had.

Being on actual food again helped me. It was easier to gain back my muscle strength. I got my voice back, after an injection of collagen into my vocal chords (to this day, my voice is huskier than it was before I got ill.) They took out the IV in my neck and replaced it with a catheter for my dialysis which was still three days a week, for five hours. They removed the catheter in my urethra.

Then before they put a new IV in my wrist, they sat me down in a special chair and wheeled me down to the showers and gave me my first shower in too long, and that was when I really understood the essential dignity of hygiene. I felt human again.

It gave me strength to stand up out of bed when the physical therapist finally said it was okay. We did exercises using the edge of the nearby sink. A few days later, I got to walk down the hall. I didn't get very far, and we had to drag an IV tower and an oxygen tank along, but I got to be outside of my room.

Soon trundling along the hallways became doing little sets of stairs, and soon the oxygen came off, the cardiac monitor came off, and my sister sneaked me in my first non-hospital food: a little green tea frap from the Starbucks in the lobby, which was certainly not on my low-sugar, low-potassium, low-phosphorus, low-sodium, low-protein diet. They started giving me possible dates for release. I never ended up being released when they said I would, and ended up being there for sixteen days after the original estimate, but having an estimate at all was a universe away from my PCP telling my mother to bring clothes for a funeral.

They lazered the bleeds in my eyes that happened because of the ischemia during my flatlines, and they ordered me a walker, and gave me one last strength test to make sure I could get up and down the stairs of my home. Then the nurse practitioner who worked every day on the cardiac floor came in and leaned over me and gave me a hug and said, "Your family's coming to take you home, I just put in for you to be released. It's about time you got to go home, you've been here so long you're like our mascot. We're going to miss you."

She gave me a hug and my mom picked me up three hours later and I put on real people clothes and I left the hospital 90 days after I was admitted.

On the way home, my mom said I had to be ready to wake up at 5am the next day for my dialysis in a clinic and asked what I wanted to eat. I asked for a rodeo cheeseburger at Burger King. I got carsick and puked it up 40 minutes later. I don't regret it.
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if anyone asks this is educational

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