Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Close to the Edge

My wife did an exemplary job of trying to keep everyone abreast of my condition while I was in the hospital ICU. Even after I regained conciousness after a month in a coma, she still continued to write about how things improved. For all intents and purposes, reading about one's self and having no memory of the events is like reading fiction. This week I began reading the medical reports from my ordeal. I made it twenty five pages into a 295 page document... and then I lost it. What little I know about medicine I learned from my family's medical chaos, from my time working as a videographer for the trauma unit in Miami, and from watching House M.D. Definitely doesn't qualify me to even play a doctor on tv. But I know, when reading, what bad looks like.

Allow me to give you a brief synopsis of what I read and why it hit me so strongly.

These things were all going on simultaneously:
1. Septic shock (BAD news!)
2. anastomotic leak with probable fecal spillage (my guts were leaking internally)
3. Lactic acidosis
4. Sinus tachycardia (sinus rhythm at a rate greater than 100 beats per minute )
5. Leukocytosis (an increase in the number of white blood cells in the circulating blood that occurs as in some infections)
6. coagulopathy (problem with blood coagulating)
7. hyperkalemia (the presence of an abnormally high concentration of potassium in the blood)
8. hyperbilirubinemia (the presence of an excess of bilirubin in the blood)
9. evolving renal insufficiency
10. urinary tract infection
11. fever

All of these spelled disaster. Two surgeries later, I would have experienced two lavages (where your organs are pulled away and washed -inside and out), and would remain unconcious and wired/hosed to every machine in the ICU for a month. Eventually pneumonia would keep me from getting the tracheostomy (surgical formation of an opening into the trachea through the neck especially to allow the passage of air). Every time I came close to conciousness I would try and pull out the tubes in my throat and nose. Not cool. All the while I ran wicked fevers; soaking through multiple changes of bedsheets everyday!

Somehow, Nancy kept fighting. Friends kept visiting. I was unconscious and unaware... but apparently my body knew. When my vital signs were really bad, Nancy would sing to me... and the vitals would normalize almost immediately.

Everyone keeps telling me that my fortitude and strength are what got me through this ordeal. I don't think so. I think I was very nearly gone. My bet is that the huge tug on this side of the universe kept pulling me back. Once I regained consciousness each day was measured by my time with Nancy, visits from family and friends .... and of course the beginnings of PT. I don't know if I will ever be able to thank folks like Lloyd (my PT) for all they did to give me hope. When you can't even begin to move your fingers or your hand... hope seems very far away. Take away the ability to talk and hope is an abyss.

But we did it. Somehow, I pulled through. Reading these medical records is hard emotionally. On some level, they happened to someone else. In as much as they happened to my body, I wasn't there. My recovery now is based on where I WANT to be, not on what they did to me. Each time I go out for my mile walk, I touch the stop sign at the end of our block... just to remind me that I am on this side... this is real! I can touch things again, I can move, I can walk. After two months of ICU syndrome, I no longer hear the nurses' call bells at night. Sleep is comforting, albeit still painful. Soon this pain will fade and pass. My hope is to then re-read this mountain of medical reports. It would be nice to be able to box this ordeal and know my life had moved past it.


cookingwithgas said...

I hope for you that life is sweet again.
It was a hard road and you seem to have a great wife and family!
As a reader I am happy to have you back!

Judy Shreve said...

It must be strange to read about your time in ICU -- it was scary!! -- It must feel like you've been to war & back -- now you should focus on your amazing family & your amazing recovery! It is good to have you back.

jimgottuso said...

totally amazing and scary alex and you lived through it... wow! hope you're 100% soon.