Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pass me the Passy-Muir!

Just kidding. I don't want to wear this thing ever again (if I can avoid it!). But in the ICU, I had to be intubated and placed on a respirator... fun fun fun. It took over a week of being in the ICU (with me trying, in my unconscious state, to tear out the tubes) before they finally gave me a tracheostomy. In other words, they cut a slot into my neck and slipped this device in. Nice... it allowed for air to get in without me having something in my mouth. It was stitched to my neck. On the inside of the device was a balloon, which was inflated so that it would effectively seal the trachea from that point down... ie, no mouth air. It also meant I couldn't speak. Then again, I was unconscious for over four weeks with not much to say. Once I began to waken from this chemically induced coma, my biggest frustration was being unable to speak.

How do you tell a nurse that you are overheating with piles of blankets on you when you can't speak? I couldn't even lift a hand to get someone's attention. There wasn't enough strength in my body to even press the nurse call-button.

On top of it all, I had pneumonia. Yeah, imagine hacking and coughing up loads of mucus, for days on end. Now imagine choking on a straw in your throat at the same time. Add to that, the inability to tell anyone that you're going out of your mind in fear of drowning in your own mucus.

Each night, Nancy or my mom would sit by my bed, siphoning the mucus clear of my trach-tube. None of us slept for three days and three nights. It was awful.

And then as the worst of the coughing began to subside one of the doctors decided it was safe enough to try out a Passy-Muir device on me. So what is this thing of which I speak? It is a cap, with a one-way valve that allows someone with a trach-tube to speak without having to put their hand (or in my case, someone else's hand) over the tube so air comes out your mouth.

With one small press of this cap onto my trach-tube, I could suddenly tell the world everything.
And my first sentence in over a month? "What do you want me to say?"
Yep. Oh, yeah. And we all cried.

From that point out nurses knew NOT to pile me with blankets, NOT to touch my toes (they had to stay uncovered or I would overheat!), and to make sure the fan stayed on ALL the time. I had a voice and I made it heard.

Here, in all it's glory, is my Passy-Muir. Invented by David A. Muir in 1990 who became ventilator dependent after becoming a quadriplegic. Thank you Mr. Muir. Your invention became a ray of hope for me. If I could communicate, I could start to change things. And things did change.

Now imagine how the nursing staff felt when in the rehab unit, I asked to keep my trach-tube and Passy-muir after it was taken out. It came out two days before Halloween. In PT we made jokes about blowing all this hot air out of a slot in my neck. We thought it might be fun to get some duck calls and tape them on to my neck so when I walked and breathed out it would quack. We never did it, but it was a funny image.

Now I have a trach-tube and passy-muir sitting on my kitchen table, waiting for me to do something with it. It is something between a trophy and an artifact. I fought mighty hard to be well enough to get it; I'm not ready to throw it away just yet.


Charles The Potter said...

Alex, I followed your story while you were in the hospital while your amazing, strong, devoted wife kept us appraised of the situation. I'm really glad to be seeing these posts from you now. We were all worried from afar. Even my wife would check in on your progress now and then.

I am especially glad to see you have a sense of humor about the whole calls! really? I think I might have wanted a souvenir of the experience too.

I hope it's all over now and you get your strength back quickly and life returns to normal. Best of luck!

Alex Solla said...

@Charles- Yeah, the humor came back, along with the sardonic wit and sarcasm. That got set aside once I made it to rehab. There I was truly grateful for every minute each day. I had awesome nursing staff, great PT and OT, and the food wasnt half bad either.

Strength returns with each week of walking and physical therapy. More to do and tons more to heal. Thanks for following along. It's nice to know someone reads these missives.

Linda Starr said...

What an amazing story, Alex, I too followed your progress through your wife's accounts. How frustrating to be totally helpless and not be able to communicate. What an ordeal you have come through, so glad you are here to tell us about it, your thoughts are a reminder to me to appreciate each and every day.

Anonymous said...

Hey are you a professional journalist? This article is very well written, as compared to most other blogs i saw today….
anyhow thanks for the good read!

Louise said...

Alex, I had NO idea at all you were in the hospital!
I can't imagine the terror of imagining drowning in your own mucous and the unbearable heat. I'm sending your postings along to my daughter who's just now receiving her graduate degree as a Nurse Practitioner. This story needs to get out there.
The psychological horror you experienced is unfathomable. I had one night of that when they gave me way too much anesthesia, unable to talk, or hand motion or move at all...lying in my own pee cuz they thought I was fine. But that was just one night!
Your strength, awesome sense of humor and wit sustained you for a moment or two now and then, I'm sure. The rest of the time must have been your greatest trial ever. And you survived it. Good on ya, dude.
I really hope your recovery is measured daily rather than weekly, and soon. We want to know when you're out kayaking again.
Keep your eyes on the prize!
I'm cheering you on...!!

Alex Solla said...

@Linda- Being immobile and unable to communicate has always been my worst nightmare. Having lived through it, Yeah, it is the wost thing. Recovery has been a mix of pain and joy. Knowing that I will be whole and mended keeps me pushing everyday!

@Louise- Thanks for your kind words. After losing a little less than a third of my body weight (seemingly all muscle too!), I certainly will fit into my kayak a lot easier... though my stamina has a long way go before I am ready to be back out on the water.

wet wipes       said...

I can understand what you have gone through from the articles you have are out of it and I am sure these would be better times for you.