Thursday, December 22, 2011

Woh... What Just Happened?

On Monday morning I was discharged from a nine-day stay in the hospital. I woke up slowly, took a cup full of pills from the nurse, and walked to the bathroom. As the mosque outside my room’s window played the call to prayer, I stared in the mirror. My skin was pale with dark circles under my eyes. My hands, face, and feet were swollen. My neck and chest were bandaged. My body ached as if I’d run for miles. I stared for a while, until I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What just happened?”

I knew the answer, of course. It was a long story that started six weeks ago with a raging case of mastitis in both breasts: fevers, body aches, chills, searing pains, etc. Two courses of antibiotics later, I found myself in a breast surgeon’s office. The infection had developed into an abscess. He stabbed it with a syringe, sucked the puss out, and prescribed a third round of antibiotics. By my follow-up appointment a week later, I had developed two more abscesses. Again he stabbed, sucked, and sent me home with a fourth course of antibiotics.

He told me it would be “really rough” for the next two weeks, but then I would feel much better. As the weeks progressed, “really rough” proved to be a gross understatement. I was nauseous, feverish, and weak. I had horrendous body aches so severe I couldn’t stand up straight. The aches grew worse and worse, and I began to wonder if this was what the doctor meant by “really rough.” When I picked up a dinner plate the pain shooting through my shoulder and arm was so severe I immediately dropped it. I didn’t dare pick up or carry Jonathan for fear of dropping him--I only held him when I was sitting down.

The body aches continued to escalate until last Saturday morning when I literally couldn’t move. My joints were in so much pain and my muscles were so sore that I couldn’t even roll myself over in bed. Saturday evening the pain heightened even further, and Fabio called for an emergency house-call service to send a doctor to our apartment (since I couldn’t walk to the front room, let alone a doctor’s office). The doctor came, examined me, and recommended I go to the hospital immediately. They wheeled me out of the house on a stretcher and I rode in an ambulance to the emergency room. The doctors there tested my blood and found infection markers so high they admitted me immediately and called another breast surgeon. She took tissue samples of the abscesses (which had grown even larger than when they were last drained), and sent them for testing in the hopes to prescribe a more targeted antibiotic and to rule out more serious causes such as cancer.

I stayed in the hospital while we waited a day and a half for the test results. My joint pain was so severe that two nurses had to help me to the bathroom. Early last Tuesday morning, as the nurses walked me to the bathroom they noticed I was especially weak and faint. They took my blood pressure, gave each other a look, and took it again. My systolic BP was in the mid-60’s, which for those of you like me, who know nothing about this kind of thing, is really low (it’s supposed to be in the 120’s). They checked my blood pressure again and again for the next fifteen minutes and saw no change. They called the surgeon, who was in my room before I knew it. She took my blood pressure again: no change. Within seconds, there were six or seven nurses in my room. As they through up the sides of my bed and ran me down the hospital hallway, the doctor told me they were taking me to ICU.

Now, I don’t claim to know very much about hospitals or the medical practice in general. However, I have seen enough episodes of House and ER to know that when a small legion of doctors and nurses run down the hall pushing a person in a hospital bed, the intense music starts to play and things are really bad. Tears welled up in my eyes, and all I could say is “Can someone please call my husband?” Dr. Tan (the surgeon) had Fabio’s number in her phone and called him as we burst into the ICU. From there things are kind of a blur. Nurses ran in and out of the room with various carts and machines, shouting at each other impatiently. Doctors hurriedly asked me questions about recent bug bites and whether or not I gardened as they progressively hooked me up to more machines. My blood pressure dropped to the low-50’s. They put a giant I.V. in my neck that opened to eight different lines and had to be anchored with stitches. They pumped me full of medicines that made me feel like my heart was going to explode. When Fabio showed up, they told him I had gone into septic shock and they were doing everything they could to stabilize me. Poor Fabio googled it as he sat in the waiting room, and to his alarm learned that septic shock has a mortality rate of 20% to 50%.

A CT scan showed a urinary tract infection that had spread to both kidneys, in addition to the still-raging mastitis in my breasts. I was rushed into emergency surgery to remove the infected breast tissue, then pumped full of “extremely aggressive” antibiotics in addition to a slew of other medicines I can't pronounce and don't know what they were for. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday night in the ICU. Our church congregation here in Singapore held a special fast on Wednesday for my health to be restored and for me to return home for Christmas.

On Thursday morning, the three doctors who were now on my case were thrilled and baffled to find that my blood pressure had stabilized, I had no organ damage, my infection indicators were dramatically lower, and my joint pain was relieved enough that I could use both arms without assistance. They couldn’t find any word but “miraculous” to describe such a turn-around. Fabio and I knew it was a direct answer to the prayers and fasting of our family and friends. I left the ICU and returned to the regular hospital ward, where they continued monitoring and treatment for another four nights while I stabilized.

In the ICU on Thursday after getting the good news.
Yes, I am attached to every one of those machines. 
(The green thing is protecting the giant neck I.V.)

Which brings us to Monday, at the bathroom mirror. It’s a strange feeling to look at yourself, knowing how close you came to dying. I can't help but think, "If I hadn’t been in the hospital when I crashed," "if I hadn’t needed to go to the bathroom when I did," "if the nurses hadn’t thought to check my blood pressure"… so many “if”s are hard to ignore, and the feeling they leave me with is impossible to put into words. Overwhelmed, sore, stunned, tired, grateful…most of all grateful. Grateful, grateful, grateful.

On Monday night I finally walked through the door to our apartment. Our sweet friends had decorated the front room for Christmas. I sat down on the couch and took Jonathan in my arms, still too weak to hold him while standing. I sighed and smiled. He looked up at me and smiled back. Fabio sat down next to me. We snuggled and smiled at each other for what seemed like ages. It was one of the sweetest moments in my life.

The doctors say that full recovery will take three to four more weeks of painful procedures and a lot of pills. But I don’t mind—I’m home, I’m with my family, and I’m recovering. Every time since this whole ordeal, when I rock Jonathan to sleep, smell my own pillowcase, kiss Fabio good morning, or lay my head on my mom’s lap, I take a deep breath and remember how precious those little moments are. I’m so thankful God is letting me enjoy them still, and I’m determined to never take them for granted again.

So… that’s what just happened.