February 2018 was the month I spent 13 days in the hospital.
It all started on January 31st, a Wednesday. I barely took note of a sore throat. On Thursday, February 1st, I felt a little more of a sore throat but figured it would be the kind of thing to pass quickly. Friday, I felt fatigued and resigned myself to taking a weekend of rest, hydration and fighting off a cold or flu. Saturday and Sunday I pretty much slept all day, but by Sunday mid-day I had pain in my left chest. I didn’t even feel well enough to drag myself out of bed to watch the Super Bowl. On Monday I called off sick from work. On Tuesday the 6th, I summoned strength to drive myself to a walk-in urgent care center. About to open the door, I read a sign “X Ray Machine Out of Service.” Dammit, I thought. At this point I feared my side pain might be lung pain indicating pneumonia and knew the lack of an X Ray machine was not ideal. The nurse practitioner examined me, gave me a nebulizer treatment, sent me off with the advice to go to the emergency room if I didn’t feel well the next day.
The next day came and I felt miserable. Kyle, my dear husband, came home and drove me to UPMC Passavant emergency room. There I was given fluids, an x-ray, diagnosed with pneumonia, had blood tests and was told I’d be staying the night. At this point I assumed I’d be out the next day – probably just needing to re-hydrate and get on the right antibiotics.
That assumption was wrong. I met lots of doctors, nurses, x-ray techs, cleaning staff, nutritionists, physical therapists, residents and administrators over the next few days. In the initial days, the game plan was to drain the empyema infected fluids from my chest cavity with chest tubes. After many x-rays, two CT scans and the placement of lots of chest tubes…if I remember correctly I had four or five in total but never more than three sticking out of me at any one time. The morning I was introduced to the Infectious Disease team was unreal. I burst out laughing darkly and asked if I was in the movie “Outbreak.” They told me my infection was of the Strep variety, not the kind of Strep associated with Strep throat but Strep B which is quite bad. I’d be on high doses of antibiotics until it was managed.
I spent time trying to stay positive and not worry too much about the disgusting and large amount of fluids and sushi-like salmon chunks draining from my chest cavity into the clear briefcase style receptacles at my bedside. I prayed I’d be dodging surgery and that the current care plan would be enough. I was cooperative with every 4 a.m. X-ray, midnight vitals test, and other variable thrown at me.
A woman came in to perform an ECG on me in the wee hours of the morning. I asked her why she was doing it and she said “usually they’re ordered when someone’s gonna have surgery.” Therefore, I found out before dawn on the 12th from a tech that I’d be having surgery. The chest tubes and medicines hadn’t done enough. I was very frustrated with my care team because one of the numerous doctors I had should have delivered the news. I’d never had surgery before and cried later when consulting with the doctors. The lead surgical doctor scared me into getting on-board with the surgery when he listed the alternatives such as having lung disease for the rest of my life. A healthy life with my family is what I’d fight for.
Later, I was able to express my frustration with the surgeons in a more calm manner. I hope that they will take into account their patients’ feelings more thoughtfully in the future. On the bright side, I felt badass telling the surgeons how irritating it was to find out about my surgery secondhand. When the surgical team walked away the ICU nurses were like: “We love you! More people need to give them honest feedback. The surgeons act like they’re gods and forget they’re taking care of people and the patients are too intimidated or scared to say what they’re thinking.” Perks of being a vocal straight shooter.
Back to the surgery…
On the 13th, in the evening, I had cardio-thorasic surgery. On the way into the surgery it was almost comical how much bad news they threw at me. They sharpied my left shoulder area with a blue marker branding me with the surgeon’s initials. Why? To make sure they’d operate on the correct side. The surgeon told me I’d want to understand the risks: statistically a 1/100 chance of dying in this surgery, the possibility they’d have to crack a rib to get to the specific spot in my chest cavity they needed to drain fluids from, the possibility that I’d have an IV in my carotid artery when I regained consciousness – if the other viable ones weren’t good anymore. Considering how many days worth of poking and prodding I’d been through and the damage to many wrist and hand veins – this was a real concern. Oh yeah, and they told me I’d be naked in surgery. So, nothing like receiving all those pieces of information before being wheeled into a cold room full of strangers!
I woke up from the surgery on Valentine’s Day morning around 6:30 a.m. It was traumatic to wake up with a breathing tube down my throat.
I looked around and it shifted backwards and I thought I’d choke to death.
I tried to wave and ask for help.
Like a criminal or person in an insane asylum, I had huge, heavily weighted mitten-wrap things on so that I could not lift my hands and arms one bit. It was terrible.
A woman on the staff would come talk to me loudly and cheerfully and tell me they’d be taking it out soon then walk away. I hated her as she’d walk away – completely unaware of my private nightmare. All I could do was try to use my eyes to communicate how desperate I felt and to please hurry up during the quick times she’d come yell-talk to me.
It took a full hour before the tube was removed. Oh, and, before removing the tube, the lead ICU doctor come over, stuck a vacuum mechanism down my breathing tube, into my lung and vacuumed it out. During which I thrashed around feeling airless, tortured and like I’d surely die without oxygen. It was all so intense and yet under this veil of orderly, hospital, sterile control.
The blessing that day was that my husband, kids and mom visited me around 9:00 a.m. Kyle showered me with sweet gifts, a card and a Snoopy pop-up Valentine’s Day card from the kids. My mom gave me a card and helped busy the kids so Kyle and I could chat and connect for a few minutes. She left and the boys ate kinder-eggs and hung out for a while longer. A lovely nurse joined us and aided in the chocolate eating, toy playing and little kid fun.
A quick note on “nutrition” in the hospital system. They should be ashamed of themselves for the food they serve. You had to STRUGGLE to find a whole grain, high protein, reasonably healthy option on the menu…except maybe some eggs at breakfast. A very kind nutritionist actually hooked me up with a delicious high protein yogurt that my family members took to bringing me for future breakfasts. The hospital had a huge corn-syrup laden dessert menu, plenty of juices to choose from, all the white bread and fried foods a girl could dream of and vegetables steamed or boiled so much they were close to disintegration. A team member confided in me that their “nutritional” choices were all simply cost driven, and while it’s not surprising, it’s shameful. Especially for a “non profit.” Someone in the administration should stand up for what is right. Hospitals are there to make people healthier and food can be a huge contributor to health and well-being when it is balanced and nutrient-rich.
Apart from some complaints listed above, the staff at the hospital and the policies were generally good. I was always in a private room and the team members were great people. I bonded with a kind custodian, a bunch of nurses and some doctors. I was moved out of the ICU and to a recovery room around the 15th. I had three drainage chest tubes coming out of my body and two large stapled-closed incisions on my left side so showering and shaving in the stand-up stall in my attached bathroom while keeping the IV pole and tubes out of the way of soap and water was a real act of athletic and logistical genius. I was told to take walks a few times per say and do breathing exercises to expedite the time I’d need to stay there after the surgery. Walks were a real production with a walker to hang my drainage boxes from and the IV pole wheeling nearby pushed by a staff member accompanying me. I found many-a-fan of my leopard print furry slides so if you’re wondering what footwear to spend your hard earned money on, here is a link. I think they really popped when worn with hospital socks. Feel free to copy the lewk.
In recovery, I watched a lot of “Fixer Upper” and a “Madea” movie. This was all good fun because we haven’t had cable since around 2009 (?). I did some light reading and took a nap every day. I was a bit surprised by how tired I was, but in hindsight I can see why I was exhausted. My body and mind had been through so much and I was still not released or told I was doing well and had two fluid-free functioning lungs again.
Friends visits, calls, cards and texts were such a buoy. A lot of people asked if I was bored or stir crazy being in the hospital for so long, but I never was. Every day was filled with lots of testing and tasks to complete. Maybe it was forcing myself to eat bland hospital food or pushing myself to go for one more walk before bedtime. Another reason I didn’t feel cooped up is that I knew without modern medicine I would have had a bleak outcome. Perhaps lung disease for the rest of my life, at best.
On February 20th I was discharged. Kyle picked me up and was overjoyed to walk out (ever so slowly and carrying no weight) into the fresh air. I felt anxious to deal with potholes and the jolt they’d give my body. I felt unsure what the coming days would hold. We drove south and picked the boys up from daycare (our Au Pair was in Hawaii for the whole ordeal :-|) then went home. Over the next day or two I was emotional. I was so glad to be home but in pain, restricted from picking up my dear boys, in charge of sanitizing my wounds, re-wrapping them every day, keeping on top of all my outpatient medications and appointments. It was how folks must feel if they get out of jail or some other bad situation. You’re so glad to be out but you’re overwhelmed by life on the outside.
Because the flu season had been so bad, instead of getting outpatient care starting day one, I had to track down the nursing team and got them around day 3 of discharge. Thankfully I’d managed to keep my wounds clean and well cared for so the nurse was able to basically provide advice and reassurance as well as document all my vitals, meds and do whatever else UPMC required them to jot down in their laptops.
I kept in communication with my employer about my illness, care plan, recovery time required, and return-to-work timing. Things started looking questionable when the owner of the company which has “unlimited vacation days” put me on an unpaid leave of absence. How that all played out is a story for another day.
For now, the story of the hospitalization and beginning of recovery from pneumonia and empyema has come to an end. If you are sick or have a loved one who is sick, my heart goes out to you. Health is wealth and may we be healthy and happy, dear ones!
Our mornings seem crazy. However, I wouldn’t trade them. Here is a snapshot of one of our crazy-fun starts to the day. 5:45 – 8:10 a.m. on a morning last week…
It was week two of taking the boys to daycare in the morning. My 6th day in charge of getting two not-always-cooperative little critters out the door, safely buckled in their car seats, through the doors of school then getting my own tush to work.
Evan (2.5) and Roger (4.8). Evan woke up and was doing some chattering in his crib. I went in to get him and he was really peaceful and sweet. He held my hand then I got him out of the crib.
I walked into Roger’s room with Evan on my hip. Immediately I was assaulted by a urine smell. I gently woke Roger up and asked him to change out of his peed-in pajamas. It was almost 6 a.m.and Kyle came in and offered to put the sheets in the wash. That was a lucky bonus gift of help because usually he’s on the way to the gym before the kids wake up.
I wiped Roger down then on the third pair of underwear I suggested – we had a winner – navy with white star boxer briefs. He seemed sleepy so I continued encouraging his getting dressed process. He shot down my first few outfit ideas and landed on (forecast of mid 80s) Adidas pants and a grey long sleeve shirt with dinosaurs on it and “Old School” written in orange. I went into Evan’s room to start dressing him but then need to go back into Roger’s room because he was balling. He was crying because he had his shirt on backwards so I helped him put it on the right way. Back in Evan’s room we picked out jeans and a Paw Patrol t-shirt. We got the t-shirt on with no issues. Then I changed his diaper and put his jeans on. I picked out light brown socks which he was not too keen on but eventually, after much fussing about not liking the socks, he got distracted by something Roger was up to and I slipped the socks and shoes on him.
I decided to feed them a breakfast of chocolate chip waffles from the freezer. They wanted a frozen waffle (rather than waiting for them to be heated up).
Roger started happily eating his. Evan cried and said he couldn’t bite it. I took it and broke off a little bite sized piece for him and he began wailing about the broken waffle.
For approximately the next 10 minutes he was tearful, very tearful, about the injustice and tragedy of me breaking his waffle.
At this point the remaining 4 waffles were warming in the oven. I had the coffee machine started and Roger was hanging around in the kitchen calmly eating a frozen waffle.
Towards the last few minutes of Evan’s wailing, he ran up to his room to comfort himself with a binky. I went up and invited him to come down for breakfast. He caught his breath and walked with me.
Roger kept asking for another waffle and Evan kept asking if it was ready yet. I kept asking them to get their plates out. Half of good parenting is repeating the same thing or saying it in a slightly different way without getting exasperated, raising your voice, or opening a wine bottle at 6:11 am.
The kids got the plates out and on to the counter. I ask them to go sit in their chairs at the dining room table and I was getting the waffles on the plates, but had to take a few breaks to check on why they were squabbling before I could finish buttering and drizzling syrup on their brekkie. They ask for me to cut their waffles up into pieces so I did.
I got out to the table with my own breakfast including water and coffee and life was great for 60-90 seconds. Next, they start arguing about something and, tired of telling them to be nice, I use a distraction technique “who wants gummies?” Gummies are the two morning vitamins we take each morning. After doling those out I sat for a minute and ate. Roger started asking for a third waffle and Evan started crying that his syrup was gone because he ate all the visible runny syrup off the plate. I explained that waffles soak up the syrup and to take bites then he’d taste it again.
All through the morning I kept looking at the clock. Every morning I have had to keep lowering and lowering my expectations for how soon we could leave the house.
I felt impatient to get upstairs and finish straightening my hair so I decided to let them finish their last few bites unsupervised. Obviously, a risk of things going wrong, but I try to test and learn what kind of responsibility they can handle in safe situations. Roger finished his breakfast and put his plate in the sink then walked upstairs to brush his teeth.
Evan stayed downstairs to finish his breakfast. Well, actually, he ended up pouring out my water bottle and splashing his hands in it on the dining room table. Expirement failed. TV privilege lost.
I actually forget what Roger was doing at this…oh, now I remember. He insisted on making a craft for Dad. He wrote “Dad” in glue and sprinkled rainbow glitter all over it. Meanwhile I had Evan next to me while I was flat ironing my hair and to keep him close – I let him pick out a read-along book. He chose Justice League. Roger came in midway through the story and listened/watched with Ev.
I told them they could watch and listen to one more read-along story after they brushed their teeth. Roger spring up to brush his teeth and returned to claim his turn to pick a story. Evan, by this point in a cuddly mood (and probably exhausted from all the early emotions) was snuggled up to my hip and taking no interest in going to brush his teeth. I tried to pawn off getting Evan’s toothbrush ready to Roger so I could finish my hair but I had to go break up a fight about who got to stand on the the step stool and ended up doing the job.
We made it back to the bedroom and Roger chose a Paw Patrol Halloween (howl-o-ween) book. While the boys sat contentedly, I finished my hair and got dressed.
Next came the time to get out the door. Evan grabbed a large teddy bear and his backpack. I assembled a backup outfit (in case of pee accident) for Roger. Roger grabbed a blanket and Frank the stuffed wiener dog. We got outside. Evan ran partway down the driveway and stood by a tree I thought he was pooping but he was just being defiant and testing boundaries.
With no parenting pride, I bribed them I’d give them one Yum Earth pomegranate hard candy each if they’d get their bums in their car seats quickly.
I exhaled, doled out a fruity candy to each boy and backed down the driveway. Thankfully, they were really content and fairly quiet on the drive to daycare and traffic was light *praise hands.*
In the hallway, Roger said “I want to show you a pretty girl. I bet you’ll like her.” “There!” he pointed. I looked right to see a young woman who looked like a stereotype of what I’d expect a 14 year old boy to find beautiful. She had long blonde straight hair, a thin and curvy body, blue eyes, lash extensions and full makeup. She is a pretty person, perfectly nice. It’s just interesting to me that the first woman he’s made it a point to single out and ask me “Isn’t her pretty?” was basically a Disney princess.
We walked Evan to his classroom and he was easy-peasy with transitioning into his school day. Roger and I walked to his room and crammed his water play outfit, backup outfit, beach towel and blanket into his cubby then joined his friends in the Kindergarten prep classroom.
It’s important to Roger that he gets to parade me around and that I say hello to his friends before I leave for work. After a bit of this and a kiss on the cheek, I was headed back to my car to start phase two of my commute to work.
Two working parents of young children. It’s no joke logistically and in terms of energy level needed, but lots of people make it work and I’m glad to be part of a good team with Kyle.
Maybe when you have a 1.4 million dollar house for sale….don’t include blurry pictures with your cat in the center. Actually, at any budget, when you’re marketing your house – declutter, depersonalize then hire a professional photographer.
Why does someone love or hate entire groups of people?
They just do. Or they think they “just do,” but it’s a culmination of positive or negative experiences with a group, or stories you’ve heard about the group.
Would small acts of love help bridge the racial divide?
This is America, the song by Daniel Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino is unsettling. My friend asked me if I’d seen the video and I told her I hadn’t watched fully because I saw an execution style shooting coming and turned the video off.
But a few days later, after internet rumblings of his genius creation and my own curiosity, I decided to try again.
Watching This is America left me with a nauseous, sad feeling. It’s discomfiting because of the dance and pep of the song set against the violence and apathy in most of the plot.
I read some critical analysis on the song and video. Mr. Glover chooses not to explain his work. A tactic that is normal and wise for creatives.
Some of the critics discussed the brown and white chickens in the video facing apart showing a divide in focus of white versus black* and brown communities. One suggested that black people need to consider correcting their desensitization to violence and idolization of people such as shallow rappers bragging about money.
The pulse of our country seems hostile and divided. Morning news abounds with cell phone videos showing police officers using unnecessarily forceful actions with black people.
And still, I hope we can take care to stay vulnerable, open and not go into a racial divide, us-versus-them mindset. It’s a scary world out there for many and uniting, not dividing is what will raise us up.
A woman I follow on instagram posted a MLK Jr quote calling out white people as failing to educate themselves on black issues.
Upon reading it, feelings of defensiveness started to bubble up. Then I realized I should think about why she felt that way and to think about the statement from different angles.
Talking about race is considered “touchy” and we’ve seen public figures make career-ending errors by saying the wrong thing. The goal of political correctness may stop friends of different backgrounds to only talk on a surface level. They may have no idea how interested and educated (or not) the person who looks different from them is.
I’m an extrovert who loves people and is very inquisitive. For me, getting to know and find commonalities with people from different backgrounds is usually not too challenging. I try to be careful to ask things in a thoughtful way. Still, sometimes I’ve screwed up and needed to apologize.
That’s how learning and growth happens sometimes; in fits and starts – imperfect progress forward. Barriers break down when we discuss nuances of our lives instead of making blanket statements and setting hard rules. Learning happens when I put my foot in my mouth with a trusted friend and allow them to correct my vocabulary or educate me on my assumption.
In this essay, I focused mostly on Americans and the black versus white tension here. The story plays itself out in so many ways in so many parts of the world. For some it’s skin color, for some it’s religion, for some it’s wealth… We, as imperfect humans, have this way of trying to feel different, better-than.
I hope we can all get more comfortable with being common, good enough, brothers and sisters, children of the universe, children of God. Curious, imperfect, full of love and room to grow.
*a note on why I choose to write and say “black” instead of “African American” – as a college junior I had the pleasure of interning with three women from Indian, Caribbean and African American backgrounds. The Caribbean and African American heritage women explained that they prefer the term “black” because not everyone is from the continent Africa.