My mother drove down to Springfield at 4am to meet the ambulance. As she drove down the empty highway she saw a large dark bird flying beside her car for a while, then after a while it veered off into the woods. An owl? She was horrified. "Is that Kat's spirit? Is she leaving?"
Meanwhile the EMTs and nurse bumped and rolled me down the halls in the stretcher up to the ICU. I had never been there, even working at Baystate OB for 4 years after graduating from nursing school I never made it over there. I was brought into my own room with a big sliding door and a curtain a young nurse who was very gentle and kind with me. I got warm blankets, ahhhhh. My mother got lost at all the different ambulance entrances, but finally found me in the brightly lit unit.
On entering the room we were greeted by four different doctors in full gown and mask, each asking specific questions. I might have been getting a bit more with the program. Just before we got into the ambulance to leave Franklin I had remembered my children were ages 5 and 8. I still couldn't remember their names, but it was an improvement. At Franklin they had started me on IV antibiotics, antifungals and antivirals along with lots of IV fluid. Now at Baystate they continued all that therapy. When I first got there, a doctor spent alot of time listening to my heart. I fell asleep and woke up and he was still listening. I got hooked up to more monitors and had more blood drawn.
They did a electrocardiogram in my room of my heart that took forever and made me very nervous, my heart sounded so swishy. (They still didn't know what germ was causing the infection and some germs, once they get in the blood, attack the heart.) They were waiting for blood cultures to come back, and clearer spinal tap results They asked so many questions. We (my mom) told them Strep was in our kid's school, that we had a new puppy, and we had a pet rat and some chickens. They took it all in like detectives.
They asked over and over what other medications I was on. I didn't think I was on any, but they didn't seem to believe me. My mother told them, "Just vitamins." Then I heard my nurse say, "She's only 40. She's healthy. She's not on any meds!" and they stopped asking. I was not their usual customer.
My sister was there by now and she was very focused on me. She is seven years older than me and very protective and loving. She looked very regal at the foot of my bed, she kept her hand on my leg repeating, "We love you so much, Kat. I am sending you healing energy." She gave me ice chips and a cool cloth on my forehead. She also hung my parent's Christmas card on my wall and made me a little altar on my bedside table with some battery lit candles I'd given her when she was in the hospital. She brought recent photos of the girls with the puppy. It was wonderful to see when I opened my eyes.
When my sister asked my nurse about my fever and my delirium the nurse's response was serious. "There is a war going on in you sister's her body right now. We just have to support her so that she can win, but there is a war going on. Her body is working very hard."
While I was in the ICU Rob, my mom and my sister took turns sitting with me. My sister and Mom got a bed and breakfast across the street and took turns on night duty. I would wake up and someone would be there. I felt so lucky and watched over.
The nurses were smart, supportive and kind, The doctors were polite and thorough. During the whole experience I felt extremely well cared for. Amazingly, there were no rouge bitches or jerks, everyone was amazing.
Mysteriously, I wasn't really scared.
Maybe it was the delirium?
Maybe I knew I was going to be OK?
The blood pressure cuff went off every 15 minutes, but I slept.
Rob said, that next morning, "I couldn't get out of the house. Everyone was calling."
"What do you mean everyone? How would they know?" I asked. I felt like we were all alone on the moon, so far away from everything.
"I told them at your work, like you asked me to, so Patti called people and Nooni sent an email to everybody, so now they're calling me." He was overwhelmed with everything; the phone calls, the kids, and fear of widowhood, but I was deeply excited that some people knew I was there. It made me feel much less alone in this weird place where I was laying in bed all day, getting really puffy all over, while my ear drained yellow ooze onto my pillow.
My mother said someone had brought a spinach lasagna to our house. She and the girls had eaten it! And it was delicious! I was so moved that someone was caring for my family when I couldn't. "Already? A lasagna! I just got here."
My sister also emailed her friends and old family friends so all those people also were praying for me and thinking of me and my family. I felt like George Baily in "It's a Wonderful Life," There's that opening scene above the house where all the frightened and loving prayers go up and up to the twinkling black and white galaxies. There the angels gather and hear everyone praying for him on his rough dark night.
I felt like I was being held by all the love and concern, which relieved me greatly because I couldn't seem to do it for myself. I couldn't focus on anything long enough to get through it. I couldn't meditate, pray, tap or send Reiki. I was out of it and mostly sleeping, drooling open-mouthed sleeping.
The nurse and aide washed me up head to toe with warm soapy water, changed my bedding under me, rolling me back and forth and then boosted me up in bed several times a day. I have given that kind of basic care to so many, mostly elderly, patients, it was surreal to be the one in bed with the sweet women chatting over you. They were glad to have me as a patient because I could actually talk with them and they don't usually get that in the ICU.
At one point later in the day my nurse came in and announced cheerfully, "We can all take off our protective gear! She doesn't have viral meningitis!" Hooray! Everyone took off their gowns and masks happily. They could breathe and stop wearing the hot plastic gowns.
The blood culture had come back positive for what could be Strep A so they picked the antibiotic that would kill both the possible bacterial meningitis and the Strep A. I am allergic to many antibiotics (Penicillins, Sulfa drugs, and Biaxin) which can be a problem. They chose a new one for me, Ceftriaxone, which I got every 12 hours. I didn't know any of this, but everyone seemed a bit lighter and things certainly looked much better with everyone out of their protective aprons and masks. We asked the results of the echo-cardiogram (when we asked the tech performing it if it looked OK, she said, "I can't tell you anything. The doctor will read it soon") So we asked the nurse, who hunted down the results and popped her head in to say, "Heart looks good, Katherine." Good words to hear.
I lay on my left side so my ear could drain a straw colored fluid onto my pillow. Nasty. Lots of pillow case changes. I was really puffy from all the fluid and the left side of my face was bigger because I was laying on it all the time. The Franklin nurse had thought to had thought to take off my rings before I got in the ambulance. My hands had been getting tight and big from all the IV fluids and the nurse didn't want them to be cut off later. It had felt creepy pulling them off and handing them to Rob. I never take them off. My angel necklace was taken off first thing in the ER when they first put the monitors on me.
Coming down the highway to see me that next morning, Rob got a call from Georgia's school that Georgia had a rash. My mother had to go pick her up at school and take both her and Lily to the doctor. Georgia had scarlet fever (a form of Strep A with rash). Both the girls were started on antibiotics. We had been getting newsletters and even an automated phone call from Lily's school saying that strep was in every grade and to monitor your children carefully. But I didn't have a sore throat or patches or swollen glands, neither did Georgia. She just had a cough and now a rash. I never would have thought to get either of us cultured until the rash hit.
My blood pressure started to improve, maybe the medicines and the fluids were finally catching up with the illness. At some point I stabilized enough to be transferred to another regular floor. I didn't have a fever. My heart was OK. The antibiotics were working. I was very nauseous and vomiting and they were giving me meds for that, but nothing seemed to really help. I hadn't eaten for three days so I would dry heave a couple times an hour when I wasn't sleeping. They thought it could be either the antibiotics, the sepsis (the actual blood infection makes people feel terrible for a while), or the ear infection/rupture (may have messed with my inner ear, which can take a long time to resolve) Great. So even though I was happy to be doing better, I felt worse. My family looked exhausted but relieved. We were firmly told the children were not allowed to visit. No one under 12, for their own safety.
I had no sense of how much time had passed, what season it was, really what my life was like. I loved my mother's detailed updates about who stopped by and left bread or a casserole. It helped me remember and imagine normal life.
I didn't want to leave the ICU. I loved the nurses, having a private room and the attention of a sea of skilled doctors. We had settled in. But my nurse said, "You don't want to need us. It's good news, Katherine. It's a good thing." They found me a room on Springfield 2 and we packed up my stuff and I rolled down unfamiliar corridors once more.