I started this post almost three weeks ago. It only had a title when I opened to edit it. Deep Breaths seem even more fitting than before. It’s a lovely reminder especially right now. I made this lung love video, mostly in an attempt to bring some normalcy back into our lives. I’m actually here to share pieces of how our world cracked open a little bit.
I know everyone is in a unique situation right now, each one different, each with struggles. I feel very grateful to be where I am, in a warm house, with my three favorite people. Shane and I both work from home, which is a blessing. I know that many of you aren’t in that boat. You’ve been laid off, you can’t pay rent, you are plagued with worry about what will happen to your small business, our kids might not go back to school this year, you’re living paycheck to paycheck and this is rocking your world. These worries plus the heightened anxiety surrounding this pandemic are stressful and scary. Will I get sick? Will someone I love get sick? What are we to do? My last post, Calm, mentioned this very thing. This is when we reach out, check in, make sure our neighbors are okay, call our grandmas, check on single friends, but also stay home, please. If you can’t do anything else, I guess this is it, this is what the world needs right now. This and deep breaths.
At the commencement of social distancing we thought bringing entertainment, such as this, was of the utmost importance.
Turns out, entertainment like this is of the utmost importance, so those of you that have been sharing on social media, keep that shit coming. Make sure you lighten your thoughts each day with something uplifting.
Now back to deep breathing. A little over a week ago, only a day after we wrote this little ditty, Shane got sick. He got so so so sick; he almost died. Without the lifesaving ICU at our hospital, and some fast-acting doctors and an anesthesiologist, we wouldn’t be making any more songs like this one.
It started Saturday night with trouble sleeping, restlessness, and back pain. Lower back pain isn’t uncommon for him, so we didn’t think it was anything too out of the ordinary, just a rough night. We were able to get him back to sleep with ibuprofen, a bath, and some CBD muscle massage. The pain was mostly in his right lower back, but spiraled around to the front a wee bit more than normal. The next day (Sunday) we laid low, tried to relax, kept a wee bit of ibuprofen in him. He had discolored urine, so we thought he had a UTI (started tinctures and lots of water). He wasn’t in that much pain (although now I think the guy probably has an incredible pain tolerance). We planned to hang tight until morning and head in for some antibiotics. Around 5:30 pm things got worse. He got cold, shaking uncontrollably, unable to stand. I made a dash for the thermometer, having to stop briefly in the hallway and squat, so I didn’t pass out. I can hold my cool, but this felt intense. He was running a temp. He finally threw up; I think that probably calmed his nervous system enough that we were able to get him to the car and the ER. So much for social distancing.
The ER had strict COVID-19 safety rules in place already when we bumped through the doors. I think you can imagine how we felt about going to the hospital in the midst of all of this.
“Do you have a cough? Do you have a fever? Have you been out of the country in the last month?” He had to wear a mask because of his fever.
We were escorted to a room and the medical staff started troubleshooting. Blood work, urine samples, a cat scan, a lung x-ray, a masturbating neighbor who ended up being eventually restrained, and 6 hours later he was admitted. It was determined he had kidney stones and a kidney infection in his upper right kidney. This seemed unique to all of the practitioners we spoke with, he shouldn’t be experiencing pain with the stones up so high in his kidney. And, the infection surrounding the stones was something they’d never seen either.
We spent the night on the 5th floor of the hospital and the tentative plan was surgery at 2 pm on Monday. An echo-cardiogram was performed to be sure his heart was healthy and strong for the procedure. Everything was a go. We made our way to pre-op, Shane in a moving bed, with me trailing behind. I was instructed to take his ‘personal belongings’ for safe keeping. I wore his wedding ring on the inside of mine, his only personal belonging, and made my way to the sunshine-filled waiting room. I found some coffee to fill my nervous guts. I’d had no food since 2 pm the day before, but I didn’t feel hungry. Shane wasn’t eating, I wasn’t either. I think we both thought this was going to be a simple procedure, in and out.
The surgery ended up being complicated. Shane wasn’t oxygenating well, so it was cut short. The infection made it’s way into his blood. The doctor told me he was a lot sicker than they thought. No condolences were offered when the tears started to stream down my cheeks. He told me, stone-faced, they ended up taking him to the ICU after they got things under control in the operating room and intubated him. Although he said someone would, nobody came to tell me where to go, no direction, I sat there for two hours after that report. It felt like an eternity. I finally got brave enough to ask how to get to him.
My emotions were a little wild, I was mostly feeling really scared. I’m not sure if anything could’ve prepared me for my arrival to room 358. Shane had a breathing tube down his throat, his hands were tied to the bed, he had a fan on his chest because he still had such a high fever, and he was hooked to a billion beeping monitors. All of these things were keeping him alive. The only thing keeping me grounded was his nurse. She was so calm, so I chose to mimic that. When he woke up and tried to move I calmly reminded him where he was, that he had a breathing tube, that’s why his hands were tied, to just try and stay calm. He would nod once and his eyes would roll back into his head. He doesn’t remember seeing my face at all, but I know that my touch, to his hot chest, and voice soothed him enough to allow him to fall back asleep for a minute between each panicked awakening.
He seemed stable, or at least that was the sense I got from that calm nurse. I don’t even remember her name, but I will never forget her face. Doctors and nurses were filtering in and out of the room. A doctor, who seemed to be extra important, entered the room and told me we should probably do an endoscopic procedure, while Shane still had his breathing tube. He told me we could sedate him again and he wouldn’t even remember it. There was a risk, as with any decision we made in this moment, but he felt now was the best time for Shane. I had to sign a medical waiver, I banked on one head nod from Shane and the reassurance of that doctor. That doctor was the kindest one I’d come across so far. He looked in my eyes, he talked softly and made me feel safe. He said if he were in Shane’s position, he’d want the procedure done now rather than later. I couldn’t help but wish that someone else was in Shane’s position. I felt desperate, I wanted to consult with Shane, we don’t make big decisions without chatting with one another. What if he died, and I signed, I might never stop blaming myself. It was 6 pm. I asked when the procedure would be over. The doctor told me he would be done by 6:30 pm. I signed, kissed Shane’s head, squeezed his swollen hand one more time and let them put him back to sleep.
The procedure was to ensure his infection wasn’t affecting his heart, his heart rate had been elevated since we’d walked into the ER the night before. It turns out this was just one of the side effects of this infection, this demon taking him over. This was a battle. I silenced countless machines that would alert, only the two of us, that his heart rate was too fast again and his oxygen levels were low. I thank my doula years for not fearing to silence those beeping machines.
He slowly woke up after the procedure. With tied hands he was signaling to me. “What happened?” He had no memory, thankfully. I tried to fill him in. He signaled a blaster. “They blasted some of your kidney stones, but not all of them. Your blood pressure dropped and heart rate spiked and they had to pull you out to save you. You have a stent that will hopefully drain the rest of the infection out of your kidney and maybe pass the last stone.” Around 8:30 pm the staff decided to remove the breathing tube, I opted to stand in the hallway while that was done. I can’t quite explain the way I felt when I heard his voice for the first time, when I came back in the room and sat beside him. We cried, one less tube.
I only left his side, to get a bag of food from my sweet friend in the parking lot, and a danger hug. If I’ve ever really needed a hug and an orange in my life, it was probably that moment. Our society had been instructed to bump elbows. Quarantine hugs were/are forbidden.
Without my asking, the new ICU nurse ordered a cot for me. “We don’t generally order cots here in the ICU.” I found out two days later that overnight stays aren’t permitted. There was no fucking way I was leaving. Shane made slow progress through the night, with a few ‘showers’. Showers were terrifying. BP would drop, HR would spike, oxygen levels would drop and the room would fill with 8 nurses and a doctor in an attempt to stabilize him again.
I spent a lot of time staring at the heart-shaped bag collecting his watermelon juice colored urine. I’d find a nurse when it bulged. It felt like progress when his catheter was removed. One more tube out.
I’d been told in the ER, an eternity ago, that the hospital was likely putting a strict no-visitors policy in place on Wednesday. I tucked each victory, on Tuesday, into a special bank I could reference later. I got the news I would have to leave that night by 10 pm. Twice on Tuesday we walked a couple of laps around the block of ICU rooms. I kept thinking and knowing those rooms were about to be filled with coronavirus patients. For now they were filled with people that had fallen off of roofs, were battling cancer, and fighting for their lives. The nurses would be paged from time to time, “I need help in room blah, with a patient having a seizure.” All of these things and thoughts put life in perspective. My head would spin at night. Not only are things really unstable, but are we being exposed to this pandemic in the hospital? I stripped down and showered immediately when I got home. What if I exposed my kids? The thoughts kept me from sleep, which kept me from sanity, you know the cycle.
By the time I left, Shane had the grape juice he’d been wanting for days on his bedside table, his pain was managed (at least for a few hours) and he seemed peaceful. I needed to spend a couple of waking hours with my kids, so I kissed his forehead again and snuck out. No visitors meant I’d have to rely on him texting me back, but checking his phone wasn’t at the top of his list. Leaving him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
I woke at 4:30 am to a whisper. “See ya Baby.” I felt it. I could smell it. I was in a deep dream state and his words pulled me out. I sat straight up and texted him. I ended up calling the nurses’ station because I didn’t hear from him in the 4 minutes I was able to wait and remain semi-calm. I knew he’d been moved out of the ICU and my name/number wasn’t on his white board anymore. I called 3 or 4 times and got a message from Verizon that my call would not go through. Was he okay? Did he leave? I finally got through but his nurse was busy, she’d call me back. When she did, she told me he’d just pushed his button because he was having a lot of pain. I sobbed. Shane would come home 12 hours later.
The medical professionals are saving their limited amounts of COVID-19 test kits for the people that really need them. Shane was never officially tested, instead he ended up having two chest x-rays to rule out the virus. We’d been in Seattle within the last two weeks, he had some fluid on his lungs after surgery, so he had a few rounds of questioning. The infectious disease doctor finally ruled out C19, but this was all without an official test. Tests aren’t easy to come by, hopefully this changes. The hospital staff is/was brave and loving, and they know this is the calm before the storm. They are gearing up and we need them to stay healthy, so I’m thankful that people are adhering to the restrictions put in place. The hospital was empty, eery. While I laid on my cot, I got an email: “I am so sad to inform you that in light of recent developments due to COVID-19, until further notice doulas will be restricted from attending births at Providence St. Patrick’s Family Maternity Center. Community Medical Center and other hospitals across the country have also implemented this change.” This made the baby song playing over the speakers, the 4 times I heard it, bittersweet.
Thank you for doing the responsible thing. If you aren’t staying home, and you are able to, you really should be. I’ve seen the conflicting media, but our entire country needs you to do the responsible thing right now. Maybe you aren’t worried you’ll get sick, what if you get someone else sick?, even if you aren’t showing symptoms. Please stay home and away from others if possible.
Leaving the hospital made me realize there will be a lot of people, in these coming days, that have a sick loved one they cannot visit. If possible, try to have some sort of technology in place to communicate with that person, if they are able to chat. It could make all the difference. People need people, and people need extra love to heal when they are sick.
Shane’s blood infection is Methicillin sensitive staphylococcus aureus (MSSA). It won’t go away quickly. We likely have to treat it for an entire month at home. I inject him, via a PICC, every 8 hours with an antibiotic. It goes: first a saline flush, the antibiotic, another saline flush and lastly a heparin lock flush. SASH. All in all it takes about 45 minutes. It takes 30 minutes for the antibiotic to get to room temperature. When the injection begins the antibiotic needs to go in slowly, over 10 minutes. I love the entire process, the quiet, the ability to care for him at home, knowing those anti-bodies are fighting the good fight, staring at him and being so fucking thankful he’s still here. A nurse comes once a week to change the dressing on his arm. In the beginning I spent a lot of time cleaning the sticky residue off of his arms. In the past couple of days, as he’s finding more energy, I’ve met him downstairs at his work computer when it is time. I’m thankful for medicine. In a strange way, I’m thankful for this stay at home order, to heal.
Just a few more thankfuls: I have some very loving friends/family who knew the right things to say and do through all of this. Most importantly, I have some very strong loving children. They grew up a little bit extra this past week. They stayed home and took care of themselves for a few days. They did it responsibly, while probably feeling really scared. I’m thankful for video games and cellphones. That isn’t something I’d normally find myself saying, but being able to get in touch with them, check on them, and be reassured of their safety was necessary. Since we weren’t sure what Shane was sick with, we didn’t want anyone going to our house. When I got home to them, we cried and hugged hard, right after I showered.
I’ll leave you with this meditation and the guts of a class I held on Zoom a few nights ago. Maybe you’ll find some helpful snips in the notes. I’m sending so much love to each and every one of you, and I feel yours. Deep breaths. xo