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Getting a second chance at life

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I never thought I’d write a post like this, especially not this specific post. At the very core of my being is just a sense of gratitude, joy and appreciation for well, everything. I’m especially thankful for the ER, PCU and ICU teams who gave me a second chance at life last month. But even more than that, I have nothing but gratitude toward God, who kept me calm in the middle of the nightmare and hurricane and fought for me when I couldn’t keep fighting and going.

For probably two or three months now I’ve had this feeling that something was going to happen with regards to food allergies and that it was going to be bad, but that I was going to be ok. I’ve had dreams about food allergies before… the weird, the scary, and the, well, warnings. I’ve had dreams out of the blue about having a reaction, and then a week later, it happens, very similar to the dream. I don’t know why. It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes it does.

All was looking up. I was biking to work pretty much every day unless I had an evening shift. I biked over to a bike shop and got my bike tuned up and boy, I already liked my bike (freedom!!), but now, I LOVED my bike. I’ve biked to the doctor’s office, the pharmacy, I biked to the fabric store, to church… yup. Life was awesome. I ran a 5K. I biked an 11.5 mile round trip to Whole Foods. Oh, and I should mention, I have asthma and am on daily meds to keep me able to function. I was doing great. My family left me at home while they went on vacation and I stayed home because I had work. Yeah, I’d have liked to go along, but it was ok. I was going to have the most awesome 3 weeks on my own, biking everywhere, rocking out metrics at work, and doing stuff at church and at home.

Well, nope. That wasn’t to be. My great plans all turned to dust. Instead I ended up in the ER a few days after they left because someone at church ate nuts around me. The medical team at church did a great job of watching me, getting medical history for the EMT crew, even convincing me I needed to epi (I really don’t like having to use it). The EMT crew was pretty good too. The ER crew… nope. A dose of oral steroids, a neb, and a tiny steroid taper rx and I was sent home. I spent the night at my brother’s place, got up the next morning, took the metro and bus to work, and went on with life. Or so that was my plan.

I thought I was having a rebound reaction from the day before from how itchy I was. I kept pulling out wipe after wipe to clean the counters and registers. Then I realized why. Someone (exactly who, I don’t know) had forgotten about the no nuts and peanuts rule at work. There was a bag of trail mix under the counter right by the imprinting machine (which I was right by). I was so incredibly groggy from the antihistamines I took. And I was insanely itchy. Finally that calmed down, and my boss sent me to the back to rest for a bit because I was so sleepy. Then my tongue started to swell. As I came back out on the floor and was talking with him he looked at me and said, “MC, what’s going on? This is scaring me.” I couldn’t talk without slurring my words. So, I pulled out epi. The swelling went down. And then it came back. The next shift of coworkers came in and one came in, picked me and my stuff up and took me straight to the ER. I used a second epi in the car en-route. And when we got in there, I was able to talk normally. I showed the guy at triage the used epipen and explained what was going on, he told me to wait. Really?!? Then he pulls me back, sits me in a chair and tells me they’ll be with me shortly. Uhhhhh……???!

I sat there for a good 20 minutes, my tongue starting to swell again. I said to the lady next to me, “I shouldn’t be sitting here. This is the 2nd epipen I’ve used in 20 minutes and my tongue is starting to swell again.” “No, you really shouldn’t be sitting here!” she replied. “I’m a teacher, I’m trained in this. You should be taken care of already, not sitting here!” And so she got the attention of nurses who finally got me triaged. They took one look at me, saw what was going on, saw I didn’t have the greatest vitals or breath sounds, and got me back into the resus room. To be quite honest, I don’t remember what they did except for start and IV, get meds in me, give me another dose of epi or two, and at one point considered the possibility of starting and epi-drip and mentioned they may intubate me if necessary. I turned the corner, stabilized, and after several hours of being clear was sent back home. I spent the night again with my brother and sister-in-law, and spent the day at their place the following day as it happened to be my day off work.

I spent the morning hunting down a pharmacy with epipens and did a surprising amount of walking around downtown that day. Quite thankful for the metro! That certainly cut down on my walking. What amazed me was that my legs didn’t hurt from multiple epis. I wasn’t about to complain as there have been times when I’ve limped for a good week after epi.

What happened that afternoon, I don’t know. I started having another allergic reaction. It could’ve been a rebound from the day before. Or, it could’ve been due to nuts or peanuts at my brother’s place. They hadn’t eaten any while I was there but I did notice one of the hand soaps had peanut oil in it. I thankfully caught that before I used it! It looked really great as it was white tea soap… then I saw it had peanut oil. Whatever the cause, I don’t know for certain. But when my tongue started swelling and I was feeling like a chipmunk despite Benadryl and Atarax, I knew I was in trouble.

I had enough common sense in me to unlock the door to the apartment while I could still walk. Then I sat on the mattress I was on and everything went downhill. I was texting with a friend about what to do and she kept insisting epi. I knew I needed it. I don’t have a phobia of needles. More like I have a phobia of the ER. And epi = the ER. Also, the epipen’s shape isn’t exactly very encouraging to use. I finally mustered the courage to use my epipen, and then my friend insisted I call 911 because my brother and sister-in-law weren’t home yet.

And to top everything off, I didn’t even know the address to my brother’s apartment. He did have a landline, so I called from that, and then while I was on the phone with the 911 operator I searched through my emails on my phone and found the address (my brother just moved there the week before). It didn’t take long for the EMT crew to get there. They helped me up, checked vitals, and got me loaded up in the ambulance. Shut the doors, and turned lights and sirens on as we went to the hospital. They got an IV started, got me a neb, and then just as we pulled up into the ambulance bay, they gave me another dose of epi before rolling me into the ER as I was deteriating in front of them.

The next hours were a blur. I spent quite a bit of time in the ER. Since I had been in the ER 2 times in the last 2 days there was no way they were going to let me go home that night. It was clear to everyone that they’d admit me. The question was just when and where.

I will say, there was this dear lady on a cot in the hall right outside my room who had a friend with her to keep her company while they slowly worked on un-super-gluing her eye, and those two ladies were quite a hoot! They kept me quite entertained. Though, unbeknownst to me, they were eating a peanut butter sandwich about 3-4 yards from me. And during that time my tongue started to swell again. The ER doc and nurse took one look in my mouth and said to get more epi and that they’d need to admit me to the ICU for sure. My heart sank. I’m not a fan of the ICU. It means you basically don’t get sleep.

I thought it’d be like the 2 previous times I got admitted to the ICU. Pretty simple. Observation and meds as needed and steroids and all around the clock, then after a day or two they’d send me home. Nope. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Several more doses of epi, nebs, Benadryl, steroids, and more later, there was a bed in the PCU (a step down from the ICU) that opened, and they moved me there. But they kept having to give me more epi every 30 minutes to 2 hours. Over 14 hours they gave me 12 doses. And that’s not counting the several I had the 2 previous days.

I found out during shift change that I had freaked out the charge nurse during the night in the PCU. She told the day nurse that she’d watched the epi kick in, witness the swelling go down, and then watched the epi wear off during the course of a 15 minute conversation we had. I couldn’t lay back in the bed for long because the epi kept wearing off and my tongue kept obstructing my airway and I kept slurring words and wasn’t always so easy to understand when I tried to talk. But The swelling finally stayed away long enough for me to finally manage to sleep for 45 minutes.

The morning started out great. I felt so much better after sleeping just 45 minutes. We thought we had kicked it. Nope. Several doses of epi, Benadryl, steroids and more later, I was exhausted. I called my nurse again, told him the epi just wasn’t lasting long enough anymore. He grabbed the doctor. I said the same thing to him, the best I could with a really swollen tongue and feeling like a chipmunk inside my mouth. He stayed calm. “Ok, we’re going to stop this.” I heard him go into the hall and say something to the nurses out there and before I knew it there was a swarm of people around my bed. They pushed more Benadryl, steroids, gave a whole milligram of epi as a sub-q (under the skin) injection rather than in the muscle. The normal dose is 0.3mg. Respiratory was called, I heard the ICU doc tell someone to have the intubation stuff ready and to have several sizes of tube ready. I was gagging, could barely breathe, felt like I was choking.

“Just keep breathing,” the ICU doc said as I closed my eyes and just tried to breathe when I felt like I was choking and trying to throw up, “you’re doing great.” They started an epi-drip too. And slowly, I came around the corner. The swelling went down. I could breathe again. I felt like just collapsing into the tub they had shoved in front of me when I was trying to throw up, one nurse still holding suction to keep me from choking on my own saliva.

We had avoided intubation. For 10-15 minutes that is. They wheeled me down the hall to the ICU to keep a closer eye on me, and when we got there the decision was made to just go ahead and intubate me while I still had an airway because they didn’t want to have to put a trach in. Or, in other words, they didn’t want to have to cut my neck to get a tube down to keep me alive. They gave me a racemic epi neb, and while after that I could breathe better, the swelling started to come back again within minutes.

I was so wiped out. I couldn’t keep fighting. Just minutes before when I was struggling to get air in and out I remember thinking, “Ok God, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t keep fighting.” And I just had a sense of peace and God saying “It’s ok, I’ve got you. I’ll fight for you.” And that he did.

Since I had a few minutes while I wasn’t super swollen as they prepped everything for intubation, I texted my best friends and a few other people about what was going on. I handed my phone to the nurse, asked her to plug it in to charge, and looked at the ICU team and they lay me down and put me to sleep.

I remember hearing someone ask me if I was still awake, then they said they were going to give me another dose of propofol. Then next thing I knew, I thought I had only slept 45 minutes and that they had failed in the intubation. I coughed out the tube and a bunch of gunk, and then I remember hearing ladies speaking in Chinese over me as they shoved a suction thingy in my mouth. I was bewildered. What on earth was going on? Where was I? As I woke up more, I watched my nurse erase “Thursday May 15th” on the board across the room and replace it with “Friday, May 16th”.

WAIT.

What??? I thought it was WEDNESDAY! What happened to Thursday???!!? I thought I’d only been unconscious for 45 minutes, not almost two full days.

I was quite bewildered as to what had happened. Slowly, over the next few days I began to put the pieces together and found out that while I was intubated they had gotten a med from NIH and that may have helped. My brother came by and checked in on me. When a nurse handed me my phone so I could tell my friends I was awake, I found that I had 154 text messages. Yes. 154. And a TON of facebook and twitter notifications as well. Little did I know, but there were TONS of people praying for me and rooting me on.

I also found out that a LOT had happened during the almost two days I was unconscious. I completely forgot I had asked my best friends to call my boss to tell him what was going on, and he passed that on to the whole district and all the stores in the district where I work were praying for me.

At one point my brother removed my best friends from the approved contact list I had given before intubation and so for 24 hours my two best friends had no clue if I was dead or alive. And that was only part of what happened. The rest can be summarized by saying that a LOT happened, and I was oblivious to it all. Later I asked one of my nurses about it and how I have a black hole in my memory and I don’t have a clue what happened and she told me, “We erased it from your memory for you, you don’t need to know what happened.”

The first few days following waking up were rough. I still had swelling come back a few times. So they left me on a clear diet because they were still worried they may have to reintubate me. I was so hungry. And with multiple food allergies there wasn’t much (if anything) I could eat from what the kitchen brought. I kept trying to yell at them (I was so hoarse from intubation that I didn’t really manage to yell) to not bring me food. It was to no avail. They still kept bringing in trays 3 times a day.

Out of all the people who cared for me while I was intubated, none of them knew me… except for one. When I woke up she came and saw me and asked if I worked at a certain store. Yup. “I knew it! I knew it! I kept telling them that I know this girl!” Awkward much? Yup. But she was really sweet. And as odd as it seems, I look forward to seeing her in the store again just so I can give her a hug and thank her for taking care of me.

Even though I still didn’t feel great after waking up, I was doing MUCH better. And all the nurses commented on how much better I looked now that I wasn’t on the vent. I snapped some pictures before and after and I have to agree, I looked a lot better. Still wasn’t back to normal, but my face looked better and as the nurses kept commenting, “you don’t have tubes sticking out of you!”

I expected I’d get moved out of the ICU pretty quick. Nope. I didn’t get moved out of the ICU till Monday. They moved me to the med/surgery floor. And that’s when the phenomenal care I had gotten so far at the hospital stopped. They took me off all monitors. Stuck me in a room with someone else. And when I called the nurse for meds, it took FOREVER to get someone to come. And then I found out the ICU docs had changed all my meds to oral and dropped the doses way low. I went from 60mg of predniosone every 6 hours and 25-50 of Benadryl every 6 hours, to just one dose a day… orally. They took off the “neb as needed” from my chart. Ditto on epi. So when I had an asthma attack it took forever to get meds. They told me they’d keep a really close eye on me there. Nope.

To make matters worse, I listened to my roommate order from the kitchen 2 peanut butter sandwiches… with EXTRA peanutbutter. I couldn’t believe my ears. I was still really hoarse, also completely out of breath from the asthma attack, and now I’m hearing her order peanutbutter right after she denied having any peanut butter in the room. She went off to surgery just as her sandwiches came in. And I tried to explain to the nurse that I couldn’t be around it. She just laughed at me for thinking that because I THOUGHT that there was peanutbutter in the room that I was having an allergic reaction again. She LAUGHED. Yes. Finally, I explained in tears everything I’d been through in the last week. I was on a really high dose of steroids so I couldn’t control the emotions. I’d been INTUBATED because someone ate nuts next to me without me even knowing it. And here they were laughing at me for thinking I could have an allergic reaction to being around nuts. She said that the reason my throat felt swollen was because I had been intubated. Um, no, this was a different kind of swollen than just from the intubation.

Then all of a sudden it dawned on the nurse what was going on. She did a 180, and took care of the situation. Got me Benadryl, got the neb I needed, and took the peanutbutter out of the room, washed her hands, and got me a cup of water and ice chips and then stood there with me for a bit as my body calmed down slowly.

I called a friend who’s an allergy nurse and has been intubated several times herself due to severe asthma. I thought I was crazy, but she agreed with me that the situation I was in was really, really bad, and as crazy as it seemed, it was better to leave AMA (against medical advice) and if necessary go back to the ER. The ER knew better how to take care of me than the med/surgery floor.

My roommate came back from surgery and we ended up chatting about the peanutbutter and she explained (upset at first) that peanut butter was the only thing she could actually eat without major GI problems and so she had to have her peanut butter. Really? You have got to be kidding me. But, as we chatted about it, she softened and started to understand better. It took all afternoon and evening to get the mess sorted out. I pestered the nurses so much about leaving they finally got an ER doc to come up and talk to me.

Lo and behold, she had been in the ER the night I was admitted and remembered me, even though I hadn’t seen her. She knew I’d been intubated. And she knew that I wasn’t stable enough to go home. She was clearly not happy with my begging to leave. So, she compromised. She fixed the med doses, got them back to IV, put in my chart that I could have epi if needed, ditto on nebs and other meds. And they moved me to a private room so I wouldn’t have to deal with a roommate eating peanut butter. And she said they’d work on answering my call bell faster than they had been.

She looked at me and said that if I left now and had to come back, there would be a good chance they’d have to reintubate me and it being so soon, that would cause a lot more trauma to my body and be a LOT harder for my body to recover. She did well. She fixed the mess I was in, and got everything taken care of. I got moved to another room, and managed to sleep 5 ½ hours that night. That was the first time in a week I’d slept longer than 45 minutes.

I finally got discharged the following day. I was so ready to get out of the hospital and rest without monitors beeping, doctors, techs and nurses coming in all the time for meds and vitals. As I waited for the last bit of discharge stuff to be taken care of a coworker and former coworker came by to chat for an hour. That was a HUGE blessing. My sister-in-law picked me up, and we went to her and my brother’s place where I crashed for a nap while she went shopping for food and meds for me. I was outside for the first time in a week and the weather was absolutely amazing. Little did I know that the week I spent in the hospital it rained a lot!

Having been in bed for basically a whole week and also not being allowed to eat much of anything, I lost a LOT of muscle. Like, a LOT. I had to think about walking. Something as simple as putting one foot in front of the other took lots of focus and I had to think to myself “heel, toe, heel, toe,” and go super slow. My balance was really bad. And usually I have really great balance.

It was a rough few days I spent completely exhausted. My SIL took me down to whole foods, and just getting on and off the escalator was a feat. I never felt so uncoordinated in my life! I felt like a discombobulated penguin waddling at a diagonal.

It’s now been almost 3 weeks since I was discharged. I’m back home-home rather than with my brother and SIL. I’m back at work. My boss eased me back into the schedule. But I’m still struggling with balance some. Part of my left hand and foot are numb, which my new allergist thinks is related to how I was positioned during intubation, and I have a feeling is related to my balance issues when I walk. But I’m a lot steadier than I was, and I even got back on my bike today!!! The smile on my face as my sister and I biked several times around our neighborhood was pretty much ear to ear. It felt different than I remembered biking feeling like. But, it felt good. Hopefully in a week I’ll be back to biking to work.

Emotionally, it’s been rough. Thankfully I’m on a MUCH lower dose of steroids and only have a few days left of the taper, but my body can’t seem to sleep despite being exhausted. I’m slowly regaining my coordination. I take walks to work on rebuilding muscle I lost. It’s a fight. But I’m not giving up.

Going back to the beginning of this post though, the very core of myself has changed. The ICU team gave me a second chance at life. And I’m realizing that I don’t have to be the same. I don’t have to run around like I’m in a rat race.

The first few days out of the hospital were the hardest. When I was in Whole Foods, I was walking so slow, and even just someone walking past me would almost knock me off balance. Everyone it seemed was busy, busy, busy, and running around in their own “happy” little worlds, and here I was, exhausted, feeling like I couldn’t keep up with anything or anyone. It was devastating at first. As I slowly got back on my feet over the next few days and managed to get lost in downtown (and then get un-lost thanks to GPS on my phone!) on my way to the pharmacy on my own, I started to process everything.

While I was in the ICU I watched Brave and Frozen. Probably a dozen times each. Those are now among my favorite movies. They also helped me process through what I’d been through. That and all the time I spent trying to sleep but couldn’t due to the crazy dose of prednisone I was still on.

On Tuesday, the 3rd day I ended up in the ER, I woke up that morning, bright and early, and couldn’t sleep. So, I pulled out my kindle, opened the Bible app, and found myself in Psalm 46. As I read, I found myself encouraged and something saying in my soul, “Be still and know, I am God, I’m the creator of the universe, I’ve got you. You’re going to be ok.” I didn’t have the slightest clue what the next day would hold. But I had peace. I knew God was going to take care of me, whatever it was that would happen. I remember texting one of my best friends, “I have this weird feeling that something really bad is going to happen. Idk what, but I feel like whatever it is, I’m going to be ok.” She was a bit freaked out by that text, but I don’t think she had any clue what was going to happen either.

A bit over 24 hours and countless doses of epi, Benadryl, and prednisone later, I found myself, choking, a whole swarm of doctors, nurses and RTs around me, pushing more meds into multiple IVs. I was trying to throw up while gagging. Gasping for air. “God, I can’t keep fighting. I can’t do this anymore.” And I felt a reply, “That’s ok, I’ve got you.” Despite the storm raging inside my body and the team of doctors, nurses and all fighting to keep me alive, I was oddly calm. I was gagging and gasping for air. But I knew somehow I was going to be ok.

Having to slow down due to balance issues since it all, and just a lack of energy and also learning to re-coordinate my body, has also been a catalyst to realizing that I don’t have to run around like a crazy person in a rat race to accomplish things. I’ve also realized that I don’t have to accomplish all the things I thought I had to before.

Being intubated for nearly 2 whole days in order to keep you alive and spending almost a week in the ICU really changes your perspective on, well, everything. The things you thought were important suddenly don’t matter as much, and things you had overlooked as trivial you realize are more important.

I’m an introvert. No, that doesn’t mean I’m shy. I can be. I definitely used to be. What it does mean is that I have to recharge on my own. I grew up in 4-H. I learned public speaking and how to reach out to people and include them in things. I’ve been that odd duck that didn’t know how to fit in. I still am at times. I’m different. But I also work in retail. The store is a small Christian bookstore. At first walking up to customers to ask if they needed help was awkward. But I got used to it. And now I absolutely love my job. I love that I get to interact with people… complete strangers (and regular customers become friends)… and I get to encourage them. I get to find out things about them and sometimes they’re the ones who encourage me. I get to make them laugh sometimes. Other times a transaction ends with a hug or tears. I’ve shared bits and pieces from my life, my best friend’s life and legacy, or other things that come up.

I get to go to work every day and brighten someone’s day. I get to bring a smile to their face. I get to challenge people with ideas and inspirations. And really, whether or not you work in the same kind of place as I do, or if you work in a cubicle, at the end of the day, how have you impacted the PEOPLE around you? How have you interacted with them? What kind of legacy did you leave for that day?

As people, we crave relationships. We were made to relate. We also don’t live on earth forever. I honestly don’t know if I’ll live another day. It can be scary. I love my church. But I don’t feel safe enough to go back yet. I work with people every day. Comeplete strangers. Some have walked in the doors eating a bag of nuts (yes, this happened, and yes, unfortunately I ended up in the ER). I’ve had conversations with customers and my food allergies came up and then they said, “oh! I had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch! I, uh, I think I washed my hands since then….” I think I’ve freaked out my boss enough that he’s now paranoid about ANY coworker bringing anything in from Panera (because they have so many items with nuts there) or other places. But I still never know what the customers walking in the door just ate or are eating.

My very bestest friend died at the age of 19 years and 3 days. That was 3 ½ years ago. I still miss her so, so, so much. But it also affects my perspective on life and death, and well, everything. Is what am I doing important? Sometimes it’s the little things and the relationships that are important, not the “big” things.

I’ll be quite honest. If it wasn’t for my faith in God and that there is a hope beyond death and that he sent is one and only son, Jesus, to die despite being blameless, and pay the price for all the things I’ve done wrong, then I don’t think I’d still be alive. I’ve been through SO much in just 23 years of life that without a reason to live for beyond this short life, I’d be completely depressed, hopeless, and probably have committed suicide.

But I haven’t. And I’m not depressed. And I am not hopeless. Quite the contrary. I have more strength to go forward than I ever thought I’d have. I can’t do this on my own. But, day by day, God gives me the encouragement from His Word, the Bible, to keep going forward. It may sound absurd, but really, it’s the only reason I have a reason to keep living. To keep on encouraging people I encounter every day whether at work, as I’m shopping, taking a walk, or wherever. There are so many broken people in the world and I’ve realized that I can encourage them through my story, through the things I’ve read, listened to, been through, watched, etc.

How on earth people find my story encouraging, I don’t always understand. I’ve nearly died. Several times. But I’m not giving up. I have a hope that doesn’t make sense. But it also makes perfect sense. And it’s the reason I keep fighting and am not giving up.

The simple fact that the God who created the universe by just speaking it into existence, who keeps everything running, knows the name of every star, tells every blade of grass how much to grow each day, each flower how much to open each day and when to close for the night, tells the clouds and wind where to blow, where each drop of rain should fall, knows the exact number of grains of sand on the ENTIRE PLANNET…. And that he also cares enough about ME, a girl (who is one of countless other humans who have lived) who is far from perfect, and keeps me calm while my body has a storm raging inside and keeps me alive… I have nothing but gratitude. And that adjective is far from the right one to really describe my heart and core.

I’ll end with this:

I look forward… no, I LONG for… to the day when God calls me home to heaven and says “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Really. I can’t wait. But till then, I’m going to keep on going here. Encouraging people I meet. Doing my best to do whatever it is I need to do that day. Yes, I still worry about having another allergic reaction. But, I know that if it’s my time, then hallelujah, I’m going HOME!!! If not, then God still has work for me to do here, and I’ll keep on going. Am I perfect? Nope. Does that mean I can’t be a blessing and encourage people and shine light in a scary and dark world? Heck no! So, I’m going to keep going, shining a light of encouragement.

So, are you going to join me? Light up some more candles and let’s make a difference. Do I expect to turn the whole world around? No. But that’s not going to stop me from making a difference right where I am right now.

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1 Comment

  1. You are an inspiration! Praying for you! Please be safe!

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