As my friends and I toasted the arrival of 2020 on New Year’s Eve with all my hopes and plans for the months to come, I had no idea of the events soon to crash the peaceful shore of my life. A silent storm was brewing, and a life tsunami was about to break, not only for me personally but for everyone globally. Since that celebratory evening, life has taken on a surreal, cartoon-like quality with a theme similar to the post-apocalyptic movies that my family and I can’t get enough of.
Replacing a Filling
You’ll notice that my last published post on this blog before this one was on January 2nd, which ironically is when the first wave of trouble became visible on the horizon. It is only in retrospect that I realize an unseen life tsunami quake erupted in October of 2019 with a routine dental checkup. My dentist noticed that a metal filling in my bottom left back molar had broken. It wasn’t causing me pain, but she offered to replace it with a newer, white filling. I have dental coverage and was happy to have the mercury metal removed, so I readily agreed. Once the work was complete, my dentist warned me that it might be sensitive for a couple of weeks but if it continued to bother me after that, to contact her for a followup visit.
I experienced random sensitivity, but my dental history has been rife with such nuisances. I can’t count the times I’ve reported twinges and occasional tooth discomfort only to be told that nothing is amiss. Maybe it’s an invisible crack in a tooth that momentarily widened? Residual pain from clenching my teeth while I sleep? Sinus pressure? Perhaps it’s all in my head? Just use a toothpaste for sensitive teeth and hope for the best. I go for my regular cleanings and checkups. I brush my teeth two to three times a day, like clockwork. I don’t floss or rubber tip as often as I should, but I carry those handy disposable pics around to clear food from between my teeth as needed. The point is, oral pain and sensitivity are kind of the norm for me, so I wasn’t alarmed until the week between Christmas & New Years when I experienced an increase of pain during indiscriminate bites of food. My husband watched my reaction and urged me to call our dentist. I put it on my post-holiday to-do list.
Fast forward to January 2nd. Almost everyone at the New Year’s party we had attended came down with a terrible cold. No-one had shown up visibly sick because I wouldn’t have attended if they had. Unfortunately, one individual started feeling ill as the evening progressed, and the rest of us followed suit in the days immediately afterward. The worst symptom of this cold was the fever, chills and body ache. I have never had chills that bad in my life. I almost couldn’t open the medicine bottle because my hands shook so violently, and my teeth chattered so hard I was afraid I was going to break one. I also had a sore throat, stuffy nose and cough. It didn’t settle in my lungs, thankfully. Still the life tsunami wave was stealthily building in momentum.
Undetected Threat-Dentist Visit
I work from home, so I continued my writing and promoting an online group study that I was hosting. I produced my first promo video apologizing for my obvious cold symptoms. I stayed home and rested, but I noticed that my lower left jaw was throbbing now, so I picked up the phone and went to see my dentist on January 9th. She tapped my newly filled molar. Nothing. She put an instrument in my mouth in that area and asked me to bite on it. Nothing. She did x-rays. Nothing. I felt deflated. Not again.
“But my jaw is throbbing…” I complained weakly.
My dentist explained that it was likely inflammation as a result of my noticeable cold. She remarked on the size of my molar roots and said that I would need to see an oral surgeon if I wanted a root canal on the tooth or an extraction. We said good-bye with the promise to stay in touch if things got worse.
Undetected Threat-E.R. Visit #1
I rarely take medications. I treat headaches and a range of other symptoms with essential oils, so when I reach for a Tylenol, Advil or muscle relaxer, I am SUFFERING at a higher level. I started taking pain relievers, but by the early morning hours of January 13th, I woke Shawn and asked him to take me to the emergency room. I had a similar experience as my dental visit. No reaction to molar tapping. No issues showed in the x-ray.
“It has to be inflammation due to your cold,” I was told. I was given a shot for pain, a script for Prednisone and sent home deflated once again.
At this point, I was doing nothing but watching videos on the couch and taking pain meds as often as the bottle instructions allowed. I took the Prednisone as prescribed. I would feel better soon, I hoped. I had long since cancelled any plans with friends. I was staring at the empty ocean-bed of my days completely oblivious of the danger coming.
E.R. Visit #2-Surgery
In the early hours of January 15th, my husband and I dropped my parents off at the DTW airport, and on the drive home, the pain in my neck and jaw became unbearable even with pain medication. I started to cry and rock back and forth. I begged my tired, frustrated husband to take me back to the ER. I wasn’t going to leave without real treatment this time. We waited all day, and I didn’t see a specialist until late afternoon after she completed her clinic, but following a quick examination, she ruled out a throat abscess of any kind. The dental surgeon was contacted, and he came in that night to examine me. He too couldn’t see a problem with the molar in question, but now that my jaw and neck were visibly swollen, no-one could deny that there was a problem. I didn’t care about saving the tooth anymore and was relieved when I was prepped for surgery.
I shared my known issue with anesthesia and a past pulmonary embolism. Any allergies? Just codeine. I fell asleep for my surgery, fully expecting to wake a few hours later. My life tsunami wave had reached its peak and was quickly bearing down to submerse me.
TWO Weeks Sedation
I woke up from sedation FOURTEEN days later. The swelling in my jaw and neck would not go down enough for them to extubate me with confidence. There were initially five latex drainage tubes in my jaw. Apparently, upon the removal of the offending molar, there was a very dangerous abscess tucked away. I was initially put on penicillin as well. Every day they assessed my swelling and decided to wait a bit longer.
After ten days, a nurse suggested that my husband question all immediate relatives regarding allergies. My maternal grandmother, Anne Kuch, had both latex and penicillin allergies. I was switched to an alternative antibiotic and the two remaining latex drainage tubes were pulled from my jaw. Finally, the swelling dwindled significantly.
It was decided by the medical experts that a pre-emptive tracheotomy be performed in case my throat swelled close after extubation. This caused a lot of distress for me after waking from the surgery…even now two months later, I am waiting for my stoma to fully heal and the scar to fade. It was the best decision though, in light of my complications to complete the procedure.
I was somehow aware that my surgery experience had not gone as planned. I was lost in a struggle between unconsciousness, dreams, and brief periods of reality when they brought me close to consciousness to check my brain activity. In my mind, I had only been treated for FIVE days and it took a few corrections from my husband to convince me otherwise. If you are curious you can read all about my alter-experience in my next blog post called Life Tsunami: Through the Looking Glass. Just be warned, it makes very little sense as most recollections of hallucinations and dreams tend to do.
Before this life tsunami, I didn’t realize the effects a long sedation had on a person’s body. Muscle atrophy happens very quickly when a person is not moving for an extended period. In fact, the likelihood of recovery grows less with every day and two weeks is a significant damage threshold.
The days following extubation, I floated in and out of consciousness. I began a slow realization of my condition:
1. I couldn’t speak due to the tracheotomy.
2. I couldn’t sit, stand or generally move at all without assistance. I was a rag doll. It took 2 nurses to transition me into a chair. It felt like I had no bones or muscles in my body. I have never experienced that level of helplessness as an adult.
3. I had thrush in my mouth due to the antibiotics.
4. I was covered in a rash from the antibiotics.
5. The skin on my upper left arm was literally peeling off where the blood pressure cuff I had worn for 2 weeks had been. Somewhere along the way, they realized they needed to move it around but the damage to my skin had been done. It looked like I had a bad sunburn that was healing.
6. I was unable to eat or drink by mouth because my ability to swallow had also been affected by my 2-week sedation just as my other muscles had been. My swallow was also impacted by the remaining swelling in my jaw and neck. Barium swallow tests showed food moving dangerously close to my trachea instead of my esophagus.
7. Due to my initial lack of mobility, I became aware of being diapered and later, needed two nurses to help me use a portable toilet brought to my bedside. This was the first time in my life where I was cared for by an equal ratio of male nurses but I was too weak to care. Help was help.
8. My ability to use my hands was impaired by a severe tremor. When my family couldn’t read my lips I was given paper and grew more alarmed when my attempts to write resulted in illegible scrawl. I had no hand control! This page shown (below) is my real attempts to communicate via writing. It failed miserably. We played a mixed game of lip reading and limited hand charades that is comical now in retrospect.
Around the second day post-sedation, I opened my eyes and realized that this wasn’t a dream. This wasn’t someone else’s story. This was MY story, and I was stuck in it! I thought I was permanently disabled as a result of my surgery! I started to panic. What had happened to me??? My decision to leave my employment to pursue a writing/blogging passion from home was rooted in my ability to care for personal and family needs we had previously paid for:
Haircuts and colourings, housework, meal preparation instead of store or restaurant prepared foods.
Was Shawn now going to work to support us AND have to care for me as a wheelchair wife? I was devastated and then later determined to fight my way back to independence.
All through my ordeal, my family surrounded me. It was essential to Shawn that someone was with me when I woke up from sedation and at all times during visiting hours after that. I had heard the voices of my husband, mother and sister during my sedation dreams, which was a considerable grounding comfort to me as I floated through my alter reality. My mother was the first person I saw after I woke in critical care. Later my sister, Jaime, kept vigil, encouraging me when I raised my arm a little higher than usual during a hallucination. My daughter, Paris, who lives, studies and works a couple of hours away, took a few weekends to sit by my side. My other sister, Tara, flew in from BC to spend five days visiting me. Other siblings and relatives took their turns, checking in on and encouraging me. It was very special, and I felt very loved and cared for. I never felt abandoned or alone.
Shawn had been laid off from work during my first week of treatment but had returned to employment after that to keep our single income flowing. He juggled work, family organization, managed all of our correspondence, notified and updated friends and relatives via social media AND managed my medical care. Shawn slept very little and was surviving on adrenaline. One of my first concerns when waking was how he was coping with our crisis.
Initial Coronavirus Reports
Later, I heard the voice of my father mingled with my mom’s. They were discussing the first reports of the Coronavirus in China and how they were contemplating the cancelling of their upcoming trip to China due to the threat of not being allowed to come back to Canada. I agreed wholeheartedly. Don’t go. Stay here where it is safe. Fortunately, their trip was cancelled for them. I had no idea that a few weeks after my eventual hospital release, the COVID-19 virus was going to change the landscape of the world with mass closures, quarantines, and shortages as it began its sweep through Italy, Spain and beyond.
In my sedation dreams, I was under the impression that my medical care had been mismanaged by negligence and corruption in healthcare. Later, when Shawn enlightened me on the details of my treatment, I realized that I was given excellent care, and every decision had been in my best interest. In my early days of semi-consciousness, though, I mentally decided to forgive and believe the best, even when I still believed the origin of my troubles had been someone’s fault. I was examined by the oral surgeon who had performed my surgery and remember giving him a swollen smile and thumbs up despite my misery and confusion before slipping back to sleep again. I was not going to live with the anger and resentment that blame and unforgiveness bring for even a moment.
Although my husband, Shawn, had visited in my first couple days of semi-awareness, I received an official family visit including him, my daughter, Paris, and her boyfriend, Aidan. Trysten remained at home because he had a cold and didn’t want to bring it to me in the hospital. Everyone looked so happy to see me awake, and I’ll never forget the love they expressed. Shawn brought gifts and cards that friends and extended family had sent for me. He read them all aloud and showed me the tokens of love. Paris offered to give me a foot rub, and her cold hands felt wonderful. I wasn’t good company because I just drifted off to sleep again.
All I Want is a Ginger Ale
I had one consistent request after waking: Ginger ale. It was explained over and over to me that due to my temporary tracheotomy and questionable swallowing ability, I was a potential choking hazard. I couldn’t fathom what the big deal was. If I choked, I was in a hospital surrounded by healthcare professionals. Wasn’t this the safest place in the world to choke if that happened? Couldn’t my sips be supervised?
Over and over, I made my request only to be denied. If I was asked if I wanted anything, that was my answer. My mouth was swabbed with a sponge on a stick that tasted like sweet lemon or plain water. I didn’t like it. I was given water to swish in my mouth after my teeth were brushed, and the nurse grabbed it away when she saw me attempting to drink it. I fully expected my family to come to my aid and smuggle a can of cold ginger ale to me but to my bitter disappointment, they did not.
My mouth was coated with thrush and was dry. I fantasized about the pleasure of drinking ice-cold ginger ale and feeling it move down my dry, sore throat. I was obsessed. I could hear cans of soda being cracked open for other patients, and my frustration mounted. Early one morning, I decided that I just hadn’t asked hard enough. Maybe if I told my nurse that I was taking responsibility for what happened, she would yield to my wishes.
“I need reasons to LIVE,” I scribbled on a piece of paper. My nurse looked at me, quizically. “I want ginger ale,” I mouthed, “It’s my choice.” I got a similar speech about the choking hazard. I started to cry in frustration. How long was I going to be suspended from food and beverages? It had been weeks since my pre-surgery ginger ale.
The nurse returned with the familiar sponge on a stick, but this time it was saturated with ice-cold ginger ale! It still tasted weird trying to suck the ginger-ale taste from a sponge, but it was as close as I was going to get. I called them “ginger ale stamps” and I asked for them often. Family caught on and offered to feed them to me too.
Then late one night, I asked a weekend nurse for my ginger ale stamps. He did something that no-one else had done. He gave me a full cup of icy ginger ale and left the sponge sticks for me to dip and self-administer. I saw an opportunity and took it. There was even a straw in the cup, which was also on my forbidden list. I sat up as high as I could and stole some sips of that ginger ale from the straw. It was beautiful—icy cold, sweet and bubbly. For a moment, I was elated, but then I started to cough from the cold. It also seemed to expand in my throat, and I choked a little. Then I let out a huge burp. The commotion forced the nurse to look up from his charting and come over. I realized I couldn’t handle the ginger ale, and I pushed the tray away in frustration.
I fell asleep and when I woke I asked for the ginger ale to be given to me again. “I think you’ve had enough of that,” my nurse told me with a look of chagrin. I felt guilty. I knew I had taken advantage of a situation that might have gotten him into trouble and caused harm to myself. After that, I refused the ginger ale “stamp’ offers. I would wait until I could have the real thing later.
To create a distraction for me, Shawn presented me with my iPad and put Netflix movies on, but I was too lost in my hallucinations and struggle with reality to pay attention to a video of any kind. It just didn’t matter. Silence and staring off into space was okay for me. Everything else was too much. He handed me my iPhone, and my hand fell to the bed with the weight of it. I struggled to touch the keypad, and I grew frustrated with trying to navigate around the Facebook app. It took some time before I felt the desire to communicate via social media and my first brief post took a very long time to compose. I despaired that my skill for writing and technology had been lost forever. Everything was so overwhelming.
She Said, He Said
Later, I wrote a long post summarizing my story as a warning to others and Shawn pointed out some inconsistencies in my narrative. That was when I began to realize that not everything I thought I had experienced was real. I had Shawn edit my post, and after that, I had him check my communications for any necessary corrections. That was when I began to understand the scope of effect the sedation drugs and painkillers had on me and my thought process.
Prayers & Well Wishes
I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support I received via social media. My family continually remarked on the number of comments on my Facebook wall and Shawn’s updates of my condition. The link to Facebook below contains over 300 comments that include Shawn’s updates on my progress during sedation:
I had two church families praying for me and there were pastoral visits to offer prayer and support.
People I didn’t even know were praying for me and asking for updates. I was so grateful for every post and felt loved.
We asked everyone except for my family to refrain from dropping by the hospital to visit. Not only was I in terrible physical condition with limited energy and capacity to communicate, but I needed constant care by the nurses for every little thing. We also asked for people to refrain from sending flowers and gifts to the hospital because the space around my bed was limited, and the nurses were already tripping over chairs and wires to assist me. I was also moved to different floors FOUR times, which meant all my possessions had to be piled on the end of my hospital bed and set up in every new room. Everything needed to be as simple as possible as I focused all my efforts on gaining strength and mobility.
The good news is that I am now writing this from a state of advanced recovery. Just the ability to complete this blog post is a progression marker for me. It took a while, and it was a difficult journey, but I am grateful to God and my health care providers for taking such great care of me through this difficult time. Now that I have shared my unexpected life tsunami with you, I will take those of you who are interested along the journey of my amusing alter experience influenced by sedation and pain drugs in my post called, Life Tsunami: Through the Looking Glass. I have also chronicled my miraculous life restoration in my upcoming post called, Life Tsunami: Rebuilding.
I’m writing this article during a period of social distancing while the world battles a highly contagious virus called COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Federal and provincial governments have declared an official state of emergency asking all non-essential businesses to close and limiting gathering sizes.Schools, churches, community centres, theatres and most non-essential businesses have closed. Store shelves are being cleared of essentials as quickly as they can be stocked. North America holds its collective breath as they watch the virus spread from its origin in China to ravage Italy and Spain. Almost every country in the world is dealing with some measure of the outbreak. For me, though, this is just an encore wave of crisis I’ve been faced with and hope to survive. Please continue to follow my posts for my reports on this unfolding storm.
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