Hi everyone. It’s Eric, the editor, with an update on my husband Mike. As many know, he recently received the gift of life via a heart transplant.
Yesterday started off great. He was off just about all the machines except for dialysis, which is done on a temporary basis to address the kidney trauma typical of transplants. We had removed him from the ventilator, and life was good.
As the afternoon wore on, Mike was becoming more alert and things were looking good (other than Mike sounding like Kermit the frog after a rough night at the local watering hole, the result of more than a week on life support.)
Mid-afternoon we turned him, and I was super pleased that he coughed up lots of secretions, as the ability to manage your own airway is one of the keys to success in staying off the ventilator for transplant patients.
Moments later, Mike’s oxygen sats and blood pressure dropped like a rock and continued to fall. A full emergency crew from the ICU responded, and we got Mike stabilized. Just in time, too—he was moments away from coding. And had even a few more seconds elapsed, he would likely have had brain damage.
Mike’s again intubated and on a ventilator, and before we did it, he let us know he was profoundly unhappy about it. But what he didn’t realize is he was dying, and quite quickly.
We’re looking at possible causes, and it looks like it may have been dehydration and a combination of his meds, although we’ll probably never know for sure. A heart transplant is a huge undertaking, with thousands of moving parts, and costs over a million dollars. So figuring out causation is a bit like predicting the weather — we can come close, but it’s rare to have certainty.
Later this week, we will almost certainly do a temporary tracheotomy to manage secretions. (It’s not permanent. In fact, Elizabeth Taylor had one in the middle of filming the 1960’s epic, Cleopatra, and if you look closely, you can see the scar, artfully concealed with makeup and highlighter. And yes, she still looks like the living incarnation of the god Isis.)
All in all, not entirely unexpected, and a small pothole in the longer road to recovery. But it’s profoundly distressing to see my spouse in so much physical and emotional pain.
As for the hospital staffer who tried to kick me out of the hallway, nice try.
I promised Mike I’d stick with him throughout the entire process, and if things go south, he won’t be alone. Yes, I will stay out from underfoot, but don’t you DARE go there again. I’m nothing if not tenacious, so don’t even think it.
I did do a little self care last night. I quarantine when I am not with Mike, which means I wear an N95 mask, I don’t go out, and I don’t eat out. But I did get crab cakes and other treats to go from my favorite Cajun restaurant, bring them back to my hotel room, and gobble them down. Yum.
So far, I’m okay, but it’s definitely a rough ride for family.
I’m painfully aware that someone too weak to even manage their own airway is profoundly vulnerable to even a mild cold or flu, and until the transplant, I spent the better part of three months sleeping in Mike’s hospital room. So there are a host of factors at play — physical exhaustion, breakdown in circadian rhythms, lack of sleep, anxiety, interpersonal issues, and more.
And hospitals are tough—it’s noisy, the lights never go out, and someone is in the room every 15 minutes. But I managed, and actually enjoyed the time together. Uncharacteristically, I had two crying jags, but they were actually good for me.
Hospital staff also knows that, when the day comes, Mike’s coming home to a very safe, loving environment. Behind the scenes, I’ve put in higher toilets, grab rails, softer carpet in case of a tumble, and lots more. If it holds still, it gets scrubbed, sprayed with bleach, dragged to the dry cleaners, or some combination of the above.
Meanwhile, the paying job is done for the foreseeable future, and I’m glad we have savings. You really don’t understand how much effort — or money — it takes to create a safe environment for a transplant patient until you do it.
And no, very little it the way of new furniture, and none of it high-end. It’s all about making sure everything is clean, sanitary, and safe at a level we don’t do in most homes.
For those so inclined, your prayers are welcome. I’ll also keep you posted in what, at the end of the day, is not a race but a marathon.