The summer before I went to high school I met a group of girls through my then (evil) boyfriend. I secretly was in awe but had to play it cool because that is what 15 year olds do in front of one another. Everyone went their separate ways after high school but we all remained in contact.
One of those girls, Rachael S., contracted H1N1, swine flu. Remember learning about the great flu epidemic of 1918, “Spanish flu”? Maybe not but I do. I do because stuff like that scares the crap out of me. (Watch Soderbergh’s CONTAGION. He wrote my nightmare in detail. Evil genius) The nature of H1N1 is interesting because it almost acts as if it focuses all its abilities to take down people in their 20’s and 30’s. The group of people that usually have very little complications when battling a virus. I’ve been standing on the side, witnessing every procedure, every hope, every fear as Rachael endures one of the most virulent strains of flu of our time.
Today her sister wrote a timeline of the events, up until now:
The following is a little long but the moral of the story is we owe our continued hope today to Skip………
I dedicate today, Sunday January 26, 2014 to Skip, a man that I have only really met once, for a few minutes, but when I met him I hugged him with joy and gratitude because I had hope again. The past few weeks have been a tornado of emotions, at times I want to rip out my soul. Two weeks ago I watched Rachael intubated and shortly after I was told that the survival rate for people in her situation was 20% however to be hopeful because she was young and otherwise healthy. For the next eight days we watched intently for signs of improvement but they never came. We clutched onto the smallest details as signs of improvement to only watch them disappear. Most days Rachael remained steady and for which we mistook as stable. Everyone experienced a de-sat at least once and as a bystander all we could do was just stand there helpless, watching, holding our breathes and waiting. Trying to will the oxygen back into her lungs. Trying to will the oxygen back into her lungs.
The next Sunday we anxiously waited for the hospital to transfer Rachael to KUMED, this was a whole day ordeal, stabilizing her with medications, increasing her vent settings and waiting. Two hours would just disappear before you felt 30 minutes go by. Finally, she was ready to be moved and the transfer team came back a second time. It was to be only a 15 minute flight to KUMED, but the process of taking her off of the hospital respirator and on to the flight crews machine would take around a half hour. They had her on the gurney, hooked up to the transfer ventilator, we were ready for movement. Then the crushing defeat when they told us she wasn’t stable enough for transfer because her saturation were not at a safe level brought such a heavy weight with it. By Monday morning Rachael’s body was struggling to absorb enough oxygen, the doctors had her respirator settings higher than we had previously been led to believe was in its capacity. We were told it was just a matter of time but that Rachael would most likely be gone by the end of the week. The only hope we had left was to get her transferred to KUMED, yet overnight all of the ICU beds at KUMED had filled up. Again, we waited, hoping for a discharge.
Rachael’s lungs were beginning to loose there elasticity as she was starting to show signs of oxygen toxicity. The doctor had one last procedure he could do however he had little hope going into it, he was right, it changed nothing. Rachael’s doctor was willing to transfer her if and when a bed became available but he didn’t seem to feel it would change much. The ECMO machine, in his opinion, was still experimental on patients in Rachael’s condition. Additionally, after someone has been intubated for more than 6 days they are not considered a candidate for ECMO. We were now on day 9. My good friend Moe kept mentioning St. Luke’s but the hospital didn’t seem to believe this was an option, its across state lines, it’s a private hospital, and Rachael does not have health insurance.
When our cousins came to visit that Sunday they became fully aware of how serious Rachael’s condition was. The following day more of our cousins came to the hospital. Our cousin Julie, who has been working in Indianapolis, drove in that afternoon. When she and our cousin Jodi heard that St. Luke’s had the desperately needed ECMO machine but it wasn’t being considered an option, they took to the phones. This is where Skip comes in, the best man at Julie’s wedding, her friend and neighbor, living just across the street from her. Not only is he a great friend but he also runs the ECMO machines at St. Luke’s. It took several hours and many phone calls from Jodi and Julie, not to mention Jodi’s insistence to the doctor to support this move and get Rachael transferred to St. Luke’s. On the ambulance pad Rachael’s sats dropped but she quickly recovered and she was on her way. By Monday evening, Rachael made it to St. Luke’s, we were all there before she even arrived.
The pulmonologist wasn’t sure if Rachael was a candidate for the ECMO, she would have to be observed overnight and they only had one open machine. By lunch the next day she was on ECMO. Why? Because of Skip! My Cousins got her there and Skip got her on the machine. Tuesday morning, day 11 in the hospital, day 10 on the respirator the doctors felt that barring any unforeseen complications Rachael would most likely survive. With the ECMO in place we saw the respirator settings decrease but no other really marked achievements. By Thursday she was stable, stats were manageable, she was receiving new treatments and, as for myself, I was able to push some of the dread out and feel a bit of joy.
I went to visit Rachael on Friday before going to work, day 14 in the hospital. Another family, the Burkhearts, lost their fight… He had the same illness as Rachael but had not been a candidate for ECMO…a tragic day for that family. The fear was reignited in me.
The Dr. at LMH was very close to calling Rachael’s timeline if she hadn’t been on ECMO.
Yesterday Rachael began to swell with fluid. Her face, neck, arms and legs looked like they wanted to rip out of her skin. But it was her hands that freaked me out at first, I was afraid to touch them, visions in my head of me squeezing to hard and they would POP. The fluid became too much for her lungs, once again she was placed on a paralytic then her respirator was turned off. If she had not been on the ECMO machine we would not have TODAY. Last night, she was placed on dialysis, she has around 8 different IV drips pumping into her, large hoses on one side pumping blood out and returning it with oxygen, on the other side, a machine pumping out blood, cleaning it and returning it. As Rachael’s best childhood friend, Kym, said this morning, she is living more outside of her body than in, but SHE is still in there. SHE is still fighting and SHE still has a chance for recovery. Today I dedicate to Skip, yesterday I dedicate to Mr. Burkheart and his family.
Without Rachael’s respirator on I was able to see her breath on her own for the first time in 13 days. I tried to match her breath. Quick breath in and quick breath out then pause..pause..pause…, a teardrops worth of oxygen in and out then wait…wait…wait…a startled gasp worth of air in and out then wait. I had to take a deep breath. But her lungs are working, not well but on their own. I have hope and I have today. Rachael has a long road ahead but today we have hope that she will live. Keep those thoughts open to her and all of the other people fighting the same fight and all of those who are standing by and waiting, and thank you Skip.
…Rachael’s story is still in progress. I continue to sit by her side and patiently wait until she opens her eyes and we talk about everything and nothing.