Now it has been 7 months since my “reboot”. God has been amazing! I’m sure you’re thinking, “she writes that every time!” It seems to me that I know God is omnipotent and omnipresent. My human brain cannot fathom some of the miracles I have seen! It could be a cultural concept – keeping God in a box. I am as normal as I ever have been, whatever that means! I am determined not to forget what miracle God has done for my family. This weekend, we celebrated community and life with our wonderful friends who happen to be neighbors, about 35 of them! One of the neighborhood contact points for September’s traumatic event told us how he wanted news, but knew that was NOT our priority. He was patient, but had to respond every few hours to emails and texts from others inquiring if there was any update. This was my first time to hear his side. He was talking about how amazing my healing has been. I went from critical with not much chance, to I will live but what brain function will be lost, to walking, to leaving the hospital and flying home the next day. A rare outcome for someone with all the medical issues I had. God is faithful and I know He has more planned. I heard song lyrics: “the best is not done, the best is yet to come.” That is how life is with Abba, Jehovah Rapha, Elohim, our Heavenly Father. When it seems you are in a dry place, remember God has a “waiting room” for you while He is getting things prepared for His plan.
Scripture: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit” John 12:24
The fog in my head starts clearing. My husband and daughters are constantly with me. My brother, his wife and my sister are nearby. My BFF and her husband have been at the hospital too. I struggle with their names sometimes. Thank God that is temporary! I start asking B questions: Me: “Where were we vacationing?” B: “We weren’t vacationing together. You started out at your sister’s.” Me: “That’s right. Then I went to BFF J’s and on to Yosemite.” Some details are still jumbled. Slowly, I remember hiking with K and N; stopping to rest before the summit; deciding to turn back down-trail. Why won’t they let me drink anything? The realization that 3 days have passed and I don’t have any memories of them strikes me, befuddles me.
This is what I have been told:
I hiked 2 miles down-trail (from 7300 ft. to 6100 ft.) without getting lost or falling! Along the way, I became quite nauseous and began vomiting. I was texting with K and B. I even had cell service to call them! Cell service is spotty at best in Yosemite. When K and N caught up to me, K asked if he should get help and I told him yes. First, he tried to use his phone to dial 911. It didn’t have reception. Then, he used my phone and it worked! God is watching over us! I told K my passcode and how to access my health app in my smart phone. It has my medical information (and can be accessed from a locked screen-BE SURE TO PUT YOUR INFO IN YOUR PHONE!).
The Yosemite Search and Rescue Team, including an EMT and canine team, were returning from searching for another hiker and happened to be less than 30 minutes away from us. The average response time is between 3 and 4 HOURS! Again, God is taking care of the situation! During their assessment, I was able to answer their questions correctly. (I do not remember any of this!) Initial diagnosis: High Altitude Sickness. The EMT asked that a Paramedic be sent up to help. The plan was to give me anti-altitude sickness medication (I didn’t know there was such a thing.), spend the night on the mountain, and get me feeling well enough to hike down the rest of the way. The Rescue Team told K and N to hike back to the valley. They didn’t want 3 people to rescue.
The Paramedic arrived with more equipment. After his assessment, he called the Doctor at the Yosemite Clinic. The Doctor thinks that I am dehydrated and have hypothermia. IV treatment of fluids begins. Sometime after that, I began quickly deteriorating. I started counting in German and I was confused. I don’t speak German, but I can count to 3 in German. Further assessment: she’s deteriorating rapidly and it is critical to get her to a hospital for treatment. The Rescue Team had to request a special one-wheeled litter to take me down the mountain.
The Doctor and Medical Staff didn’t really understand why I was getting worse. The litter team was about half-way to me when it occurred to the Doctor that I could have hyponatremia – all the electrolyte levels bottomed out. Treatment is hypertonic solution given by IV. He sends a Rescue Team member with a bag to catch the litter. These guys are the fastest hikers on the planet!
I don’t’ know how long it took to get the litter to our location. It was about 2 a.m. (PDT) when we got to the valley floor where an ambulance was waiting. After one IV bag of hypertonic solution, I was still getting worse. The ambulance had an analyzer that could confirm the diagnosis, but the system failed to analyze two samples. Decision was made to give me a second hypertonic bag. It was a 30 minute ambulance ride to the helipad. In the ambulance, my lungs were checked: oxygen levels below normal, crackling sounds in lower lungs, labored breathing, fluid in the lungs. At the helipad, the Life Flight crew decided to intubate me prior to loading me onto the helicopter. Once in the helicopter, there would not be sufficient space to perform the procedure especially on a choppy flight. I aspirated. As I hear the story, I begin understanding the seriousness of my situation.
By the time we reach Doctors Medical Center, I was exhibiting evidence of more fluid in my lungs. I had pulmonary and cerebral edema; after 2 bags of hypertonic sodium count was 120 – normal range 136-145; potassium depleted; water intoxication; high altitude sickness. No wonder there were 7 IV’s with 9 bags pumping me full of medication! My body needed time to recover and I was put into a medically induced coma. That was early Thursday, September 17, 2015.
Now, it’s Saturday, September 19, 2015. I am beginning to comprehend my predicament. Thankfully, my restraints are gone. My arms look like someone’s punching bag with tubes connecting to IV’s. I’m being poked and prodded every few hours whether I need it or not. The oxygen mask is bothering my nose. I keep moving it. The nurse decides that is OK as long as it stays near my nose. Later, another nurse will change it to the candela, which is not much more comfortable! Someone on the medical staff tells me that I seem very calm about the circumstances. God gave me peace throughout the experience.
The Respiratory Therapist visits. She wants to check my swallow. Why? I’ve been swallowing for many years. I don’t understand. She knows that cerebral edema can cause multiple issues with normal things like swallowing, talking, memory and thinking, walking, eating, etc and that after intubation I might have trouble swallowing. She brings a cup with ice chips and a spoon. Of course, I am not allowed to do it myself – probably a good thing considering I drank too much water! The ice is cold and wet on my tongue, truly wonderful. I swallow and begin coughing. She pulls the cup back and says “That’s all for now.” My brain is screaming “NO, I want a drink!” Instead, I just say “Kill joy.” My family chuckles and is SO relieved to hear this because it means my personality is still intact! Later, we try again and I am allowed to have “thick” liquids. Isn’t that an oxymoron?
The Physical Therapist arrives to see if I have balance and strength to stand. She puts a leather belt around my waist. It’s a multi-function belt: it keeps the gown closed – THANK YOU! – and gives her a hand-hold to steady me. On Sunday, they bring a wheel chair. With B by my side, I push it to the elevator; go down and out to the patio. It’s the first time I’ve been outside. It was a lot of work. My body was weak and my vision blurred, distorted. Another hurdle, I am walking with assistance! I’m given a walker.
I leave NCCU and head for an inpatient wing. WHOOT! I’m moving up in the world! Maybe, I can blow this popsicle stand soon. Just a few more hurdles: swallowing and eating, walking without assistance, etc. I am motivated to go home at this point.
My daughter sits with me. I run my fingers through my hair over and over. She asks, several times, if I have a headache. Headache is common with cerebral edema. I tell her that I don’t have a headache. But I still run my fingers through my hair…more later.
My swallow is improving and my walk getting steadier. Monday the Physical Therapist has me walking with wing without assistance! I still need someone near when I get out of bed for any reason. Hallelujah! I get to shower!!! After a sweaty hike and 5 days at the hospital, you can imagine how I feel about a shower.
Shower finished. I’m given comb and brush. That’s when I look in a mirror and realize my bangs have been CHOPPED, not just cut. Now I understand why I kept messing with my hair. I knew it didn’t feel right. Apparently, I had been taped to a back board for stability. When they went to remove the tape, about 4” of my bangs were cut with the tape. Ever had 1/2″ bangs? It looked like a bad mullet gone horribly wrong!
What’s this? I get real food to eat? YES!! No more thickened juice! Can I go home yet? I’m told most patients would need a stay at a rehabilitation hospital, before going home. What will this mean for me? I’m in California, but I live in Texas. My husband has stayed by my side each night. He can’t have me in CA for weeks and work in TX. Thankfully, God has this too. I am discharged Tuesday and approved to fly home Wednesday. No rehab stay and no long-term medication!
Our Primary Care Physician checks me out. Lungs are clearing and I’m gaining strength. My vision should clear in a few weeks, but it doesn’t. I had hemorrhaging behind both eyes. The left eye has not healed, but should be healed by the end of January. Currently, I am back to my workout routines and my vision is greatly improved. My healing has been nothing short of miraculous!
Maybe you’re thinking this is a horrible story. Well, it isn’t. It is a story of how God orchestrated each segment for good. I believe it was Jesus carrying me the 2 miles down trail and responding to the Rescue Team. The Search and Rescue Team including the EMT being so close to my location is another piece of the miracle. Those in my family, who didn’t/don’t believe in miracles, witnessed one! If you still don’t believe, I will believe for you! While all the chaos was going on in California, our neighbors, friends, and church connected. Most didn’t know each other prior to my illness. They gathered together in our driveway to pray for me, B and our family. They activated pray circles at many churches. One e-mail became forwarded to others who then sent a person to visit with us at the hospital! People we didn’t know praying for us! We have counted over 50 different churches praying for us – that’s just the ones we know of first hand!! These wonderful friends organized 2 weeks of meals for us! We were welcomed home with a poster signed by those attending the prayer vigil. What a blessing to know these wonderful people!
I had asked God to show me His goodness in this world. Be careful what you ask of God!! I would not have chosen this path, but God is using it to reach out to others, to bring together community and family, to share His love and goodness in this world.
Our God’s not dead! He is very much alive!
Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
As stated earlier, this is really OUR story. So, without further adieu, B’s experience as told to me. I should note that he recorded the facts in journal form. I “interviewed” him for a look at the emotional side of the events.
It’s hike day for L. Wednesday, September 16th, mid-morning (CDT), I sent her a text to which she replied “1.5 hours in” with pic of her smiling face with sunglasses. At 1:27 p.m. (CDT), L calls. She is crying, saying she wasn’t going to make it to the summit. I asked her why. Her reply was that she was dizzy. We talked for a little while. I told her that it was a good decision to stop than to risk a more serious issue at a higher elevation. L had told K and N to keep going. At the end of the call, I asked if she was OK. She told me that she was fine. Her voice was good and her tone gave no cause for concern.
Six hours later, things had changed. I received a text from L: “FYI little hiccup, I have altitude problem. Getting help down.” Me: “are you OK?” L: “Mah. May be spending the night in the park. I love you. I will be. K may call you.” I told her to call me when she knew if they were staying in the park overnight. Soon thereafter, L called. She said that they were going to take her down the mountain. She didn’t sound right. She cut the call off short. Now, I am concerned. About 20 minutes later, I call K. He told me that the Search and Rescue Team was with her. They had sent K and N down trail, citing that it was better to have only one needing rescue than three. He told me he would call when he heard any news. I’m praying for the best. The waiting is difficult.
Two hours later (9:26 p.m. CDT), I text: “How are you Babe?” with no response. Thinking her issues were due to high altitude, my expectation was that she would recover quickly once she was at lower altitude. At 11:22 p.m. (CDT), still no news from L. K called. He had spoken to the Search and Rescue Team. He told me to call L’s cell. The rescuers had it and were waiting for me to call. Of course, I did just that. 11:24 p.m. I spoke to a paramedic. He explained that L was deteriorating and they needed to get her to a hospital expeditiously. There was also an EMT with the team, and they were in communication with the park doctors via satellite telephone. This was reassuring to me. They were waiting for a special stretcher to carry L down the mountain. She had been with the rescuers 5 hours at this point. It seemed to take way too long to get her off the mountain. Concern turns to worry and a feeling of helplessness; more prayers.
Although it was late in Houston, I decided to text my boss. I told him that L was having trouble and that I wouldn’t be at work in the morning – just in case I needed to go to California.
Time goes by excruciatingly slowly when waiting for news from over 1800 miles away! My sleep was fitful at best.
Thursday, September 17th: I awoke early. By 6:30 a.m. (CDT), I was beyond frustrated with the lack of information. It was only 4:30 a.m. in California. By 8:30 a.m. (CDT), still no news. I was anxious to hear something; do something. It was still early in California, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I called K. He had not heard from anyone either. K had called L’s cell phone, but no answer. K was going to track-down L, but it was only 6:30 a.m. (PDT) and the park offices wouldn’t open until 9:00 a.m.
My mind is racing with thoughts: “Should I jump on a plane?” “What should I do next?” “Why can’t I get answers?” I tried to keep positive, expecting L to call and say that she had a long day with a tough night but she was feeling better. This was not going to happen.
I would find out later that the charge nurse in Neuro Critical Care Unit (NCCU) saw the cell battery was low and decided to charge L’s phone. She noticed the missed call from K. She called him and he requested that she call me. Around 10:07 a.m. (CDT), the charge nurse called me. L was in NCCU at a trauma center hospital in Modesto, CA. L was in critical condition, on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma. I felt as if I’d been kicked in the stomach. I was stunned. My world changed in an instant. She gave me time to digest the information. It was difficult to process what this meant. The charge nurse told me of 3 airports that were each about an hour and a half drive from the hospital. She gave me her name, L’ nurse’s name, and the direct number to the NCCU Nurse Station to call (Of course, I couldn’t find pen and paper anywhere!) if I needed anything or wanted to check on L’s condition. She would call back if anything changed. I walked circles in the kitchen, mind spinning, unfocused.
Finally, I pulled it together. I had to book my flight, get a car, pack. I had to call our (adult) daughters. They both wanted to go to their mother’s side. I felt badly that I couldn’t work on coordinating all our flights. I HAD to get to L! So they worked it out together. I am very grateful to them.
Our neighbor Mrs. P had been calling to see how everything was going since she hadn’t seen an update on L’s Facebook page. I returned her call at 10:21 a.m. (CDT) and told her what was going on with L. She asked what I needed. I told her someone to take care of our dogs. She started spreading the news with the other neighbors. Thank God for good neighbors! A short time later, Mrs. D was at the front door to tell me she was taking me to the airport. I was shaking from the entire situation. Mrs. D saw that I had a large suitcase by the door. L had my carry-on and I, being in a frenetic hurry, couldn’t find the other one. She went home and brought back a carry-on bag, and repacked for me. No checking baggage!
Our long-time friend called to check on the situation and ask if I needed anything. He is from Bakersfield, CA. I asked him if he knew how to get from San Francisco to Modesto. He didn’t. So, I had him get directions and e-mail them to me. Having the directions when I got there was an invaluable help! I was 45 minutes into the drive when I realized it was the same route to get to our San Ramon headquarters, at least partway.
Mrs. D took me to the airport. The timing was excellent. When I got to the gate, I went to the counter and explained my situation. I inquired if I could board early to avoid having to gate check my bag. The agent put me in boarding Group 1 (thank you!). While I was waiting, I called the hospital to check in with the nurse. I didn’t know then, just how careful the nurse was with her information. Later, she explained that she couldn’t tell me that L would recover, because she didn’t know.
The aircraft boarding finally started. It was about half full, when a ONE HOUR weather delay was announced! This was very tough to hear. Everyone had to deplane. My patience was being tested. Remarkably, I remained calm. As I was about to sit down back in the airport terminal, there was another announcement regarding my flight. I didn’t hear it. I asked several people around me what the announcement had said. I must have seemed anxious. One of them asked if I was concerned about missing a connecting flight. I told them no and gave them the 411 on my situation. At last, passengers re-board and the aircraft was on the way to San Francisco. While taxiing out to the runway, I replay everything: “Did I pack all that I need?” “Have I missed any details?” “Have I called everyone I need to call?” I realized that I had not called L’s boss to let them know the situation. As the plane taxied, I send my boss a text asking him to notify them.
The flight was unbearably long. To keep from going insane, I played chess, read a book or just listened to music. Thank God for my iPad! I couldn’t focus on any one thing for long. Finally, on approach to SFO! My emotions had welled up and were about to make an outward appearance. Reality has hit and I feel like I’m losing it. As the flight taxied, a young woman behind me handed me a note. It was very sweet. She had overheard the conversation in the terminal. She wrote: “Have a safe journey. Please be careful on the road…I will keep you, your wife and family in my prayers…” It was signed with her name. She was an off-duty United flight attendant. We deplaned. The terminal was under construction. I wasn’t sure which way to go. The same flight attendant saw my confusion. She pointed me in the right direction. I hope to say “thank you” to her one day.
Off to get a rental car and get on the road. It was 4:22 p.m. (PDT) when I, at long last, was on the freeway and heading to the hospital – normally one and a half hours away. But 4:22 p.m. is full on rush – hour traffic. The stop and go traffic was maddening. It felt like I was being tested again. I remained calm, realizing that an accident would delay me even more. A full three hours later, I arrived at the hospital. It had been just under 12 hours since receiving the call from the nurse.
Neuro Critical Care (NCCU) waiting room: The first people I saw were L’s BFF J and husband; K and his wife J. I just needed to get to L NOW!! BFF J took me into NCCU. It was very difficult to see L this way: intubated, breathing machine, many IV tubes, restrained. I was scared, terrified by the recurring thought that I could be looking at life without her; not knowing what she would want if that happened.
About 4 hours later, our daughters (and one terrific boyfriend) arrived at the hospital. Their arrival brought me both relief and pain as we shared the shocking reality. After they spent time with L, we went to check-in at the same hotel as K. Once they were settled, I went back to the hospital. I spent the night with L, my head on the bed next to her legs.
So, back to Yosemite. I’m sitting on a rock resting, contemplating what my next step will be. It felt good to sit down. I decided to change my socks for the hike down trail. After about 30 minutes, I was feeling a little better. I text K to tell him that I would start down trail. That is the last thing I remember: Wednesday, September 16, 2015 around noon (California time). I woke up with a white-coated doctor asking me “Do you know where you are?” I knew I was in a hospital, but not the city or state. That was sometime on Saturday, September 19, 2015. My room was full of familiar faces: B and my kids; K and J, and my sister R just outside the door. I was quite confused and couldn’t remember everyone’s name. My hands were restrained to keep me from pulling out the various IV’s in my arms (and the intubation tubing when it was in). Apparently, I had been combative while in my medically induced coma. As I became more lucid, the doctor asked more questions: Doctor: “Do you remember what happened?” Me: “No.” Doctor: “what year is it?” Me: “2001”. Doctor: “Do you know who this is?” Me: “I know I should know the name, but I can’t remember it.” B had to fill in some of the gaps for me. Since he was right there with me, I thought we had been vacationing together. He explained that I was vacationing without him, and I began to remember seeing my sister R and BFF J before going to Yosemite. I asked him, “Am I really this sick?” He said, “Yes.” I could tell he was thanking God I was alive, awake and speaking. I looked down at my bound arms. I think there were 5 IV’s in my arms at that point. (I was told there were 7 IV’s with 9 bags of drugs when I arrived at the ER.) Both my arms were bruised from shoulder to wrist. Not little bump bruises, but deep “that’s gotta hurt” colorful bruises. No wonder I wanted to yank out the IV’s! I promised not to pull out the tubes, and my daughter told the nurse that the family would keep me calm. The nurse removed the restraints. I was still unsure of how I got to the hospital, why I needed to be in the Neuro Critical Care Unit, or why I couldn’t have anything to drink. I had many questions swarming my brain, but my body wanted to sleep.
We interrupt this story to bring you a little perspective from the man who loves me.
B is my constant support in life. Even when he thinks the idea is a little “out there”, he stands with me. It is only fitting to include him in my story – which really is OUR story.
When we first discussed the possibility of me hiking Half Dome, B was clear he wasn’t into that kind of adventure. He enjoys the outdoors and the mountains, especially sitting out with a mocha along a creek. (I think he’d rather jump out of an airplane than hike up a mountain!) He supported my desire to hike in Yosemite. Decision made. I’m going!
B encouraged me to research and get “whatever I need” for the trip. After researching equipment options, he strongly urged me to get the hiking boots first to break-in before the trip. Hiking pants, hydration type backpack, socks, rain jacket, hiking poles, hat and gloves filled the list. Considering neither one of us likes to shop, we hoped to get it done in one trip. We went to an outdoorsy type store to hit the list head-on. We found most items on the list in one store. The other items could be borrowed or purchased on the Internet.
B tells me “you turned into a training animal”! He wouldn’t even try to keep up with me. He saw I was preparing physically, nutritionally, and mentally. He had absolute confidence in my ability. He told me that this was a great trip to do with my brother K. As the date grew near, he was excited with me.
Saturday he took me to the airport and we said our “good-byes”. He didn’t know that I had hidden sticky notes and cards for him in various places and with a couple of neighbors. He would get a hand-written message from me nearly everyday while I was gone. With the last one to be delivered Thursday, September 17th. It said “see you soon”. Thankfully, he didn’t get that one until later.
We spoke each day leading up to that fateful Wednesday. We used FaceTime Monday evening; on Tuesday, we spoke briefly. I was already in Yosemite. I told him about the short hike I took, about the handful of deer that crossed the trail about 4′ in front of me, and about the rain catching me without my jacket.
Wednesday morning, he was on the way to his vanpool when we spoke briefly. He says that I sounded excited and happy.
During the morning, I sent texts and photos. When I called him, he told me I looked really happy in the photos. Since Texas is 2 hours ahead of California, his lunchtime came while it was mid-morning for the hike. He showed the photos to his coworkers, happy about my progress.
He told me “Right after lunch, things started going south.” That’s when he got my call, “I won’t make it to the top.” I was crying and greatly disappointed. I told him that I was dizzy and nauseous. Thinking it was only altitude sickness, he felt I had made a good decision and I agreed. It was better to stop than to continue and have an injury result from continuing. Neither of us knew what would happen next…
Fast forward 3.5 months…those of you following this blog may be thinking: “Did she fall off Half Dome?” “Did she break her hand and she can’t type?” or, like my gym fan club “She met her goal and is done working out.”
Thank God none of the above! I should start at the beginning…
After 3 months of training, I traveled to California. I met my brother K and his wife J, and N, my brother’s friend, in Mariposa, CA. I had been in Yosemite that day and hiked about an hour to see how I would feel. That altitude was around 4300 ft. I was feeling good about the whole trip.
We went to dinner and then off to bed early. In the morning, I posted “hike of my life today, prayers appreciated” on my Facebook page. I had no idea how prophetic that was. The weather forecast was great hiking weather – not too hot or cold, no rain. K, N and I left the hotel at 4:30 a.m. and drove the 1.5 hours to the parking lot near the trailhead. I parked my rental car. We did the obligatory last bathroom stop before donning our gear. It was around 6:10 a.m. when we started on our 18 mile (approx) round-trip hike. Off we went into the darkness, with our headlamps glowing. The temperature was cool enough for a light jacket, but it didn’t take long for my muscles to warm up.
I told K and N that I would take my time, pace myself and take lots of photos.
As the sun rose, it illuminated the mountains surrounding Yosemite Valley. (I took photos) Our backpacks had hydration packs and we drank as we trekked. We stopped about once an hour to snack. Overall, I was feeling great and enjoying the breath-taking beauty of God’s handiwork. N was in the lead, K in the middle, and I was the “caboose”. At one point, I heard K singing “It is Well with My Soul”. We used to sing together in church. So, I came in for the chorus echo. We harmonized well. It seemed we were singing for an audience of One! (Later, K told me that was his favorite part of the trip.)
Hiking Half Dome is so popular, that the park has a lottery system set-up for the permits to hike the cable way – that is the last 400 vertical feet. It is common to see other hiking groups along the trail. There was one group of four that we passed, or vice versa, several times along the way. We would encourage each other and get going again.
We had some fun pictures and laughing along the way.
Directional signs with mileage are posted at trail intersections. We came to the one that said “Half Dome 4.5 miles”. We were more than half-way to the summit! We can do it! We had been on the trail around 3 hours.
It must have started in the next hour or so. I began to feel dizzy, light-headed, out of breath. I attributed it to the altitude, slowed my pace, drank cold water, ate some trail mix and continued up the trail. Around 5.5 hours on the trail, just under 2 miles from the summit, I decided I needed to sit and rest for a while. I sent K and N on to the summit, telling them that I would rest and possibly start down-trail. This is when it gets interesting…
(stay tuned – more to follow)