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.