Synopsis of 2008 Abby’s Pneumonia

This item replaces several entries made during my wife Abby’s life-threatening battle with pneumonia.

May 11, 2008: Abby is Seriously Ill

Update, Sunday night: Abby is still seriously ill, but she is better. They are bombarding her with a phalanx of medications and treatments. There is no timetable as of yet, but I am okay letting it take how long it takes.

Today (Saturday) grew more stressful with each passing hour as Abby got sicker and sicker.

Friday morning she got up, but returned to bed almost immediately with uncontrollable chills and profuse diaphoresis. She had a fever, so I dosed her with Tylenol and went to work. By evening, she didn’t seem much better. I tried to get her to drink as much fluid as I could.

Then this morning, she was terribly week and had labored, rapid breathing. I recognized it as pneumonia, since I nursed her through it once before. I took her to the doctor, who game us some oral antibiotics and told me to watch her.

By mid-afternoon, she was even worse. She was unable to lift her head, and was too weak to even say words. I called EMS. At the hospital, I was rattled to learn that the doctor ordered a CAT scan because she wouldn’t talk to us. It didn’t present like a stroke, but he wasn’t taking chances.

We all felt relieved when informed that she was neurologically intact. Her chest x-ray and blood work sealed the deal: raging pneumonia.

So now I am at home for a few hours, hoping to get a little sleep before I go back up there.

I’m still stressed, but not as much now that I know the diagnosis. I haven’t eaten in 14 hours. Maybe I should make myself eat.

May 12, 2008: Abby is Critically Ill

Abby was okay through the night, but got progressively worse during the morning. She was really struggling to breathe. By midday, the doctor recommended we put her on a ventilator, which we did. She is sedated, and on four antibiotics.

I gave the doctor the “Give it to me straight, Doc,” bit, and he told me that the odds are on her side. He feels like we are looking at a 72-hour timetable, after which we will either be doing better, or flying her to a hospital with pulmonary and infectious disease specialists.

I miss Abby every hour when I am not with her, and she misses me the same. Right now I miss her so much, and am finding it hard to think about this situation without really hurting inside.

Get well, my love. Come home.

May 13, 2008: Captain Dunsel

I don’t have much to report about Abby’s condition, except to say that she is stable, still sedated, and maybe breathing a very tiny bit better.

Everyone is here or coming here. My mom and sister are here, as are Abby’s sisters Gail and Inez.

I miss my wife terribly, and want her to come home. I know that deep inside she wants to come home as much as I want her to come home. When I sit with her now, all I can do is watch the machines display numbers and listen to them help her breath. I feel like Captain Dunsel…

In the Star Trek episode, “The Ultimate Computer,” the new M5 computer defends the Enterprise against attacks from the starships Excalibur and Lexington, the latter which is commanded by Commodore Wesley. The M5 is declared the victor of the simulated contest, prompting Wesley to tell Kirk, “Give my regards to Captain Dunsel.” Kirk walks off the bridge without a word. Spock explains the meaning of “dunsel” to McCoy as a term used by midshipmen at the Federation Academy for a part which serves no useful purpose.

May 14, 2008: Morning with the 1000-Yard Stare

Update: after the morning at the hospital, we are still very scared, and Abby is still desperately ill. The one bit of good news is that the pneumonia itself is responding. I saw a new chest x-ray compared to one two days ago, and her lungs are decidedly clearer, though laden with fluid. The down side is that she is developing some liver failure, though the cause is unclear presently. It may be due to viral infection, sepsis, or liver necrosis. In any case, this is very bad news. My wife may die.

I am sleeping okay, thanks to a couple of mild sleep aids. The moment I get up, though, I am worried to complete distraction about Abby. Everyone says I look tired, but I don’t feel tired, so much as I feel like I can’t shut off my brain. I cant’ stop thinking about her, and what’s going to happen, or could happen. I know I am talking, but I’m not sure I am saying what I mean.

We are about to leave for the hospital, where we will likely hear that there hasn’t been much change.

We all agree that in spite of how sick she is, Abby looks beautiful. In her sedation, she seems only very vaguely aware of our presence. Medically, analysis of blood and sputum cultures reveal that Abby is infected with methicillin-sensitive staph, which is good news, since it can be treated with nafcillin, and the doctor gave her what he called “a gorilla dose,” which I found out from reading the bag on her IV was 2000mg every four hours, which is a lot. Her lungs are very slightly better. The only downside is that some of her liver numbers are too high, and if they don’t start down today, she may need to go to Midwest City to a hospital with specialists.

This is all running around in my head while I watch the M5 breathe for my wife. If I don’t smile when you pass me, now you know why.

For much of the middle part of the day, we saw our moods descend into resignation. It seemed like Abby’s illness was going to win. When Abby’s daughter Chele arrived by about 4 pm, I fell into her arms and sobbed.

We had given up grasping at any straws, and were feeling like we were going to lose Abby, when we arrived at the hospital and were tearfully grateful to hear a bit of good news. Her liver CT scan showed it was normal in size and had unobstructed blood flow. She was breathing a little easier, and the fluid in her lungs was starting to absorb. Her kidneys were working well. Her hepatitis panel was negative. It wasn’t a turn, but maybe it was the spot in the road where we could see the turn in the distance.

So many people are around us, helping us, loving us. Come what may, it will all find its way in time.

May 15, 2008: May Flowers

Abby’s condition has actually improved today, and we are cautiously optimistic that we are about to turn a corner. Her pneumonia is decidedly responding to antibiotic therapy, the fluid on her lungs is clearing, and her overall numbers are trending toward the good. She remains unconscious and intubated, but we might be able to get her breathing on her own by the weekend.

We are all breathing a little easier. Especially Abby.

May 16, 2008: Daily Briefing

We are on our way out the door, but I did talk to our doctor, Marc Davis, on the phone, and Abby’s numbers are trending in the right direction. More later.

P. M. Update: Our optimism is cautious, and I remain scared and concerned. I imagine Abby faces a long and difficult recovery from this, which, by the way, was a pneumonia caused by methicillin-sensitive staph, a very common household bacteria. There’s no way to know how Abby contracted it, whether she shook hands with an infected person or harbored these pathogens for months before becoming suddenly ill from triggers we can’t determine. The pneumonia itself has responded well, but she was so desperately ill that many of her bodies’ systems are exhausted. Fortunately things like her liver enzymes, for example, are coming back down after being dangerously elevated.

I’m trying to keep busy, so I don’t feel so useless – being with her I can’t do anything except sit, since she remains unconscious. I take care of the dogs, the goats, the house, the garden – it takes the edge off somehow.

May 17, 2008: Idle Hands

Mid-day Saturday update: Abby has been lethargic and slow to respond to verbal stimulus, but doctors feel this is due to electrolyte imbalance, since her sodium levels are too high. They are increasing her fluid intake. I did get her to open her eyes this morning.

It felt really good to get down to some important chores at the house yesterday afternoon, the same kind of chores I do here for and with Abby every day. There is always a lot to do around here, and doing it, even doing more of it than usual, gives purpose to our otherwise idle hands.

Abby’s current health is simply that she is recovering achingly slowly.

May 18, 2008: Cornering

Evening Update: I talked to the hospitalist, a doctor I have known for a long time and who knows me, and one who I trust. He has Abby on non-assisted breathing tonight; her chest x-ray looks clear; her overall numbers look good. As a result, he hopes to try to extubate her (remove her from the ventilator) as early as tomorrow morning. This is the corner we have been waiting to turn, and we are all happy and relieved to be entering this phase in Abby’s recovery.

May 20, 2008: Baby Steps

Since Abby was so desperately ill, we anticipate a long, slow recovery. She remains about as weak as I have ever seen a person who was conscious. Each day she gives us another sign or two that she is getting better. Today…

  • She is off of all supplemental oxygen, and is breathing room air
  • Her lungs are free of pneumonia
  • She is making eye contact and is responding correctly (non-verbally) to questions
  • …and most importantly, she ate breakfast and lunch, and swallowed without much difficulty, so her feeding tube was removed

The ventilator tube passes between a person’s vocal chords, so it is not uncommon when a patient can’t speak for several days after it is removed.

Nevertheless, I thought I saw Abby’s lips moved. I leaned closer. “What, honey?”

She struggled to get out her first words since becoming so ill, a soft hiss of a voice: “I want my Chihuahuas.”

I have never been prouder or happier to hear her say anything.

May 23, 2008: Friday Already?

Without the time structure of work the last two weeks, I am losing track of the day of the week. My computer tells me it’s Friday, May 23, 2008, which, my wife reminded me yesterday, is her father’s 85th birthday. Abby’s bond with her family is powerful, but is strongest with her father. She looks up to him in every way, and in the past five and a half years I have come to look up to him as well.

Abby is in a private room now, and has been shifted to a level of treatment called “Swing Bed,” meaning she doesn’t have pneumonia any more, but needs recovery care. I can’t say that she’s getting stronger fast enough for her taste, but she is getting stronger every day.

June 1, 2008: The Dogs Visit

As my readers know, Abby has really been missing her Chihuahuas. Today I loaded them up and brought them to the breezeway outside the hospital, and I loaded Abby into a wheelchair and brought her down for a visit. Without missing so much as a beat, Sierra leaped into Abby’s lap and made herself at home.

Abby was so happy to see them. I hope that she might be able to come home to them some time this week.

June 3, 2008: How the Fallen Have Mightied

I stopped by the hospital between photo assignments today to see my wife during her third week of recovery from pneumonia. I was just in time to

  1. Eat the remainder of Abby’s fruit plate (she doesn’t care for strawberries) and
  2. Help her move from regular hospital care on the second floor to rehab care on the third floor.

Her attitude is excellent, and she is totally putting on her game face for getting well. Yesterday, in fact, she said, “You know what I’ve been thinking about? Hiking back up to Delicate Arch this October.”

She rocks.

June 16, 2008: Abby is home.