Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Looking back - the year that was: Staph infection/sepsis/hospitalizations (Part 4)

(Part 1 is here, part 2 , part 3.)

The surgery was several hours long.  I don't even remember how long, really.  I know that I struggled to hold myself together.  I felt sick to my stomach but also knew that if I didn't eat something I'd collapse.  It was such a difficult place to be in - not caring the least about what happened to myself but knowing that I had to preserve my health for both the baby and the children who were at home.  I couldn't afford to become weakened - I had no idea what was in store or how long this might last.

My brother-in-law, Gene, called.  I had walked outside to a garden area to get some fresh air; saw the helicopter pad where Sammy had been flown in 5 months earlier.  It was the first time I let myself fall apart.  The memories were so horrible - holding my bloody 5 year old with things oozing from his head, sending him off alone for the LifeFlight, racing to the hospital and thinking of him strapped so small on the body board without his mama....and now, Jeff.   I stood beside the helipad, looking at it, and I broke down when Gene asked how Jeff was doing.  I had to tell him that I did not know, but that what he had was bad, bad, bad.  That people died from this.  I felt horrible for being so hopeless - I was supposed to be hopeful and hold everything together for everyone.  I felt so much responsibility - for the kids, for the baby, for my parents (who would take care of them?), for our families, for our friends.  We, Jeff and I, we were supposed to be strong for everyone else.  And without Jeff to be strong with me - I felt so empty and so alone.  It was so good to talk with Gene, though.  He and Jeff sound so much alike on the phone.  He was a comfort to me.

After several hours the surgeon came out and we met in a small conference room.  A doo-rag held the sweat back from his eyes,  there was blood smeared across his scrubs.  My husband's, I presumed.

"I did my best," he said.  "He was septic.  That means the infection was not only in his hip bone, but is also in his blood stream.  I took his hip joint completely apart, cleaned it out really well.  The infection had eaten into the bone.  Any longer, and it would have totally destroyed the joint.  I scraped that off, rinsed it so clean you could eat off of it," and here he chuckled and said, "but I don't advise it..." adjusted his glasses, cleared his throat, and continued, "he is a very very sick boy."  "I don't know what will happen.  I hope that I saved his hip.  I "think" he will be okay.  Once I was done, I put everything back together again and inserted a strand of 17 antibiotic-emitting cement beads.  They'll sit right under his hip bone, and they'll need to stay in for two months.  Then we'll have to take them out.  I don't know if we got all of the infection, but we sure tried.  Your husband has so much antibiotic directly applied inside his body, that if he were to ingest it, it would kill him.  He is on the strongest medicine we have.  Since I don't know what this infection is, I had to hit it with a wide range from our arsenal.  Your husband is very strong, though, and young.  Those two things are in his favor."

"Doctor," I ventured, wanting to ask, knowing reality and wanting his sincere assessment.  Most people had been dancing around the seriousness of what was going on, trying to spare me.  Up until now, medical personnel had walked around with grim faces but no one would talk straight with me.   "I know that this can kill people.  I've got a friend who was widowed by this very type of thing...."

I didn't even get to finish my sentence, because he was nodding.  "Yes.  It does.  I HATE this.  This is the ONE THING I have nightmares about.  I hate this stinking bacteria.  It's my passion to clean it out, to wipe it out."  He shook his head some more sweat dropped to the floor.

I took his hand and put all of the sincerity I could find into my "thank you."  "I appreciate your wisdom and skill and that you did your best for us."

He looked into my eyes and nodded and said again, "I'm a perfectionist.  I did my very best.  Take care of yourself and that baby."  Every time we met after that, he always asked about the baby - how long til it was born, how I was doing.  I was touched by that.  I hope that we touched his life, too, and those of other people we came into contact with.  God doesn't waste anything, you know?

I did not see Jeff for several more hours.  He never comes out of surgery well.  They have to use so much medication to get his muscles to relax enough "take him apart," that it takes him a long time to wake up and he can't keep anything down for several days.

But finally, he was settled in a room.  I was so happy to see him, thrilled to be able to do small things for him:  change his pillowcase, get another blanket.  He was alive!  I called the kids and since it was late, they told me to just go ahead and spend the night, that it would be okay, so I did.

I'm never any good when Jeff is down.  I can't read, can't stand to watch television, can't even pick up anything to knit or sew.  It all seems pointless when he's not "there."

Jeff had a few tough days as the antibiotics began to do their work.  He was quarantined - gloves, gowns and masks were required to enter his room.  (Which made me wonder...since we didn't know where this came from, was this same bacteria lurking in our home?  A panicked mother's mind can go in any direction.  What about on his razor?  In the shower?  All of my children were at home.  What if one of the boys grabbed his razor in a hurry and used it?  Could that spread it?  No one had any answers for me, either.  They deal in the "here and now," not in the theoretical.  I cleaned  everything when I was home, but goodness, the questions scared me while I sat at the hospital.)

Jeff followed an ebb and flow of high fevers and chills, high blood pressure readings and nausea for several days.  I raced home when I felt I could leave him and made meals for the kids, coordinated their schedules, did laundry (the 2 year old was potty training herself....) wrote notes, made phone calls, etc.  So many people were waiting for updates, but every free minute I was home I needed to be giving attention to my children.  So many of them were still little - they needed mama too.  They weren't used to me being gone so much.  I felt like I was trying to be so many things to so many people and failing in just about every way possible.  I just did the best I could and hoped that people would understand!

The third day following surgery Jeff began to improve.  Although he still had fever, his vital signs began to stabalize.  He was able to walk (!) and sit up in bed.  He was very weak, and we didn't know if the infection was eradicated from his hip joint, but progress was being made on the bacteria in his bloodstream.

We announced our pregnancy to the world on facebook.  I was a bit fearful of what people would say, of the reactions we would receive.  Would they say, "How irresponsible."  "Here you are, in a crisis, and you are having yet another child?"  "Boy, you guys don't know how to PLAN, do you?"  "Shouldn't you have stopped a few kids ago?"

But on the other hand, I knew that this little person was wanted desperately by us, loved already by his family, and that although our journey was different from many of our friends, we had listened and had followed God's plan for US - it was tough to explain, really, but we have listened to our Lord for each child - and He has confirmed that each child was meant to be and in His plan for us.  We don't try to tell other people what God's plan is for their lives - but we knew this was His for ours, no matter how it looked from the outside looking in.

Mostly, our baby news was well-received.  People rejoiced with us, even as they shook their heads in wonder (some at our faith, some at what they perceived to be our stupidity.)  We heard a bit of incredulity, but mostly, the noise was just glad.

To add to the craziness of that time, I learned that I had not one, but two(!) rh problems with my pregnancy:  I was iso-immunized at some point in a previous pregnancy with the antigens anti-E and anti-C.  This, too, was difficult news to bear.  It almost seemed unreal, crazy even.  It was like we just took the news and threw it on the heap of our troubles, Beverly Hillbilly jalopy style.  It was all too big to really deal with.  It meant that I would need to see a Fetal/Maternal specialist every two weeks, have an ultrasound every two weeks, and have my blood drawn every alternating week.  (Because, apparently, I did not have enough going on.)  The risk was that my white blood cells might begin seeing the baby as an "invader" and begin attacking the baby's red blood cells, which in turn would make the baby anemic.  As long as the condition is monitored, there is a good opportunity for a good outcome.  Worst case scenario could have been death for the baby.  Mid-case scenario meant a blood transfusion in utero, and best case scenario meant that nothing would happen and the baby would be fine.  (In the long run, you all know that the baby was absolutely fine.  Not a single bit of trouble...just a whole lot of doctor's visits and blood draws, and me needing to be gone from home more.  Our big kids were so fabulous.  They paid a price and we have spent the last year re-building so many things - BUT - they were incredible.)

Jeff continued to improve.  We were so, so grateful.  A central line was inserted in his arm and threaded to rest right in front of his heart, where it could emit antibiotics on a steady basis.  A nurse trained us how to administer the medication on our own.  We were so happy when we were ready to leave the hospital.  I wasn't sure that I could get him home all by myself in our little car, but I did and we made it.

Being home, all of us together, was so sweet.  I still felt numb, still did not know what we were going to do to manage for the three months Jeff would be out of work, still did not know if the infection was gone from his hip joint - but he was alive (!) and we were home! 

And that was Round One.  Next time, I'll tell you about Round Two and how God began to provide for us.  Although the difficulties did not go away - our friends and family began to show up, and God began to shower His love on us in some very tangible ways.  Oh my, how He DID provide and the lessons we have learned.  Stay tuned...

*one final thought that I want to communicate although this really is already too long....

I feel that we who are Christians need to be sure that we give credit where credit is due.  Yes, our God heals - but he uses the skilled hands of people who have dedicated decades of their lives to study, practice and application.  I have wondered how it makes the doctor/specialist/surgeon feel when they put themselves through medical school, residency, and the hard slog of all that entails, to pour themselves out over their patient, to give of their best to save a life, only to hear the family exclaim, "God healed our loved one!"  Does that make the unbelieving surgeon more inclined to believe, or does that make him, perhaps, resentful?  I've wondered, too, at those who believe that God sends horrible diseases or viruses.  What does that say to the physician who has devoted his or her life to the eradication or treatment of these illnesses, who has seen the ravages of disease on the human body?  Does that make God seem terrible to them?  I think it could...

I believe that God does, indeed, heal.  And I believe that sometimes He does that spontaneously, because He certainly CAN DO THAT!  But I also believe that He wants PEOPLE to interact with PEOPLE, and that so very often He uses the skills and talents, intellect and dedication of doctors and other devoted medical care workers to save and/or improve our lives.  After this last year, I've come to the place where I'm very sure to thank the doctor, the nurse, the lab worker for their care of me and my family, for their involvement in our lives.  I pray that we live the Gospel in front of them, that they are blessed for the work they do, that they are blessed because of us.


  1. Oh's just so amazing to read this trail of where you have been in the last months. I don't know how you found the strength...well, I do...but it is testimony to a very capable God. I just really wish I could knock on your door and give you a big old hug.

    Thank you for teaching and sharing.

  2. Hi Holly -- please don't ever feel bad about writing out what God has walked you through -- more of us should take the time to do it because time has a way of making us forget the details. This is such an amazing testimony of God's goodness and faithfulness in your lives. I haven't read on your blog in awhile so today I read all four parts... what a tear jerker! Thank you for sharing! It's builds faith just hearing your and Jeff's story. :) And I am SO THANKFUL that he is alive!!! Stacy P.

  3. Holly, I looked for your email address, but couldn't find it. I almost died from MRSA/Toxic Shock (or sepsis) about two years ago. I was astonished to read a similar story. Would love to talk to you more.

  4. Thank you ladies! :)

    Stacy, so nice to hear from you! :)

    Brandy - my email addy is I'd love to talk, too. :)

  5. Jon in Seattle here - You're the first person I've been able to find who's experienced what I went through. The physicians called my MSSA hip infection a "spontaneous infection" because they could not explain where it came from. By the time they found it - I had been sent home from the ER with a mis-diagnosis of back pain - it was very advanced. The doctor told my brother that had I not finally been admitted I would have died within a week.

    I was in the ortho ward for 7 1/2 weeks and a nursing home for a month - moved to my house and did my own IV via a pick line for another five months. I had four hip surgeries. The pain felt like my body was on fire 24/7 - they just couldn't shake the infection. and while all this was going on my mom died. It's took me two years and a lot of work just to be able to tie my shoes.

    In the end the outcome was terrific. Shortly afterwards we had our first child and my life seems quite blessed.

    I just wanted you to know that you're not alone in this and I was very moved by your story and can absolutely relate. I'm so happy that your husband made it. It does put life in perspective very quickly.



  6. What an amazing journey this past year has been for you. (and for me too but that's another story. :) )

    It has touched my heart the way you've coped with all that you've had on your plate, and the way I've seen God work in your lives. The view from over here has been pretty incredible. And inspiring. And humbling. *hugs*

  7. Jon - I am so glad you are healthy again. I'm so sorry for your troubles. I can relate to everything you wrote - right down to the time it takes to tie your own shoes. God bless you, friend - and may you find much joy in life and in your family and may you never go thru something like that again!

    Vanessa - thanks, hon. You're so precious - and you've been with me in prayer and in spirit every step of the way.