Health Crisis! April/May 2022

by guest blogger Karen Thorpe

Butch and I have had our health issues over the years we have been married. Both of us had knee replacements, there was a bowel resection for me, a pilonidal cyst for Butch, and minor injuries and illnesses for both of us. In spite of these issues we enjoyed overall good health for our age. About a week after the Celebration of Life for our sweet Rachel, we got a call from our friend, Sue Hawn who said her husband John had tested positive for Covid 19 and he and Sue were both sick. They were letting people know that others could get sick as well.

Butch and I both took an instant Covid test on April 14th. Butch already had cold symptoms: stuffy sinus, sneezing, aches etc. He had no fever and did not feel seriously sick. I didn’t feel sick at all. Both of us tested positive for the Covid virus. His doctor prescribed a medicine that was supposed to generally lessen symptoms called Paxlovid. He took it for five days and we hoped it would keep him from serious harm. My doctor said that since I had no symptoms we would let the virus run its course. Things progressed like a regular cold for Butch and after about ten days he began to feel better but then he developed a nagging cough that didn’t seem to go anywhere. He felt like he needed to cough up phlegm but wasn’t able to. That went on for a few days and then he began to have trouble catching his breath after any kind of exercise no matter how minor. We talked to his doctor over the phone. Butch was not able to go to the office because of the virus. Dr. Cearlock prescribed an inhaler to help with breathing and our friend Lynne brought over a pulse oximeter so we could check his oxygen to be sure he was getting enough.

Our 53rd anniversary on May 1st came and went without much fanfare. Butch ordered a bouquet of daisies for me and I made a chicken pie for a special meal because Butch didn’t feel well enough to go out. The first week of May was miserable for him. He was coughing and his breathing was often labored and even minor exercise left him breathless. The inhaler did not seem to be helping at all. On the Saturday night before Mother’s Day on May 7th he struggled so much at bedtime that I began to get scared. On Mother’s Day he said he would call his doctor and go in to see him on Monday morning. He was getting scared too.

We went to our appointment at midday on May 9th. Getting there was an ordeal for him. He was a wreck by the time he arrived. His breathing was labored and he had sweat through his shirt. Dr. Cearlock checked him over and gave him a nebulizer treatment. When that was done, he listened to his lungs again and said there was no improvement. He then gave him an EKG and compared the results to one he had on file from 2019. There were many alarming differences. He said that we should go to the Emergency Room at the hospital immediately. He said he would call ahead and tell them to expect his patient.

When we arrived, I got Butch into a chair and I checked in at the desk. I told the clerk that his doctor had called ahead and that he was suffering chest pains. She immediately got him a wheelchair and we waited for our turn. In only a short while we were called in. They gave him another EKG right away, then whisked us off to an ER room. A nurse took his vital signs and a physician’s assistant came in. She examined him and asked questions about the pain he had on the left side of his chest going through to his back. She said they would be doing some tests. By now, I knew things were very serious and called our kids to let them know that we were at the hospital and that I was very worried about their dad. While I was on the phone they brought in a machine and did a chest x-ray. When that was done, we waited a while. I took the opportunity to hug and kiss him and tell him that I loved him and that I was scared for him. Then they came to take him for a CAT scan. When they came back there was a swarm of activity. They took blood samples and inserted an IV line into his arm. The physician’s assistant came back and said they had found two large clots, one in each lung. She said they would be taking him to the Vascular Lab where they would insert a line into each lung to start administering clot busting medication. When she talked about the clots, she held her fingers in a round shape about the size of a ping pong ball. I knew this was very serious. I called our kids again to give them an update. Lance texted that he was on his way to join me.

They took him away while I was answering more administrative questions. The woman I was talking to assured me that she would take me to where he was. I was very scared. When we were finished she took me up to the lab and said I could not go inside because they would be doing the procedure there. She showed me to a lounge. I chose a chair at a table near the entrance so that I could see down the hall. I knew that no one inside the vascular lab knew that I was waiting or knew where I was. I wanted to watch the door to see when they brought him out. When the lines were in they were going to take him directly to the ICU so they could get the medicines started and so that he could be closely monitored. There was a danger of a heart attack or stroke if the clots broke loose. While I waited, Lance texted that he was on his way and would be with me soon.

Meanwhile, Butch later reported that he had no thoughts that his situation was dangerous. He laughed and joked with doctors doing the procedure. He had only been given a local anesthetic for the site of the line insertion and something like what is given for a colonoscopy to make him somewhat detached but not unconscious. As always, he was curious and interested and asked lots of questions. I am sure it was best that he was not as frightened as me.

I was very comforted when Lance arrived. I filled him in with the little information I had. We waited only a little while and we saw them bringing him out of the procedure room on a gurney. Both of us immediately stood up and started for the hall but the nurses waved us back. They said they would be working on him and would let us know when we could come in. While we waited, I tried to update Wendy and other family members about what was going on. Our grandson, Ben, called to ask his dad how his grandpa was. Lance explained what he knew and Ben asked to pass on a message, “Tell him he’s a tough bastard and he will get better.” Just a different way to let Butch know he loved him.

Finally Lance and I were allowed in. It wasn’t hard to see why it had taken a while to get him settled. He was hooked up to two medicines. The one going through the lines they had inserted into his neck and through the pulmonary artery was for busting up the clots. On the other side he had a blood thinner going into his arm. He was also hooked up to various monitors for his pulse, heart, breathing, oxygen levels etc. He had a blood pressure cuff on his arm that took his pressure every 15 minutes and nurses were frequently coming in to check neurological functioning by having him perform a series of actions like raising his eyebrows, holding both hands out palms up, and others.

I thought of it as the neurological Macarena! They also took blood on a regular schedule to test for how well the medicines were working. After a couple of hours, they urged Lance and I to go home to rest. They said they would call at once if anything changed. When I got home, I spent some time letting our brothers and sisters know what had happened and how Butch was doing. Then I fell into bed, exhausted.

The next morning, I was at the hospital by 7:30 am and was glad to see Butch looking better, but tired. With all the care and checking, he felt like he only slept for a few minutes at a time. There was a small hiccup in the night when he decided to use the urinal on his own and partially dislodged the lines into his lungs. He was roundly told off by a collection of five nurses but in the end he had not done any real damage. When Dr. Gogineni arrived, he talked to us about the treatments Butch had had so far and answered our questions. I think that is the moment Butch finally realized how grave his condition was when we arrived in the emergency room the day before. The doctor explained the treatments and medicines that would be ongoing and also that he would be moved to the pulmonary ward later that day as soon as a room was available. Moving to this room gave him a chance to rest and sleep at long last. As soon as he was installed in bed, he was much more comfortable.

He stayed in this room over night, and through the next day. When his doctor found out that he would have to walk up nine steps to get to the main floor of our house, he placed an order for a physical therapist to see him to make sure he would be able to climb that many steps. The therapist was not available until the next morning so he had to stay another night. I was relieved because he had another day to get off all oxygen, practice walking, and gain back some strength through some good rest. I discouraged visitors so that he could have some good naps without interruption. The two of us ordered meals from the heart healthy menu and learned about lowering sodium, fats, and sugar from our diets. This was a life changing event for both of us. The next morning the PT came to see him and took him down the hall to the stairway proving ground. With the help of the railing, Butch was able to walk up the ten steps to the landing with ease, down the steps with a little less ease, and walk all the way down the hall to his room. All that exercise tired him out a bit but the PT was assured that the steps at home would not be a problem. The discharge process was underway. We got a complicated explanation about his medications, and left the hospital and got home about lunchtime.

Once home, he took a nap in his own bed which he said was heavenly! Over the next few days we had many follow up appointments; more blood tests, an appointment with Dr. Cearlock, one with the Heart Care Clinic, and one with the pulmonologist clinic where they set up his sleep center appointment. He was finally going to get his C-pap machine! Everything was going great until his right hand began swelling up. It was red and hot, very painful, and seemed to me to be infected. We began icing it hoping to ease the pain and swelling. When your right hand is virtually out of commission, there are very few things you can do on your own. We called his doctor so he could look at it. Dr. Cearlock agreed that it appeared to be infected. He prescribed an antibiotic to treat it. Nothing seemed to work. He added in an antibiotic shot in the butt, prednisone, a different antibiotic, and more prednisone.

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