By Christopher Green
A little background. I had been struggling pretty hard to deal with the mental and emotional crash that hit me when I was forced to give up the life I had always wanted. For as long as I could remember, I wanted to be a part of things, be able to see and understand what was going on behind the scene.
Now in no way am I trying to inflate my involvement in how things were operating here in Cuyahoga County, but I was given enough of a glimpse to truly see and fully understand what was actually happening behind closed doors. The best part was I had a chance to write about and comment on what it was I witnessed.
It was heady stuff for me. But to sustain myself I had to go where my stamina would not allow me. A person to be politically active even on the lower level I was operating in takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. Energy I simply did not have due to my deteriorating health. Remember, during the 90’s I was hospitalized four times for pneumonia, three of those within a span of five years.
There was one time I was released from the hospital on a Saturday afternoon and I was at an early morning campaign meeting the next day. My one concession to my health was I let Laurie drive to the meeting. That was in the spring of 1998. By the summer of 2001, I was a complete mess health-wise.
It all came crashing down for me late in 2001 when I finally agreed to see Dr. Sharma when he basically told me to slow down fast or die.
I finally listened to him and so by the end of 2003, I was at looking at life from the bottom of a deep financial, health and emotional hole.
A friend of the family offered me a chance to recapture some of my dignity when he asked me to help him out at his business a few hours a week. It would give me a chance to earn a little pocket change and, more important to my psyche, a chance to get out of the house and feel useful again.
We are not talking full time money, but it helped me supplement the $ 600 a month I was getting from SSI. Slowly I started to feel a little bit better about myself.
Here comes the catch: there was a real good reason I was so easily declared disabled and it hit me with a vengeance when just 6 months after starting I was completely exhausted. My immune system was compromised as well and so just as I was regaining a little self-worth, I had to back off even from the few hours I worked.
This was at around the middle of May 2004. By the end of May, I was so weak I couldn’t even make it to the bathroom. I was literally peeing in a bottle. But I wasn’t running a fever, so I fooled myself into thinking everything was all right when I should have realized I was about to take a trip up Shit’s Creek without a paddle. Hell, without a boat.
I do not remember much about those last few days of May, but I do remember being taken to the Fairview Hospital in an ambulance. I remember seeing Laurie all white and ashen. I remember that I could not catch my breath and that I was panting instead of breathing. I remember the bright lights of the hospital and people shouting my name asking me what was wrong, what I had done and what day it was.
And most of all, I remember the searing pain that shot through my chest every time I tried to take anything more than a pant of air.
Of course my sister, the nurse practitioner, we are so proud, and BIL, the doctor, met Laurie and I at the hospital. I didn’t know they were there. Laurie tells me they were gravely concerned about how low the level my Oxygen saturation was and the high rate my heart was beating because of my increasingly labored breathing.
I remember a lot of commotion, being strapped into a gurney, a full gas mask being strapped to my face, some tugging at my chest and the real serious look of a nurse as she leaned over to brush the hair out of my eyes.
Then nothing. That nothing lasted for what I later found out was almost two weeks.
It seems I had come down with a really bad case of pneumonia that caused me to be intubated and put into a drug-induced coma. Intubation is a procedure that is done to insert a tube down into your lungs. They then attach you to a breathing machine. It’s one of those life-support machines that everyone was talking about last summer during the Death Panel phase of the health care debate.
Within a week, my pneumonia developed into a life threatening condition called Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome or (ARDS). It was one of those classic good thing/bad thing that I was on that breathing machine. Bad because intubation in and of itself can cause ARDS and good because I could, well, breathe. I am told that it was touch and go for me. I was in the intensive care unit during this time and have no recollection of what was going on.
From what I am told, about a week later, I had a tracheotomy and was unintubated. I was then moved from ICU and stepped down to a ventilator. The place I was transferred to is actually a separate hospital called Grace, which exists within Fairview as well as several other local Hospitals. Grace is set-up mainly for various types’ of rehabilitation. While there, I was to be weaned from the ventilator and taught how to breathe and eat again.
I fully woke up from my ”coma” in Grace although I kind of knew I was being moved around. I was still on the drugs, though.
In my last installment, I mentioned how the good Dr. Sharma would come in everyday and ask me, “Who was the president?” to gauge just how close to reality I was getting. That one time I answered, “The Ass Hole,” and so he knew I was slowly coming out of that in between reality and dream-like state that I had been in.
The world I existed in before and after that day is hard to describe. Since I was being fed a steady diet of Morphine for pain and Ativan to stave off anxiety, reality had little to do with my ability to tell what was real and what was a figment of my, what turned out to be, vivid imagination.
(I found out later that they leave the TV on so that if a patient stirs out of say a semi drug-induced or even a full-blown coma they will not be alone. So take that grandma, Television isn’t just there to rot your brain…)
I was in the hospital during the run up to the release of Spider-man 2. Since I was a big time comic book collector when I was a kid, this rash of superhero movies is pretty cool for guys like me. So of course, there were a lot of Spider-man commercials.
That day when Dr Sharma came to see me, I firmly believed I was in Vietnam with the son of Spider-man’s boss trying to escape from a POW camp. I wondered why Dr. Sharma was in the same camp we were in, but I felt better about the whole situation since we now had a doctor there with us. I think he thought I was answering about Bush being president, but I was referring to Nixon.
I didn’t tell him where we were. I didn’t want to get him upset about suddenly being in a POW camp with me, so I just answered the question and kept my mouth shut. I learned it was just better that way because just before that adventure in the POW camp, I was all agitated about the nurses stealing my morphine and selling it on the veterinarian black market. I told them of my suspicions and they got really angry with me. Of course, I really couldn’t have told them because of the tube I had in my throat, but I was convinced that I could still talk.
For a time there, they were trying to feed me with a tube. This I knew because they stuck a rubber hose in my stomach area and left bottles of what passes for food when being tube fed on the shelf by my bed. I knew for sure it was that Korean cabbage food they have to bury so that it ferments; they were getting ready to force into me. I saw one of the nurses digging it out of the ground one night.
So yea, I was in great shape.
The thing is I remember so much of this because it seemed like reality to me.
Next up, how I became a Tennessee Williamsesque southern gentleman who wanted nothing more than to have a humble succotash farm.
Meanwhile, here are some links to stuff I mentioned in this installment of My Lung Transplant Years.
Grace Hospital http://www.gracehospital.org/weaning.html
Here is a really cool video of how to do an Intubation. Not for the faint of heart.
For Tracheotomy http://www.surgeryencyclopedia.com/St-Wr/Tracheotomy.html