When you get comfortable, life smacks you – hard
I have always loved writing. About things. About other people’s lives. Those stories are easy for me.
But the hardest thing to write about is my own life, especially the scary and sad parts.
This year has been full of ups and downs for my family. But nothing was quite like the turn our lives took a month ago.
At the beginning of July, things were looking up for my family of three – my husband Brian and I and his daughter Hannah. I was looking forward to starting back at the Times, and Hannah had returned from visiting her mother and was preparing to start her high school courses in September.
But like so many times, just when you get comfortable, life smacks you – hard.
Our lives were turned upside down around 12:30 p.m. Saturday, July 6 – a time and date I’ll never forget.
Hannah and I had just returned home from a morning spent with friends. Brian hadn’t gone with us because he didn’t feel well that morning. As Hannah and I returned, Brian stepped into the garage of our home southeast of Gainesville to talk to my dad. Hannah was on the porch when I heard her scream that her dad was having a seizure.
Seizures are nothing new to us. Brian was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was about 12, so it’s something he’s dealt with most of his life. But medication usually controls it, and he hadn’t had a seizure in more than two years. The last grand mal seizure he had was in January 2017.
Hannah and I ran to the garage and helped my dad get Brian to the ground and on his side – the procedure we knew we’re supposed to do.
I expected it to end quickly as most of Brian’s previous seizures had done. But this one was different.
This one almost killed him.
During the seizure, Brian aspirated food into his lungs, causing his breathing to become labored. He wasn’t getting oxygen, and he was turning blue.
My dad and I did our best to keep Brian breathing while Hannah called the ambulance. I can’t say enough about how good the dispatcher, ambulance personnel and first responders were. The ambulance crew arrived quickly, immediately put oxygen on Brian, called AirEvac and loaded him into the ambulance before leaving for the Gainesville Medical Clinic, where they would meet the helicopter to fly Brian to Cox South Hospital in Springfield.
Friends came to pick up Hannah and me and drive us to Springfield. By the time we arrived, Brian was already in the operating room, and doctors were doing a tracheotomy and putting him on a ventilator, saving his life.
But his struggles were just beginning.
In fact, the nurses prepared me for the worst – because no one expected Brian to live through the night.
I was prepared, but I knew my husband. I knew Brian is a fighter.
And fight he did.
He made it through that first night and the following day while doctors struggled to get his blood pressure up and his heartbeat and temperature down. By late Sunday night, they were finally able to stabilize him. That entire time, a nurse was in his room every minute.
I have never been so scared. But Hannah and I were surrounded by family and friends, and we could feel the love and the prayers helping us endure.
I didn’t know until the second week that Brian had been diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a rare disorder that causes fluid to leak into the lungs, making it difficult for oxygen to get into the blood and circulate to body organs. There are only about 200,000 cases of ARDS each year in the United States, and it has a fatality rate of between 30 and 50 percent. I’m glad I didn’t know the statistics until later.
We also learned the cause of the seizure. One of the medications Brian had been taking for years to control his seizures had caused his liver to start malfunctioning and his blood to become toxic, causing the event.
The doctors kept Brian in a medically induced coma for almost a week, allowing his lungs, body and brain to start healing. Even then, bringing him out of the sedation was difficult and took several days.
But when Brian finally did come out of the sedation – oh, the strides he made (and continues to make) were amazing.
Fifteen days after being admitted, Brian was transferred to the step-down unit, similar to the ICU but where patients usually go before being sent to a regular hospital floor to continue recovery. He was still on a ventilator, but he was alert and communicating – to the amazement of the doctors and nurses.
In short, Brian was a miracle.
On July 22, he was fitted with a valve that enabled him to talk. The next day, he was taken completely off the ventilator.
On July 24, the doctor removed the trache, and Brian was able to eat and drink. The next day, he was transferred to a private room on the eighth floor.
And on July 27 – 21 days after suffering the seizure – we went home.
It was one of the best days of my life.
This experience taught our family a few things.
First, I learned to never take for granted another day, another moment, with loved ones. More often than ever, I tell them I love them.
Second, we learned how many wonderful friends we have. So many people helped us in so many important ways. Hannah and I were never alone that first week. Someone was always there with us, taking care of us, supporting us. We had visits, phone calls, texts, emails, cards, prayers. Friends brought food and drinks – anything we needed or wanted.
Third, the experience gave us a life-changing reminder that life is short and precious. I’m determined now not to waste my time and energy worrying about things that don’t really matter.
And fourth, but most important, our close call strengthened our reliance on God. We never would have made it through the experience without God’s support and comfort.
Brian’s recovery will take time, but at least he’s here to recover.
I can’t thank God enough for that.