By: Diana Herzan | April 18, 2017

There are times in our lives when bad things happen to us, and if we are fortunate enough, we can take some good things out of them that make us stronger and better for the experience. This happened to me recently. Early in February, I got sick, really sick, and ended up with pneumonia. I am sharing my experience because as some of the good I was able to take from it, I ended up learning some valuable things about life and unexpectedly, some valuable things about business, as well. The experience that happened to me can happen to anyone. I discovered that pneumonia does not discriminate. Luckily for me, my outcome was positive, but it doesn’t always go that direction for everyone. This is my motivating factor for sharing the raw education I received amidst a totally unexpected confrontation with health and chance. I hope my lessons can potentially be of help to someone else at some time or another.


The events that led up to my illness and ultimate education seemed to come out of nowhere, gave no warning signs and took place in less than one week’s time.  I literally went to bed one night feeling wonderful and woke up the next day feeling more terrible than is describable.  My main symptoms were extreme weakness, very low grade fever, and inability to eat more than two bites of food, literally.  We figured it was a nasty flu.  We called the doctor who told us there was, indeed a similar sounding flu going around that seemed to take around seven days to clear up.  He told me to come in if my fever got any higher, which it never did. 


By the sixth day, it was obvious no reprieve was in sight.  I had never been so sick in my life. When you add up the two bites of food per meal times six days, it barely added up to a full meal’s worth.  Besides feeling over the top starving, I remember telling my husband that I thought I was dying.  I could feel the life going out of me and things feeling as if they may be starting to shut down.  It was definitely time to get to a doctor.  That reality was clear, but even so, I was so weak that the thought of actually getting there was horrifying.  My husband literally had to hold me up to get me to the car and into Urgent Care which turned out to save my life.


When I arrived at Urgent Care, it was clear to the nurses and doctor that I was in trouble.  All my vitals were out of control.  I am a diabetic (Type 2), so that piece added to some complications, as well.  With a heart rate of over 130, spiked blood pressure, oxygen level at 80%, blood sugar over 300, and dehydrated, the doctor and nurses rallied to get me oxygen, insulin, IV’s started with liquids.  My white blood cells indicated an infection somewhere so antibiotics were quickly added to the IV's.  It was a chest x-ray that revealed a massive infection in my right lung of pneumonia.  The doctor categorized my condition as sepsis, a new term for me.  You can Google that.  It was basically a danger that the infection would spread into other areas of my body, which fortunately, it never did, but nonetheless, was the rationale for a good degree of commotion and precautions that would take place over the next seven hours by the Urgent Care staff.


I was informed I wasn’t going home that night.  Instead an ambulance took me to the hospital where an amazing care team took over and got me through the night.  Fast forward and skip over a lot of icky details, what was supposed to be an overnight at the hospital or two nights at the most turned into a five night stay to get me stabilized and able to breathe and eat by myself again.  After an intensely aggressive blast of antibiotics via IV for the first 72 hours, I think the infection began to realize it was not going to win.  Over the next five days I would experience hallucinating, disorientation, meltdowns on the tough side; and compassion, caring, support and great medical care on the happy side.  Still suffice it to say, those two weeks (one at home and one at the hospital) were easily two of the scariest and most horrific weeks of my life.  You don’t realize how low, low, low you can actually get until you’re down that low.  I was definitely down there and experienced an entirely isolated set of priorities during those moments.  Really the only thing that mattered was getting better and getting home.  The fact that my “styling” hospital gown might not be perfectly tied in the back, or my hair was atrocious, no make-up, who really cared? 


When I initially learned that my condition was life-threatening, I was too weak and in and out of coherency to have totally comprehended the reality.  In many aspects, this was likely the best timing for this information.  Too weak to stress over it.  I recall hearing something about having to possibly be moved to the ICU, but never had to go there.  I believe that the partial coherency was actually an aid in getting through the initial shock of what was going on.  By the time I’d gotten enough strength back to “get it,” I was out of trouble.


Happy to have walked out of that hospital and happier to be back to myself six weeks later, I know I was lucky and am thankful every day for my luck.  I learned a lot during the entire seven weeks from beginning to healing and feel blessed that I can apply my lessons to my life moving forward.  Here is a composite of some of the things that occurred to me and some others that hit me like an invisible two by four in my head.  Some of what I learned is personal, some related to family, some to business and some to life, itself. 

 

Here is the personal stuff:

  • Don’t hesitate to think twice about insight you receive over the phone from a doctor.  Sometimes listening to your body should override even a good doctor’s advice.
  • Be very careful and leery about Googling information and using it to self-diagnose yourself.  You could get yourself into all kinds of tizzies and trouble if you do this.
  • Never consider any aspects of your health insurance or doctor bills higher than your actual health
  • I discovered, even though it is hard to comprehend, that you can get horrendously sick in a very short period of time, even without having been sick prior.  Perhaps we are all more vulnerable than we realize.
  • If you are admitted to a hospital, always pack (or have someone bring you) more underwear than you think you will originally need.  You never know how long you will actually need to be there.  Hospital underwear is not cool.
  • Leave everything you would deem of “value” to you at home if you are admitted to a hospital.  Weird things can grow legs and disappear.
  • Exercise your best listening if you are the patient to whatever degree you are able.  Do not hesitate to ask questions, “What are you giving me?” “What is that for?”  “How long will that IV run for?”  “Can we skip the blood work in the middle of the night tonight?”  “When are you coming back?”  You may end up having to advocate for yourself in certain scenarios.  The more you know, the better you can achieve the strongest advocacy for yourself.
  • No worries about hitting the Call Button as many times as you need or want.  I hit it at least 100 times in five days, maybe more.  When you’re in the hospital, you are totally at the mercy of everyone else.  It sucks, but it is your reality at the moment. 
  • No reason is too small to hit the Call Button, either.  My garbage can was too far away, needed more ice water, Kleenex, peanut butter toast at 2 a.m., what do you have for nausea, and of course, the biggie, “I have to pee.”
  • A good fight is worth every speck of the effort.  There was nothing I wouldn't have done to make sure that I left that hospital and on my own two feet.
  • It’s okay to cry when you’re in the hospital.  Besides there being something physical going on, there is also a lot of emotional stuff going on, as well.
  • Realize that you have a limited reservoir of strength and energy and understand it will get drained quickly.  Everything you do, even listening, requires a degree of that energy, so be prepared to try and educate your family members of this reality.  No one helps you debrief your family members when you are in a hospital or when you are coming home.  You may look halfway normal (minus the horrendous hospital hair!), but you could likely be further from that as a newly released hospital patient.
  • Here is a tip that could help you if you end up with an extended stay in a hospital.  Ask a family member to bring you a thermal lunch bag where you can stash some snacks or food that need to stay cold or warm.  Hospital rooms are not hotel rooms.  They don’t come with fridges.  Being able to keep something cold or warm for later could be make your day or night, depending on when you need a snack or need to boost your blood sugar.
  • On your list of what you need to bring with you, ask for a notebook and something to write with.  Keeping notes of what you want to remember to ask a nurse, tell your family, remember yourself later on can be really helpful.  It’s easier than you can imagine for a thought to be in your head one minute and gone the next. 

Family stuff:

  • Develop a communication plan in advance.  One of the things I thought I would have been better at was keeping my family (and friends) informed.  I was dead wrong about my ability to do that well.  No one expects to land in the hospital, but when you do, the people who love you want to know how you are doing, if they can do something, when you’re coming home, etc.  We already had a lot going on before I went into the hospital, so adding that piece was overwhelming.  We decided as a family afterwards, that we will come up with a better plan of how information will be communicated to everyone, should something like this happen again.  Another helpful tip I learned is to ask family members and friends (siblings, parents, kids, spouses, cousins, etc.) what kind of information they’d really want to get.  Most people don’t need all the raw details. They just want to know if progress is being made, and when the patient might be coming home.  Communication with those folks can be made easier.  Much like an emergency fire escape type of plan, an emergency communication type of plan can make it all flow a lot easier if you ever have to put it into play.
  • Ask a nurse or doctor who has taken care of you in the hospital to help talk to your family members while you are there, if that is helpful to you.  Also, upon your discharge, they can be great resources to your family members (if you ask them), to help them understand your real state of your health, energy, and what to expect for your recovery.  They can help them understand how they can be of help to you when you get home, as well.
  • Take extra stock in how much your whole family means to you!  For the rest of your life, give lots of hugs and kisses to them all!  Don’t miss a single opportunity or an impulse to say “I love you.”
  • Now that I’ve got all the mushy stuff out of the way, here’s one for the household…. In the case you end up getting laid up longer in the hospital than expected, or God-forbid, you don’t go home, having certain things written out about things you take care of at home could be a huge help to whoever will need to figure them out from there.  For example, I pay the bills at our house.  My husband never thinks about them.  He has no idea, even, how to get to our bank accounts online.  I have talked about doing this very thing, but as you can guess, hadn’t done it.  As you can also probably guess, it is first on my list to get done for him now.
  • ·Let your spouse or partner in on where you keep a list of your online user names and passwords.  If they need to access any account, social media, or otherwise, they will have a heck of a time without this information.

Business stuff:

  • In business, the show must go on, regardless of where a particular team member may be.  If you are the only person who does your job, is there anyone else in the company you work for that could step in for you?  This is a great question for all business owners about themselves as well as any team member in their company. 
  • Having things written out at work is also a great help to those who will need to fill in your shoes
  • If you are a sole proprietor and may actually be the only soul representing your company, will your spouse or partner know what to do in your absence or in the sad instance, if you do not come home? 
  • These are questions just being posed at this time as food for thought.  A great time to ponder on them is when things are going well and when everyone is healthy.  Having things in place for those unexpected times is a great insurance policy.  Hopefully, you won’t ever need to tap into them, but if something similar happens to you as happened to me, I am hoping you will be glad you had something ready and in place.

Life stuff:

  • My experience was confirmation of what I already knew; that life is precious and can be taken from us unexpectedly and at a moment’s notice. 
  • Take nothing for granted.  Appreciate and over-appreciate all that has value to you.
  • People who work in a hospital setting are very special people.  They come to work at all hours of the day and night.  They care for people they’ve never met, don’t know, and will never see again either once their shifts are over, or the patient leaves the hospital.  Not just doctors and nurses offer compassion.  So do housekeeping staff, nursing assistants, and even food delivery people.  Pretty cool.
  • For all that was done for me by my family, friends, and strangers that turned into my care team at the hospital, I am eternally grateful for the love, care, and support I received.  I am not someone who easily asks for help, but I can easily acknowledge that every bit of assistance I received was not only greatly needed, it was greatly appreciated.

There are times in our lives when bad things happen to us, and if we are fortunate enough, we can take some good things out of them that make us stronger and better for the experience.  The primary hope is that nothing bad happens.  As we all know though, we never actually do know, so a secondary hope is that something from what I have shared from my experience can help soften the blow in the event that something unexpected or bad does happen.  In my own way, this information is an acknowledgement of all the help I received and an attempt to “pay it forward” even if I never actually know who I have helped.  I know that every experience will be different.  Nonetheless, I am hoping this information will motivate folks to be proactive and get prepared, to get yourself one step ahead, just in case you end up needing it….  Stay well, all!


 
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