dee story - ards survivorOn the morning of April 14,2000, I called 911 for assistance. I told the operator that my Grace needed help. The operator wanted to know Grace’s age. I told her she might be 6 or 7. After asking a few more questions, the operator ascertained that Grace was my cat who became very upset every time I passed out. The operator wanted me to collect my driver’s license and my meds so I could give them to the EMTs when they arrived. I told her all that wasn’t necessary because Grace didn’t drive and wasn’t on meds. (I had no idea that my point of view was so totally out of whack!!)

A week before this, I had been put under sedation to have tubes put in my ears. The person who was to drive me home was told that I had had a massive asthma attack during the procedure. On Saturday and Sunday, I went to the ER with breathing problems. On Monday, I called the ENT’s office. They got me an appointment the next day with a pulmonologist. Without any tests, the pulmonologist said I had asthma. They prescribed sulfa and penicillin. . (I had no clue that these meds were not typical asthma controls.) I started taking the meds on Tuesday, and, by Thursday, I was passing out.

I was in the hospital for a month. The doctors at the university thought I aspirated during ear surgery and that according to their PFTs, I didn’t have asthma. I was on a vent for 15 days. While in a drug induced coma, I heard people talking, whether they were in person or voices from the TV. The hallucinations I experienced were so very real and so very terrifying!  Once awake, I had physical and occupational therapy. I was stunned at how quickly my stamina crashed!!

I went home on supplemental oxygen 24/7/365. Friends and family were concerned because they thought I had AIDS. I told folks over and over that I had been ARDS crisis, but they believed I was confused! Because I had suffered from a lack of oxygen, I had to relearn how to read, write, pay bills, cook, drive, and so much more. I was an ARDS survivor with confused family and friends.

It was difficult for me deal with my new world post ARDS crisis. No one in the Family Medicine practice had worked with an ARDS survivor so they were unsure about treatment. The mortality rate for ARDS in 2000 was 70%! Such a sobering statistic!!

I went home with a craggy voice due to vocal cord injury while on the vent. I developed trachea stenosis and ended up having a lifesaving trachea resection operation at a university medical center.

I went home with my hallucinations!  A marvelous therapist helped me navigate how to deal with the nightmares!

After being home for a year, I was referred to an out-patient Pulmonary Rehab program which featured monitored exercise and a support group.

I learned many important lessons over the years:

Post ARDS, I had a new normal. A new set of what was normal for me! It took time for me to accept this concept.

A 14 year old neighbor was in a horrendous accident and was in hospitals for a year. One day, while complaining to his mom about how awful my life was, this young man who survived a crushed skull calmly said, “Sometimes life sucks but look at who we have trained.’