The thumpa-thumpa-thumpa of my youngest son’s echo-cardiogram brings tears to my eyes. The last time I heard something like that, was when he was still inside me. Now, almost twenty-four years later, he’s in the ICU, in critical condition with some mysterious septic infection threatening to steal him away from me. Something like this happens on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, not in real life. Not to him. Not to my baby.
But it IS real, and it’s a nightmare. The fear is almost paralyzing. Normal life stops. Living in a hospital room, focusing on monitors, jumping every time one beeps like it’s not supposed to. Shoving ice packs under arms, behind his neck when his fever spikes. Sleeping (or trying to) in a recliner in his room. Making him do his breathing exercises so he won’t get pneumonia, giving him sips of water, trying to get him to eat, praying… praying… praying.
It hit him on Tuesday, like a stomach bug on steroids. By Thursday, unable to keep anything down, he gave up and went to Urgent Care. The doctor simply gave him two bags of saline by IV for dehydration, wrote him a prescription for nausea, and sent him home. That medicine was a short-lived ‘band-aide’ that lasted about twenty-six hours. The calm before the storm. Then the vomiting started again, and the fever. Saturday, after taking a nap, he woke up with excruciating pain in his left wrist. Nothing he did alleviated the pain. Sunday night, unable to bear it anymore, he drove himself to the emergency room, where they immediately admitted him.
I was oblivious to most of this. I knew he had a stomach bug, even knew he’d gone to Urgent Care. But he had nausea medicine and he’d texted that it was helping, and I was reassured. Stomach bugs pass, even bad ones, and he had medicine. My husband and I left Thursday as planned to drive to Kansas with his parents to our nephew’s wedding. We were scheduled to be back Monday. Sunday night, when we’d stopped at a motel, planning to finish the trip home the next day, I sent him a text to check on him, assuming he’d be back to normal. That’s when I found out he was on his way to the ER. The next morning, I woke up to find a text from him telling me they were doing surgery on him at 9:30. Panic! I was over four and a half hours away.
After breaking all kinds of speed laws, we made it to the hospital. Relief…I was there now. Everything would be all right.
My relief was short-lived.
An infectious disease doctor met me in the hallway. The surgery was postponed. His platelets were dangerously low. They had to bring that level up enough so that he wouldn’t bleed out during the operation. He had some unknown bacteria that had settled in his wrist joint. They were calling it septic arthritis for lack of a better name. They had drawn a culture from his wrist. It should’ve been clear, but was nothing but pus. It was on its way to Asheville to be analyzed so we could know what we were dealing with. His potassium was dangerously low, magnesium and phosphates as well, and his calcium was critically low. This monstrous infection was sucking all these vital elements from his blood. Armed with this scary knowledge, they took me to his room. As bad as he felt, he smiled and my heart broke. Tears filled my eyes, but I blinked them away, taking in the scene.
The IV pole was almost full. Various sized bags containing vital replacements—elements the sepsis had depleted—hung from nearly every available hook along with morphine and saline, antibiotics (they had him on three different ones) and finally, platelets. His hand and lower arm were more a grotesque balloon-like mockery of what they were supposed to look like, so swollen I was afraid the skin might burst. His pain was still intolerable, even with the morphine dripping into his bloodstream.
Once he’d gotten the platelets, another blood test told the doctors it was time to operate. They wheeled him out about 4 PM and so began one of the longest hour and a half of my life.
Finally, the surgeon came in. The surgery went well, he said. It was the worst infection he’d ever seen. He cleaned it out as much as he could. He thought—the word was a knife to my heart—he got it all, but he couldn’t be certain. And he was pretty sure this wasn’t the “source.” It was still in there…somewhere. We’d have to wait and see. The rollercoaster ride from hell continued.
I discovered that some medical personnel have a ‘glass half full’ mentality, while others are definitely the opposite. I know they’re just trying to plant my feet in reality, but this is my baby, and there’s power in thinking positively. When his fever spiked to 103.6, one of the nurses took me out into the hallway, looked me right in the eyes and said, “We’re doing everything we can. He has his youth and a strong body to his advantage, but sepsis is a very bad thing and sometimes people die from it. You need to know that. He’s still very, very ill.” Each word wrapped around my heart, a boa constrictor of fear squeezing tighter and tighter, trying to destroy me. But the power of God is mightier, and able to loosen its grip. I know there are people all around the world who are praying for my son, for me, for my husband. There’s power in that. And peace… peace that passes all understanding.