Friday, January 22, 2010

Major health disaster: killer pneumonia

Back on November 22nd I posted about my bout of flu. Well, it turned out to be a bit more major than that.

On the 23rd, I had Dean take me to the ER because of the fever. They gave me azithromycin and sent me home. On the 25th, I ended up calling 911 for an ambulance because I couldn't walk 10 feet without being out of breath and I was running a 103.something fever (104 is the point where it starts being physically dangerous). The last thing I remember is the ambulance wanting to take me to Scripps Mercy because it was closer and me insisting I had to go to UCSD Hillcrest because they were in my insurance network and my primary care physician was there, and UCSD finally saying they could take me. The next thing coherent I remember is slowly coming out of the drug-induced hallucinations on December 23rd. Yes, that really is a gap of a month.

According to others, UCSD admitted me to the ER and immediately sent me up to the ICU. The ER nurse says I was coherent and seemed OK except for the shortness of breath. 3 hours later I wasn't breathing and they were putting a ventilator tube down my throat. I was in bad enough shape that the doctors weren't giving odds on my surviving even 12 hours. Obviously they were wrong, but I definitely burned another life there. From there I spent the next 4 weeks in an induced coma and on paralytic drugs to stop me from fighting the ventilator tube, with only one break where they tried to take the ventilator tube out and had to put it right back in. The immediate cause was runaway pneumonia, but they never did figure out what was causing it. They knew it wasn't bacterial or fungal, all the cultures were coming back clean, so all they could do was throw every antiviral in the book at me and hope something stuck. I had by all accounts about 15 IVs in me most of the time. The hallucinations from this period are something I hope never to repeat.

When they finally managed to get me off the ventilator near Christmas, I amazed them by being able to talk clearly 5 minutes after the tube came out. In a whisper, sure, but normally people just aren't talking at all at this point. From there I quickly went to Sharp Rehabilitation for inpatient physical therapy. My muscles were atrophied so bad I couldn't hold a spoon, and my nerves were just as bad. I had almost no control over my legs, and pins-and-needles from the waist down. It finally took 800mg of neurontin every 6 hours to control the nerve hypersensitivity. But once PT started I amazed the therapists by how fast I recovered function. Within the first 2 weeks I'd gotten my upper body completely back and most of my lower body. The only thing I was lacking was from the ankles down.

They discharged me from Sharp on 1/18. I'm currently in a hotel waiting on my new apartment to become available (should be on 2/10). My old apartment just wasn't feasible long-term, the stairs are too steep and the bathroom's too small and not arranged well, so I had to find a more modern one. I start outpatient PT at UCSD Hillcrest Monday. Hopefully I'll make good progress there. I'm already seeing some progress. I can push down decently with my feet, and I can feel the muscles moving when I try to pull up even if the feet don't move. On Wednesday I began to be able to wiggle my toes, something I hadn't been able to do. I take these as signs the nerves are knitting slowly but surely.

So, if you've been wondering where I was, that's the story.

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