December 1971 to January 1972
A total of ten tubes extended from various parts of my body, even one that was a feeding tube into my stomach. Of course the usual IV’s were attached to my arms and one in my neck. A tube was in place to drain any remaining bile from the liver and of course, the plasma IV which remained my constant companion.
The days passed like a creeping caterpillar inching its way in search of a resting place. I stared at the calendar knowing it was a week until Christmas. I missed my children desperately and Dr. McGeorge seemed sympathetic to my plight.
“I’ll allow the children to visit you on Christmas providing you are strong enough,” he said.
I nodded my agreement and determined I would find a way to see my children.
On Christmas Day I awoke with pains in my chest, but I kept silent as I knew my children were visiting that day.
Katherine arrived early to douse me in powder, blush and lipstick. Her capable machinations did little to cover my shallow complexion and sunken cheeks. I had no idea what to expect from the children as I feared the sight of me would frighten them.
I wasn’t even close in my speculation. When Jeff arrived in the afternoon, I sat there speechless. Jeffey’s eyes widened in shock as he stared at me lying in the hospital bed the ten erratic tubes stretching like spider legs out from my body.
I reached out my arms to him, but he cringed in fear. Bile rose in my throat and I tried to swallow my threatening tears.
“It’s ok, honey. I know Mommy doesn’t look like herself but I’ve missed you a whole lot.” I wanted to hug him and tell him how much his mommy loves him. If only I could caress his cheek or kiss the top of his head.
Jeffey circled around my bed careful to keep his distance all the while staring at all my appendages. I quickly brushed a wet tear from my cheek and turned to Jeff.
“I think you’d better bring them home.”
He looked down at me and shook his head. “I guess it’s just too scary for him.”
I nodded and stared at little Janna. I could only imagine her squeal if I attempted to touch her. I was a total stranger. Her mommy was another lady.
I was relieved when their visit was cut short, because the pain in my chest had worsened as they day progressed. I choked back tears as I watched them walk from the room
wishing hadn’t put them or myself through the ordeal. I didn’t think it was possible but at that moment, the pain in my heart overwhelmed the pain in my chest.
Pastor McCormick came up to visit later that afternoon and his prayers seemed to help ease my pain, and I slept for several hours.
Later that night, I began to have trouble breathing. I rang for the nurse and asked for some pain medication. My shallow breathing alarmed her and she called Dr. McGeorge.
It was close to midnight on Christmas Day when he arrived. He listened to my lungs and shook his head. “You can’t breathe because your lungs have filled with fluid and I’m going to have to remove it.”
I shook my head. “Isn’t there someone you can call?”
“No one is available on Christmas,” he snapped. “You’ll die before morning unless we get this fluid out! I’ve called your husband.”
By this time I was in such pain, everything seemed a blur. I don’t even recall Jeff coming into the room, but he told me later that he had held onto my arms.
Dr. McGeorge plunged the Novocain into my back in an attempt to numb the area for insertion of a breathing tube. But when he cut into my back, I screamed, lunging forward. The Novocain had no effect.
I prayed for unconsciousness but only a nearby nurse slumped quietly to the floor.
Dr. McGeorge yelled, “Get another nurse in here!”
Sweat poured from my face and seeped onto my arms. Each breath was a struggle.
I was sobbing hysterically as blood splattered across the bed and onto the walls and floor. My screams continued to echo throughout the room as Dr. McGeorge slid the tube into place.
“Give her pain medication every four hours even if she doesn’t ask for it. I want her heavily sedated. I don’t want any other family called tonight.”
I don’t remember Jeff leaving but soon it was only my weeping that broke the silence in the dark room. I wanted God to stop the pain but I didn’t know how to pray. I felt warm tears on my face as time seemed to fade away and soon the unbearable pain gave way to blessed sleep. I found out days later that the nurses had gone against orders and called Pastor McCormick. He came to pray by my bedside. It was his prayers that brought me through that long endless night.
The next morning my hysteria returned when Dr. McGeorge arrived with another physician - a lung and heart specialist.
“The tube we used last night didn’t work, so I’ve brought in another surgeon.”
Didn’t work? All that pain and anguish and it didn’t work? I couldn’t believe my ears. Fresh tears of frustration and anger rolled down my face.
Katherine arrived just as they were about to begin insertion of a new tube. Her large brown eyes excoriated Dr. McGeorge when I relayed the incident of the previous evening. I began to sob when the new Novocain was inserted under my right breast and a second chest tube was put in place without any pain at all. The surgeon’s skill was impeccable.
I was heavily sedated the next few weeks. I didn’t know morning from night as the slightest movement brought pain searing through my body. It was as if darkness had overtaken my soul; there was no light, no happiness. I was cold and alone. Any attempt to move me brought unbearable pain as my screams of anguish echoed through the room. Then the hypo would come as I would drift back into my stupor. I was so blessed to have a young nurse from our church to attend me during my plunge into darkness. My only remembrance was her standing by the bed trying to ease my pain as tears rolled down her cheeks. I remember Betty as an angel sent by God.
As the weeks passed by, the nurses soon complained to Dr. McGeorge that I wasn’t responding to anything; he was keeping me too sedated. When they finally cut back on the pain medication, I began to see some light and thought my ordeal was coming to an end. The finale, however, had not yet begun.
The next month brought the removal of some tubes and food back into my life. Every Monday morning Jeff would arrive to check on me and do his office paperwork in the lounge. When Katherine arrived, he would leave for work. He was traveling every week so I didn’t see him very often.
The nurses and my family took turns walking me though the halls, lugging my tubes and IV stand along. My brother, Jack, bless his heart, would even talk to me while I sat behind a curtain on the commode. Jack always arrived at the most inopportune times. We often laugh about it even today.
When I became restless at night and couldn’t sleep, the nurses would call Pastor McCormick and he would come and sit by my bed. Just as he did on Christmas, he would pray
quietly by my side and I didn’t even know he was there. I had many roommates come and go, yet the career patient stayed in her room.
In January I woke up in the morning vomiting profusely. I feared the bleeding was back.
At noon, Dr. Swanson, the senior internist stopped by my room. “The flu is running rampant through the hospital. What makes you think you’re exempt?”
It was the only time in my life I was thrilled to be told that I had the flu, but a few days later everything changed.
In fact, poor Jack was visiting with me while I was on the commode (again). One minute I was talking to him from behind the curtain and the next I awoke knowing my tongue was bitten raw, unable to recall my name or even where I was.
The nurse wiped my face as the vomit spewed from my mouth. “Are you ok, honey?”
“You just love making my visits eventful,” Jack said, trying to make light of a bad situation.
I stared at him trying to recall who he was and even more importantly who I was!
“What happened?” I stammered.
“It looks like you had some sort of spell, but you’ll be all right now.” The nurse replied.
I’d had so many roommates; I had to fight to remember which one was laying in the bed next to mine. For over an hour I knew what it felt like to be an amnesiac and it wasn’t fun.
When my head began to clear, I was beginning to doubt that God even knew what he was doing. I prayed, “Why, Lord, why can’t I get well?”
He answered my prayers the following week when Dr. McGeorge announced that tests confirmed that I had epilepsy. I stared at him in shock.
“How can that be?” I questioned. “I’ve never had seizures.” What about the spell you had when Janna was born? I pushed the thought from my mind.
He just shrugged. “Epilepsy often goes undetected for years.”
Jeff sat calmly listening to him, but something inside me knew it was all wrong.
“You’ll be taking Dilantin for the seizures and should be able to have a normal life.” Dr McGeorge was pretty matter of fact about it all.
I didn’t know who to believe anymore. I only knew I needed to go home.
Almost overnight, I took an amazing turn for the better. My strength returned and I began to eat again. Two weeks after the seizure, I was allowed to go home. I would be on Dilantin for the rest of my life but would have no problems as long as I took the medication. I was optimistic as I left the hospital on January 30, 1972.
I was weak and would still need a great deal of bed rest. I was told by Dr. McGeorge to return to his office in March for a check-up. It was then that the final curtain fell.