I usually only post education-related topics here on my blog, but today I need to share a personal story and request for support. A year ago, my wife, Bekah, almost died of influenza-related respiratory failure (ARDS–the complication of pneumonia that is now killing Coronavirus patients). She was put on a life support machine called ECMO that is a step beyond a ventilator. The staff of St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield, MO (metro St. Louis) worked tirelessly to save her life, and I cannot express to you enough how amazing the care was there. She was on ECMO for 15 days and in the hospital for a month with round-the-clock support from a team of dedicated doctors, nurses, techs, therapists and more. From the moment we arrived at triage and found out Bekah’s oxygen level was at 38% to the day she walked out of the hospital a month later, I cannot even begin to describe all they did for Bekah, me and our family, but I will share a few memories below to give you a sense of the level of care and concern we received.
Now, the hospital has put out a supply request list that includes home-made masks (pattern included). I am heartbroken that there is not enough PPE to protect these amazing healthcare workers. If you have the means, please consider a donation. They have posted a list of what they need here: St. Luke’s Covid-19 Response.
Pictured below: A photo of me at my wife’s bedside a year ago. I can’t imagine what patients and their loved ones are going through now with isolation protocols. My wife’s chest x-ray at its worst–completely filled with fluid. A photo of my wife & one of the nurses that cared for her from when we went back to visit this January.
A few highlights from our time at St. Luke’s. Most of these notes are from her time in the CVICU, but Bekah also received care from the ER, 6th floor ICU, & Cardiac Step-Down Unit:
- Before she intubates Bekah, the ICU intensivist promises she will do everything she can for her. It takes hours to get Bekah intubated & stabilized, but she keeps her promise and then works quickly to get the surgeon there when ECMO is Bekah’s last option for survival. At the end of her long shift, she comes and finds me in the waiting room to make one last personal contact before going home and says she will be checking on Bekah’s progress.
- A nurse asks me to bring in some photos of healthy Bekah to post in her room. She says her care staff wants to see what they are working toward.
- I hate that I can’t be with Bekah constantly. The staff assures me that I can call anytime day or night for an update from the nurse taking care of her.
- Without me even having to ask, a nurse finds a radio/CD player for Bekah’s room to help her have comforting background music.
- I mention that Bekah is addicted to Chapstick, and the nurses promise to keep her lips moist. It’s such a small gesture of comfort but so appreciated.
- A nurse hears me reading aloud to Bekah from a book and suggests that I record myself reading it, so Bekah can hear my voice even when I can’t be there. It’s a great idea, and I run with it!
- Seeing Bekah lying motionless, hooked up to so many machines and lines is so difficult. The nurses have assured me that Bekah can hear us, but I am so relieved when one nurse shows me that she will open her eyes when they are doing something to her face. She’s still “in there.”
- One of the nurses on the CVICU floor recognizes me. She is one of my former students. It makes me so proud to see her all grown up and working in a profession that she loves.
- A nurse leaves me a note about a song that made him think of Bekah and me and says to give it a listen if I have a moment. The song is Andy Grammer’s “Don’t Give Up On Me.” It’s perfect. I cry ugly tears as I listen to it that night.
- A nurse stops me in the hall to hug me and make sure I am taking care of myself because she’s noticed that I am losing weight.
- After a particularly scary day when Bekah spiked a fever and her blood pressure dropped, I get a call from the surgeon. He seems really positive about her progress. He says her lungs have improved tremendously, and I am feeling so much better after talking to him.
- As Bekah is weaned from sedation in preparation for being taken off of ECMO, she is stuck lying there unable to move much or even communicate. She looks miserable and terrified. The nurses and doctors are so reassuring to her and to me, telling her calmly what has happened to her and promising me that she won’t remember much of this agonizing time.
- One particularly hard day for Bekah after she was off of the vent but still feeling so weak and like she would never get to go home, the staff noticed how down she was. A tech came in and removed all unnecessary equipment from the room, telling her that she was doing so well that she wouldn’t need this stuff again.
- I am there the day Bekah takes her first (PT-assisted) steps out of her room. The whole CVICU staff makes a big production out of it, cheering her on. One of them jogs backward in front of her playing “Eye of the Tiger” on his cell phone. As I watch, I make eye contact with one nurse, whose eyes also have tears in them, like mine.
- When Bekah is moved to the Step-Down Unit, the nurses create a “Bekah Cheat Sheet” to supplement her chart. #1 on the list is “she’s feisty,” which we’ve been told is a good thing because she doesn’t give up.
These are just snapshots of the amazing care we received from the staff at St. Luke’s in March/April of 2019. My wife and I are so worried about them all now. This coronavirus is so much more contagious and deadly than the flu. We know this must be so stressful for them. Please help them if you can with the supplies the hospital is requesting. Please keep them (and all healthcare workers) in your thoughts. And, please stay home!