My Brother’s ICU Roller Coaster Ride During a Pandemic
32 years old.
He traveled by bus to St. Louis, Missouri this first week of March. That was way back when everything was “business as usual” in the United States. I know my brother wasn’t paying attention to the news, and if he even heard of Coronavirus at all, it probably seemed to him like a far away illness that nobody should be concerned with.
Sunday, March 8:
He arrived back in Texas. He seemed just fine then.
He was in Texoma briefly before an Uber driver came to get him to take him to Dallas. We don’t know if he made any stops to any stores after the driver picked him up.
Monday, March 9:
We think it was on this day when he boarded another bus to travel to Oregon for his job.
Thursday, March 12:
He had worked for two nights and his voice sounded hoarse over the phone. But there was no other indication of a problem, other than him being tired until the next day when he was headed back to Texas.
Friday, March 13:
He started coughing. Then he made his way to a hospital in Los Angeles with the help from an officer (more about her later), where hospital staff promptly sedated and intubated him.
I think they call it “Happy Hypoxia”.
At first, our family was focused on the fact that he had a “brain infection”. But then discovered it was actually sepsis, so of course the infection traveled to his brain.
Nothing about his condition made any sense to us.
All events after he arrived at the hospital occurred so fast that we’re not sure if he knew exactly what was actually happening to him. Everything was so confusing.
Initially, I didn’t know much about the course that the COVID infection takes, or how it all plays out in severe cases. We have learned a lot of details about the treatment for COVID since he was first hospitalized. What I’ve learned through this ordeal is that this severe of a Covid-19 case follows a fairly predictable path.
May God bless the healthcare staff caring for everyone in the hospitals. They’re doing the double duty of providing life saving medical care, plus the emotional support that is so important to help the healing process.
It’s just a huge relief knowing the high level of care and nurturing that is taking place with patients since families aren’t able to be right there.
They are moms and dads, sisters and brothers too…and it shows!
Monday, March 16:
This was a frightening day. Late in the evening, the doctor called to let us know they almost lost him. They “had to work on him for a while” (and I really don’t want to know exactly what that means.) He kept crashing. The doctor said they had him on 100% oxygen, but that wasn’t even enough to raise his oxygen levels. There was nothing else they could do for him.
His condition was very grave. Specifically, the doctor said “all anyone can do is pray.”
Tuesday, March 17:
Our sister left for Los Angeles at 6am to “see” him.
That’s the last time she’ll ever be able to get a plane ticket to Los Angeles for $30, and too bad it was under these terrible circumstances. I’m just so grateful that she went when she did.
When she arrived at the hospital, they had already a “no visitor policy” in place. But they allowed her in because she had flown from Texas.
She was the last visitor allowed in the hospital.
The door to his room was taped up, but she could look at him through the window, with the nurse inside the room with our brother. They let her call to the phone inside the room and talk to him.
He was now more “stable” than he had been the previous day. He was no longer crashing. His oxygen level had risen to 74 by this time, thankfully.
They was “chemically paralyzed” him, and the doctor said our brother couldn’t hear due to the medication, but that “he can hear you spiritually.”
We Texans tend to have a negative view about California, but let me tell you, the medical team caring for our brother is amazing and we were grateful that they encouraged us to pray for him.
The hospital began doing something called “prone positioning”, which is basically flipping him from his back to his stomach. Then from his stomach to his back every few hours to relieve the pressure on his lungs. It seemed to help!
My sister flew back to Texas the same night. Los Angeles was a ghost town and with no businesses open, it was even hard to find a public restroom. Since she couldn’t visit him again, there was no reason to stay.
Wednesday, March 18:
The prone positioning was working!! His vitals stayed “stable” each time they flipped him, and for the next seven days he stayed chemically paralyzed. His other organs were doing well, so he had no organ failure thankfully.
They finally felt it was safe enough to begin lowering his oxygen to see how his body would respond. His oxygen levels did well with this, so they began taking him off of some of the sedation drugs.
The worst part about this whole ordeal is that under normal circumstances, our whole family would be piled up in the ICU waiting room, holding each other up. We’d be sharing stories, hugging, crying and laughing together.
All of us.
And we’d be able to be right there holding his hand and talking directly to him.
But the world has changed and all we can do is wait and pray from afar. That makes this whole journey even more of a roller coaster ride.
Our hearts are breaking as a family because we can’t be right there for him, occupying that hospital waiting room.
Thursday, March 26:
He opened his eyes today!!! He didn’t blink and didn’t follow commands, but his eyes are open and that’s a huge success. He is probably scared and confused about where he is. But we will take any good news we can get at this point.
At some point, he developed blood clots, but that was easily addressed.
He has had two negative COVID-19 tests, but his doctor says they are highly suspicious that he does have COVID, based on every other bit of evidence they have with his condition.
And they don’t have any other reason for what happened to him. But it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t change anything with his care.
Friday, March 27:
They were ready to test and see if he could tolerate having the tube removed. He couldn’t. He still can’t breathe on his own and he’s combative when they try to remove the tube.
So the nurse called his mother, my step mom, and had her talk to him over the phone. Of course, he couldn’t respond, but as she explained where he was and why he was there, and told him he needs to remain calm so they can remove the tube, he was nodding his head.
The biggest joy out of all this is when his mom told him she loves him and he began excitedly nodding his head in response. The nurse said “he loves you too!” Hearing this brings a huge sense of relief for our family and tears to our eyes.
They turned his television on to help stimulate him.
A movie, not the news.
He doesn’t know what is happening in the world. He doesn’t know that he’s caught up in a pandemic. When he comes out of this, the whole world will have completely changed for him. He’s in for a shock!
They had to sedate him again because he’s very irritated. Now we wait.
He is in his fourth week of being on a ventilator in ICU.
This past week there has been a positive change!!
It started with a call from the doctor, which was a hard call. His heart appeared to be weakening on one side. Since his lungs keep filling up with fluid, they called to say they believe he is having heart failure.
That was rough and took us to our knees as a family. The night was spent with some serious prayer. But the next day brought great news.
They did a procedure to visually inspect his heart and it’s perfect! His heart is not failing after all!
Since then they have been titrating down the ventilator to see if his lungs can handle some of the breathing.
It’s working! He’s handling it well as they gradually take the ventilator down. So hopefully he will come off of the vent soon.
They’ve tested him for every single possible thing they can think of to find a cause for his condition and everything has come back negative.
So now we wait some more. And we keep on praying!
His lungs are finally clearing up and the ventilator is down to 50%. So his lungs are finally doing some of the work. That’s amazing news! We can sleep better at night.
The first week that my brother was in ICU, the doctor caring for him was amazingly wonderful. He took the time each day on the phone to explain every detail and answer every question we had.
During the second week, the doctor and hospital staff were still very caring and still took the time to explain everything even though we know their patient load was increasing.
This is my brother’s fourth week of this ICU journey. Now the calls from the doctor are for specific purpose such as procedures they need to do in order to keep him alive other than just just calling to give a general update.
However, they are still allowing his mother to call and they put her on speaker phone to talk to him.
It turns out his lungs really aren’t well enough to do all the work on their own. So a machine is still doing the breathing for him, though they have switch him from the ventilator to a tracheotomy.
He’s still sedated.
They bring him out of sedation every now and then to see if he can remain calm. He has tried pulling his tubes out, so his arms are restrained.
It’s getting harder and harder to get through to the hospital staff. They used to answer the phone immediately and now it takes several tries to reach someone. I’m sure they have better things to do than give updates to us, and that’s one thing that is so hard about this virus.
Everyone is in the hospital alone. And the families spend their days hoping to be able to get an update.
Updates are all we have.
If you don’t know the story about the officer who saved his life, read this:
Officer Torres didn’t realize it, but on March 13, she saved my brother’s life.
Through the help of a friend with connections to the LAPD, our family was able to locate Sergeant Torres and speak with her. She’s doing well and she was shocked that he was so near death that day because he didn’t seem like it, although she knew he needed medical care.
She said she actually had to call two ambulances for him because the first one said he didn’t qualify for a Coronavirus test. The second ambulance she called did take him to the hospital, and we are thankful for her persistence.
Her supervisor knows that their actions and compassion saved his life.
She and the other officers with the Los Angeles Police Department who helped him that day could have left him alone and not taken any action. But they were so concerned about him, that they made sure he got to the hospital for care.
Officer Torres is obviously a very compassionate woman, as she took the time to make a call to our family that day and explain what was going on with him. We now know that had they not taken the actions they did, he would have definitely died within a matter of hours.
They’ve been keeping him less and less sedated and they untie his arms to see if he will remain calm instead of trying to rip the tube out of his throat.
So far he’s been doing okay with that.
The nurses have slowly started to give him information about what’s happening in the world. He’s unable to talk, but the look on his face is one of total surprise.
The whole planet has totally changed since he walked into that hospital.
He’s been learning how to swallow this week with the tracheotomy, and he can whisper a word at a time. Obviously his lungs are still not functioning, as a machine is still breathing for him.
He’s remaining calm and his vitals are stable. His fever returned this week, but that’s not really a concern from what I understand.
40 days. 40 days of being in ICU and 40 days of being on some type of invasive breathing machine. But the good news is that he’s no longer sedated and they’re ready to move him to a regular hospital room as soon as one becomes available.
He knows his name. He knows the year. He knows where he is.
I’m not sure if they’ve let him have the TV remote yet so he can catch up with the rest of the world.
Or maybe they have Netflix so he can be entertained by watching large cats?
I’ve been looking back through texts to try to piece together some details. It was April 3 whenever the doctor got an idea to treat him for fluid retention because his lungs kept filling up with fluid.
Shortly after that, his lungs dried up.
It didn’t repair the damage to his lungs, but it did put an end to a major problem so they could move forward with getting him to breath on his own…because breathing is really impossible whenever your lungs are full of fluid.
The doctor told me that they performed over $1 million worth of diagnostics trying to test and find any other cause for his condition other than Covid-19, and there was no other explanation for what happened to him.
There’s so much to update, so I’ll try to keep it simple and brief.
He was released Tuesday, May 12 from the hospital in Los Angeles.…a 61 day hospital stay. We knew he would be okay on April 28 when out of the blue our sister got the best phone call ever…it was him!
He was able to talk.
And he sure had some stories to tell! We were elated. It took a while for the hospital to feel comfortable enough to release him, but it happened on May 12, 2020.
I flew to Los Angeles that day feeling like I was on a rescue mission!
Lots of problems with his discharge. The requirement for hospitals to coordinate care upon discharge just totally flew out the window with them.
So his care coordination fell onto our family.
All I can say about that is thank God that our local businesses here in Texoma are so wonderful and caring. Golden Chick in Whitesboro, Areli Medical, Carrus and Heart to Heart Hospice really went out of their way to help us with the dauntingly complicated task of coordinating everything for him.
He could not have made it home without them.
Upon his discharge, we got to meet Officer Torres with the Los Angeles Police Department because my brother wanted to personally thank her for saving his life.
She’s a strong and precious woman! Meeting her certainly is one special moment in our lives!
The doctor said my brother could not fly, so I drove him from Los Angeles to Sherman. The hospital literally dumped a huge cart loaded with what I assume are oxygen and suctioning machines, large bags full of random supplies, walking devices, and other medical items that neither my brother nor I knew how to use.
We watched YouTube videos to figure out how all this stuff works, and we discovered that lots of necessary supplies were missing.
Three days of driving.
It was on that trip when reality set in that he was not fully well enough to travel that distance and we didn’t realize we had hit the road without having all the supplies and understanding of how to take care of his trache.
And his hands don’t work well, so he couldn’t care for his trache by himself.
I figured out why I’ve never had any interest in nursing. I absolutely do not have the stomach for it. God bless those of you who have been called to the nursing profession! You’re angels.
And I figured out that he doesn’t like my driving ability. At one point while driving through the desert in the middle of nowhere, I had to slam on the brakes.
That caused some type of tube to fly out of his throat, and I can neither confirm or deny if it hit the windshield.
The excitement and happiness of being released from a two month hospital stay quickly ended when the emotional aspects set in.
I wasn’t well prepared for the emotional part.
Patients who come off a vent end up having some confusion and memory loss for a little while. I wasn’t fully prepared for that part and it sure was tough. His memory of what happened is spotty. Officer Torres was able to fill in some blanks for him and clarify some of his memories from March 13.
His physical condition deteriorated on the drive back to Texoma, so we were advised to take him to the emergency room when we arrived in Sherman.
He was admitted. Oh joy.
I almost took him to the hospital in Amarillo, but after talking with my cousin who is a Respiratory Therapist, she felt like he could make it another few hours without immediate medical attention.
So basically I transported him from one hospital directly to another hospital, but at least he’s in our hometown.
As of today, the hospital has gotten him all fixed up and he’s waiting to be discharged to a skilled nursing facility for OT and PT.
May 24, 2020
The hospital took his trache out yesterday!! This is HUGE! It means that he will not need to be released from the hospital with a high level of specialized skilled nursing, which opens up the options for how he can receive physical and occupational therapy.
No trache means more independence.
At this point he should be released from the hospital in just a few days, provided his oxygen levels stay up without the trache and everything else stays stable.
He has spent a total of 72 days hospitalized.
The hardest part of his journey…just surviving this…is behind him and now his days will be focused on healing and getting stronger. His challenges no longer consist of fighting to live and fighting to breath.
Goals like being able to walk without a walker and getting through an entire day without needing a wheelchair are now within reach.
I think I’ve done a poor job of describing how prayer has held our family together and kept us sane throughout this journey.
As I’m writing this, my 9-year old just came and kneeled next to me on her knees, inviting me to join her in prayer. She prayed the most beautiful words and asked God for help through these “unsettling times.” Then she gave me some editing advice for one of my ill-constructed sentences in this post. I might let her take over these updates. Ha!
God provides comfort in the most surprising ways.
He was released from the hospital after Memorial Day and he is doing VERY well now! I hope his journey provides some hope and insight to other families who have a loved one on this same type of roller coaster ride.