Imagine waking up in a room connected to wires, tubes and IV’s with no recollection of how you got there; waking up delirious and delusional, seeing the world around you through blurry vision; not being able to move your own body, as if you have no control over it; waking up and seeing people walk around you in uniforms, dressed up as doctors and nurses but you’re unable to read their name tags; waking up from what was once a normal life to a world that didn’t make sense anymore. Imagine waking up from a nightmare that makes you believe people who were once your family and friends became impostors.
That’s how I woke up a few months ago after having gone into cardiac arrest that was caused by a blood clot in my leg. The blood clot had traveled up into both of my lungs causing my heart to stop. I’m sure you have all read the story on GoFundMe. Initially, when I fainted and woke up, I had the right idea of calling a close friend and letting them know that there was an ambulance on its way to take me to the hospital. I am reminded time after time again, that I was at the right place at the right time. I was in the ambulance when I went into cardiac arrest. CPR was administered immediately and I was rushed to the hospital. It was not until I arrived to the hospital, and through the valiant efforts of the ER staff, that I was brought back to life. They did everything to save me despite not knowing my name, age, or medical history. Luck was on my side yet again. The hospital staff were able to locate my work ID and they used it to obtain the information of my emergency contacts through my job. None of this would have happened if I had been home alone, nobody had seen me, or decided to stop and call an ambulance for me. If things had happened any other way, I probably would not be here to tell you about it today.
Eventually, they were able to contact my mom and brother. As soon as they heard the news, my mom, brother, and my brother’s girlfriend rushed to Philadelphia. A co-worker found my fiance on facebook and messaged him. He dropped everything and rushed from Maryland to Philadelphia. Another friend hadn’t heard back from me all day which was not normal for her. She became worried and messaged my fiance to inquire about my whereabouts. As soon as she got the news, she immediately left work and drove alongside another friend from Baltimore to Philadelphia. As soon as my cousins in Virginia got the news, they headed straight to the hospital with urgency. Two of my childhood friends and I were planning to take a trip to Cabo in two days for a bachelorette party but they delayed their trip so they could be by bedside. My best friend and her boyfriend who I had contacted prior to getting in the ambulance were there as well. My father and my future in-laws were there as well. You may wonder why I am telling you each individual person that was there. It’s because I didn’t know loved and important I was to all these people. They stopped everything in their lives to be there for me. I cannot even imagine how they felt getting this news. I have no recollection of what happened that day but something within me told me I had to live.
What is cardiac arrest? Most people, like me, assumed it meant “heart attack.” It was not until much later until that I learned it’s true meaning. Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness. Sudden cardiac arrest usually results from an electrical disturbance in your heart that disrupts its pumping action, stopping blood flow to the rest of your body including vital organs such as the heart and the brain. I spent three weeks in the cardiac ICU under a medically induced coma while my body recovered. I cannot tell you exactly what occurred in those three weeks while I was under deep sedation. What I can tell you is that I am surrounded by an amazing group of family and friends who advocated for me every single day. They spent days into nights within the ICU waiting room, spent hours by my bedside and countless sleepless nights praying for my recovery.
Although I was in a medically induced coma, by week 3, they had noticed a decline in my mental status. I was no longer responding to simple commands such as “wiggle your toes” or “squeeze my hand.” I was spiking fevers of 103 and higher with no signs of infections. The doctors were stumped and could not figure out what was happening. My mental status was deteriorating. They diagnosed me with anoxic brain injury and discussed the possibility of sending me to a nursing home as they did not know the extent of my injury. The high fevers were explained by something called “sympathetic storming”, which is a rare side effect of anoxic brain injury. The doctors said that this is the brain’s way to recover itself after a traumatic experience such as the one that I had just suffered. However, they said this could mean that I could be in a vegetative state for the rest of my life or that I could recover 100%. No one knew. My friends and family were heartbroken by this news. My heart and lung had completely recovered but now my brain was suffering. One of my friends who is a nurse, fought for further testing and evaluation, because my loved ones had a hard time accepting this diagnosis and answer. They couldn’t give up on me. Eventually, I got a brain MRI which showed not only diffuse anoxic brain injury but also a blood clot that traveled to my brain which caused a minor stroke. I was placed on a combination of medications for my brain to help with the storming that I was experiencing. The next suggestion was to have the doctors place a tracheostomy on me as they did not think I would be able to breathe on my own because of my mental status. My family opted to wait a few more days because they knew I could pull through. My tracheostomy was rescheduled from Friday to Monday. Apparently, the surgeon did not get the memo because he still showed up on Friday and began to set up for the trach. My friends stopped him immediately and requested more time.
Somewhere, over the weekend, I was moved to another ICU floor and under the care of another team. On Sunday, one of the attending doctors decided to take a chance on me. He said, “Well, she’s going to get trach’ed tomorrow. Why don’t we try to extubate her and see if she breathes on her own?” My family agreed with his decision, crossed their fingers and prayed for the best. The medication for my sedation was decreased, I was responding to commands again and soon thereafter I was extubated and placed on oxygen. I was doing so well, they even turned off the oxygen within minutes and I was breathing room air by myself again. My brother’s girlfriend said she was by my side and she saw my mouth moving finding a way to talk. For the first time in 3 weeks, she finally heard my voice and I asked her “What happened? How bad was it?”