Monday, March 18, 2013

Craig's Hospital Adventure (or Hospital 101)

Submitted by Linda
 Michelle insists that our Front Row Friends Followers want to know what we're up to. I'm not sure that is the case, but nevertheless, I'm going to share Craig's hospital adventure with you all. As someone who had only been to the hospital to deliver babies, my learning curve was huge when going with a loved one who is very ill. So I'm going to include my lessons learned, hopefully to help any of you who end up having your own hospital adventure, or are a friend to someone who is dealing with a sudden hospitalization.

Craig went to the hospital on a Wednesday (prior to Valentine's Day), in my "little red" ambulance. Looking back, I probably should have called 911, since he had passed out in the shower, and had been lightheaded for a day or two prior. But somehow we got him in the car and off we went. After a quick morning in the ER, the doctor knew he had some internal bleeding going on (his blood count was 8, and should have been 12-15). They started transfusing blood and moved him to the ICU.

Tip #1: At the hospital, time goes very fast (though it takes forever to get tests and results, etc.) Before you know it, you've been there all day. Fill your purse or bag with snacks and water. You won't want to leave your loved one when they are worried, waiting for information and stuck in a bed.

Here's Craig at the beginning. In this picture he was already swollen from the IV fluids (and probably doesn't appreciate me putting this picture in).
 Tip #2: Bring something to do. After the ER day when I knew we'd be at the hospital for a few days more, I brought my stitching with me. It was quick to grab, and easy to pull out when Craig and I were chillin' in the ICU.  You may also want to bring things to keep the patient comfortable. Craig wanted his own pillow, lip balm, and hand wipes (since he wasn't allowed out of bed to wash).

I began stitching this towel at the beginning of Craig's stay. I kept adding panels of the pattern, until I had stitched across the entire length of the towel. This kept me busy for four or five days.
Tip #3: Speaking of chillin'! It was so cold in ICU. I heard it has something to do with keeping it cool so germs can't grow. Grab a jacket. I ended up wearing my ugg books and silk long undies under my pants most days.

In Craig's case, they thought they had solved the problem with medication, and they were planning to release him on Saturday. However, they discovered that his blood count was dangerously low (6), so they began to do more investigating. After more scoping, ultrasounds, and scans, they found the offending areas in his stomach, and decided to remove that portion surgically. Here's the Pictionary version of the diagnosis from the surgeon.
 Tip #4: Use your technology. I often referred to this picture when explaining the procedure to friends and family. Also, when Craig was having a reaction to some medication, I was able to Google it and search for side effects.  (I'm not sure the nurse really appreciated me chiming in about my googling....but when your loved one is suffering, we do what we must).

Tip #5: Write things down (bring a notepad or use your phone tools). When you are in crisis mode, it's hard to remember what doctors have told you in passing. In our case, we dealt with several gastrointestinal doctors, plus the hospitalist doctors, and nurses. They all tell you things, and it can all become a blur. Also write down your questions.

Tip #6: Plan to be there (and away from your job). Craig was pretty coherent through most of his days there (except when he was under anesthesia), but even now he doesn't remember things exactly as they really were. It's important that someone is there to hear the reports from the doctors and be able to ask difficult questions as needed. I am so thankful for my school colleagues who picked up the slack for me. I was able to be completely gone, physically and emotionally, so that I could be fully focused on Craig.

Tip #7: As for supporting others, I learned so much from how others cared for me during this time. My best advice is this: Don't wait to be asked for help. Jump in and show up. The next 3 pictures are of some of the folks who came to hang with me and the boys during the actual surgery. It ended up being quite fun and lively, and we didn't have time to worry.
After the surgery, the surgeon came out to share what he did and what he found. He removed two 'ulcerous' spots, which ended up being about 20% of Craig's stomach. The photo on his Iphone is the piece that was removed and sent to pathology (nothing scary was found).   At this report, I was blessed to have one of my friends who is a doctor there to hear from the surgeon and ask smart questions.  
Tip #8: Get other brains involved.  I really felt at peace throughout our whole experience (certainly a result of many prayers), but at times I really needed support from people who weren't so emotionally taxed, and could think of questions to ask (ie "Why haven't they done a colonscopy? Are you concerned about how much blood he has lost?")  During one key time, four of our family members had come to the hospital to see Craig, and providentially, were able to be a part of a key discussion with the gastro doctor.

Which brings me to Tip #9: Take advantage of the medical experts in your life. Our family is blessed to have longtime connections with 2 doctors and at least 2 nurses. Throughout the entire process, I was able to text these folks, get their opinions on the procedures, tests, potential diagnoses, and so on. I was given advice on what important questions to ask, and I was able to ask them more details about things I didn't.  Our nephew, Jeff (one of the nurses), works in that hospital occasionally, so he was able to look at Craig's chart, and help us better understand the hospital system.

After the surgery, we all felt so much better now that he was on the recovery side of things. On day one (post surgery) he was very loopy (and therefore very funny), and here the boys are, enjoying the craziness.
During his first two days, he had a lot of pain and discomfort, so I did a lot of "nursing" (helping him get up and down, trying to make him more comfortable, and so on). Once we got the pain meds squared away, I was back to stitching.
One evening when I went to school to do sub plans, I found this note by my computer.

I love how Delaney even colored her 'star' words. This sweet note was one of the many things that people did for me. Tip #10: Do whatever you are good at to be helpful. Send a note. Send a text. Drop off food.  My neighbor messaged me her cell number on facebook in case I needed anything done at home. She had her son (and my former student) pull the trash cans out before trash day (and then pulled them back in the next day). She also dropped off food for me, since I didn't have time to hit the grocery store or really think about eating. Several friends offered to bring me a meal or a Starbuck's at the hospital. Craig's guy friends even texted him to see if he needed help getting me flowers for Valentine's Day (flowers were the last thing on my mind, but Craig and I both appreciated their thoughtfulness).

So many people came to the hospital to visit. Those visitors helped the time pass, and were so encouraging to Craig and me.  We really felt loved.  Tip #11: When in doubt, visit someone in the hospital.  I always wonder, "should I go, should I not go? What if they don't feel well and don't want company?" I think the answer is to show up and see how it goes. Even the people who were only able to stay a minute or two because Craig wasn't feeling well or was recovering from a procedure were a comfort to us.

Here's Craig, the day before his release. Despite not having a shower or shave for 5 days, he looks so much better in this picture. After all those days of very little eating and drinking, he was finally able to have his drink of choice.
Craig was released late in the day on a Thursday, after 8 full days in the hospital (and after receiving 21 bags of blood!). Various friends offered to bring meals as soon as we were home. At first I didn't think I needed help with meals, but I'm so glad I accepted. I was so exhausted, and it was so good to rest with Craig, and focus on helping him get around, rather than worrying about grocery shopping and cooking. Tip #12: Nothing says love like food.  I really think the delivery of a meal in times of trouble really is 'what Jesus would do'.
The only thing I insisted on making was Kale soup. I was determined to get Craig's blood completely back to normal, so I bought the healthiest produce I could find: Kale and Rainbow Chard from the farmer's market.
He was so excited about that soup, and we ate it throughout the weekend until it was gone. You can find the recipe HERE.
On the Friday after we had been home for about a day, I got Craig set up at home, and I ran to school right around dismissal time, to see my kindergarten friends for the first time in 8 school days. I felt like a celebrity with them, because they were so happy to see me. When I returned to work on Monday, I found this note:
Craig's surgery was on a Sunday, and I had an appointment booked for my hair for the following Tuesday. I wavered about cancelling it, but since 'hair trumps everything', I decided to keep my appointment. Actually, the truth is that Craig was recovering well post surgery, and so I asked the boys to hang out with him in the hospital for a couple of hours.  So the morning of, I snapped this 'before' pic of me.
Then I shocked Craig at the hospital when I returned looking like this:
His surgery was 4 weeks ago. This past week I forced my family to go with me to Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor so that my boys could experience my favorite childhood birthday place. Here we are, and doesn't Craig look fantastic?

Prior to entering the hospital, Craig had lost about 10 pounds. While in the hospital, he gained 20 pounds of water weight, from all the IV fluids. During his recovery he has lost the water weight and more (is down over 30 pounds), and is about 5 pounds from his goal weight.  What a nice bonus! (On a side note, I've been attending Weight Watchers since January, and I've lost about 18 pounds the old fashioned way. I gotta keep up with my new and improved, slim and trim husband!)

I know I haven't mentioned everyone who was so helpful...who brought books to Craig in the hospital, delivered plants to our front door, who stopped by to visit when we got home. On the other side, we are newly grateful for our health,  for family and friends, and for God's presence during Craig's adventure. 

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