Now that the doctor's had begun to talk about sending me home, they had to discusses the changes that needed to happen in our lives. Billy continue to share.
The cardiologist came in a while ago and said that Annie's white blood cell count is still a bit high to implant the pacer/defibrillator. So . . . maybe tomorrow. We're hoping anyway. Right at this moment she is up and walking around the halls with the help of a therapist and a walker. Then she gets to take a shower, about which she's really excited!
We're still on target for a discharge from this wonderful place on Wednesday. We plan on taking several days to get home, but if all goes well, we should roll into town by Saturday. Our dear friends, Cathy Huey and Perry Crafton are getting married Saturday night. We fully believe Ben Harper's lyric: "We're gonna make it to the Church on time."
Another doctor came in and talked to us about aftercare -- lifestyle, diet, meds, etc. Medicine and "doctoring" are truly fascinating. We plan on changing the family diet a bit (low sodium, especially) and are vowing to exercise more. They claim that after this AICD is put in her, she'll be able to resume a normal lifestyle. (The first 30 days she won't be able to raise her left arm above her head, but after that -- all's fair.) We are so grateful for modern medicine and all it can do. Previous generations were not as lucky. Can you imagine what medicine and science will be able to do when Sadie's my age? Wow!
At this point, I developed pneumonia. Bloods cell count had dropped from 28 to 13 but it was not low enough so the AICD implant was on hold. On July 9, the count was 10 so the implant was done. An artificial implantable cardioverter defibrillator (AICD) helps the heart keep pace, but will also shock the heart if it stops. On July 11, I was released from the hospital and Billy and I made the trek back to Texas. We stopped in Kansas one night, Dallas the next night and made it home in time to attend the wedding of our dear friends.
My life was different. A new type of diet. Physical Therapy. Managing stress. Cutting back. I had to make changes. It was quite clear that stress activated the cardiomyopathy. So began the recovery. On July 27, I began to record my journey.
I just spent over an hour reading all of Billy Dragoo's posts and all of the comments made by my family and friends while I was in the hospital. I also read posts by Chris Wilson and my dearest friend, Lara Hollaway. I found tears in my eyes with an overwhelming sense of being loved and supported. I don't remember most of what happened, and I feel that is probably best. Haley continued to tell me stories that I didn't know. She made fun of my "ugly crying face." She says I showed it many times in the hospital.
So here is an update. I find myself celebrating things like standing up by myself, being able to write my name (which looks like Sadie's handwriting), being able to get my own water from the faucet, and being able to wash and brush my own hair. I didn't realize how weak I was until physical therapy started. Physical Therapy is a bitch! I always have to take a nap when Bob leaves. I am trying hard to do everything he says to do so I can be stronger, and the truth is that I am getting stronger, just not as fast as I would like. It is hitting me that this is going to be a LONG road to recovery. I have a walker to assist me, and it helps me feel more steady.
I was able to enjoy a wine tasting and dinner last night with Billy, Sadie, Catherine Crafton and Perry Crafton. What a joy to spend time with friends! I love them so much!
My voice is stronger, but I worry I will never be able to sing again. I can't break out into song like I want to. For that matter, I can't break out into spontaneous dancing either. I still have a persistent coughing fit several times a day.
As of July 30, I was continuing to struggle with balance, shaking, writing, and walking. My left foot was still numb. It felt as if it is asleep and was very heavy, making walking difficult. The many bruises and all the swelling were gone, and I was beginning to look normal again. Physical Therapy was hard and really knocked me out, but I was working at being a good patient doing the exercises every day.
Lara continued writing and taking about the miraculous experience at Bryan East Hospital.
Ann is improving rapidly now and Billy and I enjoyed several wonderful conversations with her today. What a blessing!
It really is miraculous when I think about where she was a few days ago and where she is now. Even within the span of one day I have seen dramatic differences in Ann and her strength. This morning, brushing her hair was a challenge, and I needed to take over for her. Tonight, I watched with a big smile on my face as she brushed her own hair with gusto! She is craving specific foods, iced tea, and wants to watch her favorite TV show on her iPad. Although her voice is soft and still weak, she is able to find the humor in situations and even she spent some of the afternoon and evening talking on the phone to her children, mother, sister and friends back in Austin.
When her doctors visited this morning, they all doled out positive reports and we are looking at a possible return home for Ann and Billy before long.
I return to St. Louis tomorrow, and although I will miss my friend desperately, I will fly back knowing, without a doubt, that she is not only going to recover, but thrive. We have many adventurous years ahead of us!
Thank you to my family and friends for your prayers and for your sweet comments over the past 12 days. I cannot even put into words how appreciative I am to you. Please continue to pray for Ann as she recovers and goes through the procedure to receive an AICD, which will help to prevent anything like this from EVER happening again!
On July 7, Billy was beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.
Well . . . a quiet, early Sunday morning. Been up for a few hours already. Yet another hospital machine/monitor "dinged" me awake. Annie had taken the tube out of the bi-pap to try to get a drink. (This is NOT dangerous -- and nothing like extubating one's self. But it does cause an alarm to go off so the nurse will come in. In this case, I beat the nurse to Annie's side.)
Annie is awake and anxious for a real shower. I think she can finally get one today. She's already brushed her hair and put it in a ponytail (had to have help doing that). I think, after almost two weeks in bed, she's ready to get "gussied up." I think she's beautiful the way she is, but certainly understand the desire for a good shower.
More great news for those of you following this saga. This morning, I spent some time with Dr. Kutayli, the electrophysiologist and the guy who will do the defibrillator implant. He told me it's a surgery that doesn't take a long time, and that Annie would be under mild sedation. They kind of put you halfway under, is how he put it. They can't do this until her white blood cell count goes down to normal (12). She's at 18 right now. (Two days ago it was 23.) He said this would probably be Monday or Tuesday. And then he said the magic words: I THINK YOU GUYS WILL WALK OUT OF HERE ON WEDNESDAY.
The doctors were continuing to come by to check on my status. They were beginning to make a plan for me post cardiac arrest. Billy is the ultimate curious cat. He asked questions and is said to have "directed" my experience.
Saw a cardiologist just a few minutes ago. (So glad I wasn't at my "apartment" showering this time, like the past few days a cardio has come by.) He was very nice, and thorough. I voiced my concern about going home without an AICD. He agreed that it would be better if that procedure were done here, although he did say it would be a team decision that would include "the electricians" (i.e. electrophysiologists.) There might be some more tests to find the reason for her collapse. He said it appears to be a problem on the bottom side of her heart. He was very smart (obviously) and used lots of really long heart-related words. I didn't catch everything, but the gist of it was that her problem could be a different one than she had back in Houston 12 years ago. I think we'll know a lot more after the electricians visit, and I think that's in the next couple days.
…Annie had visits the electrophysiologist, the cardio-thoracic surgeon, and the cardiologist. Easiest one first: The surgeon and the cardiologist conferred and are waiting on her fluid levels to reside before taking out the Jackson Pratt drain. Dr. Oakes had hoped to do that today, but he's going to wait until tomorrow. (The drain was inserted when they hooked her up to the ECMO machine.) All is well with the drain, but they want to wait another 24 hours.
Next . . . the electrophysiologist, Dr. Kutayli, spoke to Ann at length about the AICD and the procedure for putting it in. Everyone here agrees that she will not leave without one. It's a simple procedure and that, afterwards -- for at least one month -- she must refrain from lifting her left arm above her head (something to do with the wires). After that month, she can go back to a normal life -- swimming, exercising, etc. BUT ABSOLUTELY NO MRIs. And NOT WELDING!!!!! (Go figure.) He said they are just waiting for her white blood cell count to come down (yesterday it was 23, today it is 17) before doing the procedure. It could be done as early as Monday. However, in the conversation, it was also noted that these AICDs are usually put in 2 or 3 days before the patient is discharged. We're a bit confused about when she might be discharged. Originally, we were told we'd be here several weeks. The math on that statement above indicates otherwise, though. So, obviously, there will be some discussions in the next few days for more clarity.)
Kr. Kutayli HIGHLY recommended that our three children have EKGs to test for heart abnormalities. (Annie's father, remember, died at age 37 of his 4th heart attack.) We will, of course, have those done.
So . . . lots of news today and all of it really promising! I have started going "off campus" a little more, and I know from frequent trips that it's exactly 257 steps from the edge of the parking garage to Annie's bedside. She has actually been downgraded from the ICU to what they call "Progressive Care." She will eventually be moved to the lowest level, called "General Care" before being discharged. I don't know if Progressive Care is up a floor or on one of the lower levels, but obviously my step-count will change. (I was working on a song about it, but, alas, the new step total will probably mess up the rhythm.) Oh well. All of my steps are tiny, anyway, compared to the giant strides Annie's taking.
A good day thus far. More later.
Am sitting here with my wife and her best friend, the three of us having a lively conversation. If you didn't notice the electrodes on her body or the hospital bed and gown, you might think she was just a little hoarse. Pretty normal, really.
It's so good to hear Annie talking. Today she's used the phone, an iPad, talked to family and friends, brushed her own hair, etc. Things are starting to get back closer to normal. What a relief. Eleven days ago I thought she might not make it. Then, 7 or 8 days ago I thought she would make it, but wondered if she was going to awake and think I was a duck-billed platypus. (Even then, I think she'd still love me, but would probably freak out if I moved to kiss her.) NOW . . . I'm not worried at all. Today was like having the old Annie back, just a little hoarse and weak.
Good stuff. Looking forward to getting out of here. Of course, Lara and I have to leave at 8:30 to get to the airport, so you know what that means -- the doctors will come by then. Bank on it.
Fireworks were the first thing I do remember. I did them out of the window, but this memory is vague. I remember seeing everyone at the other end of the room and they were all talking and having fun.
On July 5 Billy was noticing that things happen when he left the hospital.
Significant things always seem to happen when I'm gone. (No jokes about Annie's pregnancy, please; I was there for that.) So I woke up early this morning and left to go to my "apartment" to shower and change clothes. I come back to find that the neurologist had visited and "signed off," meaning that from the neurology team's standpoint all brain function is perfectly normal and they do not need to continue monitoring her or providing care! Dr. Oakes said she's probably be moved out of ICU by the end of the weekend and then have another week or so in "Progressive Care". Eventually we'll make it to "General Care." The cardiologist told the nurse that hopefully we can move closer to home and have the AICD or pacemaker installed down there. Wow. This is really terrific news, although I do harbor some anxiety about leaving here without the AICD (Automatic Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) in her. Even though I missed him, we WILL talk more before she leaves the ICU.
Annie just spilled her cherry jello. Good thing I know that 'cause it kinda looks like she's bleeding out. (I tell you, if you don't pay attention in the hospital you could easily acquire a case of the frights!)
Annie's talking more and rolling her eyes at me quite often. So . . . everything's getting closer to normal. The past 11 days have been tough. I feel like I've been run through the wringer and hit with a soot bag, but it's getting easier. Still, every time the hospital calls me (and it's happened 4 times when I'm "off campus") it scares the hell out of me. There's ought to be a way for the caller to signal the "callee" that the news isn't bad. Last night, Lara, Matt, and I went for a quick bite, since they hadn't eaten after driving in. While at Brewski's down in the Haymarket, my phone rings -- it's the hospital. I almost went into cardiac arrest myself wondering if Annie had suddenly, inexplainably expired. Turns out Annie had asked the nurse to call me and say she missed me and wanted me to come back. Talk about a roller-coaster of emotion. I went from almost soiling my pants to overwhelming tears of joy in about 2.4 seconds! I think I'm going to have to learn to live with my irrational fear that I am married to a ticking time bomb. Mona says that with the AICD, I'll have no reason to fear another event like this. I hope not.
My wife is a great woman, and I am lucky to have found her. (For those of you who don't know, I waited until I was 40 to marry. Being a drama teacher, this worried my grandmother -- God rest her soul. She used to call me over and whisper, "Billy, come here. It's okay; you can tell me. I love you. It's okay." Then would come the smile and the obligatory, "Grandmother, I'm not gay!" It's still a source of humor for my brothers and me. There are three of us. The other two are 46 and 52 and still not married. And both straight!) When I married her, I wrote her a note that said I felt like I had suddenly been named curator of a small museum with only three precious items. Now my museum numbers four, but I still feel the same way as I did almost 10 years ago -- very lucky to be in charge of four irreplaceable, priceless items. I guess in some ways my FB posts have served much the same purpose as a docent. So, considering they may stop in the near future, let me just say I hope you've found your little tour of my museum interesting. We're here in South Austin anytime y'all want to stop by. (Thanks, I take tips!)
My Journey from death's door to the miracle of life.
Annie Dragoo is a wife, mother, actor, singer, dancer, educator, and holistic health practitioner who lives in Austin, Texas.