Written by Noreen, a Mount Sinai patient
On Thursday, January 10, 2013 my life took a turn that I had never anticipated. I went to a walk-in clinic with flu-like symptoms and was treated and sent home. I remained very ill and by 5:00 p.m. my husband was becoming increasingly worried and took me to the Emergency Department at Mount Sinai Hospital. By the time he had parked the car, I had blood drawn and tests performed to reveal that I was in a critical situation. So began my five-month ordeal.
My stay in Mount Sinai’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) began that night, where it was revealed that I had influenza A complicated by pneumonia (caused by a dangerous bacteria called staph aureus), as well as undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes complicated by ketoacidosis (a build up of toxic acids in the bloodstream). I was put into a medically-induced coma and immediately placed on a ventilator. The staph infection was killing the cells in my lungs and creating pockets of dead tissue that the antibiotics could not reach. Complications of the infection made it difficult for me to take in enough oxygen, compromising the rest of my body. On numerous occasions my lungs had to be re-inflated due to collapse. My blood sugar levels were also off the charts. Over the next few weeks, my husband and daughter would be called to the Hospital on numerous occasions because of my declining medical state.
I have no doubt that my health-care team saved my life. They frequently performed bacterial cultures which told them to change my antibiotics. When my blood oxygen dipped they gave me diuretics to remove water from my lungs and help more oxygen reach my blood. When it dipped again, they started me on nitric oxide to encourage my blood vessels to open and allow more oxygen to flow. I was given IV insulin to bring my blood sugar and ketoacidosis under control. My medical team held regular meetings with my family to update them on my progress. I had a dedicated team of nurses assigned to me for the duration of my stay in the ICU. I was in a state-of-the-art bed programmed to gently tilt my body to prevent bed sores. My care was exceptional.
As a result, after one week, the influenza infection had cleared. Within three weeks, my lungs began to improve. My body was beginning to heal. My physicians began to wean me off the various drugs and moved me to a bright, sunlit room to re-set my sleeping and waking rhythms. It was there that I woke up for the first time, six weeks after being admitted.
I was now out of life-threatening danger and was moved to the step-down unit (a ‘step down’ from the ICU). My nurses were wonderful – they gently washed my hair, provided heated blankets each night, and were very caring. However, my battle was far from over. My muscles had become so weak due to the constant bed rest and lack of use that the only things I could move were my eyes. I had a long road of intensive rehabilitation ahead of me, which began at Mount Sinai with wonderful physiotherapists and occupational therapists, and continued at the Toronto Rehabilitation Hospital. It was a very difficult time filled with struggle and resistance on my part.
My husband and daughter were my lifelines throughout this harrowing ordeal and were as dedicated as two people could be. My husband travelled through snowstorms to support me and be by my side every single day. My daughter’s dedication and optimism kept me strong and got me through some very difficult moments. One of my physicians in the ICU, Dr. Michael Christian, said that my family’s level of support and interaction with the medical team was exceptional and played a significant role in my progress. Without their love and strength, I don’t know that I would have gotten through it.
On June 1, nearly five months after this ordeal began, I was finally strong enough to return home. At Mount Sinai, they called me the miracle of the ICU, as I was informed that very few people survive necrotizing pneumonia caused by staph aureus, especially with the additional complications I experienced. In my heart, I know it was my health-care team who orchestrated that miracle, with their tireless, dedicated and astute care and expertise. I continue to get stronger every day, and have a new appreciation for simple pleasures – reading, cooking and visiting with friends. My gratitude and appreciation are beyond words and I am so grateful that I am here to tell my story.
Noreen extends her sincere gratitude to Drs. Christian, Detsky, Lapinsky and Lee, physiotherapists Anh-Dao and Kevin, and occupational therapist Catherine.
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