This is my personal account of what happened 1 year ago that has changed both our lives forever.
I remember October 5, 2016 was a beautiful day, sunny and mild. We had just gotten back from almost a month-long RV vacation to Colorado and Wyoming that had many challenges. That evening we both worked in the garden to catch up on the weeding that hadn’t been done. Later that night, she asked me to come to the bedroom to talk. I thought we might talk about where we might go to next or what to do on the weekend. She said she needed to leave, I asked if she meant somewhere to go camping next. She said she wanted a divorce, I was shocked.
I felt like my world had just come crashing down on me. I was in disbelief and started crying, begging her to change her mind. She never showed the slightest hint of wanting to change her mind. She said she had already had plans to get a job and buy a condo. I was devastated. I felt like I was reliving all of my past failed relationships but on a greater scale.
After about an hour of silence, she said she wanted to go get ready for bed. I let her go by herself, not wanting to upset her, and then she said she wanted to sleep in the recliner. She shut the door to the bedroom and I was alone. For most of my life I’ve always slept with a white noise machine by my bed. She has never liked it and for some reason I decided to leave it off. After about 15 minutes I heard a cough-like noise from the living room. I debated whether I should go check on her but I didn’t want to upset her. I went to check on her and she sounded somewhat groggy. She said she had only taken a sleeping pill earlier. I kissed her forehead and noticed that she was slightly sweaty. I went back to bed but left the bedroom door open. After about 10-15 minutes I heard another noise and was really confused as to what to do. Everything in me said don’t bother her. I stayed in bed for a few minutes but something told me to go check.
When I went to her in the recliner, her mouth was slightly frothy and her speech was slurred. I kept asking her what she did and she said something about taking pills and the counter. I went to the bedroom and couldn’t find anything, but when I came out she was trying to walk to the kitchen. She was stumbling really bad and I rushed to her, but she basically went limp in my arms and we both fell on the kitchen floor. She pointed to the kitchen counter where I found a note and a bag with a lot of empty pill bottles. I’m sure I screamed but somehow, I held it together and immediately called 911, it took forever for them to arrive and get her loaded.
When the ambulance left with her the sheriff had some questions for me. I left about 10 minutes later and soon caught up to the ambulance without their lights flashing. I still didn’t know how many pills she took and how serious this was. The lack of lights made me think that maybe she was dead.
Once I made it to the ER things became a blur, trying to call people, texting, and answering questions. Our friend, Nicole, showed up around 5 when they had just moved Terri to the ICU. We were in the room when they were attending to her and asking me about her medical history. I heard a commotion at her bed and the nurse started asking me if she was a DNR (do not resuscitate). I heard several alarms and the nurse was yelling if she was a DNR because she was about to code. I remember looking at Nicole with tears in both our eyes not knowing what to do. I felt completely lost. I finally said she was not a DNR and to save her while they were getting the board and paddles ready to shock her if needed. Somehow, she stabilized, and they began giving medicines to reverse the drugs she took. I remember at one point in this whole journey where she was hooked to at least 10 IV machines.
Throughout the day it was a flood of questions, calls, texts, tears, and visitors. My parents came back from their vacation with their RV to our place and were waiting for me when I finally got home. I remember both of them meeting me in the yard hugging and crying and me almost collapsing in their arms. I remember trying to say “why” but my crying made it almost impossible. I felt like a heart broken child needing his parents to make everything better.
That night, I started calling and texting more friends to let them know what happened. I left a voice mail on one of our friend’s phone telling her what was going on. About a minute later I got a text from the number I had just called. It said that I had the wrong number and that she would add Terri to her church’s prayer list. Somehow, I still had a few more tears left and thanked her. It made me think that there were still good people in the world.
The next day, Friday, was spent meeting specialists and getting informed of Poison Control’s recommendations, they determined she swallowed 800-1000 pills. Early Saturday morning Terri’s brother, Brad, called to say she was awake and wanted her glasses. I rushed to get the hospital hoping to hear that everything was a mistake and that she was sorry. When I got to her she was still on the ventilator and all she said to me was that “it didn’t work.” I was crushed. I didn’t realize that she was still very intoxicated from all the medications. Turns out, she doesn’t remember any of this, but at the time this just added to my confusion. Sunday, her oxygen saturations started to drop to dangerous levels. I remember just staring at the monitor praying and thinking that the next reading would start to increase. Her level got to a lowest reading of 42%. The doctors and nurses were starting to inform me that she would most likely have some sort of brain damage. The doctors wouldn’t really talk of any future conditions. During all of this her pancreas and kidneys started shutting down. Around 1 or 2 that day they told me to get anyone to the hospital that wanted to say their goodbyes because it wasn’t looking good. I remember holding her hand and begging her to keep fighting. That evening her readings started to return to acceptable levels. My nerves were shot.
When I got to the hospital Monday morning the nurses were looking into getting her transferred to the Houston Med Center. The day was spent wrestling with insurance and finding a hospital that would take her. The nurses never gave up and fought to finally get her to Memorial Hermann in the Medical Center in Houston. Lifeflight came that night and everyone was anxious to see how she would handle moving her to the stretcher. A couple of times during the day she almost coded when the nurses tried to move her in the bed. It took an hour to get her from her bed to the helicopter while we waited near the landing zone. When they took off, we raced to get to Houston to see what would happen next. When we got there, they had her settled in, we answered their questions, and they showed us the waiting room. Since this was part of the original old hospital the rooms were much smaller than what we have now. There was no way we could have slept in the waiting room, so we went to find another space. This was about 11 at night and we were exhausted. I made the mistake of asking a security guard if there was another waiting room we could sleep in. He basically yelled at us about how this wasn’t a hotel and we’d have to leave. So, me and Terri’s nephew, Kevin, found a hotel and got a few hours sleep.
The next 7 days were a flurry of activity. The protocol was to slowly wean her off the IV meds that were keeping her alive and to slowly get her to breath more on her own. They also started her on a feeding tube to keep her digestive system functioning. My decision to do this was questioned by some but the doctors assured this wouldn’t be the main thing keeping her alive. I now see that if you weren’t in my shoes at the time it’s easy to question decisions. But at the time it was a burden I didn’t need. While all of this was going on, my family was spending everyday cleaning our house and one day they found Terri’s will. I was worried that I had done something that went against her wishes. Remember, at this point, I still thought she wanted a divorce. Something told me I was doing the right thing. When I got her will to the charge nurse and the doctors, they couldn’t find anything that I hadn’t followed. I was relieved. There were lots of setbacks and scares. One evening they were going to install a main line into her jugular vein. I went back to her room and saw a nurse holding her fingers on Terri’s neck and blood everywhere. They ushered me away and later told me the doctor had cut her carotid artery and they were taking her to surgery to repair it. My nerves were so shot by then that it didn’t really register with me how serious that was.
My days were pretty much the same. My parents brought our RV to a park not far from the light rail system that dropped me off right in front of the hospital. I would get to the hospital and check in with the nurses and see what changes had occurred. I think part of my coping mechanism was to immerse myself in the information. I had learned the settings and readings of the ventilator and what meds and dosage rates they were giving her. I would spend the day sitting with her, talking with the nurses, sitting in the hallway, getting coffee, and waiting for any changes. Terri’s brothers were there which helped a great deal. At the end of the day, I would take the train back and then drive to my trailer. I was exhausted but I would eat, try to update friends through texts or calls, and try to sleep. Before bed and sometimes in the middle of the night I would call the ICU to get any updates. I had also found the chapel and would go there almost every day to pray. It became something I looked forward to. The quiet and the lack of machines and alarms was something I needed. I also began praying some Holy Novenas and hearing of all the stories of others that were praying for her. A friend from high school, Rhonda Fowler Gruenewald, who was very involved in the Catholic faith helped a great deal and at one point had 10 Holy priests praying for her simultaneously. Terri’s brother Brad had the entire Diocese of Baton Rouge praying for her along with a Facebook page set up for friends and family to pray.
On October 12 they had decided to try to extubate. This was the day that I was looking forward to and also dreading. Deep down I knew Terri would never want to live life in a highly compromised state. They had performed a brain scan and said there was no visible damage from the drugs or the lack of oxygen. We were all on edge as they pulled the tube from her mouth while she coughed and gagged. She began to breath on her own and try to talk. The nurses wanted her to remain calm and quiet but I was able to tell that I loved her. Her eyes looked lost as she constantly looked around with all the commotion and sounds everywhere. We left her alone to try to rest but I would sneak to the edge of her door to watch her. I was so relieved but still worried. I had been told about ICU psychosis from the patient constantly being aware of all the sounds and actions all around her. They said it could take a few days for her mind to start making sense and sounding normal. She talked a lot of nonsense for several days, it was scary.
After another day or so, she had stabilized enough to be moved to a medium level ICU unit. I finally asked her if she remembered anything or if she still wanted a divorce. She said that she didn’t to both questions but still had a lost look in her eyes, she didn’t know what was going on. She was moved to a regular room and around day 6 or 7 she started to speak and think clearly. The next obstacle was get her kidneys back to functioning normal, monitor her pancreas, and work on getting her strength back. In 19 days she had lost 47 pounds and was so weak she couldn’t even sit upright in a chair without being strapped to it.
At this time was when I started to become stir crazy. Throughout this whole process I had been making decisions almost hourly and everything now seemed to shift to a wait and watch. We had friends and family that would come during the day to stay with her while I could get away. A couple of times I drove the 1 ½ hour drive home to do laundry and mow the grass. Mind numbing activity was what I was after. I still felt guilty for leaving her side and I looked forward to getting back to her.
After about 7 days, she was transferred to a rehab facility that could do dialysis. The quality of care was very different from the Medical Center. I stayed with her in the room but was becoming more restless with long days of just sitting. She couldn’t be left alone because she couldn’t do anything for herself and the staff there was not going to help her. Brad stayed with here several days and so did friends so that I could go home. She could tell how I was feeling and constantly apologized, she really didn’t understand what had happened. I was starting to randomly cry from just thinking about what had just happened. She couldn’t understand why I was crying and not happy that she was alive. I was happy but just confused at everything. My hands had also started to randomly shake. It got to the point where it was very noticeable and I started to feed myself differently.
Her kidneys started to improve to the point where dialysis wasn’t necessary anymore. She was then transferred to TIRR in The Woodlands and was like night and day compared to the previous facility. It was clean, the staff was professional, and their program was top notch. She spent most of her day doing various physical therapy exercises and I could only come visit in the evening and night. In about 2 weeks she went from only being able to walk a few feet with help to about 300 feet without stopping. On November 29 she graduated from TIRR and got to ring the bell.
We got to go home to a freshly cleaned and organized house thanks to my family and could finally relax. I helped her with her walks and therapy while trying to still make sense of it all. Inside, I was thrilled that she was alive and still loved me, but on the outside I was depressed much of the time. Anything that was a reminder of the hospital could trigger me to start crying; songs, sounds, words, or thoughts. Mindless work outside helped to keep my mind steady, but Terri thought I was avoiding her. I’ve always been skeptical of counseling and figured I could get through this. I felt as though only I could really understand what I experienced. I did reach out to someone who had experienced a traumatic event but never heard back.
With time, things for me have gotten better. I do still cry sometime when I think back of what it all felt like and the thought of losing her. The shaking issue with my hands has pretty much gotten back to normal. Sounds and images can still bother me. This past year, my best friend’s daughter was in a car accident. At the ER she was being monitored for her vitals and the same sounds and appearance brought back all the days of staring at the same monitor praying for a miracle. When Terri was able to walk better we went back to the hospital in Huntsville and Houston, so she could thank them, they were all shocked to see her. I knew it would be hard. Everything affected me, the smells, the sound of the doors opening and closing, the long hallways, and seeing the room she was in with the same monitor on the wall.
I’m grateful to have Terri back better than ever. I try to live every day differently than before. I’m not comfortable being away from her and I still worry more than I did in the past. Overall, I’m doing better, but it’ll take more time. Our feelings for each other are stronger than ever before and I finally have the wife I’ve always dreamed of. I love her.
Since posting, I’ve thought of things that I forgot to include.
Terri’s survival has more to do with God than I indicated. Over the last year, we’ve gone through the details hundreds of times. Not long after she was home I let her read all my texts that contained daily details of her condition. We needed to do this so she could know what happened and I still had it in my memory. We’ve counted at least 7 times that she should have died. From the early situation at Huntsville where she started to code to a time in dialysis where she wasn’t being watched and her blood pressure started to drop very low. She only had enough energy to barely speak so the only person to hear her was the patient in the bed next to her, who yelled for help. The nurses rushed over, tilted her bed head-side down, stopped the dialysis and gave her a lot of fluids to raise her blood pressure.
There were several doctors and nurses that said that there was no real medical explanation for her to be alive much less to return to a normal life. That it could only be God’s intervention that saved her.
I found out when we returned to Huntsville ICU to visit the nurses that at one point they had contacted Life Gift. This is the organization that handles organ donations. When I heard this I was shocked. While this was happening, I knew things were bad and things might not turn out good. Somehow, I kept this thought from consuming me. I had my times. But when you hear that organ donations were being discussed, this shows you how close it was.
All of this was the worst experience anyone could imagine. The fear, stress, worry, anger, and shock amazes me that I survived. It did prove to me that nothing is impossible and miracles do happen.