Thursday, November 29, 2012

Difficult, but oh-so-awesome!

"Mama," Morgan says, looking up from her bowl of Cap'n Crunch. "Where am I going today?"

It's a question I've heard countless times, often within the first few minutes of her being awake. She's always liked to know where she'll be spending the day while I'm at work. For the past three years the answer has almost always been, "You get to go to Mindy's today." Occasionally if Mindy (Morgan's babysitter/second mom) was out of town the answer would be "you get to go to Grandma's" or "today you're going to play with your cousins at Aunt Megan's house!"  

But this morning, as it has been for the past three weeks now, my answer was different. This morning I walked over to the table where she was eating, scooped her into a hug and said, "You don't have to go anywhere, honey. Today you get to stay home with Mama." 


Quitting my job was not a decision I came to easily. Early last year when I was struggling with my health so much, spending two weeks in the hospital then only being home for 3-6 weeks before having to turn around and go right back in, some of the staff suggested that maybe it was time for me to start looking into disability. At the time I thought that was a ridiculous idea! I mean, I'm not disabled. I'm capable of working. Sure, I was struggling and I'd spent a lot time away from work, but I told myself I was just going through a rough patch. I'd get back to "normal" soon enough and all this talk of disability would be a thing of the past. I did end up cutting back to part-time last summer because, as much as I hated to admit it, I just never got feeling as "normal" as I thought I would. 

I've never talked about my job much here for a few different reasons, but I spent the past six years working Utah Heritage Credit Union, by far the best (and until recently the only) credit union around! I really liked my job, I loved my coworkers dearly, and I really enjoyed interacting with the members of the credit union each day (okay, let's just say I enjoyed most of them). Over the years they became more than just coworkers and friends, they became a second family to me... my work family

As much as I loved my job, working with the public (and dirty, dirty money!) is admittedly not the best environment for someone who is sensitive to germs. Cold and flu season was always really hard on me. We used to joke at work that if someone within a three mile radius sneezed, I'd come down with a cold. It really doesn't matter how sick a person is, they still come out to do their banking. I can't tell you how many times someone would come in coughing, sneezing, and wiping their nose as they walked up to the counter, then they'd lean in real close and say something like, "I'm soooooo sick! I just left the doctors office and need to go pick up some prescriptions." Between the crap I picked up from work and all the germs Morgan was exposed to at the babysitters, we spent a good portion of the fall, winter and spring months fighting some kind of sickness. 

One of the major reasons quitting my job was such a difficult decision: income, obviously. I didn't make a ton of money by any means, but it was enough to help make ends meet. We have been very dependent on my income as well as Adam's, and the thought of suddenly losing it was (and still is) terrifying! I've always wanted to be a stay at home mom, and deep down I've known that it would be better for my health. But I wanted to do things on my terms. I didn't want to feel like I was being forced to quit or that the decision was being made for me. I'd quit when we were financially stable enough for me to stop working, and most importantly, when I was ready to. Call me stubborn (or maybe just plain stupid) but I really thought I was in control of the situation and I wanted it to stay that way. 

This recent experience with the blood clots was what finally brought things into perspective for me. I'd gone to work that day... before I knew what the issue was, obviously. I spent all day in extreme pain, fighting for each breath, trying to keep a smile on my face and do my job. And in those moments I started feeling incredibly resentful and sorry for myself. "I should be home in bed. Nobody else has to come to work when they feel like they're dying. Nobody else has to smile through the pain or sickness, pretending everything is fine." 

And then I started thinking back to all the times I'd come to work with a raging fever or feeling so short of breath that I had a hard time walking to and from the drive-up. All the times I couldn't eat anything because my antibiotics were making me so sick to my stomach, but I still went to work. All the times I rolled out of bed and got ready for work after only getting two or three hours of sleep because I'd been up all night coughing. That time I was in a leg cast, on crutches and on IV antibiotics for my current lung infection, but I still thought I needed to be at work. 

And that's when I started thinking, What the hell am I doing? 

All that I went through in the next couple weeks made me realize that sacrificing my own health and time spent with my family wasn't worth any amount of money. Though I knew I'd miss working and socializing with so many people each day (I'm such a people person) and I had absolutely no idea what we would financially, I knew I couldn't live in denial anymore. I needed to be home. 

And so... I'm now a full time mom and housewife. Though I haven't quite mastered the housewife thing, as evidenced by my still very messy house. I've asked Adam to be patient with me and he has been absolutely wonderful. It's been a little over a month and I still haven't fully regained my strength and energy, but when I do... watch out! I definitely plan on getting things in order around here! This is definitely the biggest, most life-changing decision we've made in a very long time. There have been times that I long for adult interaction and days that I seriously question whether or not I did the right thing, but every shred of doubt goes right out the window when we kneel down to say prayers at night and Morgan says, "Thank you me and my mommy can be home today... and bless my daddy be safe at work... and thank you me and mommy can be home." 

I'm anxious to see how things work out and I'm definitely nervous about all the uncertainties, but I'm so happy to finally be doing what feels right! 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Catching up

So, where did I leave off? Oh yeah, probably the worst place I possibly could have, and then I disappeared and didn't write anything for a week and a half. Sorry about that. 

My brother sent me these pictures (taken by my dad shortly before I was sent away in the ambulance) and I wanted to post them so that 1) you could all bear witness to the fact that I waited way too long between dye jobs (look at those roots!) and 2) so you could see for yourself how fantastic my family is. 

Since Adam was about two hours away and several miles underground at work, both my brother Tommy and my dad were with me in the ER that night. They took turns wrapping me in blankets, getting me water and rubbing my back which provided some relief from the pain. Tommy stayed with me right up until I was wheeled out of the hospital and then he, my dad and Adam all drove up behind the ambulance. The men that I have in my life? Fantastic, I tell you! They really don't get any better. 

You can read more about the ER visit here

The days following that ambulance ride were some of the worst of my life. I was sleep deprived, in a terrible amount of pain and absolutely terrified. I was being well taken care of and I know I must have been on some good drugs because there's a solid week that is just a blur in my memory, but apparently I was in pretty bad shape.

Visitors were in and out of my room, some that I don't remember seeing at all. I have a collection of saved voicemails, facebook messages and entire text conversations that I have no clear recollection of sending/receiving. Adam and my cousin Niki laugh about how I'd be sitting up in bed having a conversation when all of a sudden they'd look over and I'd be sound asleep, still sitting upright. I actually fell asleep while I was going pee one day (fortunately Adam was right there to wake me up/make sure I didn't fall off the toilet and crack my head open) and apparently I thought it was hilarious enough to re-tell that story multiple times a day... several days in a row. Again, I blame the drugs.

At some point during the first few days of my stay they discovered that not only did I have multiple blood clots throughout my lungs, but a clot had also attached itself to the tip of my port (in my heart). My doctors began talking about removing my port because some of the other symptoms I was having led them to believe it was infected. (Since I'd already received antibiotics at that point, all the blood cultures came back negative so really, there's no way we'll ever know if it was infected or not.) The problem at that point was that pulling my port would risk dislodging that clot and possibly sending it down into my lungs. Since it was considerably larger than the clots already in my lungs, we had no idea what further issues that might cause.
Ultimately the potential benefits outweighed the risks and my port was pulled. Fortunately the surgery was a total success and everything went as well as it possibly could have.

After several days of being in the hospital (receiving more medications and being hooked up to more monitors than I thought was possible) things finally started looking up. I remember thinking one day, "I can actually feel myself getting better today!"

My brother Jason drove up from San Diego and stayed with me the night of the port removal, and then again the night after that. It was great to see him and actually get to spend some time with him, though the circumstances definitely could have been better. He was around to witness some of the worst and most painful moments for me, which probably wasn't easy for him, but he was also the one who got to witness my most drugged-up moments which will provide entertainment for years to come, I'm sure. ("Did you eat a good candy?") Jason, if you're reading this I want you to know how much it means to me that you were there. I'm lucky to have you and I love you so, so much! Thanks, Big Brother.

This is probably the WORST picture ever taken of me, but it was a
momentous occasion  -- I finally had an appetite and needed some
 hash browns! Also, this was about five days into my stay and
it was the first time I'd ventured out of my room. 
I'm home now. I've actually been home for a week, but things have been so different this time. I usually come home feeling pretty great, but this time I came home feeling very blah. My lung function was significantly below my baseline when I left the hospital, but I'm told that's to be expected. Apparently blood clots take weeks to dissolve and reabsorb, and as long as they are in there, my lungs won't be able to function properly. Once the clot issues are resolved, I can start working on getting my lung function back up where it needs to be.

Treatment for blood clots, as one might assume, is blood thinners. I could (and probably will) write an entire blog post about my experiences so far, but for now let's just say that blood thinners are going to make the next few months very interesting.

These were taken when I was feeling quite a bit better.
Adam drove up after a graveyard shift one morning so Morgan
and I spent the afternoon doing crafts while he took a nap. 
The best news is, well, first of all that I made it! I'm alive and (relatively) well. Also great news? This incident shouldn't have any long-term effect on my health. I should be able to bounce back and do just fine. This was by far the most critical and terrifying experience of my entire life, but some good did come of it. When a person finds themselves lying in a hospital bed, forced to examine their life and ask what they'd do differently if they could, it really opens the door for change... and guys, I can't wait to tell you some of the things that are changing around here!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The ER Story a.k.a. "My birth control is killing me"

"I think I may have pneumonia," I told the nurse when she asked what had brought me into the ER that night. "Either that, or my birth control is killing me!"

Turns out, both may have been true. 
The pain started on a Monday. I had called in sick to work that morning and had spent most of the day curled up on the couch with Morgan, watching TV and nursing our colds. At one point, when I awoke from one of our short naps that afternoon, I noticed a dull pain in my back near my left shoulder blade. Thinking I must have slept on it a little weird (being that both Morgan and I were squashed together under the same blanket on one end of the couch for several hours) I tried to work it out with a few stretches and didn't think much more about it.
Later that night though, the pain had gotten much worse. It had spread about half way down my back and seemed to intensify with each breath I took. I began wondering if I'd somehow pulled a muscle during one of my coughing fits. The last time I remembered experiencing anything similar was in 2009 when I had a really terrible case of pneumonia. As I got ready for bed, I was feeling enough shortness of breath that I decided to use oxygen - something that is rarely necessary for me. Knowing only that I had stayed home from work because I was feeling some cold symptoms, Adam was surprised to come home and find me in bed wearing oxygen. "Is it that bad?" he asked, realizing this must be more than a cold.

I was finally able to get some sleep after a generous amount of ibuprofen and a back massage from Adam. On Tuesday morning I woke up feeling a bit better, so I took some more ibuprofen and went to work but about half way through the day, I knew something was seriously wrong.  By the time I'd talked myself into going into the local ER, I literally felt like I was being stabbed in the back with a knife each time I took a breath.

"So, it hurts when you take a deep breath?" the nurse asked. "No," I told her. "It hurts any time I take a breath. Simply existing is painful right now."
I explained how and when the pain started, and I also told them about the other strange symptoms I'd been having in the days leading up to that -- heart flutters, a very heavy and loud heartbeat, my right arm aching and tingling for an entire afternoon and evening. I'd done a little research and learned that those things could all be related to the new birth control pill I was on, so I'd already made the decision to stop taking it. Unfortunately, I also discovered that birth control can cause some other very serious problems (blood clots, sudden loss of vision, stroke, etc. -- seriously, Google your birth control, or don't if you'd rather not be totally freaked out) so of course the irrational part of my mind (which, let's face it, is a pretty significant percentage of my brain) was telling me that the very worst was happening.
Fortunately, the ER doctor took me very seriously and was incredibly thorough. After a few hours of testing (during which time the pain was getting worse and worse despite their attempts to control it with IV medication) she calmly came to my bedside, looked me in the eye and said, "Well, it looks like you do have pneumonia... and a Pulmonary Embolism."
My reaction? A very un-ladylike "HOLY SHIT!"
The entire time I'd been there, I'd been making a conscious effort to hold myself together. I thought that if I could just stay calm, everything would be fine. Even though I knew it was a remote possibility, I really didn't expect such a serious diagnosis. As soon as she said the words "pulmonary embolism" any and all self-control I had up to that point went right out the window. I was a wreck! The pain seemed to escalate with my emotions until it reached a point where it was almost unbearable; honestly, the worst pain I think I've ever felt.

Adam was at work and had no idea that I had even gone into the ER. My brother called the coal mine office to tell them what was going on so they could get the message to Adam underground. I wanted so badly for him to be there with me, and it was heartbreaking to think of what he must be feeling when they told him, "Your brother-in-law called and you've got to go home, dude. Something's wrong with your wife." (Which is how he tells the story.)

I was immediately hooked up to a heparin drip and the staff began making preparations for me to be transported by ambulance to the University of Utah. From that point on, all I wanted was to get out of there. My anxiety level was through the roof! I just kept thinking that I needed to get to the U and that if I could just get to my hospital with my doctors and nurses that know and love me, I'd be okay.

I took a few minutes to text Adam even though I knew he wouldn't get the message until he was out of the mine and on his way home. I was terrified and wanted that message to convey everything I would have said to him if he were there by my side - that I loved him, that he has made me so incredibly happy, for him to be sure he'd give Morgan hugs and kisses and tell her Mama loves her very much. After I sent it, I realized it sounded like a goodbye... and maybe part of me thought it would be. I honestly felt like I was dying.

It took quite a while for all the arrangements to be made, but eventually it was time for me to go. I  hugged and said goodbye to my brother who had been in the ER with me for the past couple hours, then they wheeled me outside. As they lifted me into the back of the ambulance this strange sense of peace settled over me and I suddenly knew that whatever were to happen that night, everything would turn out okay. Right then and there I decided that whatever this thing was, it wasn't going to win. I was ready for a fight!
To be continued...
Click here for Part 2