Read part 1 here
When I first woke up, I had no idea where I was. My voice didn’t sound like it was mine. It was raspy and harsh because my vocal cords damaged from the intubation tube. However, that didn’t matter to my family or friends. They were so happy just to hear me speak after 3 long weeks. Just a few days ago, they were told I suffered a brain injury to unknown extent. Now I was talking, responding to questions appropriately, and my long term memory was intact. However, for me, waking up felt like a bad nightmare. I considered everyone around me impostors who were out to get me. It was not until much later, that I learned I was under ICU delirium. A patient with delirium is under acute confusion and experiences hallucinations, which means they can be seeing, hearing, or feeling things that don’t exist outside their mind. I was convinced that what I was experiencing in my mind was actually happening.
For the first few days, I was talking to everyone. I had good movement of my arms and hands, legs and feet. I was not strong enough to get out of bed myself, but I was able to control some of my movement. My vital signs began to stabilize and I appeared to the miracle of the hospital. Doctors, residents and nurses followed my case even though I was no longer under their care because they were amazed by my progress. Physical therapy and occupational therapy came to see me for an initial assessment and had good hope for recovery. Speech therapy allowed me to have liquids by mouth but not solids. The nurses and doctors tried to help me out of my ICU delirium by trying to establish a day / night routine to help normalize my sleep pattern. Unfortunately, sleep was beyond me. I would sleep only 1 or 2 hours everyday. I was told that I was awake at all hours of the night and staring into space. Sometimes, I would become agitated and verbally abusive because I thought everyone around me was trying to kill me. My family eventually realized that I wasn’t acting myself because of the delirium. Some days were better than others to say the least. The doctors believed the best next step would be to take me off autonomic storming medications, as I had no clinical signs of it anymore and move me onto a general floor and eventually to a rehab facility.
I had only been on the general floors for 2 days and I had deteriorated significantly. My voice had softened. I was barely able to say yes or no. My family became lip-reading experts. When lip reading no longer worked, I blinked my eyes twice for yes and once for no. That became our new form of communication because I was too weak. Speech therapy became concerned for my airway and I was taken off liquids by mouth as well. I was only allowed 4 ice chips every hour for comfort. I had a feeding tube placed directly into my stomach to provide me with nutritional needs. I was mentally and physically declining. I wasn’t as talkative anymore. Physical therapy and occupational therapy had not come to see me in days and the little control that I had over my body movements was also gone. My family and friends became my PTs and bargained ice chips in order to get me to do exercises. On the morning of the 3rd day, I suddenly spiked a fever of 107 F. Ice packs were placed all over me and I was given medication to help decrease the temperature. Unfortunately, my temperature was not lowering and I was immediately brought back into the ICU and placed on cooling blankets. I was shivering and begging them to turn off the cooling but doctors told me that my temperature needed to be decreased. After a few more days of the icy cold ICU, debates and discussions among many doctors, they came to the conclusion that I should have not have taken off my storming medication. Appropriate medication was restarted and I was monitored for a few more days within the ICU.
Eventually, I was stabilized and cleared from ICU and sent back to the general floors. On the general floors, the goal became to get me out of the hospital and into a rehab center ASAP where I would finally receive appropriate physical and occupational therapy. Through the diligent efforts of family and friends, multiple phone calls to secure my insurance, and with the help of various social workers, we were able to finalize my move into Kessler Rehabilitation Center. After 6 long weeks and a roller coaster of emotions while being within Penn Presbyterian Hospital, I was being sent to Rehab Center for an unknown amount of time. Through those 6 weeks, I still wasn’t myself. I was surrounded and visited by so many loved ones but I only have a hazy memory of it all. It wasn’t until I was within the ambulance headed to Kessler Rehab Center, that I finally realized I wasn’t having a long nightmare. This had now become my reality.