Birthdays are sweeter when you didn’t think you’d have another

Birthdays are sweeter when you didn’t think you’d have another

It’s my birthday. It’s kind of a big one. Not just because I turned forty…but because I’m alive. Back in August, I didn’t know if I’d make it to another birthday.

After a lifetime of struggling with obesity, I’d finally lost over half my size. I was incredibly proud of what I’d done, and how far I’d come. There’s just one thing, when you’ve been that overweight, that long…skin hangs down everywhere like a melted candle. It’s uncomfortable, and it hinders activities of daily living.  So, I made the decision to have a brachioplasty and abdominoplasty – to target the most visible areas of my arms and stomach.

Two major surgeries at once aren’t exactly a walk in the park, but I was impressed with the results, and my progress. I came home with surgical drains in both arms, and one in my groin.  I was in a binder – a compression garment that is less than fun, as well as compression wraps from my wrists to my shoulders. Still, I managed to start taking easy walks through our cul de sac…gradually adding a few more steps.  Sleep didn’t come easy. Nights were fraught with no sleep, and night sweats. Because I needed to keep my arms elevated, I had to sleep on my back.  I couldn’t sit up on my own, or lay flat, so I attempted to sleep in the recliner.  

A few check-up’s in, and my surgeon finally removed the drains on an uneventful Monday.  I’d had a few complications. The drain site in my groin area was very uncomfortable. They stitch the drains in, and even the smallest movement was incredibly painful. The binder had also blistered the end of my incision on one end, creating a sore. My surgeon said it was ok to start wearing Spanx and ditch the binder, which was a relief. I have a pretty short torso, so the binder was pretty difficult to use, as it was too long.  I went home happy to move on to the next steps of my recovery.

By Friday, my body was riddled with infection.  A staph infection had started at the drain site in the groin, and travelled to my bloodstream. It migrated to the open “blistered” area at the end of my incision.  

I didn’t realize the night sweats I’d experienced were warning signs. I’d had a fever Thursday night, but reduced it with Tylenol. Friday morning, my husband helped me up and I headed to the bathroom.  I took my temp, and it was pretty high. I used the bathroom, and I noticed everything was blurry. I wiped my glasses, and it didn’t help. I checked the lenses, nothing was there.  I thought that was pretty odd.  Then, made my way to the medicine cabinet and grabbed  the Tylenol. I opened the bottle and took out 3 pills. I only wanted 2, so I was trying to put the extra up…then, the next thing I knew, my husband was yelling. “April, you fell.” I opened my eyes, I was crunched in the awkward space between our shower door and bathroom door, my head was down, and my hands were flopped at a weird angle…kinda like t-rex arms.  I looked around, and said, “You’re right, I passed out.” Thankfully, he’d heard me fall while preparing his coffee. When he found me, he had to force the door open, and I was still out.

He and his mom jumped into action – and grabbed a rolling walker we had, which happened to have a seat. They helped me up on the seat, and rolled me to the living room. I called my brother, and he urged me to go to the ER. I was wanting to wait until my surgeon came in, but he encouraged me otherwise. I had enough wits about me to try to call my insurance company to let them know I needed to go to the ER (they weren’t open yet).  Jimmy threw clothes on and we were at the ER in probably 5 minutes. Despite COVID-19 craziness, they took me back immediately.  My vitals were horrible. My heart rate was as high as if I were running all out. My blood pressure was lower than I even knew possible. I was hooked up to so much gear, and went through a battery of tests. The dr’s knew I was in septic shock. They told me I’d be there for several days. I was scared. I’d heard of that, and couldn’t recall anyone who’d survived.  When my bed became available, that’s when they told me I’d be in the ICU. I was scared beyond belief, but had to kiss my husband and say goodbye. I didn’t know when I’d see him again. 

Over the next several days, the staff threw everything at me but the kitchen sink. I experienced pretty much every side effect that you can get from antibiotics.  I honestly can’t even tell you how many different types of antibiotics they tried. It was A LOT.  One they’d started in the ER, Vancomycin, gave me “Red Man Syndrome” – I turned bright red and was covered in a rash. Because the meds would blow my veins, the Red Man Syndrome, and my recent surgery on my arms, I received a central line in my neck. They’d expected to do a PICC line in my arms, but the staff wasn’t comfortable with that. The central line was placed under x-ray & ultrasound, went in my neck, and the line made it almost to my heart (according to the staff). That was scary, especially when I had to sign waivers. It turned out to be a blessing, because they could give me multiple meds at a time, and take my blood draws. It was pretty crazy though, you’d taste metal every time they flushed it.

While in the ICU, the dr’s would come see me, and say things like, “The infection is still raging in your body.” I obsessively watching the BP monitor. I couldn’t turn around to see it, so, I’d hold my phone up and try to get a photo. My BP was getting dangerously low – and I had been told my kidneys could start shutting down.  I was pumped full of fluid, antibiotics, and various other meds. My throat hurt, and my tongue was covered in white lesions from thrush – another result of the antibiotics.  The lack of sleep caused my eyelids to swell, itch, and irritated the lenses. The meds killed the good bacteria in my GI tract, and I was left with terrible diarrhea.  My surgeon re-inserted a drain in my groin incision while in my room in the ICU – while I watched, in an attempt to remove infected fluid that was hanging around. The end of my incision where the binder had worn a spot looked horrible. A wound nurse taught me how to pack it. It’s something you really don’t want to know how to do.  The nurse team had to come in every 2 hours or so to redress my bandages, where it had oozed all over me and the bed.

I was so scared. I gave pretty generic updates on my Facebook page – which took all of my effort. I didn’t even have the strength to lift my head from the pillow, and took very few phone calls. I asked for prayers. I desperately needed them.  At one point, I gathered the strength to give it to God, cry it out, and just trust. That’s when things started to turn around.  The hospitalist and the infectious disease specialist were in close contact, trying so many combos of meds. After several days, they finally found one that was making a dent.  I was receiving IV antibiotics every 3 hours for one med, and every 12 for the other.  Once the meds started working, the team was able to start trying to take me off the meds to increase my BP. They made attempts over a few days, and finally it took.  I was moved to a regular room, and my husband was able to visit.  I was shocked when I saw myself in the mirror. I hadn’t had one in the ICU.  My legs looked like tree trunks.  I’d gained at least 30 pounds from all the fluid and meds I’d been receiving.  After a few more days, I was home.  It was a slow go after that, but gradually, I returned to normal. I’ve regained all my strength and endurance, and I’m stronger than ever. I’m very happy with the results of my surgical procedures, and would still recommend them to others that need it. My complication was pretty rare. 

The Christian band Mercy Me recently released a single from their upcoming album called “Say I Won’t.” It feels like an anthem to me. It was inspired by the story of Gary Miracle – yes that’s his real name. Miracle worked on the road with the band for many years.  This January, Miracle lost all 4 limbs to septic shock. I can’t help but think that could have been me.   I’ve honestly cried a LOT of tears watching Miracle in the video they released. What a testament to God’s goodness. Much like his, my trial has given me such a new perspective.  I’d been dreading 40, the thought of it used to make me nauseous. That seems so old when your head still thinks you’re about 21.  But, I’m so happy to be here. It doesn’t scare me anymore.  I’m so happy that I’ve been given a second chance. I’m here, because I have work left to do. I want to help others. I understand the battle, I understand what it’s like to struggle. I want to be a resource for folks who feel like no one else understands how hard it is to be overweight, and how hard it is to fight for the life you want.

So, as I complete this lap around the sun, in the words of Mercy Me:

I’m gonna run

No, I’m gonna fly

I’m gonna know what it means to live

And not just be alive

The world’s gonna hear

‘Cause I’m gonna shout

And I will be dancing when circumstances drown the music out

Say I won’t

I can do all things

Through Christ who gives me strength

So keep on saying I won’t

And I’ll keep proving you wrong

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