Because nothing is easy

Because nothing is easy, my “wimpy” little bacterial infection actually landed me in the hospital for eight days and seven nights. My last entry was a week ago and that day I was SURE that I was going to be discharged the next day but because it’s me, I had to complicate things a bit.

A few factors that delayed discharge:

Vancomycin  (vanco) gave a mild skin reaction. Due to that the doctors had to play around with the rate in which it was administered and the dosage. With this drug you also need to draw blood just prior to the next dose to see exactly how much vanco is in you. It can’t be too much to too little. Pretty much every blood draw I had except for the last missed the mark on either end. In short there was a lot of tweaking that had to go on before they could send me home with the drug.

-Daptomycin (Dapto) is a much better antibiotic that can be used as a second line treatment if vanco is not working or an allergy exists. Switching to this drug took a few days because your blood cultures need to be sent to a lab with a sample of Dapto and they watch it to see if the bacteria is sensitive to the drug. The results took 48 hours to yield but luckily it came back in my favor and we could make the switch. With Dapto, I was required to do one infusion in the hospital to monitor me for any reaction. We did that yesterday and after that I was cleared to go home. I didn’t even think it was real that I was going home (this is how jaded I have become in regard to my own health).

-My port appears to be the source of the infection which means that we had to be aggressive and consistent with antibiotic that would flow through the central line. The goal is to save the port. I will have blood cultures again in a week and if the sample from the port is still coming up positive for bacteria then the port may need to be removed and replaced. I am very much hoping this isn’t the case and honestly don’t think it will be.

Right now I feel okay but not as well as I felt last week before going to the hospital. A week of antibiotics, antihistamines, and other necessary medications can kind of knock you down a little. The antibiotics have torn up my stomach so I’m slowly getting my appetite back. I do have TPN at home that I have returned to so at least I’ll get the appropriate calories and nutrients while I build up my food by mouth. In short I’m just really fatigued.

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That said, I’m grateful for the care I received at WIH. From the ER to 4East I was in the hands of people who know me, provide the best care, and care greatly about the work that they do. Despite how much longer I was inpatient than anticipated, we could find comfort through frustration that everyone was working as hard as they could to find a solution to the various challenges that arose.

Thank you as always to my parents and Cory who made many a long drive to be with me in Providence and help me keep my head on straight.

So I’m home now. Again, writing this from my back yard with the chirping birds and the abundant garden.  Thank goodness.

From here on out the plan is-

1.) Administer IV antibiotics through my port at home from now until June 30th

2.) Continue TPN until further notice

3.) Start chemo again June 30th after a check up with Dr. Robison. That day I will receive Taxol and Carboplatin in the infusion center in Providence as I would normally.

and most importantly…

4.) STAY OUT OF THE DAMN HOSPITAL!

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Another speed bump

“You look SO much better than the last time I saw you!” is something that is encouraging to hear after a string of hospitalizations.

Except, I think you lose points when someone says it…in the emergency room…as you’re admitted for yet another medical issue.

On Monday I had chills and a mild fever (101.6) so I went to the ER at Westerly Hospital. In active treatment you are advised to come in if you experience a fever over 100.4.

Now I must pause the story to say that after being so used to a women’s hospital full of oncology patients and expectant mothers, it was especially jarring to overhear an intake person say: “Sir! SIR! ARE YOUR FINGERS STILL ATTACHED?”

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Anyway…

They did some blood tests and took a chest xray. They chalked it up to a virus and were able to send me home a few hours later.

Tuesday I woke up with a fever of 100.4 but I felt fine otherwise. Tylenol brought the temperature back down to normal and I carried on with my day. It was a great day, really. The visiting nurse took my vitals and blood pressure was great, no fever. Sheila also came over and I made scrambled eggs. That’s right MY FIRST SOLID FOOD IN WEEKS.

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Yep, that’s the face of a happy girl eating real food. It’s also the face of someone that was not expecting a phone call hours later from Westerly Hospital notifying me that they found bacteria in my blood and I needed to come back to the emergency room.

The bacteria was identified in the blood cultures. Labs watch blood cultures over 5 days to see if bacteria grows. In my case it had in 4/4 viles which made it evident that it was a real infection and not just a contaminant.

It was made clear to me that I should expect to stay overnight. Knowing that I ultimately decided to make the slightly longer trip to Women and Infants and be treated there. Cory drove up with me and stayed with me in the ER until almost midnight when they confirmed I’d be admitted. He also drove about 200 miles that day for work so he’s a real trooper.

So since Tuesday night, I’ve been here receiving IV antibiotic. By Wednesday the type of bacteria was identified and apparently its a common bacteria found on everyone’s skin. They are guessing it got in through my accessed port. Luckily it was described to me as “wimpy” by the infectious disease doctor.

Once identified I was switched to an antibiotic called vancomycin. I’m tolerating it pretty well but I did have a pseudo-reaction during the last two infusions where my face and chest became red and warm.

Fun fact- the medical name for that kind of reaction is ‘Red Man Syndrome’. Here’s to hoping that ‘Method Man Syndrome’ is a real thing too.

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Hopefully, I can go home tomorrow. My fingers are crossed. Since I’ve been here I haven’t had a fever or anything. That said as a precaution no chemo this week.

All in all in good spirits but definitely want to get home and get better. I’m confident that I’ll bounce back soon.

There’s no place like home (even if you’ve only seen it once before)

We are approaching one week since I have been discharged from the hospital. This is (sadly) shattering my record from the past month of yo-yo hospitalizations.

Initially, I thought it would be uncomfortable leaving the hospital and moving into the new place. I didn’t even say goodbye to my old apartment. Like magic, with the help of a lot of friend/elves, I was just moved. Luckily the new house is a great place to recover and slowly but surely Cory and I are making it into a home.

What a stress-free environment. It is this little house with a perfect back yard and a garden. There are constant sightings of vibrant cardinals, bees, and hummingbirds. This morning I took my yoga mat into the grass and did some makeshift gentle yoga/stretching to get my body moving (after a month of being nearly sedentary). A bright red cardinal was perched on the tree above me the entire time. I couldn’t possibly be more “one with nature” in this moment unless I transformed into Bear Grylls and was dumped out of a plane into the Amazon.

Overall, my experience home has been the right prescription emotionally. I love our little town, the house we’re renting is comfortable and coming together, and my roommate is pretty easy on the eyes ;).

Since I didn’t actually write about getting discharged, I’ll keep it brief and stick to the important bits. They took incredibly good care of me there and kept the NG tube in up until about 30 mins before I left to be as precautionary as possible. But at some point your guts are going to do what they’re going to do and Dr. Robison felt it was best to get one more round of chemo in the hospital then go home and be normal*.

*”Normal”- not to be confused with ACTUAL normal living, but operating in a way that makes you feel somewhat free and human. Let’s call it normal light.

Going home was the best gift and the correct decision at that point. Dr. Robison also knows me all too well and probably anticipated that I would try to go back to work too soon. Just like a surgery, the body needs time to heal and repair itself especially after the added trauma of septic shock. That said, until I’m medically cleared I will be home for a little while and fondly thinking of my friends at Bryant from afar.

Unlike other discharges from bowel obstructions I’ve had, this time I was sent home having not even advanced to clear liquids. The only thing by mouth that I had in the hospital were Dum Dum lollipops (thanks to Sheila and Shakay for supplying). No, this time we were going to to sllllooooowwwwwwwwww as molasses to prevent ending right back up in the ER yet again. For now I’m still on Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN) where I receive all of the calories and nutrients I need for the day over a 12 hour period right into the blood stream through my port. I’ve been supplementing this with tiny amounts (2-4 oz.) of watermelon Italian ice to reintroduce something into my system by mouth but that’s it.

Starting tomorrow, with the blessings of Sheila/my case manager/dietician, I am going to try small amounts of blended soups (like butternut squash) and pureed foods. Stocking up on baby food basically. I was advised to listen to my body and slowly reintroduce foods into my diet working up to solids (low in insoluble fiber). I miss real food but we are getting there slowly.

You can imagine how brutal it is when Cory (a very talented cook) is making dinner for himself. I awkwardly ask him to let me smell it and pretty regularly shove my nose in the direction of his food to at least pretend like I know what it tastes like.

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But Cory isn’t the only wizard in the kitchen. Watch the TPN master prep tonight’s dinner (with the help of some “muscle” to spike the bag). I made this video to take some of the mystery out of what is actually sustaining me and how I manage it (and cranked up the speed 15x as to not kill you with boredom).

What you’re watching:

  • Sterilizing pretty much everything with alcohol wipes
  • Injecting the TPN bag with additional vitamins and Zantac
  • Having Cory spike the bag because it’s not easy. You really need to jam it in there.
  • Hooking up the tubing to the bag and pump and priming the tubing to push out any air in the line.
  • Sterilizing the end of my already accessed port (the little tube hanging from my chest) and flushing it with saline.
  • Connecting the primed line to the port tubing and starting the pump. It’s all pre-programed so all I need to do is sit back and let dinner run through my bloodstream for the next 12 hours.

What you don’t see: 

  • The big white bag stays refrigerated but needs to be left out for about 2 hours prior to use.
  • I washed my hands thoroughly before starting the process, promise.

 

So what’s next?

Chemotherapy continues on Thursday bright and early in Providence. This is a Taxol only week so it shouldn’t be too bad. Oh by the way we are back on the weekly chemo regimen- every Thursday now. No breaks, no week off, no chemocation. We can’t afford to not be aggressive after all of this hospital business.

Put on your game faces folks.

As always I will keep you posted with a progress report. Thanks for continuing to send warm thoughts and wishes for improved health 🙂

I hope everyone is enjoying this gorgeous June weather and since I cannot- please eat double at barbecues and have some sort of boozy frozen drink on my behalf. (nom nom nom, in spirit).