IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU…
Susanna had been to her regular physician because she had a cough she could not shake. It wasn’t a ticklish sort of cough, it was more that she could not clear her throat.
Since it was summer in New Jersey, there were several possible culprits-as-causes that she considered. Was it the beginning of a cold or flu? As a freelancer, Susanna did not just commute from home to a job and back. She was frequently in various locations, interacting with many people.
Perhaps her sons
(one in high school and one in college)
brought a “bug” home,
now that school was “out” and they were fully engaged in vacation activities.
We all know the less-than-sanitary conditions that can develop when teens/young adults are focused on other things!
She did not think it was an allergy, since she had never suffered from any previously, but a friend mentioned that they sometimes come on as one gets older, so she thought about it.
Maybe something to do with her two dogs?
She’d had each over 10 years,
so that did not seem likely.
What about going in and out of air conditioning
During this latest string of sweltering hot and humid days?
Susanna was still able to function: working and eating and exercising regularly but perhaps the constant switching of climates was affecting her?
Another thought: was it related to mold?
Popularly in the news as a factor in home sales and sometimes discovered to be the origin of mysterious sickness symptoms; Susanna reasoned it was conceivable.
Her doctor had examined and interviewed her in the normal manner and initially thought it was an allergy and sinus infection. He sent her home with an antibiotic.
After a few days of coughing and choking in the night, it seemed to be getting worse so she returned to the doctor and was given an inhaler that she was instructed to use as needed.
She began to use it intermittently when she felt the congestion in her throat and was hopeful that this would give her some respite.
After a day or so, Susanna slowly realized that she had been talking less and when she did talk, it was in increasingly hushed tones and much more briefly than normal, for fear of launching herself into a spell of coughing. When she would exceed her now lessened ability, the result was having to stop talking entirely. It became impossible to talk and breathe, and of course breathing is a priority!
Often after stopping mid-sentence, or excusing herself and hanging up a phone call, Susanna would need to clear her throat of sputum and/or mucus, which in civilized society requires a trip to the bathroom. So now in the course of her day, she found she was taking numerous breaks in order to do just that. She became very reluctant to leave her home and became concerned that even simply driving could become a very dangerous activity.
She was also losing sleep because at night the symptom switched slightly from coughing to choking. The effect was so pronounced that it would wake her husband. He hit her on her back to try and help quell an episode, but it was of no use. He thought she was going to choke to death. She began to sleep sitting up.
After a few days of this, it was becoming apparent that the inhaler was not helping her at all. Susanna even started to develop a suspicion that it might actually be making her condition worse.
Finally, sometime in the second week or symptoms she was trying again to function,
that is, perform her work tasks and run her household when it just became absolutely evident that she could not breath sufficiently to achieve any of those things.
Since she had already consulted her physician, she reasoned it was necessary to go to her local hospital’s emergency room.
As her husband was at work, she asked her college student son to drive her. The trip of about 15 minutes was uneventful, and they pulled up in front of the emergency room. Susanna’s son helped her out of the vehicle, accompanied her into the waiting area and up to the first attended desk. Once it was apparent that Susanna had trouble talking, she was helped into a wheelchair by a nurse, handed a clipboard to fill out with her personal information, including insurance and then wheeled immediately to an examination area. Once in the curtained exam area, Susanna was placed on a gurney and her blood pressure and other “vital signs” were taken. She was asked for at least the 2nd time, what the problem was, and did her best to try to describe the coughing and phlegm and difficulty breathing, with no success. She was given two intravenous lines, one in each arm.
Susanna was alone at this point as her son had left their car just outside, rather than in an approved parking area, and so had to leave her to park it properly. Each time someone would ask her a question, Susanna reflexively attempted to answer verbally, but could not. She motioned to her chest, to try and indicate that she was having trouble getting a breath, but no one understood her. There were about 6 staff people involved at this point, but it is not clear whether they were communicating effectively with each other. Presumably one of them might have taken the time to try and understand what Susanna needed to express.
As she was cognizant of the conversations to which she was privy, she began to understand that the hospital staff’s general assessment of her situation was focusing on the functioning of her heart. This was apparently based upon only a few cursory vital signs, her breathing difficulty and an abnormal EKG. Susanna’s EKG has been abnormal since birth, but she was never asked about this finding, and of course she could not speak to tell them so. She was not offered any writing implements with which to communicate. Beyond the nod of her head, Susanna was not given any opportunity to grant consent to any invasive procedure, the likelihood of which increased over time.
After a period of about 5 minutes, Susanna was again moved, this time from the curtained exam area to the Emergency Room’s Operating Room. In the process, at least 3 nurses completely disrobed her from head to toe. She was left in that predicament and not given any type of hospital gown or modesty covering. In the Operating Room there were numerous male staff, likely ranging from lab techs to anesthesiologists to nurses and/or doctors. A round, flat circle of metal with a hole in the center was placed on her upper chest, essentially over her heart. Above her there were extremely bright lights and suspended below them what appeared to be a drill or pick or other sharp instrument. Susanna later concluded the metal circle laid on her was a drill guide.
Stay tuned for Part Two…