By Chuck Kelley
Sunday morning, Dec. 16, 2012
CORVALLIS, Oregon – I am writing from the cardiac care unit of Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis, OR. I have had a surprising week. Ten days ago I had a surgery related to my prostate gland…something lots of men have and all men dread. It was very unpleasant, but after two days in the hospital I came home. I felt the surgery was a great success and felt so happy.
Then a few days later, this past Wednesday, I developed a fever of 102.7 or 39.28. I felt a bit sick but I wasn’t so concerned about it. My wife told me that because I just had surgery I needed to call the doctor and he sent me to our city’s small urgent care clinic to have it examined. It was about 7 in the evening. After being there for two hours, and having undergone lots of tests on why the elevated temperature, the physicians assistant decided to advise me not to home but to the Emergency Room at Good Sam. So, with reluctance I did. I was glad that my son Peter came and stayed with me for a couple of hours.
I underwent five and a half more hours of tests, x-rays, blood work, CT Scan, etc. I expected the chief doctor to give me some pills and send me home. But he told me that he didn’t feel that he should release me. Initial test results indicated that there was a small infection in my bladder and, more importantly, my white cell blood count was elevated, an indication that the infection was in the bloodstream. I really didn’t understand the urgency of this condition and I was not happy. I was put in a standard hospital room in order to receive some antibiotics intravenously. It was 2:30 in the morning.
The nurses started inserting standard IV needles in both arms and told me to get some sleep. I tried to sleep but couldn’t. I started feeling really cold and wanted more blankets so I left the room to ask for blankets and suddenly I started to shake and Shake and SHAKE. I couldn’t talk. A young nurse, Danielle, saw me, cried for others to come, and then helped me lie down, holding my hand and stroking my head.
My temperature rose rapidly in less than an hour to 107 or 41.68, super, super dangerous for adults. A special code for sepsis (blood poisoning) was called. I was delirious, hot, freezing, incoherent and extremely anxious. I remember one nurse, Matt, continually telling me to breathe through my nose and to slow down my breathing. I was trying but I couldn’t.
I was praying without words.
I couldn’t communicate. I remember two older nurses with short curly hair. One held my hand and told me again and again that I was going to be OK. The other nurse echoed the same words. Both were continually looking in my eyes and their smiles gave me strength.
I felt (maybe dreamt) I was unable to do what the doctors were telling me to. Scary images flashed before my eyes and then I heard someone say, “OK, let’s cut his neck.”
What? I silently wondered if this is what it feels like to die. I don’t know what the emergency team did to me the next couple of hours, but when I woke up I was in the Intensive Care Unit laying naked in a bed of ice, covered by a wet sheet with a huge fan blowing on me. And I was not cold. Tubes and wires had been attached all over my body.
I had a full seizure. The doctor had cut several openings to insert huge IV needles. The largest one was in my neck. Four of the needles were then secured in place with sutures. So when I heard “let’s cut his neck”, it wasn’t a dream!
I was so shocked this had happened. My recovery from surgery had been going so well. But it appears that when I had the surgery somehow a bacterial bug entered or was stirred up or ‘something’ into my bladder and multiplied extremely fast. Then the infection hit the blood stream (sepsis) and immediately everything was in danger. The medical team understood that. I didn’t.
The next morning the doctor told me that had I been anywhere but the hospital when it hit, I wouldn’t have survived. Again. Shock.
I was delirious quite a long time. Nancy came to my side as soon as she could but I don’t remember that. Pastor Steve Thomas came to pray with me; I didn’t recognize him and could only follow a fraction of what he said. My mind was dysfunctional. That delirium continued for a few hours, but then I started to improve and improve quickly. I do remember that the nurses were all phenomenal and one was especially angelic, Kim. The doctors were extremely serious and competent, willing to answer my questions to the best of their knowledge.
I am better…much better today. In the last 8 hours most IV tubes were removed, except for the heart wires and one big arm tube. My nurses (Cathy and Lydia) and aids (Anna Rosa and Barbara) have surprised me with their tenderness, care…even love. After I was in my new room a few hours Cathy came to me and held both of my hands and prayed for me with deep sincerity. She said ‘amen’ and we were both crying.
The doctor said this infection could still attack the heart and lungs or other organs. But so far so good. I have been feeling stronger and have been allowed to go on walks on the floor. All the heart wires are connected to a pocket size computer so the right people can monitor my progress or regress even when I am walking. It now appears that they have identified the right antibiotics that are working against this unidentified bug. I am feeling quite good.
When crisis hits we all look on life differently. I have relived these events in my mind many times in last two days. I have been asking lots of questions including the normal and famous question, ‘why?’
Yesterday I took several corridor walks, one with Nancy, who has been so strong and caring during this time. There is a waiting room at the end of the hall, usually empty, so early yesterday morning I went in to relax. I walked back to that room about 5 in the afternoon. There was a lovely young lady, about 21 or 22, very athletic. She was crying and crying. I asked her what happened and she told me something horrible. Earlier in the day she and her boyfriend had an argument and he took a handgun and shot himself in the head…straight up from inside his chin. Miraculously he lived and now was in Intensive Care. He’s dying and she’s crying. Then her boyfriend’s sister came in, also crying.
Soon I noticed another lady was in the room, about 65, also crying. Her husband just had brain surgery. He has had several strokes and they removed a large portion of his lower brain and he will probably only live a short time. And she was distraught.
Remember, I have been asking myself ‘why?’.
After I returned to my room for dinner, I felt a strong prompting to pray with them, just like so many are praying for me. This urge to pray with them was especially strong and I recognized it was something important. So I walked back into the room and sat down.
All was quiet for a while and I was thinking and praying. You see, I was dressed in my hospital gown with heart wires protruding and still some big intravenous tubes in my arms. I was in my robe. I haven’t shaved since Wednesday. In short I look like a big ole’ gruffy bear making a terrible fashion statement.
But somehow the Lord gave me grace to ask them about their stories. They wanted to talk. Interestingly, we all had iphones with us so I asked them if they wanted to see a picture of my grandchildren. I showed them a photo of Nancy and me sitting behind a couch with all 7 little ones lined up next to and on top of one another. So cute.
That broke the ice. The young lady showed a photo of her boyfriend and of their 7 month old boy, who is blind. The older lady shared some pictures too. I told them that I came very near to death on Thursday. I shared about how the Lord gives surprising strength during times of tragedy and this is something they could experience too.
Then the older lady came and sat down very close to me and asked me to pray for her. I held her hands and prayed and prayed. We finished and she said to the younger lady that it was her turn for prayer. So she came over and we prayed and prayed. We all were crying. They were grateful and touched. I was so surprised at what had just happened. There was a holy sense of God’s presence.
Then I had to go back to my room. But I was with them for more than an hour.
It’s now Sunday morning. I went for a walk earlier to see if the ladies were still there. The room is empty. I don’t know if the two men are dead or alive or vegetative. I may never see the ladies again. But I am glad that I was a position to share some love, hope and sincere prayer. Certainly the Holy Spirit continues His work in their hearts.
I don’t know a lot of things. But for a few minutes last night I was God’s special representative to absolute strangers…and there is joy in that. I’ll never forget it. This would not have happened apart from my near death experience three days ago.
What’s next? How will this serious episode change my life? Will the doctors ever discover exactly what bug I fighting? I have no idea. But I’m pretty sure that our ‘Surprise King’ does.
And guess what? The doctor was just in my room and told me that my recovery has been remarkable and I will be able to go home tomorrow.