Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Perspective!

I have just had 3 weeks of parental terror that will make this Thanksgiving really memorable! My 18 year old Alexa was in her first semester at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2 hours from our home. She called up on Wednesday night, Nov. 5, to say she had mono. When she talked to her dad, she was brief, and just asked to get picked up the next day. But when she talked to me, we got more details, and boy, was she feeling bad! She had got up that morning & could hardly stand up. She nearly blacked out and had to get help to go to the bathroom down the hall at the dorm.

When she went student health services, they told her she had mono -- they did a quick test that showed positive. I assumed she would want to be picked up the next morning, but it turned out she was determined to go to all her classes the next day & would meet her dad after her bio lab ended at 4:30. When her dad got her at the dorm, she could hardly stand up. He shoveled Alexa into the back seat where she could lie down for the drive back home.

She looked so bad when she got home, that I got her to a doctor's clinic the next day. They focused on the mono diagnosis and said, she must be really dehydrated. Alexa was throwing up everything. That was Friday evening. The doctor called us back on Saturday and she was no better, so we took her to the emergency room of our local hospital in Milton. The docs there said she was so dehydrated, they needed to check her in for 24 hours if IV fluid. So that was til Sunday.

Sunday morning, I visited Alexa before church. She had these awful shakes. I rubbed her back until they went away, and helped her get comfortable. Then I went to church. After church, I went back to the hospital with her dad. We saw her eyelid was drooped. It looked like she had had a stroke. I called the nurse. The nurse called the doctor. The doctor right away got serious & started calling to get Alexa into the ICU at a major hospital in Boston, the Beth Israel. I was stunned. I had thought she was very sick, but I was so frightened at this. It turned out to be the thing that saved her life!

The ICU guys did all kinds of tests, including a spinal tap. Alexa had septicemia, toxic shock, renal failure, and the beginnings of bacterial meningitis. The pressure of the inflammation & infection in the cavernous sinus (where the nerves for her right eye come out of the brain) had pressed so much on the nerves that they could not work the eyelid and she actually has lost the feeling in a good bit of her right face. The eye lid still only opens part way, and that's because she can lift it by raising her eyebrow. There is a clot in the area, as well as the inflammation.

Alexa was in the ICU for a week. She was sedated to be on a ventilator for a good bit of that time, which was scary for her and us, both. But she made a remarkable recovery in many ways. She spent another week in a regular hospital bed, and now is home for a day, with a visiting nurse. Her eye still does not open. Apparently, they expect it will take 6 weeks for the pressure to resolve & see what the poor, crunched nerves have to say for themselves. There may be some hope for nerve regeneration even at that point. So we don't know what the long-term prospect for the droopy eye is. She is already feeling some more in the face than before, so things are better, bit by bit.

We are so glad to have Alexa back with us, and in the land of the living! She lost 25 pounds lying in a hospital bed! It was a terrifying experience. There seems to be no explanation, either, for why this happened. It turns out she does not even have mono! But I am so grateful, and feel so glad. This is a very special Thanksgiving at our house! Rejoice with us! I feel I have carried her back to the land of the living on my back, though I am sure Alexa herself, the ICU staff and all the nurses and docs had a few things to do with it, along with her dad and brother Joe and all the folks who have been praying right along!

This is the kind of thing that puts perspective on all the petty irritations of life, and shows you what you really, really value!

Betsy McKenzie


Marie S. Newman said...

What a harrowing story, Betsy--every parent's worst nightmare. I'm glad that things are improving, but it seems as if your daughter will need a lot of time and care to feel like herself again. Your family has been through a lot this year. My daughter is a senior at Amherst College, and has had occasion to use the UMass Health Service (the schools have a cooperative arrangement). Her experience has not been good, but she certainly hasn't been through anything like what your daughter went through. I keep wondering how they could missed the symptoms you describe. Didn't they do a complete work-up? Very frightening.

Anne M. said...

Your daughter is alive and getting better -- definitely cause for celebration and thanks-giving for you and your family. How fortunate she was to have good health care and access to the BI; I'm glad you live where that was possible. Blessings to all of you this Thanksgiving.

Jacqueline Cantwell said...

How frightening for you. I pray for her continued recovery. Take care of her and yourself.

Betsy McKenzie said...

Thank you all for your kind thoughts & good wishes. Alexa is home & continuing to recover. I think I would like to start some kind of national conversation about the standards of care at student health centers and the responsibilities that universities have when they offer such a service. I don't want to dog on U. Mass. Amherst in particular, because I suspect it is a problem in many places. It should not be a piecemeal solution. But that's a project for some time in the future. Alexa still has to get well enough to return to campus!