Heaven can wait
On 19th March 2016 my world changed in a blink of an eye. It was a normal Saturday . I popped into town to do a few chores and then delivered a birthday cake. Whilst in town I felt a bit nauseous and breathless so stopped to sit for a minute, I had been having sinus issues so didn't think much of it. On returning home I didn't feel great so told my husband Tim that I was going for a lay down. Just over two weeks later I woke up in ICU .
About 20 minutes after I'd gone to bed Tim came to check on me, that decision saved my life as I was barely breathing. It turned out that I had swine flu that had caused pneumonia. At Dorchester Hospital I was rushed to ICU where they gave me oxygen and done tests to determine the cause of my critical illness. Tim was tested too and he too had swine flu, which meant that for the next 5 days he was not allowed to visit me. By the following day my breathing had worsened and it was decided that I needed to go onto a ventilator. As my temperature raged a cool guard was put into my thigh in an attempt to cool me down. Anti virals were administered as I lay clinging to life. Daily phone calls were torture for Tim as he battled his own illness but by the end of the 5th day he could take no more and came to see me. By this time I was not in a great way, the cool guard had caused a massive blood clot in my leg and it was badly swollen, my hands had also swollen and I had sepsis and bronchitis on top of double pneumonia and swine flu. My chances of surviving were 30%. Through out it all the consultant had been in contact with a specialist team at Guys & St.Thomas Hospital in London, but despite my condition I was still not ill enough for them to come and retrieve me.
On Good Friday Tim received the phone call he was dreading. The consultant said that I was getting worse and it would be a good idea to get as many of my family together and to bring them to see me. Thankfully my brother and his wife were already with Tim so they began ringing my siblings, dad and children to make arrangements. It was late in the day by the time they all arrived at the hospital , worried and anxious they were told that a specialist team from Guys Hospital were due to arrive and were to take over my care. Soon they were all sat listening to Dr Duncan Wyncoll as he explained that there was a specialist life support treatment called ECMO that I could be put onto, and then to taken up to London to be cared for. They were told that there were no guarantees and the treatment carried risks of further blood clots, stroke and may not even work but putting me onto it would increase my chances to 70%. I was now in Acute Respitory distress (ARDS) with triple pneumonia . This was my only chance. It was a long anxious wait for them to perform the procedure to connect me to the ECMO machine which would remove my blood, oxygenate it and return it to my body. Giving my lungs and body the chance to rest and fight the infections. I was then transported to London to continue my fight .
The following morning my brother and Tim arrived at Guys, the scene that faced them must have been truly horrifying as I lay in a room surrounded by machines, covered in tubes. Only my forehead and eyes visible. As everything was explained to them they took it all in and prepared themselves for the days/ weeks ahead. The first few days slowly passed with no change. There were dark times for Tim as he watched the machines willing me to fight. I was constantly played Micheal Buble , my favourite singer. Slowly I began to respond to the treatment. Hour by hour my body fought back. I started to become aware for people talking to me, asking how I was feeling. I could hear Tim and at times see him, my brother or sister in law, telling me what they had been doing. After a week on ECMO I was well enough to come off it. Still ventilated I was returned to Dorchester Hospital and the following day, just over two weeks later the ventilator was removed and I was woken up.
Eight months on it is all still very surreal . I struggle mentally with the lack to memory and loss of control . I'm terrified of getting ill again. I have some lasting medical issues . I still have a blood clot and due to the time I was ventilated my windpipe had constricted, I have tracheal stenosis, which needs surgical treatment with a laser and balloon dilation. I have had my first procedure, which I had done awake as I could not deal with being put to sleep again, or having to have a traceotomy. I will need to have this procedure a fair few times to open my airway and keep it open. However in the big picture I don't have any lung damage, no other organs were damaged, I didn't have a stroke or loose any limbs due to the infections or temperature. My journey and story isn't over yet but Heaven can wait as I have too much to live for. The people who cared for me are true angels and I can never thank them enough for the gift of my life.
Written by Joanna Grattidge