One week ago today, as I write this, was Friday, July 21st, 2023. It was the beginning of a vacation we had been planning for at least six months, a trip that would deliver at least a little bit of a respite from this God-awful heat and would coincide with our 20th wedding anniversary.
The day prior, Thursday, we took our dogs (Bob & Chandler) over to a co-worker's house who had agreed to keep them for us, so that we could all leave as early as possible to make our way towards Breckenridge, Colorado. My in-laws do the time-share thing, and we've been able to benefit from it on occasion over the previous 20 years. That Friday morning we were all out the door by 7:15am - no small feat when you're including an 11-year old coming to grips with Summer's Last Hurrah.
We were off to Pueblo, front-loading a pretty miserable 14-hour drive, to make the Saturday as easy as possible. Problem: my wife is extremely gluten-intolerant, something that has intensified over the last 7-8 years to the point where if she even touches flour her hands swell like the Hamburger Helper mascot. As we went through Fort Worth, Decatur, Bowie, Vernon, there's just not a lot of meal options for someone who has a severe reaction to flour. We chanced it. "Maybe this Wendy's doesn't cross-contaminate their fries!" we chuckled to ourselves right before my wife puked into a Cefco cup. She threw up seven more times on our way to Pueblo.
Problem: Throwing up that much dehydrates you severely, yet we continued to ascend. You don't really think about Amarillo being almost 3700' above sea level, yet there you go. It is. We crossed into New Mexico (did you know there's an inactive volcano in northeastern New Mexico? It's frkn wild). I love Raton. I'd move to Raton right now.
We passed New Mexico and drove into Colorado. We checked in to the hotel in Pueblo (which was somehow about 72 degrees at the time). My kid loves hamburgers maybe more than she loves me, so once we were settled I went to get dinner. I got her Carl's Jr which was next to the hotel ("Nah" was the review. I can't disagree.) And found a little hole-in-the-wall taco place for my wife. She had two bites. She threw up again. I threw the tacos away because they were soggy by the time I got back to them.
So we sleep. I went downstairs and got some work done. I drank a lot of coffee. Had some breakfast. And off we went, climbing another almost-mile in elevation to Breckenridge. But she wasn't okay. In West Pueblo I stopped at a Wal-Mart and got Gatorade, protein shakes, gluten-free snacks (remember she threw up A LOT on Friday, the day prior) and some things for The Kid to eat. I also got one of those oxygen canisters that you can use at altitude for a cool $18/pop. It's genius, because you have absolutely no idea how much there is, how much you've used, how much you have left. More on that later. More throwing up as we got past 5,000 feet. The last time she massively threw up was in Canon City. She drank more water. A lot of it.
We tried to take some time as we ascended up to 9,000'+. But we didn't take enough time. Maybe it didn't matter, I don't know. She hit that oxygen canister hard. We checked into the hotel around 3pm and I helped her to bed. She was shaky, but I thought it was the oxygen and the altitude.
My in-laws (who have the time-share) were there. As were her oldest brother and his wife and their kids. They went out for dinner. We stayed in because she was feeling so poorly. As they went out to eat, I walked to a nearby super-expensive market to get her some (gluten-free) carbs to try to get her nutrition up. There were instant mashed potatoes, cheese sticks, trail mix, other things I thought might work. When I came back to the hotel, around 5:30pm, she had thrown up again but was able to keep down the cheese stick and the mashed potatoes.
But it didn't get better. Earlier she was a little shaky, now she was straight up shaking. Again, I thought it might be the altitude. I know that pure oxygen can make you a little twitchy (more on that, again, later) so I kind of chalked it up to that, and thought, "Get through tonight and she'll probably be okay tomorrow." Her parents got back from dinner and checked on her. I joked that I'd probably read 300 pages of the book I brought with me. I did not.
About 8pm on Saturday things started to change. In addition to the shaking there were some tremors. She couldn't bend her fingers. It was becoming more difficult to understand what she was saying. It was like when you're really cold and have a hard time controlling your jaw, but you still try to talk, anyway. Now, when she had a tremor, she screamed. Not so much out of pain, but out of necessity, just...a release from whatever she was feeling. I started Googling things, which is normally not a rabbithole you want to go down.
By 9pm it was worse. She would reach towards her feet whenever the convulsions started, which by this point was about every 60-90 seconds. I still hoped that it would pass, like a moron. At 10pm I called the Breckenridge Mobile Medical Unit. The guy said he could provide some advice, but without seeing her he still wouldn't really be able to do anything, but mentioned that we could call 911 and paramedics would check her out, and if they thought she was okay, they'd just head off.
I asked what she wanted to do, and she wanted to go to the ER, which was actually in Frisco, about 10-15 minutes up Route 9 to the north. By this point my brother-in-law came by to see how she was. He said he'd drive, and went to get the car, while I got her up to help her. I had already called the front desk about getting a wheelchair, which they brought. All I had to do was to get her to her feet, and into the wheelchair. While he was backing the car up, I helped her up, and she collapsed. She rolled both ankles.
After three attempts to say the words, Kami told me to do what I should have done an hour earlier: I called 911. Paramedics came surprisingly and impressively quickly. They went to work and were sort of under the impression that her breathing was so shallow (she has asthma and we were at almost 10,000') that she had induced a panic attack. Get her breathing under control and it might be okay. And then! She had a seizure. There was blood on the bed (we were in our hotel room). They asked if she was coughing up blood. Another asked if she had bitten her tongue. I saw her hit herself in the mouth in the seizure and wondered if she had cut her lip on her teeth.
As soon as it started, it was over. She was snoring like she had a sinus infection, like a damn chainsaw. I know I snore like that, but this was extremely rare for her. And then! Another seizure, this time longer and more violent than the first. She grabbed her arm and then fell over. A paramedic mentioned a possible heart attack. I'm thinking that I'm watching my wife die.
She came to, again, and started talking absolute gibberish. Like, ancient Biblical language talk. Never heard anything like it, and I never want to hear anything like it again. She fought off the paramedics as they cut her pajama bottoms (Astros-patterned, she was pissed) to give her a sedative in her thigh. Off we went in an ambulance to St. Anthony Summit, me riding shotgun, her brother driving behind.
They took her for a CT scan to see if there was a brain tumor that caused the seizure (clean), ran a bunch of tests, and found that her sodium level was 113. Normal range is 136-145, and apparently the lowest blood sodium level ever recorded is 99. She was closer to that than she was to the normal range. And anything 116 or below is seizure-inducingly low. Essentially, she threw up so much on Friday and tried to drink water to rehydrate, which further diluted what little sodium she still had that it caused All Kinds Of Hell.
She made it through the night. They then played a guessing game about her sodium level. If you bring the sodium up too quickly, it can cause your brain to swell, and then you die. So it was just kind of a trial-and-error deal. She woke up numerous times in the ER and asked me what happened. "You had two seizures," I would respond, and she would say, "Huh?" and fall back asleep. Five minutes later we'd do that again. It was past midnight.
About 3am Sunday they transferred her to the ICU. Rachel, her new bestie and ICU nurse extraordinaire, was the only one who knew how to deal with this. She took over and got her through the night. Everyone was focused on alcohol withdrawal but, with me providing some context about the events of Friday, that was soon brushed aside.
Mid-morning Sunday she started to be able to put some things together. They did neurological tests, asking her where she was, what month and year it was, who I was, why she was there, etc. She said she was in Fresno, California one time. Another time had no idea what month it was. She never forgot who I was, which was sweet.
I guess with blood sodium stuff, you're just kind of throwing spaghetti at a wall and hoping something sticks. She needed more sodium, but not too quickly. Why is it staying the same? Add more saline, but not that concentrated. Wait it's not coming up quickly enough, add more saline. As the hours stretched into Sunday, her brain regulated more and more and she could better answer those neurological questions.
She went from 113 to 116. 116 to 118. On Monday she went from 118 to 130, close to normal but at a dangerously fast rate. They gave her a sugar water drip to slow the increase down, and she went back to 128 and then to 126 and then to 124. More adjustments. They also did a full abdominal ultrasound to see what was up with her internal organs. Cancer, kidney failure, diverticulitis were all mentioned as possibilities. I was freaking out. They ran a full panel again to see what they could see. One liver enzyme was slightly elevated, everything else was fine.
On Monday we had a Zoom call with a kidney specialist in Denver. He asked some questions about diet and fluid intake. I mentioned that in March 2020 she had an earache that was so bad it felt like someone was driving an icepick into her skull. No one was mentioning that as COVID popped off, so she didn't go in, but later we found was, actually, COVID. Since then, everything tastes abnormally salty to her, so she backed off of the salt level of whatever food we were getting.
It was a perfect storm. Not enough salt + too much water + elevation brought everything to an absolute crash. The crazy thing is that the timing couldn't be better. Yeah, it absolutely sucked. But our daughter was with her grandparents/cousins. Our dogs were at a friend's house. If this had happened where we live, I don't know that the staff would have known exactly what to do, and those logistical things would have been harder to deal with. I was able to just sit and be with her.
Tuesday was our 20th anniversary. For dinner she had a hospital turkey burger, while I went out (because they wouldn't let me order anything) and got a Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich. She got upgraded out of ICU and into a regular room. Another Zoom call with the specialist in Denver and he was all, "drink less water and eat more sodium. Find someone at home to help you." We decided to reframe the narrative. No, she wasn't "in hospital" for our 20th anniversary. For our 20th anniversary, I "took her to a resort hospital and she had a boutique fluid replacement."
We were discharged on Wednesday morning. I had to go to Wal-Mart in Frisco and get a cane. I wheelchaired her wherever I could. We left Thursday morning. It's now 12:01am on Saturday and she has a decently long road ahead of her, but she's getting stronger every day. She gets jumbled up from time to time, probably from where her body hit CTRL+ALT+DEL on her brain. She gets emotional in the mornings and in the evenings. But it's still her. And Her is all I need. We all, our Kid + her + me, made the drive from Amarillo back home this afternoon. Our puppers are sleeping next to her to protect her.
I don't really know what to do with the events of the previous six days, but I'm working through it. And I'm glad I have this outlet to process it. And I thank you for reading along, and maybe lighting a candle, saying a prayer, sending a good vibe, whatever tickles your fancy. And if you know of a less stressful job, one that doesn't require as much physical strength, for her - as opposed to what she's doing now, I'm all ears.
Go Stros. Orlando Palmeiro Was Safe. The paramedics told me those oxygen canisters are "crap." Don't buy them.