A lesson in never giving up

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Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets and Sesame Street, died at the age of 53. His diagnosis was toxic shock syndrome/streptococcus pneumonia — a deadly bacterial infection.

We were on vacation when we heard the news: The genius who opened the imaginations and hearts of our children … maybe you too … was gone. We were devastated and saddened that the magic Muppet man had died.

One year later, our ICU admitted a 32-year-old female named Sarah. She was beautiful with long blonde hair and a loving, devoted husband by her side. Her diagnosis: Streptococcus pneumonia — the same thing as Jim Henson.

Sarah was rushed past the patients lining the ER walls waiting to see an MD or RN. She had shallow, gasping respirations. The ER MDs, nurses and respiratory therapists ran to her, and she was emergently intubated.

A central line placed, pressers flowed through her veins … normal saline bolus after bolus. Temperature of 103.2 degrees. Blood pressure 72/36 with a heartbeat slow and thready.

As she entered our ICU, we were prepared: cooling blanket, the strongest antibiotics, 24/7 EKG monitoring, and BPs every 15 minutes.

After a week, Sarah was not better. She was spiraling out of control, and her organs were shutting down. We had to add a vas cath for dialysis.

The intensivists updated Sarah’s husband; it was grim. But every day we stood quietly by her side without fail to do everything possible for her survival.

Finally, the physicians approached Sarah’s husband telling him we did everything possible, but she wasn’t getting better. A DNR was recommended. And her devastated husband, Pete, agreed.

We continued our regime of care, and nothing was discontinued — but we accepted that Sarah was not going to survive this deadly disease.

Every day, Pete pulled up a chair and read her poetry out loud.

Every day, Pete held his wife’s hand and told her he loved her.

Every day, Pete would comb her hair and read poetry to her.

Every day.

Slowly, her blood pressure improved and we were able to take her off IV pressors. Her temperature dropped to normal. Her heart rate went into a normal sinus rhythm.

And as he held his frail, sick wife’s hand — she squeezed back.

Overwhelmed he screamed for the ICU nurses to come see what just happened. He asked the doctors to come to her room. And he requested that the DNR be rescinded.
Within another week the endotracheal tube was removed. Sarah gasped her first breath without a ventilator.

Physical therapy came to work with her every day. Her strength grew.

And finally, she graduated out of the ICU and to a step-down unit. Pete at her side.

Pete never gave up.

We didn’t either.

One year later, we received a postcard from Sarah and Pete.

Sarah was standing on a mountain top, and the words she wrote on the postcard read: “Thank you all for believing in me.”

Debbie Moore-Black is a nurse who blogs at Do Not Resuscitate.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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