I’ve heard at least half a dozen ominous “Code Grey” alerts announced over the hospital intercom system since we first arrived on Monday. The first few times I heard the alerts, I pictured a team of doctors and nurses rushing down the halls in a desperate attempt to revive someone who had some sort of crisis event. Now I picture ornery old ladies slapping phlebotomists. It seems a Code Grey is an alert to violence of some kind, and — at least at this hospital — the violence often involves things like old people waving canes in the hall or slapping/biting the poor lady who came to draw their blood. I’m glad my clients don’t do that.
I’ve decided (at least for now) to post some periodic updates regarding my wife, Jennifer, on this blog. It allows more space than Facebook and may prove more efficient than email blasts. I’m long overdue for a blog post anyway.
First, a little background to catch you up. Jen came down with a migraine a little over a week ago, and it got progressively worse for several days. Advil and other tricks of the trade had no effect, and by Sunday night, the pain was nearly unbearable. Early Monday morning, the pain got to be too much to wait even a couple hours for the doctor’s office to open, so I rousted the kids out of bed and drove everyone down to the ER.
Ever tried to wrangle four kids in an emergency room? It was fine until they sent Jennifer back to an exam area, but the family ER experiment ended when Caden started picking things up off the ER floor and wandering through the curtains to visit other patients. I had to leave Jen at the ER and take the kids home.
The doctors gave her a narcotic for the pain and sent her home that afternoon. Within a couple hours of arriving at home, the pain and stroke-like migraine auras were back with a vengeance, only now Jen was sick to her stomach as well. She spent the remainder of the day lounging on the bathroom floor, unable to stand or speak well, unable to hold anything down and in constant pain. Her doctor prescribed a couple of migraine and pain medications, but they had zero effect. The next step, he said, was to go back to the ER. When things didn’t improve by that evening, I drove Jen back to the hospital. We’ve been here ever since.
That second ER visit was a memorable one. We spent a mere eight hours in the exam room before she was admitted. By the end of that eight-hour stretch, I was convinced that an evil genius designed the chairs in the exam rooms to be fiendishly uncomfortable to discourage people from abusing emergency services. For most of the night, the ER was populated by a mix of injured drunk people, drug addicts accompanied by police officers, and people who had threatened to hurt themselves. In the wee hours, they wheeled a 46-year-old heart attack victim into the exam area next to ours. For the next hour, a real-life “ER” episode played out right behind my head, complete with suction sounds, wisecracking doctors and nurses, bloody implements dropped at my feet, and a tearful visit from the family. It was surreal.
Back to Jennifer. She was admitted to the maternity ward around 4:30 Tuesday morning, still in agony from the migraine. The pain medications she was given that night helped only marginally and for very short bursts. Things didn’t really change once she was admitted. Tuesday was just a bad, bad day. That afternoon, we got a visit from a neurologist to consult about the migraine. He wanted to start Jen on some steroids in addition to the pain medication. And, just to be safe, he thought we should do a scan of her head to make sure nothing more serious was wrong (though he was convinced she just had a very bad migraine).
That night, they took Jen in for an MRI. The tech immediately asked for another image to be taken because something looked strange in the neck area. Not long after she returned to the room, we got a visit from Jen’s doctor. In a grave tone, she told us that the MRI showed some “narrowing” in the arteries in her head. It was concerning enough to warrant doing a CT scan as well. So, not long after, they wheeled Jen back down to the basement for another scan. They shut me out of the room, so I wandered around the hallway reading the many warning signs for radioactivity. Late night in the radiology wing is vaguely reminiscent of an abandoned fallout shelter.
I also spent that time listening to the techs barking commands at Jennifer (“Hold your breath!” “Don’t move!”) and composing a text to let some family and friends know what was happening and to ask for prayer. Whatever was happening with Jen, it didn’t sound good.
The news didn’t get better after the CT scan. We were shocked to hear that two of the major arteries in Jennifer’s head (both of the internal carotid arteries) were completely closed off. The OB who visited us that night said they felt sure that it was a result of some sort of chronic condition because (a) Jen hadn’t had a stroke or died and (b) other arteries in her head appeared to have compensated by getting larger to accomodate more blood flow. They speculated that it could be the result of some sort of autoimmune disorder. At any rate, they were taking it very seriously and wanted to bring in a vascular surgeon and a rheumatologist to consult on Wednesday.
The bright side on Tuesday was that the steroids appeared to help with the migraine. The pain subsided somewhat (though it was still there), and Jen was able to drink and eat for the first time in days.
Yesterday morning, we saw the vascular surgeon. He gave us some more specific information on what the scans showed (absolutely no blood flow in the two major arteries in her head), but said it wasn’t really a surgical matter at this point. Whatever damage had been done to the arteries was done.
That afternoon, Jen’s migraine symptoms worsened yet again. It was very discouraging to see the pain and nausea return. I had the chance to ask her doctor about the game plan for getting Jennifer home from the hospital, and she confirmed what I suspected: Jen isn’t going home until and unless they get the pain and other things under control, but it wasn’t clear how they were going to get them under control.
Last night, we met with the rheumatologist. He had some mixed news. It was entirely too early to tell, but he suspected the arteries may not be permanently blocked at all — they may be spasming shut instead. He thought it most likely that she had a chronic condition causing swelling/spasming of the arteries, but would expect to see her in a lot worse condition if both the carotid arteries were permanently blocked. Regardless, he wanted to start Jen on a heavier dose of steroids. Late last night, they started giving her the new steroids.
Praise God, the steroids appear to be working. Jen woke up in some pain this morning, but unlike before, she was at the tail end of her pain medicine cycle. I heard her laugh for the first time in days! We got an encouraging visit from her OB this morning as well. She’s pleased that Jen has responded well to the steroids and is holding out hope that the rheumatologist’s less drastic explanation for what’s going on may be correct. She’s also hopeful that the steroid treatment will be successful enough to get Jen home soon.
One final word of thanks to the many people who have reached out to us this week. We really, really appreciate your concern and prayers. I haven’t had the chance to respond to everyone, but please know that it’s meant a lot. I’m planning on reading a lot of the emails, comments and texts to Jen some time today now that she’s feeling a bit better. And I can’t possibly express how grateful I am to the wonderful friends who covered for us by taking care of the Kennedy clan for the past few days. We love you all.