After getting wheeled downstairs to the ER, I got hooked up to various monitors, which confirmed my racing pulse, low blood oxygen levels, high fever, and the chest x-ray showing my lungs filled with fluid (ta-dah!). My white blood cell count was 72,000, where the normal is around 11,000. The doctor said he wasn't ruling out the possibility of leukemia, but as it turned out, it was just fighting a tough battle. They wanted to know the names of the doctors who had treated (or not treated) me upstairs, and they didn't seem pleased. They took me back to a room and using a tiny camera scope and a needle, they took a sample of the fluid that was in my lungs to run some tests, called a Thoracentesis.
Things seemed to be looking up, so I told Josh to head on home and check on the kids and get some dinner.
Minutes after Josh left, the doctor came back into the room. I'll never forget the look in his eyes. He looked worried, and I could tell he was unsure of what to do. Then he said, "I am going to recommend we transport you to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane. Your condition requires treatment and expertise we cannot provide you with here at our hospital. " I'm really grateful for that doctor for recognizing the limitations of the doctors and the facility, and sending me to a place where I would receive the very best care possible. A nurse Laura, who is also a member of our ward, came into the room and recognized me. I was anxious about Josh getting the news and how he would take it, and I was so relieved to see her. She said she would pass along my wish that he just stay with the kids that night, and I'd keep him posted via phone. (don't you love how at this point I'm still thinking this is no big deal?) Then she reiterated the importance of me getting to a larger hospital. "You are very, very sick," she said. She later told me she wasn't sure she would see me again. She said they called patients like me, "in the drain," meaning they are in really bad shape and probably wouldn't make it.
Minutes later I was hooked up to an oxygen mask, and loaded into an ambulance with three friendly paramedics. It was just starting to rain, and it was getting dark. The trip from our house to the hospital in Spokane takes us 1 1/2 hours with Josh driving. This ambulance made it in 45 minutes! Ah, the power of lights and a siren... It still felt like an eternity, and it was a really uncomfortable ride being strapped on my back to the hard board. I remember being really annoyed that they kept asking me questions when I just wanted to lie there and process what was happening, and worry about all the things that moms worry about (whether they are sick or not): My library books are due tomorrow! We're almost out of milk. Did someone check Boo's Friday folder? When Diddles wakes up in the night, is she going to be upset that I'm not there? I've never been away from my baby overnight.
When I arrived at Sacred Heart, I was put in a little room, given an IV and a catheter (which, by the way, is a totally different experience getting one when you are delivering a baby and are numbed up with an epidural, and when you are not). They took some blood samples and then I met the first of my many doctors. Dr. Lambert was in his 40's, and I could tell was very concerned. He asked me dozens of questions about my health habits, my illness, and the timeline of events leading up to that point. He even asked the ages of my kids, and wanted to know where I worked. "I'm a stay-at-home-mom," I proudly said.
Josh arrived shortly thereafter, and we sat awaiting news of what was going on. My diagnosis was bacterial pneumonia with empyema in both lungs, meaning that I had a very dangerous secondary infection. They started me on antibiotics, moved me to the ICU, and inserted a chest tube in my left lung to drain the infected fluid. I seemed to be doing a little bit better, so Josh got a hotel room around 1:30am.
The doctor who had been treating me later shared the following experience with me. He told me that he had finished his shift and went home for the night: "I got into bed and couldn't stop thinking about this ill young mother with these three young children at home. I tried to sleep, but I couldn't. I just couldn't put you out of my mind. I knew I had to do this procedure (another chest tube in the other lung), and I knew it had to be done that night. I got dressed and came back to the hospital." I have no doubt in my mind that my doctor was inspired and guided in his decisions and actions that night, the timing of which most likely saved my life.
At that point I wasn't doing well at all. He called Josh at 3:30am to tell him that they were intubating (tube down throat to help me breathe) me. Josh arrived back at the hospital, and the doctor pulled him aside and said, "You know your wife is really sick, don't you? Her lungs are actually producing puss and when it comes to infections, this is as bad as it gets. We'll do everything we can."