|Nicole Young's Survivor Story|
Before I begin my story, I wanted to give a background of my life prior to the incident: I live in Shingle Springs, CA, I’m 39 years old, a single mom who has 2 children (7 & 9 yrs old), I am a part owner of a civil engineering/land development company, and am an accomplished and conditioned athlete. I train year around for various races from 5K runs to endurance races, including a half Ironman race that I participated in 3 months ago. For many of my races, I finish in the top 3, with my greatest accomplishment being a 2-time champion of a local triathlon called Eppies Great Race in Sacramento, CA. A few weeks prior to the incident, I met with my coach to go over my next year’s race season. I took a break after my last race and started revving up for a great season, especially since I was turning 40 this next year! I had something to prove to myself as well as staying on top with my race accomplishments!
Thursday, October 23: I left work a little early so I could get a trail run in prior to picking up my children. I went to the trail near my house that follows an old abandoned railroad track. I frequent this trail since it is close, safe, fun and challenging. I had been fighting a cold all week, but wanted to go out and run anyway. After about 10 minutes into my run, I felt GREAT…so I picked up the pace and was feeling better and better. After about 23 minutes, I had to turn around in order to get back in time to get my kids. Shortly after turning around, I tripped over a rock and fell to the ground, but didn’t feel hurt. I casually brushed myself off and realized my knee got punctured and it didn’t look very good, although it didn’t hurt. I knew enough to know I would need stitches, but I was nearly 3 miles from my car. Luckily, I was really close to my best friend’s parents’ house, so I walked back to their house and found her father outside in the backyard, next to the trail! I called to him and hopped the fence, we went inside, cleaned it up a bit and he drove me back to my car. I got my children and went to the nearest Medical Clinic and got 3 stitches. The wound didn’t hurt, didn’t bother me and I went on my merry way for the next day and a half. I woke up Saturday and couldn’t walk on it AT ALL. I scooted around the floor, getting my son ready for his soccer game and 2 kid parties to attend later that day. As the day progressed, the swelling got worse but it didn’t hurt. I went back to the med clinic on Sunday and they gave me antibiotics and told me to check back with them the next day. Monday; redness went away, but swelling got worse! That afternoon, they suggested I go to the Emergency Room, so I did, with the help of my father who drove up from the Bay Area in order to drive me around.
At the hospital, they put me on IV and antibiotics. The fluid was staying in my body as the swelling got worse and worse. They did an arthroscopic cleaning of the wound to make sure all the debris was taken out of the original wound. Sure enough, it all looked fine, but the swelling continued, and it started creeping across my body; from my leg and then across my abdomen! I felt like something was eating me from the inside! It was such a horrible feeling! By Wednesday, it got worse and something needed to be done! In a way I wasn’t scared even though they weren’t sure what was going on. I put all my trust into the surgeons and went with what they thought needed to be done. They wanted to open up my leg to release the fluid and we looked at getting me transferred to a larger hospital, but they needed more tests, so I got shipped over to Mercy San Jaun in Citrus Heights, near Sacramento via an ambulance for an MRI, CT Scan and Ultrasound. On the way back from my procedures, the Folsom surgeons had talked to the surgeons at Mercy San Juan Trauma Center and they said they would take me, so once I got back to Folsom, we agreed that I needed a good team of surgeons to make sure I had all bases covered!
So they proceeded with the transfer paperwork and I was finally released into their hands on Thursday morning, near 3 am. A little later that morning, I went in for my first surgery. I remember going under anesthesia for my surgery to release the fluid. This is where everything went black for me!....By the time I ACTIVELY remembered coming out of anesthesia, I thought I got out of the ONE surgery…but in reality, I was under heavy sedation and underwent 5 surgeries in an 8 day timeframe!! No one told me this right away since I had been communicating with surgeons, my father and nurses and I think they thought I remembered everything! But it wasn’t till 3 days after I got the tube out of my throat that the timeline became more apparent. My father and coach were talking to me and helped me put everything into perspective. This was no minor surgery and this is what I know about my surgeries:
Surgery #1: they opened up my leg to release the fluids as I knew they
were doing. The swelling did not stop regardless of the antibiotics
they were treating me with. The surgeons saw flesh was being destroyed
which meant I had gotten necrotizing fasciitis.
During the time of my sedation (and again, I don’t actively remember any of this), my kidneys were not functioning and I underwent 4 dialyses as well; they removed 8, 6, 5 and 4 liters of fluid from my body in the procedures (nearly 30 lbs of fluid). There was a time where the swelling was so extreme and I was on maximum life support. The surgeons could not do anything more for me other than watch. The swelling was putting all my organs to the test. They were all being compromised by the swelling of my body. There was very little hope I would turn around and come out of this alive. I want to think that part of my body’s stubbornness had to do with the years of training (and racing) and its’ ability to push through lots of pain even when I wanted to give up! By some miracle; my inner fighting spirit, all the thoughts and prayers from ALL my friends, family, friends of friends and even strangers kept me alive! I slowly began turning around and getting better! It was a miracle!
When I came through, it was a Friday night. I remember waking up with a tube in my mouth. It didn’t bother me and I was able to communicate with a pen and paper. My sister and parents were there with me. They took my breathing tube out, I slept that night and woke up Saturday able to communicate. I had no idea what my body just went through, nor did I realize how close to death and amputation I had been! As the days went on, I was able to swallow the enormity of the fight I just went through. It was UNBELIEVABLE and overwhelming! I just fought the odds and LIVED through a very complicated and deadly infection! Every little conversation was a miracle. Every little event that happened seemed to be a miracle! I received over a hundred cards from friends, family and friends of friends who found out what was going on. All those cards were overwhelming and made me tear up with every one I opened! The realization was something that is so hard to explain unless you are one that has been so close to death. I knew this was something that would change my life forever! My ex husband was able to bring my children in to see me. That in itself was overwhelming! The first visit was nice; they got to see how “horrible” I looked—all the tubes, IV lines and probes that I was hooked up to! The second visit about a week later was tough. I had to tell them that things will be different: Mommy couldn’t work for a long time; money was going to be tough; Mommy can’t drive for a while; we are going to have to live with their grandparents for a while; and we might have to forego a few sports and practices and play dates compared to what we were used to! They seemed to understand and as they left my room, I broke down and cried so hard-missing my children SO MUCH; realizing that I cannot provide for them like I was able to 3 weeks ago!; and wanting SO MUCH to give them the biggest hugs and never let go! But instead, I had to watch them leave my room and maybe I would be able to see them again in about 2 weeks! (the hospital was about a 45 min drive from my hometown)
My leg was still VERY swollen though and I knew I wasn’t anywhere near getting out of there! The injuries to my leg were as follows: I had two very long incisions; one from my groin to my ankle on the inside of my leg; one from my buttocks to the top of my foot, below my ankle on the outside of my leg; one very large open wound (where they removed the skin on the outside of my leg, from my knee to about mid calf), and one more open wound (where they had to remove skin) on the inside of my knee, from my knee to about mid way up my thigh.
After a few days, they sent Physical Therapy into my room. (I was still in the ICU). I couldn’t sit up or raise my head up without feeling lightheaded. This was from being bed-ridden for 9 days! Therapy was the extreme basics of moving my right (good) leg. They had me sit up at the edge of my bed which was excruciatingly painful for my left leg—it turned purple and throbbed since my veins were so weak in pumping blood back up to my heart. Not to mention the weight of my leg; it felt like it was nearly 200 lbs! I only sat up for about 15 minutes and during that time, I sweat just as much as I do after a good track workout or race! It was very surreal! The days went on; days turned to weeks, with very slow progress, but progress nonetheless! Swelling got less and less but I was told it could take up to a year to completely go down. And walking/running again? That was another shock! First prognosis was that I might be able to walk in about a year!!!! But after the surgeons got to know me and see how much of a fighter I was, as well as my previous athletic abilities, they said they wouldn’t be surprised if I was out running again in 6 months! I continued with physical therapy and within a couple weeks, I was able to hobble around with a walker while on heavy drugs since my left leg hurt a lot when it went below my heart elevation. I continued to take additional pain medications during physical therapy so the throbbing wouldn’t be so painful. 4 weeks after I was out of ICU, I was able to stop the additional pain meds for physical therapy! YEAH!
The open wounds were not fun…the plastic surgeon had to wait till the swelling went down well enough to perform skin grafts! In the meantime, the dressings had to be changed every other day. Medical advances were so amazing: they used foam inside the wound that would absorb the fluids and a vacuum was secured to the foam which would pull the fluids out. This procedure was NOT fun; it took about 1.5 hours to perform; the Wound Care Team turned my room into a sterile environment; I tried being distracted by turning some music on that was on my iphone; I had 3 shots of fentenol (a very powerful pain killer administered by IV); my father stood by my side, holding my hand during the very painful parts of this procedure. I described it as being this: we are all familiar with the small electric shock you get from accidentally touching a hot wire?...well, EVERY little touch to my wound felt like that…and they had to touch it a lot: to take the foam out, to measure it, to clean it and then to place clean foam back in! I would say that was the worst part of this whole ordeal (aside from nearly losing my life and leg).
Nearly a week after “waking up”, I was transferred to the 6th floor. There I would recover since I didn’t need to be in the Intensive Care Unit anymore! Hurray!! I missed the personal care I got in the ICU (1 nurse per 2 patients vs. 1 nurse per 5 patients on the 6th floor). But, I was able to get one of the premium private rooms, and I had the most amazing nurses take care of me up there! My case was so special at that hospital, and I felt like I was treated like a queen! Two days after I was out of the ICU, my door opens up and an RN named Kym came running in. She was out of breath and when I asked why she was out of breath and she said she RAN up the stairs (from the 2nd to the 6th floor) as she was on her lunch break from being on duty in ICU and she HAD to come see me! She had me as one of her patients while I was sedated and undergoing the crucial times of my ordeal. Our conversation was so surreal; we talked about how we communicated; things we talked about; what I looked like and we sat there in tears, knowing that SHE was one of the reasons I made it through! She sat by my side when I was hooked up to life support. I couldn’t talk, but we communicated by me using my finger and drawing/writing on her leg. She couldn’t always “read” my writing, but she still sat there and helped me through. She said I was so swollen ALL OVER and she knew I wasn’t usually like that. She said they kept trying to sedate me with more drugs so I would relax, but I kept fighting the drugs and wanted to stay awake! She reminded me of the conversations we had…We shared things about kayaking; we talked about our children; she said I had so much to live for and at one time I wrote “I (heart) my kids” on her leg; and there was even one time I wrote “give up” in which she got mad…she said “NO WAY-NOT on my clock! You are going to fight through this?!?” And we continued with this kind of communication! When I had come through a week prior, I kept asking for Kym…my family didn’t know who I was talking about, and FINALLY, she was here…in front of me, and we cried together as we shared these most memorable moments! I will never forget her and the things we exchanged in the ICU. When I get better and am able to walk and take care of things on my own, I owe her a day on the lake on our kayaks! I cannot WAIT for that day to come! I have tears in my eyes just thinking about how she helped me in every way! She was not the only nurse with a heart of gold. There were others, and nearly everyone did similar things for me to help me through my “dark days”, but I have yet to revisit with all of them and recount those days we shared.
After 4 weeks of being in the hospital, the swelling went down enough to where the plastic surgeon could perform his magic! So here I go again…Back in for surgery! This time I KNEW it was going to be a one-time deal! Luckily, the inside wound healed enough to where they only needed to close it with stitches and no graft. The outer leg was a different story. They took a very large portion of skin from my right thigh to cover up the wound. When I came out of anesthesia, I was in a lot of pain, again, and now my right leg was compromised as well! I needed to be on bed-rest for 4 days! Luckily the pain wasn’t as severe as before which made me very happy and I felt like I was one step closer to the old me!
Those 4 days of bed-rest couldn’t go any slower! I felt like I had made good progress with PT, and now I had to take a step back! By the time my plastic surgeon came in, I was more than ready to get on with physical therapy again. He removed the bandages and for the first time in a long time, I had NO PAIN where he did the skin graft! I was so happy! From then on, progress continued and without the acute and intense pain! I was so happy! By this time, it was the day before Thanksgiving. I wasn’t able to go home yet, but I had a LOT to be thankful for! He kept me there a few days later to make sure everything was healing. I was perfectly okay with that since I had hesitation about going home! My parents were moving into my house for however long it took for me to literally get back on my feet again; but they’re no spring chickens! I worried about being able to perform all the tasks associated with my health and getting around my house; not to mention taking care of my kids on my weeks that I had them and taking them to their sports practices, etc. But by the time the doctors released me (Monday, November 29), I was a little more confident that we can cohabitate in my house.
It has been 3 weeks now that I have been home. I have physical therapy home care visit me twice a week; my kids are SO happy to have me home, as am I!!! I am able to have many of my friends over so we can catch up on life, what happened with my nightmare and I’m able to spend quality time with them…time that I never had prior to this incident! I continue to physically get better: my skin graft continues to heal; the staples and stitches are out (118 staples and 32 stitches) and the scabs all up and down my leg slowly flake off and reveal the pinkish scars that will continually remind me of how grateful I am to be alive and HAVE that leg. I am hoping to walk again one day soon, and of course, my greatest and biggest goal will be to go out and race again!
Update December 21, 2010
January 3, 2010
January 6, 2011
Regarding pain, I barely had any! I hadn’t had to up my painkillers and I was very surprised! But both wounds (graft and donor) sites were covered up for 4 full days. That first night, though, I had been given vincomiacin (antibiotic) and I had a very bad reaction: itchy all over, fever chills and red abdomen! It was getting worse but they were able to give me benedryl at 2 am which knocked me out and stopped the symptoms. The next morning, Dr. Naseer said it was called “red man’s syndrome”—simply put: they administered the antibiotic too quickly. I only had one more dose of antibiotics which was kind of surprised after all I went through! But, he told me I was a “new patient” and even though I had been through hell before, THIS time, I was treated like any other normal patient. That was good to hear!
The next few days were very boring, but luckily, the days went by quickly! I had several visitors, from nurses, to staff and friends! Everyone from the cleaning staff, to laboratory staff to nurses and managers knew me! The second night’s evening shift nurse was Som; Soo came in to introduce her and she says: “Oh, you’re the famous runner who fell?!?” (GREAT reputation!) The next day, one of the laboratory staff members came to take some blood and he recognized me from ICU; his comment:”Oh yeah, you weren’t doing well-you looked really sick!” (THANKS!) And then the food came—same meals as before and hmmm…definitely NOT as good as I thought it was before! Lol
Anyway, the days were tolerable and I could sleep on my sides regardless of both legs being compromised! No need for sleeping aids or benedryl anymore! I watched a LOT of movies since I had nothing better to do! I couldn’t bend my knee much, but was doing a lot of ankle flexibility!
By Monday, January 10, I got my wound vac off! Happy day! It looks very good and clean and not oozy! PLUS, it didn’t hurt!!! Dr. Semlacher covered it with the vasaline gauze and wrapped it with bandages, just like the other graft. Taking the other tape off my donor site was NOT fun though! Luckily is was a quick band-aid removal pain and it went away quickly! Myra (the nurse) applied Silvadine (?) and covered it with gauze and I was able to get up and WALK again!!! Yeah! The doctor wanted to keep me one more day though and I would get released on Tuesday.
Tuesday came—Dr. Semlacher came by to change the dressing and give me the boot out of the hospital! YEAH! Have to stay off of major knee bending PT, and I’ll see him again next week to keep weekly tabs on the healing process! Good thing is that I don’t need to be on antibiotics this time, no additional pain pills or anything else out of the ordinary! What a relief! Left at 1pm…hoping that I do not have to go back for another stay…ONLY short wound care and fun visits from now on!!!
Shingle Springs, CA USA
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January 23, 2011