Welcome to the final and exclusive installment of Howard Hoover’s Blogseries highlighting his book Travels through a Toxic Shock Nightmare
Part VI of my blog series in Confident Voices in Healthcare. You came back for the end, thanks for joining me. It’s been quite a ride. Thanks Beth for having me as a guest. It has been fun writing this, well fun since I can say more about my ordeal that I somehow left out of the book if that’s possible. Also fun in the sense that the horror is now behind me. If someone were to tell me I would have to re-live the entire ordeal again I think I would curl up in a ball and lie in the corner. Otherwise, blogging has been quite liberating and I hope something I have said in the series has been helpful.
At this point in my travels I was disappointingly in touch with my own mortality and the weakness of my body as I was admitted to the rehabilitation unit. It was an eye opener in so many ways. It took a while to shift gears from being a patient to being a student. I was in control now of my recovery but that was a hard shift to accomplish when so much had been out of my control for so long. It was rather scary. At times I was so hypercritical of everything and everyone now it was time to “put up or shut up.” I feared that anyone that viewed me as a trouble maker would return to see me in rehab and say, “What are you going to do now? It’s all up to you. Making my job hard, well let’s see what you can do. Do it, dammitt!! Do it!” What kind of caregiver would have revenge on their mind? I had really lost it. That was how my mind worked. Would the strong yet at the same time meek bravado be enough to carry me through to the finish line? I guess there is no finish line with anything in life especially with sepsis. In a way it is still with me and I am not really finished with it at all. I mean, it took me five years to write a damn book about it.
By this time I had been hearing about the “new normal” and really didn’t understand it until those days when rehab began. I had to develop an internal momentum to get the recovery kicked off and drag the new normal back to the old normal as far as it could go. The trouble with rehab is the mental aspect. At what point would I feel that this was as far as I could go and there was no more? Encouragement was provided by my fellow students. Others I saw throughout the facility taught me what fighting was. Isolated in my own world for weeks on end made it clear that while recovery needs to be a private affair especially with someone that is under no contact protocol like myself, in ways it does take community to make that next stage of recovery a success. While infection was still a fear once I was in rehab I was out in the world again seeing others that were in worse shape than me. My world was becoming clearer and the challenges more visible and palpable and I knew I could do this. Encouragement and kindness were still in the world and my doubts and fears slowly receded. Suspicion and paranoia, those loathsome words were taking a backseat as my world opened up. I was achieving what I never thought would be possible again. All the normal parts of life that I always thought were unremarkable like the paint on the wall were now so much more significant to me. Visits from my children were topping off this wonder and appreciation. I was at a point where I really thought I would just be calling this new place home and was numb when it was announced I could leave. A day I thought would never come.
I was still weak when I left the rehab unit but I knew I was already slowly pulling that new normal back to where I was when this all started. In ways I have pulled it past that old normal. Those days always come back to me even though it has been five years, it feels like yesterday. I guess at my age I can do five years standing on my head.
I always say to anyone that was involved in saving me that I am proud to say that I am one of their successes. There is incredible luck involved with my story but there is more to it than that. I don’t know what it is, I am still searching for that but at least I have a voice to relay my experience so if one word of the book helps, it is worth it. If that word is “fuck” then so be it. I used it not sparingly but wisely throughout the book and what better word to use in a situation like this? While sepsis nearly took my life, it has improved me in ways and toughened me up to handle future challenges. Even though those new challenges are painful at least I am alive to endure them.
From Chapter 35: Final Steps
February 18 – 25, 2009
Transport brought me to the gym for my first look at the world of rehab. My wheelchair was parked in a gathering of patients. There were about ten of us waiting in a pack near the door. As I looked around the room I thought I was a spy or some interloper that would soon be discovered. I was still surprised, and still thought that there was no way I should be in here but here I was. Time to take it one step at a time. I had to calm myself down, this wasn’t the evil dojo from The Karate Kid, and that beach-boy bully wasn’t here smirking at me.
In the group were people of mostly advanced age; however it was the younger ones that especially struck a chord with me. There was one young girl who looked like she was in her twenties and had been in an accident. She was paralyzed from her neck down, in a wheelchair. She had the halo to immobilize her neck, a device I first read about in that SI article about Darrel Stingley in 1983. However with the deck stacked against her she still maintained a positive attitude with the staff when they would address her. She just never seemed down, it was obvious that she was thankful to have survived whatever she had been through and always had a smile on her face.
Another guy a few years younger than me had no wheelchair and was walking freely, but it was obvious from his partially shaved head that he had had some sort of brain surgery. He was being walked around the room as his therapist had him recite the months.
I saw a lot of hard work going on here. People that were working to get back some semblance of their life, to be independent, but it was obvious for a few that this was as good as they were going to get. I couldn’t believe my utter fortune with not having lost fingers, hands, toes, feet, and limbs. Actually the jury was still out on the toes. I just felt so blessed to have come this far, there was no way I was going to give up on this.
One by one a therapist came by to get one of the patients in the group until I was one of the last ones left. It felt like some bizarre junior high dance. Finally a tall woman came over and introduced herself.
“Mr. Hoover, I’m So and So your physical therapist for today,” she said. She then looked down at my chart, and said, “Good grief I was looking for someone who was forty-one. You don’t look forty-one.”
You flatterer you. You do mean that I look younger than forty-one don’t you? I thought. I just took the compliment assuming it was a compliment.
She brought over a walker for me. I was able to raise myself off the wheelchair and take it ever so gingerly in my hands. It was a tough walk but I eventually got to a flat therapy table that was padded. She raised it up a little.
“Now we’re going to do a little benchmarking, and see how well you do. I want you to sit down on this bench, and raise yourself up into a standing position as many times as you can in two minutes. Again, you cannot push off from the table with your hands.”
Ringo was back in me head and responded, how’s about with me feet? She might as well have asked me to bend the table with my mind. I saw all the other patients out there in the gym working, and I focused on the task at hand. I sat down, and tried to stand up. My ass was caught in some sort of anti-gravity shield; it wasn’t going up but it wasn’t going down. My thighs were screaming to lift me up, waiting for something to push me over the edge. I finally was successful, time to call in the parade organizers. I wonder what float they’ll put me on, I thought.
“One,” she said. I then lowered myself back down to the so comfortable seated position. Again I tried, and got another one. Not surprisingly, it was getting very difficult. I was able to do two more for a grand total of four and that was it. Four stand and sits in two minutes. There was room for improvement.
From Becky Hoover’s Perspective
January 16, 2009 – The doctor said, “I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you still here with your husband.” He continued, “Let me just say the team had no confidence that Howard would make it through the night.”
Those were his exact words. I will never forget them. I have never heard a more awful sentence in my life and I knew he was being completely honest with me, but it was painful to hear.
“Remember how I told you last night that he was ‘ten minutes to ten minutes’? Well, he was really ‘minute to minute’ and now we have moved to ‘ten minutes to ten minutes’.”
Thanks again for letting me be a part of Confident Voices in Healthcare and to Beth Boynton for inviting me. As the good folks at the UK Sepsis Trust say, always remember:
Excerpt from Foreword
His story is one that should be read by every critical care provider to better understand the implications of every action taken during the care of the critically ill patient.
Dr. Scott Lindblom, Medical Director, CHS Critical Care Network, Section Chief, Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine
Howard also reminded me how important it was to orient a patient, even if you THINK they know what’s going on. Also, it is extremely important for a patient to have an advocate at the bedside. The ramblings of a sick mind and body were sometimes scary, sometimes funny as all get out. In some places, I laughed out loud. At some places in the book, I wanted to weep.
Virginia A. Boyce, RN, Bradenton, FL
About the Author
Howard Hoover lives in Charlotte, NC with his family and is a first time author. As a sepsis survivor he has been invited to speak at conferences, hospitals, and manufacturing facilities domestically and internationally. He holds bachelor degrees from the United States Merchant Marine Academy, and the University of South Florida, and a graduate degree from Mercer University. He is a registered professional engineer in Georgia and North Carolina.
Visit www.howardwhoover.com for more information about sepsis and a couple of other interesting items regarding my story. Travels through a Toxic Shock Nightmare is now available on Amazon. Thank you to the readers of Part V: Rehab. Thanks Beth.