It began with Judy catching ‘a bug’ from Brian that turned into severe pneumonia, leading to an emergency room visit at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s. Judy knew it was time to go to the ER when she had chest pain and blood-tinged sputum.
“While checking in, I was short of breath and couldn’t answer all of their questions. From that point, things went very quickly.”
Judy was diagnosed with pneumonia and sent to intermediate care in Saint Mary’s. The staff there gave her oxygen and began to administer IV antibiotics.
A Turn for the Worse
Later that evening Judy fell asleep, but soon after, a nurse woke her and said that staff had just called her husband, who was on his way back to the hospital. Judy’s care requirements had escalated to critical care. She had become unstable, now requiring intensive care support.
Staff immediately transferred her to Mercy Health Hauenstein Neuroscience Center’s acuity adaptable unit for intermediate level care. Judy was experiencing septic shock.
Judy remembers the nurse saying, “We’re having trouble keeping your oxygen levels up, so the doctor wants to support your breathing with a ventilator. This will require placement of a breathing tube through your mouth.”
Judy recalls asking staff to wait until her husband arrived because she knew a way to keep her oxygen levels up from mindful breathing lessons. Thankfully, she was successful, but she barely had enough strength to speak to Brian.
“We were able to say we loved each other. And I said, ‘Whatever you decide, it will be okay. You’ll know what to do.'”
Ironically, the week before, Judy and Brian had been updating their wills and trust, and had been discussing end-of-life issues but hadn’t finished their discussion. “That’s why it was so important for me to hear Judy say what she did,” adds Brian, who is a pastor.
Wait and Pray
Twelve hours after being admitted, Surgical Critical Care Specialist Brian Plaisier, MD, placed Judy on a ventilator.
When the first shift change came, Judy’s husband, Brian, was concerned because he knew that Judy had just received remarkable care from her team. Brian wondered if her care would remain at that level.
“After each shift, I kept thinking, This is the best person ever! Each of the staff cared for Judy like she was their best friend or sister. And they were there for me, answering my questions and allowing me to help in any way I could,” Brian remembers. “Some staff would pray with me or for us. They shared their faith as well as their sense of humor.”
Brian recalls a serious discussion that gave him perspective and understanding during his vigil. Critical Care Specialist Emily Gualtieri, MD, invited Brian into her office so she could help him better understand that people with Judy’s severity of critical illness commonly require a ventilator stay of approximately one week. Gualtieri further explained that, in such cases, improvement is typically gradual — one would not expect to see changes hour by hour; rather, changes would come day by day. Gualtieri assured him that the staff were doing all they could to make his wife comfortable and would keep him apprised through frequent updates concerning Judy’s progress and plan of care.
By day seven, the antibiotics had clearly worked — Judy’s white blood count was back to normal. The infection seemed to be gone, but Judy’s X-rays showed there was fluid on her lungs and in her lungs, and it was getting worse.
Judy’s care team, which included Joanna Olewicz, MD, decided to consult pulmonologist Paul Harris, DO, and an Infectious Disease Specialist Nnaemeka Egwuatu, MD.
The team concluded that inflammation was likely causing the fluid buildup, and the best way to treat it was with steroids. But there were risks: Egwuatu explained that if Judy still had an infection, the steroids could make the infection worse.
Brian had an important decision to make.
Surrounded by ‘Family’
“Before I gave my consent for the steroids, I asked Dr. Olewicz: ‘If this were your husband, what would you do?’ Without skipping a beat she said, ‘Every patient is my family member. If this were my husband, absolutely, I would do this.'”
Although he was scared for his wife’s life, Brian says he never felt alone. That was when he realized that he had been surrounded by family all week long.
“Everywhere I turned, there was somebody doing something to save my wife’s life,” Brian says. Dr. Plaisier, who had placed Judy on the ventilator, said he had a dream about Judy, and he continued to check on her too. Everyone from the receptionists to the environmental service people were wonderful.”
The tide turned with three days of steroids. After 10 days in the ICU, Judy was off the ventilator.
“Like a Naughty Three-Year-Old With Dementia”
That is how Judy described herself once ‘the tube’ was gone.
They can laugh about it now, but Judy was clearly delusional following the removal of the ventilator, which the ICU team explained is not unusual.
“To me,” says Brian, “once she was off the ventilator, it looked like Judy had Alzheimer’s. It took about 72 hours for her to know who I was. It was a difficult time.” From Judy’s point of view, once she was off the ventilator, she experienced ‘funny’ delusions.
“My poor husband. I kept telling him that I was pregnant and was ready to give birth. I spit out my pills at him because I didn’t want to take them. And I made a hat from a napkin.”
During this time an amazing patient care assistant, Mardine Davis, was assigned to Judy. Brian recalls: “If Jesus were to come back as a woman, this is who He would be. She was an angel. She gave Judy her first shower, styled her hair and soothed her. The care, love and attention she gave to Judy was beyond remarkable.”
“On Holy Ground”
“The presence of Christ we see at Mercy Health is so apparent. People don’t hide their faith. They care for the whole person. I know that in heaven we won’t need hospitals, but if we do need a hospital, this is the one that will be there,” says Brian.
“For me, being at Mercy Health was like being on holy ground,” says Judy.
The Bosschers describe Judy’s follow-up care as equally exceptional. “We feel secure. Mercy Health doesn’t just treat you and leave you. We have a great medical team for life.”
Read Judy’s other remarkable story about her diagnosis with ovarian cancer.