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A year ago today my life forever changed for the second time in two years. I want to share my story so that I can hopefully help others going through difficult situations and also as a way to clear emotional space in my body for more positive and healing thoughts. Life sure is wild and if there is one thing I have learned in the last year it is to truly live in the moment, not even the day, but the right now. We are never guaranteed tomorrow and you don’t want to waste it worrying what Sally thinks about your new haircut. 

Life sure is wild

Trying to communicate that I wanted to sleep.
Prayer cards I received from all my bible study friends.

On January 7th, 2020 I nearly died. It is still very raw and makes me cry whenever I think about it and about the people who were beside me. At the end of 2019, I got a cold, but it wasn’t anything major. As you may or may not know, I have neuroendocrine cancer and in the fall of 2019 I had undergone two bland liver embolizations. Looking back, I believe my immune system was further depressed from the treatments. That combined with the holidays, buying presents, wrapping presents, get togethers, doctor’s appointments, scans, Christmas and then packing for a trip to visit my in-laws in Florida. It was a lot for someone immune compromised. There was a nasty bug going around that year and everyone at my in-laws house ended up getting it. I actually think I started off with a cold and then got a flu from my kids on top of it. I started feeling worse and worse while I was there and my father-in-law suggested I go get checked out to rule out pneumonia. I did so and the doctor said it definitely wasn’t pneumonia. I should have insisted on a chest X-ray but I didn’t. One of the many lessons I have learned over and over in the last two years, YOU HAVE TO ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF. So, two days later we started the long drive back from Venice, FL to Chicago. By the time we got home I felt even worse. My lungs were congested, I was coughing, it hurt to breathe in. I had made an appointment at the local immediate care for the following day. My mom arrived that morning and when she saw me she said, you need to call your oncologist and we are going to drive downtown to the hospital. I did so and was thankfully was able to checkin to the ER before I left my house. If you have ever been in an ER in downtown Chicago in January, you will understand why that is HUGE. You could literally wait for 6 hours just to get to triage. I checked in and was taken to triage immediately. From that point on I don’t remember anything for two weeks. So, most I what I am sharing is from what family and friends have shared with me.

With the kids in Venice, FL on New Year’s Day 2020, 6 days before I was in the ICU.

When I entered triage the nurse was immediately concerned with my oxygen saturation. Within 30 minutes I was in the ICU and gasping to breathe even with oxygen. The ICU doctor told my mom that he needed to intubate me right now and made her leave the room. Several hours later they let my mom and dad back into the room. They were definitely not prepared for what they were about to see. My body went into septic shock. I had a drain in one of my lungs, I was on kidney dialysis and connected to about 12 different antibiotics. All of my organs started shutting down and my blood pressure dropped really low so they also had me on pressors. They knew I had an infection, but didn’t know what it was as there was no time to wait for blood work results. Thankfully one of the antibiotics I was on matched up with the infection I had.

My dad was here at that point. The ICU doctor came out and explained that the situation was tenuous. My parents were in shock and the ICU doctor didn’t think they were understanding the severity of it. He said, “you need to call her husband, she may not survive the night”. The ICU doctor ended up calling Craig from my mom’s phone and filled him. You can imagine his shock answering a call he thought was my mom and instead talking to an ICU doctor.

We are SO fortunate and grateful to have family close by to support us. My Aunt Kathy and Uncle Greg came over to the house. My Aunt Kathy stayed with the kids and my Uncle Greg drove Craig downtown as he was too upset to drive. Both of my sisters came down that night as well. The 5 of them were there for 5 days straight. They had one hotel room that they were rotating showering and sleeping.

The dialysis machine and all the antibiotics I was being administered.

You need to call her husband, she may not survive the night.

After I was intubated

I remember little flashes of seeing people, but it was a dream like state where I wasn’t really there. Most likely because they had me sedated while I was on the respirator. After 8 days they took the respirator out and after two weeks I moved out of the ICU to regular care. Apparently I was a bit of a legend and all the doctors were astounded that I made a complete turn around. My mom ran into the ICU doctor from the first night and he said he was following my case and couldn’t believe how my body came back. From that point on my memory become more clear. My throat felt raw from the respirator and I was SO thirsty. I tried to talk and my voice wouldn’t work. My sister Erin wrote the alphabet on a piece of paper so that I could circle letters to communicate. But this was extremely difficult because my vision was blurred and I couldn’t seem to move anything on my body. It was a scary feeling being trapped in my body not being able to express myself. I wanted to chug a glass of water so bad, but they wouldn’t let me because I couldn’t swallow because my throat muscles went into atrophy. In fact, most of my muscles went into atrophy and I couldn’t even stand or walk at this point. 

My sister Erin standing with me, you can see I have dialysis tubes coming out of my neck.
Two of my best friends, Katie and Eileen, visiting me in the ICU

Because of modern medicine and ICU doctors, I survived and that’s a miracle.

I remember looking in the mirror for the first time (when my feed tube was still in) and I didn’t even recognize myself I had lost so much weight and been through such a trauma.

Since my diagnosis my liver has been large because of the tumors in it. Despite having so many lesions, my liver function has stayed consistently normal (it’s something I work hard to maintain with my integrative doctor). The liver is a miraculous organ that will fight to keep you alive and also is capable of regrowing. During this time my liver grew even more and I developed ascites because of it. So, it helped keep me alive, but left me feeling extremely uncomfortable. For a year now, my abdomen is as large as a woman in her 3rd trimester of pregnancy. Because of the ascites, not moving and having so many fluids pushed in me, I had extreme edema in my legs, ankles and feet. I was carrying about 30 lbs of extra fluid on my body. And this is on a body that became rail thin from not eating for two weeks. The combination is nothing short of difficult to overcome. During my time in the hospital I developed blood clots and ended up with 4 in total. They put me on blood thinners which became problematic. It caused my tumors to bleed and my hemoglobin to drop. I had several blood transfusions while there. I went off the blood thinners and thankfully all of the clots cleared up on their own. Once my hemoglobin was holding, I was discharged to Shirley Ryan Ability Lab. It’s a state of the art rehabilitation facility that has incredible views of the city! It’s an inpatient facility so you have your own room, nurses and doctors that care for you in addition to speech, physical and occupational therapists. You are in therapy for 6 hours a day, 6 days a week. It’s intense! When I first arrived I couldn’t even lift my foot and tap it on a step. I had some basic PT while in the hospital so at this point I could walk with a walker. I was at Shirley Ryan for 2 weeks and definitely made improvements. I passed my swallow test so was able to get off of thickened liquids (SO disgusting!), I became a lot faster at walking with the walker, was able to go slowly up and down the stairs, bathe myself, dress myself (although very difficult) and move around the kitchen. But I still had a long way to go. I am in a much better place now but still haven’t gotten back to the state I was in prior to the pneumonia.

Taken by my sister Ceara, she was so happy to see me out of bed. She came that day and gave me a mani.
Shirley Ryan Ability Lab Rehab Floor – State of the art equipment with view of Lake Michigan and the city! Photo from HDR

Why? is probably one of the hardest questions you ask yourself when going through a difficult situation or tragedy. Sometimes we will never know why and we have to accept what is. This is difficult for me because I am an engineer and I like to solve problems. I have had a lot of time to reflect on what happened over the past year. I know it was a miracle that I recovered and lived and several doctors said so as well. I have been on a spiritual journey the last couple years and there are several instances in the bible that talk about spontaneous miracles. I got upset a few times thinking, why can’t God spontaneously heal me? I came to the realization that miracles don’t look the same in the modern world, but they still happen. Because of modern medicine and great ICU doctors, I survived and that’s a miracle. Even though it has been the hardest year of my life, I still feel so fortunate to be here with my family and friends and see my children grow one year older. God brought me back for a reason so I am living each day with hope and gratitude. 

Shortly after I came home from rehab. The kids were SO happy. I was gone for about 7 weeks.
About 6 months after I finished rehab. Craig and I in the city for the day celebrating our 7 year wedding anniversary
Apple picking this summer with the family

Comments

  • Eileen
    January 12, 2021

    Oh Bridget, I will NEVER forget seeing you in the ICU. As much as it broke my heart I knew you would pull through. As I prayed over you I had an overwhelming sense of peace and felt the Holy Spirit around you. I will never forget whispering to you and seeing you smile. I didn’t know if you could hear me or not but I knew in that moment that I felt a true spiritual connection with you. You are so beautiful inside and out. You have always been true and genuine. You have such a kind heart. I love you my beautiful friend. You are in my prayers everyday! Thank you for continuing to share your journey. It really puts life into perspective! Your strength is truly an inspiration. Love you! ❤

    Love, Eileen

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  • Diane Giesing
    January 12, 2021

    Dearest Bridget, the story of your life these last twelve months has humbled me.
    My eyes are open to my failings. I have been wondering what was going to give me a wake up call…….. YOUR strength and courage in sharing your story and your belief in God is a precious gift you have given to me. I am forever grateful and I pray I learn from your beautiful Self. You will be in my thoughts and prayers daily. Pray to Our Lady to protect your children. A son seldom says no to His mother. Love and deepest respect Bridget, Diane Murphy Giesing

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  • Joanna
    January 12, 2021

    Wow. So many thoughts… praising God for His miracles in your life. His miracles can definitely come through medicine and can happen spontaneously…I saw it with Giovanny. But you’re right, the why question is one that only perhaps one day He will answer or perhaps we’ll be so overwhelmed by His presence and love, we will have no more questions at all. I’m definitely thankful He has given you life, abundant life, so much love and strength.

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  • Sharon Godwin
    January 12, 2021

    Bridget, you are truly blessed with a beautiful family and several miracles! We were praying for you and so happy to hear of you improvement! Continue to have your positive outlook and work to continue to live to the fullest. Our prayers and love is always with you🙏😘

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  • Julie Grozev
    January 14, 2021

    Your strength and perseverance is incredible Bridget. Sending you positive healing vibes, love and strength as you continue to fight. Hope and faith will get you through ❤️ Julie

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  • Ron Waltz
    January 22, 2021

    Beautiful Daughter, As the one who has encouraged you to write and share, I am embarrassed to say, it has taken me this long to read this. I remember you at our kitchen table typing away. I wanted to read it right away, but some power was holding me back until today. Thank you so much for your courage, One of those people you hope to help turns up to be me, There has been over a year of pent up emotion and I really broke down as I had never seen that photo of you on the ventilator and it caught me completely off guard. Everything flashed back and a much needed release has taken place due to your openness, courage and faith. Thank you Gigi.. I love you Dad!

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