On Friday, May 17 2013, my wife, Joan, woke up with severe pain in the upper part of her stomach that extended to her back. She was nauseous and began vomiting every five minutes. Thinking it was a stomach virus, I gave her medicine for her upset stomach and fluid so that she would not become dehydrated. But everything I tried seem to make things worse. Her pain and discomfort seemed to be increasing. After about an hour, I contacted Joan’s internist, who called in a prescription and told me that if she didn’t get better in about three hours to take her to the emergency room. She also mentioned that from what I was describing, she didn’t think it was just a stomach virus.
After about three hours with no relief, I took Joan to the emergency room as instructed. Tests were run and then we waited for three to four hours for results. She was admitted to the hospital with the diagnosis of pancreatitis. She was given morphine for the pain and other medications. She was put on a “no food or liquid by mouth” diet until further notice. Blood work and other tests were done daily.
On the third day of hospitalization, they noticed that she was not putting out any urine and that her blood picture was “out of whack”. The urology team and a hematologist were called in and she was started on dialysis. After she was put through more testing, she received an additional diagnosis - Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (TTP), a rare blood disorder that causes blood clots to form in small blood vessels throughout the body. These blood clots can block the flow of the blood to the body’s organs and can result in other very serious health problems. As a retired podiatrist, I had heard of TTP but knew very little about it.
Along with the dialysis, she began plasmapheresis treatments once a day at first, followed by every other day for three weeks, along with red blood cell transfer for anemia. After about ten days with no food or drink, her pancreatitis seemed to resolve, and she appeared to be getting better. She began eating, talking and even walking a little, but was still on dialysis because her kidney function had only slightly improved. The plasmapheresis was discontinued and things were looking up for the next three to four weeks. Joan was catching up with friends and making plans for the rest of our summer.
Then she relapsed. Plasmapheresis started all over again. This happened two more times. She would get better, treatment would stop and then she would relapse. Each time, there were new medical changes taking place, such as reduced circulation to her extremities and liver. They also found a cyst on her pancreas, which could not be operated on at the time due to her condition.
There was a period of remission during which time she was discharged from the hospital and went to a rehabilitation hospital for occupational therapy in preparation for coming home. During the stay, Joan had another relapse and became very sick. She was readmitted to the hospital and diagnosed as septic due to the growth of the cyst on her pancreas. Within a few hours, she was taken to the operating room to drain the cyst and fluid in her abdomen. After the surgery, Joan was placed on a respiratory ventilator and fed through a nasal gastric tube. Her health at this time was on a downward spiral. Two weeks later, on September 25, 2013, she passed away peacefully.
This was the worst and most exhausting four and a half months of my life. I spent the better part of every day in the hospital with Joan, trying to keep her spirits up, praying that she would come home. I know in time, and with God and our family’s help, we will deal with our loss.