As I stated in my last post, I contracted a rare micro-organism while staying in Thailand. Here is the 411.
On just the second or third day I was in Thailand, I had an idiot moment on a scooter and hit the curb way too hard, causing the bike to tip and it pinned my left leg and foot in between (my poor passengers as well, though luckily mine took the brunt of it). My knee was mostly just roadrash type of injury, but the top of my foot took the worst impact and it was deep enough that I probably should have found a clinic. But hey, my dad is one of those fix-it-yourself Mexicans and even stitches his own gashes. I’m not that hardcore, so I superglued it all together. This might have worked if it wasn’t so humid in Phuket. It just wouldn’t hold so I said screw it and went about my vacation.
For the most part, I tried to keep it out of water (which is impossible in Thailand, seriously), so yeah… it did get wet. There was one particular instance in Khao Sok, we went on a mini jungle trek and into a cave. It had been raining like crazy earlier and there was so much water in the cave that at one point it was up to my neck. The doctors suspect this is where the leptospirosis entered. (Which, Khao Sok is gorgeous, I’d do it again. I’d go in that cave again, too. Just not with an open wound…)
I went about the rest of my vacation as normal. I did feel sick to my stomach a lot more than I normally do, but I thought it was because I had accidentally been eating dairy because I kept misreading nutritional labels. It may have been the leptospirosis manifesting! Anyway, my last night in Thailand (one night in Bangkok!) I felt particularly ill and woke up in the middle of the night with severe chills, then eventually vomited a few times. I couldn’t believe I got the stomach flu with 16+ hours of flight ahead of me… but I took me some Dramamine and dealt with it.
As I waited in LAX for my early morning connecting flight to Utah, in addition to severe chills and nausea, I had also developed a cough. It was dry, but I still thought maybe it had developed into something more, perhaps pneumonia. Well yeah, technically it was pneumonia, but not in the form you would expect.
When I finally got home, I felt like I was on the mend and though I still felt sick, I felt better, so I told myself that if I was still sick the following day, I would go to the doctor. After all, I only had one more day off of work before having to go back. I needed a doctor’s note if I wouldn’t be able to return. Oh, there would be no returning the next day, or next few months.
The next day, I felt worse than I had at any given time. In my life. Seriously. I suddenly was having trouble breathing (think Stevie from Malcom in the Middle. Literally how I was talking). My sister asked if I wanted her to drive me to the emergency room and I let her know I was going to call the doctor. Well… when my breathing trouble worsened, I decided that the doctor was probably going to send me to the ER, anyway, so I called up my dad to see if he could take me because my chills were so severe at that point that it hurt to walk. I knew I couldn’t drive.
The ER X-ray technician freaked out when he saw my results and asked me if I had asthma, to which I replied no. He told me he wasn’t a doctor, so he couldn’t say too much, but what he could say was it was a good thing I came in. Okay? So off we went back to my little room. My uncle is the hospital administrator and he came over to tell my dad they were probably going to have to transfer me and get me to the infectious disease doctor because they had no idea what was going on with me, but that it was definitely worrisome. At that point I started to feel nervous because I could see my uncle was a little freaked out. Still, I didn’t think it was as bad as it actually was.
They decided they would transport me via ambulance to the next hospital over where the infectious disease doctor was. I was bitching about the expensive ambulance bill and didn’t want to get on. Well… soon I’d have no say in the matter. My dad called up my mom to let her know what was going on and when she arrived, I started vomiting like crazy, even though there was nothing left in my stomach. I was basically just convulsing on the bed. Then it all gets hazy.
Apparently they were having a hard time stabilizing me just to get me on the ambulance. They had considered lifeflighting me, but it would’ve taken about as much time with the load/unload ordeal. So they got me on the ambulance and my oxygen completely dropped. In fact, so severely that they actually ran out of oxygen on the ambulance just as they were pulling into the next hospital. I don’t remember being on the ambulance at all, aside from looking up at some of the EMTs and trying to make sense of what they were saying. That’s about it.
I remember them rushing me inside the hospital and they were in such a hurry that the gurney wasn’t properly into place or something because it collapsed and I fell off of it! Luckily I landed on my feet and they got me into a room. I can remember there was so much commotion and a lot of nurses and doctors running into my room. The literal last thing I remember was the doctor asking me, of all things, if I wanted a catheter. I just looked him dead in the eye and said “do what you have to do”. I felt so ill at that point that I didn’t care what they did, as long as I stopped feeling like I was dying (because I was).
Then I woke up. Hands tied down, couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, it was crazy. I quickly did a fact check to try and remember what happened and as I checked things off the list I finally got to “oh yeah, I had to go to the hospital”. Because I was tied down, I honestly thought that I had fevered into hysteria and gone crazy. I remembered my temperature had been just over 104 F in the ER and I normally run a degree lower than most people. It sounds funny, but I really thought I went crazy. I was also under heavy sedation, so maybe that had something to do with it, but that’s what I thought. My nurse let me know what was going on and told me at one point they weren’t even sure if I was going to make it. Crazy.
The leptospirosis had burrowed into my lungs and caused them to fill with blood. It caused a chain reaction in my body, started shutting down all of my organs and yeah… the doctors’ opinions all varied a bit, but one said I may have only had a slim couple of hours to live if I would have waited to go in.
I had been on life support for three days and they finally got me stable enough that they started reducing all of it and by the time I woke up, most of my organs were functioning, but I was still intubated. Hence why I couldn’t talk. And I can honestly say in all certainty, being intubated and awake is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced in my entire life. So unpleasant, that if I knew I had to be intubated again to live, I would think long and hard about how much I wanted to live. It was just awful.
Their original observation was that I would be in the hospital until mid-July. Hell no. When they told me that, I would have laughed at them if I wasn’t intubated. I am way too stubborn and I knew that there was no way I would be there that long. Against all odds, I was able to go home June 6th and all of the doctors were surprised at how well my body responded to treatment. I did my best to stay positive and patient through all of that and I really think it helped. Once they removed the intubation, I felt a million times better and I knew I was going to be just fine.
Yes, I had to relearn basic muscle memory because of muscle atrophy. Walking, eating, swallowing, using the bathroom, all of that basic stuff that you never think twice about. I was thinking twice, three times, four times and more. It was really strange to go through.
I was sent home with a picc line and continued heavy antibiotics and physical therapy and before I knew it, I was starting to feel like my old self again. I left for Thailand at the beginning of May and now, three months later, I am finally being released to go back to work on August 11th. It’s been an insane experience, that is for sure.
I wanted to take a piece of Thailand home with me, but this was certainly not what I had in mind! Though I do say with certainty, I would love to return to Thailand in the future and explore it some more! Can’t hold me down, evil leptospirosis!