Not many of us can really imagine what losing the ability to breathe would be like. We know what it’s like to be caught underwater, desperate for air, or to have exerted ourselves to the point where we have to gasp to fill our lungs; but always we end with the ability to draw deeply and be satisfied. It is the middle of the night – as good a time to write as any. I am watching Ngaire’s heart-rate and oxygen saturation monitors at Sydney Adventist Hospital at 3.06 a.m.. It has taken an hour to get her saturation up from 69 to 83 – an acceptable level according to her specialist.
At least she has been sleeping for most of it. The last eight days in here, have been a roller coaster: one night in emergency followed by two nights in ICU to stabilize her, then up to the ward. At no time has she been able to leave her bed.
The drugs that she has been given for pulmonary hypertension will apparently take 7-10 days to start working. Until then it is a balancing act of oxygen and effort; the effort in eating, moving in bed, coughing, all take their toll.
Last Friday night, Ngaire didn’t sleep at all and, come Saturday morning, she was in a pit of exhaustion. Just maintaining levels in the lows 80’s was virtually impossible; she couldn’t move, speak or even open her eyes. She had a cough that defied description with a wheeze that sounded like a discordant string section tuning.
I thought that I was losing her. I talked to doctors, but wheels seemed to move slowly. It was mid-afternoon before the diagnosis that the fluids they had been giving her to keep her hydrated were filling her lungs. All fluids were stopped and a diuretic injection administered. Within a couple of hours she had passed copious amounts and was miraculously alive again.
A nebuliser has been part of her treatment, to counteract the drying effect of breathing through a face mask and to keep her mucous membranes moist. On Monday night, I didn’t notice as the nurse swapped the oxygen mask for the nebuliser, that there was only air, not oxygen flowing through it. Only after a couple of minutes, as Ngaire took on the pallor and strange vacancy of one whose oxygen levels were plummeting, that I yelled at the nurse asking if there was oxygen coming through the nebuliser. She suddenly realised what was happening, reattached the oxygen, and hit the alarm, but not before my precious one began to shake into unconsciousness with oxygen saturation of just 40%. It is an image that I will never get out of my head.
Within moments, the room was full of people – 8 at least – all focussed on Ngaire and her desperate condition.
Slowly she came back, and I don’t think I have ever been more grateful for anything.
This waiting game is brutal but each day we are a little bit closer to the finish line. Weeks like this, however, remind us that there is the not insignificant issue of time, looking to run us down before we get there. We are praying that God will be the lollipop man at the crossing, so that Ngaire can reach safety in time.
The Book of Psalms is full of poems of those who cried out about the struggles, injustices and pain that they endured. Some were “full of faith”, others full of unanswered questions. I am encouraged that God has, in the Bible, the stories and thought streams of those who doubted. Whether we believe in God or not, are angry or frustrated with him, destitute, faithless or despairing – he is no less a loving God, whatever that may look like from the perspective of us who dwell in the temporal lands. This I know: he is the great affirmer of life and we put our trust in him.
As an addendum, Ngaire has been moved back to ICU today, where she will receive more intense oxygen therapy.