She has always enjoyed time on her family's boat, but this year, after surviving COVID-19, each outing will be a little more special.
It wasn't the customary COVID-19 symptoms that sent Colleen Edler to the ER, but after four days of excruciating headache pain, she knew something was very wrong. Thankfully, the emergency physicians at FHN were there to listen, test, and act.
She explains, "I had the worst headache of my life — like I had been hit on the back of the head with a hammer. I went to my regular doctors from out of town, and they thought I had a migraine or sinus infection. But I had experienced those before and knew it wasn't the same. For the past several weeks I had been taking care of my four-year-old grandsons, since they couldn't go to school or daycare because of the COVID-related quarantines. It was starting to be a more challenging task. I felt more tired and weak going up the stairs, and my headache became nearly unbearable so we decided to go to FHN's ER."
Colleen, a lifelong resident of Pearl City, is 67 years old and has two pre-existing conditions; diabetes and high blood pressure. Because this makes her more vulnerable to potentially serious complications, she was tested for the novel coronavirus and taken directly from FHN's Emergency Room to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Several days later, she lost her sense of taste and smell, developed a fever, and had trouble breathing, along with her headache. Ultimately, she was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia and COVID-19.
When her blood oxygen level went too low, Colleen needed to be intubated, or "put on a ventilator." She remembers, "It was a scary experience, but by that time I was so sick and out of it that I just wanted them to do whatever they needed to do to try and make me better." Because she is allergic to the Azithromycin "Z-pack" that is often used as an antibiotic to fight COVID symptoms, FHN physicians had to carefully think through the proper treatment protocol for Colleen, as they do for all COVID patients.
According to FHN's Chief Infectious Disease Physician Robert Geller, MD, MS, FACP, FIDSA, who oversaw her care, "Colleen really was a miracle. Intubation can be a tricky procedure and she not only came through that fine, but also overcame the preexisting conditions that made her a higher-risk patient. Her positive attitude also contributed to her recovery."
10 Days On a Ventilator
For 10 days, Colleen was sedated and on a ventilator. She remembers very little of that time; perhaps some bad dreams and the soothing voice of a respiratory therapist who came to see her each day. "There was a man named Adam Kuntzelman who stood out to me," she explains. "He had the most calming voice and a tattoo on his arm. Every day I looked for that tattoo and listened for that special voice. He was really exceptional."
Coming off the ventilator was a bit surreal. She shares, "I was loopy for awhile, and remember a nurse telling me, 'Colleen, you have to open your eyes.' Of course, as soon as I was fully awake I wanted to talk to my family and hear their voices. It was a nightmare for all of us … we were scared and emotional. They called at least twice a day to get updates and talk to the nurses when I was intubated. Everyone was very helpful and compassionate, which my entire family really appreciated. Dr. Geller told me that I was 'his miracle,' since just one in eight intubated patients survive the ordeal. I am so grateful to everyone who helped me get better!"
Thankful for a Second Chance
After 17 days in the hospital, Colleen was ready to go home. Before she departed, she got a special visit from Adam, the respiratory therapist with the soothing voice, and received a warm sendoff from everyone at FHN ... including a standing ovation from several nurses and therapists. Although still a little weak, she quickly weaned herself off using a walker and is getting stronger every day. She is very happy to be back in Pearl City, looking forward to spending summer days on the golf course or on her family's boat at Lake Carroll, as well as enjoying the antics of her twin grandsons, Aiden and Thomas. As she reflects on her harrowing experience, Colleen can't help but get emotional speaking of her caregivers. She emphasizes, "I am so thankful for everyone at FHN. These intelligent, brave professionals saved my life. They gave me a second chance and they provided exemplary care. Without their encouragement and expertise, I wouldn't be here. I cannot thank them enough. They are my heroes."