Save Anne after septic surgery
Anne in the Zero Gravity lawn chair John bought her. She barely left it for 3 solid weeks - day and night. Only way to be comfortable while her ribs and back healed.
The G and J tubes fed Anne and got rid of waste. But they were icky and red even after they were shut off. Having them in felt like Anne's tummy was nailed to her back. They made breathing tough.
After a month seeing the amazing Dr. Cynthia Siouw, Anne could walk and sit again - though not for much longer than 15 to 20 minutes. The work continues in Santa Fe with the even more amazing Dr. Fisk.
Anne getting in a brief walking stint at the Garden of the Gods. If you ever go to Colorado Springs, it's the place to hike.
Yellow popsicle and Pike's Peak. My first attempt at eating anything post surgery.
With Christmas and New Year's both spoiled due to Anne's crisis and Ebie's COVID, the Dohertys spend time together via Zoom. That's Trevor in Berlin, Germany, and Ebie in LA, with us in the VRBO in Colorado Springs. Notice the painting of a pig's bottom behind me. The tiny house had pictures like that, well, everywhere.
After two years of one financial broadside after another, a sudden brush with death and an amazing recovery leave Anne and her husband John with personal out-of-pocket medical expenses estimated to exceed $50,000. We're hoping to raise $25,000 to make a dent in all that.
What happened? 7:00 a.m., December 23, 2020, Anne and John were preparing for their first “vacation" in three years– a quick jaunt to an adjoining state to put joy in COVID’s kid-free Christmas. Thinking she’d miss lunch, Anne ate a rich breakfast. Soon, she felt nauseous and projectile vomited. The third time, something snapped –she felt as if a steel vice was tightening around her abdomen. She couldn't breathe. John called 911. At Christus-St.Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe, she was diagnosed with a torn esophagus - meaning she was septic and could die without surgery.
Due to COVID staff shortages, Christus refused to do the surgery. So, the hospital began calling others, in New Mexico then surrounding states. With hours slipping dangerously by, seven hospitals refused her. Finally, Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs said yes, and she was flown there in a private ambulance jet. At 8pm, thoracic surgeon Matthew Blum saved her life during a 4 hour surgery.
After a day in ICU, Anne spent a week in the hospital. The care at Memorial was truly outstanding. If you believe in miracles, it was a miracle she was there. Turns out Dr. Blum is one of the country's top thoracic surgeons. And, Memorial is one of the best managed hospitals in the region. The nurses were great. One even drew a picture of a Christmas tree on white cardboard so Anne could have a tree in her room, which happened to be a private room with a view of Pike's Peak.
The quality care really helped. Anne had 3 tubes coming out of her abdomen - a "chest" tube to drain fluid near the surgical site, a "G" tube to remove waste, a "J" tube for feeding. Anne required two people to help her walk. She did breathing exercises hourly. The reason she couldn't breathe when her esophagus tore was that her lungs were receding from the stomach acid. In fact, the stomach acid had gone dangerously close to her heart.
But Anne healed quickly and relatively easily. By the end of the week, she could eat soft food and walk unaided.
After her release, things were fine until what was left of her "G" and "J" tubes were taken out a week later. Before, she walked hunched over, but largely pain free, feeling as if her stomach had been stapled to her back. After the tubes were taken out - which was in itself a painful ordeal - she spent one liberating day standing straight before her back collapsed and her ribs roiled with pain. Walking and sitting were excruciating, and the surgeon's office had nothing to say. It seems the scoliosis Anne had since age 13 reacted severely to the esophagus tear, like a whiplash, and her ribs had been messed with heavily in the surgery as, in addition to the "Chest" tube, tissue from one rib had been used to repair the esophagus, and her ribs were used as an entry way by the surgeon in addition to the 4 inch incision on her abdomen.
So Anne and John spent nearly two months living out of a VRBO rental in Colorado Springs doing tests and follow-ups. To walk again, she got referred to an amazing chiropractor - Dr. Cynthis Siouw, who worked wonders in just a month. Anne's back pain was so bad that John had to buy Anne a Zero gravity lawn chair to hold her body at the correct angle so she could sleep.
While the surgeon kept saying "take more pain pills," in fact, pain pills severely affected Anne's digestion and caused blockages and nausea so severe that returned Anne to the E/R. (As you can imagine, Anne's not allowed to throw up any more.) Anne lost 18 lbs and finally came home to Santa Fe with a diagnosis of Gastroparesis (a slowing of the stomach) as the condition which caused the vomiting. Gastroparesis is common in those with auto-immune issues - Anne has had Rheumatoid Arthritis since 1986. The diagnosis means she will need to eat a low fat, low fiber diet.
Stress Upon Stress Upon Stress! Early in her RA journey, theatre artist/writer Anne realized the importance of food, exercise and meditation in maintaining optimal health. In fact, at one point, thanks to lifestyle changes and pioneering integrative doctors, she achieved a 14 year remission from the crippling disease. She became a certified kundalini yoga instructor, a reiki healer and, in October 2020, a certified medical support clinical hypnotherapist.
However, the past several years brought extreme stress, making remission impossible to maintain and opening the door for more disease. In fact, during Anne’s hypnotherapy training, students filled out charts assigning numbers to recent stressful life events. The higher the total the more likely a major health crisis. Anne’s was the highest in class - by a lot.
In Spring 2019, John was enjoying a banner year at the place he'd worked for 20 years. He got a bonus and a raise. The family was preparing for a vacation to celebrate Elizabeth's college graduation. But then daughter Elizabeth had her own medical crisis. So John took time from work to help her. On May 1st, he was suddenly terminated.
Meanwhile, for Elizabeth's problem in the state of California only out-of-network services were available. The insurance company agreed to pay its share, then reneged. The Dohertys wound up paying cash for Elizabeth’s care - $120,000, where they expected to pay 50,000.
So, to cut expenses, they fled San Francisco for much cheaper Santa Fe, NM, forcing Anne to close her tutoring and theatre businesses. John’s job loss came 5 years before retirement - not only messing with their retirement planning, but forcing them onto social security, and requiring them to buy pricey private medical insurance until they get Medicare in 2023 and 4.
Both the job loss and the insurance matter went to litigation. Those lawsuits - emotionally painful to plan and endure - didn't settle until November, 2020.
No sooner had Anne and John set up house in Santa Fe, then COVID 19 hit, limiting their ability to do much of anything (as with us all.) Meanwhile, John was experiencing extreme nerve pain as a side effect of stress and hernias (12 in all) resulting from the 2015 surgery in which surgeon error nearly claimed his life.
So another surgery was scheduled to repair the damage...that is until their new NM medical insurance company - New Mexico Health Connections - suddenly announced it would close on 12/31/20. John's surgeon cancelled the surgery, despite having a contract, for fear of not being paid.
To bring in needed cash - and establish a career utilizing her healing skills, Anne enrolled in the Hypnotherapy Academy of America. After 8 grueling but amazing weeks of 45 class hours per week on Zoom, she emerged in November 2020, physically exhausted but certified in clinical and medical support hypnotherapy.
Things were looking up….Anne got paying clients, the lawsuits both settled, Elizabeth finished school, and John's surgeon lobbied the hospital. John got the surgery after all - on 11/09/20, and it successfully eliminated his pain.
But then ...
Elizabeth got COVID - 103.5 for 9 days! - the bathroom shower door exploded (seriously, while Anne was in the shower), resulting in a $2,000 repair, and finally... the esophageal tear.
What this means for the Dohertys, aside from no vacation and 5 months of recovery for Anne, is another assault on their finances. Sure, John won the lawsuits, but so did lawyers and the IRS - their savings returned to just under what they were at the time of firing. And because of how the suits were settled, they now owe $50,000 in taxes.
So while it's amazing that Anne survived, they now face a bigger burden than before. (Updated expense list below.)
Anne and John are still waiting for all the bills and EOBs to come in, but to date, the biggest single expense is $17,000 for insurance in Colorado.
Why did they need to buy that? Long story short, buying insurance in two states will cost $35, 000 this year in insurance costs alone - but doing so avoided a potentially worse financial scenario.
Their previous health insurance - New Mexico Health Connections (NMHC) - went out of business as of 12/31/20, one day after Anne was released from the hospital. Despite paying for insurance with a new company, True Health New Mexico, and months of communications, the Dohertys had received no proof of insurance by the time of the surgery. In fact, they were issued no ID number until 01/15/21 - two weeks after Anne got out of the hospital - even though technically coverage began 01/01/21. Plus with Anne unable to travel, she would need to do follow ups in Colorado. Their NMHC insurance would allegedly cover the emergency out of state surgery since attempts had been made to provide it instate; but it was unclear if True Health would cover the non-emergency out of state followups. So to avoid a potentially bigger financial crisis - and possible bankruptcy if Anne had major complications, John purchased Anthem Blue Cross in Colorado. It was a wise move, because Anne had minor complications which forced an E/R visit and more tests. In fact, she needs to return to Colorado (a 5 hour drive) in March twice for tests.
FYI- NMHC’s website is down and they’re not answering Memorial Hospital’s calls. Memorial may still try to hold the Dohertys financially responsible for the surgery and hospital stay, despite their being covered at the time.
Currently, Anne experienced big (and kind of gross) side effects from the drugs she was given to manage Gastroparesis. So now, she's working with a naturopath to find natural solutions, and seeing a new chiropractor to continue healing her back. Looks like she'll have another 3 months recovery before she can resume building her hypnotherapy business.
When all this happened, Anne had become so good at self-hypnosis that her surgeon didn’t believe at first glance she had ruptured her esophagus. She was that calm and focused in the face of agonizing pain and even death. She still continues to do hypnotherapy on herself to speed her healing and keep her attitude positive and upbeat. Imagine, when she recovers, what benefit and healing she can pass on to future medical support clients.
Anne and John thank you for your kindness and generosity in this truly unusual time.