Influenza hospitalizes an active mom
In early December, Jessica Hildenbrand’s high fever drove the 36-year-old mother of one to her local urgent care. However, she was sent home. A second worrisome symptom – swelling in her legs – pushed her to visit another facility. Doctors there told her to go to the emergency room, but the world suddenly grayed out.
When she came to, Jessica was in an ambulance, headed to her local hospital. She lapsed in and out of consciousness as doctors placed her on a ventilator, airway support, feeding tube and numerous intravenous antibiotics. Testing revealed Jessica had a nasty case of influenza Type A.
Jessica spent a month in the hospital while her mother cared for Ethan, Jessica’s five-year-old son. She survived another infection before stabilizing in early January. By then, she was alert enough to evaluate care options with her family. They chose Select Specialty Hospital – Akron for its experience caring for medically complex patients.
“The hospital recommended you,” she said. “You offered a lot of therapies – way more than a nursing home.”
Jessica arrived on a feeding tube, severely debilitated and unable to stand or move without help.
“I didn’t realize how weak I was (after more than a month in the hospital),” Jessica said. “I bent down to get something and my ankles couldn’t hold my weight.”
Her two biggest goals were getting home to Ethan and eating and drinking again.
A physician-led team that included nurses and physical, occupational and speech therapists created a plan to help Jessica regain independence and return to her family.
Physical and occupational therapists began a mobility program, urging Jessica to sit up and try to roll over in bed. After lying in bed for so long, even simple movements were like vigorous exercise.
Speech therapists led her through throat, jaw and tongue exercises to ensure Jessica could swallow without drawing food back into her lungs – putting her at risk for pneumonia. When she passed a special test indicating her throat was working again, the speech therapist worked with dietitians to slowly reintroduce food at the proper thickness and texture.
“Getting the feeding tube out was a key turning point,” Jessica said. “I was just chugging water because I wanted it so bad. (When I was on the feeding tube) I dreamed about drinking water and when I was able to, it was amazing. The food that first week was the best ever. It was also great to speak again.”
Jessica continued with physical and occupational therapy, moving into a chair and then attempting to stand up with a walker.
Ethan and Jessica’s mom visited every day to encourage her.
“That was huge,” she said. “People made and sent me cards, and that helped, too.”
Jessica connected with one of her nurses, who brought her crochet materials to help her learn a new hobby.
“I felt like everyone knew me on a personal level and helped me with things not even nursing-related,” she said. “My case manager was awesome. I could call or text her anytime.”
As her month with us wound down, Jessica was able to start taking laps in the hallway and perform personal tasks independently.
Thrilled to be heading home, Jessica plans to enjoy the little things – getting dinner for Ethan each night, walking her dog or just getting herself a glass of water.
Her advice to anyone considering critical illness recovery hospital care is “take it one day at a time.”
“It won’t be easy, but there are people there to help and all you have to do is ask,” she said.