Winter was rough for Ray Carbaugh
The 74-year-old car salesman from Chambersburg battled an on-and-off cold that, at times, got so bad, it required a trip to the emergency room.
By March, it became pneumonia. Spring disappeared into a haze of repeat hospitalizations – a day; a weekend; finally, a whole week. Each time, Ray returned home, feeling no better.
On May 2, two days after his most recent discharge, Ray struggled through a day at the dealership. Then, suddenly, he couldn’t breathe. His coworkers rushed him to the local emergency room. Someone called Karen, his wife. Neither knew at the time that man who’d survived quadruple bypass, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a heart attack was about to face his toughest fight yet.
The month wore on and Ray got progressively worse. He battled sepsis and other infections. His kidney shut down. His liver began to fail, jaundice yellowing his skin and eyes. He stopped eating. He could barely breathe. Doctors placed Ray on a ventilator. Then, he couldn’t come off of it.
It was the family’s darkest moment. Karen said she was given two choices: let Ray live on a ventilator at a nursing home, or let him go. As Karen contemplated widowhood and called her family in from around the country, she and the couple’s daughter, Darci Newcomer, had lunch with a niece – also a nurse at the hospital.
She told them about a third option: Select Specialty Hospital – Camp Hill. It specializes in restoring the ability to breathe, eat, speak, think and walk for medically complex patients, including those with severe respiratory issues.
“Had we not heard about Select Specialty from my niece, there’d be a headstone over me, for sure,” Ray said.
Within 24 hours, the Carbaughs spoke with our clinical liaison. It was the first time in months, Karen said, she felt hope. A day later, the clinical liaison spied Darci, a paramedic, at the local hospital. Ray had a spot in Camp Hill. He could come any time.
The timing was impeccable, Karen said. Darci’s crew had just dropped off a patient. Her ambulance was available to make the hour-long drive to Camp Hill. They left almost immediately.
The feeling of hope continued as they came through our front doors, despite the fact, Ray recalled “I was given a one percent chance of surviving 24 hours.”
Their treating physician said that in more than 50 years of practice, Ray was the sickest person he’d see pull through.
Karen was stunned as a team of people swarmed into his room and began reviewing every part of her husband.
The rush was Camp Hill’s multidisciplinary team – nurses, therapists, pharmacists, dietitians and aides – conducting assessments and crafting a plan to get Ray back to himself.
For the first 20 days, Ray didn’t know where he was. During that time, nurses kept him clean, dietitians calibrated the liquid diet flowing through his feeding tube and respiratory therapists monitored his breathing, slowly reducing the amount of work the machines performed for his lungs.
When he finally woke up, “I had tubes all over me.” Physical and occupational therapists stepped in to get Ray on our mobility program. They began with a series of small movements – leg lifts, shoulder scrunches, head turns – to aid circulation and prepare him for larger movements. Karen wrote the exercises on a dry-erase board so he could practice any time.
After four weeks, Ray took his first steps.
“I didn’t get but 40 steps before I collapsed in the wheelchair,” Ray said. Over time, with the support of his therapists and family, he pushed himself to take more than 600. He walked down to the therapy gym and practiced taking the stairs.
By mid-July, Ray was able to liberate from the ventilator. He still needed airway support, so respiratory therapists inserted a special cap that allowed him to speak. Speech therapists worked alongside, testing to see if Ray was ready to swallow without sucking dangerous bits of food or liquid back into his lungs.
Once he passed the test – using blue-dyed ice – he progressed to applesauce and then toast.
“Everyone was absolutely fantastic. The respiratory therapists, if my oxygen level dropped one point, they came flying in the door to get it back up,” Ray said. “All the nurses were so good up there. There was one, Michelle. She was with me constantly, she explained stuff, kept me nice and clean. You’re a celebrity when you’re here. Even the cleaning people, when they came in, they were so nice.”
“It was huge relief to know there was some place we could put him where he could get better care, and the level of expertise to help him get well,” Karen said.
On July 16, Ray left Camp Hill for a rehabilitation unit closer to home. He stayed just three days before that facility discharged him.
Now, he walks up and down his driveway of his farmette, where a menagerie of dogs, cats, horses, chickens and ducks dwell. He’s building strength, and looks forward to returning to work and his beloved stock car races in October. The father of three, grandfather of eight and great-grandfather of three cherishes the extra time with his family.
That family, he said, now includes all the folks at Camp Hill.
“I’m not going to forget them. I’ll come once a month, bring them treats. They earned it, for sure. I’m just trying to show a little gratitude for what they did for me.”
“What we experienced before was so depressing, so down. When we got up to Camp Hill, never once did people say ‘oh, we can’t save him.’ There was nothing negative. It was all positive. There was always hope, and we clung to that. They were realistic with us, but never once did they give up. When he was in bad shape, they were there. The experience was incredible. The gratitude we have, we can’t express it enough.”