From barely conscious to playing cards with the clinical staff
Jeanne Vermillion was baking up a storm in her kitchen near Chamberlain, South Dakota. Christmas was coming and cookie time was at hand.
While it was a favorite pastime, Jeanne couldn’t get into it; she was nauseous and had abdominal cramps. After four days, the symptoms were too intense to ignore. She called 911 and was taken to her local emergency room.
Scans and lab work revealed a bowel obstruction and blood pressure so low, it required stabilizing intravenous medication. A medical helicopter transferred Jeanne to a larger hospital in Sioux Falls for emergency surgery. There, doctors discovered a hole in the 59-year-old’s colon. Surgeons performed surgery to reroute her intestines. She fought through several infections and was placed on a ventilator for a short time. Jeanne rallied, then suffered several setbacks including further abdominal and intestinal surgery. She developed an uncontrolled heart rhythm and was given highly specialized medication.
On December 16, Jeanne lost consciousness and stopped breathing. Doctors discovered a pocket of infection in her abdomen and performed life-saving surgery. Jeanne transferred her back to the intensive care unit, this time on a pressurized mask that kept her airways open by supplying continuous pressure.
On Christmas Eve, Jeanne stabilized and her daughter chose to transfer Jeanne to Select Specialty Hospital – South Dakota for its experience caring for medically complex patients.
Jeanne arrived with a large, slow-healing abdominal wound bound with a pressurized dressing. She needed a feeding tube and continued pressurized airway support. Jeanne was confused, weak and malnourished.
Jeanne’s determination shined through despite her fragile state. She wanted to get home, back to her baking and puppy.
A physician-led team of therapists, pharmacists, nurses and dietitians created a plan to help Jeanne get back to the things she loved.
Pharmacists administered water-eliminating medications, to remove fluid from around her lungs. This eased her breathing which led to the removal of the pressurized mask. The increased oxygen helped cut through her confusion and Jeanne was evaluated for therapy.
Physical and occupational therapy began a mobility program. Simple exercises – rolling over, sitting up in bed and moving to its edge – were initially just as difficult as a gym session for Jeanne. But twice a day, the team helped her get up and moving.
Simultaneously, speech therapists used exercises to help Jeanne’s swallow safely. It took several days, but Jeanne was overjoyed to pass her swallowing test and resume eating. She started with thickened liquids, puddings and purees, then moved to regular meals and drinks.
Everyone treated her like family, which helped her control anxiety. On days when it was difficult, she said, she could count on someone to sit with her and talk. Two patient care technicians even played cards with her, a soothing activity that could put her to sleep.
The added nutrition helped her push farther in therapy, and Jeanne was able to get into a chair, stand and take a few steps.
A wound care nurse managed Jeanne’s surgical site, drains and special dressings. Over the course of a month, the wound grew smaller until it required only medicated cream and gauze pads.
As January ended, Jeanne was back to her old self. If it wasn’t for the team at South Dakota, she said, she didn’t know where she’d be.
She left Jan. 28 for a skilled care facility near her home. There, she would learn to care for the special pouch she would now require due to her intestinal injuries before getting back to the life she had before surgery.