On June 3, my youngest son (34 years old) entered Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, California. His diagnosis is Spinal Meningitis and Encephalitis due to Valley Fever. So far, he’s spent 53 days in ICU, time on 4th floor, rehab in another Sharp facility, then back to ICU for the process to start over, back to 4th floor, begin assessment for move back to rehab, back to ICU (adding up to another 20 days NOT in ICU).
Unfortunately, being a Type I Diabetic put my son into the High Risk category to contract the cocci fungus (coccidioidomycosis). No other iron workers at the solar installation near Barstow, California contracted the virus in October, 2013 when Valley Fever originally entered my son’s lungs; now the fungus also resides in his spinal fluid.
Other high risk people (for Valley Fever) are:
- People who have weakened immune systems such as people who:
- Have HIV/AIDS
- Have had an organ transplant
- Are taking medications such as corticosteroids of TNF-inhibitors
- Pregnant women
- People who have diabetes
- People who are Black, or Filipino
You can get Valley Fever by inhaling the dust that is so prevalent in the deserts of the Southwest. Construction sites, dust devils floating above the desert floor, dust storms blowing across the highway, all can carry the fungus. If you see a dust storm or dust devil while traveling in a car, shut the windows and outside air vents when passing through the dust.
Throughout my son’s long illness, I’ve watched professionals at work and I’ve learned a lot about the human body that I never knew I’d know! Bi-lateral ventriculoperitoneal shunts (in layMOM’s terms: drain tubes with engines controlled by magnets) were inserted in Andy’s head to relieve the pressure of the cerebralspinal fluid that accumulated due to infection from the Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever). The Cocci fungus caused encephalitis, creating intracranial pressure in the brain. One doctor likened what has happened to Andy to be like he spent much time in Dachau (a WW2 Nazi concentration death camp).
Andy now has to re-learn: how to swallow – since he’s been fed by a feeding tube for 2 1/2 months, learn to walk, talk, eat, drink – all those normal actions that we take for granted are now in the damaged part of his brain where everyday functions reside.
Everyone is so kind at Sharp Memorial. Custodians, guards, nurses, aides, doctors, volunteers – all do everything they can to make sure patients and families get the very best care. For a stay this long, many people have become familiar faces.
Borrowing from their website: Sharp Memorial, part of the Sharp Metropolitan Medical Campus, is also a MAGNET® hospital for nursing and patient care excellence. This designation is the “gold standard” for patient care and nursing excellence and it is the highest honor awarded by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
During time at the hospital, I’ve learned that all Sharp employees take an assessment to determine what kind of learner they are. When a new employee nurse starts, or nurses change positions, they are paired with another employee nurse whose ‘learning style’ matches theirs for a couple days of mentoring. Many friendships have developed through this inovative training method.
As you can imagine, the nursing staff are the people we see most often. My son’s care requires hours and hours of nurse time on a daily basis. Never once, has the nursing staff had anything but a smile and a willing attitude during his very intensive care. His many doctors: neuro-surgeon, infectious disease, pulmonary, internist, endocrinologist, radiologists, hospitalists, the list goes on – keep him on their daily radar.
The Speech Pathologists, Occupational and Physical Therapists have worked to get him back on track even though his fragility has taken him back to ‘square one’ a couple times now. He’ll be evaluated to see if he’s ready for ‘Skilled Nursing Care’ or ‘Rehabilitation’. I’m praying for Rehab. The recovery road ahead is long. He will have to take his cocci medicine for the rest of his life so that something like this won’t happen again.
The story is not over yet.