Friday, September 12, 2008

Voted Off The Island

Where to begin... we have been through so much in the past two days! But first let me just mention we are safe and sound at Seton Hospital in Austin, and we thank everyone for all the calls, emails and comments! This has been a scary venture, and if we thought we had bonded during our unique medical experience, what we've been through now brought us together like never before.

Devin: And second, let me just say: Gravity Sucks. It HURTS.

Heather: Yes it does. After we got an evacuation order, we heard the entire gulf coast might be ordered out, and we only had a short time to get clear of Galveston Island. Our procedure for getting out of bed was accelerated.

Devin: I've seen a few people rise from bed rest. On day 91, they repeat the TILT TEST that we took at the beginning. Long story short, at a normal project-end, we are tilted upward for a brief time, but then leveled down again. A day later is "wheelchair" time. On day 3, you then rise from bed and (try to) walk under close supervision, held by nurses on either side.

Heather: We had to do this in 3 hours instead of 3 days. However, knowing that we were outrunning a possibly fatal storm, adrenaline took over! We each had our beds put level (no more -6 degree slant), but didn't feel much different. About fifteen minutes later, the beds were put an upward incline so our heads came forward. Everyone's blood pressure started to climb at this point, so we just stayed that way for awhile until we each felt like coming fully upright. I had immediate symptoms of disorientation when I turned to dangle my feet over the edge of the bed. They were all tingly! Deron and Kjell visited... they were already making laps around the ward at that point and seemed to be fine. The next blood pressure check was a horrifying number... never seen my BP that high! So I sat back awhile before trying to stand. Then Devin walked by the door.

Devin: I was furthest along at day 78, Heather was on day 50, and Marcus was on day 35. I had major foot pain... luckily no dizziness, but definitely felt very heavy as Nurse Cheryl walked me around. I stood in Heather's doorway and watched her get onto her feet. She came over to give me a hug for the first time.

Getting out of bed...

Heather: I'd never seen him standing before! I immediately felt like I had knives shooting into the soles of my feet, and it was weird to think I had not used my feet in nearly 2 months. I was less steady than Devin, but I knew they had wheelchairs at every door in case we needed to sit on short notice. While all this was going on, people were also bustling about, throwing things into our suitcases, cleaning out rooms, rushing to cover equipment in plastic, unplugging computers and other hardware. Mary, one of our coordinators, brought around packages of Skittles. The diet regiment was over!

Devin: Heather was so mesmerized by my good looks that she then had to run and buy me a bottle of Coca-Cola!

Heather: That's just what I said to get $1.50 out of you for the vending machine.

Devin: You lie. So we had a good sugar buzz going. We put on our NASA shirts, and despite being wobbly, we did a "50-year" photo shoot. It was hugs all around until Deron and Kjell had to leave for the airport, and the majority of the staff departed.

The Bedrest Bunch

Heather: We sure hope Deron and Kjell are able to return and start again, though unfortunately, we who had been head-down longer are de-conditioned, so the study is over for us. We may have follow-up testing, but cannot begin the campaign again in our current state. We look totally drunk tottering around barely able to balance!

Devin: The skeleton crew fed and watered us over the next few hours, as we reminisced over our time in the study. We swapped war stories, and even in what many might consider a moment of tragedy, I, Sarcasmo, rallied the troops and kept everyone's morale high with my comedic humor. Truly, many Hallmark moments. Especially when Heather collapsed in the cafeteria when we went for sandwiches.

Heather: Yes, ironic that I was the first to hit the floor, considering Marcus asked for a wheelchair first! We were told that sort of thing was normal, but I underestimated how incredibly FAST it can happen. One moment everything felt fine, the next, my legs wouldn't lock. You just have to rest in between limping about. We were finally called down to the lobby to get in "line" -- or rather, join the masses of beds, people, IV poles and oh my lord! I've been in fire drills, but never seen anything like this. You would not believe what it takes to evacuate an entire hospital campus, much less a whole island.

Devin: Organized chaos! Buses and emergency vehicles as far as the eye could see, down every street... I kept thinking of the movie "Convoy." 56,000 were being displaced in a fairly short period, and we found out later, more than 200,000 in Houston and across the Gulf Coast zip codes. We saw water pumps and sand bags coming in, and thus began the Three Amigos Ambulance Adventure!

The Triple-A

We got on the road in a fleet of ten ambulances headed north to various hospitals. We give a big shout out to Ashley and Jodi, our EMTs from St. Louis Emergency Services, deployed by FEMA. They're driving up and down Texas, sleeping in the back of their rig, making sure invalids like us make it to safety. It took 6 hours to reach the capital, and we checked in around 2:00am for some much-needed sleep. Way past our 10:00pm bedtime!

Heather: So that was yesterday. Today can be summed up in one word: PAIN. Our muscles are springing to life again, and like most people, we are glued to the news, watching Hurricane Ike. The route our ambulance took less than 24 hours ago is now under water! So although we are sorry to see our project end, we think they made the right decision and we are pretty darned glad not to be on Galveston! And we are very concerned for all the folks who had to evacuate their homes... we now know first-hand how alarming this upheaval can be.

Devin: Absolutely... our deepest sympathies to our extended UTMB family, many of whom had to pack and leave very quickly, and we hope they don't suffer any damages or losses! Everyone is in our thoughts and prayers.