It was 12:15 in the morning, Sunday, March 25, 2013 (I will never forget the day). I was sound asleep in bed when, suddenly, our bedroom door flew open and my wife shouted, “Wake up! Brian was just taken to the emergency room in Iowa City and we need to go now!”
Brian, our son, is a senior at the University of Iowa and has been living away from home for a few years now. As we have learned, you never quit worrying about your kids, and, in some cases, not having them at home only causes your worry to increase. Even so, this was an unexpected call.
As I quickly dressed, I asked my wife what happened. “I’m not sure,” she replied, “but it has something to do with his peanut allergy.”
Our son was diagnosed with a fatal allergy to peanuts when he was a toddler, and we were ever so careful with him as he was growing up. He matured in this area quickly and has always been extremely careful as well. There had been a few close calls while he was younger, but nothing like this.
My wife and I, along with our two teenage daughters still living at home, jumped in the car and began the trek to Iowa City. We drove as fast as we could, but it was one of those snowy, icy nights that made traveling precarious. While on the way, we called our son’s friends who had taken him to the hospital and learned more of the story. Apparently, it had something to do with a cookie. While we were talking, the ER doctor took the phone from them to speak with us. “Brian is stable now,” he said, “but he has been intubated and is on a ventilator. When you get here, go straight to the medical ICU, that is where he will be.” Intubated? On a ventilator? It just didn’t fit. Our son is a health and fitness nut. He is in great shape; how could this be?
When we arrived at the University Hospital, we hurried to the ICU and found his room. There he was, hooked up to every line and hose and wire you can imagine. We were devastated. We spoke to the nurses taking care of him and were much relieved to learn that Brian had arrived at the ER in the nick of time, his throat having been nearly closed when the doctors placed the tube. He was sedated now and it was just a matter of time as we waited for the swelling in his throat to go down. A couple of days in the ICU, then a few more on an inpatient unit, and he should be ready to leave.
My parents were already there (we had called them from the road) and we exchanged hugs and tears. We talked to our son’s friends, filled in more of the details (“He was losing his voice, and by the time we got to the ER, he wasn’t making any sense…”). After his friends departed, we stood by the bed and just gazed at our son, thinking of how much we loved him. And then he woke up. He first had a blank stare, then, as he slowly realized where he was, began to panic as he felt the tube in his throat. He began to reach for the tubes to tear them out, but his restraints kept him from succeeding. “It’s always hardest with the strong young ones,” his nurse said. Thankfully they sedated him and he fell back to sleep. I can honestly say that watching that look in his eyes was one of the hardest moments of my life. Knowing that we could do nothing, and that doing what he wanted would be the very worst thing for him.
To make a long story short, our son had a remarkable recovery. He was off the vent in only 14 hours, discharged to home on Tuesday, and back to “normal,” using only Benadryl, by Wednesday. By Friday, I was back in the office and it was like it had never happened. But it did …
As I sat next to my son’s bed that week, pondering so many different things, one of the thoughts that came to mind was this: What if this had happened in a community without a hospital and an emergency room? Sure, 911 can be called and paramedics will respond, but my son and his friends didn’t call the ambulance, they drove their car. Either way, that takes time. When a hospital is far enough away, that time can make all the difference … life-or-death difference.
At that moment, the validity of our single, overarching goal here at Skiff was solidified in my mind — we need to be here! We need to make sure that Newton and Jasper County always have a hospital. We need to ensure that our community does not become a name on the list of towns that “used to” have a hospital.
As the health-care environment continues to change quickly and dramatically, we will need to adapt. No one knows what the health-care system in America, or in Iowa, will look like in the future. We do know, though, that it will likely be very different than the one we know today. But here at Skiff we will be doing whatever it takes to make sure that this hospital is here and providing care to the people of our community. That’s a promise.
This article is the first in a series I will be writing about the history of our community hospital, the changing health-care environment, and the work we are doing at Skiff to adapt to it all. I hope you will come with me on this journey as we explore the past, the present and the future of Skiff Medical Center.