My story began in June of 2013; I was 19 years old, had just finished my freshman year of college, and was enrolled in summer school. It became time for finals in Summer Session 1, and something about me just did not feel right. On Monday at 2 PM, after picking the children I babysat for up for school, I had my friend go with me to my first healthcare provider visit. I was diagnosed with strep throat, but advised to go to urgent care immediately. I then went to Urgent Care around 4:30 PM, I was tested again for strep throat, it came back positive, and was given a prescription for antibiotics.
Tuesday at 8 AM, I woke up and felt even worse. I went to student health for my third healthcare provider visit. They provided me with IV fluids, a shot of penicillin, and eventually sent me on my way. My parents came to visit me that night, cleaned down everything in the house I was living in, and took me to get soup for dinner. Wednesday morning I woke up in some of the most uncomfortable pain I had ever experienced. My face was beginning to swell on my jaw line, as if I was potentially having an allergic reaction. I immediately went back to student health. This time they began to throw around the idea of Mumps as my diagnosis. After ruling that out, they gave me more IV fluids and Tylenol with Codeine for the pain. I was told to take one when I got home, and get some rest. Due to the pain, I could not sleep.
Around 9pm that night, I began to panic. My face looked as if there was a neck brace under my skin. I was having extreme difficulty breathing, drinking or eating, and I was in extreme amounts of pain. At 10pm my roommate drove me to the Emergency Department. Upon checking in, my vitals were properly checked and I went to the waiting room. My vitals were checked multiple times, and came across fine although my dad who arrived at midnight and I had expressed our extreme concern and pain.
At 4 AM, 6 hours later, I was taken back to a room. The ER doctor gave me IV fluids, pain medication, and ordered a CT after speaking with me about everything. The CT revealed a calcium deposit that was lodged behind my jaw bone in my right submandibular salivary gland. Around the time that the results came in, my mom had arrived and my dad left to go to work. An ENT had been called my room. My mom, being the quick thinker that she is showed the ENT a picture of me from three days before to show the extreme difference and swelling in my face. The doctor immediately found my true diagnosis to be Ludwig’s Angina, a deep neck space tissue infection. The calcium deposit had abscessed and spread through my neck tissue, closing my airway.
I was asked, at the age of 19 if I had a do not resuscitate on file, along with a laundry list of other questions before being rushed into life-saving emergency surgery, and then placed into a medically induced coma and on life support for the three days to follow. The surgeon told my mom that if I had not been proactive about my health, I would have only had 8-10 more hours to live.
After being brought out of my coma, I was moved from SICU to a different section of the hospital. I stayed there for the next four days. I was cleared from my surgeon a year later.
I am so incredibly thankful for each facility for working their best to come to a solution, and eventually save my life. With the knowledge I have gained in my experiences over the past three years, I understand what to look out for, what my rights are, when to speak up, and how to involve others in my care, BUT I DID NOT KNOW THAT THEN. We must continue to work with patients and families to help them understand the importance of being advocates in their care.
I believe that we can work together to create a movement to improve patient safety, and teach others about the importance of speaking up and being active and involved members of their healthcare team. I co-wrote an article for the North Carolina Quality Center’s Monthly Newsletter about what we believed were the Top-10 Take Aways from their 2016 Annual Summit on Patient and Family Engagement and Care Transitions in 10 Powerful Words. Those words are: Listen. Understand. Inspire. Engage. Utilize. Educate. Influence. Empower. Persistence. Transform. We must share our stories, motivate the common “lay-person,” provide the educational opportunities needed to improve health literacy, motivate the public to use the information to create change, and watch the transformation that will happen in the world of healthcare. But we must not stop at word five, we have to continue through all 10. So I ask you, what can you do to improve patient safety? How can you transform the world of healthcare? Can you spread the message to one more person, and start a ripple effect?
I am happy to say that I am now a healthy, determined individual working to make a difference in the healthcare field each and every day.
I have a strong love of The Lord and believe everything happens for a reason, for I know He is the reason that I am still here today. My life has been comprised of beautiful memories and wonderful opportunities thus far, but I like to tell people that my "new" life began in June of 2013. I look forward to seeing what the future will hold!
Victoria Weeks Baskett