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Summer with a Sick Mom

The chaos began in May. Melody Erickson, a fourth generation Greenville native, had just returned from a trip to New York City when she awoke the next morning to a few twinges in her back. “At my age, aches and pains aren’t anything remarkable, but the following morning, I couldn’t get out of bed,” Melody explained. She went to her primary care provider who began treating her for muscle spasms—something she’d experienced before. “The pain, though, it kept getting worse and worse. It got to the point where I was hallucinating—seeing things that weren’t there,” Melody recalled. The events that took place after that were lost from her memory.

Bre,-Melody,-Owen.jpgMelody’s daughter, Bre Erickson, vividly remembered the day things took a frightening turn. “This particular Thursday, I stopped by to check on my mom before I went into work at Northern Light C.A. Dean Hospital. I went to give her some medicine, and she couldn’t even lift her hand to take it from me.”

Bre took her mother to C.A. Dean’s emergency department just down the road where Joseph Babbitt, MD, and nurse manager, Brittany Gould, RN, went right to work—it was a whirlwind of labs, IVs, an MRI scan, and cultures. “My mom saw that I had been crying, and I could see fear in her eyes. I told her that I would always take care of her and make sure she was safe. I wasn’t ready for that role reversal just yet, so I told her, ‘You’re going to fight, Mom. You’re going to fight really hard.’”

Melody was diagnosed with an epidural abscess, an infection that often forms in the spine. She didn’t have a fever or any of the typical signs of such a condition. Providers started her immediately on aggressive antibiotics and sent her to Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center, which has infectious disease expertise, diagnostic imaging, and many other resources that are unavailable in small rural hospitals. Melody went immediately into surgery to remove and clean the abscesses from the base of her spine.

Bre and her family waited anxiously while Melody underwent emergency surgery. “When the surgery was over, the surgeon said she was okay, and it was then we learned she had a life-threatening infection—methicillin susceptible Staphylococcus aureus, or MSSA—and that the road to recovery would be months and even then, it may not be a full recovery.”

Melody’s health improved over her 11-night stay at the medical center. She regained her memory toward the end of her stay and said what she recalled most were her physicians, Monamedazhar Gangat, MD, and Vinod Mohan, MD, of the Infectious Disease professional services; and Northeast Neurosurgery neurosurgeon, Joanna Swartzbaugh, MD, who made all the difference. “The physicians were great to my family, who were there on my behalf. My family was a wreck. The whole situation was just unreal. So many people were involved in my care both at Northern Light C.A. Dean Hospital and the medical center. Looking back, it was just great coordination.”

Photos-of-grandkids.jpgMelody arrived back in her home with a few drains in her back, an antibiotic pump, and a PICC line to deliver her antibiotic, which upon their first dose made her break out in hives. The medical center gave Bre a direct line to the infectious disease doctor for any concerns. “I called and they changed the antibiotic, but she had to travel back to Bangor to have it pushed through her PICC. We did that once and I saw how exhausted and uncomfortable she was after that. I knew she would never recover if she had to do that every day for months,” Bre said.

To give care close to home for their patient, the medical team at C.A. Dean Hospital ordered the new antibiotic and Melody could go right down the road each night after dinner for her antibiotic infusion. Every day she got better and even now, each day she continues to get better. “I did this every night for six weeks,” Melody said. “At that point, I got to know the girls over there and it became like going in to see a friend.”

Looking back, Bre thinks that sometimes it’s hard to see how complex healthcare can be until we’re faced with a situation that has us touching so many different parts and pieces. “Without C.A. Dean, our small community hospital, and without the medical center and our system, there is no way my mom would have had such a successful recovery. Being able to have access to such a great system means making an already challenging scenario a little easier.”

On July 25, Melody returned to work as an assistant branch manager at a local bank and is now back working full time. She’s been fighting hard to get back to where she was. “I had to practice writing my letters, I couldn’t walk up the stairs, I had to be waited on. It was very difficult.” Melody said she can get exhausted when she gets home and is in some pain, but nothing she can’t handle. She’s expected to make a full recovery.

Melody and her family are still trying to piece together the events of this life-changing summer, but one thing of which she is certain is the great care she received. “I felt secure in knowing that my care was in very good hands. After my surgery, I was so relieved to be able to go a mile away and know someone was going to take care of me. It felt like everyone was rooting for me.”

Do you have a patient experience story you would like to share with us? Tell us about it at Yourstory@northernlight.org.