A couple of days after Courtney Etter convinced doctors to administer Adderall to her mother, Cindy Woods, who had been in a coma for more than 25 days – and just a day after doctors had asked Rick to consider some sort of long-term care – Courtney arrived at work at the insistence of her boss to check on her mom.
An alarmed Courtney walked in the room to find her mom wide awake, 30 days after going into cardiac arrest. She recognized her daughter, then asked for a Pepsi and a cheeseburger.
Cindy stifles a hearty chuckle as her husband recounts the request. That humor turned the tide for the family.
“She was awake and pretty much alert,” Rick said. “She still had lots of problems, but that was our first hope of anything.”
That day, doctors chose to start Adderall in an attempt to trigger some sort of recovery – dosages that began as once a day, then increased to two. They continued until last month.
She remained in the hospital for a couple more weeks. During that time, doctors also inserted a trach – not because she couldn’t breath, just to protect her airways – and a PEG tube for feedings and medicine until she was able to do it for herself.
On July 18, Cindy was discharged to Senior Care Center in Decatur for daily therapy.
“She was still pretty much bedridden there,” Rick said. “They could get her up and get her to start walking. They did the best with what they had to work with. They have some wonderful people there in therapy. One of the CNRs that Cindy really likes and does a super fantastic job – Red is all we know her by. She made Cindy feel really comfortable, really at home as much as she could. She’s really a wonderful, wonderful person.”
After six weeks, Cindy was transferred to a more intense inpatient rehab in Fort Worth. Rick was not impressed.
“Finally, we just left,” he said. “We were not ready to be discharged, but it got to be so bad that I just went in there and got her, and I just took her home. She was wanting to go home real bad anyway, so I just took her home.”
That’s when things really began to improve.
“She was really, really happy to be home,” Rick said. “We had just built a new house, which we had just moved into in December. She only got to enjoy it for a few months before she had this spell. So she’s back and able to enjoy her house and be around her friends. That was important – to have friends coming to visit to help her from being depressed.”
Cindy then began 20 days of outpatient therapy – the maximum allowed by the insurance the couple obtained the July after the dysrhythmia – at Pate Rehab in Fort Worth.
“I didn’t stay down there and watch because I kind of expected it was going to be the same thing as where we came from,” Rick said. “I would just take her and drop her off at 9 in the morning, go back at 3 and to get her and went on to work myself in between that.
“I don’t know exactly what they did, but they did wonders.”
Just a few weeks after Cindy began therapy at Pate, Rick recalls being in the laundry room one day and getting a pleasant surprise.
“I turned around, and she was standing there,” he recalled. “And I didn’t even know she could walk. I didn’t even have a clue.”
“I shocked him,” Cindy adds with a grin.
The progress was due largely to the help Cindy received at the outpatient facility, where therapists focused on refining her motor skills.
“That’s where she got her walking down,” Rick said. “She was walking up there, but I wasn’t seeing it. It was a nice surprise when I did. They were helping her to walk and helping her to use her arms and her legs and helping her to think.”
A couple of weeks after that, Cindy was up and running on the treadmill at home. And suddenly she didn’t need the pink wheelchair and handicap-accessible van Rick purchased to better accommodate his bride. So he returned them.
Cindy exhausted the insurance-allotted 20 days at Pate just before Thanksgiving. However, at the guidance of Rick, his common sense and the information perused on the Internet, she continued – and still does – similar therapy at home.
“Pate did pretty much the same things we’re doing now at home. She’s washing clothes, drying clothes, folding laundry, hanging stuff up, putting towels where they belong,” Rick said. “She feeds herself, dresses herself – with the exception of a couple of garments because her left arm doesn’t work very well. We also have weights and a treadmill, and we do a chart of exercises for coordination skills.
“That’s what they were going to teach her, and I’ve done that as good as they could’ve or would’ve anyway. We’ve been at home now for about a month, and she’s doing just fine.”
Rick believes Cindy’s quick progress has to do with the setting of the therapy.
“She’s just so happy at home,” he said. “She’s so happy with me teaching her things rather than a stranger. I think she’s better off. She’s with her cats, and she’s in her house. She’s doing very, very good.”
Cindy agrees. When asked what has aided her recovery, she said: “The will to live, hard work and being at home with my kitty-cat.”
Resuming as normal a routine as possible has been another key factor, Rick said.
“We don’t stay at home a lot,” he said. “We go to flea markets, just like we always used to. We go to the mall and out to eat so she gets quite a bit of exercise from that. But really, we haven’t sacrificed anything. We put it on hold for a while, but now we’re beginning to do the same things that we always did. Since I’m doing the therapy myself now, I thought that was an important thing to not have to stop one thing for another.
“She was kind of slow in the beginning, but now her pace has picked up a little bit. She walks different than before, but she’s moving.”
Combined, the contributors have paved the way for a 90-percent recovery.
She is undergoing extensive dental work on her front teeth – which were broken when the dysrhythmia caused her to fall. Her biggest obstruction physically is a contractive left arm Rick says was never adequately worked with. She now wears a brace and receives Botox shots to release the clenched knuckles and fingers.
“In the beginning, it would not even bend,” Rick said. “But it’s all working its way back.”
Otherwise, her hindrances are more on the cognitive level.
“Her short-term memory is affected,” Courtney said. “There are some things, simple questions my 6 year olddaughter could answer, and my mom can’t. My sister got a new car before all of this happened, and she doesn’t remember that. Stuff from about four or five months before this happened, she doesn’t remember. But if you ask her where a certain item is, she can tell you its exact location. And she probably hasn’t even seen it since way before all of this happened.”
Rick added: “She doesn’t recognize as quickly as you and I do, and her eyesight has been affected some. But uncontrolled movement of her lip is 99 percent controlled and 95 percent in her legs.
“Her blood pressure is down, and her thyroid is in check,” he continued. “She’s looking great.”
As an added precaution, Cindy had an internal defibrillator inserted two weeks before Christmas.
With the new device, the love of her family and her resilience, Cindy is braced to make the best of this “third cat life.”
“I don’t know if she’ll ever be 100 percent,” Rick said. “There is some damage to her brain, and I don’t know if it’s going to reroute itself or if we’re going to continue to have a little bit of damage that’s not going to be repaired. But we’re hoping.”
Hope and perseverance have brought them to this point – out of the coma, through therapy and to celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary this Valentine’s Day.
“Everything we’ve done, there’s been a little roadblock as far as going places and doing things,” Rick said. “You work around it. Where I work, we repair air-cooled engines – lawn mowers, gators, four-wheelers … A lot of times you can’t just go get a part, put it on there and it’s fixed. You’ve got to either make something else work or you’ve got to completely build a new part. Common sense helps you to be able to do that.
“That’s what we did with Cindy. We did what we had to do and the best we could’ve. You can see the outcome.”