Listen to your body (and somebody who loves you)
On December 29, Will M. Smith, a handsome 25-year-old, was brought to Hennepin Healthcare via ambulance after experiencing extreme upper abdominal pain for several days. Prior to the onset of the pain, while at his place of employment, he described “not feeling, right. I felt different. I couldn’t explain it, so I asked my boss if I could go home early.”
For the next few days Will stayed in his room all the time. He felt abdominal pain that would ease when he laid down. He became short with people. His mom, Apple Maxwell, an Ambulatory Care Patient Care Coordinator at Hennepin Healthcare, quickly noticed there was a problem.
“My son just wasn’t the same,” she said. “He would not come out of his room or talk to anyone. I was so worried about him.”
“I was getting really sick and didn’t know it,” Will explained. “One day my mom woke me up and said, ‘are you ok?’ and I told her ‘I’m fine’ and her mom instinct kicked in. ‘No, you’re not!’ she said – and I knew I wasn’t. This had been going on for a week. My legs felt like pins and needles. And then, I fell back and hit my head. My mom called an ambulance.”
Will doesn’t remember much about being in the Emergency Department (ED) at HCMC. He remembers talking to his mom, his stepdad, and his dad. He heard later that they called a chaplain and his mom “freaked out.”
Diagnosed with necrotizing pancreatitis, Will was admitted from the ED to the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) where he was placed in a medically induced coma. His pancreas was failing, but his mom’s faith – and trust in his care team – was not.
“I watched the care that he got – from the moment he arrived in the ED and then in the MICU,” she said. “The way the teams took care of him, it was as if Will was their child,” she said. “I felt like this was the right place for my son to be.”
Apple described how when she was in the ED with Will, she did not wear her Hennepin Healthcare badge because she did not want to receive any preferential treatment.
“It did not make any difference. From the paramedics who came to get him and kept us informed to the teams in the ED and MICU, the care, compassion, and reassurance just blew me away. And when he was admitted to the MICU, my husband and I walked down the halls of the unit, always surprised that Will was not the only patient on the floor – because they made us feel like he was.”
It’s been a month since Will arrived at Hennepin Healthcare, where his mom had “the best New Year’s Eve ever” when he opened his eyes from his coma before midnight. Since then, Will has been motivated to recover and is also appreciative of his care team, including Dr. Dave Kahat, a first-year resident, who has been part of his care team since he was discharged from the MICU.
“There’s no doubt that Will simply needs time to heal; however, seeing him struggle with horrible pain and nausea for weeks is frustrating to see and awful for Will to experience,” said Dr. Kahat, who has been trying to optimize Will’s symptoms as he recovers. “Obviously, we can’t speed up time, so all of Will’s care team (at one point it seemed like half of the hospital), has brainstormed ways to make his recovery as comfortable as possible. Whether it be augmenting therapies, scheduling medications, trying different diets, you name it. Through all of this, Will has kept his chin high, and always greeted us with a smile and an occasional laugh. It’s humbling how much he trusts his care team, because ultimately, he’s the one – out of all of us – doing the most work.”
Thankfully, Will is no longer relying on a feeding tube for nutrition, and he is looking forward to (very carefully) eating a hamburger. This made Dr. Kahat a little nervous, but he couldn’t blame Will for wanting a burger, saying: “As someone who has lived off the HCMC Café’ food, the burgers here are top notch.”
“Ultimately, Will has to continue to listen to his body,” Dr. Kahat continues. “As he recovers, he’ll likely have some setbacks here and there, and will need follow-up and possibly a future procedure scheduled once he leaves the hospital. But he is well on his way to getting his strength back to go home.”
There are many stairs where he lives, so Will has been busy working with physical therapy to prepare him for the return home. Therapists are also helping him build strength so he’s able to get in and out of a car – something they can replicate in the unique therapy area.
“They’ve all been so great,” said Will. “I’m not good at names but I’d love to call them out.”
Will has two unforgettable aunts who work at Hennepin Healthcare. They are Apple’s two sisters who have been a constant support for her and their beloved nephew. Kulanda Redden, RN works in Same-Day Surgery and Shekera Combs works in Finance. They visit Will often and Kulanda comes to see him for lunch. His support team has been his rock.
Looking back to those days when he had the onset of what he now knows was a life-threatening illness, Will has advice for anyone else experiencing pain, and just not feeling right.
“Tell someone. Talk to your family. My mom has been my guardian angel, and my family has been a tremendous support. I thought I could work through the pain. I’m stubborn and sometimes you feel weak if you get sick – you know, be a man!
“I knew my body was failing me and I didn’t do anything about it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after this illness almost took my life it is listen to your body. It will tell you everything you need to know. And yeah, maybe listen to your mom, too.”