In 18 years of fighting cancer Ansley had never been in ICU. That all changed February 17, 2017.
Ansley had recently begun a new treatment and had been complaining that it felt like something was stuck in her throat. She’d also developed a stubborn cough as well. On February 17, 2017 she was admitted to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. She’d had a couple of her friends visit her that day and was being monitored by the nurse and the respiratory team. She was given several doses of different meds throughout the day and nebulized morphine in an effort to ease her cough, her anxiousness and help her breathe easier.
Ansley had been fighting Neuroblastoma since she was a toddler and rarely let it change the course of her day if she could help it. She was always a trooper, a fighter, someone that didn’t want to be left out, slowed down or defined by her cancer. Tenacity is explained as a “quality displayed by someone who just won’t quit-someone who keeps trying until they reach their goal.” That was Ansley. Because of that, I don’t think she ever let us fully know how bad she felt at times but as we quickly learned, she was very sick and would become much sicker over the next 15 months.
As the afternoon passed and despite being given various meds during the day, her cough continued to worsen, her oxygen levels were unsteady and the combination of meds and circumstances were making her very agitated. That only prompted more meds to be administered which affected her breathing, her state of mind, her oxygen levels and her consciousness. We were in a vicious downward spiral that we didn’t fully understand at the time.
Late that evening, Ansley seemed to have relaxed enough to doze off. Her Dad and I secured her oxygen mask and alerted her nurse that we were stepping out briefly to grab something from the cafeteria before they closed for the night. Minutes later on our way back to her room, we got the call. Ansley woke up agitated, panicked and was in distress and we needed to get there quickly. I can’t explain the sheer terror and overwhelming panic that completely overtook us. Four years later, thoughts from this night still cause anxiety and make tears flow.
We reached her room and knew immediately she was in serious trouble. Ansley wasn’t Ansley. Her eyes were blank, she was extremely upset, wouldn’t listen to her Dad or me and wouldn’t keep her oxygen mask on. All efforts to calm her only increased her struggle, made her breathing more labored and her oxygen plummet. It was a chaotic and frightening. The next few minutes seemed surreal. I told myself this wasn’t happening. Adrenaline was taking over. We’d never experienced anything close to this in 18 years.
Then she coded. I knew code blue usually means there is an extreme medical emergency, usually cardiac or respiratory arrest and life is in immediate danger. We heard the call go out over the hospital intercom and it was as if the floor was pounding underneath my feet. Doors flew open and the hall instantly filled with people running and equipment being rushed in. Minutes passed and Ansley wasn’t responding so we were ushered out to a stairwell while Ansley was being worked on and frantically wheeled towards an elevator in the other direction on her way to ICU.
As soon as we reached the ICU floor, we heard a nurse calling down the hall “Mom, Mom, Is that you, Mom? Ansley is awake and asking for you and Dad.” We ran into her room and there she was, propped up in her bed, aggravated but alert and talking. Her first words to us left no doubt that what she experienced during that code had impacted her drastically. This was the first of many times she would code in the months to come.
Ansley was put on a respirator to breathe and sedated to help her remain calm and for the discomfort. For most of the next 2 weeks or so, she lived on the respirator not conscious enough to know what was happening or what was being done to keep her stable and alive. What transpired over the weeks she remained inpatient was a series of setbacks, small improvements, a lot of prayer and tears, scary conversations and some grim realities.
Focus eventually turned to how and when to try and get her off the respirator and her survive it. At this point, Ansley was awake some throughout the days, sitting, standing and moving around with her long, white respirator tube following her. It was also during this time, she met and fell in love with Tidings, the resident ICU golden doodle. She and Ty spent many visits together and Ansley always looked forward to him making his rounds. None of this distracted her very long from the irritation of the tube stuck down her throat and many days, her hands were restrained so she wouldn’t try to pull it out unknowingly while sedated or out of frustration while awake. In true Ansley fashion, she didn’t wait for someone to decide how and when and she extubated herself in the wee hours one morning sending her Dad into a panic and a lot of very concerned intensive care providers scrambling to her room.
She was discharged by mid March but the events that had taken place shaped the rest of her life. Ansley was a different person. Her thoughts, priorities and health had changed. Her faith deepened and she had a peacefulness that remained in her until she passed away almost 15 months later.
I have a daily devotional and often look up dates when meaningful things have taken place in the past to see if the scripture reflects the significance of those past events. I’m usually dismayed at the correlation between the two and how relevant the verses will be. Todays is 2 Corinthians 5:17 that says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
Ansley was “in Christ” long before February 17, 2017. She had been baptized and given her life over to Christ many years prior to that Friday night in February but that scripture is so appropriate for the things that took place that night and the following weeks four years ago. The old Ansley, the old way of life, the old way of thinking was gone and the new Ansley was here. She was focused, peaceful, thoughtful in all she did, always smiling, creative, beautiful inside and out and studied the word of God and told as many people about Him as would listen. Ansley was living with purpose and she changed lives with her life and in her death. We miss her desperately. Her foundation, The Ansley Foundation, ensures that she continues to touch lives and make a difference.