Karla Taylor-Bauman opened her eyes, saw the strange creatures in blue suits and visors floating before her and thought she was in outer space.
“What’s going on? Where am I?” she remembers the panicked voice in her head saying.
Not outer space, but she had just returned from a kind of nowhere world — 21 days in a coma. The Lake Villa woman had fought through the worst of a coronavirus infection that kept her in a hospital bed for almost two months. At one point, doctors told her husband to prepare for the worst.
On Wednesday, a day after being released from Kindred Hospital Chicago North in the Uptown neighborhood, she was at her parents’ home in North Chicago, marveling at her good fortune — but also reflecting on what might have been.
“It’s just hitting me really that three weeks ago I could have died and I had no opportunity to even say goodbye to anybody. I went from just having a fever to a complete coma,” said Taylor-Bauman, who spent her 50th birthday alone at the hospital.
For Taylor-Bauman, a financial adviser, the virus quickly progressed from the sniffles to a hacking cough and a high temperature to barely being able to breathe. Within two hours of her arrival at Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan on April 2, she was put on a ventilator and into a drug-induced coma. Her kidneys stopped working. She had an erratic heartbeat.Doctors feared she might have suffered brain damage, said her husband, Jevon Bauman.
“Her doctors at Vista were more or less telling me to brace for her passing,” Bauman said.
Those doctors gave Taylor-Bauman’s general practitioner in Zion a similarly grim message.
“She was as close to brain dead as you get without being brain dead,” said Dr. Dennis McCreary. “My colleagues there at Vista are recording no response to voice, no response to sight, no response to touch ... .”
Because it was the coronavirus, Bauman wasn’t allowed to be at his wife’s bedside. He talked to her, occasionally, through an iPad, which circulated on his wife’s hospital floor.
“Hi baby, it’s me. I miss you. I love you. I’m praying for you,” he would say, getting no response from his wife.
She was “extremely critical” but not beyond help, said Dr. Lavanya Srinivasan, one of her doctors at Vista.
“We don’t give up on hope,” Srinivasan said.
Then on April 17, Bauman got some unexpected news. His wife’s breathing had improved to the point where her doctors wanted to try taking her off the ventilator. And about five days later, her eyes, though blurry, opened wide, allowing her to see spacemen in her room — actually, medical staff covered from head to toe in protective gear. She had been at Kindred recovering since early April, until her release Tuesday.
Her kidneys are functioning normally now, her lungs have cleared, she said doctors have told her. She needs physical therapy for her weakened muscles.
“It is a rare event for someone to recover from what she recovered from,” said McCreary, who attributed it to the “tireless” work of her doctors and many prayers.
It’s also as if emerging from the coma brought some long-buried memories to the surface too.
She said she’s been remembering childhood events she hasn’t thought about in years, including leaping from a cliff into a watering hole in her native Guatemala. She remembered her dog, thinking she was drowning, dragging her to the river’s edge.
“My brain is working better than ever. I feel almost like somebody went inside my body and reprogrammed everything brand new,” she said.
But mostly, she’s just grateful to be alive.
“I’m just very thankful to be here to tell the story and give people hope that they can pull [through] this,” she said.