The month of October brings a lot of different things for different people. For most people in Tallahassee, October brings football games, cooler weather and Halloween. For Briana and Jesse Edmunds, it brought in the opening of their new restaurant, Hawthorn, and a new level of scary that wasn’t Halloween.
It was Friday, October 13, 2017, and Briana Edmunds had been having on and off again stomach pains for about a week. As she and her husband, Jesse,
were still fairly new business owners in Tallahassee, they weren’t in a position yet to afford a self-employed health insurance plan – and being just 28 years old and young and healthy, didn’t think they would ever really need it. At 2 am on that Friday morning though, Briana’s stomach pains became debilitating and she decided to go to the Tallahassee Memorial Emergency Center- Northeast. Naturally, the first thought that came through Briana’s head was that she didn’t have health insurance.
“I immediately told them I didn’t have insurance, so I asked them what can I do and what can I expect, but it was clear that was not their priority and that my health was instead,” said Briana. “They just told me ‘Don’t you even worry about it – we’re going to take care of you first and then we can deal with that afterwards.’”
After being seen by a doctor, it was determined that Briana would need to have her gallbladder removed. She was referred to meet with Lucas Watkins, MD, general surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare (TMH), the following Monday so they could schedule her surgery. Briana met with Dr. Watkins and his team who explained to Briana that her surgery would be a simple outpatient procedure as long as nothing progressed rapidly.
“From that Monday to Thursday though, it just got exponentially worse each day,” said Briana. “I got really sick and couldn’t keep a thing down. It went from just a stomach pain to just horrible, horrible symptoms that affected everything to the point where jaundice started to set in by Thursday.”
When Briana, who had to be wheelchaired in to her pre- op appointment Thursday, got back to see her nurses, it only took one look at Briana for them to tell her she needed to be taken care of immediately and would be admitted. After getting checked-in and hooked up to IVs, Dr. Watkins determined that she had gallstones that had left her gallbladder, and they would have to do an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) – a procedure that allows an endoscope to go down her throat to retrieve the loose gallstones – and then would follow up with the actual gallbladder removal the next day.
“That Friday morning I had the ERCP procedure where they actually found and removed three gallstones, and then we moved forward with the gallbladder removal that Saturday,” said Briana. “I think I was so sick and dehydrated even before going in to either of the procedures that I wasn’t surprised when I still felt awful when I woke up afterwards. I really don’t remember much of those two days, but I started vomiting up blood the next day on Sunday, so they took me down to the ICU (intensive care unit).”
The next day, Dr. Watkins, along with Michael Mangan, MD, gastroenterologist, found that there was a tiny area in Briana that was refusing to clot, which was what was causing Briana to throw up blood, so they performed a quick procedure right there in the ICU to cauterize the bleeding.
“After that, I was in the ICU for four days, but the staff there was incredible. Ms. Connie was my nurse for three of my four days, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget her. She made me feel like I was one of her daughters, and she took care of me like that,” said Briana. “And I can’t say enough about Dr. Watkins. He was amazing through the whole entire process and through every bump in the road we would hit.”
When Briana moved out of ICU and back up to her regular room, she and Jesse were hopeful they would be going home in a few days. That Friday morning though, Briana’s enzyme levels were up, she couldn’t keep down her food, and her doctors told her they weren’t comfortable discharging her yet and would need to do more tests to figure out what was going on.
Briana’s doctors found that her bile duct was constricted a bit which caused bile backup – meaning her pancreatic enzymes weren’t escaping the way they should have been and fluid was pocketing around her pancreas. On Sunday, she had a drain put in to help get rid of the fluid. It wasn’t until Wednesday that they were able to remove the drainage tube and Briana was finally able to start eating/ drinking a little on her own.
“I remember finally being able to have Gatorade and a popsicle – and it was the best popsicle I’ve probably ever had,” said Briana. “From there, things finally started getting better. I started having blood work done again to make sure my levels were getting back to normal, met with a dietician because I had lost 40 pounds, and was doing exercises to get my strength back.”
There is always a small, miniscule percentage with every procedure where patients may not respond perfectly, no matter how flawlessly the procedure may go. For Briana, she ended up being that tiny percentage every step of the way. When all was said and done, Briana ended up having a 19-day stay at the hospital.
“Briana’s experience showed us some of the good and the bad of medicine. We saw the natural complications of a disease we encounter everyday like gallstones. We saw the severity of illnesses that can be caused by a disease and treatments. And we saw how significant illness can impact a young, healthy individual for an extended period of time,” said Dr. Watkins. “But we also saw how TMH helps the people of the community. We saw the care and compassion of all the people in the hospital. And most importantly, we saw how a patient’s drive to fight and recover can lead to great outcomes.”
For Briana, it was a combination of both her drive to get better to return back home to her family, her dogs and her work, and also the indispensable support she received from both her family and TMH.
“It was no doubt a tough time, but there were two things that really helped us along the way – one of which was how TMH didn’t hesitate to help me even though we didn’t have insurance. It wasn’t even a priority at all for them, so it allowed me to just focus on getting better,” said Briana. “The second part was Animal Therapy. It was the best day of my life when I got a visit. I was at a point where I mentally felt like I was good enough to go home, but I knew that my lab work was saying I wasn’t ready – so when this beautiful black lab came in, I just bawled happy tears. When Animal Therapy was there, it didn’t feel like a hospital anymore.”
Just a few months later, Briana is completely healthy again, and she and Jesse have only focused on the good that has come of Briana’s health scare. Knowing how important it was to have TMH on their side when it came to providing care and working with them on their insurance, the Edmunds’ – who employ many people through Liberty Bar & Restaurant, El Cocinero, The Hawthorn, Liberty Catering & Events and Liberty Farms – want to make sure their employees feel the same level of reassurance and peace of mind that TMH provided them. The Edmunds’ are currently in the process of getting a company healthcare insurance plan for all of their employees - something that many know is very rare to come across in the restaurant industry.
“The entire staff – and not just the doctors, nurses and personal care attendants (PCAs) – but every single person I interacted with was just so compassionate, caring and generous. You really felt that they loved their job, loved working there and just wanted to get you better,” said Briana. “Every single person made such an impact on me and made it memorable for all the right reasons. I felt so loved from everyone and am so grateful for the care I received while there. And now we’re so excited to be involved with TMH and the Foundation so we can start giving back.”