In February of 2017, an Arizona woman was found unresponsive in her bathroom, where she had inhaled her own vomit after falling unconscious. Holly Murphy’s husband had called 911 after his wife, who has lived with Type 1 diabetes since age six, failed to answer her phone for several hours. By the time paramedics arrived, Holly’s blood glucose levels were too low to register. Hospital tests revealed that she had suffered a small stroke and a cardiac event, which couldn’t be determined because doctors recommended against further, more invasive tests. One expert suggested that perhaps Holly had endured a “silent heart attack” (a symptomless heart attack) as a result of a severe drop in blood sugar. As previously reported, Holly suffered from hypoglycemia unawareness—an inability to detect low blood sugars. She used a continuous glucose monitor (in addition to a manual monitor), but the battery of the transmitter had died, and she was in the process of replacing it.
Since that fateful day, she’s regained some of her cognitive abilities. She tracks movement with her eyes, and she has tried to speak on several occasions. Such activities make classifying her condition tricky. “She’s not in a coma, and she’s not in a persistent vegetative state,” her husband, Jim Murphy explains. All doctors can say is that she has a “severe brain injury, and it’s a waiting game.”
So, that’s what Jim is doing—waiting. Because he works as an exterminator for a family-owned business, he has flexibility to visit his wife daily at her long-term care facility. Most days, he drops the couple’s eleven-year-old daughter, Harlie, at school, completes a few assignments, visits his wife, and then takes his daughter home, where he finishes administrative tasks for his job. Typically, Harlie only accompanies him to the facility two or three times a week, because Jim believes that she still needs to be a kid. He keeps her busy with softball and other sports, but of course, she “has her moments where she gets upset, especially with Christmas coming.”
The support of family and friends has waned over the months. In the beginning, many people brought meals to the house and called to check in. But as time passed, these folks became less attentive. Jim is not bitter about this; he understands that people need to continue to live their lives. This simply means that he has to bear most of the financial, emotional, and psychological burdens himself.
What are his days like? “Some good, some bad,” he says. This past month has been especially difficult, as Holly developed an infection that caused a spinal stroke. She has virtually no mobility in her legs, and there is no possibility of surgery because of her frail condition. She’s on an aggressive course of antibiotics until Christmas.
In fact, it was Jim who brought the infection to medical providers’ attention. When his wife stopped urinating on her own, he petitioned the attending nurses for help. But, according to Jim, the staff dismissed the issue for several days, until a lump appeared on her spinal column between her shoulder blades. By that point, the urinary infection had spread to her spine. This may have occurred because of a spinal cord injury that Holly endured years ago.
It wasn’t the first time that Jim had failed to make an impression with caregivers. Over the year, he has encountered a lot of medical providers who are “just there to give [Holly] her meds.” He’s also encountered many providers who disregard his opinion about diabetes treatment, such as Holly’s dosage of long-lasting insulin. “Everywhere we go, every doctor has a different opinion about how to manage diabetes,” Jim says. One physician prescribed forty units of long-lasting insulin twice a day—twice her usual dose. “I said, ‘Guys, that’s a truckload,’ but they didn’t care. The next day they called me at work to tell me her blood sugar was 36.”
When asked what he’d like for people to know about Holly’s story, Jim said this: “Diabetes is not the big fat guy at the fair. It can happen to anybody at any age.” Holly was vigilant about her self-care, and her diet consisted mostly of meats and vegetables. Her last A1C was 6.9. She is evidence of just “how dangerous and deadly diabetes can be.” Jim also urges the spouses and family members to obtain power-of-attorney and conservatorship over persons with diabetes, because marital relation can be insufficient for obtaining medical records and completing other actions without a court order. In case of tragedies like Holly’s, people need to be prepared to protect and advocate for their loved ones.
It’s no surprise that the Murphy family is severely struggling to make ends meet, as medical bills pile up with only one person earning income. If you would like to make a contribution, you can donate here. Also, check out Jim’s Hope 4 Holly facebook page to receive updates about Holly, connect with others in the Type 1 community, and learn more about the risks and warning signs of diabetes.
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