Gayle and the Knights of Gentiva

By Maggie Cunningham

On October 9th, I was handed an envelope. In it was a story - a patient's story.

"Life is a celebration of that which we can do, not a requiem for which we cannot do," the story began. "Goals are the results toward which our efforts are directed."

The letter, handwritten by former patient Gayle, continued...

Gayle tells the full story of her recovery, beginning with the moment her left arm started to lose feeling. She went through a multitude of tests, x-rays and MRIs which culminated in a cervical surgery the day before her daughter's birthday. The surgery, although successful, was painful for Gayle, and she went home after spending three days in the intensive care unit.

Four months went by while she wore a neck brace, and then eight months later, she found herself dealing with severe back pain. A pain doctor informed Gayle that she had a myriad of intense and worsening spinal issues.

"My spine was collapsing before our eyes," she wrote in her letter. "If I didn't have surgery soon, I was going to be wheelchair bound." 

A two-part series of surgeries was scheduled for Gayle two days apart. The first surgery went forward, though Gayle struggles to remember any of it. Before the second surgery could take place, however, she developed atrial fibrillation. After medicine proved unsuccessful in treating her A-fib, Gayle's doctors opted for a cardiac ablation. One month and a lot of anxiety later, Gayle's mind and body were ready for the second part of her surgeries. Afterward, she spent two months in the ICU and another month in the hospital before being able to return home.


It's now September of 2014. At home, Gayle's husband checks her blood pressure, which has been low lately in the morning. He goes downstairs to retrieve something to raise her blood pressure, and within minutes, he comes back to find Gayle unresponsive lying on the bed. He was able to revive her by the time the ambulance arrived, but on the way out of the house, she stopped breathing again.

The first hospital they were taken to was not equipped to handle Gayle's condition, so she was transferred to a second hospital to be stabilized. Later, Gayle was sent to a third hospital, where months before her surgeries had been performed. Again, she stopped breathing. But this time, clinicians couldn't get Gayle started on her own. She was placed on a ventilator but soon developed double pneumonia and sepsis. Her family was told she was brain dead.

Gayle's husband held her hand and said, "If you can hear me, squeeze my hand." Gayle recalls hearing everything and being able to squeeze, ever-so-slightly, her husband's hand. It wasn't a tight squeeze, but it was enough to stop them from disconnecting the ventilator. A week later she was alert, and her tubes were removed, but she would spend another four months in the ICU. Gayle would continue to experience many complications during the months that followed, but eventually she began to make progress and use less and less assisted oxygen.

It was at this point that Gayle met Mrs. Merrill from Gentiva - Home Health in Chattanooga. She felt reassured and impressed by Mrs. Merrill and when she finally went home. Tom Rumper became her at-home nurse and visited three times a week.

In her letter, Gayle goes into lengthy detail about each member of her "unit." Members like Tom, who never missed a day and was "always on top of [everything] before anything happened," was also there to talk to her and help calm her anxiety, which had arisen over the last three years of medical crises.

"If Tom weren't here, I wouldn't have come this far to reclaim my healthy body," the letter reads. "Tom is one of my shining knights in armor from Gentiva, the best."    

Gayle also highlighted Reid Augustino, her physical therapist, who she says is the smartest person she's ever met.


chatta success


"It is an honor just to have him as my therapist and to be in his presence," Gayle writes. "I trust him with my life."

"My [third] knight in shining armor in this unit of mine is Lizzie," she wrote. Lizzie was her occupational therapist, but like Tom and Reid, went above her role as a therapist and also helped Gayle control the anxiety she had gained. 

Gayle also goes into detail about her husband, the King Arthur of her recovery unit, as well as the staff in the office like Karen, who was always infectiously happy and knowledgeable. She also talks of Caleen, who she calls the engine for this train of people who help her and many others get back to where they can lead normal lives.

"This is my whole unit from Gentiva. Without them all together, I would not be where I am today. These people have given me their loyalty, their trust, their knowledge. I have the best there is."

She finishes her letter: "Gentiva is very lucky to have my three knights of shining armor. These are such special people. I dearly respect and deeply love them all. I am so glad that I found the best home health, Gentiva. Please honor these people, for they have special bringings to Gentiva. Show them how great they really are."