A beekeeper’s close call with death changed her life for the better
When Rebecca Schlecht first got into beekeeping – a hobby for the retired mother of three – she’d purchased an EPI pen thinking it would come in handy one day. On Father’s Day, Schlecht and her husband, Mark, were tending their beehives when she had to use it.
The tiniest of honey bees managed to sting Schlecht through her bee veil on her neck. What seemed like a rather harmless sting as Schlecht has been stung before, quickly turned into a fight for her life. This time when she was stung, she used the pen for the first time, but it wasn’t enough.
“I threw everything out of my medicine cabinet searching for Benadryl. I could feel my tongue getting large and swollen,” Schlecht said. “We realized then it was an emergency and got in the car.”
In Rossville, Schlecht’s husband had a decision to make. He could turn left and go to the hospital in Danville or turn right and go to Carle Hoopeston Regional Health Center. He chose the latter.
“By the time we got to the Emergency Department (ED), my airway was all but closed. I ran into the walk-in clinic, and one of the staff ran with me to the ED as I was clutching my throat,” Schlecht said. “A doctor inserted a breathing tube, and I was flown to Carle in Urbana.”
Reflecting on the matter now, it haunts both Schlecht and her husband that if he had turned left, she might not be here today.
“I must admit, I kind of took Carle in Urbana for granted. I have since learned it’s the only Level 1 Trauma Center in Illinois south of Interstate 80,” Schlecht said.
Schlecht would spend nine and a half days in the intensive care unit (ICU) sedated and on life support. Things got worse before they got better as the swelling took its time going down. Eventually, her care team decided to see if Schlecht could breathe on her own.
“According to Mark, the team of doctors and medical personnel that entered my room at that time was surreal. There were doctors who would remove my tube. There were docs with the equipment ready and prepared for a tracheotomy. There were those who had to pump my stomach and an anesthesiologist,” Schlecht said.
“When the tube came out, I began to breathe on my own. I often wonder how do you know to begin breathing, and a nurse acquaintance has referred to this as fight or flight.”
That night, Schlecht was awake and thought she had a stroke.
“My arms and legs wouldn’t work. I had no concept of time and had some horrible thoughts I don’t want to repeat,” Schlecht said.
But the next day she met Shane Cook, a nurse resident in Carle’s Nurse Residency Program, who gave her hope when she had none.
“He was so positive, and I will never forget his face for the rest of my life. It was like my life changed when I realized with a lot of work, I could regain the strength and stamina to do all the things I love to do,” Schlecht said.
Cook believes being positive makes a big impact on patients.
“When I see patients in the hospital, I know I’m not seeing them at their best. Patients are scared, sick or hurting. I don’t have the instant fix for them, but I believe positivity is one piece of the healing puzzle,” Cook said. “I do everything I can to provide that piece to each patient.”
Once Schlecht was downgraded from the ICU, she met Hareesh Lal, MD.
“She was really scared. Anything that sounded like bees she reacted to. I needed to reassure her that she was safe and help her get her confidence back,” Dr. Lal said. “I even gave her my pocket card in case she needed to talk to someone.”
On the mend, one of the things Schlecht dearly missed was a shower.
“When I moved to a regular room, my nurse, Sam, had his hands full with me. I was bound and determined I was getting a shower. I began to negotiate with him. He quickly recognized he had a fighter on his hands. Finally, we reached a deal, but a healthcare tech (HTC) had to stand at the shower entrance to protect me,” Schlecht said. “Janeth, the HCT, is my forever and ever and ever guardian angel.
“She went above and beyond the call of duty to give me my shower. She got drenched helping me.”
To show Carle how grateful she was for the care she received, Schlecht wrote a nine-page letter to Carle Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer James C. Leonard, MD.
“I owe everyone who cared for me my deepest gratitude because you took care of me when I was the sickest and needed so much help. I became known as the woman who took a bee sting to the neck. You each know who you are, and I hope every one of you knows deep down how thankful we are for you,” Schlecht said.