Aghh! I thought it was COVID-19. It was worse.

On Thursday night, May 7, indigestion flared in my gut. It kept getting worse with other symptoms developing. Little did I know, two trips to the Emergency Room (ER) and two 3-day hospital stays were about to follow.

When my indigestion discomfort was joined by a racing pulse (95+ just lying in bed), dropping blood pressure (96/55), diarrhea with black stools, light-headedness, and nausea, at 4:30 AM I woke Maggie and said I was sick. “I think COVID-19 is attacking me with a vengeance.” We called Mayo’s triage line and a third of the way through my symptoms was told to go directly to our closest ER. Go now, do not pass go, do not collect $200. She gave us no diagnosis, so I was still thinking COVID-19 had got me. Maggie dropped me off at Mayo’s ER around 5:30 AM (she was not allowed inside) and after a half-hour wait, some Gastric Intestinal (GI) specialists were examining me. After a quick blood test and ECG, they told me I was down about 7 pints of blood. (Doctor: “Going from an Hb of 14.6 to 7.4 is quite a plummet – you’re down about 7 pints or half a tank.”).   After admitting me they did a test for COVID-19 and started the 24-hour clock on that. Then it was off to the high-isolation floor, where confirmed, suspected or unproven COVID-19 patients resided. Nowhere in the hospital are visitors allowed, the least of which this floor. It had separate ventilation filtering for each room and was staffed by heavily-masked nurses and doctors, including eye masks. The next morning the Covid-19 test came back negative and I was moved to the third floor, east wing, room 80.

Okay, if it wasn’t COVID-19 making me so sick, what was going on? Late that morning the GI team informed me they wished to do a Colonoscopy and an Endoscopy, essentially checking my GI track from both ends. This couldn’t be accomplished until I drank a gallon of GoLYTELY. This stuff wins the award for the greatest difference between a thing’s name and the actual result produced. I’ll not describe the process or impact, but the uninitiated and curious can follow this link.

So, after a cleansing evening, I was taken down for two procedures, thankfully done in that memory-less dream state that marked the end of Michael Jackson. Several hours later I learned there were 3 ulcers in my stomach which were the most likely source of the bleeding. They administered a test for the H. Pylori bacteria known now (due to a discovery twenty years ago) to cause ulcers and a few hours later it came back positive. A contributing factor to the bleeding was an “out-of-range” INR reading of 5.3. INR relates to the anticoagulation factor of the blood. The higher the number, the greater the likelihood of internal bleeding. If you don’t have a mechanical heart valve, normal INR values are between 1 – 2. If you do have a mechanical valve, like me, it should be between 2 – 3 and they get it there using a drug called Warfarin or Coumadin. Anything over 3 is considered too high. 5.3 is very bad.

On Monday the 11th, I was finally released to go home, with a regimen of pills to address the H. Pylori and imbalance in my GI tract. I was told if additional symptoms appeared, such as black stools or feelings of light-headedness, to get back to an ER right away. Off we went, with me super glad to get out of there, although suffering from the effects of being low on blood – which include extreme fatigue, light-headedness when trying to do anything fast, and absolutely no physical reserves.

As I planned my recovery, I learned a lot about iron-rich foods, both from plants and animal sources. I’ve been eating vegan for the past several months, so I was hoping to only need to occasionally stray into the meat side of things and still make good new blood. After planning a series of menus with Maggie filled to the brim with iron-rich foods, I learned from my doctor brother-in-law (Joe Phaneuf, M.D.) that rebuilding one’s blood to normal is not a matter of eating a week’s worth of liver & onion meals. It takes a couple of months. And my plan of taking iron supplements and eating foods high in iron was further blown apart from the study Joe sent me showing that the body monitors iron ingestion. If we significantly increase iron intake, the liver makes a protein called Hepcidin which is negative feedback for iron absorption.  In other words, lower doses of iron, like once a day or even every other day, are more effective than taking iron twice or three times a day. Okay, okay, I vowed to change my plans and take it more slowly.

Steve, holding his IV cart, wearing his monitoring gearOn Wednesday morning the 13th, after just one full day at home, I awoke shaking, light-headed, and not liking the look of the toilet’s contents (sorry to be graphic). I hated the idea of going back to the ER and made several attempts to reach the doctors on the phone. No luck, so back to the ER I went and you’ll never guess what happened. I got admitted to the hospital. AGAIN! This meant another COVID-19 test, but thankfully, they judged me a low risk of having contracted COVID-19 so quickly, and after my test put me back in the hospital on the same floor, the same wing and in the same room. Even the same nurses and support staff.

If uninitiated, you should know a colonoscopy starts at one end of the GI tract and the Endoscopy at the other. Neither of them reaches the small intestines in the middle. These small intestines are over 20 feet long and none of their “wands” or scopes reach that far. So, they wanted me to swallow a small camera so they could take photographs of my entire GI tract, with particular attention to the insides of the small intestines – oh, but not today. “First you need to drink another gallon of GoLYTELY, so the pictures will all come out nice and clear.” I was livid. I hate that stuff. I promised the GI team when I got out I would introduce a bill into the legislature requiring anyone prescribing GoLYTELY to have to take it themselves with the patient. Other than some sympathy, I got nowhere with my idea. So, another afternoon and evening of drinking a 6 oz. glasses of this horrible concoction every 20-30 minutes and never drifting more than a few feet from the bathroom.

This is the pill I had to swallow

The next morning, Thursday the 14th at 10:00 AM, after being judged clean as a whistle, one of the GI team brought me a camera to eat. Well, swallow – no chewing allowed. Before ingesting this magic brightly blinking bus of a pill (remember the movie the Fantastic Voyage?), they glued a half dozen pick-up/receivers to my torso and draped a box the size and weight of a 1990 1TB hard drive and just as heavy, around my neck. Combine this with the remote heart monitor and its 6 leads, two IV drips (one in each arm), and mobility was out of the question. I couldn’t even answer my phone because bending my elbow set off an IV alarm.

On Friday morning, the GI team picked up the recording device and took it to review the photos. Sound like fun? The camera transmits 7 high-res photos per second, or 420 pictures a minute. This works out to 25,200 pictures an hour. So, after twelve hours, they had over 300,000 pictures to review – 302,400 to be precise. Just like vacation photos, it’s a good bet they weren’t all winners. But still, that’s a lot of photos to look through. It took the 3 person team until around 2 pm before they declared there was nothing new going on in my GI tract and I might as well go home.

This time, the “leaving the hospital instructions” included a different set of drugs. They decided for several reasons, the first set was not that great. But, 3 new prescriptions later and I was on my way.

It turns out, getting my GI tract back into line wasn’t as big an issue as re-balancing my INR and getting it back in range. This involves transitioning from the Heparin IV drip I was getting while hospitalized to a drug called LOVENOX (here is how it’s pronounced). The trick is this drug can only be delivered by syringe. This means twice a day I get jabbed in my tummy with a needle and injected with enoxaparin. Not fun for me or Maggie, as I can be a real baby when it comes to shots.

I got home Friday night after picking up the new meds and some wonderful take-out food from Picazzo’s Healthy Italian Kitchen (one of my favorites). I was in bed and asleep before 9 PM. Happily, I am still negative for COVID-19. That’s a good thing, as it no doubt would have killed me, given my blood count issue and non-existent reserves. My GI tract and blood situation can be repaired and brought back into line over the next couple of months. Given what I’ve been through in the past, this was just sort of a blip in the road, although it was a potentially lethal blip.

So, how was your week?

Brent Larsen’s home burned down – family safe began to interest me more the past couple of years. Genealogy projects seem to appear when at a certain age. My cousin on my mother’s side, Ron Herem, begin getting interested about a year before me. His fancy was caught by the history of our family, and he’s made a trip back to Norway to see some of the places our family lived, connects with family that still lives in Norway, and has traced our family back to the 1400s and perhaps beyond. I’ve focused more on current goings-on.

I found it embarrassing how little information I had about my cousins, their children, and now, grandchildren. But I got to work and have been filling in the blanks on Facebook has helped track these family members down and get pictures.

Last week, as I was getting pictures from Facebook for the children and grandchildren of my cousin, Sam Larsen, I got a shock. Sam’s father, Gordon, was one of my dad’s brothers and I know Sam and his wife, Sue, very well. As I followed Facebook to one of his sons, Brent Larsen, I learned on Monday, April 20, his home had burned down and nearly killed his children. I saw that friends of his had organized a drive to aid him and his family, and of course, contributed. See below:

five smiling faces

Before you stop reading, I want to share something else. In the story of how this terrible fire happened, which I’ve reproduced from Brent’s Facebook posting below, note in addition to sharing the details of his ordeal, one main concern of his is alerting other families to how easily this can happen and how the video his kids were following, contained no warnings or cautions, such as, “make sure your parents are around when you do this.”

I’d love for you to donate to help Brent, but if you can’t do that but know of young families who might accidentally put themselves at risk by doing something like this, please forward this to them.

Thanks so much!

Steve Larsen

Note: The following is taken verbatim from Brent’s Facebook posting a couple of days after he lost his home, but knew his children were safe and would recover. And at the very end, a bit of humor.

Where do I begin? This last week has been the scariest, most humbling experience of my life and has changed my family in countless ways forever. To all my family, friends, neighbors, kindhearted strangers, colleagues, firefighters, EMT’s, doctors and nurses, it is with the deepest most heartfelt gratitude and love that I can possibly express, thank you, thank you, thank you!

On Monday 4/20/20 I was working from home with my four children in the house. They had finished their daily online schooling responsibilities when I decided to take a walk over my lunch break. A daily practice, weather permitting, that I have adopted since this horrific corona virus has impacted us all. When I left the house my oldest, Jessica, and my youngest Isabella, were in the kitchen baking a cake. I headed out to stretch my legs, get some fresh air and walk to a beach where I like to meditate before walking home.

The beach is just under a mile away and I’m sitting on a bench, eyes clothed, mind centered, when I receive every parents worst nightmare – an emergency call from Jessica who was hysterical. “Help dad, where are you, Bella and I are burned and your house is on fire, we called 911, please come home!” I’m nearly a mile from my house on foot and sheer utter adrenaline fueled panic kicks in. I immediately start sprinting home. I have never ran so fast for so far in my life and what took 5+ minutes felt like 5 hours. I could not get home fast enough.

Horrific scenarios started cycling through my mind. While running home I had my headphones on and told the kids to keep the phone line open to me and tell me what’s happening, but I’m not going to respond so I can focus on my breathing. Jessica explained that Bella had boiled (vegetable) oil, the pot spilled and started the fire. My kids were all safely out of the house standing in the cul de sac when I finally made my way up Linden Circle. 
As I crested the hill and saw my kids standing around crying with dark smoke billowing out of my garage door I sprinted even faster.

I quickly assessed the girls burns and saw they were “ok” although they were burned. I told the kids to stay where they were and I ran in the front door thinking I may be able to grab a large blanket I had on my couch in the living room to smother the fire. As soon as I entered the house I was engulfed in smoke descending from the ceiling to about my waist. I had my t-shirt pulled over my mouth and entered the living room. I ducked under the smoke to try and assess the status of the fire and could clearly see the ceiling in my kitchen fully ablaze with the fire already spreading onto my living room ceiling. It was too late I was not going to be able to stop it.

I sprinted back out the front door, shouted at kids to stay put and ran next door as I have an elderly neighbor. His wife, I knew, was away at work and he was not very mobile requiring assistance from an oxygen machine. I started pounding on his door, ringing the doorbell, screaming “fire” at the top of my lungs. I could not see him through the window beside his front door and was severely panicking. His door was locked and I was preparing to start trying to kick down the door or break in through a window. Luckily another nearby neighbor was in his backyard heard me and ran over to assist. Shortly thereafter the neighbor did hit his garage door button and we were able to get inside. Smoke was already billowing into his condo. He was confused, but the other neighbor had lived next to him for years and was able to get through to him. We needed to vacate the house immediately. He grabbed his oxygen machine and I helped the man out grabbing his zimmer frame in the process. We were able to get him a safe distance from the house.

At that point the neighbors on the other side with two small children came running out of their house, jumped in their car and ripped out of the driveway. Finally, I knew everyone in the immediate vicinity of my burning house was safe. I stood in the cul de sac staring in disbelief, this isn’t real, this only happens on TV. My kids and I ran to one another and embraced. Everyone was crying, Jessica and Isabella had burns, but we were safe. I will never forget that hug, the five of us sobbing in one another’s arms.

About a minute or two later, the first Chanhassen Fire department respondent arrived. He immediately ran towards the house barking instructions into his walkie talkie describing the property, calling out where the fire hydrant was to the first fire truck that was enroute. At this point my adrenaline rush had expired and after taking in quite a bit of smoke my asthma flared. Luckily an ambulance arrived shortly thereafter. Jess, Bella and I got in the back and they began treating the girls burns while hooking me up to a nebulizer with oxygen. My ex, my children’s mother Siobhan, also arrived on site and was able to help comfort Gabriella and Roman who were understandably upset. The ambulance took us to the ER unit at Hospital 212 in Chaska, where we stayed for the next couple of hours getting treated. The nurses and the doctors were so awesome, I am so thankful for their kindness and care. Ultimately, Jessica and Bella had first and second degree burns on their legs while I was tested and treated for smoke inhalation, carbon monoxide poisoning and an asthma attack.

I am so grateful to report that 5 days later we are all making a full recovery. The girls continue to have their burns treated and washed daily while Regent’s Hospital Burn Unit tracks their recovery through telemedicine. My lungs were compromised for a few days, but as I write this update, physically I feel back to 100%. Mentally and emotionally we all have a long road of recovery ahead, but my kids are so strong they continue to amaze and inspire me each day with how quickly they have adapted to this horrific experience.

I have received what can best be described as a tidal wave of love, support, thoughts, prayers and positive vibes from so many people I cannot hope to respond to each person individually at this time. However, there are a couple of people I want to specifically recognize and thank for their incredible help and support during this ordeal. First, Chanhassen, Chaska and Victoria Fire Departments. Having now run into a burning house and understanding first hand the danger they face in helping others, their bravery and selflessness is absolutely incredible! The EMTs, doctors and nurses that took care of my daughters and I at Hospital 212 ER unit. The tenderness and care that you expressed in treating not only my girls physical ailments, but also their mental and emotional needs was truly a grace from God. For this I will forever be so so thankful! To my family, my mom Sue, my dad Sam and my brother Kirk, your reassuring presence and unconditional love, (even without hugging during social distancing protocols) especially in those first days reinforce how lucky I am to have you! My ex-wife Siobhan has been an absolute rock and continues to smother our children in love when I cannot be with them. Todd & Leah Hiller and Jon Relyea for organizing the GoFundMe campaigns. I am so humbled by the generosity and kindness of close friends and family as well as contributors that I do not know directly.

There are simply no words that can adequately express my gratitude, especially during this pandemic when so many are suffering. The charity and their mission to help families of children that have been injured in fire is an inspiration and a cause that I will contribute to and help ‘pay forward’ to other families that have been impacted by house fires going forward. To the countless friends that have overwhelmed my family with messages of love, support and hope. I will never be able to individually recognize you all, but please know that each and every one of your thoughts, messages, prayers and financial contributions have helped my family and I so much and will never be forgotten! If I can ever help any of you in any capacity if you or loved one needs it in the future it will be done. I also want to call out my employer, Anaplan. I feel so grateful to not only have a job at this time, but to have a company that truly lives it values. They have made every mental healthcare service available to my kids and I and a multitude of colleagues, both close and unknown have contributed financial support including the C-suite leadership team. Lastly, my beautiful children. You mean everything to me. I may have lost everything materialistically speaking, but in the process have gained so much more and I am so grateful during your formative years you have had the opportunity to see all the “good” there is in this world. It’s easy to get down and negative with everything that is going on right now and yet our humanity still shines through when people are in need. We have a truly global ‘village’ of love and support that spans the oceans – never lose sight of how important we are all to one another!

Sincerest Regards,
Brent, Jessica, Gabriella, Roman & Isabella Larsen

Lesson learned – the impetus for the oil fire was a TikTok video recreating a Disney recipe for churros. Parents, please make sure you talk to your kids about the dangers of cooking in general but especially with oil. The ‘column’ of fire shooting out of the pot from burning vegetable oil immediately ignited the microwave above it and by the grace of God, my daughter spilled the pot while trying to move it to the sink a mere 3 feet away. The spill splattered and caused the burns on their legs but had she been successful in getting the pot to the sink I’m not sure all my kids would be alive today. We’ve all heard not to put an oil or grease fire out with water but please take 90 seconds to watch and educate yourselves and your loved ones on exactly why.

DANGER! Throwing Water On Oil Fire | Earth Lab

The Disney churros recipe that my daughter was attempting to mimic while I was out on my walk – no parental warnings and they make it look so “easy”. Please learn from my family’s experience and talk to your kids, grandkids, loved ones about the dangers of deep frying in oil

On Scene – Chanhassen Housefire (local media company covering my house fire)

And a little levity – my new least favorite song