A Life ‘Ripped Apart’ (Part 1)

John FarrellBy John Farrell19 Minutes

John Farrell: Could you please tell me a little bit about you and your husband Gary’s life before the events that inspired Ripped Apart.

Carol Stern: Well, before my husband got sick, he was fabulous. We had a wonderful life together. We did everything together, and it got to the point where we didn’t even have to say words anymore. We could just read each other’s thoughts and we knew what we were thinking. He was my life, and I was the happiest I’ve ever been.

John: Tell me a little bit about his time as a bail bondsman and a bounty hunter.

Carol: Oh, that was always fun. It made me nervous, but he always had a saying, “Crime’s been very good to me.”

He had some pretty interesting stories about bailing people out and then them skipping bond and how he would get them to turn themselves in, which was so interesting. He’d call them up and say things like, “I’ve got a 42-inch flat screen TV. You just have to come pick it up.” They’d go to pick it up and there wasn’t a TV. They’d have handcuffs instead. So, it was very interesting.

He’d bail people out. He always said, “Even though you’re arrested, you’re presumed innocent, so you have the right to be bailed out.” It made me nervous.

Misdiagnosed and the External Intestine

JF: What happened in May of 2011?

Carol: Well, I could see that Gary was in pain. He became real sick. I called an ambulance, and they took him to the emergency room. Gary didn’t have medical insurance back then. When he went in, they did a few tests that were inconclusive, but they could see by the blood test that he had an infection. There were other tests that they could have done, but instead they assumed that because he had had a pre-existing condition with Crohn’s that that was the problem. So, they started treating him for Crohn’s and the medication they gave him that would’ve helped Crohn’s made his condition worse. They couldn’t figure it out and sent him home.

The doctor, as he was discharging us – and this was one of the first red flags – looked at me and said, “He needs to do something about being a self-paid patient.” I thought, “Wow. I don’t know why a doctor would say that to me.”

They kept treating him. He ended up back in the hospital. His infection was worse, so they brought in a surgeon to do an exploratory. The surgeon didn’t take the time to see exactly what was going on, but instead cut into his small intestines and reconnected it, which if you know anything about Crohn’s disease, a surgeon has to be very skilled to do that because it will start problems which is what it did. After the second surgery on him, they realized that it wasn’t his Crohn’s. He had an ulcer that perforated, but they didn’t tell us about it.

They kept treating him for Crohn’s and hiding the fact that they made mistakes. When the doctors started shrugging their shoulders at me telling me my husband was going to die and there was nothing they could do about it, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I got him out of that hospital and put him into another hospital.

Unfortunately, the damage that the first two hospitals did was already done, and my husband’s abdomen stayed opened with his intestines on the outside of his body. I’m not saying all of them, but I would say at least 18 inches at one given time were on the outside of his body for most of it. Every now and then they would take out a little more.

We needed to get him home to recuperate. They wanted to put them in a rehab facility. I refused. I decided that I needed to take care of my husband, and I prayed real hard about it. The doctors told me, “There’s no way you’re going to be able to get him home.”

I went and talked to the case manager. She said, “There’s nothing because we didn’t have insurance.” I prayed even harder because I knew I needed to get him home. I stayed with my husband. I wouldn’t leave his side. But when I walked out of the hospital room, I heard a voice behind me. It was a woman from Equinox Pharmacy that said she wanted to take on my husband’s case, and if I did everything that I could to get insurance for him, they would cover the cost of the medication and everything else to take care of him at home.

He didn’t eat for four years. He had nothing in his intestinal tract, so everything was IV. So, I had to do that at home too. If it wasn’t for my faith and my husband’s angels that helped me, my husband wouldn’t have lasted as long. He would have lasted maybe three, four weeks, but I think God had a bigger plan.

JF: You mentioned that about 18 inches of his intestines were outside of his body. I think I read that they were outside of his body for almost four years. I’m not a doctor by any stretch of the imagination, but that seems like an extremely long time for an important internal organ to be away from your body.

Carol: It wasn’t away from his body; it just wasn’t inside where it was supposed to be. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the phrase “fistula.” It’s a medical term that basically means you have a hole where it doesn’t belong.

In my husband’s case, the fistulas were in his small intestines. Now, if you have a hole in your small intestine and it goes into your body cavity, you become septic and pass away within days. With the surgeries and them not being able to close him up, he can have fistulas in his intestines.

I don’t mean to be graphic, but I need to be. His stool would be coming out of different holes in his intestines onto his stomach. What I had to do is put a fistula bag over it to protect his skin and catch the stool. Then I would have to weigh it and make sure that he didn’t have more output to the intake because you could get dehydrated and die that way also.

I’m not trying to put my husband in the same category as a soldier, but if a soldier gets blown up in his stomach and he sees it, it’s usually a matter of minutes or hours before they can to get him and take care of it. My husband lived with that for years. Now, mind you, the doctors would go in and try to fix it several times. They were good doctors. They weren’t great at fixing the problem, but at least they said, “Okay, we tried this. It didn’t work. We need to try this.” It was just constant. At times, we needed his body to rest.

Within five years of my husband getting sick, he had over a hundred surgical procedures and a lot of them were done at bedside by me, because I found out what worked. I looked at his stomach. I looked at his intestines moving every day for years. I saw the pain and agony my husband had on his face, and I needed to fix that. So I did. I needed to do whatever I could. Mind you, I had no medical knowledge except for maybe taking temperature and blood pressure. But besides that, I didn’t know the medical profession, but I needed to make sure that my husband was as comfortable as possible because that’s the only thing that mattered.

Taking Over

JF: There’s a specific point of your story that I read that I would like to delve deeper into with you. When Gary was in the bathroom in his hospital room, and he thought he was going to die, you paged for a nurse to come, but no one showed up. However, when you paged them from the bathroom, they showed up quickly. Then you went to the nurses station demanding to get his doctor, nurse, and their charge nurse. What was going through your head while this was happening? Was that the moment where you thought, “I’m taking over his care”?

Carol: That’s the exact time I decided they won’t do this anymore. I needed to do it. It was very scary, but I was never alone in this process. I really want people to understand that. I had – and people could say it was intuition – I know I heard somebody telling me, “Don’t let him give up. You can do this. Don’t let him see the fear that you have.” And that’s exactly when I took over.

I was terrified at that point. Seeing what I saw in that toilet was one of the worst things I could have ever seen. That meant that his body cavity had nothing but stool in it. They weren’t moving fast enough for me. I made Gary a promise and I needed to keep it. I heard him in bed crying. He knew he was dying.

So, I had to take over so that he would be okay. I always thought I’d be able to fix it. I always thought that Gary would have his life back. And even at certain points where I was signing papers for Hospice, I still thought he was going to be okay. I think it had to do with the angels and it had to do with the fact that no matter what was going on if I needed to be in there to be Gary’s voice, the angels always made sure I was.

Through that process, I knew that there had to be something else that could come from my experience and what Gary suffered through. The only thing I could think was God needs Gary’s story told. It’s going to help somebody that really needs it. And I feel if that’s what God wants me to do, then I’m going to do that. All I want to get is a letter saying, “Thank you because I learned what to do and what to say to somebody so it didn’t happen to my loved one.”

The Faith of a Believer

JF: How did your faith help you survive this ordeal and get through it?

Carol: My prayers were answered. They might not have been answered in the way that I would want them to and they weren’t answered in my timeline, but sometimes we can’t go with our timeline. We have to go with God’s. He’s the primary doctor. He’s the one that’s going to have the right answers, and I have faith in that. God blessed me to be able to feel angels when I really needed them. When I really was at low points in my life and I thought there was no other way around, He always looked at my heart saying, “You’re not alone.”

No, I don’t go to church. I don’t belong to any certain church. I’m a Christian. Jesus loves me and I know that. I have taken him into my heart, and I know he died on the cross for my sins. I don’t follow the whole Bible as far as I couldn’t tell you scripture very well at all, but I can tell you the love that He has for someone. If you open your heart, you can feel it. He had a lot of love for me and Gary. And in my faith, I can feel that he needed me. I’m not the one that did everything. Yes, I physically did everything, but I was the tool. God was in charge. He just pointed me where I needed to be. And I always knew that when the time came and I needed to be with Gary, He would make sure I was there.

When my mother passed away, my sister kept saying, “How do you know it’s going to happen? We know she’s dying at any minute.” I looked at her – she does not believe in God – and I said, “God will let us know when we need to be there. You have to have faith in me to let you know that God will tell us.” And He did. He said, “Okay.” Some people will say, “She needs to be in a looney bin.” No, I have an open heart. If you want to call it women’s intuition, go ahead, but I know it’s angels. They told us, “It’s time.” I looked at my sister and said, “The angel’s saying we need to get in there. It’s time.”

My sister still tries to deny Jesus, but she talks about Him more. My mother, before she got sick, would always say, “I need her to take Christ soon. She needs to accept Jesus.” I would tell my mom, “Mom, it’s going to happen. We pray about it, but it’s not going to happen in our time. It’s going to happen in God’s time.”

I’m a bad Christian when it comes to not going into a church. When I go into a church no one’s there but me and God. I don’t go in there to listen to preachers. I go in there to listen to God. That’s just me. If I’m out and about, I think God would much rather me talk to somebody that needs help or smile at them and just be nice to people. I think that would make him happy. So, that’s what I do.

Order your copy of Ripped Apart: Living Misdiagnosed by David Black