The Indestructible Judith Hunt
Date Published: October 6, 2020
It was a dark and stormy night…Judith Hunt, 80, slipped and fell rushing down a dark hallway. She wound up in the hospital with a broken hip. It was the beginning of a medical odyssey that would include heart surgery, bowel surgery, and a brush with COVID-19.
In this episode, Judith talks about facing death with grit and gallows humor, and the small moments that made her recovery possible.
From the Mount Sinai Health System in New York, this is Road to Resilience, a podcast about facing adversity. I'm Jon Earle.
Judith Hunt: 00:07
Hi Judith. This is Jon Earle from the press team at Mount Sinai. How are you doing today?
Judith Hunt: 00:18
Fine. Thank you. How's yourself?
I'm good. I'm good. So is this still a good time for you to do the interview?
Judith Hunt: 00:24
Okay, perfect. Today on the show, the indestructible Jude Hunt. So Judith, how would you introduce yourself?
Judith Hunt: 00:33
Hi, I'm Jude Hunt and I'm here, and I'm terribly surprised to be here. My odds were absolutely nil of getting out of there. I mean, come on! I'm a little old lady with preexisting conditions.
Jude's a patient here at Mount Sinai and a few months ago she died, well, for a little while, technically. And yet, here she is.
Judith Hunt: 00:57
I'm living alone with an elderly cat. Hello, cat. Yes. Very nice. Go in the other room and talk.
What's your cat's name?
Judith Hunt: 01:07
Judith Hunt: 01:08
You know, "They're creepy and they're spooky, they're altogether ookey. The Addams family." I always loved Charles Addams.
Do you know Edward Gorey? Are you familiar with his work?
Judith Hunt: 01:20
Oh, God, do I love Edward Gorey! Yes. He's one of my favorites. Oh, I think it's called "gallows-type" humor. If something is a little weird and a little off, it's mine.
In this episode, Jude reveals the secret to a long and meaningful life. Yeah, right. She would never do that. But as a formerly dead person, she does have some good advice on living. I won't spoil it. Here's Jude. Where does your ordeal begin?
Judith Hunt: 01:47
Well, let's see. It was a dark and stormy night. The phone started ringing. I was halfway down the hall. I started to rush in a dark hall, wearing a caftan. I tripped over my feet and I really face-planted. I realized I couldn't get up, but I thought, I can walk it off if I just relax for a while. I'll take a nap. Luckily I landed next to the armoire, pulled out a pillow, pulled out some sheets, made myself a nest, woke up at one o'clock in agony going, "Hmm. I don't think I can walk this off." So I started yelling.
Somebody hears her. Calls the doorman. Doorman calls the ambulance. And by the time she gets to the hospital…
Judith Hunt: 02:30
Half of my face was purple. I had a beautiful purple eye and I looked like I'd been mugged.
Broken hip, broken femur. She gets some more tests. And this is where it gets crazy.
Judith Hunt: 02:43
And during that I had an aortic valve aneurysm. So I had an operation on my heart, and somewhere along the way, I had a stroke, and then they operated on my bowels. Charming word. It just kept going and it got to the point it was totally ridiculous. So I found it funny. I mean, what else is next? Okay. Oh, how about the black plague? That's nice. And I came down with the virus.
The virus—COVID. This was in March.
Judith Hunt: 03:21
I was in and out. I remember voices. I remember hearing someone say, "We have to put her on a ventilator." In this very medical voice. And I'm going, "Oh, that's nice. Now I can breathe!" Guess what? A ventilator is not fun. It is horrible, but it does kind of save your life.
What is it like?
Judith Hunt: 03:40
Yeah. It's like, there's sort of a plastic animal nested on your face, and somebody's sitting on your chest. But at the same time, it's better than before you went on the ventilator. Because when you're not on the ventilator, trying to breathe is almost impossible. It's like trying to breathe through concrete. You feel like you're going to die any minute. And then you're afraid you're not going to die, that it's going to go on forever. It's horrible.
So she's lying there, going in and out. And she's thinking—this is it.
Judith Hunt: 04:18
So, I mean, my immune system was tiny and I'm old and, you know, I wasn't in great shape. And all of a sudden you're saying, "Oh, that kind of adds up to not walking out of here." I mean, I thought it was a done deal that I was going to die.
Was it scary to have that realization?
Judith Hunt: 04:41
That's the weird thing. It wasn't exactly scary. It was more like, I was really annoyed that I had so much stuff to do that I hadn't gotten done. And I really was regretting the fact that I would be missing my friends and my family.
But you weren't scared?
Judith Hunt: 05:01
No. I wasn't scared. A little apprehensive because you don't know what's coming next and you hope there's something coming next. I wasn't scared. It was like, okay, this is a done deal. This is what's going to happen. Alright. Let's make the best of the time. I mean, I just couldn't understand giving up, I mean—. Oh, by the way, I did die for a while. My heart stopped for a couple of minutes. So I was told, because I don't remember. I didn't get to see the white light. I didn't get to hear the voices. It's like I died and I didn't get any of the cool stuff.
Were you surprised by your reaction to almost dying?
Judith Hunt: 05:44
Yes, I was actually. I thought I'd be more, "Oh, no, I won't go on the great adventure," or, "Oh, my God, don't let this happen to me." But it wasn't like that. I really was surprised. It was kind of like, oh, damn I forgot to close the window and it's raining. It was kind of an annoyance that, damn, I'm going. But a curiosity also, like I wonder what's next?
As I was listening to this part of me was like, come on. Really? No dread, totally okay with dying. So I asked her about that.
Judith Hunt: 06:16
There was a point—I don't remember at what point—I know I was in ICU and I was just like, "I'm never getting out of here. I'm never getting out of here. I'm going to die here. Bleh, poor me. Oh my God." And then this guy came in, who was a nurse. He looked like a tall leprechaun. And he quoted a line from Monty Python, which I immediately recognized. "And what is your name, oh great wizard?" And we started a conversation and then we started quoting Monty Python. "Someday, my son, all this will be yours. What? The curtains?" And he took me out of myself. He just took me out of myself and I was back in the real world. And it was a silly thing. But you know what? Look for the silly things. They're very important.
Were there small pleasures that you found?
Judith Hunt: 07:11
I mean, just little tiny things. The things that you take for granted. Like if I sat up really high, I could see the top of a tree with some sun on it. That was wonderful. Now, I look out at the trees and things, I mean the tiny things you take for granted, all of a sudden became huge, enormous, important, and wonderful. Quite truthfully right now, I'm still in the grateful period. I hope I never become jaded and forget all of this.
Helped along by this huge team of doctors and nurses and nurses aides, Jude got better. One milestone she'll never forget was walking again.
Judith Hunt: 07:54
Getting up out of the bed by myself onto the walker and walking 10 or 15 steps. That is huge. And it gives you a sense of—I am my own person again. I am not a horizontal pudding. I am a vertical human being. Those little things make you feel so strong and so proud and so happy. They make you feel happy. It doesn't sound like anything exciting. It's not. But once you've lost something and you realize what you've lost and you have to fight like hell to get it back. You appreciate it.
Finally, after five months and four attempts at rehab, the big day came. Jude was headed home.
Judith Hunt: 08:41
I'm getting ready to go, and one of the therapists came in and said, 'We have a little surprise for you. I'm only going to ask you to do one thing. If somebody hands you a piece of paper, be dramatic." And I'm like, "What the hell?" So I get up on my walker. I go to the door and there is all of the therapists, there are nurses, et cetera, lining the whole hallway. And they're all holding up pieces of paper. And I was like the first thing I said was, "You loons!" And they hand me, "Broken femur" and I tear the paper up. And this went down, you know, they had all the things I went through. And at the end of it, they're holding a thing saying "rehab champion" and "hero," which was not true. And they tied a balloon to my walker and they put a garland around me, and I left the hospital and we took pictures. And then I got in the ambulance and went home.
What was it like to get that kind of send-off?
Judith Hunt: 09:57
That was so amazing. I didn't cry then because I didn't want to embarrass myself. And right now I don't care because I'm crying. They were so sweet. My God, that was the most amazing thing I had ever seen in my life!
When you got home, what was it like to go in your front door, to walk into your apartment for the first time in so long?
Judith Hunt: 10:22
It was heaven. Just to see my house, my cat, who looked at me and went, "Who are you? And what are you doing here? Go away." It was relief. And it was gratitude that I got to see it again and just pure, quiet joy. I wish it was more profound, but that's exactly what it was. But oh, my Lord, I still sit here and I look around and I go, "I'm home. I'm happy. I'm safe."
I'm just wondering whether there's any kind of nugget that you would impart. I know I'm really putting you on the spot here, but—
Judith Hunt: 11:09
Yeah. Okay. Believe in getting out of there. Think about all the wonderful things you can do once you're home. Concentrate everything you have on what you're going to do and how you're going to do it. And think about all the people in your life that you want to see again. I wish I had something profound to tell people, but really the greatest philosopher of our time, Satchel Paige, said, "Don't look back, it might be gaining on you." Don't look back. Look forward. If you look forward, there's nothing in your path. Really. If you look backwards, you're dragging anchor. Keep going forward.
Keep going forward. Got it. Thanks, Jude. That's all for this episode. If you enjoyed it, please rate and review the podcast on Apple Podcasts and tell a friend about us. Thanks. We've got a new podcast coming out. It's called "Real, Smart People." And it features audio portraits of some of the biggest, quirkiest minds in medicine. So look out for that in the next few weeks. Road to Resilience is a production of the Mount Sinai Health System in New York. It's made by Katie Ullman, Nicci Hudson and me, Jon Earle. Our executive producer is Lucia Lee. From all of us here, thanks for listening. We'll see you next time.