Vicar tells of her close call with dehydration

February 01, 2002

Vicar tells of her close call with dehydration


When Elaine Prince noticed some flu-like symptoms last winter, she was determined not to miss a beat in her busy schedule - a decision that nearly cost the 57-year-old Episcopal priest her life.

"I now know that I was within a few hours of dying," said Prince, who a year later is slowly resuming her work as vicar of St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Smithsburg.

The problem wasn't some rare strain of influenza or exotic mutation, it was simple dehydration and Prince wants people to know that what happened to her could happen to anyone.

"On Feb. 17, I came home from a meeting and went straight to bed," Prince said. A little dizzy, she hadn't felt like eating for about two days or drinking much.


The next morning was a Sunday, and when Prince didn't show up at her pulpit at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Clear Spring, someone called her home.

"I was in bed when the phone rang but I couldn't get up," Prince said.

A friend called her from Williamsburg, Va., at about 2 p.m. that day and after listening to Prince talk without making much sense, got in touch with some of her parishioners.

"That phone call from Williamsburg is the last thing I remember," Prince said, noting that it saved her life.

At 7 p.m., parishioners went to her house and broke in. They found Prince on her back on the floor downstairs.

"I came to my senses in the emergency room at Washington County Hospital with a fever of 105 degrees," Prince said.

The dehydration coupled with Prince's position - flat on her back - combined to cause her internal organs to begin to shut down, a dangerous medical condition known as rhabdomyolysis.

Eating right and taking care of herself was second nature to Prince who had been a home economics teacher for 16 years before entering the priesthood.

After doctors pumped fluids into her, Prince's kidneys and other organs began to resume their functions. She said she was told that a few more hours on her back would have killed her.

"I want single people of all ages to know that this can happen in no time flat," Prince said recently from her Halfway home. "It was a total body breakdown and you can be dead in just eight hours."

Now Prince has a phone buddy who calls her each day. She suggests that all people who live alone do the same.

"Before this happened, I had little contact with my neighbors but I do now," she said.

When she got back home, her parishioners took food to her and helped her on the road to recovery. Bible study and communion were relocated to her home.

"I was really prayed back to health," Prince said.

Now nearly back to normal, Prince, who headed the two congregations since 1995, has cut back on her duties. "It was clear that I had to drop one church and I stayed with St. Anne's in Smithsburg," she said.

Prince wants to spread the word to others.

"It's very clear that if this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone," she said.

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