Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Psalm 73:26 Part 2

That morning the enzyme levels indicating new heart damage elevated. My wife was not stable anymore and emergency bypass surgery would need to happen that morning. The girls had a brief visit with mommy and she held our son for a bit. I asked the nurse if I had time to walk my family out to the car before my wife would be wheeled in for surgery and she said yes.

Coming back into the hospital from the parking garage, my name was being paged over the loudspeaker to come immediately to the CICU unit.

I arrived back at the unit to a very upset wife and some equally perturbed nurses and doctors. My wife was telling them in no uncertain terms that she was not going into that operating room without seeing me first, and that they had told me I had time to see my family out of the hospital before the bypass. The surgeon was perturbed that he had a lady who wouldn't go into surgery when it was an emergency situation and time was of the essence. The nurses were just generally perturbed at the whole scene.

Later on the nurses said that her anger at that time released adrenaline into her system which had actually served to positively stimulate her heart and increase blood flow, almost prepping it for the surgery. God works all things together for good.

The bypass took hours. Friends and various family members came and went from the waiting room. People prayed and spoke in low voices. And I waited. A nurse came in at one point and gave an update.

Eventually they came and announced the surgery was done and they were getting her "settled" in her room. After a bit I was allowed to see her.

What I saw were tubes, wires and other medical looking things poking into or out of my my wife's body everywhere. She had a breathing tube down her throat, was still unconscious and had skin that looked like pasty plastic. There was a red heart shaped pillow sitting in her bed with her.

And this was a successful surgery.

I understood the word successful but my eyes were in conflict with what I heard.

I don't do hospitals. I mean, I almost get sick just entering a hospital. The general hospital smell makes me light headed. But God is gracious and allowed me to be with my wife over the days following the surgery. Amazingly they never needed to pick me up unconscious off the floor even though I actually observed most of the in room procedures they performed. My wife did tell me to turn my head when they were taking out the "pre-wiring" for a pace maker they had sewn into her just in case it might be needed.

Throughout that time there were wonderful friends and family who came in and completely took care of our children with little to no input from me.

Over the next few days I lived by the digital stat machine that existed over my wife's bed. It registered her heart rate, blood oxygen levels and other stuff that meant nothing to me. As the days went she graduated to fewer tubes, less wires and forced walking. They removed the catheter for the most part to make her have to get out of bed and walk over to the bathroom.

Eventually she was able to come home. She had to sleep in a lazy boy type recliner for several weeks because her healing sternum couldn't handle being fully prone.

My mom and my sister-in-law both came for consecutive weeks to provide daily care for her and our children. Ladies from our home school group came and cleaned our house for two and a half months. Other friends came and mowed our yard. What a blessing they all were at that time.

When the time came for cardiac rehabilitation, we found out that our insurance wouldn't cover that. We were just talking about the cost, and how I thought she ought to do it, but we just didn't have the finances at the time. I went out to the mail box, and a lady from church had written a note and a check saying that she felt the God had blessed them with a little extra that month and she felt it should go to us. The check was for just $5 less then the total cost of the cardiac rehab. We felt we could afford cardiac rehab for $5.

Months later we had one of our regular followup visits with the cardiac doctor after having regular EKG's, echo cardiograms and finally a nuclear medicine test. They said, you are completely well. The EKG indicates a completely normal heart, the nuclear medicine test indicated a heart ejection fraction of about 55 which is bulls eye for normal heart function. The doctor said you can come back in ten years for a check up if you like. If that seems too long for you come back in five, but your heart is completely normal. There is no activity that your heart should preclude you from engaging in, including future pregnancies, labor and delivery.

God is so good:

God had provided a cardiac nurse living straight across the street to help immediately when she had a heart attack.
He had provided a storm in the midst of a drought to provide an immediate phone to call for help.
He filled up all the CICU beds in the regular hospital our insurance used, "forcing" her to be sent to the premier heart hospital in our region of the country.
He allowed her to stabilize long enough for a complete MRI and surgery plan to be made.
He cause her to unstabilize soon enough after so that she was operated on by the doctors at the heart hospital and not transferred to the insurances hospital as they wanted.
He provided friends and family to selflessly provide care and basic needs when the needs were there.
He completely healed her heart.
He has added two more children into our home after the heart attack.

Psalm 73:26 (NIV)

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Psalm 73:26 Part 1

Almost six years ago I was putting my two year old daughter to bed when she glanced out her bedroom window and saw my wife walking down the sidewalk away from our house. "I don't want mommy to go!" she said. "It's OK," I told her, "mommy is just going for a walk around the neighborhood with a friend and will be back in a half hour."

The area where we were living was in a severe drought and we hadn't seen even a hint of rain for a couple months. But that evening it was beginning to storm, so they took a cell phone with them just in case they needed to be "rescued." Getting some exercise was good, getting soaked for their efforts would be bad.

About twenty minutes later I received a call from my wife's friend and in a very controlled emotional voice was told that my wife had just passed out, she needed immediate help and gave me directions to where they were so that I could bring a vehicle over to get her.

Not knowing quite what to do, I locked the house with our two year old, her two older sisters and our infant son asleep inside and then quickly drove the mini-van the block or so away to where my wife's friend directed me.

My wife was laying half on a sidewalk and half in someones yard with an unknown lady helping her and my wife's friend at her side.

I wasn't prepared at all for what I was seeing. My wife's skin was white and bluish. The lady had my wife's legs propped up as she lay on the ground and was speaking to my wife in very firm and in-control voice. My wife was responding somewhat to what she was saying but seemed dazed and sleepy.

We eventually sat her up and attempted to lift her into the van to take her to the emergency room. But she slumped in my arms, passed out and we laid her on the ground again. Our friend dialed 911 on her cell phone and I talked with the operator and an ambulance was dispatched.

Her friend took my keys and drove the mini-van back to our house stay with our children until my wife's parents could drive down and stay with the kids.

The paramedics came and took charge. They were asking questions, giving care, getting her onto a gurney and into the ambulance and I found myself riding shotgun to the nearest hospital.

My mind was whirling, what happens if she dies? Do I move back in with my parents?

Rain was splashing on the windshield and the wipers rhythmically pushed it aside.

What do I tell my two year daughter? I just told her it would be all right and mommy would be back in half an hour.

I prayed.

We arrived at the suburban mini hospital that was nearest to the incident and my wife was wheeled away to innumerable tests. They did an EKG and confirmed that there had been a heart attack and that her heart was not doing well. She was connected to IV's and they gave her a strong diuretic (I think, I don't play a doctor on TV) because she had massive fluid build up in her lungs because her heart wasn't functioning properly.

She was responsive at this point as was attempting to joke with me and make the situation lighter. The problem was that she was still tinged blue and by the actions and overheard conversations with and between the techs and doctors, she was not doing well. A doctor was telling me that there were four or five possibilities that could cause her symptoms and that they "were all bad." Among them were a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lungs, some type of cardiac aneurysm and something else I don't remember.

The final test at this hospital was a CAT scan. She was wheeled to the basement and I wasn't allowed in the room.

And I sat there just outside the door in a plastic metal legged chair that reminded me of grade school, alone. The corridor was khaki painted cinder block walls and a similarly dull tiled floor. It felt like a tomb and small sounds echoed down its walls.

Twenty minutes seemed an eternity.

Then they wheeled her out, and we were hustled back up into to main ER portion of this hospital and the cardiac doctor on duty called in a ICU ambulance to take her to the premier heart hospital in our metro area. He would have called the flight for life helicopter, but the storms had only increased as the night went on and prevented helicopter transportation.

His comment to the dispatcher was that she was "sitting on something" but he didn't know what. They needed her to get to that hospital as quickly as possible for a cardiac angiogram which would enable them to see what was happening with her coronary arteries and other structures around her heart.

So I got another ambulance ride to another hospital and the world seemed to be disconnecting from me. My wife was talking and joking with the paramedics surrounding her high tech gurney. My wife was stabilized and I was floating.

At that hospital, they immediately wheeled her away to the angiogram lab, and I was shown to a waiting room. It was empty, like most things in the middle of the night. And I laid down on the floor next to the wall and waited alone.

My wife was greeted going into the lab by a nurse in blue hospital scrubs complete with the rectangular face mask. She said, "You don't recognize me, but I'm your neighbor." The unknown lady helping my wife when this all started had been the head nurse in charge of the angiogram lab at the premier heart hospital in our region of the country! She had been called in just after the initial episode, but then asked to stay on a bit because they had a lady coming in, and in her heart she had said, "I bet that's my neighbor."

My in-laws arrived an hour or two later and waited with me. The angiogram doctor eventually came out and said that they had found the problem. The test had taken so long because initially they couldn't even find one of my wife's two main coronary arteries. It was discovered that she had a congenital anomaly of her left main coronary artery. That artery, which typically feeds the back side of heart, didn't originate from the back side of the aorta as it usually does. Instead it originated from the other coronary artery (the right main) which is comes out of the front side of the aorta. And to get back to where it needed to be it had run between her aorta and her pulmonary artery.

That meant that at any time her left main coronary artery (which feeds roughly half the heart) could have been pinched off, being squeezed between her own aorta and pulmonary artery. The aorta is always under a great deal of pressure (it is the main vessel that feeds all the other arteries). But the pulmonary artery is more typically a lower pressure vessel - except when it isn't. As during exercise, or getting up out of a chair or bed, or during the labor and deliver any of our four children (at the time.)

Her particular anomaly is considered especially rare (less than 1 in a million people) and deadly (over 99% are only found at autopsy) because when the heart is damaged the pressure in the pulmonary artery actually goes up. So in her case if her artery was pinched by the aorta and pulmonary artery, it would cause the pulmonary arteries pressure to go up - pinching the coronary artery even more and damaging the heart even more. Somewhat like a drowning person frantically clutches the person next to them and in the process killing them both. A deadly game of catch 22.

Because she had stabilized, they put her into the hospital's CICU unit and scheduled an MRI of her heart the next day to determine the best course of action for the open heart bypass surgery that would need to happen as soon as possible.

They were able to complete the MRI and plan the surgery the next day. The following morning, the nurses in the unit were unnerved by seeing our three little girls with pink hair bows and dresses walking up the hallway to see their mommy, accompanied by my parents holding our infant son. The nurses were used to dealing with people who were toward the latter stages of their life, and were usually in that unit because of their own life choices (i.e. extremely overweight and/or smokers.)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fun Things

While camping this weekend I got to enjoy hearing my three year old daughter singing:
"Al -a-bama. Al -a-bama" Over and over during a camping breakfast of slightly burned pancakes and sausages.

I had always thought the words to that tune were "La La Bamba."

It brought back memories of our second daughter - now nine - when she was about three asking loudly from the van's back seat on a road trip, "Daddy, sing the California Lipstick song!"

My wife and I looked at one another in bewilderment, the California Lipstick song? We had never heard of such a song. We puzzled and puzzled, and then finally asked her to either sing or hum part of the tune. She started singing "Super California Lipstick Expialidocious."

Oh, THAT California Lipstick song.

Everyone needs a three year old girl in his or her family.

That brought to my mind my own difficulties when singing Jingle Bells at Christmas as a child. I could never figure out what a "Horsopen" was. Everyone would sing that word in the song and they all seemed to know exactly what they were singing about. And I was just clueless; I had no idea what we were singing about. I was a monument of private embarrassment when I finally saw the song in print and it was a "One horse open sleigh." My face is still red.

Back to three year old girls:

Our oldest daughter, at about three or four, was playing a card game with us and was very pointedly analyzing each of us as we played. The intensity of her concentration could have powered all the appliances in the house. Her gaze was absolutely riveted on each person each time they drew a card from the stack in the middle of the table and placed it into their hand.

When her turn came around she was ready: She set her hand of cards down on the table, very deliberately licked the index finger of her right hand as she had watched everyone do before they drew a new card, and then just as deliberately drew a new card from the stack with her Left hand.

We could not stop laughing.

It was also about this time that she went fishing with "Pop," my dad. When they first got to the fishing spot she threw a rock into the lake. He sternly told her, "No, No, don't do that or you'll scare away the fish. If you throw another rock into the lake we're going home." After that warning, they had a great afternoon together fishing. When it was time Pop told her, "all right, let's go, it's time to go home." Our daughter said "wait!" And then ran, got a rock, and threw it into the lake.

And she went happily home, with Pop laughing all the way.

Have a wonderful week.

Proverbs 15:13 (NIV)
13 A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


I grew up being good.
I mean, I was good at things.
I was smart. I did well in school. I won academic awards.
I was musical. I played violin and I did well. I would get the highest ratings in competitions.

I even tried art, and won first place with a water color painting in a district wide art show.

I was good at soccer too. Without even knowing what I was doing, I placed very high in a city wide individual soccer skills competition and would score goals and more goals for my teams in my younger years.

But I also remember playing basketball:

First with my dad and brother growing up. And later in Jr. high and high school. And I was a miserable failure. I mean, I lost, continually for years. I didn't start for the teams I played on (or if I did start it was for the C team or Jr. varsity).
In my final years of high school I "graduated" into being the defensive stopper. What that meant was that I couldn't handle (dribble and pass) the ball well enough to be the point guard, or shoot the ball well enough to be the "shooting" guard. And my genetics were short enough that I wasn't close to being a forward or center.
I was "good" enough to come into the game when our really good players were tired. My job was strictly to harass the other teams guards into making mistakes for five to ten minutes a game. It was also my job to pass the ball to someone else on the team as quickly as possible if it ever got into my hands. I was a "good" defender, which is like being "fast" for a catcher in baseball - you're still slow.

I liked basketball I really wanted to be good. I would practice hours on end of shooting and dribbling. But basketball wasn't like some of my other endeavours. I wasn't good. I practiced and sweated and worked, and was a failure.

And relating to people:

I wanted to be a charismatic and attractive person, someone that people wanted to be around. My brother was like that. He was fun and funny. Humorous and engaging. People crowded around him and just wanted to be near him. And I wasn't like that. I was shy and bashful. When I spoke I stumbled over my words. I was generally overweight, and as I got older I became the dreaded "nice guy." Nice guys are well, "nice." But they aren't attractive or magnetic to people. I was furniture in a room. Nice to have around and make use of when needed but replaceable and not terribly important overall. I (sort of) tried to be engaging and charismatic but I was a failure.

And then college:

I spent three years at a prestigious engineering school. I even made the Dean's List as a freshman. And then after three years I couldn't hack it. I dropped out. I had now even failed school. I was a failure in academics.

And there was a girl at that school I liked:

A fun and engaging and attractive girl. But when asked, sShe told her Bible study leader that she might possibly date my friend Rick, but never me. She went as far as to say that there were two things she would never do: be a missionary in Africa and date me. I was a failure in a relationship before I had even had one.

And I found myself working as a mechanical assembler for a company called Particle Measuring Systems (PMS.) I sat on a stool eight hours a day with drawers full of screws, assorted tools and put together contraptions that I had no idea how to use.

Forty hours a week I listened to co-workers talking about women, drinking escapades and combinations of the two.

At Christmas time that year I attended a Christian conference for college-age people. I don't remember the main speaker or a single primary point from the conference. During one afternoon there were short seminars on various subjects about missions to different countries, relationships, Christian leadership, apologetics and many others. I don't even remember what seminar that I was attending. I do recall that that particular seminar was going to be a video presentation. And while waiting for a late arriving T.V. /video cart to appear, the seminar "host"chose to read a quote by a former secretary of the U.N. (I think). That quote - greatly paraphrased and mangled I am sure - said something to this effect: "We have young Christian people aspiring to be missionaries to all corners of the globe, to be pastors, and leaders in Christian organizations. But these people need to know that we need Christians in all aspects of society: We need Christian professors and teachers, Christian professionals - engineers and doctors. We need God's salt in all parts of society - not just the obviously Christian ones."

And a light went off in my heart:

"I could do that."

God touched my life at that moment. I have no other way to decribe it. It was as if God's hand thumped my forehead.

"Wake up!"

And I realized that I had been doing most of what I had been doing in my life up to that point because I felt other people wanted me to do those things. Not that, in my case, there were people overtly manipulating my emotions and life to get me to go their way. But I had never really looked at my life and said, "God what do you want me to do?" Until I asked that question - and was open to His answer - my life just drifted along and I felt like a failure.

In the following months I re-enrolled in college and eventually achieved an engineering degree. But I worked for that degree because of what had been revealed at that moment in my spirit. I could be a Christian and an engineer, and that was just as much of a calling as any person who has been drawn to the mission field in Africa or Asia or the Middle East.

I also ended up pursuing and marrying the girl who was never going to date me. (At this point we have six children and are wondering if God is ever going to send Africa our way.)

I have actually stepped out personally and have begun to engage people and not just hope that they want to be around me.

And I have begun to realize that the point between failure and success isn't if you fail at something, but it's in who you serve and why you choose to do what you do.

If God asks me to do something and I do it, and that thing "fails," it doesn't mean that I am a failure, it means that I was faithful. I did what I was asked to do.

If I don't ask God what He wants me to do next, then I am failing. I am failing to continue to walk with Him.

If I don't do what He asks me to do, then I have failed.

Proverbs 4:18 (NIV):
18 The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.