What a Difference a Day Makes
The Tom and Deb Adventure of May 19–20, 2007
By Deb Allen
“Momma. Momma. I love you so much .”
Every word rode upon waves of desperate sorrow, welling up from the soul's deepest depths in a shaken daughter before they washed through the thin curtain that separated their space from ours in Sacred Heart Hospital 's emergency patient care area. By the sound of her voice I could determine the daughter to be an adult, perhaps in her 20's or even in her 40's like me. Her desperate cry penetrated the last bit of resolve in my own anxious heart and a storehouse of tears welled up and rolled out the corners of my eyes, over my ears and into my hair that lay on my own gurney. Before the daughter had arrived we heard the medics report that the woman had overdosed on pain medicine. Having suffered an incurable illness, a suicide note was found beside her bed where her husband found her.
My heart broke for the daughter and I yearned to put my arm around her. But the white linens separating each cubicle in the ER seem to uphold the little sacred privacy people are due when they find themselves in such a place. And besides, I had been ordered to stay flat on my back to avoid the horrendous headache that plagues 25 percent of those receiving a spinal tap. My husband Tom stood up from his bedside chair and put his large hands over mine, offering gentle strokes of comfort.
Earlier that day
The dire setting we found ourselves in this May 19th Saturday evening sharply contrasted our original plans to spend this temperate night at home enjoying one another's company, some barbequed chicken and a glass of wine around our patio fire pit – a plan that sounded wonderful after Tom had spent a full 6th day of the week at his construction job site and I had spent the day at a writer's conference.
Except my day's plans were intruded upon during the second morning session of the conference by an intense pain going up the back of my neck and into the base of my skull. I rubbed the spot with the fingers of my left hand while my right hand imperatively recorded on paper the fifteen points our speaker Bob Welch wishes Christian writers would do more of in their writing. Perhaps I'll feel better after I eat something, I thought as we broke for lunch and headed to the banquet room. Standing in the buffet line I battled waves of heat and subtle nausea. Unfortunately, even after finishing a half turkey sandwich my pain only intensified. I was about to excuse myself from the table when Bob Welch himself walked up and asked if he could join us. Well, perhaps this was fate. I best stay put. I tried to focus on the interesting conversations as my head throbbed and I debated whether and when to politely excuse myself. Fortunately for me, Mr. Welch soon excused himself to prepare for the afternoon's workshop and I excused myself as well. I left the banquet room, reluctantly walked past the auditorium realizing there was no way I could stay and headed toward my car. As I drove home I noticed my left arm feeling weird, heavy and kind of tingly. At one point a pain went through my shoulder and down into my left arm as well. I took deep breaths and tried concentrating on the traffic and not speeding. I thought I better check in with Tom.
“Hi Honey. I'm going home ‘cause I don't feel good.”
Finally, home sweet home. Our puppies Lucy and Nutmeg were happy as always to see me. I took some meds and told the girls we were going to take a nap. They perked up their ears and ran toward my bedroom. They love taking naps with me. I hoisted Lucy, the one we lovingly refer to as the “more rotund” and mature of our two Jack Russell Terriers, who always needs a boost up onto our bed. Meanwhile the one we call “the little nut” gives Lucy the sass , because she got there first. So, everybody snuggled up on the wedding ring quilt, the little nut in the crook of my torso, Lucy in the crook of my legs. Ahh, bed sweet bed – my neck no longer needing to support my throbbing head – pillow sweet pillow. I drifted off for about an hour as the meds kicked in. My mom called to check in about 3:30. Our family had just celebrated her and Dad's 50th wedding anniversary the night before with endearing fanfare. I told her I'd gotten a bad headache but was feeling better. After our reminiscing of the sweetness of the night before, we said good-bye and I decided I felt good enough to get up.
“Come on girls, let's go potty.” Puppies always have to go potty after getting up from a nap.
Standing in the garage door at the entrance to our dog run I noticed the funny weird feeling in my arm again, only this time I felt it in my left leg as well. As I walked back into the house I noticed the left side of my face felt like I'd been to the dentist and been given Novocain.
Oh great. I better call and check in with my doctor. I hate calling doctors on the weekends. Maybe I could just see what my soon-to-graduate-as-a-paramedic-next-month-sweet-daughter-in-law would advise. Katy was in a training session and couldn't answer her cell phone. Reluctantly I dialed my own doctor's office. The weekend exchange receptionist took my brief symptoms and said if I didn't hear back from a doctor within 20 minutes to call back. My phone rang back in about 3 minutes.
“Well, you'll probably be just fine, but with those kinds of symptoms you have to be seen by a physician just to be sure. Not what you wanted to hear, right?”
A few minutes later, Tom arrived at about 4:30 as expected. I gave him the news and he was all for the trip. I threw a piece of plastic wrap over the thawing chicken breasts, put them in the frig and we were out the door.
Just to be sure
This would probably turn out to be just a small detour to our anticipated evening's simple yet indulgent agenda.
After my EKG tested out just fine Tom and I discussed how there still was time to barbeque. But then they wanted me to also have a CAT scan, just to be sure. I think it must have been around 7:00 or so when they put a large rectangle box on a tray at the foot of my bed and took me up to the lab. Now that's a trip (the CAT scan, that is). They injected a fluid into my veins that lit a fire on my insides while they stuck me in a large tube and took pictures of my head.
I thought, well, there's one good thing about all this. The next time anyone might tell me that I need to have my head examined then I can inform them with confidence, “I already have.”
When I got back down to ER the doctor told me she suggested I have a spinal tap. Another new adventure. Our night was slipping away and Tom and I started talking about places we might want to go to just pick up a sandwich or pizza on the way home.
I'd heard that spinal taps can be pretty painful. One last test to endure, I thought. “If I can endure childbirth, then I can endure this,” arose my apropos self-talk. (I think we women hold this slight advantage point over men in our arsenal of psyche-up tools.) My spinal tap went well and the fluid looked clear, but they sent it off to the lab as always, just to be sure. Time ticked away past 8:00 p.m. and on to 9:00, which happened to be just before the daughter next door came in to find her overdosed unconscious mother, which happened to be after the man who had been passing blood for days was brought in by the prompting of associates. He told the doctor that he hadn't had a drink for days, thinking that would stop the bleeding, which happened to be about the same time that the young mom and three young children, ages 4-years, 3-years and 9-months were brought in after their car had rolled. What a relief to overhear conversations disclosing that the family all seemed to be fine.
Having to lay there still on my back amidst an ER's (I'd guess typical) swells of emotion, Tom and I started feeling pretty antsy. Sandwich or pizza? We only had to wait for the neurologist to come in and give us the final go after he looked at the CAT scan results.
Waiting and wondering, Tom noticed the big rectangle box they had put at the foot of my bed.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked me picking up the two big black paddles with metal surfaces attached to the box by two spiral cords. Whoa. A defibrillator – one of those heart jump-start machines.
At about 10:00 p.m. the neurologist stepped through the 12-inch opening in our curtain and approached the right side of my bed. Oh good, it's almost time to get out of here. The doctor looked down at me and over to my husband by my side in the composed way that doctors do.
He began to softly explain that they did not find what they would have expected from my symptoms – which would have been something occurring on the right side of my brain.
Yep. I knew it. Subway sandwiches here we come.
(The dreaded “but…”)
We focused intently on the doctor's every word in order to hear him above the raucous surroundings. He calmly explained that they found something of concern on the left side of my brain – a leaking blood vessel deep at the center of my brain behind my left eye. He told us they wanted to admit me into the hospital for observation until an MRI and angiogram could be scheduled. And then he gave us the name of a specialist in Portland who would also be of great value to us.
Being hit with a two-by-four is an appropriate though too common metaphor for this writer. Hmmmm. Wind knocked out? No. Not quite. Stun gun. There you have it. We were zapped by a stun gun.
“They'll be taking you to room 678,” our ER nurse informed us (the one whose hand I got to squeeze during the spinal tap). “You've been a delight. Good luck to you.”
“Room 678. Six, seven, eight – that's the date Silas and Amanda may choose for their wedding date (June 7, 2008),” I told Tom and our transporting nurse as we squeezed into the elevator. “Six, seven, eight! That's our date! Don't be late!” I reiterated the little jingle my son Silas had rehearsed to me when he first told me the possible date they were considering. I quickly brushed the thought out of my mind that I could be late. Very late.
Throughout the intervals of tests and time in ER Tom and I had discussed when to call loved ones and inform them of what was going on. However, we were always awaiting test results so we would have something conclusive to say and not alarm anyone unnecessarily. Now that the nurses had settled me into 678 it was 11:00 p.m. And besides the fact that it was getting so late, our minds were still attempting to process the last bit of unsettling news. My parents would have been in bed for hours. And it was even a late hour to be calling our adult children with such news. Tom and I decided it best to wait and call people after the tests in the morning. After all, they told us they would try to schedule the tests first thing. I decided that Tom should go home (considering they had not re-hooked up all my heart monitor wires). He needed to inform our youngest daughter who still lived at home with us… and he needed a good rest.
Tom came into my life nine years ago after I lost my first husband of 21 years. I agreed to marry him under the promise that he had to live longer than me, to which I'd faithfully remind him after he would order eggs and hash browns and sausage and bacon and extra eggs when we would go out for breakfast (at home I usually fed him things like oatmeal and whole wheat toast with just a “skiff” of butter, just a skiff). After being widowed once in my life, simply discussing Tom's life insurance policy features made my eyes mist up. Now sitting beside my hospital bed he told me I better not even think about making his part of the deal any easier on him by me “going first” anytime soon.
Just before midnight he leaned over my bed to pray for me, then I prayed for him. Then he kissed me goodnight.
“You're all that I could ever, ever want,” I told him.
“You're all that I could ever want, too.”
Okay, God. You and me, we gotta talk
The nurse made sure I was comfy and I asked her to close my door as she left. I fiddled with the buttons on my bed rail operating the room lights looking for just the right ambiance . Overhead – Reading – both seemed too bright. With both off a subtle nightlight glowed from the right wall. Time for undistracted communication. Face to face.
“Okay God, I need to know what's going on.”
I “bound” my own thoughts to bring “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” as admonished in 2 Corinthians 10:5 of the Bible. “I need to hear from You, and only You.”
Everything's going to be all right.
Yeah, that's what I would want to hear. I spoke out into the darkness with even more authority, “I silence my own thoughts in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I ask You, Holy Spirit, alone to come and talk with me.”
As He reassured me again I felt His peace settle over me like those pre-warmed hospital blankets the thoughtful medical staff kept giving to pamper me with special comfort. It was that peace we can not conjure up on our own, no matter how much “self-talk” we engage. Certain situations swiftly slash all such “self-talk” arguments to bits. No, this was that “beyond understanding” peace Jesus told us about in John 14:27 – a peace deep and full, the kind that pushes out fear, without our volition.
Everything's going to be all right.
We just needed to take this little detour so we could settle some things once and for all.
You know, that Mary–Martha syndrome you struggle with.
You know how you long to be Mary, but Martha keeps popping up.
We need to get rid of Martha once and for all.
(If you'd like to read more about the Martha and Mary syndrome, check out the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10.)
Nothing like staring death in the face to cut to the chase, get my undivided attention and truly be able to focus on what really really matters in my life.
Let's backtrack just a few years to lay some groundwork to this conversation. During the years 2000-2004 God had led me through a most amazing adventure – amazing for this 40-some year old girl to go back to college and earn a degree in Journalism from the University of Oregon. He provided the initiative and means and then bestowed ample grace and astounding favor along the way, graduating me with some noteworthy awards and honors in 2004 – yes, truly amazing for a middle-aged student often struck with short term memory challenge. During the last year of school my husband and I had accumulated about $10K in debt, but then I reasoned with myself that surely God had some great career job waiting for me following all this amazing favor and after graduation we would be out of debt in no time.
Now, 2 ½ years later, God knew how I struggled with the fact that I had spent all this time and money on a degree and what was I doing with it? In other words, who was I working for and how much money was I contributing to our household and retirement fund? Now let me mention the important factor that three months after graduation God led me through a particular experience and to the conclusion that He did not want me to go out and find work in the world. From there, logically I asked that He would confirm such an outlandish expectation (at least in the world's eyes) – that if He really did not want me to go and find work that He would get us out of the $10K debt by the end of the year.
The timing for this fleece came mid December 2004. After praying about it a week or two I decided to share what I had asked of God with my husband when he came home from work one day. Tom listened intently as he always does, careful with any response. Then he turned toward his stack of paperwork he had just brought home from the job to lift the white envelope resting on the top of the pile. “Well, here's my paycheck,” he says starting to hand it to me, but stopping, testing the weight of the envelope in his hand. “Hmmmm,” he says opening the envelope and taking out its contents. Not one check, but two. The first, his regular paycheck. The second, a bonus check in the amount of (you guessed it) $10,000. “Well, here's the answer to your fleece,” he tells me as he puts it in my hand.
Okay, so we round the corner into the New Year and I start working on a story which God had recently commissioned me to write – the story of Dana and Nancy Ross. It is a new year, new beginnings. I feel restless, guilty for not “beating the pavement”.
“Okay, God,” I ask Him, “are you sure you don't want me to go out seeking work? We're out of debt, but we're just getting by with making Ash's school payment and all. What about our retirement? I want to help more. If you really don't want me to go out and find a job then I'd like you to give Tom a raise of about the same amount I used to make at my last job.”
Yes, of course I immediately come away from my selfish senses and immediately apologize.
“I'm sorry God. You've already answered my first fleece and really, we have enough. We have just what we need. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked for more.”
A couple days later my husband comes home from work and reports to me what his employer had determined his income will be as the company contracts out its labor force to a larger company for the huge new hospital project. Tom tells me the amount and heads upstairs to take his shower. I do the simple math and goose bumps go up the back of my neck as I realize the amount equals his past hourly wage and my old wage put together.
Quite irrefutable, eh? So why do I keep returning to Martha? Pride. Mostly pride. I would guess for most, such rests at the root of the Martha syndrome, mixed in with a bit of fear and doubt.
One more time around Mount Sinai
Thus, alone in the hospital room my heart to heart conversation with God continued for the next hour or two. Who would finish Dana and Nancy 's story if I died tonight? And who would write the other stories, my stories, His stories, which God kept astir in my heart for years?
I had taken a huge detour over the past year – yep, nearly a year-long detour. I had decided to try and turn my hobby into a little business on the side. Something I could do while I wrote. But now I am facing the fact that it was most likely more my idea and timing than God's. I had asked Him about the project as I started, but I don't think I really had the right ears on to hear His answer. Oh, He let me go ahead and do it. Just because I'm one of His kids and at times He spoils me more than I deserve. Or it could be that at times He lets me have my own way because I think I have such a great idea anyway. But time always tells, doesn't it? And now, here we are….
I want you to just relax. Don't worry about making an income. Never worry about making an income. I told you I'd take care of you. I just want you to do the things you know are most important. Love me. Love your family and the people I put in your life. When you have time left over, then write. Finish Nancy 's story. Write your stories. Do your blog. Help others when you can, when you sense that I'm leading you through it. That's all.
Sometime around 2:00 a.m. I fell sound asleep snug in my warm hospital blankets.
I awoke around 6:00 a.m.
Everything's going to be all right. The warm blanket wrapped around me – and remained around me throughout the entire day.
I called Tom at 8:00 a.m. as we planned, just as the staff informed me that my MRI team would be ready for me in the next few minutes. Tom said he was on his way.
“Don't worry, Hon, everything's going to be all right,” I told him. “I'll see you soon.”
Psalm 23:4 NRV , ( New Reality Version, that is – “…though I walk through the valley…”)
Now, the MRI? I'd deem it the test of all tests – the big kahoona. One thing is for sure – good thing me and God talked before going into this one. The staff was wonderful, notably the main technician, a sweet fatherly gentleman – essential attributes for people in his position.
The MRI tunnel tube closes in much narrower than the CAT scan. The technician explained the process to me – the goings in and out of the tunnel, the various minute segments of scans with the variations of noise, the timing of the injections of dye into my veins. Then they inserted my extra IV, put on my earphones (both to muffle the machine noise and also allow the tech to communicate with me while in the tube), fastened the bracket over my neck and head, adding extra padding on each side to hold my head completely still. My two nurse attendants exited into the next room and the tech went into the adjacent control room. Then in I go, slowly, deeper and deeper, until only my legs are outside the tube. The tunnel walls close in just inches from my face, but there's a little mirror above my eyes reflecting out to the outside room for me. I begin to sing the first praise song to come to my mind. God's Word tells us that He inhabits the praises of His people, and I need Him to inhabit this tube with me.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
Your perfect love is casting out fear
And even when I'm caught in the middle of the storms of this life
I won't turn back, I know You are near
And I will fear no evil
For my God is with me
And if my God is with me
Whom then shall I fear?
Whom then shall I fear?
Oh no, You never let go
Through the calm and through the storm
Oh no, You never let go
Through every high and every low
Oh no, You never let go
Lord, You never let go of me
You keep on lovin' and You never let go
For I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on
A glorious light beyond all compare
And there will be an end to these troubles, but until that day comes
We'll live to know You here on the earth
Thanks to Matt and Beth Redman for writing “You Never Let Go”. I also have opportunity to sing my favorite Darlene Zschech song “The Potter's Hand” while they inject the dye and I'm going in for the second round. (About now I'm thinking I'm really getting God's analogy in Jeremiah (18:1-6) about God's people being clay in His hands – appreciating both the gentle sculptor's hands and, at times, feeling the heat of the kiln.)
Beautiful Lord, wonderful Savior
I know for sure, all of my days are
Held in your hand
Being crafted into your perfect plan…
All during this time my thoughtful technician is communicating to me through the earphones.
“How are you doing? Are you okay? Okay, now hold still, here comes the 30 second phase. Okay now here comes the 7 ½ minute phase I told you about, it gets a little noisy. Okay, you doing okay? Here goes the second 7 ½ minute phase…” and so on. But at one point his voice cuts out mid-sentence and everything goes quiet. What happened to him? What's happening? I'm fastened down stuck in this narrow cylinder and something's happened. Panic threatens to well up in me. Oh, no, you never let go, through the calm and through the storm. Oh, no, you never let go, through every high and every low…. Finally, the machine continues to finish its scanning and slowly releases me out of its cavern. Oh, the relief to be out of there. Quiet tears well up and spill over the sides of my face.
“Ahh, what's the matter?” (gentle words spoken of my technician now at my side).
I can't reply.
“You just would rather be someplace else than here, huh?”
I nod my head as he hands me some tissue.
Back to room 678 and there's my Tom. We get some peace and quiet and I share with him everything God told me last night. I tell him everything is going to be all right. He assures me when I probe for his response, “No Deb, you don't sound like a fruitcake.”
About an hour later my neurologist comes with the news of the MRI results. He seemed a bit perplexed, but pleased. He told us the MRI came out clear, everything looked okay. But he still wanted me to have the angiogram to be sure.
Phew. Huge relief, though I wasn't surprised. Well, now we thought we may as well wait until after the angiogram before we call our loved ones. One more test.
And more waiting. Tom and I talk and read and nod off.
Next time I'd rather just buy a pack of sparklers
They come for me for the angiogram around 1:00 p.m. Now an angiogram is a whole different trip. At least this time there's no tunnel. I'm just lying on a table with a menagerie of apparatuses standing and hanging around me. The good natured, yet very professional team of 5 or 6 folks in cotton suits with caps and masks gather around to each perform their specialized duties. One prepares my IV for the relaxation serum. One prepares the area for the tube insertion between my torso and leg where the main artery is easily accessible. Then when all is ready the surgeon comes in and inserts a long thin tube that travels up through my torso, past the right side of my heart to my neck. Turns out, the doctor was a best friend and roommate to my cousin when they were in high school and college. (So, hello to Doug from Alan.) Through that tube they inject just the right amount of serum at just the right intervals so they can light up the vessels in my neck and head and take pretty pictures. Well, I think, they must be pretty because of all the flashing speckles of light in my eyes at every injection. I could feel the infusion filling the vessels in my face and head while it tried to explode out the ends of my capillaries – so I was glad the pressure only lasted about 10 seconds and that I only had to have three injections.
Back to room 678 and I tell Tom all about it. He asks me if they gave me something to relax me. He says he thinks it's still a bit in my system. He says I was “talking kinda funny”.
And now for more waiting, reading and snoozing. We keep checking, but the nurse informs us that my angiogram results have not posted on the computer yet to notify the doctor that they are ready to be read. The meals on wheels cart rolls up outside my door. Since my half sandwich at the conference Saturday, I had only eaten a small packet of pudding and applesauce just before midnight. No food allowed before all these kinds of tests. No matter, I wasn't really hungry until Sunday afternoon. Hurray! It's finally dinner time.
The great mystery
About 6:30 p.m. our long-anticipated neurologist appears at our door. (I sure appreciate doctors and the tremendous hours they keep.) He walks in and stops at the foot of my bed looking to Tom and me and (in the confident and calm way which doctors do) explains to us that the angiogram results came back clear as well. They even went back to confirm what they saw in the CAT scan and yes, the scan revealed what they all thought to be a leaking blood vessel (justifying the obligation to put me through the resulting examinations, I'd suppose). However, the more extensive tests of the MRI and angiogram showed that everything was fine now. He tells us that what they had expected to see after the CAT scan was no longer there. He looked a bit puzzled, but he offered the explanation that because migraines were common for me, I probably had suffered just a weird form of a migraine. And now that they made sure everything was fine he was releasing me from the hospital.
It was a different kind of tazer. A little Holy Spirit stun gun. The doctor walked out of the room and Tom and I looked at each other as the same conclusion reached both our minds.
God healed me.
The bleeding appeared on the scan yesterday – it's gone today.
I once heard it said that a miracle is when God often chooses to remain anonymous. And like Tom said, “Well, none of us will know for sure until we get to heaven.” But we believe God healed me.
Home sweet home. Bed sweet bed.
That evening Tom and I pulled back the wedding ring quilt and snuggled in to our old “routine” – he turned off the nightstand light and I nestled my shoulder under his arm, resting my head upon his shoulder. My closest companion shared with me how the night before he wrestled with the thought of Levi and Silas loosing their mother too.
“And I didn't like the thought of loosing you either,” came his words through the darkness, with more depth and softness as one can hear this side of heaven.
“I didn't like the thought of leaving you either,” I answered.
“I wonder how that lady who was in the emergency room next to me is doing tonight,” I said a few moments later.
“Yeah, I wonder, too,” Tom replied.
Then I whispered a prayer for her, for her daughter and family. And I thanked the Lord that He saved my loved ones from being swept into those deep and tumultuous waves of sorrow, not this night. Hopefully not for some time. I've got a lot of life left to give.
“Therefore….let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles (good-bye Martha!)
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1 NIV (own emphasis added)
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
© 2007 HeartScribe deb allen, all rights reserved
Return to deb's HeartScribeForHim site or Creation Speaks blog site.