Real Time Reflections from Five Years ago #16

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“All the sudden I could bend my right knee in bed yesterday!   And  I could raise my arm about 12 inches…12 inches more than yesterday! ” Mike

Picture to the left is of Golgotha, “the place of the skull” in Jerusalem, one of two possible sites where Jesus was crucified. Karla and I had the opportunity to visit Israel in February 2011.

March 14-15th, 2009

Karla (Saturday March 14, 2009)

As I was driving into Rochester at 8:30 this morning, I received a call from Luke asking where I was.  I told him I was almost to the hospital and he said that he was already there!

One of the missionaries we support is briefly back from Paraguay and really wanted to see Mike.  So a group of 3 adult (although I did ask them how old they are) men and Luke arrived at the hospital at 6:30 this morning for a two hour visit.  It sounds like they had a great time, although Mike may need to recover from all the laughing!  His chest still hurts quite a bit when he laughs.  They also used all his best words for the day.  I’m hoping I get some after he has a nap!

Mike had a great day yesterday.  I was able to attend most of his therapy sessions.  It is amazing that physical therapy works.  I still don’t get it.  They started by telling Mike to look at his hand and think about moving it.  Then they had him move his left hand while they move his right.  Eventually he was able to move on the right.  It makes no sense.  That it is pretty much how everything has worked.

Yesterday he was working on walking from side to side.  He held onto a windowsill and a bar and moved both directions.  In the morning, the therapist had to help his right foot move.  In the afternoon session, she didn’t.  I am definitely going to have to research this to figure out how it works!

Several people have expressed concern over his hand not working as well as his leg.  He was up and walking on March 4th and his arm did not start to work until March 9th.  We were told that usually the leg works first and then the arm, and this is the pattern that Mike has followed.  So, while others were worried about this, I was not.  Of course, we don’t know what the final result will be, but progress usually continues through the first year following AVM surgery….

Next week will be the first week that Mike has a full slate of therapy.  They held off on some of the non-essentials (recreational therapy) to give him time to heal from the cardiac surgery.  He still has pain with laughing and some movements, but is doing much better in that area.

I am hoping to get some good talking time in today!  He only has two therapy sessions today, so hopefully he’ll be more awake.  I am heading home tomorrow to spend a few more days at home.  Mike may be posting sometime this weekend, so stay tuned!

Mike’s post from March 14th,2009 (first post post-open heart surgery, which was on Feb. 26th. I posted once on Feb. 24th after the brain surgery and blood infection, naively thinking that that would be as bad as it would get. Ha!)

  • “Thank you to all of you who have joined us on this roller coaster ride.  Strap your seat belts on and join in the great adventure!  I am eternally grateful for every last one of you!  After all, if the prayers (of just one) righteous person are powerful and accomplishes much, then there is surely much more power in the prayers of many.
  • The brain is more than just a machine that one turns on…it is a vastly complex interworking of muscle groups, neurons, etc.  that I think God largely hides from man.  The intricacies of modern science have allowed access to all of the major organs of the body…except the brain.  “Who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been His counselor?  Who has ever given to God that God should repay?  For from Him , through Him, and to Him is everything.  To God be the glory forever and ever….”
  • Progress is being made every day.  All the sudden I could bend my right knee in bed yesterday!   And  I could raise my arm about 12 inches…12 inches more than yesterday!  Various leg motions heretofore unrecorded, practically dry my tears.  It’s about getting systems working again.

I had an unexpected visit today from 4 friends and my 16 year old son (son is included in friends) who left Earlham today at 3:30 A.M.! (posting took 1 hour).”

Mike’s take on this post. What was I thinking when I wrote that the brain had muscle groups? I was a biology major right? Well, tonight five years later, I checked it out. And it turns out that my original statement is not that far from reality. No, of course the brain is not a muscle. It is an organ…a very important one.

And actually there is a physical connection between the brain and muscles. It is called the neuromuscular junction and chemical exchanges that happen at this junction are the key to our ability to move. However, it is like a muscle in that the more individual parts of the brain are used the larger it will become. London taxi drivers for example have very large hippocampi because that is the part of the brain that deals with spatial mapping. Also, like muscles, the more one uses a particular part of the brain the more blood is pumped to that area to provide energy. The more you use it the better it works.

One scientifically oriented site I looked at today suggested thinking of your brain as a muscle. So I guess technically I was not correct in suggesting that the brain is a muscle, but it is intimately related to what any individual or group of muscles does.

I also continue to stand in awe of the human brain. It is an amazing three pound organ that God has uniquely given the capacity to adapt and rewire itself, even into old age. Brain exercises are important!  As I read my own words from five years ago “Progress is being made every day.  All the sudden I could bend my right knee in bed yesterday!   And I could raise my arm about 12 inches…12 inches more than yesterday!” Prior to March 13th, I had never moved my leg or raised my arm at all. Unless you have experienced a temporary or permanent paralysis in a part of your body you cannot understand what a joyful moment it was to comprehend that some movement was returning! It was invigorating. I hope that you will never be able to relate.

I was also surprised by some early morning visitors yesterday five years ago. My son Luke and three other friends from Earlham stopped in on this Saturday morning and stayed for nearly two hours. It was a great visit and a good surprise! I remember it well, because of the ruckus in the room early on a Saturday morning.

It was good to laugh although it was also physically painful. I think it was worth it. To see my son Luke and company just made my day. Then as quickly as they had appeared they disappeared…for another four hour ride home.

I hadn’t intended on putting Karla’s entire summary of the events thus far, but I thought she did such a nice job summarizing the saga in this article for our local newspaper, the Earlham Advocate, that I decided to include it in its entirety. And again I would reiterate what Karla mentions in this article regarding the support we received from the Earlham community and church.  It was great. After returning home, Connie Ramsey quietly drove me to my outpatient rehab appointments at Methodist Hospital in Des Moines several times a week for the better part of three months.

By Karla on March 15th, 2009

“We were asked to write an article for the local newspaper and I thought it might be a good recap of what has gone on.  Obviously it does not have all of the details, but I found it good to go back through the whole ordeal thus far and see how far we have come! So, here it is…

Having lived in Earlham for twelve and a half years, I have come to appreciate many of the benefits of living in a small town.  What first bothered me as everyone knowing my business now encourages me, as so many who “know our business” care about what is going on in our lives.  Many of you know that my husband, Mike Evans, went to Mayo Clinic for the surgical removal of a large arteriovenous malformation (AVM:  mass of intertwined arteries and veins) from the left frontal lobe of his brain.  The surgery took place on February 12th, and by medical standards was a success, as the AVM no longer exists. 

However, you cannot do such significant surgery on the brain without some repercussions.

Prior to heading up for surgery, we had anticipated being home by February 19th.  In our pre-surgical meeting with the neurosurgeon, Dr. Fredric Meyer told us that he expected Mike to come out of surgery with some deficits that would hopefully be temporary but would require inpatient rehabilitation.  This did turn out to be the case, with Mike not being able to talk or move his right side at all.

We were relieved when he spoke his first words two days after surgery.  Physical therapy started immediately and we were hoping for quick progress.  Those of you who know Mike know he is very driven, which we were assuming would serve him well as rehabilitation started.

Unfortunately, things did not go as we had planned.  Mike spent seven nights in the neuro ICU before moving to a general neuro floor.  After his first night there, he had a seizure do a temperature spike caused by a blood infection.  This took him back to the neuro ICU for another four nights so that they could get the 106 degree fever and infection under control.  This involved long periods of time on a cooling blanket while covered with ice bags and very strong antibiotics.  He was on antibiotics for 21 days and there is currently no indication that the blood infection is still there.

After this time in the ICU, it was back to the general floor to prove he was ready for rehab.  On the first night there, Mike was complaining of pain in his right leg which led to the discovery of a very large blood clot.  Usually this would be treated with blood thinners, but since Mike had just had brain surgery they did not want to risk a bleed.  Instead a filter was placed above the area where the clot was to prevent it from going to the heart or lungs where a clot can be fatal.

After two days he was ready for rehab!  The first night he experienced two seizures that were determined to be caused by low levels of the anti-seizure medication.  He had a great first full day in rehab, even walking on that first day.  The worst crisis was yet to come.  He awoke after the second night to have a small seizure, followed by a much larger one.  Thankfully I was in the room and was able to call a nurse immediately. 

During this seizure Mike coded and the nurses started CPR.  Mayo is an amazing place.  The neurosurgical fellow was there immediately, as well as a critical care doctor.  They got Mike stable enough to transport him back up to neuro ICU.  His blood pressure dropped and they were having a hard time keeping the heart beating strong enough to get oxygen to the rest of the body.  An ultrasound of the heart showed a large blood clot. 

The options were few.  We now know that most of the doctors did not expect Mike to live.  We believe it is God who had other plans.  Dr. Meyer came and told me that he had told the cardiac doctors to do whatever was necessary to save Mike’s life.   I signed the consent for open heart surgery and Mike was in the operating room within minutes.  The doctor who specializes in this surgery was on call that day and was not already in the middle of a surgery, so he was able to operate immediately.  This surgery is only done in two places in the country:  Mayo Clinic and somewhere in San Diego.  The surgeon was able to remove a 7 cm blood clot from the heart, as well as 20-30 smaller clots from the lungs. 

No one knew how long Mike’s brain had gone without oxygen or how far he would be set back.  When he woke up, his left side moved normally, which was a good sign that the right side of his brain was fine.  We were hoping that the same was true of the surgical side.  He started talking again shortly after coming off the ventilator, which was also a good sign.  As you can imagine, Mike was shocked to wake up and figure out that he had had open heart surgery.  He was not able to fully understand all that had happened until about five days after the surgery.  Six days following this surgery, he was back in rehab.

Mike re-entered the inpatient rehabilitation unit on March 4th.  There have been no bumps in the road so far.  He basically entered at the same point he had after the first surgery, so he had some ground to make up.  It has been quite a bit more difficult, given that he is recovering from open heart surgery and has pain from that.  He has lost a lot of weight, much of it from muscle loss.  Lying in a bed for three weeks is not good!

We are both people who like to do things quickly and rehab is slow.  He has been there twelve days and made much progress.  He can walk, although he cannot yet lift his leg.  His right arm started moving last Monday and he can now lift it slightly.  Progress is measured in small amounts.  On Saturday he was able to move his toes for the first time.  On Sunday he was able put his leg down flat on the bed when it was bent.  There is something new every day.

Mike’s speech also continues to improve.  He is still having trouble with word finding, but that is coming along better.  Last week he wrote a blog post in two hours and this week it took one hour.  That’s a huge improvement!  Of course, he wants everything back to normal now, but he understands it is a slow process.  We are hoping that Mike will be home within the next few weeks.  At that point he will begin outpatient physical therapy.

In Mike’s blog post this weekend, he put this Bible verse:  “Who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been His counselor?  Who has ever given to God that God should repay?  For from Him, through Him, and to Him is everything.  To God be the glory forever and ever….”  We both think that God has kept many things about the brain hidden from people lest they think too highly of themselves.  We do not at all understand why all of this has taken place as it has.  It is certainly not as we had planned.  But we are trusting in God, who understands, and created, Mike’s brain.  We give Him credit for keeping Mike safe through all of these complications and we do want all the glory to go to God!”

Real Time Reflections from Five Years Ago #15

ImageKarla: “You can try to imagine how you would feel walking into a room and finding your husband unable to talk or walk or move on one side, but until you have lived it you can’t get it.”

This is the 15th in a series of blog posts we are doing in real time plus five years during our extreme adventures at Mayo where I spent 46 days in the hospital and rehab following brain surgery and all the massive complications that followed. Keep in mind that the brain surgery was on Feb. 12, 2009.

Karla’s take on March 11th-13th, 2009

As I think back to March 11-13, 2009, again, it is all still very fresh.  Getting back to Mayo after being gone for a few days allowed me to really see the improvements that Mike had made.  Looking back at the rehabilitation process, I am reminded of how painfully slow the progress seemed, and how we rejoiced at even the slightest movement of a finger or toe.  The reality of what rehab is like is impossibly hard to convey to anyone who has not observed it.  You can try to imagine how you would feel walking into a room and finding your husband unable to talk or walk or move on one side, but until you have lived it you can’t get it.  I can’t imagine how Mike felt being the one unable to do any of those things. After being home for a few days it was much easier to see what progress had been made.  Dr. Meyer had told us that it was easier for him to see progress when he came in if he only came every few days, and he was right.

While I was at home on this visit, I had talked with a builder in town about putting on an addition to the house so that we could have a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor.  Our 1894 house was not built with recovering from brain surgery in mind!  By the time I went home the second time, We were not thinking any major changes would need to be made.  That is how quickly everything can change in rehab.  It is truly amazing!

What stood out to me looking back at the post from March 13 was that it was on that day that we first met Dr. Bergquist.  Prior to this Mike had gone to a group therapy session that was terrible.  He was not at all excited to meet with a psychologist one-on-one.  It turned out that Dr. Bergquist is a Christian, a homeschool dad, and even attends an Evangelical Free Church in Rochester.  How good of God to orchestrate events such that Dr. Bergquist would be Mike’s assigned psychologist!  We had no idea at the time how important he would become to us.  Over the past 16 months, Dr. Bergquist has been a great encourager to us.  He has sacrificed of his personal after hours time to have phone conferences with us.  He has been encouraging to Mike in that he understands ministry and brain injuries.  It seems highly unlikely to me that there would be another psychologist in the country that would so perfectly understand our situation and be able to help us even five years after brain surgery.

This is the last thing I wrote on the 13th:

“I don’t understand God’s purposes, but I do trust Him.  When I came to Christ, it was not until after I realized that I am not as smart as I thought and I do not have all the answers.  I am always aware of this, but the past five weeks have certainly been a reminder that I don’t know everything, and neither does anyone else.  God is showing Himself powerful and in control and faithful.  That’s what this is all about.”

After five years I still don’t understand God’s purposes, but I also still do trust him.  The events of the past 16 months have been the hardest of my life to understand.  As one who always wants to understand, I have greatly struggled with this.  But I think I am getting better at not understanding.  I’m okay with it now, but can’t say that I like it.  I do know that God has always shown himself to be faithful and trust that He will continue to do so.

Mike’s take on March 11-13th, 2009

Karla went home with the kids on Saturday afternoon March 7 and returned to Rochester with Benj on Wednesday the 11th.  It was tough having Karla away for those days but I knew that she needed to at least make an appearance at home for the kids’ sake. Rochester was four hours away from Earlham. Still is. I say it was tough not having Karla around for those days, but honestly I don’t recall missing her that much for those days. However, she insists that I told her that it had been difficult not having her around. So when my recollections are cloudy I almost always defer to my wife’s account of things.

I remember working as though my life depended on it in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. I was also highly motivated to work hard in order to show off my newly acquired skillz, however lame they might seem now looking back! As Karla mentioned it is truly amazing what occurs in physical therapy as individual fingers and toes began coming back to life however slow and frustrating that progress may have been.

I include this post from Karla on the 11th and two comments posted to the blog during these days by two pastor friends of mine who came to visit me (though I still have no recollection at all of Randy Anderson ever coming to visit me…).

I share these now so that perhaps you can begin to understand how much things can change in a few days of highly concentrated effort. And let me tell you these hours were grueling, leaving me utterly exhausted at the end of each day.

(Karla, March 11th, 2009)

“…Benj and I arrived here at 1:30 today and I couldn’t wait to see Mike! He was gone when we got here, and we tracked him down in a hallway.  He was just finishing up walking up and down a ramp.  He is now able to move from the wheelchair to wherever he needs to be with just a little assistance from a nurse.  That is a big improvement!

Mike has also obviously been eating!  He is still skinny but his face looks much better.  I really did not like the gaunt look.  I think Gabbie will be much happier with the way he looks, too.  Our friends from Luther have taken it upon themselves to help fatten him up.  They stopped by briefly when they were in town, and brought a large bowl of Coldstone ice cream.  There is more than enough for after dinner!

Benj and I went to speech therapy with Mike.  He is very frustrated with the speed with which his speech is improving.  The speech therapist today was very encouraging.  She asked him questions about his beliefs and he was able to articulate what he wanted to, albeit slowly.  She made a point of saying that for the time being it is best to try to say things simply, even though he normally wouldn’t do that.  That is very difficult for him.  She mentioned that other clients she has seen who are intelligent are also frustrated with the simplicity and speed.  I personally thought it was a good conversation!

I drove the car up instead of the van, so I switched CDs, although I still listened to just Sovereign Grace CDs!  I was listening to The Valley of Vision CD.  It reminded me of when Mike asked someone who was visiting to read the 23rd Psalm.  The person asked why, to which he said, “I’ve been to the valley of the shadow of death and I’m still here.”  It’s a hard place to be, thankful for being alive but not progressing as fast as he wants.  We are all working hard to keep the right perspective!”

(From Randy Anderson, a fellow pastor)

Dear Mike and Karla,
I was so encouraged to hear your voice the other day — you sounded like yourself; compared to my earlier glimpse into your world this was HUGELY encouraging.  I have just finished my 6th day with Inluenza A — I am not a big fan. However as I begin day 7 at 85-90% my normal self and think of what you have been through and what you must still accomplish recovery-wise — I am moved to pray for you.

O how I take my relatively good health for granted!! I ought to be filled with thanksgiving for health every single day that I have it — radiant with praise for it — that ought to be my daily attitude. But alas I get lost in my daily blessings and fail to see them at all.

You mention Psalm 23 in your latest — I would remind you of the hopeful situation within which we live according to the close of the Psalm — we live sandwiched between these two things —

Behind us it is certain that goodness and mercy are following us all the days of our lives. And so goodness and mercy are following you into therapy today, and not just any goodness and mercy but God’s goodness and God’s mercy. And then the even more hopeful thought — we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever — that is what is out ahead — that is what is certainly out there. We are live between ‘goodness and mercy’ and ‘the house of the Lord forever.’ Some day Mike we will take a walk in the Bighorns in the New Heaven and the New Earth — in my glorified state I won’t be as cranky as J. Mochel either.

Praying for you both,

Randy Anderson

Tim Trudeau, a fellow pastor who had come to visit me on Sunday the 8th left this comment which may give you a better appreciation for what occurs in physical therapy. I clearly remember Tim’s visit because it was so timely. Karla had left for home Saturday and this was Sunday, a nothing day in rehab. So it was a great delight for Tim to come and visit and wheel me up to the beautiful chapel area to talk. I think this was one of the first times I had left the rehab floor. Freedom!

Dear Mike,

After watching you pull your seemingly lifeless leg up by grabbing your pants, and kick at your right foot with your left to get it to move, watching you walk down the hallway yesterday was like watching something out of the Bible, after Jesus said, “Get up and walk.” Your life is now the stuff of legend; the kind of thing people write books about.

We all know life is a gift, but we forget; your life is a reminder. Persevere in therapy, knowing that your every gain in mobility and memory is our joy as well as yours, and you are writing a chapter in the story of your life that cries out, “Glory!” in a way most of us will never experience.

I was glad to hear that though some words escape you, your grammar is still impeccable. If you weren’t such a good pastor, I’d say you should be teaching English!

Tim Trudeau

Ha ha Tim, this comment makes me chuckle! But sometimes you just need to take the bull by the horns, or the leg by the pants if the leg won’t move, and deal with it till it does work. By this time I had no worries about the leg movement coming back because I had some minor movement in my big toe and was able to straighten out my leg when it was propped up at an angle. No worries. It was now just a matter of time and effort and getting the systems working again.

Karla also mentioned Dr. Bergquist, a Christian man, a psychologist who was a very unique gift from God to us at just the right time, and with whom we have remained in contact. He not only is an excellent psychologist who understands brain trauma, but he also understands ministry.

I too have found the past 16 months and losing my job as the pastor of Crossroad Church after nearly eighteen years, to have been harder even than what we have been trying to explain in these last 15 Reflections in Real Time from five years ago. Yes that is correct. There is physical pain and then there is emotional, spiritual, and psychological pain that occurs in churches and relationships that in many ways is even more painful and confusing than anything else.

The final words that Karla wrote on March 13, 2009 were as follows:

“I don’t understand God’s purposes, but I do trust Him.  When I came to Christ, it was not until after I realized that I am not as smart as I thought and I do not have all the answers.  I am always aware of this, but the past five weeks have certainly been a reminder that I don’t know everything, and neither does anyone else.  God is showing Himself powerful and in control and faithful.  That’s what this is all about.”

Indeed.

Real Time Reflections from Five Years Ago #14

March 8-10th, 2009

Where is God when liDSC_2264fe hurts? This is the 14th in a series of Real Time Reflections from five years ago today as my family and I were in the throes of an F5 tornado. Some of these reflections will be included in the book I am currently writing regarding our experiences five years ago up to the present time.

Before I write about what occurred on March 8th-10th , 2009 I need to back up to Saturday March 7th when the children all came up to visit me.

Regarding the 7th Karla wrote:

“Mike and I both thought that Saturday was a very good day!  It started after a good night’s sleep for Mike and ended with me getting home for a couple days with the kids.

What a joy it was to have the kids up to visit Mike!  They were all relieved that other than being much thinner, Dad is looking pretty good.  We reserved the dining room so that we could all eat pizza together.  We decided that Mike needs to eat pizza more often because he eats a lot of it!

Then it was off to physical therapy where everyone was impressed that he was walking and going up and down the short set of steps.  The girls were at the gift shop when Mike started, so they didn’t know he was walking.  As they were coming down the hall, you could hear Elisabeth say very excitedly, “Look!  Dad’s walking!”  He was also able to hold a large size dowel and work on picking it up and down.  He ended that session by walking from the therapy gym back to his room.  Quite amazing!

PT was closely followed by occupational therapy.  Mike was pretty wiped out after that, so we got ready to head for home.  He was so happy to get to see the kids!  Luke even played the songs from a piano performance we had missed, which Mike thoroughly enjoyed…”

Later on the 9th regarding the Saturday visit by the children:

“…Mike still has his sense of humor, but some of the nurses don’t.  As the kids and I were getting ready to leave last Saturday, Mike was overconfident in his newly acquired skills and thought he could get from the wheelchair to the bed by himself.  He was not at quite the right angle and was leaning too far toward his weak side and fell over on the bed.  He landed on the heart pillow all open heart patients get so that they can hug it when they cough.  This apparently helps with pain.  Mike just laid down, saying with a smile, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.  Goodnight!”  We all got a good chuckle out of it.  We did need to call the nurse in to help.  We managed to get him upright before she came in.  She asked what he needed, to which he replied, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”  Saying that he’d fallen got quite a rise out of her!  We assured her he hadn’t and was just joking.  She really did need to have a sense of humor!

On a more serious note, Mike said he had another productive day of therapy.  They added another session of speech therapy, which pleased him.  He would like to see things improve more quickly in that area.  He was also able to lift his arm for the first time.  He had not even done that prior to open heart surgery day.  I talked to him at around 8 tonight and he was exhausted.  I am glad he is able to get good sleep now!  I am anxious to see the improvements he’s made when I get back there on Wednesday.”

Why? Why? Why? Safety even in doubt and despair.

 Mike’s first post, post-emergency open heart surgery: March 8, 2009

“After going through serious brain surgery for the removal of a peach-sized brain AVM, experiencing sleep deprivation for what seemed like 100 days on end, a blood infection, at least 22 blood clots in my lungs…one of which was 7 centimeters in length, open heart surgery, and who knows what else (I haven’t even read my own blog for nearly 25 days)  I can honestly report to you all that the  LORD is still my strength and my song.

And that my wife Karla is precious beyond compare!  Not only for enduring all that she has had to go through, but also for updating and informing all of you at the tail end of many rough days.

I am still largely “out” on my right side, meaning I have very little movement there.  The substance of my right side movement is a slight movement in my thumb.  While I cannot yet lift my leg, I can somehow walk…. even unassisted!   I also have good resistance strength.  I am able to resist one way yet not in others.

Anyway keep praying! (posting took 2 hrs)”

As I read these words five years out I think to myself how could it possibly have taken me two hours to write just 184 words? That’s just over 1-1/2 words per minute! I try to choose my words carefully, but that is ridiculous. And it’s not as if I was distracted. I was sitting in a chair focusing all of my mental and emotional energy on this post after an exhausting day of therapy. I think this was the first time that I had really stepped back to take a clear look at the realities at hand. I had just been through brain surgery and massive complications that nearly ended my life, and was just coming to terms with these facts. And they were overwhelming to me. I remember the tears streaming down my cheeks as I wrote this post.

Seeing the children on Saturday had been a huge encouragement for me. But now once again I again had to put them on a shelf emotionally so I could focus on giving them the best possible dad with the best possible functioning when I would be going home in what would turn out to be less than 3 weeks (on the 27th of March). If I let my mind go toward my children I would have been an emotional wreck.

Physical trials and sufferings not only weaken otherwise strong and proud people physically, but they also weaken them emotionally as well. I had no idea how weak I could be. Karla was my greatest earthly support and as I wrote “precious beyond compare.” I still feel that way about my wife of 27 years as the trials have made our marriage stronger and more precious.

Richard Sibbes, a Puritan once wrote in a book called the Bruised Reed, (in the year 1630) “After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks.” Karla and I have experienced this bruising in a way that we will never be able to forget.

As I read from my posting on this day I confidently wrote “I can honestly say to you all that the LORD is still my strength and my song.” I believed it then and I believe it now as I type these words today, five years later. However, this does not mean that my faith did not experience any bumps in the road.

On March 2-3rd, 2009 the Central District of the Evangelical Free Church was having their annual meeting in Des Moines, Ia. Normally I would have attended. I have many friends in the E. Free Church. One good friend of mine took it upon himself to find a quote from a regular Patros Logos article that I had written earlier for the home-school newsletter in our state, (2000-present). He brought it to this conference,  had it put on an 18 by 23 inch poster, which he had laminated…upon which three dozen people expressed their well wishes for us.

The words of mine that were on this placard were as follows: “…God is in control. Regardless of the tribulations and trials we may undergo, all of these tribulations and trials are under the hand of an Almighty God, who is not only all-powerful, but He is also good and loving in all of His ways toward us. Mike Evans, from Brothers Be Empowered By Providence

This friend sent it to me in a round cardboard tube and I had it put up in the room for me to look at. I think it arrived somewhere between March 8-10th.  It was on the wall at the end of my bed. I had previously believed these words and taught this theological truth for many years. Now I found myself coming face to face with whether I actually believed them or not. When the rubber met the road, and I had nothing left in the tank, so to speak, did I really believe that God was in control? Did I really believe that He had a hand in this trial? Did I really believe that God was good and loving toward me in these days?

I lay awake at night staring at these words I had written by my own hand, asking myself these questions. I was uneasy. I was offended. My own words made me queasy. In fact I remember asking Karla to put something over this poster to hide the words…for a day or two. It is a difficult thing to explain a feeling of doubt. But that’s what it was. No doubt about it. It was a doubt based not upon my prior experience or belief, but based entirely upon my present circumstances. I knew better than to let any present circumstance dictate prior beliefs, but it was a struggle. I kept looking at these words, particularly at night when doubts do their dabbling. Wrestling.

I had always told the people I have shepherded over the years the importance of having their doctrine and theology (beliefs about God and His ways) in place before the difficult things came their way. In fact I had even told them that I would not be standing at their bedside after a tragic event quoting Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” On the contrary it has always been my intention to weep with those who wept, not give them a double wound.

Here I was, weak and helpless, brain surgery that had left me paralyzed on the entire right side of my body and unable to speak in the early days…only to be followed by sleepless night upon sleepless night in the ICU, only to be followed by a blood infection, blood clots, and finally emergency open heart surgery. So here more than three weeks from the original brain surgery and I can only move my toe and my thumb a very little bit.

This is when I actually began to think of just exactly what the absolute sovereignty of God entails. And this is what I have come to believe. The absolute sovereignty of God is either the most hellish and damnable lie in the universe or the only true source of comfort in any and every trial. The line between these two statements is separated by a razor blade’s width and yet which direction one falls determines everything about how we view God and ourselves. Everything.

I have come to realize that there is no comfort at all in a middle of the road position between these two statements. If there is anything at all that happens in this universe apart from the eternal perspective of One who sees the beginning from the end and takes every possible contingency into account in His providential ordering of everything, in love, then there must be some events that are outside of His governance. And if there are any events that are outside of His governance then I reject the proposition outright as that of an impotent god. An impotent god is no god in my estimation, but rather a god of our own making. God’s got guts. He has a very strong stomach indeed. And yet He is also able to sympathize with us and enter with us in our weaknesses, trials and sufferings.

I realize that this is a wholly inadequate explanation of why evil and suffering exist from the human vantage point (theodicy). It is not my intention to give simplistic answers to complex and unanswerable questions. What had happened to me was not good. God worked good from the depths of our trial, just as He had promised.

But in non-moral things there are ways of acknowledging the coinciding of God’s absolute sovereignty and human responsibility. For example, what is the relationship between what I have said regarding the absolute sovereignty of God and prayer?

I believe with all of my heart that prayer makes a difference in what God does or does not do. I believe that I am alive today because of the prayers of tens of thousands of people throughout the world that were storming the throne of God on my behalf on the day I coded. The blog had 5,790 hits on that one day alone.

But I also believe that God ordained those prayers be made on my behalf. Every single one of them. We are responsible to pray and God is responsible to work His sovereign will (prompting people to pray). Both occurred on that day and every day. Praise be to God!

I had written the words in front of me on the laminated poster during a time of relative ease and comfort. Now they both offended and comforted me simultaneously. I am glad to have had that experience of doubt and wondering if I really did believe it all.

I remember hearing John Piper say in a sermon once how followers of Jesus could rest safely inside the impenetrable walls of Romans 8:28, where nothing could touch them. That was what I was experiencing even in these very real doubts that came on the heels of the most traumatic month of my life. I never want to experience that again…both the trauma and the doubting. But then God doesn’t consult us regarding His plans.

Nothing did ultimately touch me. My faith in God and His plans and purposes in all things are stronger than ever. My understanding of God’s ways, however, continue to be a conundrum in my mind. But then God does not ask me how He should work, does He. Nope, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that He pleases” (Psalm 115:3). From our earth bound perspective God’s ways often if not always seem to be manifestly inefficient. But then again God sees the big picture from the tallest mountain, with nothing but loving purposes in mind.

Real Time Reflections from Five Years Ago #13

Happy Guys
Happy Guys

This is the 13th in a series of blog postings Karla and I are doing as we vividly recall the events surrounding my brain surgery and massive complications from five years ago in real time. Karla lets us in on her thoughts and I let you in on mine from March 6-7th 2009 at the end of this post. Some of this will be included in the book I am currently writing.

(Karla writing) As I look at March 6 and 7 five years ago, I find it interesting that everything remains very vivid, and feelings that I did not express in the blog at the time are still very real.  So today I have added commentary to pieces of those posts.

From March 6, 2009:

“I’m about to head out for lunch with a friend.  I’m trying to be gone more during the day to see how it goes before I head home.  He is managing just fine!”

I think it is very difficult for people to understand how hard it was to be out of the hospital after all that we had been through up to this point.  Whenever I left the hospital and went somewhere in Rochester, other than just a restaurant, I felt lost.  When walking around at the mall or Target, I always felt like everyone was else was there without a care in the world, and my world was falling apart.

I know that other people had problems as well, but they never looked like it.  Laughing, carefree people made me very sad.  I was wondering if I would ever feel carefree again.  I was wondering if my husband would ever walk and talk normally again.  I was wondering how I was going to get adaptations done to the house that would be up to his standard, and done quickly.

I was wondering if Mike would ever be able to drive again…  It was always better to get back to the hospital, where everyone had health issues and I could focus on the immediate issue at hand.  It was easier to just stay in the safe confines of the hospital, than leave and deal with the rest of the world.  I was thankful that I didn’t have to do that too often!

“I can hardly wait to see all the kids!  I’ve missed quite a few things, but they all seem to be understanding.”

Another issue that was very hard for me to deal with was being away from the kids.  We have told them that we would be gone a few days, and at this point we had been gone almost a month.  School was not getting done, and I didn’t care.  I was missing lots of their activities, even though it was a down time in the year between sports.

Gabbie was very sad all the time that we were gone, and Jared wouldn’t talk to me on the phone.  Elisabeth had a hard time sleeping due to the stress in her life.  Your dad almost dying was not something anyone wants their children to deal with!  At one point I just had to call someone back home and ask them to find someone to take care of my kids.

It didn’t really matter who, just that someone was with them and they were fed.  That is not what mothers do!

And we have had to deal with many issues in our kids’ lives that were influenced by the events of five years ago.  No, a three year old is not too young to be negatively influenced by such events.  No, teenagers are not so self-absorbed that they are not impacted by their father almost dying and having to come back from major deficits following brain surgery. So I had the stress of the known in Rochester to deal with and the unknown in Earlham.  It was not something that was all taken care of when we got back home, but something we have been steadily dealing with for the past five years.

“The following is a verse from the Sovereign Grace CD, Come Weary Saints. I know that you all wish I’d listen to a new CD.  I usually listen to this once while I’m driving, and then I do listen to part of  another one!  This is the last verse from “I Have a Shelter:

 

“I have a shelter in the storm when constant winds would break me.  

For in my weakness I have learned Your strength will not forsake me.  

O Jesus I will hide in You, the One who bears my burdens 

with faithful hands that cannot fail, You’ll bring me home to heaven.”

People keep commenting on how strong I have been through this.  Trust me, I haven’t been, but it has been evident that Jesus has been sheltering me when the constant winds (a.k.a. brain surgery, seizures, blood clots, fevers, blood infections, coding, CPR, more blood clots, open heart surgery) would break me.  I am hoping this lull in the storm will last awhile!”

As I read that last sentence I wrote, “I am hoping this lull in the storm will last awhile,” I now know that it did last awhile, but it was merely a lull and not the end of the storm.  For the past five years, I have always felt that God was my shelter, and often my only shelter.  I have been surprised when the storm starts to brew fast and hard again, as it was a year ago right now.  Those winds have attempted to break me, and us, but have not been able to do so.  So no, it is not my strength, but the strength of Christ in me that has prevailed.  I hope our children have learned that in Christ, they, too, can be strong regardless of what happens in their lives.  Due to these storms, my faith is stronger, Mike’s faith is stronger, our family is stronger.

From March 7, 2009:

“For the past couple of days, Mike and I have been discussing when I should go back home for a couple of days.  We had decided that I would go home today and try to come back on Tuesday.  When I got back from lunch yesterday, Mike said, “I’ve got an idea.  How about if the kids come up here for the day on Saturday, so they can see me up and without tubes.”  I thought that was a great idea!”

March 7 was a really fun day!  Mike and I had great anticipation waiting for the kids to come up!  The rehab staff was excited to get the room ready for our family pizza party, and the kids were very excited to see their dad.  Mike was ready to show off what he had been accomplishing, and the kids were duly impressed with his progress.  They even got to lay in his bed and watch Cars on the in-hospital movie channel.  It was a great day, and a great way to leave Mike as I took the kids home for a few days.

I also was leaving feeling much more confident that Mike would be okay with me gone.  I trusted the rehab staff, and his roommate, Melvin, was great.  I had also lined up friends, the Harder’s and the Schwartz’s, to check in on him.  I believe Ray and Connie stopped by as well.  He was in good hands and I was able to go home for a few days and spend a short time with the kids.

 

What follows are excerpts from Karla’s posts during these two days. Then I will give you all my take from these two days.

 

The Fog is Lifting March 6, 2009 (Karla)

….This morning the fog had lifted, as had Mike’s spirits.

Mike slept last night!  He was much perkier this morning when I got here than I have seen him in days.  Occupational therapy went much better this morning, which is good.  Physical therapy went very well!  They get them up right away.  He was walking around the therapy table, with assistance, of course.

 

Mike does not think this is real walking, but it is the first step to where he wants to be.  He also can grip with his right hand for the first time today, so, it’s only 10:30 and we’ve already had lots of progress!

I’m about to head out for lunch with a friend.  I’m trying to be gone more during the day to see how it goes before I head home.  He is managing just fine.  I can hardly wait to see all the kids!  I’ve missed quite a few things, but they all seem to be understanding.  Jared even talked to me again last night.  I am grateful for all the people who have been taking care of them for us.

 

Dr. Meyer was in today and actually smiled again.  He was glad to see that Mike was talking well and progressing in therapy.  He keeps reiterating that it is now a waiting game and we need to be patient.  I think that is getting through to Mike…

 

March 7, 2009

….Mike slept well again last night.  I’ll never make fun of another Ambien commercial again!  It really helps everything to be more rested.  He is frustrated with his inability to do what he wants to do.  He told me that I have no idea what it’s like not to be able to do things he wants to do.  He did not say it in a  mean way, just a frustrated, matter-of-fact way.  He’s right, I don’t know what it’s like, and neither does anyone close to us.   Mike’s roommate, Melvin, knows parts of it, but his abilities are different than Mike’s, so he can’t understand perfectly.  I have paid attention to how much I actully use my left hand, and I use it a lot more than I thought.  Then there is the inability to walk, or squat, or bend, or move over on the bed, or…  I don’t understand.

 

Mike’s Thoughts from March 6-7th, 2009

When Karla writes that she felt “lost” outside of the safe confines of the hospital I know what she is saying. I too, developed a strange sort of codependent relationship within the safe confines of the hospital surrounded by my caregivers and staff. I don’t expect many of you to understand that.

I too was completely unaware of how this might possibly affect our children who at the time were 16, 14, 10, 6, and 3 years old. There is no question but these events impacted our children in a big way. Our youngest who was 3 at the time still has vivid memories as well from these traumatic days and remembers when dad’s leg and arm was “stuck.” He has been an angry child for much of the past five years. In desperation we took Jared to see a Christian psychologist who specializes in children. That was one of the best moves we have made in the past five years! How is a three year old supposed to handle it when his mom and dad are gone for nearly seven weeks…when we had told them a week or so…and dad nearly dies?  We are thankful to report that he has made huge positive strides in the past year!

On the other side of the spectrum Benj the 14 year old at that time began to think of nursing as a possible career, as he saw the male nurses at St. Mary’s in Rochester taking care of me. Benj is a compassionate kid and I believe my ordeal helped him to solidify his future aspirations. Benj is currently in Haiti on a short term mission project and is a sophomore at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, MN pursuing a nursing degree.

Now back to March 6th-7th. Keep in mind that I was still out on the entire right side of my body. Split right down the middle. The brain surgery was on Feb. 12th and it is now March 6th. The only movement I had at this time was a slight wiggle in my right big toe and slight movement in my right thumb. No leg movement. I was able to close my hand with a very loose grip. No movement in the arm yet, just the hand and only when I concentrated with all of my might. Imagine me getting excited about being able to move my thumb and big toe a quarter of an inch or less. Nevertheless, it was enough to make me say “I’m back!” I believed it in my heart and mind.

It was an unexplainable relief to find out that I would not have to be in this state for the rest of my life. Before that I did not know. I didn’t know. Little did I know then the amount of work necessary to regain even more movement.

And here is what I did at this time. Karla does not like this. But it’s the truth. In my mind I set my children on a shelf and left them there for this short and intense season of recovery. If I let my mind go toward my children I would become so emotional that I couldn’t continue.

My reasoning was thus: In order for me to regain as much as possible I needed to set my children aside in my mind. In order for them to have the best possible dad with the best possible functioning I needed to relentlessly pursue recovering through rehabilitation. So Rocky became my inner theme song. I knew that I needed to have the “eye of the tiger” for my children’s sake. Karla was my Adrian. I didn’t put her on a shelf!

I understand now why this was and is still so hard for Karla to hear. She had the uncertainties of  me going home and the days that yet remained in the hospital. We would be coming home only 19 days from today. My main focus was on myself. My main focus was not on God. It was not on my wife. It was not on my children. It was on me recovering as much as I could and pushing myself as hard as I could.

Narcissism at its finest. Or was it? To this day I do not regret my mindset during those difficult days five years ago. It was a necessary, conscious and willful decision on my part to be entirely self-absorbed. My faith in God was still intact, but not entirely without conscious wrestling with my situation as related to God’s plans and such. More about that in tomorrow’s post about the nighttime wrestlings.

We were in a big storm alright.

Karla wrote and writes:  “I am hoping this lull in the storm will last awhile.” I now know that it did last awhile, but it was merely a lull and not the end of the storm.  For the past five years, I have always felt that God was my shelter, and often my only shelter.  I have been surprised when the storm starts to brew fast and hard again, as it was a year ago right now.  Those winds have attempted to break me, and us, but have not been able to do so.  So no, it is not my strength, but the strength of Christ in me that has prevailed.  I hope our children have learned that in Christ, they, too, can be strong regardless of what happens in their lives.  Due to these storms, my faith is stronger, Mike’s faith is stronger, our family is stronger.”

Amen Karla!

Real Time Reflections from Five Years Ago #12

Evans_0066bw

Karla and I remember these three days five years ago because life was beginning to regain at least some sense of normalcy. I was moved back to the rehabilitation unit for the second time and could begin to rebuild my broken world. Order and progress were at least now possibilities, whereas in the previous week it seemed as if all of the powers of hell itself had unleashed their power and concentrated like a laser beam on me. Rather than one life threatening crisis after another it now appeared that there was at least hope on the horizon. I no longer had the undeniable sense of impending doom. Perhaps I was too weak.

In a previous post #11  I wrote that I felt and told God “I got nothing left to give. Nothing.” By this time in the saga my physical, emotional, and spiritual strength were completely depleted.  Karla wrote several blog post over this three day period as she emphasized her gratitude for the technology that made quick and wide spread dissemination of information possible (the blog had 5,790 hits on heart surgery day alone!) as well as the encouragement that poured in. She also came to understand more fully just how very close to death I had come.

 

Words of Encouragement May 3rd, 2009 (Karla)

“We have been getting much encouragement from all over the world.  While all the technology sometimes bothers me, the internet has made this possible.

When I got here this morning, Mike informed me that he had actually slept last night, which he has never said in the past three weeks.  He is speaking much more clearly today.  I personally think there is a direct correlation between his speech and the amount of sleep he gets.  He is currently downstairs getting an echocardiogram, which is standard procedure following heart surgery.

Dr. Meyer was in again this morning, but unfortunately it was after Mike left.  He is fine with him going to rehab tomorrow, so we’ll have to see how that plays out.  He will be going in a much weaker state than previously, which will probably translate into a longer stay.  Dr. Meyer also keeps reiterating that we do not know if there has been any damage done to the right side, so it will take time to see what the long-term effects are.  Dr. Fogleson was more optimistic, saying that he felt good tone in Mike’s leg yesterday, but not in the arm yet.

Mike also keeps trying to get the nurses to let him stand up and such.  I guess he thinks that since he did it before he can still do it now.  Hopefully physical therapy will work with him on that today.

It has been interesting to see where the encouragement comes from.  I am so grateful to the Smiths, who skipped District Conference to be here with me.  Another pastor friend posted that it’s like Mike and I are in the middle of a storm on a sea and everyone is shouting encouragements from the safety of the shore.  I think that’s a pretty good description!

Another friend sent a devotional that she receives via e-mail each day.  This one was from Charles Spurgeon, on Isaiah 48:10, “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;  I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.”  Our current circumstances definitely feel like a furnace of affliction.  In Spurgeon’s commentary, he says, “If, believer, thou requirest still greater comfort, remember that you have the Son of Man with you in the furnace.”  This is the greatest comfort, that Jesus is with us in the furnace, and in the storm, and wherever else we may be!  Thankfully we have so many reminding us of this.

I’m hoping for a good day!  Mike will be seeing many therapists, and I am looking forward to any encouraging words they have!”

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

“I tried to sleep in, but for some reason I wake up at 5 every morning.  Not a great time to get up, for a night person!

Mike did not sleep well at all last night.  He was up coughing much of the night.  So, he is very tired today.  It will be interesting to see how rehab goes on so little sleep.  We have not seen the cardiac service yet today, so I am not sure where we are with the anticoagulent.  He cannot go to rehab until he is off of the IV anticoagulent.

We keep finding out more tidbits about last week’s surgery.  Yesterday we were told that only two places in the country perform the surgery Mike had last week, here and somewhere in San Diego.  We asked Dr. Fogleson about it and he said that he really did not think Mike would survive surgery.  I know I’ve said this before, but it is very overwhelming to think about!

On a very bright note, Jared finally decided to talk to me on the phone last night!  It had been twelve days.  He didn’t talk very long, but I was glad he did.  Elisabeth asked when I was coming home.  I told her that I was not planning it any more.  When Dad is better I’ll just show up.  She was okay with that.

It sounds like Mike is ready for me to go back in there, so I’m off.  Thanks for the continued prayer!”

(Later that day)

“Mike did make the move to rehab today, much to my surprise!  I had a friend coming to go out for lunch with me.  When she got there, I told her that all of sudden we were headed downstairs.  Fortunately she was able to wait long enough for us to grab a quick lunch at Cafe Presto.

This roommate situation is much better than last time.  Mel is an older gentleman from around here who had a logging accident and is now in a wheelchair.  He is very quiet, respectful, and interesting to talk to.  He took it upon himself to encourage Mike tonight!

We also had a group of Mennonites stop in to sing tonight.  There were probably about 10 of them and they sounded beautiful.  It made me realize how much I missed being at church the last three weeks.

Tomorrow everything really starts up.  Mike will have a schedule with the bare minimum to start out with.  As his strength builds up, they will increase his activities.  They are also watching his calorie intake make sure he is eating enough.  They did not do that last time.  I’m sure our friend Marla the dietician is glad to hear that!  The funny thing about his diet is that he needs to let people know if he suddenly wants to eat large amounts of green vegetables, as this would seriously mess with his coumadin levels!

I’m about to head out.  Since Mike has a roommate, I am not allowed to spend the night on a cot.  I am confident in the nursing care so far, which is good.  Mike is comfortable with it, which is the most important thing.  Good night!”

The Snow is Melting in Rochester (May 5th, 2009)

“I drove in this morning on very messy roads.  The temperature was the same at 6:30 this morning as it was at 9 last night.

Once again, Mike did not sleep well.  Tonight they are going to give him Benedryl to see if that helps.  He is coughing less, which is a good thing.

The occupational therapist was not very with it today.  She got here about 10 minutes late and did not have everything ready to go.  All she got accomplished was the shower, which is not much for an hour.  I think we’re going to talk to the rehab doctor about it, as Mike thought it was worthless.

Three weeks ago from this very minute, Mike was waiting for the AVM resection surgery to start.  Two weeks ago he was laying on a cooling blanket in neuro ICU with a temperature of 105 that was caused by a blood infection.  One week ago Mike was headed for open heart surgery to remove that huge blood clot from his heart and bunches of clots from his lungs.  Today is better already!

Yesterday I went to the mall for awhile to walk around and pick up a couple more things Mike needed for rehab.  I’ve been to restaurants, but apart from that, I am pretty much at the hospital.  I was surprised at how bothered I was by everyone going on with their lives while mine is on hold.  As hard as it is in the hospital, it is less emotionally challenging here.  Everyone around us in the hospital is also in the midst of dealing with a health problem.

So what am I going to do to deal with this?  Well, one thing is to remind myself of the people here who are in more difficult situations than we are.  One such person is the lady on the cardiac floor who had a heart/double lung transplant.  She has been in the hospital since October and not seen her kids since Christmas.  She is a single mom who now has to stay in Rochester for the next year.  She also has a very kind brother who has been with her the entire time.  They like Rochester so much that he has found a job and is moving her children and mother here to live permanently.  That’s commitment!

I am also going to take the advice of our friend, Randy, and take one day at a time.  It is overwhelmingly stressful to think past today.  Randy quoted the verse that says, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  So I’ll just deal with today’s trouble, which so far is the easiest Thursday trouble yet!”

Day One in Rehab is Over (March 5th, 2009)

“Well, we made it through the first day of rehab.  What a relief that is!  And as I had hoped, this Thursday was far better than any of the previous ones!

 

Mike was thoroughly exhausted today after all this therapy.  He is not too thrilled with the occupational therapist, so we’ll see how that goes tomorrow.  It is easiest to see progress with physical therapy, so I think that is what he thinks is most productive.  He was able to take a much needed nap after lunch, and hopefully that will work tomorrow as well.  He’s out again now, so hopefully he will be able to get some sleep tonight.

 

A friend e-mailed today with the names of some people from our church during the graduate school years who now live in Rochester.  One of the couples actually worked with us in the youth program.  I called them tonight to see if they would be willing to visit Mike when I get to go back home.  It was great to connect with them after all these years!

 

I’m heading back to the Krueger’s house.  I am hoping to get in a couple good night’s sleep.  Every time someone asked Mike how his day was going, he would say that it was very uneventful.   No one knew quite how to take it.  We assured them it was a good thing.  We’re hoping for another uneventful day tomorrow!”

 

The following is a poem written by my friend Pastor Tim Trudeau as a blog comment on March 4, 2009. As you can see I have good friends with a good sense of humor.

A Tribute to a Friend 

Michael Evans is his name,
Life to him is no mere game;
He loves his children, adores his wife,
He sucks the marrow out of life.

He is a man of many talents,
Which he pursues in proper balance;
Behind a camera, on a keyboard bench,
Holding a javelin, hammer or wrench.

If the waitress is stingy with the grated cheese,
He is not bashful: “I’ll take some more, please!”
At Grandma’s Saloon or the Cheescake Factory,
He loves to satisfy his senses olfactory.

He preaches with passion, true to the Word
His zeal is evident to all who have heard.
With sharpness of intellect he parses the text,
Always faithful to the Scripture context.

He serves his church faithfully, with wisdom and wit,
Together these years, it seems a good “fit.”
Though I am sure there are times of trial or stress,
They know he desires them to toward God onward press.

If you are an Arminian, you better beware,
Mike has little patience for those who go there;
He’ll take you to task with a Biblical razor,
You’ll feel like your hit with a policeman’s tazer.

I do love my friend, though I’m hesitant to say,
In case you will think I am in a closet way gay.
I am not the only one, of that I am sure.
He has many friends believing that this trial he’ll endure.

Recently my friend nearly died, as you know,
And if he had left us, to heaven he’d go;
But God has great plans for him, of that I am sure,
Calling many to follow Him, with hearts that are pure.

Tim Trudeau

After getting moved to rehab for the second time and finishing my first full day there, it had now been three full weeks since I had undergone the original brain surgery. It was very nice to have made it through a Thursday without any crisis, even though at the time I wasn’t very much aware of time. Restless and mostly sleepless nights tend to cause the days and weeks to blur together. But here are the facts: First Thursday brain surgery. Second Thursday blood infection. Third Thursday blood clots and coding. Fourth Thursday completed my first full day in rehab without a hitch!

I was still entirely out on the entire right side of my body and was still having difficulty speaking and word finding, but at least I was still alive to keep fighting…even if I felt extremely weak and drained.

I also remember my roommate Mel and remember him as a gift from God for this time in my life. He was an excellent roommate. He was encouraging, respectful, and kind. As Karla mentioned he was partially paralyzed from a logging accident and was trying desperately to regain some of his lost functioning. So every day we would leave the safe confines of the room and go off to work…the hardest kind of work. I recently called Mel  for the first time to see how he was getting along. We had a very nice chat for fifteen minutes or so. He does not cut logs any more.

Here is one of the many mini epistles that my friend Pastor Randy Anderson wrote) during our many days away from home:

Dear Karla and Mike,
I am so happy to hear about Thursday — I hope you will soon be remembering March 5th (which is my mother’s birthday), as trend smashing Thursday. After three shattering Thursdays a Thursday of therapy and progress. A word of encouragement from the Lord is found in 1 Peter 1:6,

1 Peter 1:6-7 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Notice that the ongoing genuineness of your faith — which is clearly there, and now with less dross in it than ever before; now that it has been freshly tested by fire — painful burning fire as you know 10 times better than I — this has and continues to work something in you more precious than gold — the metaphor for more precious than anything earth has to offer — and the real value of this — of all that you are going through and all that is happening so as to refine and deepen that faith — this is going to come to light “at the revelation of Jesus Christ…’

Jesus will get all the praise for having taught you to trust Him deeply and fully — life’s greatest accomplishment. The Lord Jesus has you both in daily advanced therapy — advanced training. Why you? I haven’t a clue. He signed you up — no one voluntarily signs up for where you are.

Peter is telling me that what I read in your blog each day — and I do read faith there — it is more precious than gold.

It will only be ‘for a little while’ and it will even seem that way

“When we’ve been there 10,000 years
bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
Than when we first begun.

Randy

(Karla’s) Real Time Reflections from Five Years Ago #11

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This is the 11th installment of Reflections in Real Time on the Five Year Anniversary of Mike’s brain surgery to remove an AVM [arteriovenous malformation] from the left frontal lobe of Mike’s brain and all the drama that came with it.

(Karla Writing)

Looking back at March 1st  and 2nd, 2009 continues to flood my mind with memories.  A couple of things stand out though.

The first is that breaks from the hospital were very important.  I know of others that never left the hospital, but it was necessary for my sanity.  Early on in this whole adventure, Denae and Connie decided that they were going to make sure that I got out of the hospital, which the nurses also encouraged.  I still remember the first day they came down to take me out for lunch.  I had been staying at Connie’s house for a few days, and was great friends with Denae’s sister-in-law but hardly knew Denae at all.  I didn’t really think we would have anything to talk about.
They were clearly not concerned.  Denae has kids, and so do I, so that in and of itself provided plenty to talk about.  Denae and Connie also just really wanted to love me.  They wanted me to know that even if they did not know me well, they cared about me.  Yes, I know where we went to lunch and what I ate:  Pappageorge’s and a grilled chicken sandwich and fries.  We weren’t gone long, but it was long enough to catch my breath.  Denae was a person who was not fazed if she made the half hour or so trip from her house to go out for lunch with me only to have to wait a long time because Mike needed me with him.  She was always totally focused on what would encourage me.  She was really there for me on a regular basis, and I was grateful that God provided someone near to Rochester like that.  I now count her as MY friend, not just Ann’s sister-in-law.
Another thing that stands out is the sacrifices that many from a distance made.  My sister who lives in the Cities came down almost every weekend that we were in Rochester.  Sometimes she hung out with us, and other times she took kids to do something fun.  Her husband also came on the day that Mike had the emergency open heart surgery.  Which was a Thursday.  During tax season.  And he’s an accountant.  It was a huge sacrifice on his part!  He did bring stacks of work to do, but I have no idea if he got any work done.  My parents also made multiple trips up to visit, bring kids up, take kids back. Whatever we asked of them in that regard they did.
We also had two couples who made sacrifices to visit.  Following the heart surgery, Randy and Shirley Anderson stopped by “on their way” to the Free Church Central District conference in Des Moines.  by my calculations it turned the four hour trip into a seven hour trip.  And then Mike did not even remember that they had stopped by!  Even in spite of our long conversation about how much Mike enjoyed the canned pears, which I have never before seen him eat!
On the blog five years ago I mentioned a second couple, Steve and Marla Smith, who skipped the same conference and came to Rochester instead.  What I did not put in there is why.  Marla had called me a couple days before and asked if it would be helpful to have them come up.  At that time I told her that I was doing fine, there had been a lot of people there, and I thought I just needed time to myself.  Thankfully she tried again.  When everyone headed home on Sunday evening, I experienced what I had every weekend prior to that.  I had been doing well and when everyone left I lost it emotionally.  I really needed the encouragement of close friends through these extremely trying days.  So Steve and Marla came up for two days.  The dietitian Marla took one look at Mike and said, “He needs protein!”  She then proceeded to find out how to get him more protein.  This came at a crucial time when he was down about 50 pounds.  The other thing that was so beneficial was that Steve and Marla just talked to me.  When we went out for lunch, I asked about how their son’s college search was going and how their daughters were.  After not too long I told them that I was sorry, but my mind was back on Mike.  It was so good to talk about something other than health issues, and good that I felt free to tell them when I couldn’t focus on anything but Mike.  They did not make me feel self-centered; they just wanted to do what would be helpful to us.
Finally, it was so hard to tell Mike over and over what had happened.  The amnesia medication finally wore off and he grasped what he had been through.  It was an early morning conversation that produced a lot of tears.  He was also in so much pain from broken ribs and having his chest cracked open that I think it made it a lot worse.  He was so weak and emaciated that I began to wonder if he would have it in him to fight back.  I should have known better, because that competitive nature never goes away.  It was just insufferably hard to watch my husband suffering so much!
Mike’s Take on March 1st-2nd, 2009
I remember some of the events of these two days. However the amnesia drug was still continuing to work its way out of my system. For example, Randy and Shirley came to visit with me on that day and Karla and Randy and Shirley all tell me that I talked with them for an hour and a half. But I don’t have any memory of their coming to visit me at all, let alone carrying on a conversation of any sort! Though, Randy insists to this day that he was there and was his usual jovial, entertaining self. I do, however, vaguely remembering talking about canned pears, and how much I enjoyed eating them, even though I had never downed one in the previous twenty-two years of marriage!  Weird.
I also remember Steve and Marla coming to visit and Marla’s mother hen instincts kicking in. Marla is a dietitian and upon seeing my emaciated state said that I needed more protein. I had lost a bunch of weight by this time and didn’t have much of an appetite yet. Apparently the human body devours fat and muscles as it seeks to repair itself. Muscle is big on protein and mine became very small. Much of the weight loss was due to muscle loss.
Watching Marla speak with the nurses and others was welcome entertainment for me as I was still unable to communicate very much and was still entirely “out” on the right side of my body. It was very good for me to be able to be distracted and humored by her for by this time I was feeling all-consumed by this ordeal.
I also remember distinctly talking to Karla about what had happened to me on Thursday. She repeatedly had to tell me what had happened. But there was a moment when the amnesia medication had sufficiently left my body and I got it. I understood what she was saying. And it was overwhelming. She told me to look down at my chest, which I did, which corroborated everything she had been telling me over and over again. The tears flowed as I came to understand all that I had put Karla through, how very near to death I had been, and just how much effort it was going to take to get back to my old self. It was extremely frustrating to be completely out on the right side of my body, high degree of difficulty in word finding, and now the pain of broken ribs and open heart surgery.
I don’t remember if I said it out loud or not but I remember saying to God very clearly: “I got nothing left…nothing…my own strength, (muscles) emotional strength, spiritual strength, mental strength…nothing.” I didn’t know if or how I could ever bounce back from this latest setback. But Karla’s continual presence was strength giving in every way. As I watched her in action I lived vicariously through her in a sense. I lived off her faith. I lived off her strength. I lived off her positivity.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again. I did not have any profound thoughts of God that came to my mind throughout these 46 days away from home. What was in the well was in the well. But I was wondering how much more God could possibly ask of one man.
I also remember trying to be funny after I had made it through the tears after the aha! moment of recognition of all that had occurred since the previous Thursday. After looking down at my chest and seeing the incision there was no denying it. I deadpanned to Karla “Oh, that will probably set me back a couple of weeks!” knowing in my mind that it was much more serious than that. She says it wasn’t funny and didn’t know I was trying to be funny. So I told her tonight that I had meant that to be funny. In my heart of hearts I had intended that to be hilarious. A dry sense of humor I guess.

(Karla’s) Real Time Reflections from Five Years Ago #10

The Wailing Wall
The Wailing Wall

(Karla) I’m back to blog on the events of the two days following Mike’s emergency open heart surgery.  Mostly they were days of waiting. Waiting to see if Mike could still move his left side, which had not been affected by the brain surgery (He was still entirely out on his right side).  Waiting for the medication to work that would raise his blood pressure so that he could get out of the cardiac ICU.  Waiting for tests to be done to be sure that everything was as it was supposed to be.

Waiting to see if bacteria grew in the fluid taken from his head wound, which would indicate infection and possibly lead to another surgery.  Waiting for Mike to wake up so I could tell him what had happened.  Waiting for the medication induced amnesia to wear off so that I could quit retelling Mike what had happened!

So what did I do during all of this waiting time?  Good question!  On these days I had a lot of family and friends around, which is a very good thing!  They kept the conversation going so that my mind was occupied.  I am one of those people who is always thinking about and analyzing everything.  At this point, I was wondering what was going to happen next to set us back, and thinking that surely we had finally hit bottom.  I was also wondering how we would have to change the house around to make it ready for Mike to come home.

I was also counting my blessings.  I was so glad that Luke and Benj had come up with my parents.  I was missing my children so much! It really showed me how much they loved their dad.  Those of you with children know that they all have different personalities.  Luke and Benj are pretty much opposites. When Luke was at Mayo the first time, he made it clear that he was not a fan of hospitals.  I get that, as I generally avoid them if at all possible as well.

On the other side of the coin, Benj is not bothered by them at all.  He is at ease when talking to people in the hospital, and does not mind all the gross stuff.  When I called home to tell them what had happened on Thursday morning, I asked to talk to Luke.  I made it clear that if he wanted to come up he could, but if he didn’t want to that was fine, that I would not think less of him or ever hold it against him. The fact that he came showed me how deeply he did care, even if he is not as emotive as some of our other children.

I also went over all the details that needed to be tended to.  I was responsible for so much, both in Rochester and at home.  It is truly a grace of God that nothing major fell through the cracks.  I was just reminded last fall by our band director that I had called and told him that Luke and Benj would not be at the jazz band contest that Saturday.  Luke was the only pianist and Benj was probably the 2nd chair trumpet that year.  It was Mr. Sletten’s first year of teaching and he responded so well!  He was a great encouragement to our family.

This is a paragraph from the evening post on February 27, 1009:

“I apparently did not get the gravity of the situation on Thursday morning.  I know blood clots in the heart and lungs are very dangerous and can be fatal, but I just figured, we know they are there, just remove them.  Dr. Fogleson was almost gleeful to see Mike today and said that he really did not think he would be seeing him today.  We are grateful that God chose to answer all of our prayers in the way we wanted Him to this time.”

I truly thought that it they should just take care of it.  If they couldn’t, who could?  I still attribute it to being in shock, as well as being the peace of God which passes all understanding.  Philippians 4:4-7 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

This did not hit me until sometime the following summer when I was reading a book by Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  He says that the peace Christians feel in such circumstances is this special gift of God for handling hard situations.  Countless people had made our requests known to God.  Many of our friends had not had peace on the day of heart surgery, but I had.  So I see it that the shock was a gift of God.

On that Friday, Mike also had ultrasounds done of his arms and legs to check for new blood clots.  I have never really talked about what prompted this.  In the previous two weeks in the hospital, I had discovered that it was helpful to Mike for me to touch him when I was talking to him.  So as he came out of the heart surgery I did what I had been doing.  But this time when I rubbed his arm he became visibly upset and said that it hurt.  This was his “good” arm, and was very distressing to me.  I immediately told the nurse, and they ordered the ultrasound.  In the meantime, I asked anyone that went in there to please not touch him as for some reason he was in pain.  Not everyone listened.  So a word to those who are with people in crisis.  Please respect their wishes and do what they ask you to do.  They are the ones who know their loved one best and it is hard enough for them to do what needs to be done without others not heeding what they say.

My only comment from Saturday, is that it was more of the same.  More waiting, more explaining to Mike what had happened, and more coming to realize how close to death Mike had been.  None of the doctors thought he would survive.  That is quite unbelievable at a place like Mayo.

I don’t feel like I have adequately expressed the emotions of these days.  But our friend, Randy Anderson, did in comments he left on the blog.  I don’t normally like to compare myself to the most highly esteemed people in the Bible, but it really felt this bad.  So I’ll leave you with Randy’s words.

Dear Karla,

Reading the blog this past week has been a little like a guided bus tour of Job chapter 1 as relates to Mike’s body.

While he was yet speaking (while she was writing her blog) there came another and said,

Mike has had some small seizures.

While he was yet speaking (while she was writing her blog) there came another and said,

Mike has spiked a high fever — we don’t know why.

While he was yet speaking (while she was writing her blog, there came another and said,

Mike has contracted an infection in his blood we don’t know from where.

While he was yet speaking (while she was writing her blog) there came another and said,

Mike has a blood clot in his leg.

While he was yet speaking (while she was writing her blog) there came another and said,

Mike has coded and is being prepped for heart surgery.

While he was yet speaking (while she was writing her blog) there came another and said,

The heart surgery went well but…..

Karla, my brother passed through these kinds of days with his son 16 years ago now. He was telling Mike about it while we traveled to T4G (Together For the Gospel Conference) this past spring. In the midst of it while standing outside of Children’s hospital screaming at God whether out loud or merely in his mind he doesn’t really remember, he and his wife’s ‘life verse’ — when they were in high school you had to have a ‘life verse’ and so they had one — but it came to him with power.

Proverbs 3:5-6 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and DO NOT LEAN ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

My brother heard the Lord say to him through that text– you are so distressed because you are bent on figuring out what all of this is about — well, you can’t, and I told you not to — I told you not to lean on your own understanding — I told you not to try figure it all out. Rather I told you to trust me with all your heart.

Remember this Karla, ‘He did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for you and for Mike…’

You can trust Him with all your heart and be safe in Him without understanding why any of this is happening.

Shirley and I love you both.

Randy

Mike’s take on those two days:

Karla wrote in part: “…Mike still doesn’t know what happened.  He is not going to believe this one!  I am feeling bad for Dr. Meyer (Mike’s neuro-surgeon).  He came in and just shook his head.  He said that he has never seen anything like this…”

“Dr. Fogleson (the surgical fellow) was almost gleeful to see Mike today and said that he really did not think he would be seeing him today.  We are grateful that God chose to answer all of our prayers in the way we wanted Him to this time. Dr. Fogleson is the doctor we see most often.  If anything happens and he is near, he is there immediately.  We have repeatedly made it clear that many people are praying for him as well when they pray for Mike.  Today he said that he has even prayed for Mike. 

Dr. Meyer commented that if we had taken him home for rehab he wouldn’t have survived.  Then later the nurse said that in any other situation he would have died.  He told us that Dr. Sundt specializes in this kind of surgery and he “just happened” to be on call Thursday.  We all know that he did not just happen to be on call… Dr. Meyer said that he expects this to set him back 2-3 weeks neurologically, so basically back to where he was immediately following AVM surgery…I should probably show a timeline of what happened so that people can see all that God did.  I’ll work on that sometime.  For now, suffice it to say, all of our days are numbered before one of them came to be, and Mike’s days are not up yet.

Mike’s take on those two days:

I really have no vivid memories from the two days following the emergency open heart surgery, just a brief moment as they brought me out of the anesthesia for a neurological check with the ventilator still in. It was creepy.   I would have to say that the amnesia drug they gave me did its job…very well. But even as I was unconscious and very near to death God still managed to micromanage the entire universe. I am also coming to understand and appreciate much more deeply the toll this trial took on Karla as we are “reliving” these days in real time plus five years.

The Human Condition and all that Pertains to it

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