Six years ago today on February 12, 2009 my family of seven had brain surgery…wait it was just I who had the surgery. But all of us continue to feel its effects…even today six years later.
I just finished reading an excellent book about the greatest Antarctic adventure ever undertaken. Alfred Lansing wrote the book Endurance based on the compilation of diary entries of men who were actually aboard the boat aptly named The Endurance. It is an excellent read! The purpose of this blog is to write about “the human condition and everything pertaining to it.” Endurance pertains to the human condition.
Happy Thanksgiving! This is the 7th consecutive year in which I have made up a list of the top ten things for which I am most thankful. We began this blog in November, 2008 upon finding out that I had a weird thing in the left frontal lobe of my brain called an AVM. For forty-four years this thing had been there, resting quietly. If you are interested in hearing the back story click here.
Then on the morning of October 23rd, 2008 I had a seizure. I had this peach-sized mass removed from my brain in February, 2009 by a world class neurosurgeon at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. The day after surgery I awoke unable to speak or move the entire right side of my body. Three days later I developed a life threatening blood infection, which was followed by blood clots…many of them…one big clot in my heart and 22 in my lungs, which caused me to code. I had emergency open heart surgery that same day to remove the clot from my heart and lungs. Forty-six days later I came back home to Earlham, Iowa 50 pounds lighter, still struggling with some aphasia, and right side neurological “slowness.” Oh, and I also managed to lose my job as the pastor of Crossroad Church in July, 2013 after 17-1/2 years. So yes, it’s been a wild ride.
I am currently writing a book about our experiences from the last six years. It is roughly 80,000 words so far and not even close to being done. It will need some serious editing by the time all of my thoughts are put on paper…or my laptop as it were. But on the eve of Thanksgiving 2014 these are the top ten things for which I am most thankful.
10. My heated man-cave which provides me with a great space to read and write and swing
9. Karla’s homemade breadsticks
8. The human brain and all of its intricacies designed by the inscrutable wisdom and craftsmanship of God
7. Kindness fleshed out
6. God’s magnificence displayed in nature and the privilege of going backpacking in the resplendent Grand Tetons (just south of Yellowstone Park in northwestern Wyoming) with a couple of friends in September
5. The ability to move my limbs and speak at will
4. Valley E. Free Church and the tremendous amount of love, encouragement, support, and healing they have provided for my family and me over the past 15 months, largely through our Life Group (adult SS) Integra
3. Our five children ages twenty-two down to nine, who keep us young in some ways and not so young in others
2. My precious wife Karla for whom my love and respect increases at a disproportional rate to the 28 years of marriage we will celebrate in December. By the way I still have weekly date days with the love of my life…my wife.
1. The fact that at the end of all things I, and all who are resting in the finished work of Christ in his death and resurrection, will be receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…and in the presence of God for all eternity (Hebrews 12:28-29)
Mike’s birthday is today, but he is in the Grand Tetons so I am hijacking the blog. He won’t even know this exists until next Tuesday sometime.
Since he is not around, I would like to reflect on these 50 years he has been alive. I do not really have any reflections on the first 20 years, as I did not know him. I can comment on the pictures I have seen. He has always been good looking!
The first time I ever saw him was in a Luther College chemistry class in September, 1984. I sat in the front, and he did not, so I watched him walk by every day. We did not meet until January of 1985, but chemistry is where I first noticed him.
This will probably not surprise many of you, but we met because I went up and introduced myself. I wanted to meet him, and it hadn’t happened any other way! He promptly forgot my name, but I reminded him what it was when he went through my food service line at supper the next week. I already knew what his name was long before I met him, so I had no such problems!
Finally meeting Mike was also good motivation to go to FCA, as he was one of the leaders. I had several friends on my floor that had been pestering me to go to FCA all year. I told them that I would go once if they would leave me alone. I went. And God grabbed hold of me a saved me that very first night! They left me alone, but I kept going every Wednesday night.
By the end of March we were dating. This time at his lead. I may have been forward in introducing myself, but not in initiating the relationship. I fell in love fast. Mike was handsome, a strong leader, kind, a man of great integrity, friend of everyone, a great athlete, and most importantly, a passionate follower of Jesus. I was whipped! And when he proposed on February 13, 1986, I quickly said, “yes!” and began planning for our December wedding. We were only 21 and 22 when we were married!
And thus began the journey we have been on together for almost 28 years. Those character issues that drew me to Mike in the first place have only become more refined as we have gone through the fiery trials of life. We went to grad school, were called to ministry, and eventually ended up back home in Iowa. Mike has grown in his roles as a husband and father. God gave me a good man to go through life with!
A person’s true character, and the depth of their faith in God, is revealed not in those times that are easy, but rather in times of suffering. When we made our wedding vows so long ago, we, like most young people, thought mostly about the good, the plenty, and the health. We never even imagined such things as depression rearing it’s ugly head time and again, a mother with early Alzheimer’s, losing an unborn baby, seizures, an AVM, brain surgery, heart surgery, long recovery, losing a job, or being out of ministry. If people thought of these things before getting married, they never would!
As I look at my husband as he turns 50, I see a man who still has all the same qualities that I was initially drawn to. But I also see a better man. I have watched as God refined him, refined us, over the past years. I have seen Mike show compassion on our children as they go through difficulties that all children have growing up. He is much more thoughtful in parenting than I am! I have been with Mike as he ministers to countless people in ways no one but the people involved and God will ever know. I have seen how Mike responds, or in many cases doesn’t respond, with grace during the hardships that come with being in ministry. I have watched Mike battle through rehab after losing the use of his right side and losing his speech. During this past extremely difficult couple of years I have stood by Mike as he has sought God and worked diligently to honor Him in all he has said and done. I know that I can always depend on Mike to encourage me, make me laugh, and be by my side no matter what happens. And I know that he is grounded in his faith, always seeking to be changed to be more like Christ, and always pointing our family to honor God in all we do.
So happy number 50 Honey! As I look toward the next 50, I am so hopeful! God has continued to do such amazing things in our lives. The past year has been a good one for the Evans family. God has renewed us and drawn us all closer together. Not long ago, Mike shared with me a Steven Curtis Chapman song called The Glorious Unfolding that I now think of whenever I am concerned about the uncertainty of the future. Here is a link if you would like to listen to it:
God has been faithful to us our entire lives, and will continue to be. It is with great anticipation that I wait to see what God has in store for us in the coming years! And am so glad that Mike is still here to experience the future with me! I love you, Mike!
“Everything’s Normal Again. Nothing Will Ever be Normal Again.” These are the words I wrote in a post one month after we had returned to Earlham after spending 46 days in the hospital and drawing very near death. This is the last installment of these real time reflections from five years ago. It has been a valuable investment of time and emotional energy for us.
As I think back now to those last 3 days (March 25-27th, 2009) at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester, MN I have many thoughts and emotions. We drove the four hours from Rochester to Earlham on March 27th the same day that Benj was celebrating his 15th birthday.
Having just spent 46 days in the Mayo Clinic hospitals and having nearly died these things permanently changed my DNA. It was all still very overwhelming to me on this day that we finally made it home. I was relieved to be leaving the hospital, yet at the same time very sad as well. I had developed a strange kind of dependence and comfort in being in the safe environs of the hospital. To now leave this place that had forever changed my life was not comforting at all. In fact it was downright scary and discombobulating.
The therapists had become my second family during these intense days of rehabilitation. Many of my fellow patients whom I saw regularly in therapy had also made significant progress by this time. Many of them had been released. But it was not comforting to be coming home. I knew that this was what had to be. I wanted to come home and be reunited with my children and sleep in my own bed, but at the same time I didn’t want to come home. For I knew even then that the road back would be rocky and paved with difficulties.
I recognized even during those early days that Karla and I had just been through an intense war together and as such were about to enter into the same sorts of psychological life issues that real soldiers returning from combat experience. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a term that should not just be reserved for combat veterans. It can also be rightly applied in medical situations like ours. I have also asked numerous doctors about this idea because I had never previously come across it. All have agreed with the general nature of my comparison.
Reading through the list of PTSD symptoms was like reading our autobiography without even having written it yet. I forewarned Karla that she would probably experience some of the symptoms of PTSD and she did. These things take some time and much talking to work through and I’m very happy to report that five years removed we are both doing very well spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and in every other way.
Even though I am not serving as a pastor anymore and have no job, nevertheless I have a peace about the future. I am forty-nine years old and have basically no idea what the near future holds and yet I am at peace. Karla is at peace. Our children are still wild. No, strike that. Just checking to see if you were really reading this or not. Our relationships as a family have never been better.
To give you some idea of why I was a bit nervous to come home I will share some of Karla’s blog postings from the final few days in the hospital. And to help you understand exactly what level of functioning I was at let me tell you this. I posted on April 26th, 2009 that I estimated my right side movement at 50% of what it had been previously. Also, one month after I arrived home I was doing three pound arm curls with my right arm.
My speech was still coming back and word finding becoming less of an issue, but these things were all there lying in wait. One month after I had come back home I was already 100% independent so far as the tasks of daily living were concerned.
But so many things were on my heart and mind during those days. I was simultaneously trying to do the full time job of rehab including strength training, retraining my brain to learn stuff, thinking about my family and also the effect this ordeal might have on the church. It was all so overwhelming to me at the time.
Plus, to top things off I wanted to give the Easter message on April 12th, 2009, just 15 days after I had returned home. I did preach that message, brief though it was, and with a break in the middle so I could rest. We stopped in the middle and sang a hymn and then I continued. I didn’t preach again for six more weeks. I know that at one point during the stay I was down about 40 pounds or more…but even more than that just felt overall very weak still. Again, let me remind you that just prior to the surgeries I had been in the best shape of my entire life. I’m not sure what it was that propelled me to work out so intensely in those last few months leading up to the surgeries but I am certain that the condition my body was in was nothing but a big plus for my making it through all of this alive.
A friend of mine left the following encouraging comment on the blog during these days and I share it with you now, not to make much of me but to make much of the God I put my hope in during these tumultuous days when life seemed so ephemeral.
“Been through the fire” is certainly an appropriate image, and a Biblical one. Of the thousands of things God has been doing these days, one of them is lending Mike credibility as a pastor. When he stands next to a hospital bed and quotes Isaiah 43, no one will ever think, “Easy for you to say; you don’t know my situation.” In fact, as he recounts his own story, they will be massively encouraged that God’s promise is true: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you will not be burned, and the flame will not consume you.”
Praise God for his promise, and your lives as a visual image of His faithfulness for the rest of your lives.
The following are excerpts from the blog posts that Karla wrote during those final three days in rehab before coming home on March 27th, 2009.
“One More Day!” (March 25, 2009)
(Karla) “It’s hard to believe, but Mike only has one more full day of therapy. He has opted to have some therapy on the day he leaves, so we won’t be heading home until about lunchtime. He is not one to turn down a good thing! He will also have several days off before starting up again, so he wants to be sure to get as much in as possible.
Today the therapists spent a lot of time going over therapies he can do at home. We also discussed some areas that he will need to be especially aware of, like curbs and rough terrain. That last part will be especially important when we head to baseball games in May!
The Mennonites just left after singing for us for the last time. What a great group they are and what a great ministry. There were 8 people here tonight, but 18 on Sunday night. They sang “Victory in Jesus.” Hearing of Jesus healing the lame has taken on new meaning. It is far more personal now. Mike then requested that they sing “How Great Thou Art,” which is one of his favorite songs. I am hoping that next year at this time Mike will be able to play it on the piano again!”
“This Has Been the Last Day in Rehab” March 26th, 2009
(Karla) “This will be a quick post, because it is late and I need to be back here early.
Mike had a great day in rehab. All of the therapists spent quite a bit of time discussing exercises he can do at home, as well as a lot of safety issues. We feel very confident as we leave that Mike is ready to be home. He did opt out of physical therapy for tomorrow, but will have an hour of speech therapy before we leave.
I am having quite a wide range of emotions. All of the therapists, nurses, and doctors are very excited for us to leave. I wish I had kept track of every nurse so that I could thank them personally, but that would probably be too overwhelming anyway. Last night, Randy, one of Mike’s first ICU nurses, stopped down. That was very emotional for all of us! He will keep following on the blog, and said that he is looking forward to listening to Mike’s first sermon back when it is up on the church website. Several others have said that as well. How encouraging!
Most of all, we are thankful to God for sustaining us through this trial. A couple of nights ago, I was reading Psalm 67 in the one year Bible. The first two verses say this, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all the nations.” That is one of the reasons He has been gracious to us in this trial, that His way may be known on earth. We are still discovering ways He has been good to us and lessons we are to learn. So, while we are heading home, the journey isn’t over yet!”
I wrote the following post two days after arriving home.
“Premature Reflections from the Other Side of a Great Trial” March 29, 2009
“Since this whole drama began back in October of 2008, and since we (Sheila Streicher) were able to get this blog up and running about the second week of November, we have had just under 101,000 page views, with the busiest day being Feb. 27th…which must have been heart and lung clot day, when there were 5,449 page views. All this to say that this drama has not been played out only locally. This has been a wide spread God glorifying miracle. But even if it had turned out very differently God would still be glorified.
For may I remind you all of my original posting where I confidently quoted Romans 8:28, which speaks of God causing all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purposes. This does not mean that all things are good. Not at all. Bad is bad and evil is evil. But it has been my firm conviction throughout this ordeal that this verse was true, as is all of God’s Word.
So when I read in the comments recorded here (of which I have read every one) of a church on the north side of Atlanta, Ga. when a good report was given and the church broke out into applause…for a perfect stranger…or maybe we’re not so much strangers as we are divided by denominations and such…Oh well I’m sitting here weeping as I pluck away on the keyboard with one hand (for though the right side continues to improve it’s not strong enough to type). And there are literally hundreds and thousands of you for whom this same tale could be told regarding smaller Bible study groups, etc. Thank You! This is about as close I can come to actually saying the words “Words cannot express how grateful I am for all of you.” Just give me some time though, and I’ll try to make things right with you all.”
A couple of days later I wrote another post:
“More Premature Reflections from the Other Side of a Great Trial” April 1, 2009
“Karla is the one who suffered the most in this trial. Following the resection of my AVM I ended up spending 14 nights in ICU which seemed like 100 nights with the persistent sleep deprivation. But my vote still goes to Karla for suffering the most trauma during our 46 day stay at Mayo.
But after watching me endure several seizures… for those of you that know her history…that must have have been very rough on her. But then for her to have to endure the heart and lung clot scare and to face the very real possibility of becoming a widow (which she would have been if we had been anywhere other than Mayo or a hospital in San Diego where they perform this surgery) well those are the scenes in which nightmares can germinate.
A few minutes ago Dr. Sundt, the heart surgeon called. We had asked him to stop by while we were still in the hospital. I kept it short and simple . I simply said “Thanks for saving my life.” He made a few comments about how close it was. Yesterday we received via email pics of all the clots after they had been removed. Yuck. I believe there were 22 in all. The one that came out of my heart was 8 centimeters long… that’s 3.1 inches! And it was beefy. I don’t remember much about those days, but again… my wife does.
Not only this, but she had to deal with the added stress of not being home for her 5 children much during this time. This is why I say Karla had the more difficult row to hoe. For the entirety of my rehab I mentally put my children on a shelf…knowing that that they would be better served in the long run by a daddy who gave himself 100% to rehabilitation. And I believe that they are. I gave it 100% ALL the time I was in rehab.
Once we compiled all of my get well cards into a single pile I think it is 7 inches high! To think that each and every one of these cards was hand picked…in person for me is humbling. Thank You! I’ve just begun to read through them all again…for there are some I don’t even remember reading! They are all on my nightstand so that they are the last thing I read before falling to sleep.
After Moses successfully led the Israelites out of captivity there was a song offered up to God. Parts of it include the following… “Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying ‘I will sing unto the LORD for he has trumphed gloriously the horse and rider thrown into the sea. Later in verse 11 Moses wrote “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” Indeed.
Thanks be to God and all of you as well!
April 1, 2009 Marla Smith blog comment
“I agree Mike……….Karla’s one great gal!
Yes, several times I couldn’t bear to think of Karla being a widow. She was completely oblivious (in my opinion) to the “things floating around in Mike’s heart” when she was first informed and, I had imagined myself hugging her at your funeral service, Mike. (Sorry for the honesty here). I am so glad you are home! I know God has kept you here for HIS purposes! Glory to God!
Keep working as hard as you can with your rehab, you’ll see the results!
We love you! Steve & Marla”
April 2, 2009 Randy Anderson blog comment
“Dear Mike and Karla,
Mike you are no doubt right. For much of those 46 days you had little idea what was really going on and what the issues and possibilities really were; these were blessed days to be ‘in the dark.’ Karla on the other hand was left to stare at it all with enough clarity and understanding to be often troubled and at times truly terrified by what was happening.
However you are different people now — I can’t but believe that you are more compassionate and caring people now and countless others will be more helped by you than they might have been apart from these terrifying days.
Mike Mason in his book on ‘The Mystery of Marriage’ has a chapter on ‘Intimacy’ that came to mind as I read your blog this morning. Confirming your remark as to Karla’s suffering in this — it relates to the intimacy and oneness of husband and wife. Married couple’s he argues ‘own each other’ more truly than they own anything else on earth; houses, cars even children; after all even the children are supposed to eventually grow up and move away — but the two of you own each other as long as you live — we are each other’s most precious possession by far. Karla, as you note, stared losing her most precious possession square in the face — contemplated losing her most precious possession and being left in that sense ‘alone’ to deal with it all, yes with Jesus help, but still….’
May the seas you sail remain, much , much calmer for a long , long time — this is my prayer for you both (and your children as well).
April 5th, 2009 Randy Anderson blog comment:
“Dear Mike and Karla,
I usually don’t read other people’s mail to you but for whatever reason as I scrolled down to post this I cause the lines from your friend Wendy and found them profound. ‘Nothing in our lives is wasted….God uses it all.’ I know this. I believe this, but I don’t see it as clearly as I should and I certainly don’t live it out with anything like consistency, but if I did how much calmer I would be.
‘Nothing in our lives is wasted…God uses it all.’ Even, or maybe especially, the things that break our hearts and lay us low.
Karla, I hope your hair quits stressing out — and I pray that Mike will be therapy champion in all three categories of his therapy — we are settling for nothing less than the trifecta — only for your trifecta we are not predicting ‘first, second, and third, but first, first and first — really the therapy triple crown. May the Lord soon have you preaching, piano playing back packing with big John in the Big Horn mountains.
Love you both,
April 10, 2009 Randy Anderson blog comment:
“Mike and Karla,
On and on and on the trials go and where they stop nobody knows. David knew something of this, he must have or he never would have or could have written Psalm 13,
Psalm 13:1-3 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 3 Consider and answer me…
But by the grace of God you can finish your cycle of trial with the confidence that David finished his… for what was true of David is true of the two of you as well.
Psalm 13:5ff But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
What a deal — an all but resurrected man preaching on resurrection Sunday — but some day a truly resurrected man will walk the new heaven and the new earth with middle of the night runs to the hospital forever, and ever, and ever behind him. Such is the promise of Easter — such is the promise of God for us in Jesus.
April 11, 2009 (the day before Easter)
(Mike) “Our prayer through all of this has been “Lord, however you can be most glorified…do it.” Karla even confided with me through tears last night that as I went in for open heart surgery [to have the blood clots removed from my heart and lungs] she prayed “Lord, please save him…but if you don’t it’s all in your hands anyway.” It takes an amazing amount of faith to utter such words….”
“If we could see into the future we never would have chosen this path. But we cannot see into the future. The future things are the secret things that belong to the Lord. Some of you, no doubt, are just days away from finding out some bit of news that is even worse than we heard on October 23, 2008. But until you get that news, and even after you get that piece of news I want to encourage you to obey Philippians 4:6-7 “The Lord is at hand, do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God , which surpasses all understanding, will guard you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
One day before I had been home one month I wrote the following post:
“Everything’s Normal Once Again. Nothing Will Ever be Normal Again.” April 26, 2009
Now, as far as processing all of the events of the past few months. Some of you have confided in me that you too are having difficulty processing these things as well. The church that I shepherd nearly lost this undershepherd. My friends, I encourage you to begin processing these things for yourselves by taking a good hard look at Romans 8:28-29 once again: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” All things for good. It’s what the verse clearly says. Even so, I feel like we’re all, especially Karla and me, experiencing some of the symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome!
Everything is so normal once again, yet nothing will ever be normal again.”
April 28th, 2009 blog comment by Randy Anderson
“Dear Mike and Karla,
All things work together for good. It is remarkable what is inside of those simple words ‘all things’ isn’t it? You would think that minus the catastrophic sorts of things that the two of you have been through people like myself by hearing your story and watching it from a safe distance might more easily count our blessings and move through our ‘catastrophe free’ daily challenges with relative ease; but it is not so for some reason.
I will pray for your physical therapy regimen that you would persevere with discipline and be blessed with progress. Just think, some day you will have a resurrected body — this will be a ‘therapy free’ body that runs like the wind and who knows what else — someday — but not yet. However, ‘now you are a child of God already…’ (1 John 3). We are from God little children… (I John 4)
What a thought. May the grace continue to be with you both.
Well, this is the last “official” installment of this project “Reflections in Real Time from Five Years Ago.” It has been a very emotional experience to have gone back and relived each of those forty-six days. Some information from these 20 installments will be included in the book I am currently writing. We have written 280 posts over the past 63 months. More than 1,200 people have left comments and precisely 157,959 page views have been registered in this same period of time…from 50 or more countries.
It is all so vivid to us still. Well, for me there were several days where I was completely out of commission. But Karla was never out of commission. She pressed on through it all like a real live Rock of Gibraltar. But we all know who the real Rock in this whole drama was and still is.
After safely delivering roughly two million Israelites across the Red Sea from the hot pursuit of Pharoah’s armies, Moses writes of God in Exodus 15:11 “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”
Indeed. God worked a few wonders in this whole ordeal and Providentially arranged for all of the intricate pieces of this complex puzzle to be arranged in such a way that I remain alive today.
None of us knows what tomorrow will bring. James 4:14-15 tells us that as human beings we are but a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead we must be ready and open to whatever the Lord brings our way at any and every moment in time. Thanks for joining us in this journey!
Looking back at March 22-24, 2009, I noticed that the blog posts I wrote were less intense. That is likely because I was much more hopeful and optimistic by this point in time. On the 22nd I commented that when I went for lunch at the Canadian Honker, it was probably the first time that I did not look stressed when I went to lunch. I am sure this was true. At this point Mike had been in the hospital for 41 days. That is a long time people!!! And for 3 1/2 months before the start of the hospital stay, not an hour went by that I did not feel the weight of our situation. I clearly remember going through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my sister’s wedding feeling happy and sad at the same time. Yes, that is possible. There were moments of great joy in those times, but they were always short. The biblical phrase, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” comes to mind. That’s how my life felt. I did truly rejoice in the celebration of the birth of Christ and in my sister’s wedding. But it was always tainted by sorrow.
On a different note, I really enjoyed writing the post, “Mike’s Hospital Stay by the Numbers.” I am such a geek in that way! From my perspective it really demonstrated the vast array of different kinds of medical care that God had provided for our benefit. It also highlights again the amazing way that the Mayo system works. After Gabbie was born, I had some never diagnosed problem that caused my heart rate to be extremely low and me to be very short of breath. I had 15 blood draws in two days that I believe checked for every illness then known to man. The pulmonary people did not communicate well with the cardiac doctors, and the internists were kept out of the loop it seemed.
It finally took a call from my ob/gyn to someone who practiced at that hospital who came in and said, “Enough! There will be one more blood draw to check for what I want to check, and if you want any more blood this is your last chance.” At Mayo there would have been collaboration from the get go. I really do not understand why the system has not been replicated. I am just glad that we were at Mayo when we went through all of this.
Finally, these were days of great progress in rehab. We were no longer even discussing major modifications to the house. Mike was able to maneuver stairs so well that I was not at all concerned. After much looking I had found a tub transfer chair that would work on our tub, which was no easy task! I also found a reasonably priced grab bar for the shower. I don’t recall exactly how long he used these, but it was not long. We still have the transfer chair in the garage attic. I’ll give any takers a good deal on it!
These final days of rehab before going home were full of work and anticipation. The kids were all excited to get Dad back home (and Mom as well). There were a lot of details to get taken care of before we left. And Mike continued to work very hard in rehab to make as much progress as possible before we left. No one can ever accuse him of not giving it all he had!
Selected quotes from Karla’s posts from these three days:
March 22nd, 2009
“…I went for lunch at the Canadian Honker today, a restaurant that I have eaten at many times while I have been here. As I left today, I thought that for the first time I didn’t look like a stressed out family member of a St. Marys patient. That was a very good feeling! While the road ahead is still long, it does look like we will get to the end of it. We will forever be changed by this whole experience, which is a good thing. We have been through the fire and we have survived! Thanks be to God!”
March 23rd, 2009 Mike’s Hospital Stay by the Numbers
“Therapy continues to progress. We see new improvements every day, but it’s like we’ve mentioned in previous posts, a new movement in the hand or leg, a little bit clearer speech. Mike and I have been talking about the various places he’s been, so I thought I would post some “statistics,” since I am a numbers person!
Mike has been in more rooms during a single hospital stay than anyone I have ever known! Since February 12th, he has been in 12 different rooms. I’m hoping our room switches are over! He was in 4 different Neuro ICU rooms, 2 regular Neuro rooms, 1 Cardiac ICU room, 1 regular Cardiac room, and 4 Rehab rooms. He stayed in all these rooms on visits to 4 floors: 8 (Neuro ICU), 9 (regular Neuro), 6 (Cardio), and 3 (Rehab).
While most of the rooms were private , some were not. He has had 3 differerent roommates. The first rehab roomie, aka “The Cougher,” the second rehab roomie, the beloved Melvin, and the third rehab roomie, aka “Sitar man.” We are hoping for no more roommates!
Doctors from 10 different departments have seen Mike, some more than others. We have seen people from Neurosurgery, Cardiac Surgery, Cardiology, Infectious Disease, Allergy, Dermatology, Vascular Medicine, Critical Care/Anesthesiology, Hematology, and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Whew! I must say, all of the doctors have been very kind, although we do have our favorites.
I would give the number of different medications he has been on, but there are too many to count! Not really, but I don’t have any idea how many there have been. He’s had seizure meds, meds to lower and raise his blood pressure (obviously not at the same time), antibiotics, medicated shampoos, insulin, vitamins, blood thinners, … You get the idea.
The other number too big to count is the number of blood draws. Some days they have been multiple times. Currently, it is every morning at about 4:30. Ugh! Thankfully, most of the phlebotomists are very good at their jobs.
Finally, he has been in the hospital for 42 days, and it will be 46 when we go home. That is a very long time, for us, and our kids, and everyone who has been taking care of them! We got out again today, and when we got back he said that he is ready to leave this place.
On a serious note, Mike continues to have significant chest pain when he coughs, sneezes, or laughs. It is very easy to forget about the chest surgery, since we are so focused on the brain. However, it does play into how tired he gets and how therapy has to be limited. I am anticipating the trip home being thoroughly exhausting, as well as the transition to us being responsible for everything. Keeping track of his meds is going to be a full time job! Only 4 more days and we’ll be home!”
March 24th, 2009 Progress Report
“I just went to check my e-mail and post quickly before going home. One friend asked many good question, so I will try to answer those in this post, as many people probably have the same questions.
We have not had to make many changes to the house. We (men from church) added a railing so that we have two railings on the stairs from the first floor to the second. That is the only physical change to the house we needed to make.
We have purchased a bath transfer chair so that Mike can sit down and shower. We also have purchased a suction grab bar for the purpose of support when he is standing.
Dr. Meyer (the brain surgeon) had an interesting comment yesterday. We told him what we were doing to the house, and he said that he wouldn’t put much money into lots of changes because he does not think Mike will need adaptations for long. He said, “I know I sound like a broken record, but this is what I said would happen. Remember, we will see improvements for a year, but everything is coming back.” I then told him that immediately following surgery, I did not believe him, but now I do.
Mike is walking very well. He will not need any help getting from the car to the house and does not use a walker or a wheelchair. He is very aware of how easily he fatigues and will not be taking any long walks. He also handles the stairs fine, both up and down. I assisted him in this today and was not at all concerned.
My friend’s final question was, “Has Mike gained any weight back?” The answer to that is, “Yes.” I would say most of what is missing now is muscle weight. I don’t know what he currently weighs, but 9 days ago he weighed 26 pounds less than when he went in for brain surgery. And this was after gaining some weight back! He has been eating fine, and now needs to build up muscle.
Tonight there are two nurses who are “floating” from Neuro. That is how Mayo handles lower patient census. They put nurses wherever they are needed if the patient count is too low on their own floor. These nurses both took care of Mike on the Neuro floor and were so happy to see his progress. One asked for the church website so that she could listen to his first sermon back and follow the blog. She then came in to say hello and gave us both hugs. That is the kind of care Mike has received here and we are very grateful!”
Mike’s take on these three days five years out:
Karla said it well, sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. That is something we both have experienced more intensely ever since October 23rd, 2008, the day we discovered this anomaly in my brain. From that day until the day of brain surgery on February 12, 2009 we have had many moments of these seemingly contradictory emotions. Thanksgiving took on an entirely new meaning as we were even more thankful than normal. Hey, if things are simply status quo there is no cause to grow in any way. But when life presents a challenge whether minimal or severe, it is cause for drawing deeply from whatever has been stored up in the sunnier days. Christmas took on a whole new meaning as well, wondering if this would be the last one…or last one as my normal self.
The wedding I performed for Karla’s sister Kara and Eddie on January 3, 2009 was emotional as well. We intentionally scheduled the surgery when we did so as to be sure to get this wedding done! As I read through the traditional vows and asked Kara and Eddie to repeat them after me I was thinking very much about the sacred nature of vows. Also, for better or worse, not even knowing then of how very bad, nearly catastrophically bad it would get before it got better.
Little did they know at the time that Eddie would be diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma just three years later, which is a very treatable form of cancer that they caught in the earliest stage. The prognosis is excellent.
By this time five years ago I was becoming very anxious to get out of the hospital to my own home and my own bed. Funny how much difference a week or two can make. I went from the shock of thinking there’s absolutely no way I will be ready or able to go home and function with any semblance of normalcy to impatience and boredom in such a very short time.
The human brain and body is an amazing thing! The insights and tricks and skills that rehabilitation specialists have acquired and then transfer to patients is nothing short of amazing. I was very blessed to have therapists who didn’t just treat me as a patient, but who really and truly “got me.” For example, the speech therapist worked with me on a 20 minute Easter sermon (normally I would go for about 45 minutes) for more than three weeks, knowing that would provide the highest motivation to work hard at it. My goal was to preach on Easter morning, which I did do, with a break in the middle, because I was so weak I could barely hold my own weight up for ten straight minutes while concentrating on speaking as well.
By this point in our saga, March 24, 2009, I would be heading home in just three days, so I let my guard down just a bit and began to let my mind go toward our five children at home. When that happened it was just as I suspected would happen. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough! I knew it would take a long time to recover from the storm we had just weathered, but I knew that my time at Mayo was quickly coming to an end and I could then focus on the next.
[Comment left by Randy Anderson on March 24th, 2009]
Dear Mike and Karla,
What a trip. The winter of 2009 was a bleak one for the Evans family, but spring has now arrived and you are transitioning into brighter spring like days as well.
I love you both and look forward to increasingly hopeful and joyful reports of your steady, steady progress. John Newton has it right,
‘Tis grace that brought you safe thus far,
and grace will lead you home… and eventually grace will lead you all the way home to the New Heaven and the New Earth where there are no hospitals or sleepless nights or painful coughs or frightened children. Someday!
Look forward to visiting you having you actually remember the visit.
It has not been much fun for Karla or me reliving in real time the storm that blew through our lives five years ago. It has been an emotional, painful, and gut wrenching experiment and experience. It is exhausting in every way. The memories are all still very vivid for both of us, making it seem like only yesterday that these events were occurring. But alas, I look at the calendar and it has been exactly five years ago. These days cover March 19-21, 2009.
Having lived these past five years the real pain now is seeing where these 46 days away and surgeries would eventually lead. As we said in a previous post the past five years have been rough for our entire family. But the final 8 months serving at Crossroad Church (Nov. 2012-July, 2013) and the emotional trauma that came with it was even more gut wrenching than reliving the F5 tornado that blew through our lives five years ago. Yes, that is correct. Both Karla and I are in complete agreement on this.
It’s one thing to be presented with earth shattering news (the AVM in my brain) because we essentially knew what we were dealing with and could make the best possible plans to move through it in faith. And we did. It is quite another thing to be faced with largely faceless criticism after serving the church for nearly 18 years. One was devastating. The other was devastating with a slam dunk.
Over the course of these days five years ago (March 19-21, 2009) Karla had just arrived back in Rochester after being gone for parts of five days. Below you can see her comments regarding encouraging improvements she noticed in my speech and movement. Also I made just my fifth contribution to the blog during these 46 days away. My first posting after the brain surgery on Feb. 12 came on Feb. 24th, two days before I coded with the blood clots in my heart and lungs. It was not until eleven days after the open heart surgery that I was able to post again.
I do want to make clear that I had posted 78 times on the blog from October, 2008- February 12, 2009. During those 46 days Karla posted 56 times. I am so very thankful for her excellent detail in communicating the facts and progress or regression…all through the eyes of a faith-filled woman. I will be relying upon her precision in recording of these days in writing the book.
More Progress 3/19/2009
“It was great to get back to Rochester and see the progress Mike has made. It was noticeable in leg and arm movement and speech.
Mike was in physical therapy when I got to the hospital. I continue to be amazed by how they get the different muscles to work. When I left on Sunday, Mike was doing sidesteps at a bar. Today he was doing it without assistance or support. He is able to tap his toes and lift his leg. Great progress!
His arm movement has also improved. Last week Mike could grip with his hand, but not let it out. This week he can. He can move his thumb very well. He can also lift his arm higher.
Mike’s speech has improved greatly. He pauses much less and the words seem to come more easily. He said that he feels less foggy in his thinking, which is a good thing. The speech therapist is very pleased with his progress.
We spent quite a bit of time discussing getting out. Putting it that way makes it sound like he’s leaving a jail, which I think it is starting to feel like! Tomorrow we should find out the definite discharge date. Mike was not aware that he is going to need extensive outpatient therapy, probably three to four times a week at first. I have already had people volunteer to help with transportation for that, which is great.
The big news of the day is that he gets a day pass to go out of the hospital! We are planning to do this on Saturday. It is a kind of like a dry run for going home. I’m not sure what we’ll do, but I think it will involve eating, and possibly Menards. At least part of it will be fun! There are a lot of things to think about as we prepare to go home, and it will be good to see how we get along outside of the hospital.”
Mike Escaped 3/21/2009
“Yesterday Mike had a great day in rehab. His speech therapist is really challenging him and I have noticed a lot of progress, even though it’s not as much as Mike would like. His hand is opening much better and he is able to lift his arm quite high. The wrist is the next target. In physical therapy he is to the point where they are working on having good control of his shoulders and trunk. I think this will help the pain he has had in his neck.
We had a good, but exhausting, trip out today. First we drove around Rochester a bit looking at the huge houses near the hospital. Then we went to Menards and got the new shower attachment Mike needs. After that it was Olive Garden for our usual chicken parmesan and fettucine alfredo. We finished off the trip with a Culver’s concrete. Mike became thoroughly exhausted and fell asleep immediately after getting in bed.
The other big news is that we have a discharge date. We will be going home next Friday, which is Benj’s birthday! That is probably as good of a birthday present as Benj could get. The rehab therapists had suggested that we not even tell people that we are coming home, but I’m sure the information would get out anyway. They also suggested that we not have visitors for at least the first week, which is advice that we are going to follow. It will be very exhausting for Mike just to go home, let alone be around 5 kids all the time and start the outpatient rehab. I know that everyone is anxious to see him, but I’m afraid that will just have to wait. As he gets his strength back, he will need less rest and be more than ready to see people!
This next week will involve getting the house ready for Mike and me doing more with him in therapy. I have more confidence having gone out today. There are so many things we need to be aware of. I am far more aware of obstacles to walking than I ever was when the kids were learning to walk! We would appreciate your continued prayers as we make this next transition.”
Posting from One Who by all Reasonable Accounts Shouldn’t Even be Here 3/21/2009
- I want you all to know that I’ve read every single one of your comments that you have left on my blog. After all, there were about 3-4 weeks in there where I didn’t even care about anything. I thank you all for your encouraging comments, but Pastor Randy Anderson from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, you sir get the award for the most thoughtful insights through this whole ordeal.
- I am a living walking miracle if by that we mean God working in ways that he normally does not. Kim Whittaker, I believe you were the only one to use this word….I mean people just do not make it out alive from what I’ve been through!
- I can move and lift my arm even higher than I could a week ago, I can tap my foot to keep up with all the square dance parlance, and they say my speech is becoming more fluent…quicker response time and less difficulty in word finding. Not only that but I am also working at a fever pitch on stairs.
- Many of you have asked about how my right side feels. Let me tell you this, it feels normal! I just have to teach my body to re-learn all of these otherwise normal actions.
- Just happy to be here,
Mike’s take on these three days:
While Karla was back home for a few days I was pushing myself as hard as humanly possible to regain movement and speech. They were not unrelated. Or at least I made it so. As Karla writes, when she left for home on Sunday afternoon I could grip things but not release my hand. Regardless of how hard I tried I could not release my grip. I looked at it. Nothing. I spoke silently to my hand. Still nothing. I visualized my hand releasing. Nothing.
But now five days later I had regained the ability to release my hand from a grip. God gave it back to me but I was able to find a method that worked for me. I would speak to my hand and tell it what to do, in no uncertain terms, and not very politely. The louder and more forcefully I spoke the more effective it seemed to be in obeying the command center.
This would prove to become rather humorous to others in the family when I would go home in one week. I found that if I did not speak or even yell at my hand I would grab hold of the refrigerator door or the handrail on the stairs and not let go, thus painfully wrenching my shoulder. My right shoulder already had pain issues from the temporary right side paralysis. I can happily say five years later that I no longer speak to my hand.
But I still didn’t have great movement on my right side. Or coordination. So here we are just one week from going home and I still have minimal functioning and was wondering how it would work going home, barely being able to walk, difficulty with speech, and right side weakness and right side lack of fine motor skills.
Five years out my speech is good. My right side is still weaker than the left, though I have always been left handed. But regardless of how hard I work my right side it is just weaker and it always will be weaker. I have now accepted it as a by-product of the brain surgery.
In order to give a visual to help understand what I mean by right side fine motor skill issues, let me say this. I used to gain much joy by just sitting down and playing the piano nearly every day. I have not done much of that in the past five years because my right side is not able to do what it previously did. My brain still knows what it should do and where it should go but it does not work as it once did. Therefore, it is not an enjoyable thing for me to do anymore.
Plus the break on my right pinky left it deformed and bent-in precisely the width of one note. I broke two fingers tubing behind a boat in 2011 on the first day of vacation in Michigan. I was attempting to do a roll-over on a body tube and didn’t let go of the rope in time…you guessed it with the right hand. Two surgeries later one is better. The other remains as a constant reminder…of many things…like limitations, what once was, but most of all that my right side is always going to be one step behind real life. It’s weird.
The following is just one of 38 insightful and helpful comments on the blog by Randy Anderson on March 21st of 2009. He expresses in words what many of you have told us you also were feeling at the time.
On the morning of your heart surgery any notion that you might be home by the end of March would have struck me as simply ridiculous. In fact all that day if I paused and thought of you and Karla, which I did many times, I would feel my throat tighten and have to struggle to hold back the tears — it all felt so ominous — and now it all seems like it must have just been a bad dream — now your progress sounds so steady and hopeful and encouraging.
I don’t know what all of that was about, but I do know that the Lord had a design in it all — I am confident that both you and Karla will be more compassionate and caring people for the rest of your lives because of these last long, trying, draining, frightening weeks.
I know that the journey of your recovery is long from over, but I also believe and certainly hope that the darkest and most painful days are behind you for some considerable time.
Reading your blog each day pulled me back to those helpless days when I watched my brother suffering in the shadow of his sons cancer; I supported him poorly (if you can even call it support) — I felt so cheap to try and say or do anything — the circumstances were so overwhelming. I felt some of that same helpless, stunned sadness for you. Frozen by the crushing circumstances that Karla would share day by day.
I would say this, there have been times in the past month when what would pass for my prayers for you were ‘groanings too deep for words.’
I am so thankful for your progress; I am so thankful that you will be heading home on your son’s birthday. There are words for this ” Praise God from whom all blessings flow…’
Indeed Randy. Indeed.