This is one in a series of blog postings that we are doing in real time plus five years to the day of going through brain surgery. As you will see the memories are still fresh and vivid. If you are interested in seeing a summary post and pictures from five years out just click on the colored link, Five Year Anniversary of Brain Surgery.
I am currently in the process of writing a book detailing our experiences and thoughts over these past five years. I have asked Karla to write a post today giving her recollections from Feb. 18-19th, 2009.
Mike has been wanting me to write one of these blog posts, and I guess today is the day. The other night I read through all of the blog postings from when Mike was in the hospital 5 years ago. I was surprised at the emotional response that I had to many of them. The past 15 months have been difficult for my family, and often very painful for me personally. As I re-read the blog from 5 years ago, I am reminded of how much has changed in the past 5 years. I also recalled many details that were not recorded in the blog, which, by the way, is the only written account of the events during that time. Some of the details are not recorded out of my desire to show great respect for my husband. Some are to protect myself. And some are just not there because they were too painful to post at the time. So today, I hope to add to the details of this date, five years ago.
I posted on the blog in the morning on February 18, 2009. This was following the first night that I had spent in the hospital during Mike’s time there. I was uneasy leaving Mike there by himself. Call it whatever you want, discernment, premonition, whatever. I just was not comfortable leaving him there alone. I had taken Jared and Benj back to the Krueger’s house in a bad snowstorm, and turned immediately around to go back to the hospital. Turns out it was a good idea to take them to the house and a good idea for me to come back!
Mike was very out of sorts on the morning of the 18th. He had been running a slight fever, not slept well, and had a terrible cough. So they were running tests to rule out any of the bad stuff that can happen after brain surgery. The last paragraph of the post says,
“For today, I am holding onto the fact that God is holding onto us. He will not let us go, regardless of how our lives look. God has used many scriptures and people to encourage us, so we’ll keep going for another day.”
I am really not a fan of some of my comments as I look back at them! I probably should have done so more in the midst of our time there. Shortly after this was written, God holding onto us felt more like we were a yo-yo being hurled up and down.
As was often the case, Mike ate lunch and then I would go eat lunch. That day Kathleen Osborne was there and wanted to take me out for lunch at Olive Garden. Yes, I know where I went to lunch on February 18, 2009. I can tell you lots of other places I ate and with whom I ate during this time. My brain has lots of useless information in it! And then I would go back to Mike’s room and not tell him where or what I had eaten so as not to make him feel bad about what he had to eat.
After we got back, Mike said that he felt warm. They took his temperature and it was slightly elevated but not too much. Mike did not feel well, so Kathleen and I were sitting there chatting when Kathleen suddenly said that it looked like he was having a seizure. His head was turning to the right and his arm was lifting up. I pushed that call button and immediately ran out to find a nurse. No one ever seemed to move fast enough in these emergency situations to make me happy! It seemed like a long time, but I am guessing that it was just minutes before a nurse came in and started the ativan to bring a quick end to the seizure.
So what do I do in such circumstances? Leave the room. I know that I think I know more about what is going on than I really do, so it is best for me to just leave. In this particular instance I went in the hallway and started hyperventilating. On the ICU floors there are a lot of rooms to go in where family members can discretely have a meltdown. Not so on a regular floor. So a kind older gentleman saw me and found me a chair to sit in so that I would not pass out. I also remember him getting a bag to breathe into. He then went and asked the neurosurgeon who was in his son’s room to please check on my husband. This was not our surgeon, but another one. He then found the one room on the floor where I could hyperventilate in privacy. He and his wife are a dear couple who we still hear from every Christmas.
By the time Dr. Meyer and Dr. Fogleson arrived, things had settled down and they were preparing to move Mike back to the neuro ICU. He had spiked a fever of 105 which is what caused the seizure. They did not know what caused the fever. Since he had recently had brain surgery, Tylenol was the only medication allowed to bring down the fever. It did not work well and only so much can be given in a 24-hour period.
So the only other option available to bring down fever was to put Mike in a bed with only a sheet to cover him and a cooling blanket beneath him and ice packs on top in a room set at about 55 degrees. I kept my coat on whenever I was in the room. I wish that I were better at describing what this was like. It was cold. Despair hung in the air. It was lonely, even with people who genuinely cared for us around. The doctors mentioned how it was a balancing act to try to figure out how far they could push the treatment limits considering Mike was only 6 days post-brain surgery. The previous 6 days had felt hard, but this was brutal.
In one of the moments when I was not in with Mike, I called my parents and asked them to please come up and get Benj and Jared. We had hoped it would be encouraging to have them around, and at times it was, but it was too much. Mike had to be my only focus, and I think Jared just felt ignored. My parents said that they would be up the next afternoon to get them.
Once Mike was settled in for the night, I left to go back to the Krueger’s house. I don’t know where I ate that night. Chipotle is a good guess, since it was right off the road to their house, fast, and I could take a few minutes to decompress before heading back. Ray and Connie were always so encouraging, no matter what had happened during the day! Connie always had some angel food cake. They would listen to me, cry with me, speak words of truth from the Bible. God greatly used them to keep me going during such days.
And that night I made a phone call. Before we left for Mayo I had set up a group of friends who I could call when I needed, and whose calls I would answer if they called me. That night I called the Andersons. When Randy answered the phone, I said, ‘Hi Randy. This is Karla.” I must have sounded bad, or may even have been crying. Before I could say anything else he said, “I’ll get Shirley.”
When my dear friend got on, I told her that I had actually called to talk to Randy that time. When Randy got back on the phone I told him that I needed a pastor tonight. It was a very dark night of the soul for me. I asked him if we had made the wrong decision, or not accurately discerned God’s will. He told me that we had done what needed to be done. That this complication was not God’s punishment for our error. That Mike and I had faithfully sought God in this and we were right to have the surgery. He agreed that it was hard to understand why we were going through all this. I am sure he had other words of comfort as well, because he is really good at that! And I assume he prayed with me but don’t really remember. Then I went to bed so that I could be up early for whatever the 19th would hold.
I am crying as I write this even now. The memories are so vivid that I can see these events unfolding in my mind. I now know the effect they would have on our lives. Mike’s life, my life, our children’s lives, the lives of our friends, the life of our church. The pain is still there, but God is now bringing beauty out of ashes. He is bringing us healing and restoration as we could never had expected. He is giving us far more than we have asked or imagined. Only a great God could do such a thing! And thus ends what I now (not) fondly call Blood Infection Day.
Here is one of Karla’s posts from February 19, 2009:
“I arrived this morning at 6:10 to find Mike with another fever pushing 105, so I think we’re in for another long day.
I beat the doctor by 5 minutes, so I probably got maximum sleep. They cannot figure out what the fever is from yet. They are bringing in the infectious disease doctors today. Obviously it is better to know what we’re dealing with than not, so please pray to that end.
He is still on the cooling blanket that he has been on since they put him back in ICU. I am thinking this is the same thing that was used on our neighbors’ newborn daughter to preserve her life. So, in spite of everything today, I have been thanking God for the technology and thinking of little Amanda next door.
As I was driving into Rochester, I was listening to the Come Weary Saints CD. I wrote about it a couple weeks ago, when we were still at home. I decided that the Sovereign Grace people need to do another one called Come Even Wearier Saints. I thought I was weary a couple weeks ago. I wasn’t. I hope it doesn’t get any wearier than this!
I also called a friend last night and told him that I needed a pastor. He was very pastoral and told me that as hard as this all is, we didn’t make the wrong decision. I needed to hear that last night.
My parents were at a basketball game and ran into someone they casually know. His father had a stroke at age 44, which is exactly how old Mike is. They discovered it was caused by an AVM. He died a couple of years later. He told my parents that he thought it was a good thing Mike had the surgery. This is from a son, which is really why we did this, so that our kids will have a dad for many more years.
Just another way God is good. When I am starting to question what we have done, He sends both spiritual and practical confirmation that all is well, from His perspective. Hopefully by tonight it will be better from ours!”
Mike’s take on that day:
As I think back to those two days (Feb. 18-19th) some of is still very vivid to me as well. I remember as through a fog dimly having the seizure that sent me back up to the ICU, but the days on the cooling blanket lying naked in a room kept at 55 degrees are still fresh. Remember now that there was a metronome (tick-tock) sound ringing in my head non-stop which only later did we find out it was the titanium plates shifting into place. Add to that the trauma still fresh in my mind from the blood pressure medicine which had me believing that aliens were coming to get me and nurses were trying to kill me and you have a recipe for crazy.
Karla tells me that this was the day that I told her to delete all the pictures she had taken to document our adventures…which she did. I had asked her previously to take pictures at every stage of the process. But by this time I was scared and paranoid of what might happen next. At every turn there seemed to be another complication, this time a blood infection which in retrospect we understand just how serious this could have been with nearly 30% of people who get them eventually dying from them. This was no longer a “cool thing” to show how strong my faith could be in a fiery trial. All the sudden it became a fight for my very life. I remember lying there in that cold dark room with my fever fluctuating. I specifically remember a time when I thought the fever was gone for good and a wave of hope flooding over me, only to have it come back again. More fear and despair. What next I thought to myself? Ironically, what was probably occurring during those days lying motionless on a cooling blanket (development of blood clots) would prove to be the answer to that question.