Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and I’ve been thinking…thinking about many things. But frequently on this eve of Valentine’s Day 2017 my mind has wandered back to eight years ago this morning when the ventilator was removed following brain surgery the day before to remove a large brain blob of tangled arteries and blood vessels (called an arteriovenous malformation (avm)) in the left frontal lobe of my brain. Continue reading On Not Taking Things For Granted
In September of 2014 a couple of friends and I traversed the Grand Teton Mountains on the popular Teton Crest Trail. After the first day of ,snow, rain, and wind, the days were glorious. Nights were chilly but we slept well, I tucked into my brand new zero degree 800 down fill sleeping bag that weighs less than two pounds.
On the morning of our first full day in we heard from a park ranger that a Grizzly bear had been seen in our camp area the previous day. That got our attention. I’ve been backpacking since I was 18 years old but have never had even one bear encounter, either Black or Grizzly. Moose, deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, martens,gray jays, and a large variety of lower mammals that have eaten my entire snack cache, we have encountered. But not bears.
As we began our second day in the Tetons it was a glorious day. September 19, 2014 is the day I snapped this picture. I remember because it is the same day I turned 50 years old. I turned 50 in style, out in some of God’s greatest handiwork that few people ever have the privilege of seeing first hand. Why? Because to get to some of God’s most majestic and glorious creativity and beauty, takes an extraordinary amount of effort to get there in the first place. Oh there are some places like the Grand Canyon, that my family was able to visit last year, that are both glorious and public.
But once a year I prefer to go where relatively few have ever been. Standing atop Mount Whitney (in the Sierra Mountains in California) at 14,494 feet in 2013 and gutting out the 99 switchbacks to get there is a feat that few can say they have achieved. Mt. Whitney is the second highest mountain peak in the lower 48 states.
Oh yes, it can be difficult getting to the heights. It is difficult, sometimes painful, blister inducing, occasionally experiencing freak snowstorms, windstorms, rainstorms…and other unpleasantries….so much so that I have to remind myself of why it’s worth it.
It’s worth it for the occasional breath-taking views. It’s worth it for the camaraderie that develops between the trekkers, each year with its own unique script. It’s worth it because when one is out in the wild one forgets about the troubles he has left behind. It’s worth it because I tend to think less of my problems when in the wilderness and think rightly about my family and the precious gift my wife and children are to me. It’s worth it because God’s creation is worth much and not to see it and explore it is to deprive oneself of something inexpressibly glorious. It’s worth it because it recharges my soul.
So as we continue to make plans to hike in Glacier National Park this next summer, I will remind myself again and again why it’s worth it.
When Karla and I were in Israel in 2011 I snapped this shot of one of the two possible sites near where Jesus was crucified. Matthew 27:33-34 says “And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull) they offered him wine to drink mixed with gall, but when he had tasted it, he would not drink it.”
Here are some pictures I took at the ancient city of Petra (which means rock) in Jordan when Karla and I had the opportunity to visit Israel and the surrounding areas in 2011. We were captivated by the colorful cloth and the reddish rocks….and this beautiful hidden city in the midst of a desolate climate.
It’s been a little over a year since I last posted on the blog. Two hundred and eighty-seven posts in the last seven plus years…but just one in the last year.
Seven years ago today at approximately 6:00 am I coded. I had brain surgery on Feb. 12, 2009 to remove the massive AVM in the left frontal lobe of my brain. The surgery was a success by neurosurgeon standards as the AVM no longer exists. But post surgery I was initially unable to move the right side of my body or speak a word. Scary stuff!
Two weeks later on February 26, 2009 I coded and if not for my wife Karla I surely would have died. She was in the rehab room with me when I coded. I don’t remember much at all from the night, just a nagging back pain.
The department heads from Cardiology, Neurology, and Vascular collaborated and soon discovered that there was a massive blood clot in my heart and many more in my lungs. So they did the only thing they could do and performed emergency open heart surgery…a procedure that is rarely performed. The doctors did not expect me to live, but they gave it their best shot.
And with the skillful precision of Dr. Sundt’s scalpel and the prayers of thousands of you (There were 5,794 hits on the blog that day alone) I made it through the second major surgery in just two weeks, and would end up spending a total of 46 days at the Mayo Clinic Hospital, St. Marys.
They were truly life altering, seismic shifting days in the life of our family…and yes we still feel the repercussions even today more than seven years removed. It was a very costly season for this family of seven, and by this I do not mean the $550,000 this whole venture cost the insurance company. That was a mere pittance compared to the greater tolls this did take and would eventually take on our entire family, and me losing my job (in July, 2013) as the pastor of the church I had served for nearly 18 years.
For the past two and a half years we have been attending a church in West Des Moines where we have connected with kind hearted people in a very profound way. We are experiencing true Christian community in a way that we had previously not known. We have all grown as we continue to heal.
Six months ago I completed the book I have written concerning the last six-plus years of our lives. The preliminary title is “When Your Mess Becomes Your Message.” As it sits now it is 200 plus pages long in a single spaced 12 point font in a Word document which would probably translate to 600 plus pages. So we are now going to begin the process of seeking out a publisher who might be interested. And if that doesn’t pan out then we will self publish the story.
Oh yes one more thing, earlier this evening Karla and I also submitted our official entry in the CBS reality show “The Amazing Race.” We have been talking about this for two years. We love the show and this would be a great time to run it together as we will celebrate 30 years of marriage this December.
There is just one letter difference between the Amazing Race and Amazing Grace. Our lives are both. In addition if we should be selected from the tens of thousands of applicants and win the millions dollar prize that would be twice what Karla would have received from my life insurance policy had I died seven years ago this very day.
This morning we awoke to a text message that said a friend of ours had died after a long bout with cancer. I had just visited with him nine days earlier. And now he is with Jesus, as will all of those who have truly trusted in Christ alone for salvation. I almost got to heaven seven years ago today. Jeb is already there.
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.
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.