Friday, October 16, 2009

Our first day….

Ashton was up in the nurse’s tower. I parked on that side of the hospital and carried our bags up to his room.

I will be honest, I do not remember a whole lot about that first day. I remember that Ashton’s roommate was a 74 yr old man who was in excellent shape and sharp as a tack. I remember that the room had a large picture window that looked at Mt Ranier.

The nurse assigned to us was a ...jubilant young man. Jubilant is the only word that even comes close to describing his character. He was a little scruffy, and had a personality that was barely contained in his small frame. He was a mountain climber and he and his wife worked in the hospital. We met his wife later, and, while he was definitely the more outgoing of the two, she was very sweet and open. I loved how they seemed to be so perfectly at ease with each other.

I got a phone call later that day from a woman named Jennifer Carlson. She is a friend of my sister in law (also named Jennifer). She said that she had something for me and could she drop by the hospital. I met her in the lobby and she said “This is from Jennifer (my sil)” and she gave me a big hug that went on for a long time. I was so grateful for that hug!

She also brought me a gift bag FILLED with all sorts of treasures, a few of which would prove vital to my wellbeing in the days to come. There were magazines, games, pens and paper, snacks, and drinks. I was delighted with all of that, and especially touched that a woman who did not know me, but lived in the area and knew my sil, would spend that much time and money to take care of me.

She asked me if I had had supper (this was about 9 pm). I said no. She asked me if I had been eating much. I hemmed a bit. Frankly I had been too busy and too anxious to eat much. She offered to take me to supper, but it was late, so I declined. She gently urged me to let her get me some food, but honestly I was too anxious to eat. I realized later that every bit of my anxiety was manifesting in what I would eat. I could be perfectly calm as the doctor would give a report or caution, but would panic trying to decide if I should have an orange juice or a coke.
We said our goodbyes, she told me to contact her if I needed anything, and gave me a hug and left.

I also remember that no one said anything to me about visiting hours, either me staying late or me coming in early. We figured that they knew it might be our last night and were not going to push the issue. However, Ash suggested that I go back to the room that night for a few hours to try to sleep.

This is where the night gets a little weird. It was dusk when I was leaving, but the sun sets very late that time of year. Earlier that day I had seen a man and a woman in an elevator. We made eye contact, said hello, and then went on our way.
However, later that night I saw the same man again. He seemed to be paying attention to me as I was leaving to go back to the room. He walked ahead but also seemed to be trying to keep tabs of where I was at the same time. It really made me nervous, but also made me defensive and slightly angry. I can be a fighter when I need to be.

So I ducked behind my car on the passenger’s side and watched him. He got into his car, but then did not leave. I was tired of feeling “stalked”, so I got into my car and drove deliberately by his car to get a license plate number. I was not sure that he was up to no good, but I wanted his license anyway. I drove into another adjacent parking lot and waited to see if he would follow. I pulled in where I could see him coming if he did, and I called Ashton. I told Ashton what was going on, though I hated that I was giving him stress the night before his surgery! I just did not know what else to do. We waited for several minutes, but the guy never came by.

Ash was calming and said to just go to the hotel, park in the front, and not open my door to anyone. I figured that by the time I got to the hotel, I would know if the guy was following me.

I drove off base, watching for his car. It was a several minute drive to the hotel, and I never saw his car, though by this time it was dark. I decided to take an earlier exit, thinking it would get me to my hotel more quickly. It didn’t. I ended up getting lost. This did NOT help my skittish nerves any at all.

I knew the direction of my hotel (it was right off the highway) and knew that I was probably less than a mile from it…I just could not seem to get there from where I was. I slowly picked my way through residential streets when suddenly I saw a deer in the road. It just appeared so quickly! I was not going fast, but it was wholly unexpected. Not too long after that, I saw a cat that looked just like my cat sitting in a driveway.

Seriously, I wondered if I was losing the road in a mental sense, not just literally at that point. The stress of the past week (both happy stress from the frantic getting ready for the tea party and then the life or death stress of Ash), very little sleep, almost no food, dehydration, and the stranger in the parking lot was certainly a lot for me to handle. I thought if I saw one more odd thing (like any other animals that looked like my pets!), that I would say that I had mentally reached the end of my rope.

However, thank the Lord, there was nothing more odd that night. I finally found my hotel, circled the parking lot looking for that man’s car, then quickly went into the hotel. I told the front desk lady (not Mercy this time) not to give my name or room number out, that I had seen a stranger. She assured me that they never give that information out. I went into my room and called Ashton. I took a super quick shower (I always feel vulnerable in the shower because I cannot hear anything) then got into bed. I set my alarm for a few hours later and fell into a deep sleep.

Thinking more rationally now, I have two more plausible theories about that stranger in the parking lot. The first is “Coincidence. He was not waiting for me, was not hesitating for me. Had his own things going on and I just misread the situation.”
The second is that I had been wearing my headcovering, and he had a large cross hanging in his car. I wonder if he was just curious and wanting to talk to me, as I got the idea from seeing him earlier in the day that he was a gregarious type of fellow.


I do not know if I mentioned much about the tumor itself I promise I will not get too graphic in this description!). It was the size of a ping pong ball, and was between the skull and the brain and down into the left eye socket. Because of the size and area, everyone was prepared for emergency surgery on Tuesday (remember, we flew down Monday night.). The neurosurgeon had said “Get him here NOW”.

However, when they saw how healthy Ashton was, the neurosurgeon, Dr. Ha, decided to wait one more day. This allowed them to get better tests and proceed carefully, not hurriedly.

I called Ashton when I got into the room that first night. He had been in-processed (an ordeal in itself involving a few missteps which required him to get multiple blood tests and an apology from the hospital staff!), and had been informed by Dr. Ha that the surgery was postponed. So when I called, Ashton suggested that I try to come in at 8 am, and that I should get some sleep until then.

I drove up to Madigan hospital that morning. It is a beautiful, healing place—truly you can feel the healing in the air. It has an outpatient “medical mall” that is very reminiscent of a 2 story shopping mall. The ceiling of the mall is all skylights with light diffusing fabric billowed across the mall. Each specialty (peds, immunization, neuro, etc) are tucked along each side, both upstairs and downstairs, with groups of chairs in front of each specialty desk. There is a large escalator in the middle of the mall.

The medical mall connects to what I think is called the nursing tower. It is 7 stories of offices, OR’s, and wards. The two are connected with a tall, narrow passage that is glass on both sides. Outside of the glass is a courtyard. The courtyard is a beautiful, wonderful place! It has a meandering little stream strewn with small rocks and grassy parts. This stream goes between the buildings and out the other side into a quiet “botanical garden” looking area with weeping willow trees, lots of green grass and wonderful flowers, and many different benches and areas that are tucked here and there. You can tell it was designed not only to heal the body, but provide soothing environments for the spirit and mind as well.

The highlight of the courtyard is the two swans that inhabit it. They are the classic, breathtaking swans with the graceful arched necks. They paddle around in the stream, then doze and preen on the grass. There is a sidewalk that you can walk on through the courtyard, and the swans will be napping just inches from your feet! There are no fences, no barriers. Just a little touch of soothing nature for the broken and wounded soldiers and dependents who come to Madigan to be treated and convalesce.

Oh and there is an Anthony’s pizza too hee hee. For those of you who are not in the military, anthony’s pizza is a staple of most, if not all, bases across the globe. Tis a hard, remote assignment that does not at least have an anthony’s pizza! It is not gourmet pizza, but it is familiar and the slices are big. It was in the basement of the nurse’s tower with the mess hall, a shoppette, and a barber shop.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Finding Mercy

I made my way through Seattle and Tacoma without incident. I was afraid I might get drowsy driving that way in the dark, but I didn't. The Lord refreshed me, kept me clear and alert.

I was not sure what my hotel was going to be like. It was not a chain that I had heard of, so I was afraid it might not be clean. When I was a kid, we were traveling with some friends and ended up at a motel that was dreadful. The bathtub was only about 2 feet long, there was commotion and chaos, and the room was so filthy that I imagined rats were climbing on the bed. I ended up spending most of the night in the bathroom with the light on. Ever since then, I have been wary of hotels I had not heard of.

I needn’t have worried. The Liberty Inn was a beautiful, new, shiny hotel. It had a huge, tastefully decorated foyer. It was nestled in the town center of one of the upscale little hamlets in the area, where the main drag is all posh coffee shops, book stores, and wood-fired-oven pizza restaurants. The wait staff were smiling, friendly people, and you almost expected them to break into some sort of song like in a Broadway musical.

I was amazed that the room had stone counters by the sink. Stone! I am not sure if it was granite or what, but it was beautiful. I remembered turning on the water and the blast of chlorine smell hit me. We are on well water here in Alaska, so chlorinated water was quite a shock. It smelled much stronger than it tasted, and it was easy to drink, so it was not a big deal. It just startled me.

The person I remember most at that hotel was named, perfectly enough, Mercy. Honestly, I wonder if she was yet another angel the Lord put in my path. She worked the front desk there. As I checked in, I told her about what was going on. You know me, I have very little in terms of filter between emotions and mouth, so I am pretty much an open book. She listened so attentively to me, with gasps of sympathy and expressions of care. I found out later that she told other ladies that she worked with my story, so when I walked through the foyer on my trips to and from the hospital, I always encountered sympathetic looks and murmurs.

She asked me often how Ashton was doing. She also noticed that I was not sleeping in long stretches, nor eating much. One morning she insisted that I get something from the continental breakfast to take with me. She then turned to the lady setting out the food and told her to get me anything I needed. I loved Mercy, she was yet another person that the Lord put in my path to take care of me. When I ended up having to move to another hotel, I missed her terribly! Please take a moment to pray for her, that the Lord will bless her for being a faithful, kind woman. Thank the Lord for her for me, as I do not feel that my prayers of thanks are enough for the kindness she showed. She earned the name she was given. Thank You Lord!

Landing in Seattle

As soon as the plane touched down, Ash and I were talking on the phone. He had landed not too long before I did, but he landed at Ft. Lewis with the med evac. He was going to be checked into the hospital. I was to call him when I was settled in at the hotel. I had to make my way from the airport in Seattle to my hotel on the other side of Tacoma.

To be honest, I was not sure how to even rent my car! Thank the good Lord again for Stephanie Rowland—she had everything set up for me. The airport was quiet for as busy as Sea Tac usually is. I made my way to the car rental counter. There was a young woman working there. She must have been having a bad day or something as she was so very sullen! I would have thought she was taking offense at my headcovering, but she was wearing a small cross around her neck. I was not sure what to say to her. Not that I am trying to be judgmental at all! This is not a dig against her at all…I cannot imagine what must have been going on in her life to make her so thoroughly unhappy. It seemd that it was not just a “late night tired” sort of thing, but something upsetting her. I just tried to be as smiling and gentle as I could as she got my paperwork done. I left her wishing I could have done something to help.

I found my car—a non-descript, dull grey, sub-sub-sub compact buggy. Oh that car cracked us up! It TOTALLY ruined my parking skills (ask Ashton, he’ll tell you!). It took me days to figure out how to park that car, then took me weeks to relearn how to park my suburban at home! We joked that that car was small enough to parallel park in a straight parking space. It also had very low ground clearance, so I invariably ended up scraping the bottom of it on the curbs. It only drove up to about 59 mph comfortably, and started a very disconcerting shiver at 60 mph. The great thing about it, though, was that it could zip-zip in and out of traffic with ease, like a little mouse scampering around 18 wheeled cats. I even found myself making “zip zip” sound effects when changing lanes or pulling into traffic. I told Ashton that it was good that it was maneuverable, as that was its only protective feature—if we were in an accident, we were toast. Our only hope was to be able to skitter out of the way of danger.

I do not know what time it was at this point. I want to say 2 am-ish. I had about 45 minutes of drive to go in a town that I was wholly unfamiliar with. I should probably mention now that I have a very loose association with direction. I never worry when I am lost (I am optimistic that “eventually” I will find my way), but I am also rarely certain of where I am. I have lived in Alaska for over 10 years and am still not sure what some of the main roads are called.

With map in hand, I start driving towards where my hotel is (at least I think I am). It felt kind of good to have to take care of “grown up things” like car rentals and finding hotels, though really I was not doing it, the Lord had everything taken care of. It still seemed like a “big girl adventure”.

The Plane Rides

I had to fly down to Anchorage, switch planes, then continue to Seattle. I will say that the plane rides themselves were the only parts of the trip that I remember where people were not as open to me. I remember wanting so much to talk to someone on the flight, to let them know just a little bit about what I was going through. However, no one on the flights were very open.

While that is sort of odd, especially in light of how the rest of the trip went with people being very receptive and kind, I know that the Lord knew what was best. I needed time with Him. I needed to be alone. Sometimes we think we need people when what we ALWAYS need first is Him. He gave me several hours of being alone, surrounded by people, to just settle down and be in His presence. The next two weeks were going to be full of people and events. I would not have another block of hours that would be empty for a couple of weeks. This is what I needed, though at the time I did not realize that.

At The Airport

Jennifer dropped me off at the airport and said she was going to park the car. I was running late, so I RACED to check in. I flew through the check in process, and the lady behind the counter was friendly and sweet. I noticed later during this trial that the Lord made it so that everyone’s heart was turned to me. It was weird. It was like everyone was my best friend trying to make my situation better. I had never had that before from so many perfect strangers! I wonder if He lined my way with angels.

I waited as long as I could for Jennifer to bring the babies in so I could say goodbye to them. However, I was late for the plane and had to hurry through security. I realized that I would not get to hug my babies goodbye as I stood there in the TSA line. That thought broke my heart. I was hoping, hoping, hoping that I could just see them, that they would suddenly appear and I could say “Wait! Let me go hug them quick and get back in line.”. There just was not enough time.

Then TSA found two multi-tools that I had forgotten I had in my bag. Now, we are in Alaska, as I mentioned. EVERYONE carries something. However, I had thought that I had gotten all of them out of my bag. I carry a large backpack (a habit I got into when I was in middle school and never quite stopped doing). In the rush, I forgot to check all the pockets and left a leatherman and a “guppy” which is sort of like a carabiner with little screw heads, a small knife, I think it has a flashlight or something too. Anyway, both of those were gifts from Ashton. I was getting more upset by this time (not angry, just trying not to cry in front of the TSA folk). I was afraid I was going to get in some sort of trouble, but the TSA lady was SO nice! She suggested that I could just put those in an envelope and mail them back to myself, but I did not have time. I told her just to take them and went to my plane.

I sat down in the plane and called Jen before we took off. I got to hear my precious children’s voices, and I said I was sorry I could not give them a hug before I left. I told them I loved them and to be good. I asked Jen to please hug them for me…it was VERY important to me that the kids got a hug—like life or death important to me. Probably because life just seemed so fragile at that point, had been turned so upside down. Everything was uncertain. I just begged her to please give them a hug from me. Then I said goodbye.

As I sat back in the seat, I cried just a few tears. Not many, as I was afraid that the emotions of the day were such that if I started crying, I would not be able to stop or control my emotions. If they got out, they would be impossible to put back, I was afraid. So I cried a few tears, prayed more to the Lord that I would get to come home to my babies, that I would get to hug them again, and settled back for the flight.