Monday, November 30, 2009

ICU 2nd Night

I stayed with him the first night and no one said anything. The second night, I expected to stay with him again. It did not occur to me to leave him. I could not leave him there all alone. My fatigue numbed mind conjured up the idea that I was useful, that my presence could mean the difference in seconds if he stopped breathing or something. While the nurses took exceptional care of him, they were not with him every second. I was there though. However, now that I have had rest and am thinking clearly, I know that the Lord had it all in His hand—whether Ash lives or dies is not up to me, but up to Him.

Anyway, at some point she came in that second night and pulled the curtain between me and the window to the nurse’s station…
“Could you do me a favor?” she asked.
“Sure”
“Could you move back into that corner? “ I realized that she was trying to hide me. They were going to try to make me go home.
“Is someone upset that I am here?” I ask. I am sorrowed both that someone is upset with me, and that I might have to leave.
“Yeah, but don’t worry about it. We will just put you here—out of sight, out of mind.” She said cheerfully. It was not so easy for me though, I am very much a rule follower and she had been so nice, I did not want to get her in trouble.

“I do not want to get you in trouble! I can leave if you need me to.”
“Oh no, you stay. The charge nurse is just being grouchy. He gets that way. Don’t worry about it.”. I miserably pulled my chair to the corner as she left. I could not handle this, and prayed. At least I think I prayed. To be honest, I cannot remember, but I am sure I must have. I was out of strength, out of resources and He was the only link I had to lean on. I had nothing left.

She came in a little while later and talked to me about it. I told her again that I could leave. She said “No, in fact I made a husband stay with another patient. I moonlight at xyz hospital and I like the way they do it. They call it family care, and they bring beds in for the family to stay, and kids can come in and everything. I do not agree with the policy here.”.

While I was relieved that there was another rule breaking spouse in the ward, I was a bit worried. What if I needed to go to the bathroom? I would have to go past the nurse’s station, then be buzzed back in.

“Do I need to just hide here til morning?” I asked
“Oh no! “ she said “Come and go as you please. Do not feel that you have to not go to the bathroom or something. I talked to him and told him that you were staying. He knows. I asked him if it was his time of the month.” She chuckled a bit there, but not unkindly. Then she continued “He said to me “Who do you think you are breaking the rules?” and I said “I’M FAMILY CARE!”. She laughed again. “And then I gave him some chocolate. No problems. He just gets this way sometimes.”.

So I stayed that night. I sat in the chair by Ash's bed with a pair of heavy hunting socks and sandals, trying to keep warm and getting snatches of sleep, but terrified that I would be asleep and Ash would stop breathing or something.

However, early the next morning, the past three days started catching up with me. I had only slept about 5 hours of the past 72, if that. My last food of substance had been one scarfed down piece of pizza at home before the flight on Monday, and this was Thursday morning. I noticed that my ears sounded hollow and I was slightly dizzy...I just felt unwell as I roused from sleep.

Jolene came into the room, and I started to become more awake. I also started struggling mightily in my spirit.

Sometimes it seems like there are two "me's". One was the "me" who really loved and depended on the Lord, and the other was a bad, cold, disbelieving "me" who rejected Him or something. I cannot explain it well. It was a spiritual attack, a continuation of what had plagued me Monday morning before Ash had gone for the CT scan. I prayed hard, felt alone, felt cold, felt close to Him, felt a million miles away. I struggled and prayed. I had no strength for this. I realized that I was feeling faint and sick. I was not sure what to do. I did not want to tell anyone that I was feeling so bad—I wanted to seem neither weak nor whiney nor take attention from Ashton. I just felt ill. I was utterly spent.

“We are going to give you a bath” Jolene told Ashton. “you can help” she said to me. I honestly could not manage any stimulation at that point, but thankfully she was busy doing something.

“I’ll be right back. I am just going to run to the bathroom,” I said in as calm and upbeat a voice as I could muster. My thoughts were not logical or reasonable, I was afraid that I would be sick. I was afraid that I would pass out in the bathroom and no one would come in to find me for hours. I also did NOT want the attention of someone who falls out on the floor. I did not want to hear myself mutter “No, really, I’m ok” as they take my blood pressure and give me IV fluids. I would be mortified, embarrassed. They would make me go home, and maybe not come back to be with Ashton. I was afraid to leave the bathroom, as it was a place of quiet and safety, but I also needed to get back to Ash and help.

“Lord, please. I feel so bad. Please, please do not let me be sick. Please let me feel better. I cannot do this with You.”. I said as I made my way to the bathroom. I noticed that the bathroom had been recently cleaned, and I was grateful for that. Public bathrooms are not my favorite thing.

I started feeling slightly better after using the restroom, however, I knew that my strength was totally gone. I did not even have enough mental or emotional energy to will myself to press on. I was dull of mind and weak in body. As I walked back to the ICU, I googled “Severe exhaustion”. I wanted to see if I was reaching a dangerous level of exhaustion, if there was such a thing. Is there a time where your exhaustion is so bad that your body starts to shut down? I was not sure. I was afraid that I would snap mentally or collapse physically. I thought about how my immune resistance must be gone. I was afraid that I would pick up some terrible germ through the cut on my toe that I had gotten before Ash went to surgery (I read way too much about resistant bacteria).

Please understand that I did not dwell on me for me! I just did not want to be weak, be a casualty. I wanted to be strong. The Lord had allowed me to be strong so far, and people thought I was. I did not want to fail.

The only things I found on severe exhaustion were either mentioning adrenal problems or were quasi medical sites talking about wholeness and wellness. I realized that it did not matter anyway--what would I do even if I found out that I was severely exhausted? I would not leave Ash, and I would not tell the nurse “I googled severe exhaustion and found that I have many of the symptoms”. Yeah, right.

So I walked into the room, and again the Lord provided me strength I did not have. I helped Jolene bathe Ashton, and was no longer nauseated or faint. I forgot that I had even felt that way! The Lord had provided supernaturally the strength I needed. I now understand what Paul meant when he said “When I am weak, then I am strong”. That spiritual battle was over. I was ready to help my husband. The Lord made me capable when I was not. He sustained me.

First night in ICU

Dr. Ha led us into ICU. There Ashton lay with tubes and monitors and a big white bandage on his head. I expected more blood or more bandage, but he looked neat and comfortable. His left eye was a bit bruised, but not terribly, and the swelling was less than I expected. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised.

Ash’s folks and I came up to him and talked to him. He opened his one eye groggily and answered our questions in a voice that was soft but not terribly weak. His folks did not stay long…they were exhausted from a long flight. However, I think they went back to the motel greatly relieved to see that Ashton pulled through the surgery.

I stayed, though. Ben was the first ICU nurse. He was a tall fellow with warm brown eyes, but a manner that seemed to be both tender and guarded at the same time. I wondered if something had happened, if he was hurt by a girlfriend or something in the past. It did not seem to me like he was just maintaining a professional distance, but rather it seemed like a struggle to him…like part of him wanted to be open, but part of him insisted on maintaining a bravado or a guard. I am probably wrong, but that is how it seemed to me.

He was very patient with my questions. All of them. I was very thankful.
At one point, he had to do a neuro check on Ashton. These checks involved telling ashton to push down with his feet, pull up with his feet, grasp a nurse’s fingers tightly as he could, and follow a light. They also asked him questions. The first night we were talking about what day it was. I mentioned that it was Wednesday. Ben looked straight at me with a raised eyebrow and said “No, it’s not.”. That unnerved me a bit. I mean, I could have sworn it was, but I was so exhausted, that it was entirely possible I was wrong. In fact, the only reason why I thought it was Wednesday was because I thought I remembered us watching After The Catch on discovery channel the night before his surgery, and that comes on on Tuesday.

“No, I think it is Wednesday” I said confused and desperately trying to sort my days and nights in my head “I thought we watched deadliest catch last night.”.
“No, its Thursday” he said, going to his computer.
“Are you serious!? Did I lose a whole day?” I asked. It really was bothering me. He typed a bit on his computer and then said “Oh, no, you are right, it is Wednesday….you have to excuse me, I have been on nights for two weeks straight…” he seemed a bit embarrassed.

“Oh no problem” I said, secretly relieved that I had not lost a whole day.
I engaged Ben in light conversation—my usual questions of where he was from, how long he had been there, etc. I wish I could tell you more about him, but I do not remember anything he said. It was a total blur.

I do remember watching what I came to call “The Ashton Show”. It was a monitor that he was hooked up to. It measured his heart rate, his blood pressure through an arterial line, his temperature, his breathing rate, and his breathing rhythm. The first day, sometimes an alarm would go off when his oxygen level would go down. I was not sure if that was ok, but I knew the alarm was going off in the nurses’ station and no one else seemed to be troubled by it. Eventually his oxygen rate would raise back to normal. Soon I realized that this was par for his course—his apnea had gotten to the point where his oxygen level would go in the 80’s until he sputtered or stirred. “We need to get this taken care of. This is out of control.” I made a mental note to myself. I cannot imagine how exhausted he must be every day if every few minutes of sleep he was not getting enough oxygen. If he pulled through this, I wanted him to be able to rest well.

I even considered that maybe this is why his tumor has grown. I read at one point that people will try to boost their oxygen level in their blood to keep cancer at bay. While I prayed this tumor was not cancer, it would not surprise me if somehow the apnea played a part in it.

I did not know what to do with Ash when I got in the ICU. I asked Ben “Should I let him sleep or keep pestering him?”.

“What would you want to do if you just had brain surgery? Let him sleep.”.

“Ok.” I said. It might seem like a stupid question, but I was wondering if it would be better to keep arousing him. I was afraid he would slip away into a coma and we would not know it. That makes sense, right? Well, maybe it doesn’t, but it did to me at the time.

Right before 7 pm, Ben started making his last chores before he got off duty. I was bummed that he was going off duty. I was not “bonding” to him, but he was becoming familiar in such a strange, scary time.

For the night shift, a new nurse came on duty. I will be honest, I was hoping that it was not a female. It sounds bad, but sometimes I do not get along well with females. I tend to get along better with males. I like females, but I tend to put women off. However, this little Chamorro girl named Jolene was our new nurse for the night. I soon was praising God for her, as she was kind and open and friendly. She and I talked about Alaska, as she had been there. She was also from Guam, so she and I had that in common as well, as my dad had been stationed there when I was in high school.

I watched her through the night, happy when she stayed to chat with me. Her fingers were short and slim, and they moved with a quick, odd movement, almost like they danced.

Another female nurse came in, and I expected the old “two against one” thing. You know how a group of three girls can get. When there are three, generally one girl ends up being the goat, or at least that is my experience. I figured that they would chat and laugh and I honestly expected thinly veiled hostility. The new nurse had the beautiful skin of a half black, half asian, though I do not know if she was. She had black hair with big curly waves and a t-shirt that I think said “I <3 miami”. Her name was Michelle.

However, again the Lord worked kindness in my life. She was very attentive to me. They brought me a chair, and she brought me a stool to prop my legs on. I had declined a comfortable chair at first, but they insisted later. They also brought me a heated blanket. I cannot tell you how much I was not expecting this. They both talked to me about Alaska, and I got excited to share interesting tidbits about my state.

At one point, I was in the midst of talking about how the sunlight changes through the year. Suddenly Ashton started to cough and then vomited blood. I must say, I am very squeamish about throwing up—when I get sick, I get faint and shocky feeling. In fact, if I know someone is sick, I will stay away from them for a week or two until I know they are FULLY recovered. I flat out tell my friends “If you or your kids have a cold or a fever, feel free to come over. But if you have a tummy bug, I will see you next spring.”.

However, the Lord gave me peace in my mind, even seeing my husband spitting out his own blood (a picture that is burned into my mind). We all came quickly to his side. I gently wiped the blood from his mouth and shirt as Michelle and Jolene suctioned and cleaned up behind him. I was afraid for him, as vomiting blood never seems like a good thing.

However, Michelle, probably seeing my face, quickly and casually mentioned that it looked like old blood, and Jolene (also quickly) agreed that it was probably drainage from the surgery. That made perfect sense, as he must have swallowed quite a bit during the repair of his sinuses.

His tummy stayed tender for the next two days. They tried to get him to eat with very little success. He was miserable. He would try to eat a bite then have to breathe through the nausea through pursed lips. Dr. Ha talked about how he needed to eat protein as each day laying down, the body would digest its own muscle, not fat. He told us that even morbidly obese patients will be nutritionally deficient as they are bedridden (NOT that Ash is morbidly obese!). I felt so bad for him, but there was nothing I could do but encourage him to eat as much protein as he can and hope it stays down. They tried zofran and reglan, but nothing seems to do much for long. They also tried to get him to take percoset instead of morphine, but they thought that was what was making him sick the first time, so he stayed on morphine.

I was surprised at the low level of his pain. They had severed a muscle in his cheek, had unroofed his eye socket, rebuilt a sinus, and removed part of his skull, but he kept saying that the pain was just a 3 or 4. His bad headaches were an 8 or 9. I was sort of hoping that he would back off the morphine and go to Tylenol. I know that was silly of me, but I was eager for him to be better. Come to find out later that that would have been a good idea—it was the morphine that was making him so ill.

Back to Jolene….I noticed that she wore no makeup, but was beautiful. I felt very comfortable with her. Even more so on the second night. The official rules of the ICU (and the med surg ward) were to maintain visiting hours. However, in the med surg ward before his surgery, no one told me I needed to go home. I think it was because they realized that this might be our last night together. It makes me sad to think of that, but thankful they let me stay.

I did not want to leave Ash alone in the ICU either. To me, he was still touch and go. Dr Ha said that the first 24-48 hours were where most of the bad stuff would happen, if it was going to happen. My husband was still in the path of danger, and I did not want him to be there alone.

The Surgery Pt 2

The Surgery Pt 2
The surgery was going to take hours. I had to leave to go meet Ash’s folks at the gate to the base to sponsor them. I hated leaving…I mean, what if they needed me for something? But I was also eager to see his folks.

I got to the visitor’s center and waited for what seemed to have been forever. I finally saw them drive up and walk to the door. Then his dad said “There she is…there’s Sister”….I know this sounds weird but that meant so much to me for him to call me sister, to be recognized as more than just the woman their son married. They have not EVER made me feel badly, not at all! They are godly, wonderful people. I just was very insecure. Then they gave me a huge hug. I was so thankful to have them there!

And then I cut them off driving and almost ran them off the road. Sheesh.
Understand that I live in NORTH POLE, ALASKA. It gets about as much traffic as one might think a place called “North Pole, Alaska” gets. I remember we had lived here for a year or so and had some out of town guests that I had just picked up from the airport. “Aw man, we hit rush hour” I muttered apologetically. My guests burst out laughing. See, our “rush hour” lasts about 20 minutes and means that you have to slow down to 45 in a 55 mph zone for about ½ mile along this one stretch of highway.

So imagine me as driving like a bumpkin in my little non-descript go-cart, and them following in a nice rented Cadillac. We had to cross multi lanes to get from one side of the road to the access on the other side. To be honest, I have NO idea what I did, but I was crossing suddenly I looked behind and realized I was swerving in front of them on the on-ramp. Thankfully they either did not notice or did not hold it against me!

We got back to the waiting room, but this time it was pretty empty. I was afraid that we had missed the call and that he was in recovery without us there to support him. His parents and I talked for a while, showed pictures of nieces and nephews.
It was about suppertime, so I offered to show them where Anthony’s was so they could get a bite to eat.

Unfortunately, it was closed. I know it is silly, but I was quite embarrassed by that…as if I had not provided for my guests (in a place I had never been to in a situation I was unprepared for…yeah, it is silly, but it still was embarrassing).
Thankfully the chow hall in the hospital was open, though they did not have much at that time. Carlos got food for him and Nola and brought it back to Nola who had stayed in the waiting room.

I do not remember how much time passed, but eventually Dr. Ha came in to the room. That surprised me, as I was expecting the wall phone to ring. He told us first off that Ash had done well, and then proceeded to explain what was done.

This is where he brought out ALL of his analogies. He talked about elephants and rooms and babies and I do not know what else, all to describe how they removed the tumor. He greatly impressed all of us, even Ashton’s dad. We found out that they had to unroof the eye to get some of the tumor off of the bone, but that the tumor was not at the optic nerve yet, thank the Lord! He told us about bone involvement in the cheek, and how he did not think the tumor had infiltrated the brain, but that the pathology report would tell more.

Then he led us to the ICU to see Ashton.

The Surgery Pt 1

Ashton's surgery was for about....either 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Dr. Ha had another similar surgery that morning. That was difficult as it left ALL DAY to fret, but also good because we had time for the events in the previous posts.

They came to get Ashton and I to prepare him for surgery. We walked in and saw Dr, Ha talking with other doctors. They were laughing and joking. It is good to see doctors relaxed.

The room was large and had several bays, most with people in them that I could see. I wondered what everyone was "in for" (Ash calls me nosy, I prefer the term "concerned" hee hee). Who was sick? Who was hurt? Who was looking at their own mortality, and who was in there to get a thumb operated on? Seriously, I did not try to pry, but I also felt an urge to go around talking to everyone, seeing if there was any comfort I could give.

They brought a child who was going to have surgery. She was being wheeled around in a big red wagon filled with blankets and toys. I thought that was brilliant. She looked a lot calmer than we felt.

The fellow who came to put in the IV's etc was a man with really beefy hands. His fingers looked knobby and calloused and I wondered what hobbies or illness he had to make his hands look that way. Guitar? No, that would not make calluses on the knuckles. Hmmm. I was a bit disconcerted by the fact that he did not use gloves. I had heard someone mention about working in the ER and if there was no break in the skin, there is no danger from disease.

Ash was scared, but quiet. He did not appear frightened, but I could tell. Thankfully the pre-op preps were quick and soon the man said "Kiss your wife, we are about to go". Ash gave me a kiss and they wheeled him down the room. Ash later told me that whatever they gave him, he remembers the kiss, and then nothing.

It is weird to be standing there, after they wheel your loved one. I had no idea what to do, where to go. Ash was where I could not go, and the surgery was going to last many hours. Ash's folks were due in, but not for a while. You just sort of feel lost, left out. Well, I did, anyway. It was almost like if Ash was not there, then I had no reason to be there—like he was my ticket and without him, I was just taking up space. It was odd.

Someone told me where the waiting room was, though I am not sure who. It was a medium sized room with a tv in the corner and a phone on the wall. The phone would ring and whoever was closest to the phone would answer it. On the other end was an operating team. They would ask for one of the folk in the waiting room. The person who answered would call out the name for someone in the waiting room. It was an odd sort of phone lottery—when the phone rang, we would all look expectantly, hoping the phone was for us, telling us things were ok.

Near to me was a group of young people. I remember them talking about their displeasure with the new uniforms. Complaining about new uniforms is practically a sport in the military, but in this case they were right—using Velcro to fasten pockets (where maps and flashlights and rounds are kept), which makes a big RRRIIIIIPPPPPPPPP sound when you are trying to do covert maneuvers is ridiculous.

I was so envious of that group of young people--supporting each other, laughing and joking. They were obviously there supporting a girlfriend or young wife of whomever was in surgery. I was pretty much by myself at that point, just me and God. I wanted to join in their conversation, but I was too shy to even attempt it.

Now, to be honest, I would rather have the Lord than a bunch of people, but I am also human and sometimes I just want people around me. But that also seems to sum up a lot of my experience--the Lord puts me in positions where I have to focus on Him, not on a lot of people around me. I like it, it works well and keeps me focused properly.

However, soon I struck up a conversation with a lady sitting close to me. She was a very devout Catholic and noticed my headcovering. She and I talked about her life (she had had surgery decades ago for the same brain tumor that Ash had! In fact, I met MANY people who had that tumor or knew someone who did), as well as various missions and feasts. Because of my talk with the Catholic priest, I was able to mention a feast that she had forgotten about. I am not sure of the significance of that, but it was too perfectly orchestrated NOT to have been from the Lord. I mean, really, when does a hospital mess up enough to send you a Catholic priest who happens to mention a saint before he realizes you are protestant and needs to leave, and then just a short time later you strike up a conversation with a VERY devout Catholic woman who had forgotten a feast for a saint? Hmmm…. This is the first time it has ever happened to me! I am a firm believer in the Lord, not in coincidence! Somehow that needed to happen for some reason…I am just not sure why and I cannot WAIT to find out when I get to heaven!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Day of Surgery—The “Promises Land” Flows With Milk

When I got back from my errands of finding a place to stay, Ash was not in the room. He had been taken for some tests.

His roommate was a man of 74 years. He was healthy as an ox and sharp as a tack. He biked 15 miles a day or something like that. Anyway, he was in the hospital for some digestive problems.

The first night Ashton was checked in, he did not know that he even had a roommate. Ash’s bed was closest to the door, and the curtain was drawn, so Ash did not know that there was another person there. Mind you, it was like 2 am. The nurses were checking Ashton in and were speaking loudly, turning on all the lights. When Ashton found out that there was a patient, he felt AWFUL for keeping him up. It was not his fault, of course, but he apologized anyway.

This man and his wife were wonderful. They even came to see us in the ICU and I am irritated with myself that I did not get their contact information.

Anyway, the day of surgery, Ash had been getting tests done, etc. I wanted to talk to the fellow some, though he was obviously considering watching a DVD. I feel badly, but I just ignored the DVD player and chatted for a few minutes. Not my most selfless moment, but at that point, I was not my best.

Because that man had digestive issues, they had put him on a full liquid diet. They kept pushing him to drink as much milk, juice, soup, etc as he could. Later the day of surgery, before Ash was taken back, the man asked me if I had eaten. Frankly I had not. I had had a piece of pizza on Monday and some candy and cokes and the biscuit that the clerk insisted that I eat from the hotel. I was just too wound up. I was running on fumes, and I knew it.

However, I assured him I was fine. Thankfully, he was not convinced. He had seen me in the room and knew I had not had any meals. He said “Here, why don’t you take this?” and offered me a carton off of his tray. I smiled politely “Oh, thank you so much, that is very sweet of you, but really I am fine.”. He insisted again. I assured him I was fine again, but he would not hear of it. So then I said “YOU are the sick one, you need this more than I do!”. He said “I have had enough, I cannot drink anymore.”. Then I laughed and said “The nurse is going to get mad if I eat your food.”. Then he said “Here, how about this: you drink that, and I will drink this” and he handed me a carton and gestured to a bottle of ensure that he would drink. That seemed a decent compromise, and frankly I was out of arguments. I took the carton. It said “Might Milk” on it. I was afraid it would taste like a vitamin shake, but I was going to drink it.

Now, typing this, I literally get tight in my chest and tears come to my eyes when I think of how wonderful that mighty milk tasted. Please understand that it was like drinking a liquid miracle. My body was so terribly desperate for nutrition. Every sip of that was a blessing, every drop was strength. Not only was it sustaining, it was delicious.

I polished off the carton in a matter of seconds. The man then offered me his milk. At that point, I firmly declined, with a smile, and said “Thank you so much. This was just what I needed. You go ahead and have that.”. He did not argue with me, but he did not drink it either.

Not very long after that, he was discharged to go home. After he left, I noticed that the carton of regular milk was sitting on his tray. I asked Ashton if I should take it. I knew that they would not give it to another patient, that it would be thrown away. I knew that I needed more nutrition. I knew that it was the Lord providing for me, so I drank that too.

The Lord fed me, literally fed me, using a wonderful, sharp, stubborn man with two extra cartons of milk. The Lord provided for my spiritual needs, my physical needs, my every need. That milk was just enough of what I needed to get through the 24 hours. In the Bible, the Lord said that the Promised Land flows with milk and honey. Apparently the milk comes in cartons and is delivered by 74 year old men :)

In all seriousness though, I muse if the Promised Land is not always a physical place, but a place with the Lord. That can be in heaven, or on the ocean, or in a hospital room. The Promised Land may be where we see that the Lord’s promises are sound, good, and here for us. Maybe I can call it “The Promises Land” and know that it is where my spirit and heart and mind and body are being provided for by the Lord God Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth. That Place where our needs are so overwhelming that only He can provide. That hallowed ground of desperate need and His Perfect Provision.
The Promises Land.

Day of Surgery—Ash calls the children

On the day of his surgery, Ashton called the children to talk to them. It occurred to me that my camera has a video recorder on it. I thank the Lord that He reminded me of my camera, that I could record this precious moment.

Without being overt about it, I recorded him talking to the babies. I did not tell Ash why I recorded him, but he knew. This might have been their last talk with their daddy.

I figured that if something happened to him, the babies would have a recording of what he had said to them. They would have his voice, his face, his expressions to look at. They would not have to try to remember, and then be sorrowed if they could not. They would see his eyes mist with tears, his voice gentle and sweet.

Surgery Day pt 1—No room at the Inn

During this time, while we were at Madigan, the base was preparing for thousands (literally) of troops to deploy. There were family and friends and young troops everywhere. They were coming in from all different bases and using the army base as a staging point. There were AF folk, army folk, etc.

Well this meant that hotel rooms were in pretty short supply. The hotel I was staying at did not have any more room for me after the 2nd or 3rd night, until the following week. So the day of Ash’s surgery, I had to go find another place to stay. His folks were also coming in that day.

I tried to get a room at billeting (the military hotel on the base). In Seattle, there are two bases close (literally next door) to each other. One is the Air Force base, and the other is the Army base. The army base was full, as I expected it to be. However, billeting at the AF base might have had some openings. I went to McChord, at Ashton’s urging, to see if I could find a room.

Driving into McChord was amazing. It is an incredibly beautiful base, especially around the gate. The pine trees are the tallest I have seen. When I stepped out of the car, the air was sweet with the fragrance of them. I just wanted to breathe it in for hours. It smelled better than Christmas trees. There was a road (that probably went to housing) that was fully canopied by trees, so it was like driving in a tree tunnel. I so wanted to drive down that road! Every time I passed that road, I tried to look down it and imagine being in that green tunnel. The grounds were perfectly manicured around the base, and there were tons of little hills, little hollows, and huge trees.

I got to billeting and walked in. Now, for you to fully understand the incredible grace of God in this moment, I have to give a little back story. You may or may not have spent time with me, but frankly I am a bit of a dork. Well, not a dork (geek is probably more accurate lol), but I have never blended well in groups. I put people off for any one of several reasons: either because of my turned in eye, my vocabulary, my manner, my dresses, my headcovering, whatever. It does not matter, there is always something about me that does not quite fit in well. I am used to that, have been that way since I was a child. Oh I am not generally treated badly (at least since I became an adult)! People are generally not ugly to me at all anymore. They just do not….warm up to me. You might have felt this when sitting at a table in school or in a bus and knowing that the other people there are not going to be mean, but they did not really welcome you in either. That is pretty much how it is for me normally. Do not feel sorry for me; I do not feel sorry for myself! The Lord gives each person strengths and weaknesses to do His will.

Now, understand though that I did not realize the truth of the statement I just made until this trip—the LORD enables each person in the way He would have them. There is a Bible verse in Psalms, I believe, that says “He makes even his enemies live at peace with him” (meaning the Lord makes the righteous man’s enemies live at peace with the righteous man). So the Lord can change the heart of people.

Ok, back to billeting. I walk into billeting to see if they have room for me. I soon realize that everyone is acting as if I was their only reason for getting up that morning! Their HEARTS were turned towards me. I have never experienced anything quite like that. It was like I was a celebrity or something. People were not bowing and scraping, but rather acting like I was THE most important thing they had that day, that there was NO OTHER REASON for them to be there. When I thought back, I realized that everyone that I had to interact with personally (except the one girl at the car rental place) acted that way—like I was their reason for being. I cannot express how that made me feel.

It made me humble and grateful. You know when someone is truly happy to be with you, truly wants to help you—you can feel it in your soul. THIS was my experience. It has only happened that once, and I do not know if it will happen again, but I am thankful to the Lord for it. It was beautiful and tender and buoyed me.

I checked in at billeting and they were able to give me a room key for that day. They were concerned about what room I had, probably because my husband is an officer, but I told them “I just want a bed and a bathroom, it does not matter the size.”.

The room key was one of those plastic, slide-in-the-slot things. There was a paper wrapper that the key fit in that had a coupon for 10% off of a purchase at the BX (the store on base…kinda like a small walmart), and half off a meal at the food court. When the clerk pointed that out to me, I was tickled and said “Oh thanks!”. (this will come into play later).

However, the problem was that I would only be in that room one or two nights, then I would be having to wait and see if someone cancelled their reservation and move rooms. If I had to do that, I would but really, at this point, I knew that I just wanted ONE place to stay for the rest of the trip. The front desk clerk said that I needed to wait for the manager, to speak to her, and that maybe they could work something out. I sat in the lobby and waited for a while.

After about 20 minutes, the manager was available. I told her my dilemma, and told her I did not care what kind of room it was. Unfortunately, they did not have a room for me that would go the whole time. What she could do, though, is give me a “non-availability statement”. This is a note that basically tells the military “We could not fit her in, so she had to stay off base”. See, because I was “on orders” (meaning officially covered by the military to travel), they would pay for my hotel room. However, they, of course, want me to stay on base as it is basically just their same money going back to them. If, though, there is no room on base, they will pay for me to stay off base—they do not just say “Sure hate it for ya”.

However, in order for them to pay for me to stay off base, I needed the non-availability statement, as billeting is much cheaper than off base hotels. The manager, Anne, was more than happy to give that to me (her heart was turned to me too!). I asked her if she knew of any place off base I could stay. I was worried that I would end up being in an unsafe, unsanitary motel somewhere. She called a couple of places that she knew well (as she seemed familiar with the people she was talking with). She did find a place for me further down the highway, but not too far. It was called “Shiloh Inn”. She asked me if that was ok. I had never heard of it, and asked her if it was relatively clean and safe. She assured me that it was a nice place. I really did not have a whole lot of choice at that point, so I said ok.

Now, remember, I am rather at wits end at this point. I had been going relatively non-stop for about 2.5 days. I asked her what I need to do with the room they already assigned me. She asked if I had been in the room and I told her no, that I had just been in the lobby. She said just turn the key in. So I went back to the front desk and explained what had just happened. I assured her as well that I had not gone to the room, had been in the lobby of billeting the whole time. She said it was no problem and took the key BUT handed the little cover back to me so I could get the coupons. I tried to give it back to her, as I felt it was a little unfair since I was not staying there. But she insisted that I take it. Honestly, I about cried right there. I know that half off a burger from burger king might not seem like much, but to me, it was the world. It was provision and kindness and mercy and love. It was the Lord providing and people being wonderful to me. It meant….everything—it represented all the kindness and mercy I had been shown. I did not cry at the desk, but thanked her profusely and walked to my car with my eyes filling with tears. I still have that little paper sleeve. It is in my wallet as a small testament to yet another of a million miracles of this day.

Day Before Surgery pt 2 Priests and Prayer

It was the day before surgery…at least I think these events took place the day before surgery. To be honest, I am trying to remember if these in this blog happened on Tuesday or Wednesday.

In any case, let’s just say Tuesday.

One thing I wanted to mention was that Ashton’s room had a huge picture window that overlooked Mt Ranier. WOW that was beautiful! However, I have also watched entirely too many disaster movies and was hoping that it was not going to erupt. Yeah, I know, ridiculous.

At one point a Catholic priest came in to talk to us. He was a VERY old man. He was part of the hospital, was coming to see how we were doing. We talked for a long time. He mentioned a Catholic holiday of some sort, some sort of feast day was on Wednesday. I asked him a lot of questions about his work, his faith. I apologized for being inquisitive, and mentioned that I do not know a lot about Catholicism as we are protestant. He looked a little taken aback. Apparently he had been told that we were Catholic. It was not too long after that that he left. He was mostly responsible for the Catholic patients in the hospital. I was a little saddened, but I understood.

The Lord moves in ways I do not understand. While it seems that this conversation might not have been as….fruitful as I might have hoped, this conversation with the priest will have repercussions later that I still do not understand the significance of BUT am convinced is not coincidence.

After this, later on that day, I went to the chaplain’s office in the hospital to let them know there had been a mistake. I also went into the chapel. I so wanted someone to come in from the chaplain’s office and talk to me. I wanted to tell more people about what was going on in my life, how my husband is having brain surgery. I just wanted to talk, to hear someone talk to me. However, no one came in. I noticed the flower arrangements were looking pretty dismal. I picked up a petal from the floor. I wandered around the room a while, praying and waiting. Then I finally left.

See, the Lord knew I did not need someone to talk to because the Lord wanted me to focus on Him. He has been teaching me that what I think I “need emotionally” is generally not what I REALLY need. The spirit overrides the emotions. Emotions are fickle, changeable with blood sugar levels, sleep, hormones. What I WANT in my heart cannot give me what the Lord gives me in my SPIRIT. If someone came in, I would have poured out my heart, but the Lord wanted to fill up my soul. My strength is not from getting what I want in my heart, but allowing the Lord to strengthen my soul. Does that make sense?

Day Before Surgery--Meeting Dr. Ha

Day Before Surgery pt 1

On the day before surgery, that Tuesday, I got to meet the doctor who was going to perform Ash’s surgery. His name was Dr. Ha.

What can I say about him? First of all, he is incredible and I am thankful that the Lord brought him to us.

Dr. Ha is a young man…maybe my age (no snickers from the peanut gallery! Hee hee). He is pleasantly intense, quick, sharp, bright. But the oddest thing about him is that he talks just like me. I never realized or thought of how I communicate until I heard him, then I recognized how his mind was moving, as it would move just like mine would have in his shoes. I had never heard anyone talk like I do—rapid fire, pause to think of an analogy, rapid fire, change subject mid sentence, rapid fire, pause, etc. Talking to him cracked me up.

For example, one time he came in and started talking about something about the surgery, then interrupted himself MID SENTENCE and said “Did you know that Sarah Palin is resigning as governor?”. The change was SO abrupt, as if I said “I took my care into the shop and it needs a new…hey did you know that Eggo came out with a different flavor of waffle?”. I realize now what Ashton experiences when my brain moves faster than my mouth lolol!

Plus Dr. Ha had so many analogies to explain things. I am sort of a medical wannabe, so I could follow what he said, but he is used to talking to people who do not know anything about medicine, so he used examples and analogies liberally, likening taking out the tumor with various ways of getting an elephant out of a room, etc.

Now, while this tickled me, it greatly reassured Ashton. Dr. Ha was familiar to him because he talked like me. I am thankful to the Lord for this tiny detail that meant so incredibly much to both Ashton and me. I got to see myself from the outside, and Ashton got a Dr that he was already familiar with, though they had just met. Amazingly wonderful blessing from the Lord!

I remember one conversation, though, with Dr. Ha that was very sobering. I knew that this was a brain tumor, but that it was between the brain and the skull. I was taking a bit of…false encouragement. I asked Dr. Ha what the risks are: behavior change? Cognitive problems? What about…well… you know. And he said, looking at me plainly and boring into my eyes “Yes.”. I said “Really?”, because he seemed so capable, the tumor seemed not to be IN the brain. I just was thinking of this like a…a higher stakes mole removal. He said again “Yes, everything. All of that could happen. This is the riskiest surgery there is.”. I said “REALLY?” again, thinking that this is not like open heart surgery. He said “We are operating on the brain. That’s [that area in the brain they were operating on] where speech and personality are.”. He went on for another sentence or two.

It was an odd conversation. He was not jovial as I had come to expect. He did not seem to intend to be reassuring in the least. He was very very frank. He looked at me without blinking as if he was willing me to understand. I understood. I definitely understood.

My husband is such a blessing to me. His personality is what the Lord has used to mold MY personality. Ash and I are polar opposites…literally hot and cold. We share the same values in our spirit, but our minds and our personalities could NOT be more different. He is very much an introvert, I am EXHILARATED by people, and in fact have more energy AFTER a party than before.

He is organized, methodical. I am random and disorganized. He is detail oriented. I am “whole picture” oriented. He has to have everything put away. I have to have everything where I can see it. He is meticulous. I am messy. He is pessimistic, I am the ETERNAL optimist about most things, with an “Oh I can do that” attitude (whether I CAN do it or not). He is a planner. I do not even know what day it is most days, and I am not comfortable with structure. He is logistic. I am holistic. He is calm and easy going. No matter what emotion I am feeling, I am feeling it 120%. I am hot tempered, he is almost NEVER angry or upset.

That cool, capable, unflappable, easy going personality is what the Lord has used to back me down from so many crises and anxiety disorder. He is a rock that I constantly crash against, and he does not seem to resent that fact at all. In fact, it almost seems to me that he relishes being strong enough to be still against my emotional ocean. I flatter myself to think that maybe I bring a little color and excitement to his life with my ways and habits, but maybe not.

Anyway, I have learned so much from him. It frightened me to think that he might change, might be different. What if he became more volatile? What if he did not like me anymore? What if his emotional center was damaged and I had to be the calm one? What if his personality changed so much that he did not want to be married to me anymore?

To be honest, I feared that a LOT more than I feared him dying. I feared that he would wake up a different man than I married. I have a degree in psychology, I know a little bit about traumatic brain injuries. I know that sometimes people can emerge totally different than they were. I knew I could handle him being physically damaged—paralyzed or something. That was not a problem. I knew I could handle if he was mentally impaired—not as brilliant as he is. That was a little more difficult, but still something I was ready to handle. I could even handle the pain of him dying—it would have been excruciating, but I knew it could happen. However, I begged the Lord for him not to be changed in who he is. THAT was my greatest fear, that he could turn into someone who hated me or our kids, or who was abusive or cruel.

I will say now, since I have wandered down that awful path of “what if” with you, that the Lord was again more merciful than I deserve and Ash DID change, but only for the better. He did not change in terms of personality, but rather in terms of realizing that life is precious and fragile. Things do not bother him at work like they did. He has better perspective. He does seem to forget a detail here or there, but really no one else would notice but me, and frankly that could just be my imagination because it is so slight. The Lord brought him through intact.