Thursday, January 31, 2013


"Miami here we come!  It's official."
Brian's text woke me at 8:00am (don't judge - the kids were out on Christmas break (and still sleeping themselves) and the only thing I had to get up for was breakfast which, that morning, had not been quite enough motivation for me to pull my pregnant self out of my cocoon of pillows yet), and the first thing I thought of was sand.  Sand under my feet, salty air in my lungs, and warm sunshine on my shoulders.  I couldn't help the smile from spreading across my lips and sleep was officially over for the night.  Miami!  It was happy news, mixed with the intense bitterness of leaving the home I love so much.  I wondered briefly about how I might have felt had the first word of Brian's text been something different and decided that I would have been happy with many different words.  But before I let the sadness of all the places we will not be going sink into my mind, I thought again of the beach and danced my way into the bathroom because 1) that's my first stop every morning since my bladder shares a confined space with an ever growing space-hog and 2) because we plan to live within walking distance of the beach.  I was also happy that Brian will receive excellent training at the program in Miami... though I have to admit that news itself would probably not have caused me to dance.  

Did I mention that we plan to live within walking distance of the beach?  As in, 'put on your flip-flops and grab your towels kids!  We'll be back for snack time!'  Looks like we need to do some serious flip-flop shopping.

The kids had been in on much of the drama during the previous months as Brian flew around the country interviewing.  They knew we'd narrowed it down to living on the beach, living in the snow (in Minnesota), or living with Nana and Poppy (in Utah).  We had three little minds (and two adult minds) changing daily on which was our top choice, never settling all together or even on our own, so we were happy that the final decision would be determined for us by some supreme medical board in charge of matching residents up with fellowship programs around the nation.  Brian and I did have to submit a rank list, however, where we ranked each of the seven programs Brian interviewed with according to our preferences.  Excruciating!  So many factors to consider and every major pro seemed to have a major con keeping it company. Miami enticed me with its beach (beach! (beach!!!)) and enticed Brian with its superior fellowship program but repelled us both with it's cost of living and rumors of crime (CSI Miami, anyone?).  Utah enticed us with family (close grandparents!!!), but repelled us with the atrocious work conditions Brian would have to endure.  Minnesota enticed Brian with its great fellowship program but repelled me with its harsh winters (I have Carolina blood now). 

The kids received the news with mixed emotions.  "I kind of wanted to live in that other place with lots of snow," Carson said.  "I kind of wanted to live with Nana and Poppy," added McKenzie. 
"Guys!" I pumped, "The BEACH!!!  We should definitely throw ourselves a beach party tonight when Daddy gets home.  Let's start planning!"

And, they were sold.

We spent a happy amount of time in Dollar Tree assembling our beach themed decorations and got right to work.  By the time Daddy got home we had decorated with beach pictures and assembled an array of beachy foods which included hawaiian haystacks, a fruit bowl, goldfish crackers, nutter-butter flip-flops and pina-coladas to be sipped from plastic coconut shells.

Carson and I went on a mini-date last night to Wendy's for a frosty and had this conversation.
Me: What are you most excited about for Miami?
Carson: The beach.
Me: What are you most anxious about?
Carson: leaving our house.
Me: What are you  most happy about?
Carson: The beach.
Me: What are you most sad about?
Carson: ... well.  I really wanted to live in a bunch of snow.  And at first I thought that I meant that I wanted to live in that other place with lots of snow (Minnesota), but then I was thinking... and now I know that Nana and Poppy have a ton of snow and so I'm sad that we're not going to live with them.
Me: Yeah.  I know.  Me too, bud.
Carson: Also ... what was the name of that slushy drink we had at our party?
Me:  Pina-colada?
Carson: Yeah.  That.  I don't really like those.  But... you don't have to drink those if you live in Miami, right Mom?
Me: Nope.  You can eat and drink just like you do here.
Carson:  Good.  Cause I don't really want any of that slushy drink.

Deal, bud.

Here's to new adventures!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Icy Happiness

Oh how we love North Carolina winters.  Yesterday a mist of freezing rain started falling from the sky, covering everything it touched with a thin layer of ice.  Not ideal if you're planning on backing your car out of the driveway to go anywhere, but just perfect if you can leave your car parked in it's icy cocoon and venture outside with some ice sleds to take advantage of the slippery roads.  Which we did all through the dinner hours. I think this might be more appropriately called 'sliding' instead of 'sledding'.  Both fun.  Both favorites.

I spent a total of three minutes trying to figure out how to get crisp, clear pictures of the fun in the dim light before realizing that it was just simply too dark for my camera to get those moving bodies in focus every time... but I don't mind... these fuzzy pictures make me smile right alongside the clear ones.

Miles's inaugural entrance into the life of winter sports was a high success.  I have quite a disproportionate number of pictures of this kid because he was having so. much. fun.  In fact, he just saw me make this collage and said in a nostalgic voice, "Oh... Mom... do you 'member when we did dat?  On the ice?"

Carson spent his time last night trying to master the spin-around-as-many-times-as-you-can-before-coming-to-rest-in-the-ditch move.

And McKenzie had a dream of making it as far down the road as possible before veering into the ditch that seemed to have a gravity of its own.  (Actually, it probably did since it was, you know, lower.)  Good news that the grass was also covered in ice so they just slid right on down into the ditch and halfpiped their way down towards the next driveway tunnel.

 By the time the freezing coldness started seeping into the hands and souls of my little troopers we had had a full two hours of giggling, sliding fun and finally sat down to eat dinner at 7:00pm (bedtime round these parts).

This morning we awoke to two more hours of sliding before the ice melted away into puddles of slush. Carson had some pretty sweet run-and-jump moves going on.

McKenzie, being the oldest, has once again grown out of all the snow pants and boots we have in the house.  All except for mine, of course.  So, she cinched my snow pants up around her waist and clobbered around in my winter boots and looked much too grown up the entire time because they weren't that far away from fitting her.

And Miles, once again, was in heaven. Even though he refused to wear his coat.  (Which might have been due to the fact that this morning it smelled like a rat had died inside of it overnight.  I think he's too young to need deodorant... ? )


Thanks again for another fun winter, North Carolina. I will admit that you made me feel like a little old lady as I trepidaciously picked my way down the back stairs and out to the road and back.  Brian even laughed at me (out loud) as I shuffled my largely pregnant self, camera in hand, out of the path of sliding children a few times.  I laughed too as I imagined what I must look like.  But I'd watched Brian slip and fall a couple times and that just sounded incredibly painful and permanent to me now that I have no more abdominal muscles to pull myself back up.  I have an image of a beached whale in my mind... but that doesn't quite work on the ice, does it?  Walrus?  Bloated seal?  Whatever.
You can bring back the balmy 70's now.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Nightmarish Miracles Before Christmas - Miracles

This has been a hard post to write for some reason.  I sat down and thought I would be able to whip it out in an hour, and instead it's taken me days and days.  I keep getting stuck in research, or distracted by too many details, or unsure of how to explain myself.  Up to this point, journal-type entries have worked well in telling this story because, really, the facts are the facts... I haven't felt pressured to proof-read or re-work paragraphs here and there to make it more meaningful to a myriad of readers.  Instead, I just typed and told a story that had already happened.  But... this is different.  Outlining the many small and large miracles that in some way affected us that weekend feels a little more abstract.  A little more up for interpretation.  If this were a journal entry, I would simply list the miracles by bullet-points and give short descriptions for each. I would know that each time I read it I would remember the significance because I know the details of my life... but to write a blog post of these exact same miracles has been difficult.  All the sudden I'm aware of my readers and I feel the need to explain myself more than I would in a journal only meant for me. When I see the bullet pointed list in front of my eyes and read it through the eyes of others, it just looks like a compiled list of coincidences.  And so I've been trying to pour my heart into it - to somehow recreate the feelings behind the words.  To describe the tender place in my heart that warms when I think of these and, by so doing, convinces me of the divine hand that has guided these circumstances.  Turning them from coincidences into miracles. 

But, it's not working.

It's been days and I have only written through two bullet points... and when I re-read them, I found them quite boring.  This bothers me because, to me, they are the very opposite of boring.  They are humbling and strengthening.  They are tender and they prove to me that I am being cared for by God.  To explain these in a blog post, I want them to be inspiring... but I'm realizing I'm still quite in the middle of all of this and cannot pull back far enough to explain myself clearly.  And, the thought of trying to explain each miracle tires me. So, I deleted everything; and the blank screen in front of me was even more depressing than not being able to explain myself clearly in the first place. 

I can't let this screen stay blank... I feel the story is too incomplete without mention of these miracles (I even alluded to them in the title of this series of posts with the word Miracles).  They are as much a part of the story as the heart attack itself, and so I must post them.  But please forgive me for needing to treat this more like a journal entry than a blog... I will list these miracles - the big ones right along side of the tiny ones - with bullet points and needed descriptions and if they look like coincidences, well, then that's okay.  Please know, however, that they are so much more to me. If I write this story again someday (for real) I will most likely weave these points into the body of the story, letting the miracles shine through the heartache like a flashlight cuts through darkness.  Hopefully in that day each of these little miracles will be explained and those that read about them will know just how meaningful they are to me.  But that day is not today.  And, truthfully, that day might not come for several years.  So again, for now, please know that these are precious to me.

Each word.

Each miracle.


*We stayed at Duke for an extra, optional, year.
 Two years ago, when it became clear that Brian had a very good chance of being asked to stay on as the chief resident for an extra year, my initial response was no way.  Why would we want to extend an already never-ending school/training program for an extra year?  I even went so far as to make a tangible list of all the reasons why we should not be considered, and why I would not want for Brian to do it.  But then, one day, I had a positive thought about it - and Brian had a positive thought about it on the same day.  We started thinking about it a bit more seriously and eventually felt that the Lord had changed our hearts around and we accepted the invitation to stay.  Otherwise, we would have be in a new city and state this year... just six months into it, as Brian worked toward completing his fellowship year.  There is no way to know whether or not this decision to stay here saved Brian's life, but it certainly made the situation more comfortable for several reasons.

Familiarity reasons: we know this city like the back of our hands.  Having lived here for nine years, it was no trouble at all to speed to the emergency room... I had been to that emergency room a few times before (and that hospital countless times before) and knew the fastest route, where to park, how to check in, all without a second thought.

Brian's support reason: many of the doctors and nurses recognized Brian, and loved him, so we felt his care became personal to them.  

My emotional state reason: how much more comfortable for me to have this happen in a place where I have planted roots and have a strong support system.  If we were in a new city it could have been much harder to find help where I needed it if only for the reason that all of my friendships would be brand, brand new.

Financial reasons: Brian has been able to make enough extra money this year that the financial side of this is not as stressful as it would have been had we gone straight to fellowship (where his salary will be cut substantially). 

Brian's health care reasons:  Not many hospitals, I'm realizing, have twenty four hour trauma centers.  How lucky we are that we are so close to Duke, where they have a cath lab close to ready at all times during the day and night.  If we were living somewhere with a smaller hospital, he would have had to be life-flighted somewhere else. 

Future reasons:  If we had been halfway through our fellowship year, Brian would be in the process of applying and interviewing for jobs right now.  How lucky that we have some time now to think about this and make certain that whatever job Brian applies for is close to a major hospital.  How nice that we know about this heart condition before we're settled down so we can choose to settle in a place close enough to a twenty four hour trauma center.

*The year is 2012 (2013, whatever)
I can't stop thinking about that helpless feeling I felt as I backed into the corner of the emergency department room while the doctors and nurses buzzed all around Brian and, as I said before, worked so fast barking orders, stripping his clothes off, sticking IV needles in both arms, giving pills, etc...  I'm sure my eyes were huge and at one point I remember slightly shaking my head from side to side thinking, "I am so grateful for all of those machines, and all those medicines, and all those brains in those heads that know what to do..."

As we've researched, that gratitude has only intensified.  In 1987 (when my own father was Brian's age with three small children at home), there were only 85 cases reported worldwide of spontaneous coronary artery dissection... and 82% of those patients did not survive. Nine years later, in 1996, Heart Journal came out with an article titled Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: a neglected cause of acute myocardial ischaemia and sudden death.  And... can you believe this quote I copied from it?
This was1996... I was already in high school... sudden death the usual mode of presentation?  Life saving treatment far from being achieved?  Wow.

*Brian was home when this happened.
It's been interview season out here.  The past month has found Brian in Florida, Minnesota, Utah, Colorado, Oregon and California... and (the scariest realization) at 30,000 feet in the air at any point between.  He's been by himself... sleeping in hotel rooms, driving in rental cars...

And, now he's done.  

No more traveling.  Just a clear, normal schedule that keeps him home and around home while he recovers.  Even putting the traveling aside, there could have been several places even around here that would have been so much less convenient.  We were sitting on a concrete slab in the museum last week watching the kids play.  We were a 15 minute walk away from the main building and I wondered, what would I do if Brian started having another severe heart attack right here?  He wouldn't be able to walk himself back to the main building if the attack was the same - nor should he. 
And... what if he had been driving?  Or home alone with the kids?  Still processing those answers...

*Clear, clear schedules.

This is a big one.  It's like the Lord took a look at my calendar, pointed to the square labeled 22nd and said, "This looks like it will work best."  I was shocked to open this calendar up last week and see, visually, how perfect the timing was in all of this.  Several sub-miracles fall under this category, and there are most likely more tiny miracles that I haven't even recognized yet.

Cleared schedule miracle one: The Lord started early in clearing our way for this.  One of the biggest reliefs for me was that, as the ward choir director, I didn't have to figure out what to do about the ward Christmas program that I had originally scheduled for the 23rd.  Several choir members were going to be out of town on the 23rd, and after finding that out in early November, I moved the program up one week so they could all participate.  I was sad about this... I thought the 23rd would be much better... most of the stresses of the month would be over by then, allowing people to really be able to sit back and enjoy the program, plus it would give me as much time as possible to get the choir ready for all of our numbers.  But, it was more important to me to have as many choir members as possible, so we worked harder and held the program a week early.  I can't even tell you how many hours were put into preparing this program - what would I have done?  Who could I have even asked to take my place with only a few hours notice?  How would I communicate everything about the program that only I knew?  Would I have just had to leave Brian to go run the program? Oh the stress that would have created for me...

Cleared schedule miracle two: Brian already had the entire next week off of work.  Of course, he would have been able to get out of work anyway, but what a blessing it was to not have to worry about who would be covering here and there and everywhere in between.  Getting out of work is not easy for Brian... as the chief resident, he is currently being employed by three different sources and has a myriad of responsibilities that only he takes care of.  To miss work for even a day with little notice would be to inconvenience many people.

Cleared schedule miracle three:  As I went to sleep the Thursday night before, I realized I still had several items left to get before Christmas.  All of my kids are already out of school, so I can't go tomorrow. I thought.  We have a big Christmas Eve Eve party the next day... so I'll be preparing for that all day Saturday... I don't shop on Sunday... so that leaves only Monday.  I knew Brian would be off of work that day, so I planned for him to take care of the kids while I braved the Christmas Eve crowds to get the last of the shopping done.  But Friday morning came and I felt a fire I've not felt since the beginning of this pregnancy.  I even called a few people to see if they could watch all three of my kids so I could go shopping.  Seriously, unheard of for me.  Thankfully, a neighbor was happy to take them, and I went out Friday morning, just 30 hours before the heart attack, and finished it all.  Otherwise, there may have been no stockings this year.

Cleared schedule miracle four:  This point actually comes from Becky... she's the friend that took care of my kids for most of the time, and who came and sat with me at the hospital for hours on Saturday night.  She mentioned to me that she had spontaneously changed around her schedule at the last minute to get all of her Christmas wrapping done on Saturday morning.  Making Christmas cookies was on her schedule, but she decided early Saturday that she would rather wrap presents.  So, when crisis hit less than 12 hours later, Christmas was finished and ready for her own family and she was able to focus on mine.  I found this quite humbling... I already have a firm testimony that the Lord loves each of his children, so the fact that he wanted Becky to be as comfortable as possible didn't surprise me... but it was humbling when I realized that his care for Becky also showed another color of his love for me.  That He cared about me enough to help clear the path of a friend so she could get to me. 

*We had our Christmas Eve Eve party that night.

We kept the tradition:  Really, one of the greatest miracles was that we decided to even have the Christmas Eve Eve party this year.  Christmastime was stressful for me this year and we had already cut many things to make it less overwhelming (sorry to all the friends and neighbors who did not get neighbor gifts from us this year... don't feel bad... no one did).  Brian was pressuring me all month to cut the party, but that tradition was important to me (handed down from dear, dear friends) so it stayed.  Plus, because Christmas Eve Eve was actually a Sunday this year, we had moved it up by one day to hold it on the Saturday.  Thank goodness we held it, and thank goodness we held it a day early.

A house full of people we loved when it happened:  When I realized something was very wrong, I had 5 priesthood holders chatting in my living room, 4 of them medical doctors themselves.  Brian received a blessing, first thing, and then I could rely on several educated opinions on what to do next.  Another great thing about having so many people in my house is that they all saw the red flag as it was raised.  I had instant (instant) help from several sources and there was no lag time while word spread.  As alone as I felt, I was surrounded by care from the moment it happened. How much more alone would I have felt if I had been alone?  And, of course, one of the greatest time-savers of the night was that I could walk straight out my door and know that my kids would be taken care of. 

Specific people blessing:  The specific people who were there were another tender blessing.  I can think of no one better to have by my side in a crisis than Becky.  She's one of those people who actually delights in being the one to roll up her sleeves and jump in after a friend.  She and Doug planned and organized and cleaned and answered calls.  They dropped their plans without a second thought to help.  They visited several times in the hospital, took care of my kids, made Christmas cookies with them (when I know Becky actually hates being surrounded by kids in the kitchen), had picnics, snuggled down with McKenzie at the end of the day when they sensed McKenzie needed a little extra love...  Yes, the Larsons are crisis fixers.  And Kim is so tender-hearted... thinking through the problem clearly enough to know that I might need a few things at the hospital that night.  After Brian and I sped out of the driveway, she took McKenzie aside and said, "Let's pack up a few things for your Mom - where are her favorite pajamas?"  She and McKenzie together packed a little bag of essentials that was so entirely perfect.  And then she came back to sleep in my home that night with my children.  And the Hansens... Mark ended up being indispensable to me that night, and Aimee took her three kids home by herself and let Mark go for the entire night.  How much more of a wreck might I have been without Mark using his Duke badge to get the inside scoop?  The Tessems and Paxtons called through the night and texted their love and concern to us.  Yes, the people were perfect...

*Once we left the house, Brian was seamlessly on his way to the cath lab.
No large animals stalking the sides of the road.  We live close to a state park and, after dark, I see deer munching along the sides of the roads probably 60% of the time.  No deer that night.

No traffic:  8:00pm on the last Saturday before Christmas?  I find this miraculous and, since most of the way is a double-yellowed two lane road with heavy construction happening, no traffic was a serious blessing.

My tires only stopped once the entire route to the hospital.  This is amazing to me.  I only stopped at one of eleven stoplights (although, I did run one), and the only stop sign was clear enough on all sides for me to ignore.

Brian stayed conscious. The doctors were not pleased that I had rushed Brian to the hospital myself.  They suggested I should have called an ambulance.  Hindsight is 20/20 of course, and everything turned out for the best (of course, I believe that if the right path would have been to call an ambulance I would have been guided in that direction, so there are no regrets on my part), but they mentioned that because it was such a severe heart attack the risk of him going into cardiac arrest was high.  An ambulance would have had all the equipment necessary to handle a situation like that.  If there's a next time, I think I will call an ambulance... 

Emergency department was empty:  A week later, we were eating at Chick-Fil-A and I overheard the lady behind me say that her mother was in the Emergency Department and had been waiting for 18 hours.  She also said that one lady had been sitting there for 24.  Now, I'm sure Brian would have been triaged at a high level had there been a full emergency department, so I doubt he would have had to wait long regardless, but we didn't even wait long enough for me to pull out my phone.

Brian loved the attending staffed that night.  Brian said there are quick and efficient emergency department doctors at Duke (and everywhere, I'm sure), and then less efficient doctors who seem to make everything take a lot longer than it should.  Brian said it relaxed him a ton when he saw Dr. Broder come into the room.  He knew he'd be well taken care of from the start.

*The surgeons hands were gentle
After finding out how difficult this surgery was to do, we were incredibly grateful for the surgeon who saved Brian's life.  At Duke, a resident or a fellow (doctors in training) usually performs the surgeries with an attending doctor watching over their shoulder ready to jump in if there are complications.  Mark said, however, that the fellow standing in with the doctor during Brian's surgery never touched the instruments.  He said that the attending did the whole thing up until the very end when he let the fellow insert the balloon pump.  Thank goodness for his hands.

*They let me stay in the ICU
I count this in the miracles... because I think it would have been much, much harder for me to stay out in the waiting room all night.  Technically, no visitors are allowed in the ICU after hours, but Brian's nurse was kind, and no one else seemed to mind, either.  They even let me use their staff bathroom. Whether it was in the name of the holidays, or because we were such a rare case doesn't matter to me.  I'm just thankful I got to stay.

*McKenzie handled this like an 8-year-old.

Seems strange to say, I know.  But she so often understands and handles things in a way well beyond her years, and I was very comforted to realize that she seemed to be understanding this situation appropriately.  Her biggest concern was that Daddy would not be home for Christmas... not that Daddy wouldn't come home at all.  And, the first night we were gone after she had been having trouble getting to sleep for hours and hours, Kim went in to her and gently asked her what she was thinking about and why it was hard for her to fall asleep.  Kim thought McKenzie was probably concerned for her Daddy and was struggling with his rush out the door.  Instead, McKenzie said, "I just can't stop thinking about Christmas!  I don't know what I'm going to get!"

Relief.  You just keep thinking about Christmas, my dear...

*Both of our families came for the holidays this year
We've only had family visit once for Thanksgiving and once for Christmas in the nine years we've lived here,  so it was an unusual and extremely happy surprise when both of our families called in the same week to ask if they could come this year - one for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas.  I felt so, so lucky!  And, now, I think it was probably more than just luck. 

My family came for Thanksgiving and painted the entire inside of our house to help get it ready to put on the market.  How wonderful to have that all done now that things have gotten harder.

And Brian's family came for Christmas and played a major part in helping my kids and me through this crisis.

*The phone miracles
Perhaps the smallest of the miracles, and perhaps not, centered around cell phones.  There were three miracles that happened in this category.

My phone:  In response to my very first text (Brian is having a heart attack.  Please pray.  I'll call soon.), my sister Amber replied,  Love you.  If someone is coming to the hospital, have them bring your phone charger.  Hadn't even crossed my mind and, to be honest, I didn't think it was quite as important as other things that were going on at that point... My phone holds a charge well and a full battery generally lasts a week. But, in response to her text, I had Becky bring my phone charger.  And, Amber was right.  It turned out to be essential to me as I drained a full battery twice throughout that first night.

Becky's phone: As Becky got into her van to come to the Christmas party that night, she realized her phone was almost completely dead.  Not a problem, really... her whole family was with her... she'd just be at my house for a few hours... she could just plug it in when she got home.  But an idea struck her before she pulled away from her home and she found herself running back into her house, grabbing her charger, and plugging her phone into the wall by my microwave when she walked into my house that night.  Because of this, she had a full battery (which she definitely needed and used) by the time I asked her to come to the hospital.  Bless her for being my secretary that night.  She fielded calls I would have rather not answered, and contacted people she felt needed to know.  Of course I was mostly grateful for her, but I was grateful for her phone that night, too.

Mark's phone: Mark gave me his cell phone as I sped out of my driveway to take Brian to the hospital.  And, thankfully, as almost an afterthought, he called after my rolling car, "Lindsay!  The password is thisseriesofnumbers!" Okay.  I never remember things like that.  Like, ever.  And when I'm pregnant I'd be lucky to remember that I even had his phone in my pocket in the first place.  I know this well about myself and, sure enough, as I pulled his phone out to place that first call in the hospital, I panicked because I couldn't remember the first thing about that seriesofnumbers.  But a miracle occurred as the lock screen on his phone flashed in front of my eyes: my thumbs took over.  They typed that code in before my brain even realized what I'd done.  I thought about this about an hour after it happened.  And, try as I might, I could not remember even one number.

*People, people, people
I can't even begin to list each little blessing that came from friends and family.   So, I won't try.  But how blessed we were to have so many people praying for and caring for us.  People jumped in to help without even asking.  My needs were filled before I even knew they existed sometimes.  Most of those things have already been talked about in previous posts, but there are some that have not - each one of them blessed us, and I do not doubt that many of them came as a direct response to inspiration.


So, there you have it.  There are more than 25 miracles listed in the words above.  More than 25 things that have caused Brian or I to say, "You know, it's a good thing that ________."  And, I know it's true that this list would be entirely different had Brian not survived the attack.  But, I do not doubt that the list would still exist. 

I love God.  How blessed I am that my parents taught me to look for him.  How blessed I am to belong to a church that teaches me that my relationship with God can be and should be very personal.  That I can work to communicate with him myself and, by so doing, feel his love for me and not just hear that it exists. 

I've learned in my life that bad things happen to good people. But, I've also learned that when bad things happen, good things are happening, too.  The trick is in finding those good things and holding on to them, because bad things have a way of demanding the attention.  It's hard to see that your phone is charged when your husband is fighting for his life.  It's hard to remember that your family came a month before and painted your walls when you're in the middle of waiting to find out whether you have to tell your kids.... ....
It's hard to appreciate the warm hug.  It's hard to recognize the small baggie of chocolates and the brand new cozy socks as signs of love.

But the thing that strikes me the most about God's love in all this is that, regardless of whether I recognize them or not, the good things still happen.  They still bless my life.  I've just found that they bless me more when I recognize them. And so I try.

Because in the middle of bad things, it's the blessings - the miracles - that pull me through.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Nightmarish Miracles Before Christmas - Part 5

My memories of Christmas day, now only two weeks old, are hard to recall.  Christmas Eve had brought a power surge of emotions that my body seemed unequipped to handle and somewhere through the restless night, my emotions burned.  I woke up hollow.  Unfeeling.  Tired and wanting only to sleep.  Yet I couldn't think of a more important time to fake it than as a mother to three small children on Christmas morning.  So, I plastered a fake smile on my lips (couldn't force it to my eyes) and hoped it would look real to my children.

"Merry Christmas!" I bellowed down the hall on my way to the playroom.  "Happy, happy day!" I continued.  "Who wants to come upstairs?!"
"Yay!  Me! Me!  Is it time to open presents?!"
"Well, first let's see if Santa came, then we'll get to the presents."  The children knew they wouldn't be following the normal protocol of running to the Christmas tree to see if Santa had come.  They knew there would be no more presents there than the night before.  So they ran to the fireplace instead.  "He took our stockings!" they said.  "Look, Mom!  Our stockings are gone!  And look how many cookies he ate last night!  He must have gotten our note!  Let's call Daddy to see if there are presents in his hospital room!"

Great idea.

Soon we had Brian's face coming into our home from Grandpa's iPad.  Brian showed the kids the small pile of presents that Santa had brought, and then joined us in the living room to open the rest of the presents under the tree.  I quietly motioned for Jean to take over moderating Christmas morning for me.  She did a great job, pulling out each present, helping the children open them, being lively and excited in all the right places.  And I just sat in the corner and watched.  Even in the moment, I realized how sad it was that I was not emotionally participating in Christmas morning. I just wanted to be at the hospital.  I worried that I would regret my feelings later... that I would wish I had just bucked up and forced myself to be a willing participant.  But even as I type this, I do not actually think I could have.  There are no regrets because I really do feel that I tried my best.  Boy, was it a small offering... but it was my best. 

The kids then spent the rest of the morning playing the new games they had received and I went back to bed with a solemn promise to the kids that when I woke up we would go to the hospital to see what Santa brought (and to see Daddy... but they weren't as interested in that).  As I drifted off to sleep, I thought about how grateful I was for Brian's family.  When they had called two months previously to ask if they could come for Christmas, I was ecstatic.  How much fun they would add!  Now, I don't know how I would have done it without them.  The fun that they added ended up being tremendously important to my kids that day (and so to me).

I felt a little better after I awoke from my nap.  I took a shower and quickly threw some stuff together for that night before gently asking my mother-in-law if it would be okay if I just stayed at the hospital for the rest of the day/night until I brought Brian home the next day.  "Of course," she replied. 

It was once we got to the hospital that my mood really started lightening.  The kids were thrilled with their stockings and presents, and I was just happy to be with Brian again.  His happy, jokey, optimistic personality did wonders for my heavy heart... he was just the same.  Well, maybe not just the same... but still my lighthearted, wonderful Brian. We can do this... I thought as I sat next to him on his hospital bed and listened to his unceasing commentary.  Whatever 'this' is, we can do it.  I mourned for a minute that I had forgotten my camera battery as the kids delighted in their Santa gifts.  Such a unique scene - opening presents and laying stocking fillers out across the hospital floor.  But there were some blessings that came from putting pictures out of my mind and simply enjoying the moments as they were.  The kids stayed for a long while - I don't know how long - and Brian seemed to maintain his energy through the whole visit.  Eventually, though, hungry tummies started appearing so Grandma, Grandpa, Steve and Dave took the little ones home and left Brian and me together.  We celebrated with a gourmet dinner from the hospital cafeteria and I'm not ashamed to say that I got myself a burger, fries AND chicken strips to celebrate the night.  "I'm going to give myself my own heart attack," I said as I came back into the room with my goods.  It was less than delicious, but I wasn't expecting more...  We worked together to answer e-mails, and then talked and watched a movie for the rest of the night.  Eventually he drifted off to sleep and I was left with the computer to help me digest my thoughts. 

I realized that I had been through yet another emotional shift over the course of the day... as I sat in that hospital chair, I noticed a feeling of Christmas in my heart.  And as I gave it attention, it swelled.  It was not exciting, or magical.  It was not wondrous or even joyful.  It was peaceful.  Simple.  Grateful.  After posting the initial thoughts of the night on my blog, I curled up in the (slightly) reclining chair and closed my eyes.  I thought of a baby, born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.  A baby who would someday endure unspeakable pain so he could sit with me in a hospital room and know just how to comfort me.  A baby who would, someday, call on the people around me in a moment of crisis and inspire them to help in all the right ways.  Who would show me how much he cared by living in the details of my grief and alleviating many of them.  Who would, through his atonement, make up to my children what I had failed to do for them during that time, and all times.  Who would show his powerful hand in the sequence of events that saved my husband's life. And, even if it had all not happened just so, a baby who would grow to a man and through his resurrection make it possible for my family to be together forever....
I thought of one of my favorite quotes from Jeffry R. Holland regarding Christmastime that I had read to my children a couple of weeks before.  "Shepherds would soon arrive and later, wise men from the East. Later yet the memory of that night would bring Santa Claus and Frosty and Rudolph—and all would be welcome. But first and forever there was just a little family, without toys or trees or tinsel. With a baby—that’s how Christmas began."
I embraced that baby in my mind and heart that Christmas night and poured out thanks to Him. And fell asleep with the warm feeling of Love surrounding me.

I woke up at about 3 in the morning as the nurse came in to check Brian's vital signs.  After she left, I settled back down and heard Brian's voice quietly say, "Linds... you know that chair reclines all the way, don't you?"  My eyes flew open, almost angrily as I processed his words in the sleepiness of the night.  No... I did not just endure three sleepless nights in these terrible chairs, seven months pregnant, with no one telling me they could recline until now.
"What?... Are you kidding me?!"  He told me how to do it and I let out an exaggerated moan as my body stretched back and gave the baby and I more room to breathe.  "This would have been great to know three nights ago!  Oh.  Now I'm too angry to sleep."  Brian laughed and I finished the last half of my last night in the hospital feeling much, much more comfortable. 

The next morning went quickly.  We undecorated the room, packed up all of our Christmas presents and drove away from the hospital feeling exhausted but happy.  We spent some time in Costco and Kroger waiting for Brian's (seven) prescriptions to be filled and decided to make a delicious celebratory dinner of salmon and rice that night. 

When we came home Brian wasted no time jumping into a game of Skip Bo and soon a white delivery van showed up in our driveway with an edible arrangement from some dear friends on the other side of the country.  We devoured it.  Happily and quickly.


The rest of the week was... almost normal.  Strangely normal, actually.  Little snapshots litter my mind: Brian leaning back in his chair; playing cards on the floor with the kids; shoveling his dinner into his mouth like it wouldn't last the hour; laughing with his brothers; watching football; scrolling around on his iPad; talking, talking, talking; squaring his shoulders just before making a point; smiling...  it felt like something should be different, but everything was... normal.

Normal, except for all the heart attack jokes.  At first they weren't funny to me at all, but by the end of the week one caught me off guard and I laughed.  Truly laughed.  And laughed again when Brian and I relived it just before falling asleep that night.  It still makes me smile... not because the joke is particularly funny, but because it helped lighten such a serious subject.  In playing a game of scum late one night, Brian's honesty came into question.  "I promise!..." he tried to convince us, offended by our lack of trust.  "From the bottom of my heart."  A dry response from his little brother quickly followed, "The bottom of your heart is dead."

True.  True.

Normal, except for the little naps taken and the extra time in front of the TV and his strong fatigue on our dinner and movie night.

Normal.  He stayed home while the rest of us went to the museum, and he didn't run outside to play hide-and-seek with the kids, but we sat around the table playing game after game, debated over good baby boy names, let the kids color their entire faces with washable markers (which I'm pretty sure almost gave Jean a heart attack), drank plenty of soda and ate plenty of chocolate, ice cream, and clementines.

And, after they left, things have continued to get better.  Brian started back to work this week with his first full day on Wednesday.  He came home terribly exhausted and escaped into the bedroom for some quiet time.  At first I thought to myself, "I wonder if this will be normal now..." but then I caught myself and decided to try not to use that word anymore in relation to our lives.  Because, truthfully, there is no such thing as normal.  Things are always changing, always evolving, always growing and maturing and developing.  To lock us into being 'normal' is to prevent us from expanding.

So, we live.  We lived today just like we did yesterday, though nothing was exactly the same.  A friend brought dinner last night, and neither of us felt up to making dinner tonight, so we ordered pizza.  We don't do that often, but that doesn't make it abnormal.  It just makes it different.  And tomorrow will be different, too.  We will adjust to whatever comes.  We will learn to live with uncertainty.  For some reason, Brian is predisposed to have dissections in his coronary arteries, but we will learn to view each day as a gift and be grateful for it instead of living each day in fear that another artery will tear.  We will choose to always live near big hospitals, and we will continue to fill Brian's prescriptions for the rest of his life.  We will do what we can, and then we will live for the day.  Long or short, life will be good and full.  I have faith in this.  That we can learn to live this way.  The road ahead of us looks impassable at points and the timing seems to be all wrong.  But I'll remember that the timing is not my own.  The timing is being set by an all-knowing God who loves me.  And, really, could the timing of something like this ever be right?  It could have certainly been much, much worse.

But that will come in another post.  A post about the tiny coincidences that, when all stacked up together, created a miracle and painted another coat of color on the testimony I have of my Savior's love for me.  That He's watching my life... directing my life... and caring deeply about the outcome of it.  Even in the midst of suffering, He's there.  Working for good in the details.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Nightmarish Miracles Before Christmas - Part 4

 I'm not hyperbolizing when I say that Christmas eve was one of the most emotional days of my life.  Mood swings have been common throughout this pregnancy, but I'm not sure I've ever gone from one extreme to another quite so deeply as I did this day.  It started high.  I slept fairly well the night before... Brian was doing so, so much better... my in-laws were heading to the airport and would be with us later that afternoon... and it was Christmas Eve.  Brian felt cheerful, too.

"I'm getting out of here today, Linds."  My eyebrows shot up in surprise.  And a little laugh of disbelief escaped.
"You  mean like, out of the hospital?"  I asked, but I knew my husband well enough to already know the answer.
"Yep.  I really think I can swing it."
"Well... I don't think people just go home after spending two nights in the ICU."  He was feeling great.  Sitting up in the bed for the first time in 32 hours, eating his breakfast of french toast and scrambled eggs (no butter, no salt in the cardiac ICU...), after having just taken a walk up and down the hall.  When he asked his nurse if he could get up and walk, the nurse was pleasantly surprised and stuttered over his answer for a second (uh... yeah!  Sure... just a second... let me go see if I can get someone to walk with you).  Minutes later another nurse came in to disconnect wires and make sure the IV's were ready to move.  Brian stood up and stretched his legs, all the while breathing audible sounds of relief.  He bounced on his toes and kicked his heels up behind him.  His joints all popped and cracked, causing the nurse to laugh and giving me a mental image not unlike a lanky, animated puppet. All up and down the hall, doctors smiled their approving smiles in his direction, (Hey! one said, You look too good to be in here!) and I beamed... I felt so proud of him; for the first time forgetting the terrifying events that caused me to be proud of a few steps taken by a grown man in the first place.  He was alive!  Walking!  Better!  And now feeling ready to go home.

"Yeah, it's probably not standard, but I can do it.  All they're going to do after they move me from here is keep me on the monitors and make sure I take my meds on time.  I can do that at home.  They'll let me go."  He looked at me with a smile, a nod, and that confidence in his eyes that I've grown to know so well.  The one I don't argue against anymore because I've never won against that look... not in the 10 years we've been married.  So, maybe he could swing it and get out of the hospital that day... but should he? 
"Okay - I believe you.  But, as much as I would like to have you home for Christmas, I don't think it's a good idea to leave the hospital today.  I think it would be better to stay on the monitors for another day."
Our conversation was interrupted by morning rounds and the doctor spoiled Brian's ambitious plans by saying he was a little concerned about portions of the monitor's readings last night and so wanted to keep Brian out on the hospital floor for not one, but two more days.  Tainted by my happy mood, I was relieved to hear the news.  The more monitoring, the better.  I wanted them to be sure he was fine before they discharged him.

I went home to shower and came back just as they were about to take Brian up for an MRI.  He was still feeling great, and they had just gotten word about the new hospital room he would be moving into soon after the MRI.  That kept me in an optimistic mood, and I was sure that the MRI would come back with good news.  While he was gone, his new hospital room was being decorated for Christmas by good friends, and some other good friends dropped off a couple of bags of those cinnamon smelling pine cones that intoxicate me every time I walk in their presence.  It's Brian's favorite smell in the whole world, and I was so grateful when my facebook request for them was answered so quickly.  It was fun to drop by his new room and see the progress being made... lights, stockings, a 3-foot-Christmas tree, tinsel, balloons, posters... and now bags of cinnamon smelling pine cones.  Christmas was going to be just fine.

The mood shift started happening just after the MRI.  "It wasn't great news..." Brian started explaining to me.  "Actually, it was kind of bad news."  He went on to say that much of his left ventricle had died.  The entire bottom portion of his heart (the apex) was all scar tissue now and a few other places in the ventricle had full thickness scars as well (as opposed to partial thickness... the muscle wall in your heart is very thick and, evidently, the wall can scar just a partial way through it.  This would have been better news because the part that is not scarred will still contract and pull the scar along with it, whereas a full thickness scar will just not contract at all).  Final EF value of 47 (remember, normal is 55-75)... not expecting an increase.  It's true that most of my college education is rusty, but I do remember and know of the extreme importance of the left ventricle, and this news scared me quite thoroughly.
A 16% decrease in the efficiency of his heart function.
At least.
Could be as high as 39% depending on what his normal EF value was before the heart attack.
But at least 16%.
16% less oxygen getting to his muscles with every pump... would he be more tired?
Less energetic?
"So, is this going to affect your day-to-day life?" I wondered aloud.  Brian just shrugged his shoulders.
"What about exercise?  Will you still be able to play basketball?" Another shrug.
"And..." this terrified me the most, "what about the life expectancy of your heart now?  Does this... change that?" Shrug.

We held each others eyes as ten seconds passed between us with no words.  Hundreds of images, thoughts, concerns and future projections sifted through my brain and landed as a thick mist of pain covering every inch of my feelings.  Brian has always been so active... bouncing along to life, always walking briskly (how many times have I rebelled against this by simply stopping in my tracks and refusing to move until he apologized for leaving me in the dust?), moving tirelessly through the house to whip everything back in to shape (how many times have I been frustrated at him for making me nervous by cleaning around me in circles?), always priding himself in speed and efficiency.  As a child, people called him 'Tigger' because of the constant bounce in his step.  Which he still has when he gets excited about something... oh how I love that bounce...  "Always moving," his mother says about his childhood; and then adds with a laugh, "well, I suppose he still is, isn't he!?"  Yes... yes... I laugh in return.  Even his illegible handwriting stands as a sign of speed.  But... will all this be changed somehow?  I wondered.  What if this was all taken away... It drives me crazy sometimes, this extra energy... yet when I thought about who Brian would be without it... broke me. 

He is alive... I know that's the important thing, and of course we will adapt and adjust wherever we need to with as much optimism as possible.  But, oh how it hurts to think of such a large part of him dying.
And, oh does it kill me to think about the years this could shave from his life.  That thought is so painful I still haven't dealt with it yet. 

I wasn't ready for Brian to see my concerns, though.  He is such an optimist and historically has always appreciated a positive reaction to any sorts of bad news.  So I swallowed as much of my emotions as I could and was pleased that they only appeared as a soft layer of new tears. "Well," I said through a concerned smile, "maybe you'll just have the energy of a normal person now."  He smiled.  And I think it was real.

My phone rang and broke the tension.
"It's Eric," I said, holding the phone up for Brian to see.  "Do you feel like talking?"  He hadn't been up to talking on the phone to anyone yet (even his own parents), so I was pretty sure I already knew the answer.
"Not really," he said, as expected. "... But, should I?"
"There are no 'shoulds' yet.  If you'd like to talk, then I'll let you answer it, if not, don't worry about it.  He's calling my phone, so I'm sure he's not expecting you to answer... he's probably just checking in to see how you're doing."
"Okay, then... not yet."
"Do you want me to answer it now or call him back later?"
"No, you go ahead.  You should answer," he replied with a definitive nod.  He hates it when I screen calls.  He reached for the book a friend had brought, Enders Game, as I stepped out of the room to say hello.

I had received a priesthood blessing the night before in which I was reminded that I had many friends around to help lift me up so that I could be strong for Brian during this time, and the timing of Eric's phone call brought that reminder to the front of my mind.  I've never been good at masking my feelings... and, truthfully, I've been okay with that.  I haven't actually seen much benefit come from hiding my true feelings before and, conversely, I have seen much good come from the honest (and sometimes raw) emotions I wear on my sleeve.  But this felt different somehow.  I felt a strong pull (even a responsibility?) to show optimism and strength for Brian.  I knew the time would come when my side of the story was truthfully outlined, but in these first hours of his recovery I wanted him to focus on himself.  He has always been so good at holding me together, or at putting me back together when I've crumbled, but I felt sure that I did not want him to be worrying about me just yet.  But my emotions were crumbling, fast, with the new news... and how fortunate that I was called out of Brian's room at that perfect time to be able to let them crumble in the hall with a friend.  By the end of the phone call I felt like I had a band-aid covering a gushing wound... but knew it would hold long enough to go to Brian with a smile to pass along the love from Eric and Katie and then, thankfully, leave to go pick up Brian's family from the airport.

I saw Brian to his new, beautifully decorated room out of the ICU, kissed him, promised to be back later that night with the family to celebrate Christmas Eve, and left.  I was headed first to pick up McKenzie so she could accompany me on the drive.  I hadn't seen any of my children since we'd left for the hospital almost 42 hours before, and McKenzie had started to break down a bit.  I knew she needed the drive with me and hoped (and prayed) that I could focus on her enough to fill her needs.  My phone buzzed in my pocket as I walked through the hospital doors and I opened the new text from my sister, Michelle.  "Hey, just wanted to say merry christmas eve.  You should grab an extra jello cup to celebrate, or something."  My breath puffed from my lungs in a laugh and came back in as a sob.  I hadn't talked to her yet... but her voicemails and texts had been such a strength to me, and I knew she was just what I needed at that moment. I pressed the 'call' button underneath the words of her text, cried with her for the whole twenty minutes it took me to get to McKenzie and felt, again, that the fresh band-aid would hold for a bit. 

It was weird to have to make small talk with McKenzie, and then again with Brian's family when they crowded into the van.  We all wanted to talk seriously about Brian, but felt the inappropriateness of it with McKenzie sitting in our company.  So, much of the drive back to our house was spent in coded language or silence.  Thankfully, I feel comfortable and loved in my relationships with Brian's parents, so there was no added stress to impress or to be something I'm not.  But, oh, the stress of the night was crushing me.  Stress coming from wanting to make my children comfortable.  Stress coming from trying to make Christmas Eve memorable and happy for everyone.  Stress from trying to keep that band-aid sufficient in hiding my emotions (remember how terrible I am at that?) and stress when the emotions kept leaking out around it anyway.  Stress from those sweet, innocent, little faces looking to me for some comfort and stability.  Stress from trying to keep Christmas traditions alive on my own, and more stress from trying to feel fulfilled by them when they had been so altered by Brian's absence (I'm terribly attached to traditions).  All the while thinking only of the hospital.  Just wanting to get back.  Frustrated by my role as mother.  I just wanted to be wife.

But, as slow as the minutes seemed to be ticking by for me, they did tick by.  We ate a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner brought in by a couple of families in the ward, and then McKenzie sorted and counted all the presents underneath the Christmas tree while we cleaned up (Dear McKenzie, it doesn't matter who gets more or less... let's just be grateful for what we have... and next year, please don't sort and count the presents again, okay?).

We had a small program where the kids all sang Christmas songs, and opened a few presents.

We then piled into two cars along with wrapped Christmas pajamas and the gifts to Brian from the kids and headed to the hospital.   He looked so good.  Happy.  Excited to see his family.  So normal, laughing with his brothers.  But I saw the energy in his eyes deplete quickly.  Like an old computer battery that doesn't hold a full charge for more than an hour.  I was glad we had only brought the pajamas to unwrap.  His dad read the Christmas story from Luke and then we kissed him goodbye for the night; wishing him a happy Christmas Eve.  I would be coming back later that night after the kids were in bed because we had asked Santa to come to the hospital, and we had much to do to get ready for him. 

Back at home, my in-laws pumped their own air mattresses, changed their own sheets and helped me set up beds for my kids downstairs.  My role of hostess: fail.  They helped themselves to their own snacks while I packed two big suitcases full of everything we needed to make Christmas a success at the hospital, comforted me when I started to crumble, and while I was gone they got my (incredibly excited) children to sleep, tidied the house and eventually went to bed themselves.  My role of hostess: double fail.  How grateful I was to feel comfortable in that failure, though.  Bless them for being so wonderful. 

Just before I left my home, the band-aid burst and I sat on my bed trying to contain the new flow of tears that was gushing.  I came to have a new understanding of the phrase 'worried sick' as I knelt at my toilet and shortly after, worked up enough courage to leave my bedroom to get the suitcases into the car.  As I backed out of my driveway, the tears started flowing again so I reached for my phone to find Dad.

"Hey, Lindsay..." he answered gently.  "How are you?"
I shook my head back and forth, knowing he could not see, yet not being able to speak.  "Dad..." I eventually squeaked out, "I'm crashing."
"Oh, Lindsay... I am so sorry." If a voice can bleed, I heard that happen in those words that night.  We talked through my fears of the future.  We talked through my fears of the present.  We talked through my fears of what could have happened had things not lined up so perfectly that Saturday night. 

And we talked, briefly (because I couldn't handle it for long), about my fears of losing Brian early because of this.  I see my parents, now approaching 60, and realize how young they still are.  How much life could be ahead of them still.  And not knowing whether or not this heart condition will take Brian's life - even 30 years from now - is hard for me to handle.  When we lost Jess, there were several people who came out of the woodwork to share their own stories of losing a child.  I felt like I had been welcomed into a sort of exclusive club I didn't know existed before, and it was comforting to me.  It was comforting to see these women ten, twenty, thirty years beyond their loss and to see that life, indeed, would get better and that I would, indeed, be happy again someday.  This time, as people have come out of the woodwork to share their heart attack stories, the exclusive club we've been welcomed into is not so comforting.  We don't fit very well.  We're far too young, and the reasons behind the heart attack separate us even further.  The conversations themselves are nice and appreciated because I can feel the love and concern coming from the other members of the club, but the words, unfortunately, do not help much.We can't relate very well to restricted diet conversations, or managing stress conversations, because... that's not the problem.  Several people have pointed out that they had a heart attack _____ years ago (ten is the highest so far), and that they're doing great now.  'You'll be just fine...' they say.  Again, the love and concern is comforting but the words leave me empty.  Ten years? I think.  In ten years, all of our children will still be living at home.  We will have a senior in high school, a couple of teenagers, a nine year old boy, and potentially younger children... In ten years, Brian will still be new to his ophthalmology practice.  We will most likely not own our house, and will still be paying off loans from medical school.  Ten years?  I was hoping you were going to say at least forty.  Where is the club for people who have a coronary artery spontaneously dissect?  Where are the healthy 70 year old men who can say they had a heart attack 40 years ago?  Why haven't those people come out of the woodwork?  Because it's too rare.  So rare.  So poorly understood.  No one can give us answers because... no one knows what the answers are.  I suppose it's that uncertainty that is killing me.  My dad's tears through our conversation (and the tears shed by Brian's dad just before I left the house that night) comforted me like a warm blanket.  Made me feel like I was not overreacting (something I'm not always certain of during pregnancy), and that I was not alone in my stress, worries and grief. 

"How is Brian taking all of this?" my dad asked as I pulled into the covered parking garage at the hospital.
"Well..." I thought back to the few serious conversations Brian and I had had together, and to the way he talked to all the visitors that had been coming through his room.  He was... Brian.  Joking.  Laughing.  Downplaying.  "He doesn't really get it yet," I concluded.   "He hasn't really taken any time to think about it, I don't think... he's been reading a novel in all of his down time, and whenever he talks about it he kind of just shrugs it off his shoulders and talks about getting out of the hospital."  I went on to say that it was a good thing, though.  Because I was such a mess.  I was grateful that we weren't going through it at the same time... and hoped that I would be healed enough by the time it hit Brian to be a real strength for him.  "Yep... you're probably right," my dad replied.

Anyway, I wheeled my two suitcases into the hospital, up the elevators and into Brian's room.  I had stopped crying by that point, but two separate groups of people asked me if I was okay... I must have looked terrible.  Brian noticed I'd been crying when I walked into his room.  "Hey Linds... everything okay?"
"Yeah..." I said, brushing his question off.
"You've been crying..." he observed.
"It's just been... a long day," I answered. 
"Is it hard with my family here?" he worried.  I was astounded that his first thought for a reason behind my tears that day would be because his family was here.  He knows how much I love them and how unstressed I'd been by their coming in the first place.  I took it as a pat on the back that he didn't know how bothered I was by the fact that he'd almost died, or by the fact that we'd just found out that the (arguably) most important organ in his entire body was irreparably damaged. 
"No, it's not that," I answered.  I knew he wouldn't let me off until I offered a reason for the tears so I offered a piece of the truth, "I guess I'm just feeling a little overwhelmed because all of my roles in life seem to be in high demand today... wife to my sick husband in the hospital, mother to my thrown-off-balance kids, hostess to the family, daughter/sibiling/friend to all the people who have been looking for updates, baby incubator, Christmas elf... I'm just... really exhausted."

In my ambition to set Christmas up just right in the tiny room, I ended up causing stress for Brian, and that set my tears off again.  So much failure in one day...  I apologized, tried to hurry, kissed him goodnight, and left so he could get some rest and so I could be there for my kids when they awoke on Christmas morning.  I didn't sleep much that night and ended up 'worried sick' two more times throughout the night.

But the sun came up again the next morning and I heard excitement coming from the downstairs where all my kids were confined to stay until I came to get them.  Grandma and Grandpa were up and talking to them.  I rolled out of bed and looked at my ragged face in the mirror.   

I stared into my sunken eyes and slowly shook my head.  How do you start Christmas when Christmas feels so far from your heart? I wondered. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Nightmarish Miracles Before Christmas - Part 3

The morning sun brought with it hope.  Brian opened his eyes and turned his head in my direction.
"Hey... how are you feeling?" I asked.
"Better," he replied.  "Oh.  So much better than last night."  Hope surged.  "But I have this balloon pump thing in my aorta that is driving me crazy."  Yes... I thought, and couldn't help but smile.  I know... I'm sorry.  He had been groggily complaining of it throughout much of the night and, though I wished I could end his discomfort, it was so good to hear the complaint turn more coherent.  He put his hand on his chest, "it just keeps pumping and pumping, and it makes me feel all this weird pressure.  I hate it.  And my legs are stiff, and my back hurts, but they won't let me move."  Yes... you're talking!  "I wish I could sit up, or bend my leg."
"Can I get you some water?"
"Shhhhhh.... wait..." he pointed outside his room and turned his ear to where the doctor was talking to the team about Brian's case.  It made little sense to me, but Brian was interested.  After spending so many countless hours wearing his white coat and being involved in discussions just like that one, I imagine it was interesting for Brian to be the one in the robe and on the patient side of the doors. 

When they were done talking, the team crowded into the small room.  "How are you feeling this morning, Brian?" the doctor asked.  "Better," he responded.  "This balloon pump is really annoying, though."  The doctor assured him that they would take it out as soon as they felt they could.  After it was removed, if Brian could maintain his stable state for 6 hours, they would let him out of the ICU and put him in another room out on the floor.  The doctor applauded us on our quick action the night before in getting Brian into the emergency room.  "Your speed saved his life," he said.  "I really believe this was that serious.  Another half hour could have made the difference."  His tone was warm and reassuring, but the words chilled me.

Brian and I talked after that.  A real conversation that lifted my spirits more than anything else could have.  He told me his side of the story... how the pain had started as a funny pressure after he swallowed an Oreo bite.  How he thought the funny pressure was because the bite had gotten lodged in his throat at first, but how water didn't seem to help, and how the pain escalated so quickly while he sat on the rocking chair in the living room that after two minutes he knew something was quite wrong.  How he went to lay down on the bed to wait for it to pass.  But how just a couple of minutes later, the pain was becoming unbearable and had started spreading to his left arm.  That's when he called me to come.  It felt weird to be hearing his side of the story for the first time... I had been talking to so many people, relaying my side over and over and over.  I fought back tears as he talked; I couldn't help but feel so intensely grateful that I was hearing his side... I was all too aware that it was a side of the story that may have never been told. 

Oh, it was good to hear him talking.

Eventually, an ultrasound machine was wheeled into his room and they began their initial exam to find the extent of the damage. It was quite interesting to watch Brian's heartbeat on the monitor (but I still think my ultrasounds are more fun).

The echo showed that the very bottom portion of his heart (the apex) was not contracting.  This could be due, they said, to the muscle tissue still being 'stunned' from the heart attack or, the less desired option, to the muscle tissue being dead and turning to scar tissue.  They would know more after an MRI.  They measured the blood flow out of his heart and found it to be low.  Not terribly low... but low.  "EF of 45," they said.  EF?  45?  I was tired of asking for clarification, so waited until Brian and I were alone again and asked him what that meant.

In order to understand it well, a small understanding of the anatomy of the heart is helpful.  Your heart is divided into four different chambers, two smaller chambers on the top (called atrium), and two larger chambers on the bottom (called ventricles).  While each chamber is important, the left ventricle (called the powerhouse of the heart) is the chamber solely responsible for pumping the blood to your entire body.  When it contracts, the blood inside it's chamber is forced out through a large vessel (the aorta) and then is carried along hundreds of different branches and out to every muscle in your body.  I didn't realize before last week, however, that not all of the blood is expelled during each contraction.  The EF, ejection fraction, is a number that represents the percentage of blood that leaves the left ventricle during this contraction.  They call a heart 'normal' if it has an EF greater than 55... that is, if it pumps at least 55% of the blood it's holding out to the rest of the body each time it contracts. 

So Brian's EF of 45 was not great news.  But, it wasn't terrible either.  Plus, the hope remained that the muscle was just stunned and would regain its function.  After the echo, Brian asked me to go home and get some sleep.
"No way," was my response.  I was not about to leave him.  He was still laying in the ICU with a catheter tube shoved all the way from his groin to his heart, for heaven's sake, holding a balloon in his aorta that was steadily pumping because... well, I didn't know exactly why the balloon was in there or what it was doing, but I figured it must be important.  Plus, he had only been acting better for a couple of hours and I wasn't trusting enough to believe it wasn't a fluke.  No, I was much more comfortable sitting right there in that chair by his bed.
"Please, Linds," he pleaded.  "You need to take care of yourself right now, too.  I know you didn't sleep well last night," I didn't sleep at all, "and the kids are going to need you to be okay."  My eyes became teary again and I slowly shook my head.  "I'm not leaving you, Bri.  I can't."
"Please, Linds... I'm exhausted and want to sleep.  But I won't sleep well if I know you're sitting in that uncomfortable chair."  A tear dropped onto his sheet from my left eye and my eyebrows contracted in confusion.  "Really, I won't, Linds."  I knew he was right.  But I was also not sure I'd even be able to sleep, even if I was in my own bed. 
There were a few things I needed to do at home.....
"Okay, Bri.  But I'll only sleep for a couple of hours.  I'll be back soon."
"No, sleep for at least six."
"I'll be back soon."  It was a compromise, after all. When the nurse asked me for my cell phone number and wrote it down on the white board in Brian's room, my discomfort swelled.  She wanted to be able to get a hold of me quickly in case... anything changed.

I watched the road home through choking sobs.  Letting some of the anxiety and terror of the night before escape into the confined cab of my little Honda Civic was refreshing in a way, and by the time I pulled into the driveway I felt a little better.  I called a few people to give them updates and then spent an hour sorting through all the Christmas presents that had been stashed in my closet throughout the month.  I pulled them all out into the living room and started arranging them in piles.  A small pile of To McKenzie, From Mom and Dad, and another small pile To Carson.  Pile after pile after pile was assembled.  To Miles From Nana and Poppy, To Brian from Linds.  When all the piles were together I took a step back and felt overwhelmed.  Presents covered the floor, covered the couches and spilled into the dining room.  Amazing what a couple of presents to each kid from a few different sources can add up to... Four hours of wrapping, at least, stared me in the face. 

But an army of women were coming into my home that night, armed with scissors, tape, and wrapping paper to fight that battle for me.  All I had to do was label the piles so they knew what to write on the tags.  I took a shower and then snuggled down into my bed and let my mind tenderly trace the lines of gratitude that had formed over the last 15 hours.  The lines kept getting thicker, and it felt good and healing to spend some quiet time with them.  My husband was alive... friends were pouring out love... my feet were wrapped in brand new cozy socks... my house was magically clean from the party the night before; the rug back in place; the frosting wiped from every surface; the dishes done... my children were being cared for... and overnight, the piles of toys and clothes and games that I had arranged in my living room would be turned into shiny, wrapped presents.  Complete with bows and tags and ribbons....

I awoke two hours later and practically jumped out of bed.  Hospital.  Need to get back.  I rounded up a few things I'd missed the night before (sleeping pills being one of them (my camera being another)) and got to the ICU to find Brian's glass doors closed and a handwritten note taped to them that read: No Visitors.  Check with Nurse, please and thanks.  My heart stopped.  Had something gone wrong?  The nurse saw my face and rushed to reassure me, "This isn't for you, dear," she said.  "He's just been getting so many visitors today that it tired him out and he asked to be left alone to sleep."  Okay... that's okay.  A side effect, I guess, of having so many friends working in the hospital. 

At 4:30, soon after I arrived, the doctor agreed to stop giving Brian the intravenous blood thinner and said that, after it wore out of his system in about four hours, they would look into removing the balloon pump.  Brian watched the clock like a hawk for the next four hours and, as the time approached 8:30, he asked me to go remind the nurse that it was time and to ask if the pull doctor was ready.  Pull doctor!?  "Is that really the name of the doctor who is going to pull the catheter and balloon pump out through your leg?" I asked, amused.  Well, I suppose it makes sense...  To Brian's dismay, the pull doctor was running a little late and wouldn't be there until 9:00, half an hour after his scheduled time.  Brian took it like a champ, though, and when the doctor arrived at a quarter to nine, Brian felt he had received an early Christmas present. 
"Take a deep breath," the doctor said.  I wondered what it felt like as the doctor pulled the heart pump from Brian's heart all the way out through his leg.  "Weird," Brian told me later.  Once it was removed, Brian gave a sigh of relief and stayed still for another 15 minutes while the doctor applied pressure to the punctured artery.  (Really... 15 minutes.  It was a long time.)  Brian remembers the 15 minutes of applied pressure as his job when he was rotating through the cardiac ICU.
"If you feel any warmth or wetness down here at any time through the night, make sure to let the nurse know," the doctor said before he left.  "That means you're bleeding and we need to get it taken care of quickly."  Yes, you don't want a major artery bleeding for long...  The doctor left, and groin checks started every fifteen minutes afterwards for the next hour, every 30 minutes for the hour after, and then once an hour for a remaining two.  Brian didn't love those.  But he did love being able to bend his leg.  

Meanwhile, angels were at work in my home.  It warmed me when Amy texted these pictures to me later that night. 

The rest of the night was ... what word can I use?  I could just say better... that would be true... but it doesn't give quite the right feeling.  Because it was still quite terrible.  In comparing it to the night before, it was better... but in comparing it to regular nights spent snuggling with Brian and sleeping in my own bed with no life-threatening concerns lingering in my mind, it was devastatingly despairing.  There were more complaints of pain, more medicine adjustments, more tense facial expressions from the nurse and doctor.  I did sleep better, though.  Probably because of the sleeping pill.  Or because I didn't have quite so much adrenaline running through my body.  Or because I was already so sleep deprived in the first place. 

Whatever the reason, I was happy to wake up on Christmas Eve knowing I had spent much of the night in sleep.  And knowing that if all went well that day, Brian would have an MRI, we would have more answers, and he would be moved out of the ICU onto the regular floor.  Into his own room.

A room we could bring the children into.  A room that would see us all together as a family.  A room in which we would celebrate Christmas.