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.
*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?
*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.