As Kellie and I are just starting off in our journey to plant a church I felt compelled to write out the key steps over the past decade that led us to this decision. This is Part 6 . . . and I title this segment “Hospitalized for 25 Days.” I’ll be writing the other parts over the upcoming weeks.
In part 5 I shared how Kellie and I had been praying: “Jesus, we’ll go anywhere. We’ll do anything. Just let us know.” We started praying that in March 2009 after hearing Kevin Valentine preach. We prayed it every night, month after month. We had dreams of possibly planting a church or doing whatever else God was going to ask us to do. We were excited at the possibilities. And then life threw us a major curveball. Here goes . . .
Life is fragile. Tomorrow is not promised to us. I could die before I finish writing this. You could die before you finish reading it. But in many ways we don’t really believe that, do we? We think we’ll die of old age, decades from now. It’s too scary to think about any other possibility, you know?
This past Wednesday, I officiated a funeral for a 70 year old woman who was a picture of health a month ago, working out at Curves a few days a week. She started to experience pain in her abdomen and thought she had gall stones, so she made an appointment with her doctor. It turns out she had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. She was diagnosed on July 3 and died August 6. On July 2nd she probably thought she had two more decades to live. In reality she had about a month. Life is fragile.
I found out just how fragile life was this past fall. In October 2009, Kellie and I were given the gift of a great vacation in South Carolina. So we spent a week having a blast with the kids. (Technically, it was a “trip” and not a “vacation” because anytime you travel with two small children it’s not exactly relaxing. But you get the picture).
So we had the time of our lives, drove back home, and I began to have flu-like symptoms the following day. This was at the time when the swine flu started dominating the news so I thought maybe I had that. After several days of vomiting, running a temperature in excess of 103, and sweating through the sheets at night, we went to the doctor. He said it wasn’t the swine flu, probably just a bad case of the seasonal flu. So I got an antibiotic, went home and thought the worst was behind me.
The following day we got a call from the doctor and he said he wanted me to get an abdominal ultrasound because my liver enzyme levels were elevated. We thought we’d be back home in a couple hours. It turns out I wouldn’t be back home for a week. After getting the ultrasound they handed us a sealed envelope with the test results and told us we needed to head directly to the emergency room. Our heads were spinning. A CAT scan at the hospital revealed a mass the size of a baseball in my liver and they weren’t sure initially if it was a tumor or an abscess. They didn’t know until they performed the procedure a few days later that it was an abscess that could be drained. I spent 7 days in the hospital and thought that was an eternity. Although I went home with a PICC line in my arm and Kellie had to play “nurse” and give me IV antibiotics each night, we thought I was on the road to recovery.
A couple weeks later I had a follow up CAT scan to make sure everything was OK. My doctor left me a voicemail to call her back. You know it’s bad when the doctor calls you with your test results. She said my liver abscess was back and bigger than ever, the size of a softball this time. So I needed to get it drained once again.
We went in on November 13th (as in Friday the 13th . . . and no, I am still not superstitious even after everything that happened) for an outpatient procedure to drain my liver abscess a 2nd time. During the procedure the doctor punctured my diaphragm. I got admitted once again to the hospital. Over the next few days it was more and more painful – unbearably so – and getting harder to breathe.
On November 16th I had an episode where I couldn’t breathe and the next thing I knew the “crash team” stormed into my room – a half dozen nurses and doctors. They thought I might be going into pulmonary arrest. I was rushed for a CAT scan which revealed my right lung was severely compressed. It turns out when the doctor punched my diaphragm, the bacterial fluid from the abscess transferred into my lung cavity and started multiplying.
I knew it was serious when right after this CAT scan, they transferred me to intensive care. I remember thinking, “I’m not that sick, am I?” After all, people get admitted to intensive care and come out with a toe tag.
Over the next few days it got harder and harder to breathe. I could speak just a few words before having to take a breath. And a deep breath and a shallow breath were the same thing for me. It was scary beyond words. I was 36 years old, married for only 5 years and had two little girls at home under the age of 3. I didn’t want Kellie to be a widow and for Faith and Evelyn to grow up without their daddy. So we prayed and prayed and prayed. And so did hundreds of others around the globe, literally.
I ended up having surgery on November 21st on my right lung cavity. It was a success! Praise God for that. Once again I thought the worst was behind me. And in many ways it was, but I wasn’t out of the woods just yet. After the surgery, I was so weak I had to use a walker; I was in so much pain they had me on a cocktail of Morphine, Dilaudid, and Norco; I had 3 chest tubes inserted in my side to drain additional fluid; an epidural wire inserted into the skin of my chest for pain; and developed a severe blood clot in my right shoulder. Thanks to the prayers of the saints I got released from the hospital on November 30th – spending a grand total of 25 days at Troy Beaumont in October and November.
This blog post is already way long so let me end by sharing an excerpt from an e-mail I sent out on December 7, 2009 . . .
I still have one chest tube sticking out of my right side (all I want for Christmas this year is for this tube to be removed once and for all) so if you hug me when you see me, please hug carefully! And I still have a PICC line in my left arm for I.V. antibiotics each night. And I lost 25 pounds thanks to a combination of bad hospital food and having absolutely no appetite thanks to being pumped full of antibiotics and painkillers. But overall I am feeling a hundred times better than when I got released from the hospital a week ago. I had zero energy last Monday when I came home. Since then I have been getting stronger each day. Kellie has been AMAZING in taking care of me and playing with Faith and Evelyn has never been sweeter. Did I mention how awesome Kellie has been?
In many ways I feel like George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Let me share a few things I learned on this journey. Being able to take a deep breath is a gift. Being able to walk without the assistance of a walker is a gift. Being able to eat and not vomit is a gift. Being able to get out of bed without assistance from others is a gift. Looking at Christmas lights as you drive down the road is a gift. Spending time with your kids “playing blocks” on the floor is a gift. Giving your spouse a hug is a gift. Being able to sleep through the night is a gift. All of these I took for granted before, but by the grace of God, I will never take them for granted again.
I can’t tell you how sweet this past Christmas was. Spending the holidays with Kellie, Faith, Evelyn, and the rest of my friends and family was a blessing beyond words. Plus, I had a very cool encounter with God on Christmas Eve that I’ll share with you next time. That’s what Part 7 is about so stay tuned.
Life is fragile. Each day is a gift. It really is a wonderful life. Remember that.