Saturday, July 26, 2014

Good Reports

Last Sunday Gerald took us down to Cape Girardeau to the hospital to join others there to offer our emotional support to his brother Garry, who had been told his wife needed to have her life support stopped.  With great anguish and emotional trauma, Garry did what Ginger had said she wanted under these conditions.  And she started breathing on her own.  Her daughter Vicki spent the night with Ginger, and by the next day, Ginger even said a word or two to Garry. 

He and their son Kerry began making the arrangements to take Ginger home to the farm—just as they had been explaining to her they were trying to accomplish while she was in the nursing home those three months.   They secured a hospital bed and hospice was made available to them.  They received some training about her care. By Tuesday late, the ambulance took Ginger home.  All reports are that Ginger is very happy and peaceful being back at her beloved home, and her family is very happy to have her there.  She is communicating some, and everyone feels good that God is in charge of her life now—not artificial support.

My brother Jim was in the hospital waiting more repair or some kind of work done on stints following the surgery done Friday on his 86th birthday.  On Monday that work was postponed until the next day to let his kidneys recover more from Friday’s procedure.  Tuesday’s phone call said he had the surgery on the stint on his right side of heart but was being kept in the hospital over night following that morning’s work just to be sure all was well.  Later he could face what needed to be done of the left side.  However, evidently the problems on the left side were more serious than hoped because he still had more chest pains. So yesterday his wife Vivian’s phone call explained that another surgery had worked on his left side.  He was supposed to go home today unless I heard differently.  His two daughters live locally, and their only son has come down from the quad city area to stay with them and help during this recuperation just as Robert did last fall following the four stints put in at Springfield. So I am relieved that my brother is home where I know he wants to be, and Vivian and their children are there taking care of him. 

Other good reports include the local news that the two young girls who were injured in the tragic accident coming home from Evansville are doing good and preparing for their start soon as new high school students.  I am sure that they both have much work and pain ahead of them before their recovery is complete.  But since one had not even been expected to live (and might have never recovered if she did live), people are so happy and excited about progress that one doctor described as a miracle.  It has been satisfying to know of the prayers and the concern that our community had shown for these young people as well as for the family who lost their loved one in that accident.

Katherine’s hospital stay at Carbondale, which coincided with mine in Marion, seems to have helped her not only to get over her latest UTI but in other ways also made her stronger.  When Gerald and I have gone by, she looked good and was cheerful, the house looked well kept, and things seemed to be going as well as when I was going in to help.  

Our long-time neighbor Edith Tanner, whom we had received a message about when we returned home last Sunday, did pass away on Tuesday.  And so did Russell Stapleton, our neighbor on the other side of our Pondside Farm house. Our children played with their children, and we know how much they loved their parents.  Russ served through terrible times while in service during World War II, but he never complained about it.

Then he and Mildred endured the deaths of their two oldest sons in recent years.  I liked seeing the photos of their younger days displayed at the visitation Wednesday night.  And I loved the story Bruce Beasley told me as we visited together as our long line moved forward toward the casket. Mildred had told Bruce she knew Russ really loved her because when they were dating, he walked up from Pope County each weekend to stay with his relatives so he could visit her and take her to church.  Then he would walk back home to Pope County. Yes, that is certainly proof of true love as was his faithful care of his family and his long years in the coal mines. What their many years of service meant to our community is immeasurable.  Russell and Edith were both wonderful neighbors, but both had lived long lives and were no longer healthy or able to do the things they loved.  I consider death a wonderful blessing as we age, and I know that both are in a better place experiencing a happiness we cannot even imagine.

Monday, July 21, 2014

First Week of Being Home Bound

Staying at home is not something I have been able to do much in recent years.  Consequently, I must confess I have really enjoyed this past week at home.  Each day I have become a little stronger and surer on my feet as I have accomplished my regular household chores and light meal preparation without breathlessness.

The lovely bouquet that Mary Ellen and Brianna brought me last Saturday is still lovely in the living room.  Jeannie’s huge flowering basket of purple petunias was just the annual summer lift I had failed to provide for the front porch this season. Together Gerald and I have kept it watered nicely.  I have slept late late late without feeling lazy, and I’ve worked slowly instead of having to hurry.

After the second shot to help thin my blood, the home health nurse reported the better figure to my doctor on Monday, and a call came from the doctor’s office that no more shots were necessary.  Now the doctor is trying to determine exactly how much warfarin (rat poison) I need each day to keep the INR figure ssteady between 2 and 3. Gerald took me to see the primary doctor on Wednesday, and the home health nurse checked me again on Friday.

I think the hospital doctor scheduled home health nurse visits for Monday, Wednesday, Friday again this week, and I am hoping by then my blood will be flowing perfectly at the correct thickness created with a stable daily dose of the correct amount of warfarin. And if my body has not yet already dissolved all the clots in my lungs as I think it has, I hope that task will have been completed by then too.   I have been emphatically told that I need to stay on warfarin for the rest of my life, and that I will be glad to do.  I was already glad to do so; but being told it was no longer necessary made me think I should follow the doctor’s advice.  I did not want to be a pill popper. I think the doctor’s advice was statistically correct, but unfortunately my genetic make-up was somewhat of an anomaly. For me going off warfarin turned out to be an expensive experiment. But now I know, and I will pop those daily pills with a clear conscience.

One of the negatives of old age is that a large number of your loved ones and friends are also.  Right before I went to the hospital, my brother Jim called from Mattoon to tell me their paper carried the obituary of a dear friend, who lived in nearby Charleston.  I guess Shirley Keller Karraker was my longest friend in the world since we were in preschool Sunday School together for at least a year before we started first grade and  then went through 14 years of school together.  Jim and his wife Vivian were inviting me up to spend the night in case I wanted to attend her funeral on Tuesday. 

Of course, I wanted to do that—especially since I have really been wanting to go see Jim and Vivian anyway—but I told him I really did not think I was up to it.  And, of course, by Tuesday I was in the hospital and glad I had declined the invitation.  But I remembered all the fun times Shirley and I had:  Sunday afternoon play dates or swimming at the creek west of town where we used to persuade a parent to take us, high school double dating, and perhaps, best of all, the long long talks on the rare nights she got the family car and we would discuss the world and all the people in it but mostly talk about ourselves—what we believed, what our plans were, and what we wanted out of life. 

Shirley had already survived two bouts of lung cancer (despite never smoking), lost her husband a few years back,  and because of medical carelessness, had lost her eye sight.  So I could not grieve for her.  She had lived well, accomplished what she was supposed to in life,  and is now in a better place   But I grieved some for myself that we would not have that final visit or even a recent letter I meant to write that her daughter could have read to her. 

Jim and I talked during last week, and on Friday  when I meant to call him to wish him a happy 86th birthday, I was thwarted again.  Since he and Vivian have busy lives that include four or five shots a day for her diabetes, and Jim also likes to sleep in, I was waiting until after lunch to see how his most recent doctor appointment had gone.  At the noon table, however, the phone rang and the name flashed up that it was a call from Jim, so I answered by singing “Happy Birthday” to him.  It was Vivian phoning to tell me Jim was in the hospital, had had a stint repaired or something of that nature that morning and would need another on Monday.  (He had four stints put in last autumn when he ended up in the hospital for a week or so instead of being able to give his granddaughter away at her wedding as he had rehearsed.)  Since that Friday phone call, I’ve been told he had a “mild heart attack.”  Whatever that means.  Needless to say, I am anxious about the procedure planned for in the morning.

This morning we learned that our beloved sister-in-law Ginger had once again woke with seizures, not too unusual for the last 13 years since she had a stroke that took away her short term memory.   She remained well dressed and attractive and could pass at social events as healthy or at least until recent years. If she talked about the past, she did well. But if she asked you a question about recent events, she would immediately forget your answer and ask again.  (I answered the same question once eleven times within an hour, and I knew she would ask again the next time I saw her.) Gerald’s brother Garry kept a wonderful care giver with her because of her need for help with medicine and meals and her intense anxiety about where he was after he took her into town each morning for breakfast before he began his day’s work on the farm. But the seizures and strokes eventually took their toll and she was often in the hospital.  

A couple of months ago, once more the ambulance took her to the hospital, and this time she did not get well enough to return home.  Much to her family’s discomfort, there were needs that could only be met  at a nursing home, but they banded together to be sure that during most of her waking hours, she had one of them there when her regular day caretaker was not present.  They cheered for her when she was finally able to stand, and the goal was for her to become sufficiently proficient with a walker to go back to her home. Our niece Vicki Sue grieved that her mother did not show many smiles although she sat through many funny movies with her mother.  Ginger’s sister Lillian, who lost her husband after a long illness during this time, came from Missouri to visit Ginger at the nursing home. Vicki was ecstatic because her mother responded with smiles and laughter during her precious sister’s visit.

However by the end of last week, Ginger was deteriorating. This morning Ginger was awake at 4 o’clock with yet another round of seizures, and the word went out to the family that she was taken to the Cape Girardeau hospital and life support might need to be removed if a MRI showed no brain activity.  When we checked into the lobby and Gerald spoke Ginger’s name, the receptionist there told Gerald, “Oh she has the sweetest husband.”

Soon we were up in the ICU waiting room with a large circle of family members including Lillian to be with Garry and Vicki and her brother Kerry as they faced the responsibility of doing what the doctor was advising and what Ginger had said she wanted back when she was still able to make such decisions. Two by two we were going in with Garry to say goodbye to someone who did not look like anyone we used to know and could not respond. Eyes were closed, and occasional grimaces indicated some discomfort with the equipment all over her face.  Garry, who has stood tall and firm for over thirteen years, was breaking up knowing what his answer must be for the doctor. The breathing tube was taken off, and Ginger continued breathing on her own.

We came home and there was a message on the phone from our neighbor telling us  that her relative, who has also been our neighbor for more that 40 years, is in the hospital at Marion and the family is awaiting her death. 

I had not checked the news all day, and so I did long enough to determine that things are not any better internationally.   There are other sad things going on that I could have also written about, but I have shared enough that I am sure you can understand why we are not looking forward to tomorrow.   There are numerous good things also in our lives, and we are grateful.  But right now our hearts feel concern and sadness for many that we love.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Happy to Be Home from the Hospital!

After six days of being poked, pricked, and prodded, it was wonderful to wake up in my own bed this morning.  I had slept for 11 hours when Gerald came in to wake me so we would have time for him to give me the scheduled Lovenox shot before the home health nurse would be at our house right after lunch.

Last Sunday, I realized I was not only feeling much too tired, but I was also having trouble with breathlessness.   Brought back memories of 2008 when I was hospitalized in Barnes in St. Louis because that was where we happened to be for an appointment with Gerald’s heart doctor.  I still feel bad that I stole his appointment time and his doctor sent me to the hospital, where clots in my leg and heart were treated.  The doctors there were convinced the clots surely developed because three weeks before we had taken a trip to Georgia.  (Gerald suspected it was all my hours surfing and writing on the computer, and I was inclined to agree with him.)  But regardless, I got well. Mary Ellen was living in a suburb there, and she came to visit me every day until I was released with a prescription of warfarin to keep my blood thin. 

Gerald built me a little box for my feet under the computer to shift my legs onto, and I tried to remember to get up and walk around once in awhile.  However, the truth is that one reason I enjoy writing and surfing is that I go into some kind of brain zone that blocks out the world. The concentration is very pleasant to me, and when I could, I often sat for hours without realizing how much time had passed.

I continued taking warfarin, but after a few years, my primary doctor assured me I could go off the drug if I wanted.  We were getting ready to take a trip to Oklahoma City for the softball world series and on to my sister’s in Amarillo, so I turned down the offer to go off.  From then on, at my annual check-up, my primary doctor would tell me I really would not have to continue taking warfarin. I would sheepishly answer that I must be psychologically addicted to it to give me a sense of security. 

But as our daughter Katherine’s health worsened and I spent more time with her, I found it more difficult to make time for the regular INR check-ups that warfarin requires.  I began to feel silly that I was choosing to take a drug I was told I did not need.  So at this year’s annual check up, when the doctor told me I could go off, I hesitated wondering what would result if we took a trip (which we probably cannot do).  She assured me I could temporarily take a new drug and have that security for the trip.  I went off warfarin and felt free as a bird.  No more trips to get my blood checked.  No feeling bad when I got home so late it was really the next day before I actually took my supper pills including the warfarin, Taking only three pills (two of which were over-the-counter) instead of five made me feel so healthy!  

However, I continued to feel (as I had for a year or so) tired after 9 or l0 hours of sleep when I was able to get that much, but I figured that was part of being 80.  So the week before last, when I felt a bit more tired than usual, I did not think much about it.  It was not until the weekend that climbing the stairs was making me extremely breathless.  Fearing something was wrong with my heart, I decided last Sunday to call my primary doctor the very next morning.  Since I had taken no trips and I did not need warfarin any more, I did not worry about blood clots. 

The doctor’s office quickly made me a work-in appointment at 2 on Monday.  I ran into town to pick up a thyroid prescription waiting for me at Kroger.  I’d been too tired to go by for it after I had finished a shift at Katherine’s on Sunday afternoon because an aide was sick.  I got the prescription and some bananas that Gerald needs daily with one of his meds and which I have been trying to eat daily in hopes of avoiding the leg cramps I sometimes have.   Someone had suggested that Katherine might need a milk-free yogurt rather than one that might be causing her trouble.  So I ran a new supply of that yogurt by her house and offered to give her morning pills since there was no aide that morning.  By the time I had adjusted her and given her pills with juice and yogurt, I was breathing heavily enough she was noticing it as she had the day before and urging me to go home just as she did the day before.   I did not think she was as well as usual, but I was pleased an excellent aide would be there for the afternoon; and I knew if I made my appointment, I had to leave. Then the faithful and competent aide, who never misses and is always five minutes early, phoned that she was having to take another client to the hospital and might be late or not there at all.  (When I had time to call later that afternoon, I found out she had made it after all and had made sure the night aide would be there by seven.  However, she did not think Katherine was as well as usual.  And the next day Katherine was taken to her doctor and admitted to the hospital in Carbondale.)

With Gerald’s help, I made it to my appointment.  For the first time in our lives, he went in and met my long-time doctor and listened for me.  I was glad he was there because I was not thinking well and did realize that my doctor meant me to go directly from her office to the hospital for the CT scan.

All is well that ends well, I’ve heard, and all is essentially well here at the farm. Tests showed no heart damage.  The second CT scan (which was actually only over the lower half of my body although I did not realize it) was not to see if the clots were gone as I supposed, but rather to make sure I did not have the kind of cancer that could cause clots in the lungs.  The hospitalist, whom I liked very much, had already arranged for an oncologist to come if the tests showed cancer.  They did not. All this had taken place, and I had no knowledge or worry about it.  Isn’t that great?   The doctor was puzzled since there were no clots in my legs.  He asked, “Where did the clots come from?”  Blood tests sent off and already returned have so far given no answer, but I believe he said some were still out.  He did not want to expose me to an unnecessary CT scan since the thinner blood will eventually be at the right balance and the body will destroy the clots. 

Katherine was released from the hospital on Friday.  Her aide Katie, who lost her brother in a tragic accident so recently, is helping Katherine again.  Am I worried about her?  Terribly, but I cannot do much about it.  In fact I never could. Advanced multiple sclerosis progresses as it chooses weakening and destroying the body of the one it inhabits.   Do I believe in prayer?  Yes, and I am grateful that all over the nation people have and do pray for Katherine.  Long ago her friend in Nashville became angry when a prayer meeting she arranged did not stop the disease.  My cousin rode his motorcycle all the way from California to apply oil and pray for her recovery. I am grateful.  We allowed him to come if he promised not to get angry.  I really believed his prayers might bring about a remission or recovery.  Instead the disease continued to grow worse.   Many believing praying cancer victims die of their disease.  I did not even know I might have cancer causing the clots and uttered no prayer against cancer, and I got the wonderful news I was cancer free.  Life is not fair by human understanding. The writer of Hebrews tells us some get their promises fulfilled here on earth and some do not, but all are fulfilled.

That is where faith is helpful. Faith helps you to know when the answers you want are not given to you, perhaps there are reasons beyond human understanding.  Things that are seen are not the evidence of faith.  Rather faith is the evidence of things not seen.  So I believe and ask God to help my unbelief. 

Jesus taught us that pain is redemptive.  The two young girls hurt in same accident as the one that took Chris Williams’ life are recovering. The orange ribbons still deck the nearby church yard fence beside the highway. Hundreds (perhaps thousands) have prayed; and  just like the girls’ parents, the community is so grateful for the prayers and for the continued healing. Will something good come from the awful pain the wreck brought?  I believe so.

So right now I am home bound.  I am feeling pretty good, and I think the Vitamin B-12 shots given me are helping me with the fatigue I’ve had for a year or so.  Maybe being 80 is not the cause. That too is good news!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

A Sad Sad Week

Orange tiger lilies, queen Anne’s lace, and yellow black-eyed Susans line our country roads now. Gerald is eating onions from his garden, and some neighbors already have tomatoes for their table.  Our former baby rabbits are big enough that we see them often.  Everything is beautiful. Summer is here, and the corn is tall thanks to the frequent rains.

Unfortunately, tears  have also been  frequent in our community and in near-by communities this past week.  Hearts have been broken, parents terrified, and lives changed forever.  In small communities, there is such an entanglement of ties between people that a tragic accident can impact almost everyone, and that has happened to us.  

A group of families here started a new congregation a few years ago.  They named themselves Living Stone Church and eventually were able to buy a small church building in the tiny village of New Dennison, where an older congregation had lost almost all its members to death and people moving away. I was thrilled that the new congregation bought this nearby building in our farm neighborhood by giving a generous amount to the Baptist Children’s Home in Carmi.  I felt that was such a fine memorial to the ones who had built and belonged to the congregation that died.   Their building would not only continue to used for worship and education, but the children at the Carmi home would benefit.

Continuing their interest in children, Living Stone congregation recently called  Christopher Shane Williams to be a youth pastor, and evidently he had already succeeded in creating influential friendships with these kids just as he had when he worked with youth at Marion Third and wherever he went.  Living Stone Church planned a mission trip for the kids to work all day at a homeless shelter in nearby Evansville, IN.  Then they would stay overnight and be treated to fun at Holiday World before coming back home.  They stopped to have a final supper together before the group started back to Illinois, and Chris gave a devotional.

Shortly after that, the unthinkable happened when one van blew a tire and somehow  was hit by a semi truck going in the same direction.  Chris, 28, was killed leaving behind his beloved Aimee, their 13-month old daughter Abbi, and a baby expected in November.  The semi driver and five others were hurt.  Literally hundreds and hundreds have been praying for these injured as well as for the Williams family.  One by one, the hurt were treated and released from the hospital except two recent eighth grade graduates, who were the most seriously injured. I did not know the girls personally but knew their families.  These two girls were close friends with our next door neighbor, who also just finished eighth grade.

One of the girls has been in critical condition in a medically induced coma fighting for her life.   The other in serious condition has had surgery and will be in a wheelchair and having physical therapy for a long time to come, but today she was allowed to go home from the Evansville hospital. Her photo on Facebook on the site dedicated to the two girls has a photo of her absolutely beaming and telling us she went in to her friend’s room  and waved goodbye.  Both girls have a long way to go, but their parents on the Facebook site are reporting all the answered prayers, and the community is rejoicing. Orange ribbons (Crab Orchard school color) dot the highway fence at New Dennison left behind from a prayer rally a day or so after the accident at Living Stone Church.

On their eighth wedding anniversary a short time ago, Chris’s wife Aimee wrote a beautiful tribute on Facebook to Chris and cited all he had done for her.  Aimee’s family are all writers and they express themselves well through the written word. Aimee was able to assure us since the accident that despite her enormous grief and the impossibility of understanding why this accident happened, she has faith in the love and purpose of God just as Chris did.  Aimee has just been through watching Sam White, her father. fight leukemia and then endured his death, which happened on Valentine’s Day.   Her father had been pastor for nine years in our village church in Crab Orchard,  and Aimee and Chris met and were married there. We had watched Pam and her three adult  children, while holding down challenging careers, struggle to help Sam in the Saint Louis hospital for most of  his almost year of illness. We were all so hopeful when Sam’s brother Cecil came from California and gave what was first thought was a successful stem cell implant. But sadly our hope was denied that Sam would be well again and able to use his education and experience and prepared syllabi to enhance the education of the students  at Morthland College.

Thus, we grieved for Pam becoming such a young widow and the three young adult siblings losing their father and Chris losing his father-in-law. Then when Aimee, after only eight year of marriage, had to write, “I am a widow,” her mother’s widowhood did not seem so young.  Before all this, we had earlier watched with approval as their family demonstrated faith and creativity in coping with their grief over Sam, and they continued to serve others.  The day of the wreck was also Sam’s birthday, and the siblings spent the day at the Saint Louis zoo in memory of their father who loved the zoo. No one could imagine that day would end with yet another death. We can only be grateful that pregnant Aimee and baby Abbi were not in that wrecked vehicle. 

Although I had heard great things about Chris, and I’d enjoyed his beaming smile on every photograph posted on Facebook often with baby Abbi smiling too, a smile that  reminded me of Sam’s and made me happy just by seeing it, I had not realized until the tributes poured in just how many lives Chris and Aimee have impacted.  Chris was one of those amazing energetic people who loved to have fun and work hard and who also loved everyone to a degree that they felt his love.

 Our family was impacted not only by our grief for Aimee and her family, but also with our grief for Chris’s only sister—Katie Barger—who had married Jared Barger on May 17—and who was a loving care giver to our daughter Katherine. Katie was so close to her big brother that this loss is enormous for her.  I am grateful that she has such good memories of Chris and Aimee at her wedding.

Because I did not know Chris that well, I had never realized how broad and how full Chris’s life was for such a young man until peoples’ stories poured in for his loved ones telling them what Chris meant to them.  His last Facebook entry was prophetic when he quoted Job 42:17: And so he died, old and full of years.  Chris then commented, Thus it must be possible to die old and not full of years. What things can we cut out of our lives to ensure our lives are full and not just long? What good is a long life if it not also full?”

Those who grieve Chris are immensely comforted that Chris’s years were very full and very worthwhile.