Feeling more than a wee bit smug, I put the finishing touches on my presentation about persevering through the storms of life. (I should’ve seen those yellow warning lights flashing, right?) I was scheduled to speak to a gathering of women at my church in 7 days and was elated to have completed the preparation. (‘So unlike me to be ahead of the curve) Except for that nagging little voice in my head telling me there was still something I needed to add. Never the less, I had a week to polish and prune and a wide open schedule if adjustments were needed. No problem.
I arrived home that Thursday evening to find my husband in significant pain, but chalked it up to the fact that he had consumed an entire container of salsa with chips, so we went to bed praying he’d be better by morning. When the sun came up, it was clear that was not the case. His pain had intensified. I called his physician and although he was overbooked for the day, they fit us in. His pain was off the charts by the time we arrived at his office and his doc. urged us to go immediately to the ER for further evaluation.
We arrived to a bustling ER and were seen immediately, despite a lobby teeming with sick and injured patients. He was quickly evaluated and though there was “no room at the inn” he was moved into the patient area where he was put on a gurney, in a hallway just across from the desks where nurses and physicians took calls and input information onto their computers. Eventually he was whisked off for an ultrasound and later a CT scan. Blood was drawn and pain medication was administered. And we waited. For hours and hours.
The thing about an emergency room is that you are reminded that many others are far worse off than you are and that gives valuable perspective. As results came in, it became clear that his gall bladder was the offending organ, an uncommon form of infection as most are caused by gall stones. He had none. The CT scan showed a lot of inflammation around the gall bladder- known as acalculous. Initially we expected surgery that night or early the next day. It needed to come out immediately, but, because of a daily medication he took, we would need to wait 5 days until that medication was out of his system in order to avoid excessive bleeding. His white count was 29 which is 3 times the ideal, indicating a serious infection was raging. Although the surgery was impossible in that moment, the inflammation needed to be addressed. As we approached midnight, he was moved to the med-surg floor and prepared to be taken into radiology, where a catheter was inserted to draw out infected fluid in order to bridge the situation until surgery was prudent. The procedure had similar risks, but because it was less invasive there was less risk involved. It was a short term fix. In the days that followed, there were heavy doses of antibiotics, painkillers and intravenous hydration. Three days later, his white count finally began to descend.
Over the next several days, I spent long days that morphed into nights at his bedside. In the midst of this I learned a little more about the meaning of persevering through storms. I learned that there are gifts to be found. I learned that the gifts of community are in full bloom when we are confronted by such storms. Via text messaging, I started three prayer/update chains, one for immediate family, one with Bible Study friends and one with some cousins. The responses and reassurances of prayers going up on Mike’s behalf were an enormous comfort for me in the long hours I waited alone. Although I wasn’t able to respond in detail, I was able to show my appreciation quickly in most cases.
By Sunday, the word was out. Our senior Pastor came and spent an hour with us, encouraging and praying for healing. Over the next days multiple church staff members came to pray, deliver chocolate and bring encouragement. My girl brought hot tea. My sister-in-law and niece came briefly, and later delivered a sumptuous meal for me to take home. And one night when I left the hospital after nearly 12 hours, I asked a security guard to escort me to the 3rd floor of the parking structure. His name was Jesus. The significance of that was not lost on me.
So. Much. Kindness.
So. Many. Blessings.
The hospital experience was spectacular. The nurses, the nursing assistants, the physicians, the respiratory therapists…without exception we were bathed in kindness and grace. Each new morning I was made aware of everyday heroes, quietly doing their jobs and blessing those in their path with their faithfulness to the tasks given them: worker bees, all – nursing staff, housekeepers, facility staff, volunteers, cafeteria workers, security guards, parking attendants, lab technicians and pharmacists- the list is long. Even as I rode the elevators up and down, every employee made eye contact and spoke intentionally. Every single one. It was like it was a job requirement. Volunteers played piano in the lobby as I entered each morning and one such morning I found myself singing along…
“Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, everything’s coming up roses, everything’s going my way.” Bringing joy and uplifting hearts, one song at a time.
Over the next week, my days were spent spoon feeding my patient bland, pureed food, assisting with grooming , adding blankets and taking them away, adjusting heat and bed up and down, calling for more medications or to stop beeping machinery, meeting with physicians and sending out updates to our prayer partners. Friends and family came bearing chocolate, hot beverages, books, cards , plants, dinner and prayers. One such angel walked and fed our pooches twice a day as I manned my post at the hospital. Encouraging texts flowed in throughout each day, surrounding us with friendship and love even though I was hard pressed to respond with specific updates. Prayers from Montana, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, California and more and phone calls from concerned friends and family. We were so covered and felt so loved.
Although he was assigned a shared room, we were blessed with privacy for the first five days. It was a blessing to have time and space to spread out with my books and laptop and a chair to rest in. Then, by divine intervention, an 85 year old Syrian man came in to claim the other bed. His daughter visited her Father that night and overheard a conversation about my niece who had visited earlier. When the woman got up to leave later, she apologized for overhearing but she had heard the names I mentioned and wondered… long story short, we realized she had actually cared for my nieces two decades earlier when they were very young. Though she no longer lives in the area, she had come to see her Father in the hospital and our Heavenly Father ordained that he should be placed in the bed next to my husband. Another reminder that our God is in the details of our lives. She shared with me that my nieces had recently been on her mind and heart and after I updated her on their lives she vowed to keep them in her prayers, knowing the Lord is faithful to provide for all their needs. Isn’t our God so personal and so kind? I am astounded at His intervention in our lives.
Six days after we first arrived at the hospital, a successful surgery was performed and on day seven, the patient came home, very grateful to be sprung from the annoyances of hospital life while appreciating every individual there who made his return home possible.
Sometimes community springs up where we are, as it did in the hospital that week. But, deep community is built in the monotony of everyday life when things are going well. It happens in our neighborhoods, in our churches and in our interactions with others. But, it doesn’t happen without our making the effort . The time to build community is now, not when you’re en route to the hospital in an ambulance. Because when you’re sitting in a hospital and day becomes night and then day again, that’s when your community will prop you up. When you are fatigued beyond your breaking point, they will deliver a much needed cup of coffee when you don’t even realize your body is craving caffeine or, a meal when you didn’t realize how hungry you were. They will close the windows you left open in your mad dash to get help and they will walk your dogs when you can’t get home to do it yourself. More importantly, they will send up prayers on your behalf when you are at a loss for words to pray yourself. They will bring comfort by waiting with you in the surgery waiting room and be a balm to your weary soul. These are the priceless gifts of community.
Tomorrow you may well reap the benefits from the one you built today.