When Critical Illness Hits Home, part 2

“We have done all we can do.”Edinburgh (18)

Several of us were gathered around the crib in our baby son’s hospital room.  There was a somber and surreal atmosphere, as if we were observers of someone else’s drama.  “We have done all we can do,” our doctor told us.  “David’s kidneys have shut down.  Unless his kidneys begin working, I don’t think your son will live through the night.”

Pouring out his heart in prayer

My mother-in-law and our Christian doctor stood with us as we looked on our son’s listless form.   My husband clasped my hand and began pouring his heart out before the Lord. “Lord, this child was a gift from you.  You formed him, You gave him life, and You have a purpose for him.  We love our son, Lord, and we don’t want him to die.  But Lord, we want Your will, even if that means our son will go to be with You.  Please God, make David’s kidneys work. You are the Great Physician and can heal him in an instant.  But if you choose not to heal David, please give us the grace to glorify You in our sorrow.”

Quiet prayer

Medical personnel quietly moved in and out of the dimly-lit room taking vital signs and checking the IV. Someone removed even the diaper from our son’s fever-ravaged body in hopes that the air would help cool him.  We all continued to quietly pray.  We tried to figure out if we could have taken action sooner.  We went over the details of the day and we prayed some more.  Someone pulled a chair up to the bed for me, “You’re pregnant and need to rest.”  Someone else offered to get us something to eat.  Funny thing, in all of the urgency of the day I wasn’t at all hungry and had never once thought about the fact that I was indeed halfway through my second pregnancy.

“Please God, would You spare our son?”

The ward had several other pediatric meningitis patients.  We asked a few questions and learned that some children diagnosed with symptoms as severe as David’s have permanent disability such as deafness or brain damage, and, as we knew was possible, some die.  “Please God, would You spare our son?”

Answered prayer

Weariness set in as the strain of the day began catching up with us.  Our conversation dwindled to an occasional murmured comment or prayer.  Our doctor walked back in to the room.  As he checked David’s IV, a stream of urine shot up from the bed.  We began to clap and cheer and cry with joy.  God had answered our prayers and caused David’s kidneys to work!

Our son was in hospital for ten days.  He slowly began healing and we were finally able to take him home with us.  He was neither deaf nor brain damaged – God had returned him to us and we did not want to take that lightly.

Standing at death’s door brings a reality check

Even though we mouth the words, “Not my will, Lord, but thine,” many young people retain a feeling of invincibility because of the vigor and stamina of youth.  Standing at death’s door brings a reality check and forces us to acknowledge that our times are truly in His hands. We learned much about faith, prayer, surrender and grief those days.  We had a new understanding of the verses which tell us that life is a brief vapor.  We developed a deeper appreciation of the gift that life is.

Practical help

During these days of hospitalization, treatment and recovery we were blessed with the prayers of many, both friends and strangers.  Following my continuing theme of practical help in times of suffering and grief, I want to mention some specific things which were a help to us during our son’s hospitalization.

  • A lady in our church came to visit me in the hospital.  Several years earlier her daughter had contracted meningitis and recovered from it.  This dear woman’s willingness to share her experiences was a great encouragement and helped me know I wasn’t alone in this trial.
  • We needed someone at the hospital with our son around the clock.  Family and friends signed up to take shifts so my husband could return to work and so I could get some rest.
  • Meals, laundry and cleaning were taken care of by others.
  • Some provided money for hospital parking.  This can be expensive when you have to park every day for a prolonged period of time.
  • We lived in the States at the time and were without medical insurance.  Though the hospital initially wanted to transfer our son out of the hospital because we had no insurance, our doctor and family members spoke in our behalf so he could stay.  It took several years, but God gave my husband and I both work so the debt could be repaid.  Sometimes you need an advocate in the midst of a critical illness.
  • We received many notes and cards of encouragement.
  • During the crisis I felt totally calm and my husband was agitated.  It was a great help when our doctor told us that in his experience, one parent often is stoic at first and falls apart after the crisis has passed and the other is anxious first and very calm when their loved one is out of danger.  After we brought David home from hospital, I would sit in my rocking chair cuddling him and crying and my husband joked and played with our son.

“Why crying, Mama?”

Shortly after we bought David home from his hospital stay we learned of another seminary family whose baby daughter had just died of meningitis.  As I rocked David and prayed for this family, tears flowed down.  David reached his little hand up and wiped my tears saying, “Why crying, Mama?”  We prayed together for this bereaved family and I told God I didn’t understand why our son was spared while this family experienced such loss.

Hold the loosely

So we asked God for wisdom in rearing this recovered child believing that God had a particular purpose for our son’s life because this child had been returned to us.  Thus began our understanding of holding our children loosely because they are God’s and He has loaned them to us for an indeterminate period of time.

When Critical Illness Hits Home, part 1

Children are a blessingIMG_0055

We were delighted with our firstborn, a son.  His red hair reflected the Scottish portion of our heritage and his cheerful demeanor was engaging.  Though he did not walk until after his first birthday, he began speaking when he was nine months old, and parroted word after word that we modeled for him.

Dedicated to God

We dedicated each of our children to the Lord when they were infants.  This child, on loan from God, was entrusted to our care.  We knew we needed wisdom beyond our years to rear him properly, and so we asked God for His help.  We also stood with open hands before the Lord, acknowledging that we understood that this child, like everything else that we claimed as ‘ours,’ ultimately belonged to God and that He could do with our son as He pleased.

Getting sick

Our son was thirteen months old on American Thanksgiving.  That year we spent a joyful time of feasting and giving thanks with family and friends.  On Friday my husband and I loaded David into a stroller and enjoyed a leisurely walk through the mall.  The next day David was unusually fussy and was running a slight fever.  Had he picked up a bug when we were out?  Was he getting a cold?  Teething?

Missing church

Sunday dawned.  Our son’s fever had climbed slightly and he was unusually placid.  My husband was in seminary, preparing for the ministry.  His philosophy was that if we expected others to attend church faithfully, we should lead by example.  After some discussion we decided I should stay home with the baby.  We thought we were bending our self-imposed rule that we had to be at death’s door to miss church.  Little did we know then that that was exactly where we would be in a few hours.

My mother-in-law, a nurse, shared the house with us at that time.  We took turns tiptoeing in to David’s room and checking on him.  After a couple of hours he opened his eyes, but didn’t move or cry. He had a vacant look, and was extremely listless.  The slight fever had suddenly skyrocketed to 105 and his skin held a definite grey pallor.

Call the doctor

We called our doctor and described the symptoms.  “Come immediately to my office.  I will meet you there.”  All of us knew these were symptoms of meningitis, and several children in our vicinity had been diagnosed with it lately.

This looks very, very serious

The office was only minutes away and the doctor and his nurse met us there where they immediately did a spinal tap.  The spinal fluid was very cloudy.  He told us what we feared, “This looks like meningitis and it’s very, very serious.”  “Where’s your husband?” asked the doctor urgently.”  “At a required meeting at the seminary.” “I’ll track him down.  Waiting for an ambulance or for my husband to join us would have taken too long.  Every minute was critical.

Don’t break down now

“Can you handle driving to the hospital?”  We gulped back tears and nodded. We couldn’t break down now.  David’s life may depend on it.  The doctor gave my mother-in-law and me an evaluating look.  Mom was obviously shaken.  “You,” he pointed to my mother-in-law, “hold the baby” and “you,” he said to me, “drive.”  He sent along the spinal tap and called the hospital to give orders and prepare for our arrival.

Spinal meningitis

We arrived at hospital emergency where the staff whisked David and his spinal tap test away.  My husband arrived and soon after so did our doctor.  Test results quickly came back positive for bacterial meningitis.

It doesn’t look good

Massive doses of IV antibiotics were administered.  Our doctor gently drew us aside and told us, “David’s symptoms are quite advanced.  It doesn’t look good,” then asked my husband to lead us in prayer.

Did we really mean it?

Suddenly we were faced with the reality of what dedicating our child to God might actually cost us.  At the time we sincerely meant it when we told God He could do whatever He wanted with this child.  Was He requiring David’s life for some reason we did not see or understand?  Did we really mean it now when our son’s life was in the balance?