Familiar place

Warning: I’m currently at UW Medical Center while Andy is having his second ablation procedure. I’m looking through some old photos for my 6th grader and my senior’s graduations and I’m listening to Ray LaMontagne. So this post will most likely be emotional and sappy. Consider yourself warned…

As I sit here finishing off the last of my tater tots (my favorite thing about coming to this place) I am flooded with memories from a little over a year ago when I was sitting at this very table. I was waiting, just like now, for word from the doctor about how things were going during this long procedure, only I felt like I was barely hanging on. I was scared and very unsure about Andy’s future; our family’s future really.

I am here today still anxious, but a different person than I was last year. I describe last time as crisis mode, survival. I didn’t feel like I could let myself totally freak out. I had to hold it together the best that I could because if I lost it, I might never get it back. So I distracted myself with the visitors and all the delicious treats that they so kindly brought me, and coffee was also extremely helpful.

Anyone who has dealt with a major crisis will tell you that it changes you. I suppose some for the worse, but many for the better. I’ve learned to accept the help that’s offered and not feel like I have to repay but just say thank you. I’ve learned to love Andy in a deeper way and appreciate him like I didn’t before. I’ve learned to give thanks in the pain and uncertainty. I’ve learned what to prioritize and what to let go of. I’ve learned to believe that God is always good and in control, even when I don’t feel it or see it.  Continue reading “Familiar place”

Girls Just Want To Have Fun

A little story I wrote thinking back to the painful junior high years…

“Let’s do ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’!” Kiana squealed.

No other suggestions needed to be voiced. It was already decided; after all, it was the 80’s. Our school’s talent show wasn’t so much about talent as it was about choosing the perfect song to lip-sync. And this was it.

Toni flipped her hair and looked at the four of us. “Ok, we’ll get matching outfits and we already know the words to the whole song—duh!” We all jumped in glee, only my jumping was forced because I already knew how this story was going to play out. Still, I chose to act the part anyway.

I’m not sure why I even bothered asking my dad if I could participate in something involving secular music. I already knew how he felt. Any song without Jesus or God in it was no good; an abomination. I’m guessing Cyndi Lauper’s hit song wasn’t talking about girls just wanting to have fun with Jesus.

“Dad, please, just this once?” I pleaded. “The song’s just talking about having fun. What’s so bad about that?” “Absolutely not,” he repeated. “You know the rules we have about music.” I don’t know where in the world he got the we since I never remember being a part of the rule-making process. If I knew one thing about my dad, it was that he didn’t bend on the rules. Ever. Continue reading “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”

Life Interrupted. Part 5.

We knew that Andy would be admitted overnight after the surgery so he could be monitored. We came prepared with overnight bags and his new favorite soft blankie. We talked in the pre-op area as nurses and doctors came in and out prepping him for the procedure. It was all too familiar that we were back in this place; back to the waiting, the unknown, and the hoping for answers.

I said goodbye and held back the tears as they wheeled Andy to the operating room. We were told that the procedure would be a long one and could take anywhere from 5-7 hours. The doctors would be mapping out his heart, looking for the inflamed areas to treat, and taking more biopsies. The nurse had my cell phone number and would be checking in with me every hour, letting me know how things were going.

Waiting is the worst part. A long time ago I worked as a surgical tech in the OR, which might have made this process worse for me. Knowing the steps of setting up and scrubbing in and looking at a patient wondering whether you will find good or bad news, or answers to your questions, made this current experience more troublesome. My mind wandered as I updated Facebook, watching the time, drinking more coffee and eating the hospital tater tots that I had grown so fond of.

My mom and my sister were on their way to wait with me. While I sat in the cafeteria, the doctor who had put in Andy’s ICD stopped by to check in with me. He was so sweet as he explained to me that he had gone into the OR to check on Andy and that things were going well. He came by a second time, once again reassuring me that they were going to figure this thing out.

After only five hours, the nurse found me in the waiting room and told me that they were finished. Andy handled everything just fine and was in recovery; always comforting words to hear. I would be able to see him soon. While I was still waiting, his cardiologist came to talk to me. Continue reading “Life Interrupted. Part 5.”

Life Interrupted. Part 4.

We were finally moved to another floor; new room with a shower, a pretty view, and even a closet! It’s the little things. The nurses scrounged up a cart for all of our things as we had collected quite a bit. Andy was pushed in a wheelchair, I carried some extra things that wouldn’t fit on the cart, and our sweet nurse, Dawn, carried our Christmas tree. I’m sure we all looked ridiculous. We settled in, wondering how much longer we would be there, still waiting on the biopsy results.

Andy’s doctors determined that regardless of the biopsy results he should have a defibrillator (ICD) put in, based on his heart rate still going up from time to time. This device is would be surgically implanted with a lead that would screw directly into his heart. If his heart rate got dangerously high, it would try to pace him down. If that didn’t work, then it would shock his heart into a normal rhythm. This would keep him safe when it was time for him to go home. “Some people who have this device have never gotten shocked from it. It’s basically an insurance policy,” explained the cardiologist who would be performing the procedure.

The biopsy results finally came back and they were inconclusive, which was disappointing. One of the spots that they biopsied showed slight inflammation, but not enough to determine a diagnosis. Since Andy’s heart seemed to be responding well to the medication, he would be discharged after getting the ICD, and a PET scan. This meant that we would go home with no answers as to what was causing his heart to do this. At least we would have the safety of the ICD.

The procedure went well and Andy had a new, gnarly scar to show off. He had to keep his arm in a sling and deal with post op pain, but this new ICD would be with him forever, and just less than two weeks later would save his life. Once the pain from the ICD surgery faded, Andy just wanted to go home; we both did.

A PET scan was scheduled for December 23rd and after that, we were told Andy would be discharged, just in time for Christmas, ten days after being admitted. The PET scan requires a special, strict diet for the scan to show what it needs to show. Somewhere in the communication we missed the info that cheese is a big no, which screwed things up. They couldn’t do the full scan, but only a portion of it. They would have to do the other portion after the New Year on January 3rd. This was annoying, but didn’t change his discharge process, so he had the part of the scan done that he could and we started packing up to hit the road. Continue reading “Life Interrupted. Part 4.”

Life Interrupted. Part 3.

At this point, the team of specialists was suspicious of two possibilities for what was causing Andy’s heart to continue racing. One was a somewhat rare genetic disease called ARVC, which would involve all kinds of genetic testing, not just for Andy, but for each of our kids as well. Of course this sounded scary and awful, especially the idea of our kids possibly facing these same problems. The second was a disease called sarcoidosis. This is an inflammatory disease which can affect other organs, most commonly the lungs, eyes, lymph nodes, and skin. Cardiac sarcoidosis (sarcoid of the heart) is more rare, but seems to respond well to treatment.

It was determined that a biopsy of the heart would be the best way to confirm a diagnosis. The trouble was, it was now Saturday morning, which meant that the biopsy wouldn’t be happening until Monday. So our weekend was spent full of visitors, phone calls, and doctors checking in. The flood of support was overwhelming. People we hadn’t seen in years came to visit Andy; he has that special something. He was upbeat and positive, trusting in the Lord for his future. Over and over, the hospital staff asked, “Who is your husband? How does he know so many people? How many people have come to visit him?”

Later in the evenings Andy was exhausted; between all the conversations and the off and on episodes of v-tach, he was worn out. I was tired from all of it. Andy would fall asleep, I’d turn on Christmas music, sit down, and write. I tried to send out updates, respond to texts, and do some online Christmas shopping because oh-my-word it’s Christmas time and I hadn’t done a thing. When my eyes wouldn’t stay open another minute, I’d lie down and my mind would worry. I’d think about our kids and wonder how they were really doing with all of this. I knew they were well taken care of by family and friends, but how were they really feeling? And sometimes I’d let my mind go to places it shouldn’t; the dark places where hope has no home. Sometimes Andy’s heart alarm would start beeping and I’d sit up watching it like a hawk, while the nurse would come in to check on him. He’d usually sleep peacefully through it all. And at perfect times, someone would text; sending prayers and love, or the perfect scripture for the moment, reminding me of hope. Continue reading “Life Interrupted. Part 3.”

Life Interrupted. Part 2.

I had checked in with Andy early in the morning and he said that he slept okay. After getting the kids to school I hurried off to the hospital. I was only there for about twenty minutes before things started getting a little scarier. Andy’s heart rate continued to go up and he was no longer feeling okay. Doctors and nurses came in and out, assessing, giving medications, ordering labs and tests. Andy handled it all with such grace and calm. Family began texting and calling, some of them coming to the hospital. I just wanted answers so we could fix this problem.

This was day one of our journey. Journeys take us to all sorts of places; some places we want to go and some places that make us want to run the other direction. Sometimes you can choose your journey, but other times it’s chosen for you. As Andy and I settled into ours, we talked about accepting it (like we really had a choice). The calls and texts came in and so did the prayers.

The angiogram showed no blockage in any veins or arteries, which was good news. The echocardiogram showed an area in the left ventricle of his heart that was misfiring. A cardiac MRI was done and we were waiting on the results of that. In the meantime, the doctor decided that an ablation procedure would be appropriate to take care of that area.

The night before the scheduled ablation, Dr. Wilkinson, the one who would be doing the procedure, came into Andy’s room. He showed us the echocardiogram again and explained the procedure, but after he explained these things he paused, crossed his arms, put his hand on his chin and said, “Listen, I have a feeling that there’s more going on here. I’m concerned that it’s not just this one area that is causing your problems. I want to be straightforward with you. You won’t be going home in the next couple of days. We have got to figure out what’s causing this and why and properly treat you before sending you home. Your MRI is being read at UW Medical Center by the experts and they will send me their findings in the morning. I will take a close look at that before we do the ablation.” Continue reading “Life Interrupted. Part 2.”

Life interrupted. Part 1.

Sometimes you’re going along in life feeling like everything is falling into place quite nicely. Things are working out the way you had hoped and life is good. And then something comes along that changes everything. Life is interrupted.

I was two weeks into a new job; excited about it, but overwhelmed by all I had to learn and wondering if maybe I had gotten in over my head. Still, I was anxious to dive in and learn all the new things. The Christmas season was upon us and life was as busy as ever as our family was adjusting to me not being home to tend to their every need. Our schedule was packed with Christmas activities and concerts, computer training (for me), and parties before Christmas break.

Andy told me he was having some weird episodes of feeling like he was close to passing out. They would come and go and seemed to go away when he laid down. I don’t usually like to jump to any serious conclusions, always assuming it’s nothing. I was quick to tell him it was probably stress and he should eat better and exercise, because I like to think I’m an expert in these kinds of things. So over the next week, we went for a run and I pushed him to get his heart pumping and get some good exercise; while at one point he said he was seeing stars. I did tell him to slow down, since I’m not a total monster.

A couple of days later the near-fainting episodes came back and he made an appointment to see a primary care doctor, he doesn’t even really have a specific doctor because his health has been so good. The doctor didn’t see anything too concerning, but his heartbeat seemed irregular and because of his symptoms, she felt it best for him to wear a heart monitor for 24 hours just to see what was going on. She also recommended giving up caffeine for the time being. He picked up the heart monitor on a Thursday, wore it, then turned it back in on a Friday afternoon, all the while feeling back to normal without anymore episodes. The worst feeling for him at that time was the headaches from no coffee. Continue reading “Life interrupted. Part 1.”

I just clean the bathrooms

I go to this place just to clean the bathrooms. The woman who normally does this job is in the hospital and my friend, who invited me, says there is a need. With cleaning supplies in hand, I step over the dirty, sleeping man to enter the building. I don’t want to admit my fear, but it’s right up front. It stays there until the moment I step into the warm room, which smells of bacon and feels like love. There are only women there at this time sharing a meal, many of them smiling. The line is blurry between who is giving and who is receiving.

Introductions are made as I watch each woman. I see the brokenness intertwined with the beauty. It’s a small little place on a dirty highway where the deeds done right outside its doors are ugly. But inside, music plays, food is served, and women are given the love, respect, and dignity that’s been lost out on those streets.

I make my way to the back where the two bathrooms are. They’re both occupied, leaving me standing uncomfortably looking out the locked back door. A man sits with a woman, half-dressed, sitting on his lap. She looks tired and worn, marks on her body, as she struggles to hold up her head. Maybe she’s drunk, or high, or sick. Or maybe she’s so beaten down she doesn’t know what to do. Maybe it’s all of these things. It’s no matter to the man who pulls her closer, kissing her pale face and neck. I look away, nervous to make eye contact. Continue reading “I just clean the bathrooms”

Reading, reading, and more reading…

Reading with my kids is an activity that I have always enjoyed. From the time they were little toddlers and could barely sit through a book, to the age Josie is now where we take turns reading pages to each other. But there is an in-between time in there that is difficult. It’s that learning-to-read time. I’m not even sure difficult is the right word because it’s pretty much torture.

Right around kindergarten/first grade they are going to school and learning letters and sounds and all kinds of new things and they are so excited! But then they have to start putting those letters and sounds together. It’s hard and they need a lot of help and supervision. Maybe this is fun if you are a teacher, or have the patience of a saint, but if you’re just a normal human, it’s the worst. Pronouncing c-a-t can take anywhere from 2-3 minutes and you wait as long as you can before just blurting it out so you can move on to the next three letter word.

Something that adds to this misery is the reading log that the teacher sends home. “Read or have your child read to you for 20 minutes, every night, then record the book title and how many minutes you read”. 20 minutes? When helping a five-year-old read, this feels close to an hour, or also eternity. Lots of deep breaths are required. And so sometimes you make it the full 20 minutes and you feel like you deserve some sort of medal. But then sometimes you just can’t and you wait until your little one is fast asleep before logging their reading minutes and you might fudge it just a bit, strictly for survival. Continue reading “Reading, reading, and more reading…”

Sink or swim

After going to a swimming party this summer, I watched how each of our kids fared in the pool; Charlie jumping off the diving board and never wanting to get out of the pool, Coleman comfortably swimming around with his friends, Judah cautiously jumping off the side, never straying too far from the edge, and Josie kicking around the pool hanging onto a ball to keep her afloat. She whined when I told her that she had to stay where she could touch.

“But Mama! I’m not going to sink if I just keep hanging onto the ball.”

“Right, but that ball is slippery and if you lose your grip, you will sink straight to the bottom and Mama will have to jump in the pool with all her clothes on to rescue you and I really don’t want to have to do that.”

“Trust me, that’s not going to happen!” says the over-confident fourth child who’s never had a swimming lesson in her life.

Swim lessons for our family have been challenging, to say the least, and as it usually goes for a fourth kid, I kind of just forgot, gave up…whatever you want to call it. But because I want to be a responsible parent and not totally give up with the last child, I decided both Judah and Josie needed to learn to swim; or at least get to a point where they could survive if they fell into deep water. I kept my expectations pretty low.  Continue reading “Sink or swim”