Last week Anna was in the hospital. She had a shunt revision on Friday, but instead of our anticipated 24hr stay, we ended up in the hospital for 4 days and 3 nights. To complicate things a bit, Brad had to go to a trade show in Ohio. He flew out Friday after surgery and returned on Tuesday night. This required a lot of folks pitching in to help out by taking care of our other children, visiting us in the hospital, etc.
The circumstances of this visit were a little discouraging. Anna’s shunt had burrowed into the side of her ventricle, blocking it off. The interventricular pressure must have gotten pretty high, because after surgery, she started suffering from symptoms of low pressure. Her brain was probably used to the higher pressure, and it was a little shocked by the new, working shunt. Also, the surgery itself caused pressure to drop lower than usual, just because the spinal fluid had a chance to leak out.
The pain caused from the lower pressure necessitated the use of morphine- something we usually don’t have to do. Anna was having headaches, dizziness, queasiness- and most importantly, she couldn’t sit up. Laying down created higher pressure in her head, which made the headaches more endurable. Sitting up dropped the pressure, worsening them.
The first two days and nights were sad. Anna’s face showed clearly how bad she felt. She was unable to sit up more than just a few degrees. We made goals to gradually increase how far she could sit up- sometimes increasing by only seconds at a time. She was eating in a reclining position, occasionally coming up to get a spoonful of food and then laying back down. We knew that as long as we were using morphine and laying down, there was no way we could come home. Unfortunately, it could take days for the body to generate enough spinal fluid to bring the low pressures back up to a comfortable range. The second night she became very agitated, complaining of chest and arm pain as well. They set up her morphine in the IV, like a drip, which allowed for more even relief than just the injections we’d been getting. There didn’t seem to be much hope for going home.
After another day of only briefly making it up to a 30degree angle, I left Anna with Ashleigh, who was visiting, and went to get some dinner from the cafeteria. On my way to the cafeteria, a polite, middle aged man, dressed in hospital attire, stopped me. “Do I know you,” he said? “No, I don’t think so,” I replied. We went round and round a bit, and exchanged names, as the man insisted that he knew me. I conceded that it was possible we’d met, since he worked at the hospital, and I was often here with my children or working with the Family Advisory Council. I told him that this time we were here for a surgery. The man said, “I feel like I need to tell you something.” Then he proceeded to tell me his own inspiring story of recovery from stroke. In his story, he was unable to speak or use one side of his body, but miraculously and instantaneously recovered after a visit from a friend. Being dressed as a hospital employee, he seemed very careful to not specifically mention God, but he kept alluding to him and saying, “you know what I’m saying.” Waving his arm around and speaking clearly, he pointed a finger at me and concluded with, “Now, I’m not going to finish this sentence…but you know what I mean….I’m just gonna say this right here….All. Things….You know the rest of that. You know what I’m saying…..All. Things….” “Thank you- I sure do,” I assured him, as I turned away to complete my trip to the cafeteria. I felt funny about the encounter. As if it was preordained.
All. Things. The man had waggled his finger at me and looked me in the eye.
The verse that had come to mind was from a story in the Gospels where the disciples are lamenting over how hard it appears for a rich man to be saved. Jesus answers their concerns in Mark 10:27 with, ““With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” This is not a verse about a specific physical healing, but it is about salvation- and one of meanings of the word salvation is “to make whole”. We don’t often think of salvation in that way, but the implication for salvation (especially ultimately, in heaven) is that we are made whole- spiritually, emotionally, physically, etc. We are saved from all our imperfections. And often we get glimpses of that here on earth. And really, as I stood there in one of the best children’s hospitals in the country- wasn’t I the rich man? Didn’t I still overly rely on things like doctors, morphine, and the availability of children’s videos to provide our “salvation”?
When I made my way back from the cafeteria, I expected to find Anna as she had been every evening- a little worse than during the day, needing more medication. What I found was a relatively happy Anna. She was still laying down, but she was talking pleasantly with Ashleigh while watching TV. “Mom,” she told me, “I don’t want morphine tonight. I think I’m just going to have Tylenol.” I told her we could try that, but I wanted her to go to sleep early, in case this plan didn’t work, and we ended up needing more medication later in the night.
Anna took one dose of Tylenol and slept all night long.
The next morning things got better. After waking up, she started crying over her IV hurting. Almost immediately our attending doctor walked in the room and said she could get rid of the IV. She no longer needed morphine and the doctor canceled the rest of her antibiotics. The doctor also canceled a shunt tapping procedure I had been dreading. (It involves sticking a needle into the side of your head.) He also wrote her orders so that as soon as she was able to tolerate sitting up, we could be discharged from the hospital. That was great news, but we were still maxing out at 30 degrees.
Anna had some more visitors that morning, and was working hard to be able to go home. Pastor Keith and Travis came at lunch and prayed. We talked about some of the discouraging aspects of this visit, with Brad being out of town and Anna’s pain being unusually high. I told them about her improvement the night before and the talk with man from the hospital. They joked that maybe I was entertaining angles unaware. I laughed and agreed with that statement.
After our visitors left, I started thinking about the man’s words again. “All Things.” Anna really wanted to go home, so we bravely tried to sit up to 45 degrees. She started crying after only 3 minutes up. We would never make it home this way. A 45 minutes car ride in a 90 degree car seat- that would be sitting up three times as high as our current “max”. I had already told the pastors we would most likely not go home today. Anna and I looked at each other and I said, “We’re probably going to be here another night- what do you think?” Anna agreed there was no way she could make it home. I talked to Brad on the phone, we called the nurse in, and told her it didn’t look like we would be leaving very soon. The only way she would be able to make the drive home would be if she was on some kind of heavy duty painkiller, but if we were on painkillers, we wouldn’t be allowed to go home. I guessed “All Things” didn’t apply to today.
Anna was laying back down after her failed attempt at sitting up, so I told her I would sit her up a little bit again and she could have a snack. I put her up to one of our lower, more comfortable positions, and she began to snack and watch some TV. While she was sitting up, I noticed a change in her eyes. Her face went from pained and furrowed to flat and blank. I also noticed a small smile curling the edges of her lips. She sat up at 30 degrees for half an hour, then she looked at me with a silly expression and said, “I want to sit in my wheelchair.” WHAT?!? I got a nurse to assist, and we placed Anna, completely upright, with no neck support, in her wheelchair. I parked her next to the bed in case she had to lay her head down. Anna sat in the wheelchair, swaying dizzily back and forth, pain free. She kept looking at me with a goofy expression, smiling, and saying silly things. After half an hour, I tried to get her back in the bed to rest. She refused. She said she wasn’t getting out of her wheelchair. She was going home.
I let Ashleigh know that we would need her help getting to the car that afternoon. I called Brad and told him we were going home, but I was worried about Anna because she was acting funny. I had seen this Anna before. This was “drugged up” Anna. Anna on pain killers or Versed. It was as if she had been given some kind of supernatural medication that was allowing her to do things she couldn’t have done just a short time before.
On the way home from the hospital, we were in 5:00 traffic. I kept checking with Anna to make sure all the stop and go wasn’t hurting her head. She laughed at me and said, “No, it just tickles.” When we got home, Brad called so he could see how she was acting. He agreed that she was acting drugged. He was concerned there may be a neurological problem. We decided that if she was still acting this way in the morning, we’d go to the doctor.
That night, Anna took one dose of Tylenol and slept for almost 12 hours- waking up after 8:00, when I peeked in on her to make sure she was still breathing. When she sat up, the drugged look was gone from her eyes. She was no longer silly and swaying. She felt just fine.
Her head is still sore near the incision, but since that one dose of Tylenol on her first night home, she has had no medication. We have wound precautions, but the pain and dizziness from the low pressure is gone. Although tired from the ordeal, her activity level is almost normal. We’re just glad to be home.