Tuesday, May 31, 2011


We met at a Christian college.  He was 18, I was 17.

Our first date was at Pizza Hut.
We were sooooo broke that we bought
a single serving of breadsticks for .99 cents.
We shared them and a water, 
laughed, and said we were full.
Now, he makes me pizza every week.

Here we are 22 years later.
(We celebrated last week.)
I'm sure there were some who thought 
we just might not work out:
Too young, too poor, and over the years, too many kids...
Well, maybe they're right.
We'll just give it a little more time. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Looking back - the year that was: Staph infection/sepsis/hospitalizations (Part 3

(There's a little part of me that cringes a little at writing all of this down.  I fear that people will think I'm complaining, or being ungrateful, or "not letting go," or trying to get too much attention out of something that is long finished or even that I will bore those who already know what happened.  Well, I continue writing in spite of those worries, because those aren't the reasons for writing it all down.  Mostly, this is for the kids. 

There's no doubt that many individuals and families have suffered and endured and held it together through much tougher times than we did.  Our situation wasn't special, although it was tough.  If you have read here for any length of time you know that things turned out okay for us - you know the end result.  The process and the day-to-day was important, though,  and we are still thinking it through and realizing powerful lessons from the year that was.  As you read, remember that it gets worse before it gets better.  Sometimes we don't grasp what is happening until it is over.  So much good and so much growth came out of some really hard times and some very bad days.)

This portion of the story is hard to write.  Some of it is not very pretty.  I hope that I do okay.  :)

(Part 1 is here, part 2 is here.  This part of the story picks up while Jeff is in surgery.)

I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down in the waiting room, right below a huge, framed cross-stitched prayer.  A simple note attached to the frame said that the doctors at this hospital met every morning to pray for their patients before surgeries began.  At any other time, my skepticism might have kicked into gear.  I'm sure I would have been doubtful.  Now?  With my beloved being taken apart - sinew separated from muscle and bone - I fervently believed.  I wanted to believe with all of my heart that the surgeon humbled himself before God and while he worked with all of his skill, he asked for guidance for himself and healing for the man he worked on.  I wondered who had taken the time to stitch this canvas.  (I can't stop my mind from wondering strange things.)  I was so grateful to be at a Catholic hospital, a place where the wonders of science and human know-how were humbly balanced with spiritual things.

I moved tables and plugged in my laptop.  I had a decent grip on myself at this point, so communicated with the kids at home to see how things were going.  I decided that I'd better begin to evaluate how we would hold up financially should this be a long term thing.  I assumed that Jeff had some sort of short-term disability/medical coverage through his work.  I didn't really know anything, hadn't considered what I'd do if this situation ever arose.  We had life insurance - Jeff had made sure of that throughout the years.   I didn't want to think about the need for that, of course, but what about interim?  One of the last things Jeff had expressed to me in a moment of clarity was worry over how we would make it if he could not work for a long time.

I sent out a plea on facebook.  "What do I need to be doing, what do I need to be thinking about?  Are there any papers I need to fill out or any offices to contact?"

Some friends replied and told me to check with Jeff's workplace.  (Jeff worked for a private social services agency at the time.  He was a family counselor and mentor.)  Many assured me that there was likely "something" by way of provision through his work.  I knew that Jeff did not think his company even offered short term disability or health insurance.

There were others, though, that chided me for my lack of faith, for my worry.  "You have nothing to worry about," they said.  Others were praising God, putting on a happy face for my sake.  Some sent me notes telling me that everything would be fine.  I know that people were just trying to help, trying to keep me from worrying.  Knowing what I knew, though, it was tough to take.  I have stood beside wives who have buried husbands, mothers who have buried babies.  I forever love and trust our Father God - but I am a realist, too.  Sometimes, life is just plain hard.  Bad things *do* happen.  Daddies do die.  My pretending otherwise and refusing to fill out paperwork wouldn't change that.

If nothing else, through this trial, we examined faith.  In many ways, I would say that my concept of faith was redefined.  I used to think that faith meant that if I believed that all would be well, then God would reward me and it would indeed be so.  I've also been guilty of thinking that faith meant if I believed hard enough that God was bound to do it.  The tearful, sweaty moments of life demand an examination of that belief, though - because what would that make God?  A Master Puppet, for whom we pull the strings and He is bound to act as we declare?   Just this week, I saw a sign which read "Faith means believing that God WILL do it."  Believe enough, pray enough, praise enough....and God will do what we want.

No, when deeply challenged, I found that I don't believe that is what faith is at all.  Not in the slightest.

Faith *is,* I believe,  trusting God when He doesn't come thru like we think he should, when we can't see where He is going with something. It is making the choice to love Him, anyway, when our lives are inexplicably hard, when we go thru tough times, when we can't see the purpose nor the plan.  Faith is believing when God seems distant, not when he feels close.  Faith is not demanding a certain outcome.  Faith is saying, "I will love you and trust you no matter what the outcome."  Faith says, "I will love you and follow you when I don't understand you and just maybe, you don't seem to make sense to me."  Faith is born when there is absolutely nothing underneath, when God is all you have, when you look at life without God and know that it is not a place you want to be.

A short while ago, I gave Jeff my latest definition of faith:  "Faith is like being pinned to a clothesline simply by your goosepimples.  There's nothing below you and the connection doesn't feel all that sturdy.  But still, you believe that you are being held."

Faith  - born of trial - ain't easy.  It's not trivial, it's not trite, it doesn't spout easy answers to difficult situations.  Faith - thru loss and devastation - is hard won; and when it comes it will last and it will mature.  I think God loves that kind of faith and that it honors Him to be trusted against all human reason.  Faith *is* confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  (Hebrews 11:1)

I learned, once again, in deeper and more personal fashion what *not* to say to a suffering friend and how to encourage an individual who is going through a difficult time.  Trite, easy answers are out.  So is downplaying the situation.  Mostly, it helps to simply let the individual know that you care about them, that you are praying for them, that you are available to help out if so needed.  (And thankfully, there were plenty of people who did just that.  God blessed us with so many friends - new and old - who came out of the woodwork to love on us and care for us.  I'll write more about that later.)  But there are always a few, in every difficult situation, who simply don't know what to say nor how to handle their words.  Never, never, never (please,) chide a friend for seeming to falter in their faith when their husband or child is on the verge of death.  I still have one person who feels I did not handle my faith well while sitting in that waiting room - she felt I should have trusted more and believed more and not considered how to take care of my children without a paycheck.  I grieve that the relationship still has not been restored.  She has not spoken to me about it, even a year from the situation - but I refused to demand a specific outcome from the Lord.  I did not feel that I had the right to demand that God keep Jeff alive.  I asked this of God, to be sure,  but I could not demand and then expect that He would act, then call that "faith."  Faith - in that hard place - came to mean to me that I would accept what God decided.

Acceptance does not mean a lack of emotion.  God can handle our questions.  He can handle our anger.  He can handle our fears and our lack of comprehension thru the tough times - but He does want us to trust that He operates from a core character of love for us and that He can be trusted in the big picture of life.  


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Yarn Along

I have not forgotten that I'm in the middle of a story.  (Parts one and two.)  I've almost finished the next installment, but need just a little bit more time to polish it up.  It is actually quite a bit of hard work to focus my mind and enter into that time frame, and believe it or not, "sitting and thinking" are rare commodities around here.

I've been very busy with wrapping up one school year and making plans for the next.  Still so much to do on that....

Also, I've been catching the children up with the doctor for various concerns.  My son Nick was tested yesterday for adrenal issues.  He's a hard worker but gets so tired.  My Dad has adrenal insufficiency, so the doctor thought it was worth checking into.

In the midst of life, though, I still find a few minutes to knit and to read.  I knit in the car or van whenever I can persuade Jake (our 18 year old) or Jeff to drive, and I read while I feed the baby.  The baby has come to that point where he is easily distracted, so I *get* to retire to my room to feed him in peace.  (Ha Ha.  I call it "me time, but who can complain when a baby needs to nurse?")  That's when I read.  It might only be a page or two, but at least it is a little snippet.

I love how Ginny at Small Things documents what she is knitting and reading at specific times in her life.  I thought I'd join her with this photo.  (Ginny is about to have her own little one any day now.  I love the sweater she is knitting!  Gorgeous!)

So, what am I reading and knitting?

I am reading Cleopatra.  It's fascinating to me.  I love how I can learn more, even, about the time that Christ came to our world through reading the histories of his contemporaries.  (Cleopatra was not a true contemporary, she lived from 69 BC to 12 BC, but fairly close.)  We can learn so much about culture, and customs, and the sociopolitical climate.  It enriches our understanding of the times into which he came and into which scripture was written.  It helps me to "get" some of the issues that were being addressed (by Paul, for example.)

And the knitting?  I'm making another little crew neck sweater for Gabe, size 18 months.  It won't be done 'til Fall, but that's okay.  He won't need it until then.  :)  I'm using a Red Heart Baby Yarn for this one.  It's so soft, a real pleasure to work with.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Seven Months

Gabriel Joseph is seven months old.
He's almost 19 pounds, wears 12 month clothes.
He has two little pearlies on bottom, with two more 
about to make an appearance on top.
Gabe hates baby food, but loves to eat tiny bits of "real people" food.
(He loves things like home-made muffins, bananas, carrots, etc.)
He's a talker, with a very husky "little boy" voice.
He calls me in the night, saying...."buh,buh,buh,buh...MAMA!"
He doesn't cry much at all, still naps two long naps and maybe 
one shorter nap a day.
Gabe drives his walker everywhere.
(Yes, I know they're not approved, but if there are no 
steps to fall down I see no harm.)  He's very purposeful
and makes it go where he wants it to go.
He has the most adorable chunky feet and he is slowly achieving hair on his head.

He rolls all over the place - nothing is safe.  No crawling yet, but soon, I think.
He goes everywhere with me.  He's been to every single doctor's appointment 
his grandparents and siblings have had.  I feel he'll be a really medically astute kid.
Gabe had his own check up a few days ago.  
I mentioned in his five month update that the doctor 
brought up the possibility that his head shape was
indicative of muscular dystrophy.  At this visit (seven months,)
the doctor said that her gut feeling was that he is fine,
but that we wouldn't know until around the 15-18 to 24 month mark.
In other words, his great development at this point doesn't mean much.  
The marker would be a decrease of ability around two years of age.
Yes, of course this is disconcerting, but...there's not much to be done besides waiting, and,
as my mother reminded me, pray.
I really do think he is okay and will be fine.
The doctor won't test genetically at this time.

We had the distinct pleasure of showing the doctor
something she had never seen before.
Gabe has sectoral heterochromia.
(I can't even find a good link to illustrate for you.)
This means that not only are his eyes different colors,
but that within one eye his iris has two colors.
His right eye is divided in half horizontally -
the lower portion is dark brown and the upper is a lighter hazel color.
It's kind of creepy to look at, 
but apparently is very, very rare but harmless.
It doesn't affect his eyesight nor indicate a tumor.
(That's a big load off my mind and heart, really.)
Just another sign that each person is special and unique, I guess.

Gabriel is so fun, much loved, and such a blessing to our family.
We're thankful God sent him! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Looking back - the year that was: Staph infection/sepsis/hospitalizations (Part 2)

(It's actually hard to sit down and remember all of this in order.  Some of it remains a huge blur.  Anyway, a little more for the memory store today.)

With morning came the news that there was indeed staph infection inside of Jeff's hip joint.  MRSA?  MSSA?  The labs would have to be cultured in order to find out.  They could not afford to wait to see what kind of infection it was, nor how far it had spread.  Jeff was one sick guy - still going thru cycles of shaking, sweating profusely, high fever, intense pain, then medication to relieve the pain, then nausea.  He had very few moments of being alert and aware.

A cavalry of doctors came through his room:  Infectious disease, the orthopaedic surgeon, and our regular doctor.   Where did this infection come from?  To this day, we still don't know.  There were no obvious wounds, no dental work nor abscessed teeth.  Did the infection linger in his surgery site for three years?  The doctors felt it was unlikely, but they wouldn't rule it out.  Staph infections can be so subversive, so sneaky, so tenacious.

I was allowed to follow him to surgery prep, and to kiss him goodbye at the swinging doors. There was so much I wanted to say - but it all happened so quickly.  He wouldn't have heard me, nor remembered me anyway.  I couldn't quite believe all that was happening. 

The surgeon came and spoke with me before surgery began.  He explained what he planned to do.  He would go in through the previous surgery site - a 12 inch scar - and take Jeff's entire hip apart again.  He would need to see how much infection was present, how much damage had been done.  He would irrigate it and clean it out, douse it with antibiotics, and then put him back together again.  This time, however, a strand of 17 antibiotic-emitting cement beads would be left inside Jeff's body, lying right below the hip joint.  The cement "necklace" would stay in for several months, and another surgery would need to take place to remove them.

The surgeon is a brilliant, gifted man.  He is known for his perfectionism.  He's a bit crass at times, but it struck me that I didn't care one bit about his personality or quirks or even personal shortcomings.  I was thankful that he was prone to perfectionism when it came to bone and flesh eating infections in my husband's body.  You can believe that I  thanked God for his wisdom and the skill that he had obtained through many many years of study.

The surgeon was a bit stunned when he heard that we had eight children at home and were expecting our ninth.  (Our family doctor, someone who has become a friend, filled him in on our family.)  I think (no, I know...because he told me so....) that he was well aware of the weight of responsibility he held in his hands. Nine kids, potentially fatherless, if he could not eradicate the staph.  He looked me in the eyes and said, "I will do my best to save him and his hip, too.  I will treat him as if he were a member of my own family." 

And then, the waiting game began.  I was alone and had been alone throughout all of this time.  The kids were home alone as well.  My parents live nearby, but my Dad does not drive.  They are well beyond taking care of toddlers.   In fact, I was supposed to be driving my father to an appointment with his endocrinologist this day.  Also, the sentencing was taking place for the man who attacked our son.  I had called the Prosecuting Attorney to let her know that we would not be at the courthouse.  It was not due to a lack of concern or interest, but that we simply could not be there.

I was alone, but I carried with me and sat with the memory of another hospital, another time, another daddy, another woman and mother and children for whom the story did not end well.  That story is not really mine to tell, but it impacted our lives (Jeff's and mine) in a really big way.  Without invading (too much) a friend's memory, I will just share that around 14 years earlier, a friend of mine lost her young husband to a sudden staph infection.  I had still vivid memories of bringing her 14 month old twins to the hospital the night he died so that she could nurse them.  I remember walking the hospital halls with her - of her being handed his physical/material belongings in a plastic bag - and of her walking out through the hospital doors carrying her two babies out into the night - babies who still had not taken their first step.  I remembered her with those babies and her 4 year old daughter, alone....alone for ten more years until God brought her another husband.  I remembered her deep, deep pain and anguish day after day after day after day after day.

At some level, I had known that Jeff and I would face this very thing one day.  Jeff later told me that he had known, too.  We can't explain it - simply that in some way, God had let us know that we would also walk through this shadow.  God did not tell us how it would end.  We simply did not know.  I did know what was possible with a staph infection.  I had no naivete when it came to illnesses like this.  I knew there were no, are no, guarantees.

And I sat alone with those thoughts in the waiting room for hours.  I was too numb to pray, nauseated at everything, hated being the nearest relative responsible for the one in surgery, yet loving him so much and being so very willing to carry this pain and responsibility for him.  I hated that it was me, but was glad that it was me.  He was mine, had been since I was 17 and he was 18,  and I would gladly go to the edge of the grave with him.  I'd go further, if I needed to.

On second thought, I was not even physically alone.  I had a tiny little baby with me who brought me great comfort.  This little one and I would go through a lot together in days to come.

I knew the Lord was with me, and with Jeff and the kids - but the trust and the feeling were purely cerebral.  I felt nothing - no guarantee - only the knowledge that I had to keep walking, keep waiting.  The groundwork for faith had been lain years before, and now, faith was not dependent upon feeling nor upon outcome.

I couldn't really pray - but that seemed beside the point.  I knew that God knew my thoughts and requests, as surely as any good friend would have.  He simply knew.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Looking back - the year that was: Staph infection/sepsis/hospitalizations

This week marks the one year anniversary since my husband, Jeff, fell ill from a staph infection.  At this point a year ago, I could not look ahead and see how things would be - could not feel, could not think, could not even imagine, really.

Some of you are new here, some of you never really knew what happened.  Since I want to write the events of that time down for our children, I hope that you will feel free to read along.  We all need hope, don't we?  The story of his illness/recovery and that of the rest of our summer and the birth of our ninth baby will take some time to tell.  I understand that it is lengthy, and not everyone will want to read it.  That's okay - I just want to be sure that it is written down for our children.  Some of them had no idea how sick their Dad really was.  Since they were mostly home taking care of each other (feeding, bed times, laundry, etc.) they were unaware of a lot of what was going on.  Our big kids really had to step up to the plate last year.  They kept our family going, kept us together.  What would we have done without them?

The staph infection and sepsis which threatened Jeff's life came without warning out of the blue.  It was early May, 2010, and our family was emerging from a horrible flu.  All of us, except for Jeff, had been ill for days.   Although we had not told anyone other than our children and a few other people, I was 16 weeks pregnant with our ninth baby.  The flu brought high fever, vomiting, and achy joints.

In between taking care of the rest of us, Jeff had been working around our home and on another old "fixer-upper" he had gutted.  He had been working on plumbing in a crawl space, and thought that he had wrenched his hip a bit as he stepped down between the floor joists.

Jeff has a Birmingham Hip, which is a type of resurfaced joint.  Because he had limited mobility and pain due to a claw-like bone spur on his hip joint, he had the surgery done in April, 2007.  He healed well from that surgery, but did have to take care to not injure himself again.  His days of bungee-cord jumping were over.

Despite the twinges of pain in his hip joint, he mowed the yard in the evening and seemed to be fine.  Around midnight, he woke up shaking uncontrollably.  He was sweating profusely, with nausea.  He did not have a fever at first, but as the night progressed his fever climbed.  We were sure he had finally succumbed to the flu.  He had the same symptoms as the rest of us, right down to the joint pain.

I wrapped myself around him, trying to calm his shaking, trying to warm him, then trying to cool him - trying to find him some comfort, somehow.

We made it through the night and thru the next day, still thinking he had the flu.  We went ahead and celebrated our son Josiah's 8th birthday on Monday.  We were a few days early, but since it was Jeff's day off from work we took advantage of the day.  Josiah wanted home-made chicken nuggets and home-made macaroni and cheese.  Our biggest sons were away from home for the day.  I remember being really stressed because of having a few less helpers and trying to salvage the day for Josiah.  Jeff was not beginning to feel any better like it seemed he should.   By bedtime the pain in his hip had intensified to the point that he could scarcely walk or bend to sit.  We pulled out a cane I had found at a thrift store and brought home in the event that my parents ever needed it.  Jeff used the cane to support himself as he walked - but we could not even begin to knock the pain with over-the-counter medications.  He continued on with ever-increasing pain and chills and nausea throughout the night.

At some point we both realized that this was not the flu, that he must have something wrong with his hip joint.  But what?  It came on so suddenly.  When the second morning came, we called our family doctor.  She told us to go to the emergency room.

Looking back, I have kicked myself a hundred times for not getting him to the hospital sooner.  Why didn't I realize this wasn't the flu?  Why didn't I suspect something was wrong with his old surgery site?  Our doctor assured me that if we came in sooner they wouldn't have realized the severity of it, either, and would have likely sent us home to wait it out.  I don't know about that, I just know that I suffered severe guilt that I did not realize how bad things were.  As it was - I insisted that when morning came we would be going to the doctor and I would not take "no" for an answer.  Jeff didn't resist much at all.

He slowly got ready - trying to remember everything he needed to do for his family should this be a big deal.  I raced around trying to leave things in order for our children at home alone for who knows how long.  Jake was 17, Nick - 15, Emily - 14, Julia - 11, Josiah - 8, Samuel - 5, Benjamin - 4, Mariam - 2 and in the middle of deciding that she was going to potty train herself.

I'd spent a lot of time in the ER in the past year - first when our son Nick was mugged and beaten up, and next when our son Sammy was life-flighted in when he suffered a head wound.  It's interesting to look back and see how I handled yet another crisis.  My heart was in my throat, feeling the sense that this was serious but not knowing what it was.  I knew where all of the free coffee pots were in the hospital, but made sure to pack quarters for pop and food from the snack machine.  I didn't plan to leave Jeff's side for more than a few minutes, if that even.  Since we hadn't told many people about my pregnancy, I was trying to not wear maternity clothes yet.  I basically had one outfit, and it was dressy.  I wonder if the ER people wondered why I dressed up to bring my husband to the ER?  Along with the limited wardrobe, I had learned that I needed to be a little bit aggressive sometimes to get the right care for the people I love.  I wanted to look professional even at that point in order to get respect.  Over years spent sitting with sick people in hospital settings, I know that often you get the type of care you command.  I'm generally a non-confrontive person - easy to dismiss because I don't look too threatening.  I've learned how to be an advocate for my "patient," however, whoever that might be.  I also know my husband, and often when he is under pain medication he is either totally "out" or he is too sick to speak for himself.  It's a horrible thing that I hate - when due to pain or illness he becomes unavailable to me.  It is the darkest place I know and a place I never want to visit again as long as I live - but I was prepared for it:  Prepared to make decisions for him, prepared to advocate for him, prepared to be nice and gracious but also ready to grab lapels, stethescopes, or whatever it took to get him some pain relief.

The drive to the emergency room was tense.  Jeff winced from the pain at every bump in the road.  I kept up a light chatter, pointing out things along the 30 minute drive to try to take his mind off of the pain.  I failed.  I remember there was a child's shoe lying in the road.  I pointed it out to Jeff.  I was pretty sure by then that he just wanted me to shut up.  I did.

I drove the car up to the door, but I could not help Jeff out.  I was not strong enough.  An orderly came out to meet us and helped extricate him from the front seat.  I parked the car, and by the time I arrived inside another orderly was trying to find a way to get him seated in a wheelchair.  He could not bend to sit - his leg and hip muscles were clenching and painful spasms were constant.  It was devastating to watch my husband in so much pain.

Within twenty minutes he was taken to an exam room, where the entire process was repeated in the attempt to get him onto the bed.  He'd try, and wince, and shake and cry out in pain.  The orderly was a big guy with an amazing amount of compassion.  Somehow, he was finally able to get Jeff upon the bed - which was small and shaky and slippery.  Why aren't ER beds more comfortable?  There was no need for me to "get bossy" in the ER - they knew much better than I that this was something serious.  They started an antibiotic quickly and soon a grizzled doctor wearing a doo-rag and the attitude of a no-nonsense Vietnam War Vet entered the room.  He, too, showed great compassion.  He took one look at Jeff and ordered morphine in measured doses until his muscles relaxed.  Jeff's muscles are the short and tight type - he is a thickly muscled man, built as strong as an ox.  It always takes more than the average dose to get his muscles to unclench, and consequently, he usually responds with nausea and by falling asleep.

Finally, for the first time in days, he was able to have relief from pain and to sleep.  For the first time, now that he was not hurting, I could breathe again.  We stayed in the room the entire day, repeating the pain-relief/sleep cycle over several times.  Labs were drawn, scans were taken, and the antibiotics were pumped into his body, preemptively.  There was a orthopaedic surgeon in the hospital, but we would need to wait until he was finished with his day's work before he could do a needle biopsy of Jeff's hip.

I sat by Jeff's bed, rather numb by it all.  I read too many magazines.  I raised and lowered his head as needed.  Held the barf bowl.  Covered him with blankets as he shook uncontrollably.  Cried a bit in the bathroom, but was mostly too numb to show emotion.   I didn't know what was wrong but I had a feeling of dread.  I thought about how the kids and I would make it if he died.  I have dear, dear friends who have been widowed young and knew that there was no way I was immune, yet knew that I had huge responsibilities and had to hold it together.  I knew, all too clearly, that it was a distinct possibility that he might die.  It had been my greatest fear since becoming a wife at age 20 - knowing that I could lose the one I loved so immensely.  And what about this precious new life?  We didn't even have a name or know if we were having a boy or a girl.  Would Jeff get to know this baby?

Jeff was eventually moved to a room on the floor for the evening.  A needle was stuck into his hip joint and some fluid was aspirated to be tested for infection.  If there was infection, he would have surgery the following day.   (To be continued.)