Two weeks ago I found myself back on the 9300 unit of the Loma Linda University and Medical Center. Three days earlier I received a call from my husband, who had been sitting in the emergency room all day with my daughter, saying that his doctors wanted to admit him to the hospital for observation. His liver was failing for no apparent reason. Other than his recent knee surgery, he only gets sick once every six years “whether he needs to or not”, as he would cheerfully exclaim!
My brain and emotions were in turmoil. My husband is never sick! It’s always been me. He’s always the one taking care of me, helping me get around when my back would go into spasms, giving me my daily doses of meds so I don’t forget or take too many, cooking meals when I have trouble standing, holding me upright when my legs are weak, and helping me in to the vehicle when that first step seems insurmountably high! Now the tables had turned. It was my turn to sit with him in the hospital. It was my turn to make that 4-hr round trip to take him his phone charger, toiletries, extra clothes, and pickup some decent food for him. It was my turn to endure the incredibly uncomfortable bedside seats. It was my turn to ask questions. It was my turn to worry. Yet be strong. It was my turn to put on a brave face for the kids and assure them that everything would be okay because none of this was a surprise to Him.
Stepping aside for just a moment, let me backtrack and give you a little bit of history. My husband runs a non-profit organization that leads work crews for non-profit camps, working on whatever projects they need. Traditionally, the first two weeks in January are some of the busiest weeks. This year was no different. Ordering supplies, making sure to stay within budget, shopping around for the best deal, guaranteeing that supplies are on the ground in preparation for the crews, organizing everything with the camp, assigning workers to different projects, assigning crew leaders, ensuring that quality standards are met at all the various sites and projects, leading meetings, answering a barrage of legitimate questions, and on, and on, and on. And to top everything off, I had another CT scan coming up with another appointment scheduled with my oncologist. The last CT scan that I had had showed a new tumor in between my heart and my lung.
I knew he wasn’t feeling well. His coloring was off, looking kind of pale. He’s normally so tan, with a naturally darker skin pigmentation so it’s harder to tell when he’s pale. He hides it well! But by mid-week he had a definite yellow hue, there was no question about it. The whites of his eyes were a bright yellow. He was itchy, nauseous, and tired. I hadn’t seen him so sick since… well, ever, really! We decided where he should go, he made arrangements to hand-off the crews to various crew leaders and made sure there were enough supplies to last throughout the rest of the week, and my daughter started the long drive to take her daddy to see doctors that would accept our health insurance.
Long story short, he was admitted to the hospital for liver failure and the only open bed was… (wait for it…!) …on the cancer unit. The same unit where I spent weeks for heavy doses of chemotherapy. The same unit where I would curl up in the bed, lying on my side so as to not mess up the IV lines, and whimper in pain. The same unit where I had roommates who were literally dying and cried when my husband would pray with them. The same unit where I clearly remember pleading with the Lord to please make it stop. The same unit where nurses gave me “the red devil” intravenously. The same unit where I couldn’t go to the bathroom by myself and where I threw-up in bed. The same unit where I hallucinated, seeing people that weren’t really there and talking nonsense.
I told myself that I would be fine. I had to be fine. I had to be strong. We rode the same elevator I had ridden so many times before, carrying the same weekend bag I had carried innumerable times prior. We pressed that same number 9 button and stepped off onto that same carpeted landing. Nothing had changed over the years. We rounded that same corner, and walked down that same unbearably long hallway (that, for anyone else, probably was only a few feet!), turned the corner to the medical oncology wing and came to those same double doors with those same “Please be quiet” signs posted at eye level.
Everything was fine. I had my three grown children with me. I wasn’t the patient this time. It would be different. Wouldn’t it?
Those doors opened and a flood of memories, scents, and noises came rushing back as if it were replaying my story just four short years ago. But I could overcome! I walked around the nursing station, found my husband’s room, and proceeded through the doors until we came to the first bed and discovered a familiar, smiling face that I had been missing for what seemed like weeks. We were also met with the very familiar sounds of football! My dearest husband was keeping himself entertained by watching football! I should’ve known!
Hugs were exchanged, I got the most recent update on my husband’s health, and we all somehow managed to find a place to sit, though I will admit that that was a difficult feat in a room that’s shared with another patient and all kinds of equipment, wheelchairs, computers, IV stands, and chemo pumps. The bedside table became a stool as did the overnight bag! My poor husband was doing his best to be content in his situation, though his coloring was no better and we discovered that his unsoothable itching was a result of his jaundice. The boys watched a motorcycle race with their dad and I stood up to stretch. I thought if I took a few steps that it would help alleviate my back pain.
If I would have just continued sitting there I might have been fine. But standing up I saw the bathroom door and I was transported back four and five years ago where getting to the bathroom was just misery. I saw the whiteboard where nurses would write the date, their names, and sometimes a short, uplifting message for the day. Again, it was like a time machine. I went back to when I was the patient and staring at that white board was sometimes the only thing I could do. I could smell the soap, I could feel the IV and the needle in my port, I could feel the pressure of the IV lines on my port, I could feel the needles of the second IV in my arm, I could feel the tape and the bruises. I could smell the saline when it hit my blood stream, I could feel the injections in my abdomen, I could feel the nausea, and smell the plasticy and sanitary pink bucket that they would leave on my bed to throw-up in. I remembered the socks, the leg contraptions they would place on my legs when I was bed-ridden. I remembered all the pain and suffering and … all of a sudden it was hard to breathe.
I tried pacing to try and catch my breath. My heart was racing. I tried plugging my nose so I couldn’t smell. I put lotion on my hands and placed my finger under my nose so all I could hopefully smell would be my girly-smelling hand lotion. I tried standing in the corner so I wouldn’t see anything that might take me back to those horribly trying days. And I prayed. Hard! I didn’t want to cry! I was stronger than that… or, at least, I wanted to be! I pinched my lip. I pinched my arm. I bit my cheek. Anything to stop the memories and the tears in a vain attempt to regain control. But the tears kept coming. And the shaking started.
And that’s about the time when my family started to notice that something was wrong. That’s when my daughter quietly pointed out that Mom was having a hard time. That’s when my son offered to drive me back to the hotel and that’s when my husband got out of his hospital bed to comfort me. ME! The not-sick-one! How was this even happening to me?!!? I hit a new low. My KIDS were having to take care of ME! My sick husband was pulling me close to him, praying for ME! I was quickly losing this battle so I leaned on his chest and cried uncontrollably. It’s not supposed to be like this! I was so scared. And mad. Infuriated with myself. What was wrong with me? I wasn’t the patient! I wasn’t hooked up to any IV lines, the nurses remembered me and were excited to see me again. And I was having an official, full-blown meltdown!
That night ended by going back to the hotel room, (that, by the way, the Lord so graciously & generously provided) curling up in a comfy bed, lying my throbbing head on a soft pillow, closing my swollen eyes, shutting out the world, and falling into a deep and restful sleep. God knew I needed rest.
The next day we went back to that same hospital. The same room. And I prayed that somehow the Lord would give me strength. I wanted to be with my husband. The same struggles were there but He answered my prayer so bountifully that day; not only did I not cry, but doctors decided to discharge my husband that afternoon. We were all able to come home that day!
Our plans for those few weeks certainly didn’t include any of the above. But they were God’s plans and through it all God so graciously reminded me of a few things:
1. We don’t have to be the one that “keeps it together” in hard times. God is there to take control if we’ll just let Him. I thought that I had to control it, and I failed miserably.
2. It’s okay to have a “meltdown.” It’s a good reminder that we’re just human. We can’t control everything. And that God is the ultimate comforter. I didn’t have my husband beside me that night in the hotel room; the worries and memories were overwhelming, yet God allowed me a sweet, restful night.
3. Life is scary. Life is short. We need to trust Him, and we need to use what time we have here to glorify Him. Live for Him. Impact eternity.
4. God’s in control. He’s always in control! We can’t see the big picture because we don’t need to. But God can see the big picture, and He’ll guide us through life’s maze. And some sweet day, my life’s maze will be over and my dear, sweet Heavenly Father will be there to greet me. And I’ll be able to take His hand only this time He’ll guide me to Heaven because on October 16, 1981 I knelt and prayed for Him to forgive me and save me from Hell.
5. It will be worth it all. All of life’s trials and sorrows are painful to maneuver through right now. But some sweet day it will be worth it all when we see Jesus! Keep that song in your heart today.