Thursday, October 28, 2010

"So How Is Heath Doing?"


That's the easy answer that rolls off the tongue.  And for all practical intents and purposes, he really is doing pretty good most days.

Imagine yourself being a 20-year-old male who has just spent the last couple years of your life trying to figure out what in the world you want to do with your future.  You've spent a lot of your life on the farm and been surrounded by farmers who can't imagine doing anything but farming.  You've been given opportunities to drive anything and everything a whole lot younger than most kids.  You've felt trusted, learned work ethic, and been raised to be independent and responsible.  Your dad felt called to leave farming when you were 10 and moved you to the city when you were 13.  You've watched him build his own business in the financial services industry, and you've been privy to both the joys and frustrations of being self-employed.  You've grown up surrounded by Christians, given your life to Christ, and even took a strong stand of your own which drastically changed the course of your life right before your senior year of high school, and it took you back to living on the farm with your grandparents right after your grandpa had been diagnosed with cancer.  Next you spent a year and a half at Moody Bible Institute in downtown Chicago before deciding that full-time ministry was not really the right path for you.  You come back home, explore working with your dad, and think about going to the Navy.  You adjust to living at home again with your family, you miss dorm life and the camaraderie of your friends, and you are challenged spiritually.  Your friends are starting to get engaged, and you have a girlfriend you love and adore.  You watch as friends graduate and look into getting their first real job and think about the student loans they'll have to pay back and wonder what happens to them if and when they get laid off.  You finally decide to take advantage of a great scholarship opportunity and at least get a bachelor's degree under your belt for now.  You see a new friend enter into a relationship with Christ, and you tell your mom that you've been inspired by his witness, and you're ready to draw closer to Him again. 

And then September 2010 happens.  You're back in school and enjoying it.  Your grandpa passes away from cancer, and you know you're going to miss him like crazy.  You stand up in your best farm friend's wedding and know that your friendship will never quite be the same.  You're very excited about your new job as a farmhand.  The very first day on the job, you followed your boss's instructions and end up getting a tractor and 1300-bushel grain cart full of corn stuck in a wet spot that you had no way of knowing about, and even though you're a bit humiliated, your boss is gracious.  You have a grand mal seizure two days later and have to tell that same boss the next day that you can no longer work for him because you can't drive heavy machinery for six months.  In fact, you can't drive anything for the next six months, and you're now at the mercy of everyone else's schedules.  You've totally lost your independence, and you are forced to live with the fact that there is nothing you can do to change it for now. 

And then you're told you have a tumor in your brain. 

Up until then, you could never have imagined that something was wrong.  Now, every single movement you make is scrutinized because of this new knowledge.  You really don't feel any different than before you knew, but now that you know, you overanalyze any little thing that seems even the tiniest bit strange or different.  In fact, your life is suddenly on display, and everyone is watching you, waiting for some new bit of information.  Some people might even be guilty of making your situation sound a little bit worse than it really is just because it makes a better story.  You're told to wait, and therefore, everyone else waits with you.  Nothing really changes.  You don't want to wait, you just want things fixed and back to normal, and you want to wake up from this nightmare.  In your darkest and loneliest moments, your fears and worries threaten to consume you, but you have to just wait.  You miss your grandpa; you miss farming; you miss your good health.

At the same time, you start experiencing a little more love and concern than normal from people.  Your family basically treats you the same, but yet there is a little deeper sense of love that permeates the home.  Your time together is even a little more cherished than usual.  Your sense of humor is still intact, and once in a while, you even throw caution to the wind and make a joke about a tumor.  You experience tremendous love and support and 110% commitment from your girlfriend even through the difficult times and even when most girls would have been tempted to bail and give up on the relationship.  You're being sent texts, emails, cards, and messages that remind you that people care and ask how you are.  Friendships are renewed and strengthened.  Scripture verses of encouragement are being shared with you, and you wonder just how God will choose to heal you.  You pick up your Bible a little more than you had been, and you pray a little more than you did before.  Prayers are even being said requesting that this thing called a tumor would miraculously disappear, and your faith in God is stretched and challenged like never before.  You know that people are watching you, and you wonder how your testimony will impact the lives of others.  You want to be strong, and most of the time you are.  Ultimately, you know deep down that your faith in God is the only thing that will get you through this, and you're learning how to fully lean on Him and find strength and comfort in Him while you continue to wait. 

"So how is Heath doing?"

"He's good."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The House on the SOLID Rock

     Every once in a while, our family likes to just take a day and go somewhere just for the fun of it.  We talk about doing it a whole lot more than it actually ever happens though.  The older the kids get, the harder it is to find the right day to all get away together and the right kind of thing that is of interest to everyone.  Harris had been in Wisconsin last week and was enthralled by all the vivid colors of fall along with the farmsteads decorated with red barns, blue silos, and green machinery, all against the backdrop of the beautiful sky.  He suggested that we take a little road trip together this past weekend and do some sightseeing and take a few pictures.  The girls and Keaton had just finished their first quarter of school, so there were no homework pressures for them, but unfortunately, Heath was still in catch-up mode and had a big test on Monday, so he had to make the decision to stay home.  It's moments like these where we all realize that our family dynamics are changing, and they are hard, but sometimes we just have to let go and move on.  Having all of us plus Jenny sitting together in one row at church on Saturday night was priceless for me, though, and as a mom, my heart was full of gratitude that at least we were all together for that.  Afterwards, we all enjoyed a birthday party for our nephew Karson, so we had a great family night together. 

     Sunday morning we got up and had our usual coffee cake, packed a picnic lunch, and headed out in our van.  We had no real agenda or destination in mind, and the only plan was to enjoy the day together.  The trees in Iowa weren't in their prime anymore, but as we kept driving, we kept hoping that eventually we would view those same spectacular sights.  The best view we found in Iowa was at Bellevue State Park where the kids and I had taken our French student, Charlene, this summer, but it was fun to show this same spot to Harris and Haley this fall. 

     About the time we crossed over into Wisconsin, the kids were starting to doze off in the back seats, and the atlas was in my hands.  Harris and I were looking at a couple different scenic routes we could take when I happened to comment that "The House on the Rock is over here."  We had heard of it before, but we had no idea what it really entailed.  Haley, however, popped up from her sleepy state and exclaimed, "The House on the Rock???  That's so cool!  We have to go there!  That would be really fun!"  She had been invited to go there a few years ago with a friend, and it immediately conjured up very fun memories in her.  Her logic was that if the trees were somehow a disappointment, this would be a fun thing to see instead. 

     So after some discussion, we decided that we'd head that way, and if it looked like something of interest, we'd maybe check it out.  In our minds, it was going to be this little house built on a rock in some precarious way, we'd view it from afar, maybe have a tour of the inside, and then we'd be on our way again.  Oh, no!  Soon enough, we discovered that it was so much more than that!  We spent the next three hours there checking out every nook and cranny of this house that this man, Alex Jordan, built and two more buildings worth of exhibits of all his collectibles and displays of his very creative and imaginative giftedness.  We could have spent much more time there, but towards the end our minds were fried, and we felt very overstimulated.  Words cannot even begin to describe what all we saw that afternoon!  We had to laugh at their strategically placed "Fresh Fudge For Sale" at the end because a little chocolate did sound very tempting! 

Here are just a few of the pictures we took that day.

Keaton, Kelsey, and Haley at the beginning of the tour.
One of the many displays of musical instruments -- this one is very simplistic.

Part of the carousel he created using 20,000 lights.

     One of the most distinct things we experienced was what was called "The Infinity Room."  It's a totally separate room that hangs off the side of the house and extends 218 feet into space and 156 feet above the valley floor.  We could walk out in it and look through a glass piece of flooring.  It was pretty impressive until we could feel it swaying a little bit, and then we were pretty glad to be back in the main structure again. 

Do you see how it keeps getting narrower the further you look?

We weren't allowed to go any further than this.

Here's a view of the outside that we saw later!

     As I was sitting at Bible study this morning, this one particular version of  the song "The Solid Rock" came to my mind, and all afternoon my mind has been consumed with the words of that song and what all we have been experiencing.  I've been thinking about that house we visited that was built on a rock.  In reading some of the information on the builder, we learned that he was not a religious man, at least not in his early years.  How sad is it that he built his whole life centered around that rock and maybe never knew what it was like to build his house on the SOLID ROCK, on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ!  Our home IS built on the Solid Rock, and with that comes a whole lot of blessings.  They may not be material, but they are worth far more than all the collectibles housed under his roof!

     I'm finding great comfort in knowing that even though God may lead us into a room that extends way beyond our comfort level and make us wait there for a while, He will never let us fall to the ground or out of His grasp.  He'll also keep on strategically putting people in our lives who are willing to extend their hand to us and help us hang on for the ride.  Eventually He'll pull us back in, and we'll be standing on solid ground again. 

     Earlier today I had been sharing my fragile state of emotions with a few people and found myself explaining to them that I can be fine one minute and just a crying mess of tears the next, and it's been so frustrating for me.  Jokingly I've been calling myself "Old Faithful" because I just never know when I will erupt, but it's really been true.  One comment, one hug, one prayer -- anytime someone shows concern over Heath or our family -- can be enough to just get me all emotional.  It doesn't even have to be personal contact with anyone but simply something I read or write while sitting at my computer or hear playing on the radio. 

     Even though I'd much rather be able to hold it all together when people ask, I'm finding myself so thankful that people care and that they take the time to express their concern.  One friend just grabbed me and gave me a big hug the minute I walked in the church doors this morning.  Another friend just looked at me in the middle of our discussion time and said, "I'm bringing you a meal tonight."  Was that necessary?  No, not at all, but appreciated, yes.  Another friend at my table shared with me how she'd been specifically praying for Heath to find his comfort and strength in Jesus during those lonely times when thoughts of his condition and circumstances overwhelm him.  These are just a few examples of the love we've been shown, and we appreciate every single act of kindness so much!  What a blessing it is to know that even when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable points, other people are reaching out to us and pulling us closer to the heart of God.  Our hope is in Him alone.  He is our life . . . our strength . . . our song.  Listen to the song below.  May you find your strength in Him too. 


In Christ Alone - Travis Cottrell

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Sense of Normalcy

     It has been a long time since the tyranny of the urgent hasn't seemed to consume my life, and my house has been showing the effects of it for a while.  Yesterday morning my washer and dryer started clicking away at 6:30 a.m., and at midnight there was still a load going in the washer.  They ran all day long with all kinds of clothing and bedding items.  Praise the Lord for working machines!  A lot of my ironing got done, and the old pillows and sheets on our bed were even replaced with brand-new stuff!  In between loads I managed to tackle lots of paperwork on my desk, replace the furnace filter, and even cleaned the coffee pot with vinegar!  I felt like a totally new woman by the end of the day! 

     When Keaton got home from school, he asked Heath if he would help him carve his pumpkin.  It warmed my heart to see the two of them having fun together on this project, and it reminded me to never take for granted the simple little pleasures in life. 

     I'm thinking maybe Heath had just as much fun as Keaton did! 

     Then they went outside and took advantage of another beautiful fall day and threw around the football for a while. 

     Haley and Kelsey excused me from going to their last regular swim meet of the season over in Rock Island, but Tuesday night was senior night for Haley, and as a family we all went and had fun celebrating with her. 

     Earlier in the week Heath hadn't been feeling 100%, but a trip to the chiropractor on Wednesday morning has made a ton of difference for him.  Evidently when he had his seizure, he must have jarred his body really hard because a couple of his ribs had been thrown out of place, which we knew from another visit already, but now they were shifted again, and his spinal cord was being affected as well.  Combine that with a cold and some painful coughing and sneezing, and he was becoming increasingly more uncomfortable.  It's very tricky to discern when to call which doctor, but for now it seems as though we have made the right choice, and the last couple of days have been much better for him.  Thank you, Jesus! 

     It just feels as though this week has been a little more normal for us as a family.  The schedule hasn't been quite as intense, and we haven't had any major traumatic happenings, and for all of that, we are very thankful.  Harris thoroughly enjoyed a beautiful scenic drive in Wisconsin yesterday, and doing my Bible study with a cup of coffee on the deck in our back yard has become a treasured event for me these last few days.  God has given us some spectacular fall days, and we just need to make the most of them!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Waiting Game

     There are periods of time in our lives when we are called to wait for something whether we like it or not.  The waiting time may be as quick and decisive as a red light versus a green light, but other times the waiting period may be excruciatingly longer than we think is fair or necessary, and we just don't understand why.  Sometimes the end result is positive, but other times it's not, and then all we can do is trust that God has a reason or a better plan in mind, even when we can't possibly fathom what it is. 

     Harris and I wanted to take an Alaskan cruise for our 20th anniversary, but due to a myriad of family and life circumstances, it just didn't happen.  We kept dreaming of it and finally just took a leap of faith and booked it because we knew just how badly we needed some time away together.  Our 25th wedding anniversary happened back in January already, but our getaway wasn't scheduled to start until Sunday, September 5th.  The timing ended up being horrible because only 24 hours into the cruise, Harris's dad passed away from his 3-year battle with cancer.  We ended up coming home early, and now we will be waiting for that next niche of opportunity to try it again.  We are still completely mystified why God chose to thwart our plans in such a manner, but ultimately, our faith in God wins out when the feelings of frustration and bitterness threaten to consume us. 

     Last year my OB/GYN doctor recommended that I have a procedure done to help eliminate some female problems that have been haunting me for a few years already, but again, a variety of circumstances kept getting in the way.  To be honest, as a mom it's just always been easier to put the needs of our kids first, but finally I knew that it was time to schedule my surgery, so the preparatory measures were set in motion this summer already.

     On September 3, two days before we were to leave on our vacation, I went for another doctor appointment, a little begrudgingly because I felt as though what we needed to discuss could be done over the phone.  I was already extremely stressed going into it just because of all that was going on with Harris's dad and the looming decision of whether or not to leave for our cruise, but when my doctor explained to me some further complications that had shown up on my tests and mentioned to me that she needed to do a biopsy to rule out cancer, that just about put me over the edge.  That big horrible "C" word was not at all what I needed to hear, but that became a new reality for me to have to deal with in my inner being.  She explained to me that the chances of it were very slim, but nevertheless, it was something that we needed to rule out before proceeding.  We ended up scheduling a D&C and a biopsy to be done on September 30, and if it worked to go ahead and do the endometrial ablation procedure at the same time, she would.  Another waiting period was thrust upon us.

     After Heath was diagnosed with his tumor on September 29, we had a very difficult decision to make very quickly.  Do I go ahead with my surgery the next day or not?  How soon would the next step happen with Heath?  Would Iowa City call the next morning and say they wanted to see him that day or the next?  What if I wasn't well enough to go?  What if the biopsy that had to be done on me was cancerous and we were forced to deal with that at the same time as his brain tumor?  All of those questions were haunting my very weary heart and mind, but my wise husband lovingly and firmly said to me, "Jac, you just need to have your surgery tomorrow and get it behind you."

     We went ahead with the plan, he took me to the hospital for my outpatient procedures, and everything went very well.  By 3 p.m. Harris had me all settled in on the couch back home for a good long nap.  Totally unbeknownst to me, angels were appearing and taking care of my family while I couldn't.  My sister-in-law Steph delivered dinner and had it cooking in the oven, and my sister, Sheila, blessed me with a surprise visit!  While I was sleeping, she was doing my dishes, made a grocery run, and started making some freezer meals for our family.  God is so good!  My family allowed me to fully recuperate all weekend, and with great joy and thanksgiving to God, I am finally able to report that there is NO cancer!  Praise be to God!!!

     Just five days after my surgery, we made our way to Iowa City for Heath's first visit to the neurosurgical clinic, and we met with the head of that department.  We went into Tuesday's appointment not knowing at all what to expect, but we kind of assumed that they would want to run some more tests.  Instead, the doctor has advised us that the first step is to rule out whether Heath's tumor is something that just may have been there for a long time and is a nonissue OR whether it is something that is growing and needing to be removed.  The only way to determine that is to do a repeat MRI in four months.  Yes, four months.  We were all quite shocked by that kind of news.  Harris explained to him that we had already met our deductible for this year and just wondered if there was any way we could do it before the end of the year instead, and he said that would be fine.  I would imagine we'll be in for meeting our deductible again next year, but why go into 2011 knowing that we'll meet it when there's a chance we wouldn't.  Besides that, with the new healthcare reform bill, who really knows what all will happen. 

     The doctor also indicated that the seizure and the tumor may have nothing to do with each other, so he wants to send us to an epileptologist, a doctor who deals more exclusively with seizures, as well.  That doctor will help us determine what is going on with Heath.  He explained to us that brain surgery is not something to take lightly, and he felt that even doing a biopsy at this stage of the game would be rushing it.  He said that the headaches that Heath had been experiencing could just be stress related.  Lord knows we've been under a little stress around here!

     By the time he left the room, Jenny voiced what all of us were thinking.  "I'm confused," she said.  There were certain questions that were still lingering in my mind, but I hadn't asked them because I thought maybe they would be taking us to the other doctor's office next.  When we were at the checkout desk, the receptionist made us feel a little crazy for thinking such a thing and proceeded to explain to us that his patients were waiting till February to see him, and all she could tell us was that as a new patient, be sure and watch for anything that comes in the mail because only after we return some survey to that office will our appointment with him be scheduled.  That was not exactly comforting news, and we left even more confused. 

     Within an hour, we were headed back to our car and really felt as though we didn't have a lot of answers, and it took us the rest of the day to kind of come to grips with the fact that we were in for the waiting game of our lives.  The only thing that will rush it is if troubling symptoms occur, so we'll be on the constant lookout for those, but we're also going to take this God-given opportunity to pray for the tumor to miraculously be gone when we go back!  Feel free to pray with us that that be the case! 

Jenny's been so supportive throughout this whole thing!

Thank you, Lord, for this boy's constant sense of humor!

     Life has moved on this week a little more normally but with a very busy schedule:  a swim meet in Clinton on Tuesday night ~ a swim breakfast to be served at the high school early Thursday morning ~ a cookout to be hosted at our office on Thursday night ~ my uncle Steve and aunt Lynn's family came for a visit on Thursday night and left Friday morning ~ Primerica events in Coralville on Friday night and Saturday.  There is never a dull moment in our family!  Overall, Heath has felt pretty well, but he's been experiencing some random stomachaches.  We're learning that that may very well be a side effect from the Dilantin.  His headaches have not been as frequent this week!  Praise the Lord for that!  Probably the hardest thing for him to deal with right now is the fact that he can't drive for six months.  He's forced to figure out rides to and from school and is at the mercy of everyone else's schedules.  He did get to fly "home" from school one day though!  One of the friends he has met at college is a flight instructor, and Heath had been asking for a chance to fly with him someday, so it worked out one day this week for him to fly Heath to a nearby airport!  That was pretty cool for him.  Another friend of his even took him out for dinner and to a football game on Friday night, and he appreciated that so much.  Everyone's support, words of encouragement, and prayers mean so much to our family right now.  Thank you!!

     Very surprisingly, we received a phone call from the seizure doctor's office on Friday!!!  Maybe that checkout receptionist has a few things to learn in how to handle anxious patients?  We have now gone ahead and scheduled that appointment for November 10, so we are thankful for the fact that maybe we can have a few more of our questions answered sooner than later.  I took the opportunity to question a couple of nurses on some nagging questions and felt very much relieved by the time we hung up the phone.  Many people had been suggesting to us that we should be getting a second opinion, and our neurosurgeon's nurse assured me that if we wanted to do so that that would be fine and that the doctor would not be offended by that at all, but then she also assured me that he is very experienced and that if at any point along the way he feels as though we need to take more aggressive measures, he will let us know. 

     Even though the waiting is very hard, there is a sense of peace in my spirit that we are doing the right thing for now.  Obviously we are being overly cautious by constantly asking Heath how he is doing, but we are honestly realizing that we just need to take life one day at a time and enjoy each moment.  Only by the grace of God will we survive this waiting game!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"My Son Has A Brain Tumor"

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 ~

     With everything going on in our lives, my time at the office had come to a screeching all-time low in the last little while, so I knew that Wednesday needed to be a very productive and full day there.  Thankfully I am able to perform many of my office-related tasks from home, but there comes a time when my eyes just need to see what all is accumulating and deal with it! 

     Around 11 a.m. my cell phone rang, and it was the neurologist's receptionist calling to tell me that the doctor wanted to see Heath and me in his office as soon as possible because something abnormal had shown up on one of Heath's tests.  I explained to her that Heath had gotten a ride to school that day and wouldn't be back until after 6 p.m. and that I really needed to be at the office that day because I was scheduled for surgery the next day.  My plea was for her to please just give us some information over the phone so that we could figure out our next move, but instead she transferred the phone call to the doctor so that he could talk to me.  The only information he gave me was that the EEG had come back normal but that he had been faxed a report that something was seen on the MRI that was of concern to them and that he was thinking we would want to go to a larger center for further diagnosis.  That was all it took for me to realize that we had something really serious happening, and we set it up to meet him at 2 p.m.  He didn't even have the disk to look at yet, so he suggested that we could pick that up from the hospital before coming into his office. 

     I pushed the end button on that phone, gave it a little toss onto my desk, and instantly broke down into a mess of tears.  I was so frustrated, scared, nervous, bitter, disappointed -- you fill in the adjective.  My dear sister-in-law, Steph, happened to be working at the office that day too, so she immediately came over to console me and pray with me and figure out the next step.  We decided that we would grab Vance from his office and all go into Harris's office to tell them together.  The four of us decided that our plan of attack would be for Harris to go fetch the disk and drive up to Clinton to get Heath so that I could try and get as much done as possible at the office before our appointment at 2 p.m.  Vance offered to pray with us, and Harris left shortly thereafter because his ability to focus on work was completely gone again.  He has been through such a difficult season of life as he's watched his dad endure a three-year battle with prostate cancer.  Now our son is diagnosed with something just three weeks after his dad passed away?  When will this nightmare ever end?

     Totally consumed with the health of our son, I sent out a quick email to just a few people and asked them to pray for us.  I flipped through my pile of paperwork and dealt with anything of urgency, and before long it was time to make our way to the neurologist's office again.  We handed over the disk to the receptionist, and in just a few moments, the three of us were ushered into the doctor's office.  Heath was asked a few questions, including whether or not he had been taking the Dilantin, and we could instantly tell that our decision not to have him do so was not music to the doctor's ears.  He advised us that Heath should be taking it to prevent more seizures.  He then invited us into a different office where we were able to view the MRI image on his computer screen. 

     It seemed as though we had to ask all the questions, and his answers were very short.  He called it a 1cm growth, a little smaller than a marble, inside Heath's brain, near the surface, in the left occipital lobe.  He really just gave us the opinion that he knew absolutely nothing more than that and that we would have to go to Iowa City or Mayo Clinic next.  He didn't have a preference where we went, so we are opting for Iowa City because it is so much closer to home.  Since then, we've heard outstanding reports on their neurosurgical department, so we are very encouraged that we have made the right choice. 

     While the receptionist was working on calling and faxing things to Iowa City for us, I kept hearing her refer to this "growth" as an "innercranial tumor."  I was looking at the paperwork that had been handed to us, and the terminology in there referred to it as a "mass" and as a "neoplasm."  After really pinpointing her on what in the world this thing really was, she rather reluctantly said to me, "Well, growth is a sugar-coated way of saying tumor."  Thank you very much.  We certainly don't know the difference between all these terms, and my personality would just rather know the gut-wrenching truth than be told some sugar-coated version of what we're really dealing with. 

     Later in the week I had a conversation with a friend whose son had a brain tumor in the middle of his brain (praise the Lord -- it's gone now!!), and she enlightened me that we could put that disk in our computer at home and see the images, so we took the liberty of saving it to our computer and labeling it so we could share it here. 

     After leaving the neurologist's office, it was a pretty silent ride back to where the three of us had met.  Once the vehicle was shut off, the conversation started flowing a little more because we realized we had some decisions that had to be made.  First of all, we had to decide what we were going to call it when we told family and friends.  We figured people would have the same questions we did about growth vs. tumor vs. mass, so we just decided to bite the bullet and call it a tumor.  We had to decide how and when certain people were going to be told, and we decided that it would be best to tell the other kids as a family after youth group was over and the girls were home for the night.  We had to decide whether or not I was going to proceed with my surgery the next day.  We had to decide whether or not we were going to pick up the Dilantin prescription and who was going to do so. 

     Harris went to the office, and Heath and I proceeded to drive to Wal-Mart to pick up the prescription.  He was hungry and thirsty, so he decided he'd go get us a snack to eat while we waited, and I proceeded to walk up to the pharmacy counter and get his prescription filled.  Before I knew what had happened, the most horrific set of words came spilling out of my mouth:

     "My son has a brain tumor." 

     A very new reality was really starting to sink in for me.  I sincerely hope and pray that if you're reading this, those words never ever find their way coming out of your mouth.  They're bothersome; they're scary; they're just downright troubling. 

     We sat and ate our doughnuts and had some interesting conversation together, just the two of us.  I'll probably never walk by that little bench again without vividly remembering that moment in time.  We did manage to even laugh a little! 

     The rest of the evening was spent making phone calls and coming to grips with our new set of circumstances.  When the girls walked in the door after their swim practice, Heath and Haley ended up in a hug, and Heath's body was shaking as tears were flowing from his eyes.  Obviously our plan to tell the kids later was foiled.  We did manage to keep it from Keaton until I had a chance to just sit alone and gingerly explain it to him.  The stress level had been pretty high for all of us up until this point, and this certainly didn't help.  Recently when people would ask me how I was, the word "fine" or "okay" or "good" was the only thing that seemed to come out of my mouth, even though I knew in my heart that what I wanted and needed to be saying was, "Only by the grace of God are we getting through each day."  Never before were those words more important than now.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Tests and Stuff

Tuesday, September 27, 2010 ~

     In preparation for Heath's sleep-deprived EEG on Tuesday morning, he was ordered to sleep from 8 p.m. to midnight the night before but then to stay awake from midnight until his appointment the next morning.  Jenny stayed at the house longer than usual to help keep him awake, and then I woke up around 4 a.m. to make sure that he wouldn't fall asleep.  He wasn't allowed to consume any kind of caffeine, and he also thought that he wasn't allowed to eat or drink, so he was pleasantly surprised when I allowed him to do so. 

     At 7:30 a.m. we made our way over to Trinity, and this is what he looked like: 

     After dropping him off at home and giving him the go-ahead to get some sleep, I was just in time to make it to my Bible study at church.  Shortly after lunch we headed back to the hospital for the MRI. 

     We were told that it would probably be Friday before we knew any results of the tests, so we all just took advantage of a fun evening, knowing that there wasn't a thing we could do to rush the results.  Heath and Jenny enjoyed celebrating their six-month dating anniversary by having dinner at Olive Garden.  Keaton had Awanas at church, and Haley and Kelsey had a swim meet at their high school, so Harris and I went to that for the evening.  Haley is a swim team captain this year, so we as parents have lots of extra responsibilities.  We also get to help out with things at the meets such as timing the events and hosting the dinners afterwards.  Even though it's added a lot of busyness to our fall, it's been a great distraction for us, and we've loved watching both girls compete in the same sport and even on the same team.  That's the first and last time that will ever happen in our family! 

The Weekend Wait

     Our weekend was full of plans, some of which included homecoming activities for our kids.  We had been to Pella several prior weekends, including the weekend before for Heath's friend Jason's wedding, so it was nice to have a weekend at home, but this time Pella was coming to us!  Harris's three nephews were coming into town while their parents went to a wedding in Chicago, so we knew it would be busy and fun as the kids took turns at our house and Harris's brother Vance's house.  They came already on Thursday night, but Steph graciously watched them until Friday afternoon so that I could take Heath to school on Friday.  It was very humbling for him to have me driving his car, but we had a fun day together. 

     Once we got there, Heath got me all set up in the college library so that I could make my day as productive as possible.  After his first class, though, he came to check on me, and we decided to visit the financial aid office together.  Because of this new turn of events in his life and the fact that he wasn't allowed to drive, we needed to start exploring various options of either online classes or moving into the dorms there.  Eventually I was led to the "Student Success" office where I found the staff to be extremely compassionate and accommodating.  They were more than willing to work with us, and we left school that day with a lot of different options to discuss over the course of the next few days.  Heath ended up connecting with another student from the QC who commutes, so for now he's planning on finishing out the semester and riding with Kyle as often as possible. 

     Sunday morning at church, I think we were all feeling pretty numb.  When we were singing "How Great Is Our God," I looked over at Heath, and he was having a really hard time holding it together.  Then my tears started flowing as well.  We had lost so much in the last little while, and the weight of the world was upon all of us.  After lunch Harris and I left for Pella for his grandma's visitation, but we made the executive decision, with Harris's mom's blessing, to leave the kids at home and not make them miss another day at school.  Under normal circumstances, they would have gone with us, even though they hardly knew her because of her last 10 years in the Alzheimer unit, but we knew that it was in their best interest to stay home.  We enjoyed some time together with Harris's family on Sunday afternon and evening, and then it did my heart some good to slip away and see some of my family members, including my grandpa and grandma De Boef, who are now our last two living grandparents here on earth. 

     Grandma Vander Linden's funeral was on Monday, exactly two weeks after we buried Harris's dad.  The timing of everything was horrible, especially for Harris's mom, but we know that Grandma is so much happier in Heaven.  My heart was consumed with worry about Heath, but when we sang, "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow," I found myself being so comforted by the words in that hymn.  It truly is only by the grace of God that we can face the challenges that are presented to us every day. 

The Neurologist

Thursday, September 23, 2010 ~

     Our instructions in the ER the night before were to make sure that Heath saw a neurologist the next day.  We were referred to a particular clinic, so just as soon as I thought that clinic would be open, I started trying to get ahold of them.  Jenny offered to take Heath to school, which was a tremendous blessing.  We knew that Heath would be available anytime after 1 p.m. and that he could come home earlier if absolutely necessary. 

     When I finally got ahold of the clinic, they told me that they couldn't see Heath until the following Monday!  The ER instructions didn't seem to matter to them at all, so frustration started setting in for me.  They also told me that even if they could squeeze him in the next day, I would have to wait until noon to call back, and at that time they would see if they had any appointments left, which just seemed ridiculous to me.  This mama bear was not liking what all she was being told, but nothing I said or did from that point on seemed to matter.  Another challenge I ran into was the fact that because Heath is 20, certain healthcare professionals wouldn't talk to me as his mother.  They wanted to talk with Heath himself.  In the midst of this, Heath was texting me from school and was telling me that he wasn't feeling well, which didn't help my state of desperation. 

     Before I knew it, the noon deadline had come upon us, so I called that office back and was ready to see if they had one of their two available appointments left.  It wasn't until that time that they started looking at my insurance information which had been faxed to them earlier in the day and they realized that their clinic was not "in our network," which basically meant that if we went to them, we'd be forced to pay another $5400 deductible on top of the $5400 we're already paying for Haley's ER visit she had earlier in the year.  There was no way I could let that happen!  Why they couldn't have figured that out earlier in the morning was beyond me, but I was forced to start over with my quest of getting Heath to a neurologist. 

     The next couple of phone calls were made to our insurance company so that I could figure out just who we could go to.  I was given a list of only five neurologists in the QC that were in our network.  Playing neurologist lotto was not a very comfortable option for me, so I called our regular doctor to see if he could give me any hints on which one we should pick.  He gave me his top three choices.  When I called the first two, they both informed me that it would be a couple of weeks before Heath could have an appointment.  Not an option.  The third one surprised me.  They could see Heath yet that afternoon in about an hour!!  For some reason, by this time, that made me really nervous!  If neurology offices were so hard to get into, why was it all of a sudden so possible to get into this one so easily?  I made a quick phone call back to our family doctor, and he assured me that he had sent patients there before, so he thought it would be okay. 

     Heath and I made the trek there and proceeded to have his initial appointment.  There were several things about the doctor's bedside manner that we didn't appreciate, but the most troubling thing was that he immediately wanted to prescribe Dilantin.  We had already been told by two doctors that a prescription wouldn't be given, so the fact that he was so quick to prescribe something made us a little leary.  When we quizzed him on it, he told us that that's a big debate in the medical profession, and it was obvious that he felt it would be okay.  We took the slip, but we opted to give ourselves a little time to think about it and ended up not filling it.   

     His instructions for us were to get a sleep-deprived EEG and an MRI done, so we spent the next little while with the receptionists getting those scheduled for the next week.  We had to brace ourselves for the next set of results because we knew we were in for a long wait. 

The Seizure

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 ~

     It started out as a fairly typical Wednesday morning.  Wake-up times and breakfast options were varied, and family members were coming and going.  Our home consists of six individuals who have very different schedules from day to day, and it takes a lot of effort to stay on top of who has to be where and when on any given morning.  My husband, Harris, and I are both self-employed and run a Primerica office, so we are thankful for the flexibility we have in our schedules.  Our youngest, Keaton, is a 5th grader who goes to school just a short distance from our home, but every single morning is different for him because of his musical and academic commitments that take place before school.  Our daughters, Kelsey and Haley, a freshman and a senior, are on the swim team, so depending on whether it’s a weightlifting or a swimming morning, they go to school at different times, and then Haley even comes and goes a couple more times throughout the morning.  Our oldest son, Heath, was at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago for a year and a half, but after taking last semester off from school, he has resumed his college education at Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa, where he is majoring in business.  His start time varies from day to day as well, but he usually takes time to wolf down some eggs, bacon, and juice before leaving for his 40-minute commute to school. 

     On this particular Wednesday morning when Heath came downstairs, I happened to be on the phone with my sister-in-law.  Harris’s grandmother had passed away the day before, so we were discussing potential funeral plans for the weekend.  We had also just lost Harris’s father to cancer two weeks prior to this, so it seemed pretty unreal to us that so much was happening in the Westerkamp family, and we were all feeling rather weary.  (Feel free to check out my other blog if you want more details on what all had been happening prior to this point in time.  It had definitely been a September to remember.)  My phone conversation that I was having in my office was interrupted briefly as he stood out of my sight by the front door.
     “Bye, Mom.”
     “Don’t you want something for breakfast?”
     “No, I’m not really hungry.”
     “Okay.  See you later!  I’ll pray for you.”

     That wasn’t totally uncommon, so I didn’t think anything of it.  He was gone for the day, and I didn’t expect to see him again until he arrived home after working his new job as a farmhand that he was very excited to have. 

     When he walked in the door at 3 p.m., I was quite surprised, and I asked him why he was home so early.  He proceeded to tell me that he hadn’t felt well all day and that he had been really light-headed.  Harris and I had both been kind of light-headed since his dad’s funeral, and I assumed that it was just stress or, in my case, a lack of iron, so I figured I could give Heath the same iron supplements that had helped me, and he would be on top of it again.  But then he told me that he must have slept funny on his right arm because it had really bothered him all day as well.  It struck me rather odd that something like that would still be bothering him that many hours later, but I was ready to dismiss it.  Next he told me that he must have bitten his tongue really badly while he was sleeping, so I had him show me.  As soon as I saw what you’ll see in these next two pictures, you’ll understand why this mom’s mind suddenly became very concerned. 

     All of a sudden, all of these symptoms were alerting me that something had gone drastically wrong with him at some point.  Then he told me that when his girlfriend, Jenny, had called him that morning, he had been very confused with her on the phone.  He didn’t know what day it was or whether or not he had class that day or when his classes were or anything.  He also told me that he had had a hard time focusing on anything at school that day.  At that point I KNEW that he needed to be seen by someone.  Had I known all this before he left for school, he would have NEVER been let out the door.

     Haley and I had already made a visit to our regular doctor earlier that day because of an ear challenge she was having, but when we called the clinic, we found that he was already gone for the day.  We were told that our doctor could see him the next morning or that Heath could visit the walk-in clinic.  Heath tried to convince me that he should take a nap first, but after a little prodding, we were on our way.  We finally saw a nurse practitioner, and after much questioning, she verified what I had suspected:  a potential seizure.  She advised us that he should be seen in the ER for some testing, so we made our way over to Genesis and made a few phone calls to alert family members as to what we were learning and doing and figure out some alternate plans for the evening and for the swim team breakfast I was supposed to serve at 7 a.m. the next morning.  Harris, Haley, and Jenny all ended up joining us at the hospital. 

     The night was full of waiting for procedures to be started and results to be obtained, and his story was told repeatedly to every single healthcare professional who entered the room.  It amazed me how many times he had to answer that, no, he had not been partying, drinking, or using drugs and, no, he had not had a head injury.  By the time the night was over, the blood work, the urine test, the EKG, the CAT scan of his head, the X-rays of his shoulder, every test they had done, had come back normal.  He had been asked at one point if he had wet himself, and at that moment he had the oddest look come over his face.  He had not remembered doing so up until that point, but he responded with a mystified, “You know, maybe I did.”

     We had a little fun joking about that, and everyone was in pretty good spirits in the room until the reality of the situation was delivered to Heath by the doctor. 

     “We think you have had a seizure, and because of that, you will need to stay away from bathtubs and pools or any bodies of water.  Also, you will not be allowed to drive or operate heavy machinery for six months. “  The boom had been dropped on our very independent and self-sufficient 20-year-old son, and there was a hush that came over the room accompanied by very scared and anxious looks on our faces.  This was not only bad news for him but for all of us because we knew our lives were now drastically changed, and questions were popping up in our heads even more so than before she told us this news.  We had been told already by the walk-in clinic professional that medication is not given after a first-time seizure, and this doctor confirmed that. 

     We finally left the hospital around 10:30 p.m. with very heavy hearts and a very hungry young man who happened to have a very sore tongue.  We were told we could purchase an oral cleanser called Gly-Oxide that would help heal his tongue faster, but my trip to Wal-Mart in search of it was unsuccessful.  We all returned home and rearranged our schedules to accommodate our new reality.  We had been given instructions to see a neurologist the next day, and we were told that they would most likely want to run some more tests.  He found his little pile of wet laundry that he hadn’t remembered removing that morning, and we started realizing that it was only by the grace of God that he had safely made it to school and back that day.