Thursday, April 21, 2011

Just A Little Update

     It's been a little over a week ago that Harris had his surgery, and he's been home since Friday.  My folks came for a visit on Sunday and some friends stopped by on Sunday night, but other than that, it's been pretty quiet on the home front.  "Quiet" is a relative term when you have a family like ours, but let's just say we've all been doing our best to just do what we need to do while caring for him to the best of our ability without a lot of extra hubbub or visitors, which has probably been a good thing up until now.  However, as the days drag on for him in this recovery phase, I'm sure that he would love an occasional visitor to provide a little distraction.   

     For me it's been a week of "wearing my nurse hat" much more than I've done in a long time as I'm spending much of my time doling out medications, trying to come up with appropriate foods and drinks, consulting with doctors and nurses, and making several runs to the pharmacy, grocery store, and clinics.  That's kind of replaced the time I'd normally spend at our office, but I'm just thankful that I'm able to be here for him and that we can work through it all together.  Anytime I'm tempted to even think about complaining, all I have to do is put myself in his shoes, and it doesn't take long for me to realize that I have the better end of the deal here.  It's been a rough few days for him. 

     In the hospital already, he had a rash on the left side of his face and on his neck, but since he's been home, it's gotten much worse.  His entire chest and back have both been very red and splotchy, and yesterday it even made its way down to his legs.  Thankfully it's not been real itchy, but it's just something that we've been trying to figure out how to eliminate.  Last night it finally seemed like it was starting to disappear just a little bit, so I'm hoping and praying that today we'll see more progress.  We're not sure if he had an allergic to the bedding in the hospital or to some medication, but it's not been a pleasant thing. 

     For many of his days at home, he's felt extremely bloated and somewhat nauseous, so he's not been very comfortable.  His whole digestive system is not working flawlessly yet, so we're trying to figure out the right combination of medicines and foods, and it can be so tricky.  The motherly instinct in me wants him to follow the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) in an effort to get things more solidified.  Our regular doctor advised him to eat anything he wants, even if it means a regular diet of Whitey's ice cream.  He's supposed to be staying away from caffeine and a few other things per instructions from his GI doctor in an effort to clear up his esophageal ulcers.  His surgeon's nurse told me to really push anything with lots of fiber.  Help!!!  When I was trying to figure out dinner a couple nights ago and was asking him what sounded really good to him, he came up with broccoli of all things.  That meal ended up being the first one that has really tasted good to him in a while.  His pain meds had been leaving a bad aftertaste in his mouth, but now that he's not taking any more of those, he seems to be doing better overall. 

     For anyone who knows Harris very well, you know that he loves watching movies.  You'd think he'd be in heaven just having all this time to kick back and have an excuse to watch a lot of them, but he's not even felt up to doing much of that, and he's already tired of sitting in front of the TV.  This could be a long recovery!  Yesterday he finally seemed to have a little bit more of a desire to engage his mind in other matters, so we sat here together and dealt with a few phone calls and paperwork issues.  He wanted to take a walk, but because the weather was less than desirable and because he didn't want to aggravate his already hoarse throat, he decided that a trip to the grocery store with me would be a good outing for the day.  He showered up and came down dressed in jeans for the first time since his surgery, so that felt really good to him.  I can honestly say we saw some good progress yesterday!

     We have a long ways to go before his body is completely back to normal, but overall, he's getting along well.  Keep praying for complete physical healing . . . for patience for him to keep resting and not pushing too hard too fast . . . for wisdom and discernment as he has lots of time to ponder various things going on in his heart and mind . . . for the peace and presence of God to invade every part of his being.  May God use this time to totally rejuvenate and restore Harris into someone even better and greater than he was before this all started!

Friday, April 15, 2011

How Wonderfully Complex We Are

     If you were one of the recipients of my text yesterday and thought it very odd or just a little too much private information and couldn't appreciate the sheer joy and jubilation that went into every single word, you've probably never had surgery before or been around someone who has.  I could apologize for getting so personal, but hey, facts are facts, and in this particular case, these were very important facts!!!  Someday you might appreciate these things like we've learned to appreciate them, but my prayer is that you'll never have to do so.  That text was the short version of what could really sum up this whole post:

"Farted, moved from A to Z, catheter out, NO CANCER, and pudding!!!  Praising God!!!"

     Go ahead.  Cry a little.  I am.  And if you aren't crying, maybe you can just shout out a great big "Hallelujah!  Thank you, Jesus!"

     Yesterday was a day of tremendous progress.  Harris texted me in the morning already to let me know that he had passed some gas, and when I got there right after lunch, he was sitting in the bathroom all by himself with a very cautious look on his face.  He hadn't eaten anything solid yet, but the beef broth that had gone in at point A was ready to come out at point Z, and when you know it has to pass through a section of your body that has been manipulated and stapled back together, that's just a really big deal!

     A little while later, the doctor waltzed in to check on Harris and decided that he was ready for the catheter to come out.  More progress!  And then the words started spilling out of his mouth that the pathology results had come back already, a day earlier than we had planned, and that everything was benign!!!  Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jesus!!! 

     The next words that came out of his mouth were the fact that Harris could start eating a liquified solid diet, and when Harris heard the word "pudding," I think he was momentarily more excited about that than he was about being told there was no cancer in his colon.  My picture up above doesn't even begin to portray the enthusiasm he exhibited when he was opening up that little container and anticipating that first spoonful of deliciousness.  This was the first thing he had eaten besides popsicles and broth since Sunday night!  He even had to smell it before he could eat it, and he savored it one slow spoonful at a time over the course of the next hour. 

     When we asked the doctor about when he thought Harris would be released, he first started telling us that it would be Sunday or Monday, but then he changed it to Friday or Saturday and explained to us that it just all depended on how well his body kept progressing.  In our minds, we figured it would be Saturday or Sunday before he would go home, so when Harris texted me this morning saying that he could be dismissed as early as this afternoon, we were both shocked and amazed.  My morning was pretty intense with several tasks to accomplish at home, and mentally I couldn't fathom the thought of bringing him here and being ready to care for him 24/7 like the nurses had been doing.  Very scary! 

     But when I got to the hospital and saw his IV undone, I realized that that was becoming a reality.  The final test was whether or not he could keep solid food down after lunch, and if he could do that, they considered him ready to go home.  He ate a grilled cheese sandwich and a pile of mashed potatoes, discharge instructions were given, and before long we were back here at home getting him all situated on the couch just 72 hours after they first opened up his body on that operating room table.  He'll be logging a lot of time on that couch in the next few weeks as his body continues to heal, but at least he'll be here with us and not facing any chemo or radiation treatments.  We know that the cancer bullet can strike anyone at any time, and it's so painful when it does.  All we can do is thank the Lord for keeping us from being hit by it. 

     As I was thinking about all of this this morning, I couldn't help but think of these verses from Psalms 139: 

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
      and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
   14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
      Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
   15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
      as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
   16 You saw me before I was born.
      Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
   Every moment was laid out
      before a single day had passed.

     The body is wonderfully complex, isn't it?  Just amazing!  How anyone could doubt God's workmanship in creating us is beyond me.  We may never understand why He decided to throw this little hiccup into our lives, but we do know that His plan is perfect.  Even if we would have heard the word "malignant" yesterday, we would have trusted Him.  He had it all planned out before Harris was even born. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Highly Motivated

     When I arrived at the hospital yesterday morning, Harris wanted to continue sleeping until 10 because he knew the nurses were coming back in then to take him for his first walk, so that gave me the perfect little chunk of time to make a couple phone calls from the waiting room.  It had been a good night but with lots of interruptions from the nurses throughout the night.

     So when I got back to his room, the nurses were there and ready to get him up.  I figured he would maybe stagger his way down the hall to the next room or two and come right back, but off they went towards the nurses' station down the hall and around the corner!!!  He amazed all of us with how fast he was able to move and how far he was willing to go!  We decided that he was highly motivated because he knows that he can't get out of there and move on with life until he can pass gas and move foods from A to Z.  The word "pudding" had come up in the conversation, and that was just enough worth striving for in his mind.  The TV came on for the first time last night, and up until yesterday, he never realized just how many commercials focus on food, and it was all a big tease for him.  His diet yesterday consisted of three popsicles and a cup of beef broth, so it will be interesting to see what he gets today.  The nurses said that he was gurgling pretty good down there, and they wouldn't be surprised if a little farting action may happen today!  That's the main goal right now.

     Other than a couple visitors in the morning and all of us throughout the evening, the day was relatively quiet, which was good because he was able to rest quite a bit.  I slipped away midafternoon for a few hours so that I could take a little nap and tend a few things here at home.  That was a vivid reminder that life does go on outside that tiny little hospital room as I found myself inundated with some messages on our office phone and the reality of Harris's computer still not working properly after three weeks' worth of issues.  I spent an hour of my time at home on the phone with yet another tech support guy, and we finally determined that the next course of action on that is the one that I was dreading the most because it will mean I get to spend hours and hours reloading programs and data.  Sounds like a great project for us to anticipate once he's back home, doesn't it?  I'm kidding. 

     Everyone's spirits were pretty good yesterday, but life is going on for all of us, and we're all a little torn with how to juggle everything we need and want to do.  Our hearts are at the hospital, but school and work obligations have a way of keeping us from following our hearts as much as we would like.  Pray for our kids, Heath especially, would you?  He's nearing the end of his semester, so projects are becoming due.  Stress and lack of sleep are two things that he needs to avoid to have the best chance of being seizure free, and those are harder than usual to avoid right now.  June 9 is the target date of when he can drive again, and he can hardly wait.  His last seizure was right after his first semester, and we would just be devastated if that were to happen again. 

     Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for praying and your acts of love towards us.  If anyone does want to visit Harris, he's in room 3231 at Genesis East.  The longer he's there, the more he'll probably appreciate being able to see people.  God bless you all!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"My Gut Aches"

     It's been one long day in the hospital! 

     Our parents all offered to come up and help in any way, but even though I told them all it wasn't necessary, Harris's mom really wanted to be here for the surgery, so she made the drive with Leona, a friend of the family, and they sat with us throughout the afternoon, which was really nice.  We arrived at the hospital at noon, checked in, and eventually we were escorted to a room where they got Harris all dressed up in a gown.  Even though we had done all the preadmission stuff ahead of time, they still had different nurses coming in and asking him all kinds of questions and making sure he was who he said he was and that he could spell his name and recite his birth date.  Would anyone really fake something like this?  The only real mishap of the day was when one of those nurses "blew a vein" with her first attempt at getting his IV in, but the second time around went much better.  He HATES needles, so this was not a good way to start his day, but a cold washcloth on his forehead and the sniffing of some rubbing alcohol made things much better for him.  The nurses kept assuring Harris that his surgeon was one of the absolute best, and he kept asking them if the surgeon was having a good day.  Just double-checking! 

     Finally they wheeled him away at 2:30, and we were shown where to wait.  We found ourselves some free coffee and hot chocolate and indulged ourselves with that, even though we felt a tad bit guilty since Harris hadn't had anything to drink all day and nothing solid to eat since Sunday night.  My friend Barb, bless her heart, brought over a tray of salami, cheese, and crackers, and that was just the perfect little thing for us to munch on while we waited.   

     At 5:30 the surgeon came in and reported to us that everything had gone very well.  He said that the part of the colon that he removed was very soft and said that that's a very good indication of it being benign.  However, we won't know the pathology results until Friday, so we'll keep right on praying (but with a little extra hope!).  Praise God!!!  The surgeon didn't tarry long, and of course, we thought of several questions later on that we should have asked.  Hopefully I can catch up with him tomorrow.

     When 6:30 rolled around, they called us out of the waiting room and told us they were ready to take him from the recovery room to his room and that we could meet him there.  His first words, which were repeated to us several times throughout the night, were "My gut aches."  We were glad when the pain medication finally seemed to kick in a little more because he was very uncomfortable for the first little while especially.  He said it felt as though his butt weighed 300 pounds and that he'd been slugged by a baseball bat really hard.  Our friend Dave, who's had a very similar operation, stopped by, and he was silently telling me that the pain is really, really bad for quite a while, but we didn't bother sharing that little detail with Harris. 

     Amazingly, though, he seemed much more coherent the entire night than what we expected him to be, but we'll see how much he remembers of the night tomorrow.  He wasn't wide awake and super chatty or social or anything, but he definitely amazed us with the comments he would make and the questions he would ask.  We would think that we'd be saying something quietly or somewhat secretive, and he had this ability to pick up on whatever we were saying and comment on it. 

     Heath and Jenny arrived in time to see Mom and Leona at the hospital, but then Vance came and took Mom and Leona back to our house just in time for them to see Haley, Kelsey, and Keaton before they even left for the hospital.  They came rather late because of Haley's work schedule, but the nurses were gracious and said that we could fill the room with kids as long as we kept it quiet.  They had made cupcakes to bring along and brought me a sandwich, so all was well in the food department.  It had been a very long day for me, so when Haley offered to stay a little later than the rest of us, we all headed out and left her alone with her daddy.  She texted me a little bit ago and said that they had gotten him to stand up for just a little bit, so that was very good news, even though he evidently flashed the outside world through the window.  I highly doubt that he really cared!  ;-)  I'm so proud of how the kids all pulled together today and took care of getting each other where they needed to be and handling things on the home front and even having the house all tidied up when I got home!  They are the best!

     Thank you so much for everything thus far!  Your words of encouragement and prayers are appreciated more than you can imagine. 

     P.S.  If you really want to win Harris's heart, feel free to come massage his feet all night like Jenny did!  She had won his heart a long time ago already, but she was offering up the best medicine anyone could offer -- next to morphine, of course.  She's training to be a nurse, and what an awesome one she will be! 

Friday, April 8, 2011

A New Twist

     Sometimes when a month goes by and nothing is written, it's because I just don't feel inspired to write anything of significance.

     Sometimes when a month goes by and nothing is written, it's because life is just busy around here, and even though there may be lots of things to write about, it just doesn't happen.  In our last month, there could have been a trivial post about how many hours of shopping it takes for a mom of four to get her kids ready for spring and summer, especially when it includes a senior girl who needs to prepare for a trip with her friends, senior pictures, and prom!  A story of heroism could have been shared about our dear friend who lost "everything" when he walked out of his burning apartment building with just his keys, his wallet, his cell phone, and the clothes on his back but not until he made sure he knocked on everyone's doors to alert them of the fire.  A bittersweet entry could have been written about how exciting it is for me to welcome a new niece at the same time that my heart is aching for others who are losing their loved ones prematurely.  Or I could have written about what it's like to face potential flooding in our office building and then praised God that that's no longer a worry and that the row of 3'x3' concrete cubes can now be removed from the property. 

     Sometimes when a month goes by and nothing is written, it's because the blog entries going on in my head are just way too personal and private to share, and out of respect for my family, they need to just stay in my head.  My mind has been writing and rewriting one of these in particular lately, but it wasn't until yesterday that the "go-ahead" was given to me to share it publicly.  Anytime I share so much about our family with so many via this blog, we open ourselves up to being the thing that keeps the rumor mill going, and since we know how frustrating it can be to be in that spot, it can be enough to keep me from sharing.  However, there comes a time when we have to let the Lord deal with the few who read this whose propensity is towards gossip and just realize that the prayer support from many genuine, caring, loving people far outweighs any negative repercussions.  There has been a new twist in our lives, and it's time to let our guard down and let you know how much we would appreciate your prayers.  It's time to use this blog again for its original intended purposes:  one, to keep many people informed at once; two, to give me a place to journal my thoughts; and three, to give God all the glory for what He's going to do through us with this new challenge. 

     It was just one month ago, March 9, in fact, that Harris woke up and experienced something he'd never experienced before:  rectal bleeding of a disturbing amount.  Yep, that's a very open and honest and vulnerable fact that I could omit from the story, but if just one person's life can be saved by sharing that warning sign, it's worth divulging it.  I'll save you all the visuals and other details here, but feel free to talk with us privately if you are concerned for your own health and have questions. 

     After a few hours of debate in my head, I followed my intuition and made an appointment for him with our regular doctor, even though I knew my husband wouldn't be so appreciative.  Our doctor knows Harris well enough to let him have the choice of either waiting it out or else making an appointment for a colonoscopy, and not surprisingly, he chose the first option.  But then after a week of just not quite feeling right and a few more issues, Harris came to me and said he thought we should probably take the next step, so an appointment with a gastroenterologist was made.  The dreaded prep day was last Sunday, and by Monday noon he was recovering from an upper endoscopy and a colonoscopy. 

     While Harris was still a little bit in la-la land, the doctor sat down with me and explained all his findings.  We knew beforehand that Harris probably was dealing with a hiatal hernia and acid reflux, which the upper endoscopy confirmed, but the doctor also removed a small polyp from his stomach, and he discovered some esophageal ulcers that need to be treated with medicine for the next eight weeks, and then another endoscopy can be done so we can test the tissue underneath and make sure it's not cancerous.  Finally, the colonoscopy revealed some internal hemorrhoids, which supposedly everyone has, and a 4cm mass in his colon on the left side of his body that must be removed ASAP.  The doctor flew through everything way faster than my mind could absorb, but one thing kept going through my head: 

"My son has a tumor in his brain, and now my husband has a
mass in his colon.  Really, Lord?  Really???" 

     It was the thing we had been fearing all month long, and now it was a brutal reality.  Oddly enough, though, despite all the information to absorb, there was an inner sense of peace most of the day.  I'm not sure if I was just numb or if I'm just getting used to troubling medical news or if God was just answering the prayers of the few who were praying and was giving me peace that passes all understanding.  I'm quite sure that all three factors played into my state of being, but let's just say that God's peace is a pretty amazing thing. 

     We realized quickly that we have started another new chapter in our lives.  We were suddenly thrust on a new journey of waiting for lab results, surgery, waiting on lab results, recovery, another endoscopy, and waiting on more lab results.  That's only as far as the eye can see right now, and once again, as we've been doing with Heath's situation, we'll just be taking one day at a time.  We had a great big "Thank you, Jesus!" moment on Wednesday already when all the pathology reports of the initial biopsies came back BENIGN!!!  Such music to our ears!

     However, the ulcers must still heal for eight weeks, and the mass must still come out ASAP.  We met with the surgeon yesterday and found out that not only will they be removing the mass but also removing 10 to 12 inches of Harris's colon so the whole area can be checked for cancer.  Even though the little sample came back benign, there is still a 30% chance of finding cancer in the mass or in the lymph nodes in the area.  The mass is considered precancerous and is called a tubular adenoma.  The doctor is confident that we detected it early enough, but we just have to take all precautions, which is why they have to take out so much.  My markings on this little diagram probably aren't entirely proportional, but it shows how the doctor explained it to us:

     The one thing we really didn't see coming is just what a major deal this surgery is.  So many surgeries are done on an outpatient basis these days, or even people having inpatient procedures seem to be sent home after a day or two.  We learned that the surgery itself will take 2 to 3 hours, and then the doctor advised us to plan on having Harris in the hospital 4 to 6 days.  Depending on how his body reacts, he could maybe go home after 3 days, but that is unlikely.  Then he said Harris shouldn't plan on working for a month after that, and he can't lift more than 10 pounds for the next six weeks.  (Do you have any idea what that does to our yardwork plans?!?)  (Okay, so that's really the least of our concerns right now, but hopefully that gave you a little chuckle!) 

     The surgery is scheduled for next Tuesday, April 12, at 2 p.m. at Genesis East in Davenport.  Up until that time, we'll be purchasing some additional medications and supplies, maybe doing some yard cleanup if it's not raining, celebrating Heath's 21st birthday, and then going through the whole liquid diet and cleansing-out process all over again on Monday.  Let me tell you that he is not excited at all about that last part. 

     The bottom line is this:  We need your prayers.  This puts a whole new spin on our family's lives once again, and you'd better believe that the kids and I will be rallying around this man we love so much.  He just does not deserve to have to go through this!  He's the most magnificent husband and father that we could ever ask for, and to watch him go through this ordeal is painful enough for us, let alone all the restless and agonizing hours he will spend awaiting this operation and recovering from it.  We pray for complete healing, for no cancer to be detected, and that God's goodness and presence will be so evident in all of this. 

     As I've said many times before, only by the grace of God will we get through this new chapter of our lives.