Tuesday, May 24, 2011


     It never ceases to amaze me how different doctor visits can be.  Sometimes you are in and out so fast that you are left to wonder if they really care for you as a patient or if that's really all there is to say about the situation.  You leave scratching your head and trying to figure out if all your questions were answered and then vow to make a list of questions before going back the next time.  The problem with that is sometimes you don't even know what questions you might want to ask until you get there and start assessing the situation. 

     Then other doctor visits are way longer and you feel as though you can keep on asking questions and the doctor won't leave the room until you are completely satisfied.  Sometimes you even wonder if they have any other patients but you because they linger so long! 

     Harris and I went back to his surgeon yesterday for a follow-up appointment, and we are just so impressed with this man.  He has never made us feel rushed and always takes his time to make sure we understand everything that is going on, even though we know he has lots of patients.  Love that!  After asking all the normal questions and checking Harris's abdomen, we proceeded to discuss the stent that he had placed in the colon to open it up and create a passageway.  At one point the surgeon had talked about the possibility of maybe letting it stay in there long-term, but he needed to do some research with other doctors and the manufacturer of the stent to see if that was advisable.  He went to a conference last week and ended up discussing Harris's case with several people, and the executive decision has been made that while stents are great for short-term needs, they should not be left in a colon long-term.  There are just too many risks involved, and there would be no warning if the stent started to erode. 

     Our doctor recommends that it come out within three to six months from the date of the original surgery, April 12.  We want to give the colon a good chance to heal from all the trauma it's been through, but we don't want to wait too long either.  He will be removing the 10cm section of colon that has the stent in it and then reconnecting it back together again.  Instead of using staples to hold it together, he will be going back to the old-fashioned method of hand sewing the colon back together.  There is no guarantee that a stricture won't happen again, but the point of connection will be larger this time, and by making it larger, even if scar tissue does form again, hopefully the passageway will still be large enough for things to pass.  The surgery will take two to three hours, the incision will be longer, an umbilical hernia will also be removed, and the recovery period will be another four to six weeks. 

     Usually when this doctor is talking, I find my attention glued to his every word so that I can comprehend all that he is telling us and keep asking questions until I'm completely satisfied, but for some reason yesterday when Harris started asking lots of questions about the stent itself, my mind started making plans of when would be the best time to have surgery again.  Harris had already commented to the doctor that he'd like to wait till the November/December time frame, but my mind started processing the fact that that's when we'll be going back for Heath's follow-up MRI to see if the tumor in his brain has grown or not.  If it hasn't grown, that will be awesome news, and we can probably safely avoid surgery for him, but if it has grown, we'll be facing the fact that he may need to have brain surgery in that same November/December time frame. 

     And that's when my mind and heart could hardly take all that it was processing.  Thankfully I was able to hold it together, and they probably didn't even know they'd lost me, but my mind was whirling in a totally different direction than theirs.  What if my husband and son were both requiring surgery at the same time?  Would it be better for me to have two men in the hospital at the same time, or would it be better to string out all this medical stuff and just plan on two to four months of surgeries and recoveries?  What will this mean for our family plans over Thanksgiving and Christmas?  Financially when would be the best time for Harris to take another six weeks off work?  Mentally he's just not ready to voluntarily sign up for another surgery at this point and would rather enjoy his summer, but the fall is a busy season for us as a family.  If we wait till 2012, we KNOW we will be faced with another year of meeting our $5400 deductible, but if we could somehow pull all this off in 2011, MAYBE we could go a year without meeting it.  Scrap that plan.  Follow-up visits for all this stuff will assure us of a third year in a row of meeting our deductible anyway.  But what about . . . what if . . .

     Finally I jolted back to the conversation at hand and realized that I had just missed out on some crucial information that was being discussed.  Eventually I started sharing some of my thoughts with these two men, and I sensed a new wave of compassion from our surgeon when I shared the waiting situation we are in with Heath.  He then shared some information with us about his family, and we all grew just a bit closer in that little office space.  We asked him how much notice he needed in order to arrange Harris's surgery, and he said he would be willing to do it with two or three days' notice if that's what was necessary.  Wow! 

     We left that room feeling as though he really cares.  We are just both so impressed with him.  Now we just need to figure out when is going to be the best time to sign up for surgery.  Harris is in no way looking forward to it, but he finally came to grips with it by saying, "Well, I think I'll feel better knowing that that thing isn't in me anyway."

     Finally, all we can do is make a plan to the best of our ability and trust God with the outcome.  We've certainly learned that He can change our plans at any given time anyway, so we need not fret about when is going to be the perfect time.  He'll take care of us then just like He's taken care of us now, and with that confident assurance, we will just live each day to its fullest and enjoy it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Life At Our House

     What a difference a week can make!  A week ago Sunday Harris was still feeling pretty bloated at times, so we called the doctors' offices again early in the week, wondering if it was the medication he was on, the foods he was eating, or just a normal part of the recovery.  By the time we had connected with both doctors, we had conducted our own experiment by taking him off the medicine and then putting him back on it a couple days later.  We'll never really know why for sure, but he hasn't complained of feeling bloated for several days!  He spent good chunks of time at the office Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and didn't even take a nap once on Saturday!  (He made up for that on Sunday though!)  Friday night he succumbed to a severe craving for Mexican food, so we threw caution to the wind and enjoyed a late-night date out for dinner.  Saturday he even got on his motorcycle for the first time this spring and spent time taking the kids for rides.  Overall, when we ask him how he feels, he'll respond with a cautious "Okay."  He says he still feels as though something is different, but at least he's starting to feel as though he can function a little more normally. 

     "Thank you, Lord, for all the progress he's making!"

     My whole goal for last week was to get my garden and flowers planted before all the forecasted rain made it impossible for me to do so.  Even though it's a lot of hard work, there is really nothing more therapeutic for me than to dig around in the dirt and plant things that will bring me so much satisfaction and joy for the next several months.  Now I can move on to all the final details for the graduation party that's going to happen in one week whether I'm ready or not! 

     "Thank you, Lord, for the gift of your beautiful creation, for giving me just the right amount of hours and sunlight, for the rain-saturated earth this morning, and for protection from the tornadoes last night.  Thank you that we can celebrate Haley's life this week." 

     Heath and Jenny are still in Texas but will be flying home tomorrow night.  They must be having a really good time because we've hardly heard from them, but we feel comfortable knowing they are in the hands of a wonderful Christian family who we knew from our church here but who moved to Texas last summer.  Mindy was Jenny (and Haley's) small group leader when she was here, and despite the distance, they have maintained a really special bond.  Mindy's daughter is dating Jason, one of Heath's friends, and he made his way down there this weekend too.  I can just imagine all the fun all of them are having!

     "Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Christian friendship and the mentorship that is being provided."

     Ever since Haley came home from Africa last summer, she talked about her strong desire to just spend a week in Pella with family.  Little did we know then that God would bless both of my brothers with new babies a month apart from each other!  Welcome, Libby Alayne and Wyatt Denley!  When Haley was asked if she could help out for a few days, she jumped at the chance and knew this was her chance to fulfill that longing.  She had a fun-filled week with her aunts, uncles, and cousins and then ended it with individual lunch dates with her grandpa and grandma.  We're just very thankful that she made it home safely.  The same tire we had fixed before she left started making a strange noise, and she recognized that it was a problem, so Harris had her take it to a local tire repair shop.  They told her she had four junk tires and sent her on her way, saying that she'd be fine till she got home, but after lunch as she was driving through town and noticing that people were looking up from working in their flower beds as she passed by, she just knew something wasn't right.  Harris sent her to another tire shop in a neighboring town, and it was there that she learned that her tires weren't junk but that the one tire was about to fall off and that it was a miracle she made it there safely.  She enjoyed the camaraderie of the "little old men" in that shop and felt much better about hitting the road for her two-hour drive home. 

     "Thank you, Lord, for family, and thank you, Lord, for giving our daughter the intuition to check things out and for sparing her life." 

     Kelsey and Keaton are winding down their school year this week with finals at the high school and one last picnic at the elementary school.  Kelsey has a friend who recently lost her dad, and we've been enjoying having her hang out with our family more.  She's one of the most optimistic and sweet young ladies you'll ever find, but our hearts just go out to her.  After the girls spent time doing homework and chatting together last night, they wanted to know if Diana could spend the night.  We knew it would make our morning a bit more complicated, but by the time we went to bed, we had a plan all put together on how to make the morning go as smoothly as possible.  Keaton even got me to agree to give him a haircut before school since I didn't get it done over the weekend. 

     But this is how our morning went:

     5:15 a.m. - My alarm went off, I verified that Kelsey was up and going, and sent her off for swim practice.

     5:24 a.m. - I crawled back into bed with my alarm set for 6:30 so I could wake up Diana.

     5:46 a.m. - I woke up for no good reason, realized that I could sleep another 44 minutes, and went back to sleep. 

     6:14 a.m. - Kelsey appeared beside my bed and said that her swim coach didn't show up.  She turned off my 6:30 alarm, said she'd wake up Diana, and said she'd wake me at 7 before she left for P.E. 

     6:40 a.m. - I woke up again, wondering why my alarm hadn't gone off, and then remembered the conversation between Kelsey and me. 

     7:00 a.m. - Kelsey came in again, told me that Diana was leaving with her, and that Keaton was up.  Score!!  I told her just to have him wake me up at 7:30. 

     7:07 a.m. - Keaton came in and said, "Mom, I'm ready for my haircut!"  Argh!!!  Totally forgot about that little detail!

     7:12 a.m. - "Come on, Mom!" 

     And here is my handsome 5th grader, all ready for his final days of elementary school. 

     I'm not sure who all he was trying to impress or what bet he was trying to win, but he was pretty insistent on a 1/8" cut buzz.  The story sounded like a pretty good mix of the two.  Combine that fresh haircut with the smell of cologne, deoderant, and freshly brushed teeth, and our little boy just confirmed the fact that he is very ready to move on to middle school in the fall. 

     "Thank you, Lord, for my children.  They are all at such different stages in their lives, and I'm just so thankful for each of them. 

"And now if you could just let the doctor tell us this morning at our appointment that Harris can leave the stent in long-term instead of having to go back into surgery in a few months to have it taken out, that would be really awesome!  We will trust you regardless, but that would be such a sweet surprise." 


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Brain Overload

     Have you ever heard someone describe their loved one as a person who "never ever complained about anything"?  Well, I admit to you right now that my family will never say that about me.  Over the last week I've caught myself being excessively crabby on more than one occasion, and my poor family has had to put up with me and my frazzled state of mind.  My brain has been on overload with all the things on my mental (and written) list, and if my family could just read my mind on what all needs to be done and just totally clear their schedule so as to accomodate mine, life would be picture perfect, and we'd all live in perfect harmony together. 

     Unfortunately, though, we're dealing with real live family members here who all have busy lives of their own and who don't always see things quite the way I see them, and therefore, this mom tends to buckle under the pressure at times and do things and say things that she later regrets and wishes she could undo.  All I can do is apologize, ask for forgiveness, and then move on.  Love again.  Be more kind and sensitive to their needs and remember that they are under stress too.  And laugh.  Laugh at myself.  And then do something even more stupid and go public with just how disoriented I've been so you can laugh with me or at me, whatever you want!  It's okay.  It's confession time.  I'll never be able to live it down around here, so you just as well hear it from me personally so that when you hear it from them, I can just laugh right along with you.     

     It was the morning of May 10, the morning I traveled to the hospital in great anticipation of bringing my husband home.  You would think that would be a pretty big deal, right?  It really was!  Monumental, in fact, considering that was the 7th day in a row that we were looking at each other in a hospital room.  We had everything all packed up and ready to go, so I said, "I'll go ahead and walk to the van with some of this stuff and then bring the van closer to you and pick you up."  The nurse was going to push him out in a wheelchair as soon as one could be found, and I knew they could handle the rest of it.  After starting the van, the radio came on, and immediately my attention was diverted to the talk show that was playing.  Someone was reading the exact same devotional that I had read that morning, starting out with "Do not resist or run from the difficulties in your life.  These problems are not random mistakes; they are hand-tailored blessings designed for your benefit and growth." 

     And that's where I got lost in that little world.  I was contemplating this whole health situation that had entered into our lives so unexpectedly and so intrusively.  Wondering why.  Trying to figure out what kind of blessings would ever come of it.  My mind was whirling as I was assessing our situation compared to whoever was reading and talking about theirs on the radio.  It wasn't until I got a few blocks down the street that I saw a "for sale" sign in the front yard of a house, and that triggered something in me that I should mention to Harris.  Wait.  Harris.  You know, that very important man in my life who had just spent the last several days of his life in the hospital and was anxiously awaiting to go home.  In fact, duh, he was sitting by the curb in a wheelchair with the rest of his belongings and was waiting for me to pick him up.  Oh, noooooooooo!  I had just forgotten my husband!  How completely humiliating and embarrassing! 

     Oh, I tried to nonchalantly pull up to the curb and pretend as though that little detour never happened, but no, his mind was simply filled with wanting to go home, and the first words out of his mouth were, "Why did you take a left out of the parking garage instead of a right?"  And for the next few minutes, I found myself explaining to him how my van was on auto pilot, how it's turned left out of that garage so many times that that's the only way it knew how to go, how captivated I was by the talk show on the radio, how overloaded my brain really was (all while trying to not make him feel guilty for the stress I was feeling), and how he really is the love of my life and how I could have never gotten all the way home without him.  He gave me his pouty eyes, milked it for all he was worth, and then I made him promise that he would never tell anyone what just happened.  He agreed; we laughed.  It was our little secret.

     It was our little secret until I totally let it slip out to one of the kids a couple nights ago.  Dumb.  Very, very dumb.  We laughed about it together, and while I can't even remember for sure, I'm quite positive that I probably tried to use it to my advantage and explain to them that that's just how badly I need their help around here because that's how stressed their mama is.  But then a couple nights ago when we were driving somewhere with Vance and Steph, Harris let our secret out, and we just all had a really good hearty laugh over my stupid mistake.  The secret was out for good, and while I could have been upset at him for telling on me, it actually kind of just felt good to laugh at myself and relieve some of the stress that has been building up inside of me.

     It's just been that kind of a week.  Haley's prom was last week Saturday night, and as of Friday morning, she still didn't have a pair of shoes that would work well with her dress.  I promised her that after her awards ceremony on Friday morning, we would go shopping, and even if it took till midnight, she would have some shoes.  All I can say is "Thank you, Lord, for answering our prayers and leading us to the right pair so very quickly."  We did seriously pray about it because neither one of us wanted to spend our whole day looking for shoes.  We even walked a few stores down and found some accessories, which is something that hadn't even occurred to us as needing until we happened to see that store and realize that we hadn't even thought about what she would wear for jewelry.  Haley's definitely not our "girly girl," so this whole prom experience was a little frightening for her, but by the time she slipped into that dress on Saturday night, she was super ready to just go have a ton of fun with her friends.  Don't they all look gorgeous?


Haley and Stephen went as friends.  They looked stunning!

     Once we made it past prom, more craziness ensued.  Haley left for Oskaloosa on Sunday afternoon to spend a week with all our family back home, but we had to get a tire fixed before she could go.  While we were waiting on the tire to get fixed at Sam's, we spotted a great big watermelon that needed to be purchased.  While cutting that great big watermelon, half of it plopped over and hit the two Corelle plates that were setting nearby, and pieces went flying everywhere.  We've had a dishwasher repairman come on Monday, and we have a stove repairman coming tomorrow.  We've had kids' friends coming and going out of here, and we've sent Heath and Jenny off to visit friends in Texas.  We've been to our last concert of the school year, and we've been to our last elementary school function ever.  Kelsey and Keaton are wrapping up all kinds of final school projects, and we're sorting through all the options for summer activities that are available.  Some flowers have been planted, and the garden is tilled up and waiting to be planted.  I've shown up at a blood clinic after fasting for 12 hours, only to be told that it was canceled and be given a $10 gift card for any inconvenience they caused.  (Just normal annual blood work needed for me).  We've spent copious hours sorting through the pile of mail and school papers that have been accumulating on my desk and have entered about 1,327 grad party invitations onto our calendar.  Okay, so that's a bit of an exaggeration, but there were 11 that got entered in just one setting. 

     Meanwhile, Harris has had moments of feeling somewhat decent and moments of feeling mighty low.  He's actually gone to the office right now to try and work a little bit for the first time in a long time, so we'll see how that goes!  He's making very slow but steady progress.  Last weekend was really tough for him because he seemed to get really bloated after eating certain things, but we've been trying to determine whether that's a reaction to certain foods or whether it's a normal part of the healing process or whether it's a side effect from the medication he's been taking for his esophageal ulcers.  We've been testing that theory by not giving him any meds the last couple of days, and he has felt better, but now he took a pill again this morning, so we'll see how today goes.  One night this week he was really craving Kentucky Fried Chicken, and that seemed to go so well that he decided he should try a banana split from Dairy Queen later in the evening!  Those maybe weren't the best choices for him, but it was awesome to see him get really excited about and enjoy some food.  Ever since his first initial endoscopy, his voice has been very hoarse, and the NG tube down his throat for several days really aggravated that situation.  His voice is finally starting to get back to normal, and that is so encouraging!  It feels as though he's making some good progress, but please keep praying for him.  His energy level is still not up to par, and he's just not fully back to normal yet. 

     Overall, it's just been a whirlwind.  Bound and determined to get a grip on my crabbiness and life in general, I sat down yesterday morning and picked up that same little devotional book ("Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young).  The message couldn't have been more timely and perfect for me, and I have a hunch that many of you could benefit from it as well.  Maybe you haven't had a husband in the hospital at the same time a child is graduating, but there are bound to be all kinds of life circumstances going on in your lives as well that are causing all sorts of stress.  This was a great reminder for me, and I trust that it will be for you as well: 

"Come to me with your plans held in abeyance.  'Worship Me in spirit and truth,' allowing My Glory to permeate your entire being.  Trust Me enough to let Me guide you through this day, accomplishing My purposes in My timing.  Subordinate your myriad plans to My Master Plan.  I am sovereign over every aspect of your life!  The challenge continually before you is to trust Me and search for My way through each day.  Do not blindly follow your habitual route, or you will miss what I have prepared for you.  'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.'" 

John 4:24; Isaiah 55:8-9

Friday, May 13, 2011

Missing Blog Entry

     Just in case you came here yesterday, read a blog entry, and are wondering why it's not here today, you're just as confused as I am.  Blogger has supposedly been having some problems, and they say that posts are in the process of being restored.  I sure hope so! 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Weekend Recap . . . And We're Home!!!

     Saturday was a day filled with progress.  The doctor had been in bright and early Saturday morning, and by the time I got to the hospital, Harris's NG tube was still in place in case he got sick to his stomach, but the tube was detached from the vacuum portion of the canister on the wall.  The doctor just wanted to see if Harris could get along without it before removing it from his throat.  Good call!  At 11 a.m. Harris was more than ready to just get the thing out of his body, but he was supposed to wait till noon.  When the nurse hadn't been in yet at 12:30, my man was getting mad, and I knew it was time for me to find the nurse on his behalf.  As soon as she saw me walking down the hall, she felt terrible, but she had simply gotten busy in another room.  Totally understandable -- but 72 hours had been enough!  The tube came out with relative ease compared to going in, but his throat was very sore the rest of the day.  It still hurt to swallow, but he was ready for some groceries.  They started him on a clear liquid diet, so a couple of popsicles were the extent of his intake. 

     All the nurses have really been great, but one in particular has stolen our hearts.  She was on duty both Friday and Saturday night, and she spent a lot of time with us when she made her rounds.  She seemed to have the most sensitive, caring, and sweet personality of all, and we just loved her.  We found out that she'd only been a nurse since the end of January, and we were very surprised.  Then at one point she shared with us that she had been rear-ended 20 minutes before her Friday night shift.  Again, we were shocked because she never once seemed frazzled or hurting.  On Saturday night Harris must have seemed a little down to her, so she was encouraging him on the importance of staying positive.  She had shared with us that every night before she goes to bed, she prays and is thankful for the day she's had and for the days she's going to have.  Then she gave us the final whammy and told us that her husband of 13 years had just left her an hour before her shift.  The tables were turned, and it was our turn to minister to her, even though she remained exceedingly calm and positive.  Harris offered to pray with her, and there we were, the three of us, holding hands in the hospital room, praying together.  It was a really special night, and I find myself thinking of her a lot and praying for her and her four children. 

     When I arrived on Sunday afternoon, Harris had a tray full of clear liquids in front of him, and he was so delighted!  Granted, the items weren't all that exciting, but they were a whole lot better than ice chips!  Tomato soup, Jello, ice cream -- anything was better than ice!  Then when I pulled out some shorts, underwear, and socks for him, he was almost giddy.  First he had to soak in the smell.  Then he changed and proceeded to tell me just how awesome it felt to be in "big boy pants!"  He'd been feeling pretty frumpy in his hospital gown and was really tired of always having the tie straps between his back and the bed.  We enjoyed a peaceful afternoon together, and we did a little reminiscing. 

     On Mother's Day of 1976, he and his dad were both in the hospital with broken legs in traction because of a motorcycle accident.  There is a picture of the event that had been coming to my mind all morning, but it must be at his mom's because I can't find it anywhere here.  Harris and I grew up on farms 2 miles apart from each other, so we've known each other most of our lives.  I remember our family going to visit them in the hospital, and yep, I'll admit, I had a crush on him way back then!

     At the tulip festival in May 1982, we bumped into each other after not really seeing each other in a long time, and after a short conversation, he asked if I'd want to go on a motorcycle ride with him sometime.  Little did I know, his girlfriend was sitting across the street, so he had to break up with her first, but he finally called me a month later, and we had our first date on June 13, 1982.  Just five days later, he survived this and spent 12 days in a hospital bed in Liberty, Missouri, dealing with a broken leg and having pins put in his ankle to put it back together . . .

Days before Tulip Time in 2006, he spent a couple days in the hospital because of an emergency appendectomy. 

     Fast forward to Tulip Time/Mother's Day weekend 2011, and here he is, my man in the hospital again but at least a somewhat happy man finally able to consume some groceries!  It all comes from a menu of soft foods, and even the smells of everything were almost enough to satisfy him.  We knew his dinner was to arrive at 6, so the kids brought pizza for the rest of us, and we had a little party in room 3223!  Don't worry -- he didn't consume all of that, but he sure had a good time grazing over the course of the evening. 

The kids have grown a little in the last 5 years, haven't they?!?

     We all enjoyed a rousing game of Scattergories, which was perfect because Harris was the timer and could close his eyes and rest every time we went into serious thinking mode for the game.  We ended the night with prayer together, and another Mother's Day went down in history. 

Harris had been told by the doctor that there was a chance he could be dismissed on Monday, but after a couple little setbacks throughout the day yesterday, it was decided that he should spend at least one more night.  I'm happy to report, though, that Harris came home this morning, and he is now resting here instead!  He still needs to take it easy, and his bodily functions all need to get totally back to normal, but at least we can somewhat function as a family again from home base.  I'm thankful to be here so that I can catch up on things, and he's thankful to be able to get some fresh air and start resuming some sense of normalcy.  He's been feeling a little clammy and bloated this afternoon, but he's resting peacefully on the couch at the moment. 

The doctor did share with us that he's pretty sure that because the stent has not been approved for long-term use, Harris will more than likely have to endure another surgery where it will be removed, and the colon will need to be repaired.  This is definitely disappointing news, but at least we avoided a surgery and temporary colostomy this time.  We're not sure yet when we'll schedule that surgery to happen, but he told us that we should plan on doing it within six months.  Harris needs to follow up with the doctor in two weeks, so I'm sure we'll learn more then.  Please continue to pray for him as he continues to heal, and thank you for all the prayers you've already offered!   

In the meantime, it hit me today that there are only 20 days until Haley's graduation party.  20!!!  Harris gave me the best advice he could have given me today:  "Just enjoy it.  It will never happen again."

And with that, I'm off. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day 2011

     I could either sit and complain about the state of my house after being in the hospital for four straight days, or I could totally embrace it, photograph it so that I'll always remember it, and then share it with the world.  Truth be told, it doesn't look a lot different than it usually does anyway.  ;-) 

     So enjoy.  Scenes from my house, Mother's Day, 2011 . . .

You know you have two swimmers in the house when one batch of laundry looks like this, and you know you have a musician in the house when instruments always land in the most peculiar places.

Anybody need some dance shoes?  This little collection has been priced and put on Craig's List twice, and I'm really kind of tired of looking at them in my living room.  I could put them back in my basement, but what good is that going to do?!?

Scrapbooking area.  Always a mess . . . always in limbo.  Do you just see how far behind I am?  My graduate's party on May 30 is sneaking up on me way too fast, and I've come to grips that her pictures won't all be in albums.  At this point I'll just be happy if I can get a few on a display board. 

This collection of tools is often found by the front door, but alas, this morning they were actually in the garage by the lawnmower, golf clubs, and work boots!  What a perfect representation of my oldest!

You never know when you need a few Army men guarding the place. 

These . . . are called toe undies.  Probably was forced to spend 20 bucks at the dance store for these, but I'm glad to see they're still being used.  Partially drank water bottle?  Yep, another common occurrence. 

I don't quite get it (or get it at all), but these books have totally captivated the minds of my fifth grader and most of his classmates this year.  He tries to explain them to me, gets irritated when I can't repeat the story line and characters back to him if my life depended on it, and then goes back to reading.  And then he recreates the front cover by drawing it on his own and adds it to his portfolio.  And see the beautiful ice cream sundae?  It's been proudly displayed in the middle of the kitchen table all week until it got shoved aside on Friday night for this . . .

Yep, it's a ceiling tile that will proudly be displayed in the Bettendorf High School once it makes its way off our kitchen table.  I wonder when we'll actually be able to sit down at our kitchen table as a family again. 
Probably not today.  Nope, definitely not today. 

You put the whole thing together (minus the tools, the dance shoes, and the pictures), add a little laundry (folded and unfolded), and the whole thing looks like this.  I could complain about all the laundry, but that would mean my children didn't live here anymore.  That would make me very sad. 

And this, my friends, is what being a mom of this crew is really like.  The inside scoop.  Oh, I could take you to their rooms and show you each of their complete personalities wrapped up in each of their own set of four walls, but we just won't go there.  I love these children (and their daddy) more than anything else in the whole wide world, and I'm so thankful today to be
their mom. 

I love you, Heath, Haley, Kelsey, and Keaton!

(And a great big Happy Mother's Day to our moms too!  Thanks for raising us and putting up with all our stuff and doing all our laundry!  We love you too!)

(Update from the hospital will have to come later.  Much progress yesterday!)


Saturday, May 7, 2011

He's Kind Of A Big Deal!

     When I walked into Harris's room yesterday morning, lugging my bags full of stuff to keep me busy for the day, the surgeon was standing by the white board and had just started drawing a picture of the brainstorm that hit him the night before.  He had no idea why he hadn't thought of doing this before except that he's never been presented with this kind of stricture in a "young" healthy male with a benign condition and with no apparent logical explanation.  He's done this with cancer patients all the time, but Harris's situation was a new one for this doctor who's done thousands and thousands of colon surgeries in his past.  When I googled Harris's symptoms earlier in the week, one of the reports mentioned that this stricture thing happens in only 1.2 to 2.4% of colon surgery patients, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised that we're dealing with something so rare. 

     Originally the plan was to go in and definitely perform surgery yesterday.  Best-case scenario with that plan would have been if the colon was healthy and clean, the old anastomosis (where the two ends were joined together three weeks ago) could have been removed, a new one created, and Harris would be on his way to another 4- to 6-week recovery. 

     Worst-case scenario would have been if the colon was not in optimal condition, which the doctor feared would be the case, a major surgery would have been done to remove the anastomosis, and then he probably would have ended up with a temporary colostomy.  In that case, he would have had to go back again in a few months after the colon had time to heal, undo the colostomy with a new major surgery, and then redo the anastomosis again.  Two major surgeries.  Not an ideal situation but it was very likely since Harris's colon has been so traumatized in the last three weeks and wasn't perfectly cleaned out because of all the blockage that has occurred. 

     So the wheels started turning in the doctor's head.  Or prayers were being answered, and the Holy Spirit gave this doctor some new insight and wisdom.  You choose who's the real hero here! 

     Evidently when the doctor performs surgeries on cancer patients, it is often necessary to do a colonoscopy procedure and put a temporary stent in the patient, and then in three or four weeks, go back in, take the stent out, and perform the necessary surgery.  It occurred to the doctor that maybe he could attempt that first in an effort to avoid the potential colostomy, which seemed inevitable to him.  He explained to us that he wanted to prep Harris for surgery, try the stent, but if that didn't work, he would be forced to go ahead with the original plan of seeing the condition of the colon and either fixing it or doing the colostomy.  We agreed that it was a logical thing to try.

     After two hours of being in the operating room, the doctor came to visit with me and explained that they first attempted to put in what's called a retrievable stent, but there were too many twists and turns for it to work, so he abandoned that mission and successfully put in a different kind of stent instead.  It's designed out of titanium and nickel and is similar to a piece of chicken wire.  It's 2.5cm wide, which is the normal circumference of the colon, and 9cm long, and he was able to place it right through the section that had narrowed down to less than 6mm.  Success!!  There was some immediate relief to Harris's digestive system, and the doctor was very pleased with the results.  He was especially pleased that we were able to avoid a potential colostomy, and this was all done without having to go in for major surgery!  It was just done from the bottom somehow.  Amazing.

     But here's the challenge.  He's never put one of these in a patient before with the thought of leaving it there permanently.  He honestly does not know whether or not that is going to work, and he put in some calls to other colorectal doctors around the United States to gather their opinions.  He also told me that he's going to a conference week after next, and he will be conferring with other surgeons while he is there.  In other words, this is a big experiment for him.  This particular stent has not been FDA approved for long-term placement, but he was currently not aware if others had successfully done that or not.

     Best-case scenario is if he finds out that we can leave it in there and Harris can live a normal life with a stent in his colon.  If that's the case, then he can resume his recovery period from the initial surgery and get back to life as usual.  Maybe he'll become the subject of an article in a medical journal someday!  Suppose it will pay us royalties?!? 

     Worst-case scenario is if he finds out that it is not wise to leave the stent in long-term.  That will mean that we would still need to do another major surgery to remove the stent and fix the colon as he originally planned to do. 

     We will wait and see.  And keep on praying. 

     As far as Harris's condition the rest of the day yesterday, his pain level was only about a 2 in his abdominal area, although he was kept pretty drugged up with morphine all day, but that NG tube is still down his throat, and that was creating a pain level of about an 8.  He is so incredibly tired of that tube because every time he swallows, he can feel it.  He ends up spitting out lots of phlegm, and it's really annoying.  It's so painful just to watch him deal with it all the time, and I can't even imagine how painful it is for him. 

     We've been saying that the NG tube is the biggest curse but yet the biggest blessing of the whole hospital stay so far (besides the nurses, who are pretty incredible!).  That tube is so painful, but when you see what all it continues to pump out of his stomach, we're really thankful that it's in there.  It keeps him from getting sick to his stomach all the time, and it's been the only method of escape for all the bodily fluids that tend to accumulate there.  For someone who's existed on ice chips for three days and hasn't eaten anything of substance for a week, it's amazing to us how much waste a body can still create. 

     The day was long, and the doctor showed up in the room at 11 p.m. last night to check on Harris.  He had spent most of his day in the operating room, but we were impressed that he still showed up in our room as he promised.  Even though Harris still seemed somewhat distended and hadn't had much of anything pass through the bottom side yet, the doctor was pleased and said that was normal.  We will be conferring with him again today.  He told us yesterday that Harris would likely be released early next week, but he has to be able to start eating again and successfully passing waste through his body. 

     We were blessed beyond measure yesterday with brownies and fruit delivered to our kitchen counter yesterday, which totally made Kelsey's day after a long day of school and swim practice, and then I was able to call her and tell her that there were also two meals that had been delivered to the front doorstep.  Our kids all had various plans last night, so it was wonderful for me not to have to worry about what they were going to eat.  Thank you, my dear friends!!  You know who you are! 

    If I could clone myself today and be able to put one of me in the hospital room and one of me here at home, I would so do it.  The house is so peaceful and quiet right now with just the whir of the washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher, but I'm heading off to a different kind of quiet.  Harris isn't able to speak much with the tube, but maybe today we can get that out.  That is the goal!  Praying right now that I can arrive before the doctor does . . .

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Truth

     Time is short for me this morning, but here's the way it is at our house:

     Emotions are raw.

     Circumstances and choices are hard.

     Stress level is high. 

But God is still on the throne. 

     Please pray for our kids today.  For safety as they come and go this weekend.  For plans yet to be made and for peace with all the plans that have been forced to change.  For comfort, peace, and assurance as they process all their emotions, fears, and feelings.  For wisdom in dealing with tricky situations. 

     Please pray for Harris.  Between the morphine and the NG tube, he was able to maintain a pretty decent comfort level yesterday, but he's ready to get on with the next six weeks of his life and get back to normal.  His surgery is at 12:30 today.  Pray that the surgeon will find a colon that is healthy and clean enough to fix so a temporary colostomy can be avoided and pray that this time the surgery will be effective and that the recovery will be much smoother and quick. 

     And of course, you can pray for me.  You can pray for whatever you think a woman whose husband is in the hospital and who has four busy kids who've learned a whole lot about the uncertainties of life might need.  When my family hurts, I hurt, and there's just been a whole lot of hurting going on around here.  It's been quite a year for our family, and I'm sure that we're all becoming stronger because of it, but we're just pretty ready to get back to some kind of normal, whatever normal is.   

     Then know that you are loved and appreciated, enjoy this beautiful spring day, and do something to celebrate the life God has given you. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Morphine -- It's A Good Thing

     As I sit here in a hospital room beside my husband's bed tonight, different room but same hospital as three weeks ago, and reflect on the events of the day, I'm a little weary.  The kids and a friend of ours just left, and I was very much ready to go with them as well, but there was just something in Harris's voice that told me I needed to stay just a little bit longer.  He's already sleeping soundly, which is a very good thing, but now all of a sudden, instead of feeling the effects of being up very early, there is a bit of renewed energy in me that probably wouldn't allow me to shut down for the night until after I've shared my thoughts here.  This writing stuff is very good therapy for me. 

     The bowel preparation didn't go so well yesterday.  He's never thrown up once throughout this whole experience until after he took another 32 ounces in last night.  It didn't take long for it all to come rushing back out with a vengeance.  It was a short night with one long bathroom break at 3 a.m., and by 4:50 the alarm was sounding so that we could get up and make our way to Genesis West for the colonoscopy.  Finally around 7:45 a.m., he was taken back for the procedure, and the GI doctor and the nurses couldn't have been more accomodating and kind.  They took time to answer every single one of my questions, and afterwards one nurse in particular even dug through the trash to show me something that they had used.

     What they discovered when they went in with the scope was a stricture, a narrowing, at the point of anastomosis, the place where the two pieces of colon had been stapled together three weeks ago, that was less than 6mm wide.  Keep in mind that the colon was big enough to house a 4.5cm mass before it was taken out, so obviously this was a huge problem.  They performed a balloon dilatation procedure that stretched the tissues to 10mm wide, but that's as far as they dared to go for fear that if they went any further, there was a greater chance of perforation.  There was scar tissue in there that had developed around this new juncture, and it was close to blocking off the passageway completely. 

     As the next few hours passed, Harris became increasingly uncomfortable.  The air they pumped in him from his bottom side combined with the blockage on top all the way down to the site of the stricture made for a pretty miserable existence.  He had been miserable the last week and a half, but he said this made that look pretty easy.  Nothing seemed to relieve him of the pain, and the nurse noticed that his stomach felt very hard to the touch, and she was quite concerned.  She conferred with the GI doctor, and together they decided that it was time to admit him, get an IV in him to hydrate him, and get an x-ray done of his abdomen. 

     We were at Genesis West, and they needed us to be at Genesis East for any potential surgery, so they arranged for an ambulance to take him there.  After they had him situated in the room and the x-ray was done, they administered some morphine, and that was finally what was able to bring some relief.  It was so incredibly comforting to me to finally be able to watch him sleep peacefully.  The key to the morphine, though, is that he needs to ask for it, and he can actually have it every hour.  Two or three hours probably passed before he asked for some, and by the time he did, he was in a lot of pain again.  The bodily fluids were all trying to get out, and the only method of escape was through the mouth.  What a horrible experience.  Haley saw the whole thing happen, and the tears were flowing.  He did finally feel a bit better, though, and then a little more morphine made things a lot better.  He hadn't spoken much all day, but when that dose came, he was talking up a storm and even telling the nurse a blond joke!  It was rather hilarious to hear him interact with her, and I'm sure he doesn't remember a thing of it.  She was so gracious to just pull up a chair and let him tell her whatever was flooding his mind in those moments. 

     Haley brought several things with her when she came, including lunch, and then she sat with me here all afternoon.  Right before she left, the surgeon, same one who did the surgery on April 12, came in to visit with us, and we just kept asking him questions.  Basically what has happened with this stricture thing is pretty rare.  He said that when he ordered the CT scan on Monday, he didn't expect to have any problem reported at all and was completely shocked when he saw the results.  The whole stricture thing has to do with the blood supply and some other stuff that got lost on me, and he said that when he did the operation, everything went very well, and he would not have guessed at all that this would have happened. 

     So where do we go from here?  Well, he could have surgery today or tomorrow and will if he spikes a fever and gets an infection or if the pain is just too unbearable, but if he has it too early, then there is a greater chance of him needing a colostomy bag, even if it's only temporarily.  The surgeon would prefer to use tomorrow to give his colon a chance to heal a little from all the trauma and to give him a chance to get cleaned out a little better.  After he threw up this afternoon, they put a nasal gastric tube into his nose and down the back side of his throat and into his stomach, and it has been busy transporting fluids out of his body all afternoon and evening.  It's rather gross, but it's much better than the alternative. 

     The surgeon's plan is on Friday to take the anastomosis out that was created three weeks ago and then reattach the two ends of the colon together again, but this time he'll use a different procedure and make it probably twice as big.  That way if it shrinks down again, hopefully the opening won't become as small and impassable as it did previously.  He's very hopeful and confident that Harris won't need a third surgery, but the bottom line is that we really don't know.  He didn't see the second surgery coming either.  He will go in through the same incision, but this time the incision will be much longer than the original 8cm and will extend down past his belly button. 

     Basically we're starting all over again, only this time we're starting with two extra days in the hospital, and he'll probably have to stay longer than he did the last time.  The surgeon said there was nothing that we could have or should have done differently, but we'll just be monitoring everything a little bit closer next time.  We're dealing with a man who's about 20 pounds lighter and a lot more weakened than when he went in the first time, so the recovery will be every bit as long or longer. 

     To say we're disappointed and frustrated would be the understatement of the year, but we just have no choice but to spend some beautiful May days in the hospital.  It wasn't so hard when those April days were cold and crummy, but this hurts just that much more.  Our Tulip Time and Mother's Day plans just got thrown out the window, and business as usual just got put on hold that much longer.  But on the bright side, we know that God is good, He is faithful, and He has a plan through all of this.  We're very thankful for doctors and nurses who can help us through all these things and for family and friends who pick up the slack on our behalf.  Vance and Steph, you deserve a huge shout-out right about now!  You've taken on a lot of responsibility, and we appreciate it so much. 

   And finally, let me just say how very thankful I am for my healthy, functioning digestive tract that I've always taken for granted and for morphine for Harris.  It really is a good thing.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


    Well, God's definitely given me the opportunity to have a lot of togetherness with my family over the last few days!

     For obvious reasons, Harris and I have had lots more alone time in the last month or so than we've had in a while.  Other than an occasional small outing and three days in the hospital, he has been homebound.  Home is a great place to be, and he typically longs to be here, but he's come to the realization that balancing home and life outside these walls is a good thing!

     Last week Friday Haley and I took the opportunity to have a "date" at home all day so we could work on graduation and college details that had been accumulating on our lists.  It was a very good, fun, and efficient day, and we loved every minute of it.  Our family will definitely not be the same when she heads off to college in the fall.  We will miss her and her smile and laughter so very much!

     Kelsey and I had a couple opportunities on Saturday to be in the van together longer than our usual mile-long jaunts to the high school and back, so that was fun for us.  She also decided to bake a cake for a friend in the afternoon, so we bonded over cake and frosting making, and then she thanked me for cleaning up her mess when I dropped her and the cake off for a sleepover.  This girl has so much going on in her life, and it was great to just spend a lot of my Saturday with her. 

     Last night was Keaton's "welcome to middle school" meeting, so we went to that together.  I fought off the urge to hold his hand as we walked up to where everyone was seated.  Sigh.  Since I didn't get to go on his field trip with him yesterday, I surprised him with a very rare visit to Dairy Queen after the meeting.  We sat in the van together, ate ice cream, and just solved all of life's 5th grade issues.  Oh, how I love that little boy. 

     Heath and I had lots of chat time on our way to and from his appointment in Iowa City this morning.  He even brought a rap CD along just so I could listen to it, and I will admit that the one song he really wanted me to listen to was pretty cool.  Our visit with the seizure doctor was just as nonclimactic as we anticipated it would be, which we were very thankful for, but before we left, they took a couple vials of blood and said they'd let us know the results.  He's been doing great on his medication with no immediate side effects, but someday we will need to consider the long-term side effects.  June 9 is the day he can officially drive again, and wow, are we all looking forward to that!  His tumor was not really the topic of discussion for today's visit, but we'll be having a repeat MRI done later in 2011 to check on that, and at that time we'll see this seizure doctor again too.  That's the plan as long as everything continues to go as well as it has since last December.  We talked all the way home and were just grateful for the time together despite the circumstances.  I'm so proud of all he's accomplishing in his life.   

     And now we're back to Harris.  His bowel prep instructions were to include a bottle of Miralax mixed up with 96 ounces of fluid.  When he saw the bottle of apple juice that he needed to consume, he flipped out and promptly gave us an earful of what he thought of this whole thing, but I just kept measuring and mixing and pouring and then lovingly encouraging him to just get started.  The first 32 ounces were to be consumed over the course of an hour, and nothing passed through like it should have in the first two to three hours.  Keep in mind that that's more than he's probably had go in his system than in the last two or three days combined!  The cramping started back up again with a vengeance, so calls were made to the GI doctor who's doing the procedure in the morning and to the surgeon who viewed the CT scan yesterday.  We wanted to make sure that his colon wasn't completely restricted and see if we could prep for the procedure any other way than by drinking more stuff, and thankfully they did give us another option.  Oh, how I wish that all this togetherness we're experiencing was on a week-long cruise together somewhere and under much different circumstances!!

     Today I'm finding myself very thankful for my family and for the special times that we've been able to spend together lately.  I just love them all so much, and I would be lost without any one of them.  The kids are pitching in and helping where needed, and we're just taking one day a time.  Pray for Harris, if you would.  Pray that he would be comfortable tonight.  Pray that the procedure is successful tomorrow and that another surgery and hospitalization won't be necessary.  Pray that this won't be a problem again down the road.  Pray that complete healing will come quickly and that he can get back to work and enjoy life once again.  Then just thank the Lord and praise Him for keeping Heath seizure free thus far and pray that He will never have another one again.  Then just know that you are loved and appreciated.  Thanks for caring for us.  And now just go love a little extra on your family tonight!

Monday, May 2, 2011

I Just Want My People To Be Well

     Three weeks ago at this time, we were anticipating Harris's colon surgery to remove the mass.  I wish I could say it's been an easy recovery process, but that has not been the case.  At first he was dealing with a rash all over his body that we had to get rid of on top of all the normal pain that accompanies a surgery.  The second week ended up being a little tougher than we anticipated it might be, and now the third week has been even worse. 

     On Easter Sunday we had his brother Vance's family over for lunch, and we cooked up the biggest meal we had all enjoyed in a while.  Harris had just a little bit of it, including a very small piece of pork steak.  Before lunch was even over, he was back on the couch, and the rest of the day and all day on Monday, he suffered severe stomach cramps.  The kind where he would just grab his midsection and wince in pain until they passed.  Tuesday and Wednesday of last week brought a little bit of sweet relief, and he even got dressed to go to the office both days.  However, he never made it there either day because when it came right down to it, the energy level just wasn't there yet. 

     Thursday morning he was bound and determined that he was going to the office that day, even if for just a little bit, but the first thing on the agenda was his follow-up appointment with the surgeon.  After a nice long visit with him, everyone decided that Harris was right on pace and that he was progressing nicely, and the doctor joked with us that we shouldn't have to meet again unless Harris wanted to have another surgery.  Harris told him he'd be fine with just running into each other in the grocery store or something. 

     When we walked out of there, Harris decided that he just really needed to go home and take a nap instead of going to the office, so I took him home.  He started experiencing stomach cramps again, and Thursday through Sunday ended up being pretty miserable for him.  He didn't sleep well at night.  The pain was excruciating every time a wave of cramping would come over him.  The sight, smell, taste, and even thought of food was becoming more unappealing all the time.  We called the doctor on Saturday, and he encouraged him to go back to a liquid diet and try walking more and then to call back on Monday morning.  Yesterday his diet consisted of a popsickle, a couple very small servings of Jello, a little Gatorade, and about a third of a serving of oatmeal.  He could barely make the walk around the block, and even the sight of someone's "puke green" shutters made him want to throw up. 

     Today I had planned on going on a field trip with Keaton, but I knew the doctor needed to be conferred with first.  Just as I suspected, he ordered up some tests, so it was a really good thing I had stayed home.  Harris ended up having a CT scan done of his abdomen and pelvis, and they ran some blood tests as well.  While waiting for results, we sat in the waiting room watching news accounts of Bin Laden's death, and then the doctor eventually called and talked to Harris.  The look on his face told me it wasn't good news.  Evidently the CT scan showed that the two sections of his colon that had been stapled together after the removal of 10-12 inches had somehow narrowed and was restricted.  We have no idea how that happened or if it's common or anything.  All we know at this point is that he needs another colonoscopy done, and at that time the doctor will attempt to dilate or stretch that section out, and if that doesn't work, then he may have to endure another surgery. 

     The mood was pretty somber after that.  Not that it was good before but it got exceptionally somber.   

     Our GI doctor can't do the procedure tomorrow, so we're scheduled to be at the hospital on Wednesday morning at 6 a.m.  That means more time on a liquid diet and another day of rigid instructions to get the bowel prepped.  It means another trip to Wal-Mart for more supplies.  More time spent drinking yucky stuff and more time in the bathroom.  And another day of waiting and recovering and not being able to move on with normal life. 

     On the "bright" side, since he couldn't have it done tomorrow, that means we could still keep Heath's follow-up appointment with the seizure doctor in Iowa City tomorrow.  Thankfully Haley has the day off, so she can be here to help get kids to school in the morning and be here with Harris while Heath and I make the trek west.   

     Meanwhile, life goes on for all of us.  Kelsey and Keaton have been fighting colds.  All the end-of-the-school-year stuff is filling every nook and cranny of the calendar.  Heath successfully made it through finals week and is coming to grips with new work obligations and schedules.  Haley's graduation party just keeps getting closer and closer, and all my expectations of what I wanted to have done before her party just keep flying out the window.  We did manage to get the invitation ordered up this weekend though, and it's awesome!!  Only by the grace of God will we actually be able to pull off the party that I have envisioned in my head.  We're certainly looking forward to celebrating something around here, but I guess if my deck isn't stained or her scrapbooks aren't done, no one will really care but me, right?   

   Once again, your prayers are so very much appreciated.  As I told our parents on the phone over the weekend, "I just want my people to be well.  Is that too much to ask?"  To be honest, I'm feeling a little weary of it all, but someone has to hold it together around here, and that someone has to be me right now.  Thankfully there is great comfort in knowing that even in my weakness, God is on the throne and has everything under control.  He will get us through this and promises to never leave us or forsake us.  Oh, how I'm resting in His arms tonight.