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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fear and faith in the realm of miracles

It would not at all be inaccurate to state that more than any other time in my entire life, I have not been as scared as I have been for more than a week now.

It would be just as rightfully said that in that same span of time I have witnessed nothing short than a miracle.  Maybe even more than one.

Dad had a stroke on Tuesday of last week.

It was incredibly fortunate that it began in a physician's office.  That it was recognized in the earliest stage possible and that as a result 9-1-1- was called and Dad was immediately taken from Reidsville to the best hospital in Greensboro.  If it was meant for Dad to have a stroke, well... he could have been out on his tractor plowing a field when it happened and nobody would have known about it until it was much too late.

Instead he was taken to the hospital and the drug TPA was administered at once.  This is the medication that breaks up blood clots.

I'm counting all of that as the first miracle.  A miracle of timing that extends way past mere coincidence.

I would be remiss if I did not add however that I had never been so frightened as I was then.  I didn't want to lose Dad.  I love him.  He's always been there for me.  I wouldn't be writing my book if it hadn't been for his gentle prodding to do so for so many months.  He has helped me throughout these past few years in dealing with my manic-depression.  He has taught me things that I never knew before, like how to make a good pound cake.

I'll tell you a secret.  I have wanted my book to be sold.  I've been giving this effort my very best, not just for my own sake but for his.  The plan has always been that when it sold I was going to take Dad on a trip somewhere.  Maybe to Arizona.  Maybe to Scotland.

It's not like it was with Mom.  We watched her health gradually deteriorate over the course of three or four years.  When the time came it wasn't without expectation.  When the time came, we were able to let go.  Able to let her lingeringly drift away above and beyond her pain.

It's different when something as sudden as a stroke occurs.  You can't see it coming.  You don't know what is going to happen as a result of it.  All of those plans and more, just gone.  Not knowing if a loved one is going to make it or not.

So it was that the day after the stroke, Dad began to have significant bleeding on the brain.  TPA is practically a miracle drug if given without the first three hours of the stroke, and Dad was given it less than 45 minutes, maybe even 30 minutes, after the stroke began.  Unfortunately TPA brings with it the risk of cerebral bleeding.  And that is what happened.

I saw the area of the bleeding on the scan they did of him.  The big white space is going to forever be etched in my memory.

Fear upon fear upon fear.  I looked at Dad laying on his bed in ICU and the horrible realization finally sank in that I might actually lose him.  And it seemed that God wasn't listening to my prayers.

I'll admit to something else: I've long been afraid that God doesn't hear my prayers.

Maybe He doesn't hear because it is extremely difficult for me to do it with my mouth.  Manic-depression causes my thoughts to run way too fast and sometimes my lips can't catch up.  So my prayers more often than not are from my heart and not my tongue.  Then there is wondering if the bipolar itself is causing Him to not make anything out from the internal dissonance, or if it's just that my mind can't hear Him.

I've wondered if I'm too far away from Him for God to listen.  Yes, there are times when I wonder if I'm too far damned for things that I have done during my life.  Things that I have begged forgiveness for but seem to have never experienced that saving grace.

Dad's brain was awash in blood that should not have been there and my prayers were going no further than the ceiling of his room, it seemed.

That was fear.  That was fear that I've never had before and I pray will never happen again or that it will ever happen to anyone else.

Dad was stable, more or less, for the next few days.  The edema wasn't growing and in fact appeared to be subsiding.  But the following day, on Friday, Dad went into respiratory failure.  During which time his heart stopped beating.  The nurses were about to take him to another room outside of ICU.  Doctors and nurses who were in the same ward went quickly to work and brought him back to normal (whatever "normal" is in this kind of circumstance).  The doctor told us that Dad had experienced a seizure and that the heart stopping momentarily (and his heart did quickly re-start on its own) was not uncommon in cases of stroke.

I don't know what would have happened if all of that staff, with so many years of knowledge and experience, had not jumped into action as they did.

That was the second miracle.  And that's what these were: nothing short of miracles from God.  Miracles of timing, yes.  But that makes them no less potent or awe-infusing.

It was in the first day or two of Dad's stroke that I began asking others to please keep him in their thoughts and prayers.  My logic was this: if God isn't hearing my own prayers, maybe He will listen to those of others who are far closer to Him than I am or may ever be.  That is what happened.  I asked for prayer here (some quietly told me that they have done that, without knowing what it was that was going on to evoke those prayers).  I asked for it on Facebook.  I asked for it from my counselor.  I asked for it from anyone who I knew at all, and then some.

To pray means to petition God for something, even if it's just for a little slice of His time to hear you out.  I added my own to those being spoken by literally hundreds of people, from Reidsville to Hawaii to Germany and everywhere in between.  Dad was being lifted up by people he didn't know and probably never would otherwise know were there.  When he can, I'm going to show him the prayers that my friends on Facebook alone were showering him with.

I'm more thankful than I can possibly express that there is now a chance that that will happen.  Because a few days ago on Monday we really did almost lose Dad.

He had been on a respirator since Thursday (I hope I'm getting these dates right, if not I can always look at the prayer requests on Facebook instead of trying to rely on stressful memory).  After two days he was doing well enough that he was taken off of that.  On Monday afternoon I called my sister - who has been part of the constant vigil we have been keeping at the hospital - to ask how Dad was doing.

She was in tears.  She told me that he was back on the respirator and that Dad was unresponsive and that the damage to his brain might now have been so severe that there was no hope for him whatsoever.

Again, I cannot at all express the fear that enveloped my family and I.

Monday afternoon Dad's sister talked with the doctors.  She talked with Dad's pastor who has been with us so much throughout this ordeal.  Then she talked to my sister, who is a medical professional.  And then in the chapel all of them spoke with me and not for the first time but certainly the most I came almost entirely unglued inside.

I need to elaborate on something here: all through this time I've been holding it together far better than I would have ever anticipated.  I'm being there for my family, for Dad's sake because he would want me to not lose my nerve.  For myself most of all, because I have come this far already.  That doesn't mean that I'm not a mess inside, because going through this has certainly done that.  But at least I'm there enough for those around me.  This has become one of the most incendiary events so far as my bipolar disorder is concerned but... well, again I don't know how else it's happened other than a very real miracle and knowing that it's not been just Dad but also myself who has been sustained by the prayers of so many people.

It's been more than enough to make one believe that God does really hear our prayers.  Even those of people who feel most distant from Him.

My aunt and Dad's pastor conferred with my sister and I.  And, well... there is no real other way to put it: the family agreed that in keeping with what Dad had expressed to us before, that a do-not-resuscitate order would be signed for him.  Meaning that drastic actions to save his life would be withheld if he went into a state that would have rendered him, in so many words, a vegetable for the rest of his life.  That didn't mean that treatment itself would be withheld, because the doctors and nurses have been as committed to helping Dad as much as any patient possibly could be helped.  I saw that on Friday, when his bed was surrounded so much by staff that my sister and I couldn't make him out at all.

To possibly allow Dad's life to be terminated was the hardest decision that I have ever had to make.

For as long as I live I'm never going to forget Dad opening his eyes so briefly, and me telling him that I loved him and his barely-audible voice saying "I love you too".  And I thought that would be the last that I ever heard from him.

Anita (my sister) and I spent the rest of the evening at his bedside.  Holding his hands.  Telling him we loved him and always would.  Whispering to him that if he wanted to let go, that he could.

And all of this time, our friends on Facebook were praying harder than ever for Dad.  For which, I will never be thankful enough.

I went home at 3 in the morning.  I don't remember how I drove back.  Tammy, our dog, needed to be fed and watered (thankfully a cousin had been given a spare house key so he took care of her several hours earlier).  Sleep never came.  Time stretched and spread out too thin.  Not even my medication worked.

That was the longest night of my life.

I'd withheld taking one medication because it's one that does cause drowsiness.  I had withheld it because I didn't know if I had to go back to the hospital and I needed my faculties for it in case I did.  But by 5 a.m. the depression was creeping in and I had little choice but to take the drug.  It was either be awake and my mind collapsing into a massive spiral, or succumb to drowsiness, let my mind rest and be there for my family when they would potentially need it most.  I knew what Dad would have me do in that situation: he would want me to take care of myself first.  So that's what I did.

Several hours later the next miracle began...

I called Anita.  She told me that Dad was doing much better.  That his responsiveness was returning, that he was able to breathe somewhat but that they were still keeping him on the respirator.  He was opening his eyes more when someone spoke to him.  And he did speak to us!  In fact, he told us something so hysterically funny and somewhat vulgar that I can't print here.  But I don't care: my father was alive and communicating, and that's all that mattered.

Later that evening the nurse showed me something.  The stroke has left Dad immobile on his left side.  The nurse put her fingers into Dad's left hand and told him to squeeze around her fingers.

And he did.

Yesterday was even better: he was taken off the respirator.  He wasn't quite whispering but he still had things to tell us that we could just barely make out.  He said something else vulgar that I had to laugh at.  And my aunt and I saw him move his left arm.  Not just fingers, but his entire arm.  Not much, not even lifting it over the blanket on his bed.  But he moved it all the same.

Dad is alive.  And I am absolutely praising God for bringing him so far in such little time.  I went home last night and got down on my knees to thank Him for this and thanking Him for all of the people in my life and that of my family who have been praying for him.  Dad was doing so well last night that we were able to end our vigil.  So after my prayer of thanksgiving I played with Tammy, then I made a pizza and finally got to use that bottle of original brand Sriracha sauce that I found over the weekend, then I ate while watching Thor.  Then I did something I haven't done in two weeks: sent out queries to potential agents (this is the toughest part of writing a book, the gauntlet that every author must run and I'm no different).  Then I let myself play some TIE Fighter and before going to bed I prayed for another ten minutes and then crashed harder than I've ever crashed asleep before.

Don't tell me that there is no such thing as miracles.  I've seen them. From the time when all of this started, on through what is going on right now and especially what happened during the night between Monday and Tuesday.  We really were bracing ourselves for the worst.  By the estimation of practically everyone Dad should not have survived, much less begin to demonstrate responsiveness and motility that defies all sense of reason.

Don't tell me that prayers don't work.  I don't know if my own did, but those of a lot of people better than I certainly did.  And Dad is being lifted up in them still, even now.

A friend told me yesterday that maybe I'm being too negative, too down on myself about whether God is hearing me.  And she's right: I am too critical of myself.  But she also told me that all of this is something God has been using to increase my faith, to make me stronger.  To make me more the person that He intended for me to be.

If so, then that also is one more miracle from this situation.  And in its own way, the one that is personally to me the most amazing of all.

Dad is not out of the woods yet.  There is still a long hard road ahead of us.  In keeping him stabilized and then the therapy which will hopefully restore a measure of normalcy to his life.  I've told the staff that Dad is a knifemaker, and that he needs to be able to swing a hammer at the red-hot steel he holds down on his anvil.  The staff thought that was another interesting thing about a patient who told me "was quite a character".

I don't know what is going to happen from here on out.  I do know that Dad is still in need of a lot of prayer and thought.  For those who I have reached out to through this blog and have done so, I am exceptionally thankful that you have done that.  I ask that you please continue to keep Dad and my family in your thoughts and prayers.

Miracles.  They happen.  In the past several days, I've seen them.  I have seen a lot of things in my life that can't be explained by the senses of science and medicine.  When you witness your own parent go from the very edge of death to having a fighting chance at life, nothing else comes close.

Miracles happen.

Fear is not forever.

And faith?  Faith manages.


Brian said...

How's your father, Chris?