We had planned a three-part adventure that would take place over ten days. Part 1 was a First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald work project on the campus of Morningstar Children and Family Services near Brunswick; that went well and according to plan. Part 2 was participation in the 2014 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta; that also went well and according to plan. Part 3 was a brief vacation at Legacy Lodge at Lake Lanier Islands which is located about an hour north of Atlanta; that went not so well and not quite according to plan. And so there came an unplanned and unwelcomed Part 4.
Last Saturday morning as we were leaving Atlanta to head toward Lake Lanier, Debra started having chills. She took some over-the-counter medication and tried to tough it out. We took it easy; we lay beside the pool, ate some good food that she couldn’t taste, and had dinner on Sunday with some good friends. We were scheduled to check out on Tuesday but on Monday morning she said that she’d like to go home so we checked out early and headed for Fitzgerald.
Debra went to bed Monday night, woke up around 8:00 on Tuesday morning, took some more medicine, and slept until noon. I figured and hoped that she was sleeping off whatever was ailing her; she had said the day before that she felt like if she could sleep for twenty four hours she’d feel better. I was in the study when I heard her in the kitchen; I went to see how she was feeling.
She was standing at the kitchen counter cutting up a peach; she said something about being hungry. Suddenly her hands drooped and her knees gave way; I cradled her down to the floor. “Debra!” I said, but she said nothing in reply. I checked to make sure she was breathing as I tried to remember what I had learned in that CPR course that I took seven or eight years ago. Thankfully, she was breathing. After twenty or thirty seconds she opened her eyes and looked at me. “I love you,” I said, and she said, “I love you, too.” Then she said, “What happened?” “You passed out. I’m calling 911.” She looked at me suspiciously. “If you don’t need to go to the hospital it won’t cost anything,” I said. “OK,” she said.
When the EMTs arrived, they got her off the floor (I had been afraid to move her) and put her in a chair. Her vital signs were good but her hands were numb and her speech was slow. The EMTs speculated that she may have passed out because of her fever but, they said, they really couldn’t tell why she fainted. When they asked her whether she wanted to go to the hospital or call her doctor, she naturally said she’d call the doctor. They turned to go back to the ambulance; as soon as they left the kitchen Debra went rigid and her eyes rolled back in her head. “Wait!” I called. “I don’t think I can get her to the doctor. Please take her to the hospital.” So they picked her up and took her out the ambulance. Our neighbor Sharon came over at that moment to see if she could help. Debra wasn’t able to talk.
I tried to get myself together to go to the hospital. One of the EMTs came back in and said, “Because this now looks neurological, she’s going to be transported by helicopter to either Albany or Macon so a neurologist can check her out.” “I’d much prefer Macon,” I said. “We’ll see what we can do,” they said. “May I ride with her?” I asked. “No,” they said. “Will the helicopter land at the hospital?” I asked. “No, at the airport. We’ll call you as soon as we know where she’s going.” And they drove off.
She had not unpacked from our previous trip so I threw a few more items in her bag, trying hard to think of what she’d want: undergarments, her favorite hair brush, the hair dryer, her telephone, her IPad, the chargers for the telephone and IPad, her toiletry bag (which she thankfully had also not unpacked). I grabbed my toiletry bag and packed a few clothes; I packed my computer, my IPad, and some books. I went outside to see the dogs and to give them some fresh water. I wondered what else I should do. There were dirty dishes in the sink. I didn’t want her to come home to a sink full of dirty dishes so I washed them. I started to make the bed when I said to myself, “You have to stop. Go now.” While I had been doing all of those things I had been imploring and lamenting, cursing and praying, trusting and doubting, hoping and begging.
Finally I left. As I made the two hour drive to Macon, I continued to intercede and to complain between the many telephone calls that I needed to make to family members and friends. People needed to know; people needed to pray.
I had been through such an experience several times before and my mind quickly went back over all of them.
There was the time in 1975 when the hospital called to say that my cancer-riddled mother had taken a turn for the worse. I hoped hard that she would live. Two days later she was dead.
There was the time in 1979 when a co-worker of my father called to say that he had suffered a heart attack and that I needed to get to the hospital as quickly as I could. I assumed that he would die. Three days later he did.
There was the time in 2007 when our twenty-year-old daughter called us in Augusta from Rome, Georgia to say that one of her legs was swollen and that she going to the emergency room. After driving four hours to get there, we walked in just as the doctor was explaining to her that she had a massive clot and that the treatment, which had a good chance to be successful, ran the risk of causing a piece of the clot to break off and go to her lung, heart, or brain, an event which could be catastrophic. I prayed so hard that she would be all right. After six days of hospitalization, three of them in ICU, she was, and she has managed her Warfarin regimen well ever since.
This time I found myself pouring it all out to God. I found myself telling God that if my Good Wife died (I tried not to consider the possibility but it was there and I refused to suppress my thoughts about it, having learned the hard way that such suppression is not a good thing; besides, she is in her fifties just like my parents were when they died—she’s exactly the age my father was when he died), we—God and I—were going to have some problems in our relationship. I doubt that God was either surprised or particularly troubled to hear me say that.
I thought about some of the hopes and dreams and plans for the next phase of our life together that Debra and I had been sharing and discussing lately and I wondered what I would do if she died or if she became incapacitated; I thought about how her mother had suffered a series of strokes during the last twenty years of her life, each one taking more and more of her away until finally a final one took all that was left. I decided quickly that I would carry on with the direction about which we had been talking but realized how sad I would be if she were unable to be a fully participating partner in our future.
Having dealt with the morbid possibilities (I went through all of those possibilities in about five minutes), I started to think about what I—what we—needed to learn from what was happening. I began to assume and to believe that everything was going to be, in one way or another, all right. I began to recommit myself to the future that God has for us, regardless of what happens to complicate or to redirect our lives.
I realized that thirty-six years with her was a greater gift than I could have ever hoped for; I realized that if she was suddenly half the person she used to be she would still be twice the person that the next best person I know is.
I began to ponder the unspeakably tremendous value of every nanosecond of life and of life together.
At the hospital they examined Debra’s brain via a CT scan, an MRI, and an EEG. There was no sign of a stroke or a tumor.
They did a lumbar puncture so they could test her spinal fluid; there was no sign of meningitis.
So the scariest possibilities that they had mentioned were ruled out.
The diagnosis was a severe infection; they had begun giving her high doses of intravenous antibiotics almost as soon as she arrived at the hospital in case she did have meningitis and they continued IV antibiotics throughout her two days in the hospital.
Debra is home now; she is tired and weak and on oral antibiotics and other medications. She is letting me take care of her which I am so glad to do; I’m usually the needy one. She is still irritated that they took her to Macon in a helicopter. I had high hopes for her recovery when I learned that she had told the EMTs, “I have a wedding to pay for this fall; I can’t afford to ride on a helicopter!”
And so she appears to be ok; we appear to be ok.
I hope she is ready for what’s going to happen when she is fully recovered.
Every nanosecond is a gift.
The future is now …