Sunday, August 17, 2014

Seven August 17ths

August 17, 2007: 
It is Friday. It’s been an emotionally intense couple of months: we knew it was the end of an era. It's the last summer that all 4 of us kids will be under the same roof. My sister got married, my brothers are about to enter their senior and freshmen years of high school, respectively, and I am about to move off campus and into a house. Oh, yeah, my dad has had a stroke that summer, and the round-the-clock care my grandmother needs demands more of my mom daily. And I'm beginning to notice that my stomach was really, really hurting… all the time. And I'm bleeding, badly, every time I go to the bathroom…which is several times each day. Every morning starts with shaking chills and cold sweats and intense cramps and lots and lots of blood. This morning, like many others since these symptoms started over a year ago, a nagging thought comes up in my mind: This isn’t right. This is more than the IBS the GI doctor believed it to be when I saw him in April. I am really very sick. But I just don’t have time to deal with this! And the last thing I want to do is put more stress on my family. So I push the thought to the back of my mind and start packing up my belongings to move into my new housing.

August 17, 2008: 
It’s a Sunday, and I’m sick. I've been diagnosed with UC for not quite a year, and I’d been discharged from the hospital late Friday evening after a week-long admission for a severe UC flare-up. I’ve spent the past several hours simultaneously pooping blood and vomiting, and I’m now writhing on the bathroom floor in agony. When my parents suggest that we return to the hospital, I vehemently refuse. They wait until I’m too weak to protest and then rush me to the hospital. Pancreatitis, a severe infection, and a terrible UC flare-up are wrecking havoc on my body, and every lab comes back critically high or low. I'm in such bad shape that the doctor takes my dad out in the hallway and suggested he “start making arrangements.”

August 17, 2009: 
I believe I’m learning how to cope and live with this UC and my newly-diagnosed arthritis. After a summer of taking Organic Chemistry, I'm getting ready to head back to school for my “victory lap” as a 5th year senior. Unfortunately, my UC has started flaring up again and the bleeding has returned, and although I didn't know it at the time, I'd find myself hooked to an IV dripping fluids and morphine into my system three days later.

August 17, 2010: 
I’d gotten out of the hospital on my birthday, nearly as sick as when I’d arrived. I left with more questions than answers and a date on the 23rd for a massive, life-altering surgery that would remove my bleeding, ulcerated J pouch, what was left of my diseased rectum and anus, close up the aforementioned part, put in Seprafilm to prevent more adhesions, change my temporary loop ileostomy (which is prolapsing badly) into a permanent end ileostomy, taking special precautions and utilizing a special mesh in an attempt to prevent this new ostomy from prolapsing. This surgery ends up being a debacle… I tank after the surgery and wind up in hallucinating in ICU with my innumerable monitors silenced to stop their constant beeping from my alarming vital signs.

August 17, 2011: 
I’m imagining I’m at the beach, tasting the salty air as the cool surf hits my feet and my skin soaks in the warm sun. In reality, I’m lying naked on a gurney in the Comprehensive Wound Care Clinic with two nurses spreading my legs wide so the third nurse can remove the WoundVac dressing between my legs. Under the dressing, where my anus used to be, lies foam packing, filling what was originally a gaping 10 cm long, 8 cm deep hole surgically created by Dr Saturday a month earlier in a last-ditch effort to rid my body of the infection and abscesses that have plagued me for the past year. The nurse tugs at the foam, and I see stars as she begins to slowly rip the foam packing out of the wound. She then cuts a new piece of foam, as big as my hand, and begins the tedious process of repacking the wound. Two hours later, I’m done, and I adjust the tubes coming out of my wound and going into the WoundVac, pick up the WoundVac, and make my next dressing change appointment for 2 days later.

August 17, 2012: 
Friday. I look into the mirror and sigh. I’ve changed from severely underweight to the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. My face is swollen almost beyond recognition from a combination of low protein levels, high-dose steroids, and anti-seizure and anti-depressant medications (supposed to tone down chronic pain). On Monday, I was supposed to be starting my second semester of PA school, but that dream has been shattered by yet another surgery followed by a myriad of complications back in May. The subsequent weeks in the hospital were the lowest of my life as my body was wracked with mysterious pains while I suffered from mysterious fevers, anemia, and dangerously high white blood counts. I'm finally home, but I don't feel like myself at all, and I'm not sure what exactly I am supposed to be doing with my life. I try to find something, anything that will pierce through my foggy consciousness so that I can find joy in Christ and in the life He has given me. Mostly, though, I sleep, take my meds, go to my doctors, and spend hours doing health-related paperwork and talking to my insurance company and billing companies and feel worthless.

August 17, 2013: 
I’m trying to gather my strength to begin the fall semester of PA school. I have to start back in 2 days, and I don’t know if I can do it. The Lord enabled me to limp across the finish line of the summer semester, although I had to take my finals late due to an adrenal crisis. The summer brought a flare up of pain, mind-blowing pain, that grew so intense that we’ve had to tripled my pain medications in an attempt to keep me sane. Even on enough medication to kill the average elephant, I’m still suffering from constant pain whose intensity is impossible to describe and seems unendurable. But, hey, I’m in PA school, and God miraculously guided me through one semester!

August 17, 2014: 
I’m in the hospital, but not as the patient. This time, I’m the one helping to spread a patient’s legs wide. “Push!” we urge, “Push into the contraction! Now hold it there! Take another deep breath, and push again. Great job!” As we continue to encourage the soon-to-be mom as she labors, I can see the crown of the baby’s head. Soon enough, a new baby boy has entered the world, and the mom is crying, the dad is crying, and, best of all, the baby is crying, a healthy, lusty cry.
Once the mom is cleaned up and the family is soaking it all in, I turn to the very familiar-looking nurse. My suspicions are confirmed when I ask where she’d worked before this – she’d been a nurse on the unit where I’ve been over 12 weeks as a patient since 2011. At first, she thinks I had been a tech on that floor, but I say, no, I was a patient. She takes in a deep breath as it all comes rushing back to her. She remembers me. She remembers that I had to defer from school for a year. She says how happy she is to get to see me here now, pursuing my dreams and able to live life once again. “I rarely get to follow up with patients,” she tells me, “and I can’t tell you how good it is to see that you are here now, able to be in school and pursuing your dreams again.”

She then asks how I was doing. The reality is that things are still hard, every day. I am very sick, every day. Frankly, on paper, I should not be able to be in school at all. So while I still struggle on a daily basis, seeing her reminded me just how far God has enabled me to come, and I tell her that I am thankful every day for people like her who have helped me get where I am today, and that I am able to be in school. I don’t take it for granted. 

These seven August 17ths aren't really my story; it's the story of God working through me, despite me. Whatever He chooses to allow or not allow in my life is what He deems will best accomplish His purposes. While many of these August 17ths haven't been easy or fun, today was an incredible gift from God to step back and see how far I've come and what He has done. What an amazing and good God!

Hannah ;)