You’ll find this hard to believe, but . . . .

Lea and I returned from our five month stay in Hawaii last night, making the trip in two legs, Kona to Phoenix, and after a short layover, on into Indianapolis. Of course, we had too much carry on baggage for a person who also has to handle a loved one in a wheelchair. Every boarding, deplaning, and even going to the restroom in the terminal resulted in having to move everything from one spot to another, while being watchful, keeping an eye on the carry-on bags.

I had prepared for this return trip, gathering up dollar bills, fives and tens, to serve as tips for Sky Caps to help move Miss Lea in her wheelchair. I was lugging the carry-on baggage at each board/deplane location, and it was about all I could do. We had packed to the max. The four bags we checked were 50 pounds each, and the carry ons bulky if not heavy. But, I knew I wanted to be ready to hire sky caps, particularly for when we reached Indianapolis, where I didn’t want our dear friend Joe do any lifting. He would, if you let him. He’s like that.

Joe, bless his heart, suffered a severe heart attack in Connecticut, July 2005, while driving the four of us back from our Maine vacation. That story is the very lead in to the saga of Lea’s hospitalization for the following 180 days. You can read about it by clicking on the link, “Hartford Letters Timeline.”

Now, fast forward several months, Lea and Larry are returning home from an unexpectedly extended trip to Hawaii, where Lea was supposed to receive healing relaxation and re-bonding time with our granddaughters. The recuperation, on the Kailua-Kona side of the Big Island, was intended to be preparation for what we hope is the final major surgery of getting her stomach closed up, and helping her return to a normal life.

Ten days into our visit, Lea miss-stepped, and fell to a stone floor, promptly breaking her right hip. That resulted in an additional 3-month delay in scheduling her surgery, but on the other hand, allowed us to remain in close contact with the small groups in Living Stones Church, ministering and witnessing according to God’s plan. It was a blessed time, and we came to love more of the church.

As we arrived at Kona airport on our return journey, we found a sky cap who took care of our checked luggage, and the TSA officers who were responsible for security, took Lea through a special screening line to check out the wheelchair and equipment, while I went through the normal process. I was quite noticeable going through security, since I had no photo ID, and I had both our laptops in the computer case. We were scrutinized and our baggage checked over quite thoroughly. Still, it wasn’t much of an imposition at all, considering everything.

We arrived in Indianapolis, about 45 minutes late, in late afternoon during rush hour. Joe and Pat met us just inside the concourse gate, and after hugs all around, we went to the baggage area, with a skycap pushing Lea in her wheelchair, and another skycap joined us there to load a cart with our luggage and carry on bags. We wheeled everything out to Joe’s truck, where he supervised the loading while I helped Lea get situated into the front right seat.

Lea always rides in the front right seat, by the way, so that if there should happen to be a front end collision, she would have a chance of surviving by the air bag deploying in time to reduce trauma to her still-open abdominal incision. Without the airbag, the pressure of the seat belt on her abdomen would probably be more than it could handle. I usually ride behind her, so I can assist with anything she might need while traveling, like opening a water bottle, etc.

Joe took the wheel and guided the big pickup truck out of the airport onto the rain soaked six-lane interstate highway leading north toward our homes, and a restaurant where we had planned to dine together. We chatted about events home and abroad as Joe maneuvered along in the interstate traffic, and were busy getting caught up on family and friends, including Bob and Billiann, who had visited us during our stay in Kona.

Suddenly, as we wisked along in the left hand lane of the six lane interstate, Joe’s chin dropped to his chest and he leaned toward the steering wheel. The truck swerved left, jumped the curb up onto the grass filled median, and headed straight for the three lanes of traffic coming at us at highway speed on the other side of the median.

Pat grabbed Joe’s shoulders and tried to shake him awake. I shouted to Lea to grab the steering wheel. I asked if she could get her foot on the brake, and meanwhile, was unbuckling my seatbelt to dive over the seat back if necessary. Lea grabbed the wheel with her left hand, and turned the truck to the right, so it was now headed so that it would stay on the median and not go into traffic for some distance.

At the same time, she realized that the truck had a very large, tall, console that prevented her from being able to reach the brake pedal from the passenger side, so while guiding the truck she unbuckled her seatbelt with the right hand, and then was able to reach over far enough to push Joe’s leg over so that his foot moved off the accelerator. The truck then slowed in the rain soaked grass, sinking into the mud, and came to a stop several yards from the end of the median.

Meanwhile, Pat was trying to arouse Joe. As soon as the truck stopped moving, Lea put the gearshift into Park, and Pat leapt from her seat to open the driver’s door to help Joe. I got on the phone and called 911. While I was waiting for the 911 operator, we saw Joe’s upper body stiffen and then sag again, this time slumping over toward the steering wheel. The operator answered, and I told her, “We have a cardiac arrest, and . . . “ She told me to wait, that she would switch me to the EMS operator, and the line went dead! I jumped out of the truck to call again. I wonder how long the wait is for the 911 operator . . . . .

Pat got on her cell phone and called her son, Scott, a paramedic, and hurriedly gave him information on our location and then turned back to Joe. At about that instant, Joe’s upper body stiffened again for about three seconds, and he mumbled, “What happened?” I asked him if he was in any pain, and he said he wasn’t. I asked if he thought he could get in the back seat, and he replied that he thought he could.

I gave him one of my nitroglycerin tablets and reminded him to place it under his tongue and let it dissolve. I made note of the time, and got into the back seat with him. Pat was going to drive to a cardiac emergency center just a short block from where we were. But, despite all efforts, including trying to shove debris under the wheels, we could not get the truck unstuck from the mud.

Meanwhile, dozens and dozens of cars passed us on both sides, and no one stopped to offer any help. Until, a woman in a northbound van stopped to see if we needed help. It turned out that she was a nurse, and she offered to take Joe to the hospital. So, I helped Joe walk to the van, parked alongside the truck on the left lane against the median curb. Pat climbed in with him, and they were off to the hospital.

I tried for a few more minutes to get the truck unstuck, but it just kept burying itself deeper in the mud. So, I called our neighbor, Steve, to see if perhaps he would be able to pick us up so I could take Lea home and get her to bed. She handled the situation quite well, and surprised me at how clearly she could think in an emergency situation, but I also knew that she doesn’t yet handle stress very well, and could go into shock quite easily.

Just as I was going to get her into the back seat where she could lie down, we saw two police cars and two fire trucks approaching from the north, lights and siren going. As they came alongside the truck, I was in the driver’s seat, so they approached to inquire whether I needed help. I quickly explained that the driver had been taken to the hospital already, and that I was trying to get his truck out so I could take it to him.

One of the firefighters jumped behind the wheel, while the others got behind the truck and started pushing it. One of the police officers moved his cruiser to the other side of the median and blocked the left lane. After a few false starts, and getting splattered with mud from head to toe, the firefighters were able to get the truck unstuck, up out of the holes the wheels had dug, and out onto the pavement. Expressing my gratitude all around, I took the wheel and headed to the Heart Center, where Joe was in the emergency room.

Lea and I sat in the waiting room to await news of Joe’s fate. We prayed for Joe’s recovery, and then I fixed Lea a cup of hot instant coffee that was so strong we agreed it tasted like a $5 cup of coffee from one of those gourmet coffee shops! And, we chuckled that we didn’t even have to wait in line to get it!

Soon, we started making phone calls to let folks know that we were back in Indiana, and why we weren’t yet at the house. We had promised calls to our children, and other relatives, so we got busy making those contacts so no one would be worried that we were stranded somewhere, or worse. I also called Steve, our super neighbor, and told him not to worry about us, we would make our way home after we learned more about Joe’s situation.

Soon, Pat & Joe’s son, Scott, arrived, and went straight to the emergency room, and shortly thereafter, a nurse came out and told us we could also go in. Pushing Lea in her wheelchair, we entered the room, where Scott and Pat stood around Joe’s bed, and on the other side was a technician who was checking the history of Joe’s pacemaker. She reported that it had fired once that morning, and then twice at about the time of the accident.

Joe, by the way, was awake, talking, and in fact, told me, “My nitroglycerin spray is still brand new. I keep using YOURS!” And, he gave me a smile. Lea and I were very much relieved. It dawned on me that what we had witnessed in the stiffening of Joe’s body was the electric shock his pacemaker/defibrillator was giving him to get his heart started again. The second one worked.

And, as I stood there thinking about the experience we had just been through, I began to wonder about how you should treat a person who has a pacemaker/ deliberator implant. Do you still give such a person CPR? Is it still correct to give them nitro? Or, do you just stand back and let the computerized equipment implanted near his heart do what it’s supposed to do? These are questions I don’t have answered yet, but I am going to make it a priority to learn more about this, so I know how to help someone in need.

Meanwhile, as I finish this, Joe is resting well. He is weak from his ordeal, and is probably going to stay in the hospital another day to get his electrolytes in balance, particularly his potassium, which was low due to increased dosages of diuretics he was prescribed.

Lea is still in bed. That doesn’t surprise me. We had a long travel day yesterday, topped off by more excitement than we wanted. I go in the bedroom every so often to check on her. Last time in, she said, “Boy, this sure feels good!” She then turned over and went back to sleep. She’ll get up when she gets hungry, and then she’ll be back in bed to “take a nap.”

I expect it to take a couple of days or so for her to make the adjustment to the six-hour time difference. We will probably just relax this weekend, and then try to get back into our old routines the following week. Meanwhile, we are going to Dr Miller Monday, and take the next step toward getting her fixed up.

I have to pass on a comment Lea made last night. I have tried to recall it verbatim, and feel that I have it pretty accurate, at least in intent, if not in fact. While we were chatting in the waiting room to waiting learn how Joe was doing, she said, “Maybe God is reminding us not to forget what He has done for us . . . .” My angel!

Thank you, Father. Thank you for the privilege of approaching the foot of your throne to talk to you as your children. Thank you for the sacrifice of your only begotten Son, that we may come to you, through His blood, to plead for your blessings. Father we raise up our friend Joe, who needs you now to find peace and comfort, and to fill his days with praise and prayer of gratitude for each and every day he has been given to be with his family. Please forgive us, Father, if we displease you in any way, and give us the gift of wisdom that we might always be pleasing in your sight. Bless Joe and his family, Lord. We lift up Pat for your blessing. Show her the blesing of peace, Lord, that comes from knowing that Joe will be safely in your hands, in a much better place, when that time comes. Lord, God, I also raise up Lea for your blessing. Help her recover from the ordeal of the travel we have just completed. Protect her abdomen from any shock it may have sustained in the jolting and jarring of the accident last night. Grant her miracdulous healing, and give her the gift of healing, that her ministry can be a source of your mercy. Bless our loved ones, Father, whereever they might be. Place a shield of protection around them, and bring them into your glory. We lift all this up in the name of Jesus Christ, my personal saviour. Thy will be done. Amen!