It has been a blessing not to have to post updates on Lea’s condition for the past several years. We have been blessed with relatively good health, just enough family activities to keep her feeling useful, and activities at church that helps her feel valued. Now, I’m afraid, some of our activities may be reduced or coming to an end.
Many years ago, before Lea’s hospitalization in Hartford, Connecticut, she was a vice president at Irwin Mortgage Corporation and supervised a staff of about forty persons. She was very well respected by her peers, and was often sought out for advice and guidance by other company officers. At the same time, she and I were operating a bed and breakfast, the Asher Walton House, and I was operating Rail Line Services, a business through which I trained and certified short line railroads.
She was also experiencing infrequent flare-ups of pain in her right side during that time. We had one episode of such intense pain in 1998 it dropped her to the floor in a hotel bathroom. We were on a company retreat in Nashville, had taken the river boat dinner cruise and returned to the hotel for a social hour at the atrium waterfalls, when she hurriedly excused herself to go to the bathroom.
When she didn’t return after too-long, I went to find out what was detaining her. I discovered her passed out on the floor, covered in sweat. She revived quickly, and was about to stand, when a paramedic on duty at the hotel checked her out. There was nothing obviously wrong, so the paramedic let her return to the social, where she was fine the rest of the night. She didn’t know what had happened, other than she had broken out in a heavy sweat.
Six years later, on occasion of our 40th wedding anniversary, our sons hired a limousine to take us into downtown Indianapolis for a nice dinner at St. Elmo Steak House. We shared a bottle of champagne during the forty-five minute ride, and had a delightful time just chatting and catching up. We were looking forward to a great steak dinner preceded by St. Elmo’s world famous shrimp cocktail, with sauce so hot you really have to concentrate on timing your breathing.
During the appetizer course, Lea quickly excused herself and went to the ladies’ room. We guys finished out shrimp cocktails, and had the table cleared in expectation of our steak dinners arriving. Since Lea hadn’t returned to the table yet, we ordered another round of drinks and were just visiting, when our waiter came to the table and asked if he should put the order in for our dinners, or wait longer for Lea to return.
I went to the ladies’ room and called to Lea, to see if she was alright. She didn’t answer, so I called again, a little louder, and this time thought I heard a mumbled reply. I went in to see what was going on, and found her again lying on the floor, broken out in a heavy sweat. I lifted her up into a sitting position, and though seemingly dazed, she became alert pretty quickly.
She didn’t remember passing out, but had some pain in the lower right side of her abdomen. This time she associated drinking alcohol with the episode, and didn’t drink anything for many years afterward. Meanwhile, she had occasional flare-ups of minor pain in the right side of her lower abdomen, and finally mentioned it to our physician, who ordered an ultrasound to check the gall bladder. The results showed some “sludge” in the gall bladder, but not enough to indicate that surgery was needed. He told her, “Some day the pain will get bad enough you’ll come back and ask to have it removed.”
A couple of years later we wound up in Hartford Hospital for six months while she was being treated for acute pancreatitis. She was largely pain-free after being released, although usually uncomfortable due to having to wear the elastic binder to hold everything in. Now, almost ten years after the onset of the pancreatitis, she has had persistent pain in her lower right side for the last eight to nine weeks.
Our family doctor scheduled her for a CT Scan and an ultrasound to check her gall bladder. The CT Scan didn’t reveal any problems, but the ultrasound found gallstones. Our doctor referred us to a surgeon, who met with us, and said to her, “I have just read your file, and am amazed at what you’ve been through. Why didn’t they take out that gall bladder while they had you open?” Of course, we couldn’t answer that, and he didn’t expect us to.
He asked the usual questions about what caused the episode, and Lea replied, “Well, they told us that it could be caused by a scorpion sting, alcohol, or high triglycerides, but, they didn’t really know.” The surgeon added, “And, gallstones.” Lea and I said, in unison, “Gallstones?!” He replied, “Yes, it’s very common.” We were both amazed at this new discovery. Lea then went on to tell him of the tests she had performed a couple of years before getting ill, and that the doctor had only found sludge.
The surgeon stated, “That’s what caused your pancreatitis.” He asked her to get on the examination table so he could examine her surgical wound (ventral hernia) which is covered with only a skin graft. It is quite easy to see the stomach and intestines moving as they go through the digestive process, because the only thing between them and the world is that thin cover of skin. Lea and I both saw his expression of surprise when he first saw her abdomen.
After two or three minutes of examination, he told us that she is “very high risk” for any kind of surgery, and that he would not recommend any procedure if it can be avoided. He has scheduled her for a two-hour imaging test that will create a much more detailed picture of the bladder so next steps can be determined. The test is scheduled for the middle of the month, and we’ll go back to see the surgeon when the results come back.
Meanwhile, we are anticipating that she will be put on a pretty bland diet, so we are doing our research to see what foods to avoid (the good tasting ones) and which she can have (the boring ones). We may ask the doctor to set us up with a nutritionist to help us get on the right path to reducing her pain.
We have been extremely blessed to have had this ten-year chapter of our lives. We have had a great deal of selfless loving from our immediate family, found great friends at our church, and have been blessed with the birth of three grandsons. These have been a tremendous boost for her rehabilitation and general moral. And, now we have a great-granddaughter on the way!
Lea doesn’t complain much about her condition, and bears her burden quite well. She had a pretty sleepless night after learning that surgery is not possible, and that she is likely to have to live with the pain from now on. But, she arose the next morning with a new resolve, and started taking steps to help herself get pain free.
Like the surgeon told her after the examination, “They (the doctors at Hartford) saved your life! Look at you now! You’re up, and getting around! Compared to this, (gall bladder pain) that’s pretty huge!”
Thank you Lord. Bless our care givers. Amen!