July 2016. Eleven years since we were in Hartford Hospital with acute necrotizing pancreatitis! We have truly been blessed beyond any expectations we might have had entering this chapter of our lives. Even though Lea’s medical expenses left us financially devastated, the Lord’s provisions for us has been constant and steady. Along the way we have found a much better relationship with Him, with each other, and with our service in a local church body. We have also had our challenges, of course, and try to use them to continually give our testimony about His truth and grace.
Early Recovery Days
When we were released from Hartford Hospital in January of 2006, we had to fly home on a commercial airline because her lifetime insurance benefits had been exhausted, and there was no hospital back home in Indianapolis that would accept her as a patient. She was still draining clear body fluids from a small hole in her abdomen that required a change of her dressing every few hours along with the application of a protective ointment to the affected area to protect her skin graft. She, of course, couldn’t walk, being only barely able to stand for short periods, so she was very weak, and got exhausted quickly.
We moved, temporarily, into an assisted living facility, since our home and all but one vehicle had to be sold to cover expenses while we were still in the hospital. Lea’s employment had been terminated, disability income had not yet started, savings were gone, with only her retirement account still in place. I was her full time caregiver, and had taken leave from my position as a career counselor to devote my time to her needs.
We later moved to a very nice house purchased by my brother for us to stay in as long as we needed it. Lea was very feeble, still using a wheelchair, later a walker, to get around. We had been told that her abdominal drainage holes might eventually heal and close up, causing pockets of fluid to accumulate internally. They would have to be drained as needed. Praise God, that didn’t happen! You can read more about our daily experiences in the hospital by following this link.
Lea misstepped, fell, and broke her right hip in November of 2006 while we were recouping during a visit to our older son’s family in Hawaii. It was five months before she regained enough strenth to be released by the surgeon to fly back home to Indiana. We both had gotten cabin fever, becase she couldn’t get out and do much of anything, as she was still in a wheelchair.
We were able to be involved in some church activities, and some social events, but we were very limited in mobility since, at that time, the Kailua-Kona area was largely not handicapped accessible. A few months later, back in Indiana, she was able to stand well enough to get around using a walker with a seat for periodic rest breaks, then, for a period of time, a cane.
But, by early spring of 2007 her right knee had begun deteriorating to the point that she was going to have to return to using the walker for fear of the knee collapsing entirely. We were referred to a surgeon that was willing to accept her special condition and replace her knee. We began preparations in late June, with pre-surgery consultation, an orientation session on what to expect, and lab tests to make sure she was healthy enough to undergo surgery. Her knee was then replaced in mid-July, just two years after her near fatal illness, and she took her first steps on the new knee the next day. She had a rough night or two during the next couple of weeks, some of which was caused by her need for a large brace to give her knee side support until it could recover lost strength.
Move to Texas
In November of 2007, eighteen months after our release from Hartford Hospital, and four months after her knee replacement, Lea was still not able to stand completely upright, tired very quickly, and was emotionally unstable. We moved from Indiana to Texas that month to be close to my younger son and his family, which had just expanded to include their first son. She couldn’t travel far before having to get out of the car to straighten up, stretch and rest.
It took us two full days of traveling in this manner to make the trip, arriving mid morning on the third day. We had rented a three bedroom ranch-style home with a single floor, easy access to the garage, lawn, and a back deck. It was perfect for her continuing recovery. She spent many happy hours there with our grandson, who nurtured her as much as she did him. He gave her purpose again, which was just what she needed.
We were blessed with the arrival of another grandson in 2010, and a third bundle of joy in 2012. The three brothers have been such an important source of joy, rejuvenation and purpose for her that she anxiously awaits the next time she gets to be with them. They give her that sense of importance that is so critical to seeing oneself as valued.
By 2012 she had continued to progress with improvement of her sense of balance and agility. She had many more good days than bad, and had been able to resume driving herself when she felt she wanted to get out of the house for a while. We also began cooking meals for our church’s fellowship dinners on Wednesday evenings. We both like to cook, and had a joke between us that we had to careful to do a good job of food preparation so we didn’t get “Chopped,” a reference to getting cut from TV cooking competition. When we plan our menu, our standing joke is that we have “four hours and $200 to cook a five-course meal for fifty people,” from another TV series we enjoyed watching.
When we first started cooking those church dinners, Lea wasn’t mentally able to handle the stress of the kitchen, so I had to take the lead. But, as the months went on, she began to regain her interest in meal planning and execution, and then improved to the point that she often took the lead right from the meal planning process through the shopping.
It was wonderful to see her recapture her abilities, and put her sparkling personality into the meal preparation. It was also during this time that she began assisting our church’s decorating committee by making beautiful handmade bows for Christmas decorations, flower arrangements for various rooms for each change of the season and “freshening” up the church with new centerpieces and decorative touches. The Lord showered us with blessings well beyond what one might hope for, and we rededicated ourselves to serving Him, and sharing the Good News that God Is Good, All The Time.
Celebrating Fifty Years
In 2014 we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary with a short ceremony and reception with many friends and family present at the church. Our sons organized the entire event, handling all the details, so that we were free to enjoy socializing and celebrating the love we shared all those years. The description of our love had matured over the years. As I stated in my testimony to the church, recorded live, before Lea’s illness, I had always thought of her in terms of her physical body . . . her physical attractiveness to me. It wasn’t until she was in that coma for so long, and I was tending to her every day, bathing her, washing her hair, reading to her, that I realized that although I did, indeed, love her body, it was her spirit that I had really bonded with all those years. I was merely tending the vessel her spirit lives in. As I looked at her lying helplessly there, kept alive with drugs and machines. “She” was gone. I prayed continuously for her return.
Later in 2014 Lea felt that her right hip was hurting her quite a bit, and returned to using a cane to relieve the pain. We consulted with a hip surgeon who ordered an MRI, and then reported that she needed to have her right hip replaced. Lea asked if she could just get an injection in the hip to reduce the pain and put off, or maybe completely avoid, having to replace the hip. He doubted it would work, but wrote her a script, and told her she could use it any time she wanted to. She put it off for over a year, and the injection worked for about two weeks, but the pain eventually just got to be too much, and she knew that the hip was going to have to be replaced.
In mid-December of 2014 Lea passed out while heading to bed for the night, falling backwards like a piece of timber, cracking her skull and creating a palm-size hematoma on the back of her head. X-rays revealed that she had cracked it at the base of the skull just above the spinal column. No treatment was required, as it would heal on its own. It took several weeks for the hematoma to dissipate, and she had some hair loss at the site, but, otherwise, didn’t suffer any pain.
She had four more incidents of that type over the next year, although she didn’t bump her head nearly so hard. The last fall was in Hawaii November 23, 2015 as she was getting out of the swimming pool. She bent over to put her sandals on, and when she stood up, she just kept going backwards. She again smacked the back of her head, causing a hematoma to well up, and again, some hair loss at the site.
We were later told by a physical therapist that she needed to pause for a moment after straightening up, because the blood pressure drops dramatically when you stand up from a sitting or bending position. She hasn’t experienced another fall of that type since then.
In the spring of 2015, almost ten years after the onset of the pancreatitis, and eight years after her hip and knee surgery, she had begun to experience persistent pain in her lower right side that might not be associated with the hip joint. She was uncomfortable riding in a car because every bump in the road caused pain in her right side.
She had already given up driving herself, because she felt she needed to hold onto the overhead grab handle to lessen the jolts of pain. 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.
In June we pursued getting the gall bladder pain resolved. After two or three minutes of examination, the first of three surgeons we consulted told us that she is “very high risk” for any kind of abdominal surgery, and that he would not recommend any procedure unless it is an emergency. After more imaging tests, gentle probing, prodding, feeling, the other two surgeons concurred. Surgery is not advisable.
So, she was given a prescription for a medication that isn’t hardly used today because removal of the gall bladder is so easy, normally. It is a condition that she will have to manage as best she can by taking her medication, and avoiding foods like bread and pasta that swell in the stomach and cause it to squeeze the gall bladder, creating the pain which spikes after a meal.
Her pain became so constant that she couldn’t stand to travel any but the shortest distances, which forced us to give up cooking for the church. After a few more weeks, she hurt so badly all the time, we had to give up traveling to church services.
With the gall bladder under better control, it was time to return attention to her hip, which was more uncomfortable now that the gall bladder pain was under better control. In Mid-March 2016 she had a full hip replacement, and was up and walking the next day with assistance. Her recovery from the surgery itself was uneventful, and she went into physical therapy after two weeks of in- home therapy.
She has had a difficult time regaining her balance, still leans a little to the right when she walks, and has periods of pain in the left hip, probably due to putting more weight on it to protect from pain in the right side. Her therapy has been extended a couple of times because she is having some periods of dizziness.
She is still walking with the use of a cane, doesn’t drive because of the discomfort caused by the gall bladder, and often experiences light dizziness. We have been able to attend services a couple of times at a church closer to where we live, and she has been able to sit through a service, although she sometimes has to sit down during the worship music portion. But, we continue working toward improvement and a better quality of life for her, appreciating the continued blessings granted to us during this late chapter in our lives.
We are firm believers in the love our Father has for us, and that He is always at our sides. We know that He will always rescue us from every evil attack, and that He works in all things for the good of those who love Him. We also know that much of our ministry obligation is to simply testify to how He worked so miraculously in giving healing to Lea in the face of disaster after disaster.
Father, bless your name! Glory to You, Father, for the many workings of faith that You delivered through Lea’s illnesses! We ask You to bless those who are reading this message. Minister to their spirit at this very moment to reveal Your love and power as You blessed us in Lea’s recovery. Amen.