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Lea has developed gallstones that cause her to be uncomfortable with abdominal pain ranging from minor to miserable practically all the time. Gallstones are clumps of hard matter that develop in the gallbladder or bile duct when certain substances harden. The gallbladder is a small sac located on the right-hand side of the body, on the underside of the liver. It is often today removed through a simple laparoscopic surgery (cholecystectomy) which removes the gallbladder through small incisions in the abdomen.

Graphic of gallbladder with stones

That surgery is not possible for Lea, because of the previous procedures performed during her acute necrotizing pancreatitis attack and recovery in Hartford in 2005-2006. The surgeons had initially given her only a fifteen percent chance of survival, and had enough complications to deal with in rescuing her major organs, they didn’t remove her gallbladder.

She has an eleven inch arched opening in the abdomen resulting from that initial surgery. In her case, the surgeons made an incision almost  from hip to hip just below the ribs, and were not able to close it due to severe swelling. They had to let the wound heal from the inside out.

They removed skin from her thigh and stretched it over the bowels, stapling the graft to the upper and lower edges of the incision. She has had to wear an elastic wrap over her abdomen to keep her bowels from spilling out for the past thirteen  years, removing it only to bathe. So, she has the constant pressure of the elastic wrap on her abdomen, and then when she has a meal, bread or pastry tends to swell as it absorbs liquids, squeezing the gallbladder. That can force a stone into the bile duct, which could trigger another pancreatitis attack the doctors have said she probably wouldn’t survive.

Consultations

We had consulted with several surgeons in recent years to inquire about getting the gallbladder removed, and they had each told us that they wouldn’t consider doing any surgical procedure except in emergency because it would be life threatening. The skin graft had grown attached to the bowels it covered, and trying to remove it to get to the gallbladder would likely tear holes in the bowels, exposing them to potential infection.Skin graft over the ventral hernia

In late 2018, our primary care physician,  Doctor Tony Aventa, referred us to a reconstructive surgeon with whom he had discussed her as a unique case. The doctors confirmed that she needs to undergo this procedure to avoid another pancreatitis attack.

We arranged a meeting in early 2019 to consult with the recommended surgeon, and found that he had already read through her case files, and also had discussed a possible procedure with a reconstructive plastic surgeon who specializes in difficult cases other surgeons shy away from for various reasons (mostly liability, I think). So, we later consulted with the plastic surgeon, and found that he, too, was willing, even excited, to do her gallbladder removal.

Because of her previous surgery, this would be five-or more hours of surgery to remove her skin graft, repair bowels that the graft is attached to, then lift the liver to access and remove the gall bladder. They said that they would reserve the surgical suite for the entire day in case there were unexpected complications. They would also require a highly qualified anesthesiologist due to the length of time she would be sedated, and highly skilled surgical nurses to assist with the many details of this precision surgery.

It is also possible that they may be able at that time to close up her ventral hernia, perhaps completely, by drilling into the lower rib bones, threading special cords through the holes, suturing to and pulling the muscle wall back up into, or near, their proper position. Following the surgery, there would be a two month, or more, recovery period, including extensive physical therapy to stretch and awaken the stomach muscles so she can stand erect again.

Alternatives

However, after much soul searching and prayer, she doesn’t feel that she is emotionally able to consider another major surgery, and doesn’t feel that she has the physical stamina to survive the follow-on physical therapy.  So, while we were dealing with all the angst of that decision-making process, we were notified of a significant increase in rent when our apartment lease expires in April. The renewal rate  is higher than we can afford for another year, so we began searching for alternatives.

We applied for financial/housing assistance through Travis County, but found that our social security income exceeds the county’s cutoff. They can only consider gross income, and can’t adjust for our extensive medical expenses. We also hired an apartment hunter to find us affordable housing in the Central Texas area so we could continue getting treatment by her current doctors, but, none became available for which we could qualify.

So, without the possibility of financial assistance, we have decided to move “back home” to Missouri when our lease expires. Lea still has a lot of family in our hometown area who can help me with caring for her, which will give me some time to pursue some personal interests. We have agreed to lease an affordable two bedroom, single bath,  apartment back home that is a little smaller than what we have presently. So, we’re downsizing again.

This is not a move that I, personally, am looking forward to making, considering that we have to find new doctors. But, it is what she wants, so that she can be with her family. She left home with me when we married fifty-five years ago, and we have always lived away from them. She has decided that she wants to go “back home,” and I feel that I owe her that after all she has been through. Even though we will be leaving our medical professionals, and relocating where medical services of the same quality are not as available, I feel that I am being led to make this move.

I think it likely the Lord has found another use for us there. He will have His hand in all that we do, and the decisions we make.  I have prayed much, and realize that this is probably our final chapter, and this is what my Lord wants me to do with it.  I get this feeling that He is making me “buck up,” face the future, and pass through this door He has opened. And, through that open door is all of our friends and family beckoning us to “come back home.” That is a heartwarming sight! Turn the page. New chapter.

I’m very happy to relate a glimpse of hope for reducing the amount of pain Lea has suffered through for the past several years. Our long time primary physician has tended to Lea’s medical needs, and has seen her discomfort continue to increase as the scar tissue surrounding her ventral hernia has thickened and made her breathing more difficult.

In the last three or four years the scar tissue has begun to calcify and become increasingly less flexible, making it hard for her to take a deep breath. The ventral hernia is covered only by a skin graft, requiring that she wear an elastic binder 24 x 7 to protect and support the area. Since it has to wrap all the way around her body, it holds in body heat and is hot and uncomfortable.

Complicating the abdominal pain she experiences from the hernia is the recent appearance of gall stones. We knew she had sludge in her gall bladder before we went to vacation in Maine. in 2005. In fact, our primary physician had run some tests on her abdomen due to frequent abdominal discomfort, and said, “Some day your gall bladder will get bad enough you’ll ask me to take it out. But, for now, it isn’t necessary.” A few months later she spent six months in Hartford CT hospital with acute necrotizing pancreatitis, and given a 15% chance of survival.

Over the past two years we have consulted a few Austin surgeons to see if there was any way to remove her gall bladder, but to no avail. The remarks we got were, “Only as a last resort,” and, “Only in an emergency.” Meanwhile, her pain and discomfort continued to increase. She was prescribed meds for the pain and for the chronically ill depression. She no longer has bouts of pain; it is constant debilitating pain, and she struggles to be active.

Our family doctor recently referred us to a surgeon of his acquaintance who specializes in difficult, sometimes leading edge, high risk, surgeries that most other surgeons won’t consider. We soon met with him, and he told us that he felt optimistic that Lea could get some relief from reconstructive surgery. As he examined her abdomen, he gently pinched and lifted the skin graft to confirm that there were spots where it was not latched to the bowels.

Completing his examination, he stated that he is proposing a 5+ hour reconstructive surgery that would include removing the skin graft to expose the bowels so they could expose the gall bladder so it can be removed. He estimated that would take about three hours, with skin graft removal taking up the first two hours. Then the reconstructive surgery to reattach the bottom edge of her ventral hernia to the lower ribs would take another two or more hours. It is that lower part that contains her erectile muscles, so the reattachment will require a couple months of physical therapy to get those back into use.

All of his proposal hinges on the agreement of a particular plastic surgeon he would want to assist with the surgery. He stated that this particular plastic surgeon does excellent work on reconstructions, and that he is likely to see this surgery as one he would be interested in undertaking. He cautioned that this would be a high risk, major surgery, with Lea under anesthesia the entire time, and that they would reserve the surgical suite for the entire day in case they need extra time to complete the procedure.

With our approval, he set up a consultation with this second surgeon later this month. And, with that, we got a glimpse of hope, a little lifting of the spirit, and a cautious feeling of some pending relief. We know this is all part of God’s plan for our lives, and we pray for strength, patience, and peace that His plan for us will enter the next chapter. Life with Him is a page turner!

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.

Broken Hip

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.

Knee Replacement

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.

Fainting Spells

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.

Gall Bladder

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.

Hip Replacement

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.

Integrity is keeping a commitment even after circumstances have changed. ~ David Jeremiah

This is the right time for me to give a little testimony that, hopefully, will have meaning for you. I recently loss my employment as a content writer due to downsizing, and immediately went into damage control mode. Double checking our debts, liquid and fixed assets, and how long we should be able to “make it” until the Lord opens the next employment door for us.

We had run into dry spells before, where we felt a financial crunch, and had to adjust our budget. I had always abstained from reducing our tithe, because I told myself, “That’s God’s money.” We have conciously been living beyond our means in order to provide Lea with the lifestyle that makes her comfortable. Occasionally we would draw down on our savings to make up for the shortfalls.

Now, with only one more paycheck coming in, I felt I had to take drastic action. One of the things I did to control our situation was to stop the drafts on my checking account for my tithe. We then headed out for a long-planned visit to our oldest son’s home. The night after our arrival, he had a mid-week church function, and asked if we would give a five minute testimony. The audience was made up of young married couples, many with children, who had just finished a series of studies entitled, “The Art of Marriage.”

I gave a very high level explanation of the trials Lea and I went though in Hartford, and one of the revelations God gave me during that test; that there is a difference between the body and the spirit. I had always thought I was in love with Lea as a beautiful woman, and thought of that woman as a beautiful body. But, when she was in a coma for several weeks, I discovered that while her body was there in that hospital bed, and tended to it everyday, Lea wasn’t there. She was gone, and wasn’t back in that body until weeks later. It took the Lord beating me over the head, but I finally got it; It is her spirit that I am in love with, and her body is how I can love on her spirit.

That weekend, while attending services at their church, the pastor spoke on “control,” and how we try to take control instead of trusting in God to care for us. I felt a little twinge of guilt, because I had just stopped my tithes. He then stung me again, because he talked about our tithes being “first fruits,” and that we should give to the church first, so God can do his work, and that he will provide for us. Ouch! He stung me again! He said that we need to be able to trust in the Lord, step back, continue in our faithfulness, and let the Lord have control.

This reminded me of one of my favorite verses in times like this; 1 Samuel 12:24 – “Only fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you.” If you’ve read our journal pages here on the site, or listened to our testimony on our church’s website, you already know what great things he did for us in Hartford, and there have been many more blessings since then, as well. Praise God! Amen.

Our pastor, Dr. Ken Baldwin, says, “One of the ways for us to measure commitment is by what it takes to make us quit. There are some things we should never quit. Our commitment to Jesus…to His Church…to His work…to our family and our marriage…to telling others about Him; and, many more. Integrity is being the right person and doing the right things. Never quitting on both of those is true commitment. We each have weaknesses, but God is our strength. Is today the day that we start again to be and do the right things? God has never quit on us. We should keep our commitment to Him.”

The Lord put all these things in front of me just after I stopped the automatic tithe deposits. I got the message! I reinstated the payments, just as it should be, and now wait patiently for the Lord to open the next door.

Lord, you gave your all for me; can I do any less for you, and call myself a committed Christian? Thank you for showing me the error of my ways. Forgive me my shortcomings of commitment and faith. Use me according to your will. In Jesus’ name. Amen!

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!

It’s hard to believe we are almost ten years after our stay at Hartford Hospital! It will be a decade on July 15, 2015! So much has happened, and we are so happy to be together! We praise the Lord, and give thanks every single day for the blessing of another day together. Every day is special!

Since we returned to Indiana after six months in the hospital, we moved into an assisted living facility, since our home had to be sold while we were still in the hospital. We then moved to a house purchased by my brother for us to stay in as long as necessary. Lea was very feeble, still using a wheelchair, later a walker, to get around. We were told that her abdominal drainage holes might eventually heal and close up, causing pockets of fluid to accumulate internally, and they would have to be drained as needed. Praise God, that didn’t happen!

In 2007, eighteen months after our release from Hartford Hospital, our youngest son and his dear wife arranged to have us relocated to Austin, Texas, to help with the raising of their newborn son. It was a big step for us. Lea was still not able to stand completely upright, was very weak, and emotionally unstable. She couldn’t travel far before having to get out of the car to rest and stretch. It took us two days of travel to make the trip, arriving mid morning on the third day.

When we drove up in front of the house rented for us by our son, the next door neighbors were doing some yard work and greeted us warmly. In the ensuing discussion they invited us to their church, and we gladly accepted. We have now been members of that church for seven years. Lea was still so weak at that time that she couldn’t sit in a pew for more than an hour, and needed help to stand up and sit down. Eventually she was able to sit longer so we could go to adult bible study followed by church, but, recently has begun to slip back into only being able to do church.

We have been cooking for fellowship dinners once or twice a month, and that had been a great boost for her, helping her use her logic skills. But again, she is starting to find it to be more of a challenge lately, so we don’t know how long we’ll be able to continue that ministry. We will continue as long as she finds it more rewarding than challenging.

What has been the biggest boost for her, mentally and physically, is the grandson, and his brothers. We now have three grandsons here in Austin, and we get to sit with them frequently. Those boys have been a God-send! They have brightened her outlook, given her motivation to improve her condition and her physical strength so she could care for them. It has also helped her emotionally as she strives to interact with them at their own level . . . ages six, four, and two. Actually, now that our oldest is starting to read, I’d better state that correctly . . . ages seven (barely), four-and-a-half, and two-and-a-half.

Lea struggles with her blood sugar suddenly during the night, some mornings dropping as low as 30! When that happens, she gets very confused, dizzy, and hot. So far we have been able to get her stabilized, but it is very unsettling, as you might imagine. We have truly been blessed to be here with family, and praise God every day for our shower of blessings, knowing that it is all temporary, and the end of this life draws near. We love what he has worked in our lives, and we work to share the joy of his love, and the wonderful shower of blessings for our family. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Amen!

Our children are uniquely created gifts of God, and are living memorials to our influence in their lives.  Parenting is never finished. We have to teach our children, and grandchildren, about Jesus Christ, and then live our lives showing them how to live as believers. The journey of life is filled with tribulation, problems, roadblocks and temptations that challenge our resolve to reach our final destination.

The problems teach us to be a better traveler, and encourage us to share what we learn about making the journey easier with others who are walking the same path.God places some people in our lives to plow and plant, while others water and fertilize. God will grow your faith, give you challenges to help you mature, and will also test your faith. The mark of a true Christian is not that have have been merely saved, but rather, that you share the story of your salvation with others.  For new readers, you can hear my testimony here. You can also read the daily dispatches during Lea’s 6-month hospital stay. This link takes you to the condensed timeline, but you can read the entire dispatch by clicking on the date link to the left of the comments.

Lea and I have had an incredible life journey together, and will celebrate 50 years of marriage next year. I particularly thank God for the last few years, because he gave her back to me after showing what it would be like to live without her. We have been so richly blessed! His provision for us has been remarkable. Both our sons made multiple trips to be with her during her hospitalization, and have assisted us financially well beyond our expectations. He has provided us a loving church family to serve in, and given us both the health we need to be active servants. Even more remarkably, He has given us wonderful grandchildren to love on and share our love of Christ.

The life worth living is rooted in sound teaching. We, as parents and grandparents, are responsible to teach our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren about God’s love, His benevolence, and how he works in our lives to shape us into the servants we need to be. We strive to be knowledgeable about His rules and His laws, so we can be the kind of teachers our grandchildren deserve.

God is good, all the time. He has been particularly good to Lea and me in providing for us in our “recliner” years. Lea’s recovery has continued to progress quite well, with improvement of her sense of balance and agility. She has many more good days than bad, and has been able to resume driving herself when she feels she wants to get out of the house for a while.

She and I are blessed to be able to cook meals for our church fellowship when we gather for mid-week bible study. We both like to cook, so we enjoy watching the competitions on Food Network and Cooking Channel, and have a joke between us that we have to careful to do a good job of food preparation so we don’t get “Chopped,” a reference to getting cut from 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 competion we enjoy watching.

Cooking for the church has been a great undertaking for us on several levels. When we first started, 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 today has improved to the point that she often takes the lead right from the meal planning process. It has been wonderful for me to see her slowly recapture her abilities, and put her sparkling personality into the meals we prepare.

This improvement was also accompanied by a rekindling of her creative abilities. She has always been stellar at creating flower arrangements. For the ten years we operated a bed and breakfast in our large Victorian home, she was always creating gorgeous flower arrangements for all the rooms in the house, including huge centerpieces for the parlours. She began assisting our church’s decorating committee several months ago, making beautiful handmade bows for Christmas decorations, and flower arrangements for various rooms, including the worship center. Today, she looks forward to each change of the season and “freshening” up the church with new centerpieces and decorative touches.

It has been a source of great joy to see her with our grandsons, ages 2 and 4, as she has cared for them. I believe that they have been the primary reason her thought processes have improved so much. She loves those boys dearly, and longs for their next visit with great anticipation. She just sparkles when they’re together, giving her every ounce of energy to caring for them, and revealing her soul to them with every interaction.

The Lord has showered us with blessings well beyond what one might hope for, and we daily rededicate ourselves to serving Him, and sharing the Good News that God Is Good, All The Time.

 

As Christians, we often wonder what the purpose of suffering is in our daily walk. It’s all around us. We struggle as best we can through our own difficulties, hold firmly our faith in the knowledge that this, too, is a part of God’s plan for our lives. We also make it a part of our lives to show compassion, and lend a hand, to those less fortunate than ourselves. Still, it is just beyond our power to understand many situations we encounter. 

I recently had included in my prayers a two-and-a-half year old boy who had been diagnosed with cancer.  He has undergone many struggles for survival, and was just recently sent home from the hospital with no hope of recovery. The doctors told his mother that he will most likey pass before Thanksgiving, a mere three weeks away.  How horrible for her! I can only imagine the pain and agony she is going through! And, although she has received great support from friends, family, her church, and others who supported from afar, nothing could be more heart rendering than the loss of a child. 

It can be pretty tough to understand why certain sweet souls have to undergo such battles, but a close friend of this mother sent a wonderfully uplifting message to her upon learning of the child’s prognosis. The heart-broken mother was so touched by the message she wanted to share with all who had uplifted her son in prayer or helped out with medical costs. It also gave me a new, brighter, perspective on suffering. I don’t know who the author of the email is,  but this message is so powerfully moving, it can help many of us as we face our own trials. I feel the writer will forgive me for not giving due credit.

A Little Soul

“Not too long ago in Heaven, there was a little soul who took wonder in observing the world. He especially enjoyed the love he saw there, and often expressed this joy with God. One day however, the little soul was sad, for this day he saw suffering in the world. He approached God and sadly asked ‘Why do bad things happen, why is there suffering in the world?’
 
God paused for a moment and replied, ‘Little soul, do not be sad, for the suffering you see unlocks the love in people’s hearts.’ The little soul was confused. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked. God replied, ‘Have you not noticed the goodness and love that is the offspring of that suffering? Look at how people come together, drop their differences, and show their love and compassion for those who suffer. All their motivations disappear and they become motivated by love alone.’
 
The little soul began to understand and listened attentively as God continued. ‘The suffering soul unlocks the love in people’s hearts much like the sun and rain unlock the flower within the seed. I created everyone with endless love in their heart, but unfortunately most people keep it locked up and hardly share it with anyone. They are afraid to let their love shine freely, because they are afraid of being hurt. But a suffering soul unlocks that love. I tell you this – it is the greatest miracle of all. Many souls have bravely chosen to go into the world and suffer to unlock this love – to create this miracle – for the good of all humanity.’
 
Just then the little soul got a wonderful idea and could hardly contain himself. With his wings, fluttering, bouncing up and down, the little soul excitedly replied, ‘I am brave, let me go. I would like to go into this world and suffer so that I can unlock the goodness and love in people’s hearts! I want to create that miracle!’
 
God smiled and said, ‘You are a brave soul I know, and thus I will grant your request. But even though you are very brave, you will not be able to do this alone. I have known since the beginning of time that you would ask for this, so I have carefully selected many souls to care for you on your journey. These souls will help you create your miracle, however they will also share in your suffering. Two of these souls are most special and they will care for you, help you and suffer along with you, far beyond the others. They have already chosen a name for you. Caleb Andrew.’
 
God and the brave little soul shared a smile, and then embraced. In parting, God said, ‘Do not forget Caleb that I will be with you always. Although you have agreed to bear the pain, you will do so through my strength. And if the time should come when you feel you have suffered enough, just say the word, think the thought and, I will bring you home.’
 
Thus at that moment, the brave little soul was born into the world and through his suffering and God’s strength, he unlocked the goodness and love in people’s hearts. For so many people dropped their differences and came together to show their love. Priorities became properly aligned. People gave from their hearts. Those who were always too busy, found time. Many began new spiritual journeys – some regained lost faith – many came back to God. Parents hugged their children tighter. Friends and family grew closer. Old friends got together and new friendships were made. Distant families reunited and every family spent more time together. Everyone prayed. Peace and love reigned. Lives were changed forever. It was good. The world was a better place. The miracle happened!

Father God, please be with this little boy in his few remaining days, letting him know that he is being brought home to eternal happiness. Keep your hand, Lord, in the lives of those who love him, or have been touched by his trials here on Earth, and provide them with peace, understanding, and Your grace to comfort them through all their days. In the name of our almightly savior, Jesus Christ, we ask these things. Amen.

     So I figured after a 4 week hiatus I should probably get off my rear and get back to writing on occasion.  In all actuality we have been pretty busy the past month which for me at least made the last half of June and the first half of this month pass by fairly quickly.  In addition to flying the OIC duties have been keeping me busy with evaluations and recommendation for awards and such. 

     We swapped out two flyers at the beginning of the month and they were replaced by two new flyers from the AE squadron here in Ramstein.  After a month of fairly easy sailing I finally have a problem child who to be blunt is a huge pain in my ass.  I wouldn’t mind so much but he is a Captain as well and after the Chief Nurse refused to reassign him due to him leaving in two weeks we had a “little” closed door discussion. So far so good but time will tell.

     Our flight schedule has been quite hectic which also helped pass the time. In the last month and half we have flown 13 missions which is just over two missions a week.  It may not sound too bad however when you consider those are two 24 hours days per week and then you add in the time that we spend in “stand-by” alert, the time starts to add up. 

     We were blessed with a 3 day break this past weekend in Jackson Mississippi.  For once I was actually glad Amanda and Cam didn’t attempt to make the trip down to D.C. as we were only there for 3 hours and then flew onto San Antonio and then to Jackson.  We had the opportunity with fly with a film crew from CNN and I was interviewed by Barbra Starr, the Pentagon Correspondent.  The crew was documenting the increased number of casualties coming out of the Afghanistan Theater of Operations after the recent troop surge. They actually got a good taste of what we do on a daily basis. 

     Barbara and the camera crew flew from Ramstein to Bagram on Thursday afternoon, returned to Ramstein Friday morning and then jumped on our mission Friday afternoon back to the States.  We had a fairly large patient load leaving Germany and she was very impressed by how busy we were during the 9 hour flight.  Unfortunately I was the Medical Crew Director on the flight and even though I thought I had escaped the inevitable interview with about an hour left in our mission and Boston out the right side window I was asked to say a few words. 

     I was surprised by how laid back she was and the 5 minutes seemed to pass very quickly.  Hopefully this won’t be a repeat of the “courage under fire” crap that idiot from Fox 61 pulled when he flew with us a few years ago.  Regardless the interview should be a 3 part documentary and should start airing the last week of July or the first week of August. 

     The World Cup also provided numerous opportunities to pass some of the time.  For all but one of the Germany matches we met our friend Axel in the small town of Bissersshiem and watch the game with the local volunteer fire department.  With plenty of beer on tap, a fire truck and Jaggermeister (which is awful by the way) there was always a good time to had by all.  It was disappointing when the German national team lost in the semi-finals as I think it would have been pretty cool to be present in a country that won a World Cup. 

     During the 3rd place match we were all given polo shirts from the fire department as a token of friendship and we passed along some of our unit patches which they promptly put on display in the “social” area of the department (aka bar).  Kevin was graciously given a signed fire helmet from the department that they asked be placed in the firehouse he works at and I was given a signed, Germany World Cup Burger King crown to add to my in-flight kit.  I am sure anyone who has ever flown with me can’t wait to see the new addition. 

     Next Thursday night the fire department wants to celebrate Kevin and I going home so they invited us to what they call an after-work party.  Only in Germany would they celebrate getting out of work by throwing a party, and on a Thursday night even.  Anything for a gathering I guess but if it is fun perhaps I will bring the tradition back to the States.  I do think Kevin is in for a big surprise however.  During a previous visit he half-heartedly invited the guys the firehouse over to visit Boston whenever they wanted.  According to Axel that will be early next spring and 6 of them are already making plans and may have already reserved the time off.  I may have to take a road trip to Boston just to watch this event.

     Well that is all for this next to last installment.  Today after we get back to Ramstein I hope to go to the travel office and reserve my ticket home.  Looks like August 6th will be the big day.  My replacement gets in on July 31st however we have a scheduled mission right around that time and there is a very good chance I will have to fly even though he is present. 

     Replacement, now that sure is a great word.  Let’s say it again, replacement :-).  As normal, pray for world peace, the safety of our troops

ABOUT HARTFORD LETTERS

Experience the Miraculous Healing and Recovery of Lea Vaughn, and the incredible spiritual journey of her husband during 180 days in Hartford Hospital. Read his original daily emails in "Hartford Letters" above. ____________________________

In “Prayer,” above:

For Dave
Praise: Lea
For Bill and Jane
For Megan
For Charlotte
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Praise: Gary
Praise: fellowship
For Herb
Praise: Joe
For Lea
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