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Lea had a good night last night, waking up only once around two a.m. After her bath this morning she asked to have Maria brush out her hair and put it up for her. Meanwhile, I went to the cafeteria and got her some oatmeal and flavored yogurt for breakfast, served with large quantities of ice chips, since she can’t yet have thin liquids to drink.

She was able to go all night without any ventilator support or other respiratory assistance. Halleluiah! She tires out easily, and even a five-minute phone call is enough to exhaust her to the point that she needs a nap to recover her strength. She is still receiving nutrition through a tube feed and is eating only for recreational value. They call it “pleasure eating,” and isn’t really a part of the nutritional program; it is just to satisfy her desire for eating and swallowing food.

She has been off the ventilator for nearly three days now without any problems, and seems to be handling the change quite well. The next big change will be to downsize the tracheostomy. We don’t know at this stage whether she will be changed to a smaller version of the unit she now has in place, or whether she will be given the more “permanent” metal version, which can not be hooked up to the ventilator. The metal version is step one of downsizes to close up the trachea.

We are getting closer to a move to the Step Down unit. The mid-level, Brian, came in today and said the staff is trying to reserve the largest step down room, which has a little more privacy, and that it may be available tomorrow or
Tuesday. The nurse, Sue, suggested that I start packing up some of Lea’s things we will want to move to her new room. Little does she realize that we have taken lots of stuff out already; it’s just that we have so much in there it’s hard to tell! 

At 5:30 Sue came into the room and told Lea that she had just had an idea; Lea could do her own voice mail tonight! Sue dialed in, did a short intro, and then held the phone to Lea’s ear and mouth so she could leave a message. It was quite a good message, and she sounded good, though weak. You’ll have to dial in and hear her voice! We may not have voice mail once she is moved to the Step Down Unit.

Lance played games with her all day, in between naps when she had enough energy. They played Skip Bo a couple of times, and an electronic game he bought her called Hangman. We used to play it on paper, so it’s only fitting that you have to buy an electronic version nowadays. But, mostly they talked, and they have had a great time sharing memories and talking about hopes for the future. They ended the night by watching a movie together.

As we near the 100- Day mark of hospitalization, we are beginning to dare to say that we have the end of our stay here in Hartford in sight. Dr Mah is talking to our personal physician back home about various medical facilities that have the ability to provide the kind of care Lea will need upon our return. She will not be going home, but rather, transferring from one hospital to another. But, we will be closer to our friends and family, and hopefully, will be able to draw on them for assistance and support.

We have had photos of Lea hung in her room so the medical staff could get an idea of the spirit that her sleeping body held. Now that she’s awake, it’s her turn to get an idea of the wonderfully powerful pray-ers she has had supporting her. Do you have a digital photo of yourself, or your family or other support group? If you’ve had Lea in your thoughts and/or prayers during her ordeal, and haven’t already sent us a photo, please email her one so she can begin to actually see all the faces of those who have joined together to support her through prayers and good wishes. She has enjoyed those we’ve already received.

Thank you for your unending support. If you need for us to pray for you or a loved one, please let us know.

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She didn’t rest well last night, but was still able to stay off the ventilator all day today. Her night nurse, Moira, told me that she had slept about two hours on the sleeping pill, two hours on a pain medication given at two, and was still sleeping on a small dose of Dilaudid given at four when I arrived at six. She opened her eyes, saw me standing beside her bed, and gave me a smile, but didn’t move otherwise. I leaned down and pressed my cheek to hers, and held her gently for a few moments, and she fell right back to sleep.

At about eight o’clock she finally began stirring, and awoke at 8:30. Sue, her nurse, and Maria, the Patient Care Assistant, gave her a bath, washed her hair, and changed her gown, while I went out to the waiting area and visited with Lance. Later in the morning she got into the cardiac recliner, and she and Lance played some of the games he bought for her.

Throughout the day she felt restless, and couldn’t get comfortable no matter what she tried, but most of it, I think, is just being weary of being in bed and that her mind is fully alert and ready to go. She is impatient for her body to heal so she can resume doing the things she wants to do, like writing, typing, playing cards, working on puzzles, sketching and painting.

She doesn’t see the amazing progress she has made, but rather, focuses on what she can’t yet do, or can’t yet do at the level she expects of herself. She still has remnants of the withdrawal tremors in her right hand, and although they are getting much better, she still can’t steady her hand enough to write or draw. All the other tremors have already cleared up and are long gone.

She is experiencing progress on muscle control in both her legs and arms, and is able to move her legs to make herself more comfortable. She still can’t stand because of the drop foot, but the tilt table will help with that, and once she gets into physical therapy we’ll be able to better advance stretching of the tendons in the back of the ankle. That tendon is very strong and provides the support to help you stand and lean forward. Her tendons are not stretched enough right now to get her foot flat, so she can’t stand, let alone lean forward.

But, all in all, she is making good advancement on all fronts. The ventilator was moved out of her room tonight, because it is no longer required. She has spent the last 48 hours off the vent, so she should be able to strengthen her lungs and recover near normal use. The tracheostomy will remain in place for some time, just in case she has a relapse and needs ventilator support for short periods. We expect that she will get a smaller tracheostomy in the next week or so, which will allow her to breathe more easily, and should make it much more comfortable for her.

I find it pretty ironic to say that Lea and I have been blessed by this illness, but when you realize what has been accomplished in the lives of others through your interest in her progress and recovery, and the sharing of her trials with others, it seems obvious the impact this sharing has had on others. Here’s a note I received a while back that seems very appropriate to share today:

“Larry, first of all, God Bless you or should I say God has blessed you. I cannot tell you what your emails have meant to . . . us. We understand what it is like to have death rattling the door trying to get in. You are holding on, praying for the miracle. I received mine in January with the remission. It was after 4 years though, God runs on his clock not mine! I am sure it was his lesson of patience which I sorely lacked!

I have emailed your letters of love to many of friends and prayers groups. They have called your writings that because the Love for Lea and God are tangible in these letters. I will get email asking about them. It is a miracle of spectacular proportions in many ways.

Your letters have enlightened others into a place that most do not get to go. When you face the possibility of your physical self departing this “life” you have no more things to hide. You can share easily the feeling that brought you together, keep you together. The beauty and purity of your love for each other cannot get lost in the everyday “priorities” of soccer, basketball, work, bills, whatever you put in front of yourselves, the way life gets in the way.

What a gift you have given people. I know Lea would be busting with pride for the lessons you have passed on.

I had a similar situation with my Mom. She had open heart, had a pulmonary embolism plus other complications, was in a chemically induced coma for 48 days (respirator included). I still remember her body reacted when they suctioned out the lungs. Like I tell her today, you may not remember but I will never forget. It took her over a year to even resemble what she was before the illness. When she started to wake up she wanted to know what happened but she could not speak. She would try to write it out on my chest but she would only do circles. It was very desperate for me because I wanted to give her the answers but the counselors had told me not to tell her too much up front. She would not remember what you said, and they get upset when you tell them.

I have listed the places I have sent the emails. Everyone said it was OK to pass on so here goes:

Noblesville, IN, Jacksonville, Fl, Champagne, IL, Miami, FL, Bogota, Columbia, Provincia de Goizueta, Spain, Barcelona, Spain, Madrid, Spain, Washington D.C., Manassas, VA, Pompano Beach, FL, Rio Negro, Columbia, Chicago, IL, Cleveland, OH, Orlando, Fl.

I give you my prayers. My friends and family pass them on as well. We will continue to ask for her recovery and your strength. I do not write with the eloquence that you do. So I hope you feel the love that surrounds you and your family! We remain linked by prayer.”

Thank you for your testimony! I have received many blessings like the one listed above, and am coming out of this illness a much stronger witness for our loving God, who has worked miracle after miracle in giving Lea miraculous healing. I have witnessed a great working of faith, and have felt God working through me. I suspect that’s a joy not everyone gets to feel, and I praise God for preparing me to deliver my testimony in a way that serves His will, and delivers glory to Him.

FLASH! Lea completed 24 hours off the ventilator at 6:30 this morning!! She was then given five hours on the ventilator to rest and let her lungs gather their strength. She was too tired for her bath, so later in the morning her nurse, Liz, and Danielle, gave her a thorough sprucing up, including a pretty braid in her hair, and a new coat of polish on her finger nails.

Liz B and Danielle were excited about Lea looking her best when Lance arrived later in the day, because this is his first visit since she has been getting better. They knew he would be delighted, and made me promise not to tell him too much about what to expect when he arrived. They wanted it to be a fun surprise. And, was it ever! Everyone, including Lea, was very pleased at his response.

Brian, the nurse supervisor assigned to Lea’s case today, came in this morning to tell Lea that she had passed a major milestone overnight, going 24-hours off the ventilator, and that he was going to contact Dr. Mah to see if he agrees that Lea is ready to go to the Step Down unit on Monday! It appears that we likely will make that move, if nothing goes awry, and that move also means the transition from critical illness to recovery will officially begin!

Brian also got approval for Lea to go back on food-by-mouth, since her pancreatic numbers went back down to normal after the feed tube feed was returned to the proper position yesterday just prior to her skin graft.

Evidently the tube had inched its way out of the proper spot in the lower intestine and into a position that allowed the liquid foods and medications to back up into the stomach, which interferes with the desired absorption of nutrients. Now that it is returned, she can once again have soft foods. They are more to fulfill her desire for food than they are for nutritional value, but the desire to eat is another step in the right direction.

A while after his arrival, Lance went to a local retail store and purchased a number of thinking and/or dexterity games and activities for his mom, to help her get some exercises in those areas. She seemed to be pleased, and actually surprised all of us with a couple of her antics. Nurses Karen and Renee were in the room when Lea tossed objects into the air with both hands, demonstrating dexterity we didn’t think she had. I think she may have surprised herself, too!

She had another busy day; she got on the tilt table today and actually did quite well, considering the procedure she had just gone through the day before, and didn’t seem too much wearied by the activity. Lance arrived at her room a little before three, and we had a nice visit. Several nurses who had worked with her when she was so sick stopped by to visit her, Lynn S, Helen, Nick, Donna, Karen, Renee, and after their shifts were over, Adam and Angela stopped in briefly.

It is going to be bittersweet moving from the ICU to Step Down, because it will seem a lot like leaving family behind. The caregivers have been outstandingly gracious and considerate, and Lea is loving meeting them for the first time she can remember.   She thinks the folks here are just really, really friendly! And, indeed, they are.

Thank you, so much! Your messages have been blessings for us, providing insight and support for the strength needed to persevere through this trial. As you know, it is all too easy to get weary and become lax. It is through the loving messages such as yours that God has ministered to me as I devote my energies to help Lea fight the terrible battles she has confronted.

Her general stamina seems to be improving at a rapid rate, and the medical team seemed very pleased with her improvement. There have been a number of comments about how good she looks, how well she is doing, that she is getting better every day, and, of course, everyone wants to hear her talk. It has all been quite exciting for her, and she looks to me for guidance as new things come her way, such as all these new people who seem to already know her. She said, late this evening as I was preparing to return to my room, “I feel pretty darned good tonight!” And, that, my friends, is a true blessing.

Thank you, so much! Your prayers have been instrumental in helping us achieve this miraculous healing by a gracious and loving God. Your messages have been blessings for us, providing insight and support for the strength needed to persevere through this trial. As you know, it is all too easy to get weary and become lax, or to fall into despair. It is through the loving messages such as yours that God has ministered to me as I devote my energies to help Lea fight the terrible battles she has confronted. Glory to God for this victory!

It was another very good day for Lea today. We started our day, as usual, with a bath, but didn’t wash hair today. She only wanted it brushed and put up on top. I had planned to spend the morning with her catching up on some of our email and other reading, so I was well prepared, with everything sorted and in order of receipt.

I started removing all but the latest email and greeting albums, and many of the personal effects from the ICU this week, in hopes that we will get to move to a step down unit, and then a regular hospital room very soon. I am now bringing new messages over from my room in the morning, and taking them back to place in the appropriate 3-ring binders. The hospital, of course, is still bringing greeting cards and eGreetings sent through the hospital’s website to her room.

I visited the ICU Step Down unit a couple of days ago, and discovered that the rooms are much smaller than these in the ICU, and probably only hold one visitor at a time at most. I’m not sure there was even a single chair in the smallest room in the unit. Each room has one bed, and the rooms are side by side facing a nursing station, staffed by a nurse and a technician who can view all three rooms at the same time.

So, rather than having half a nurse, where one nurse handles two patients, like we do now, the step down unit has one nurse for three patients. The unit is located in the hospital wing immediately adjacent to the ICU at this end of the regular hospital rooms. There were many familiar faces in the rooms that we had seen in the ICU at some time during our stay here. After Step Down, patients move to one of the regular hospital rooms in that wing for additional treatment.

We took a step closer to making that transition today. Lea had her skin graft completed this afternoon, and then rested (slept) for a couple of hours after the procedure, without assistance from the ventilator. She is now at the point that she will be allowed to stay off the ventilator as long as she wants, up to 24 hours. She can go back on the ventilator whenever she needs to, if she thinks she needs it to rest, but her trials are done, and she can stay off the vent if she can get comfortable without the support.

It may take a few days of trying to go without support all day for her to build confidence that she doesn’t need the machine to help her. She has some short-term damage to the lungs because she has required high pressure support for so long, and may have some long term damage, but we won’t know about that for five or six months after her hospitalization has ended, and she has had a chance to heal completely. She will need a diagnostic evaluation around springtime or early summer. During the next several months she will be especially susceptible to colds, flu and other infections, so we’ll have to be careful about that.

She is quite tired this evening, and will be trying to go to sleep early, I suspect. I will be staying with her tonight until she drops into slumber, as David is preparing to travel back to the Midwest in the morning. Our son, Lance, will be arriving tomorrow for a weekend visit, and she is really looking forward to his arrival. When he departs Hartford next Monday, two of her longtime friends from work will be arriving for a three- Day visit. So, she’ll be busy, and will be loving every minute of it.

I am so very grateful for the blessing of being with her! Her presence here in this world today is only by the grace of God, and was made possible by the power of your prayers, and the prayer support of others to lift her up to Him. Thank you for your efforts to make today possible.

Lea was awake and smiling when I arrived at six this morning. She looked so pretty with that big smile going! She had a good night’s sleep, and was ready for her morning bath. As we were finishing up, Dr. Kureshi, one of Dr. Mah’s associates stopped in to check on her, and told us that the skin graft is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, although a time hasn’t yet been fixed.

We are making slight adjustments in feeding by mouth, feeding by tube, and other procedures such as when to medicate, with what to medicate, and how to regulate her sleep/wake schedule. We continue to enjoy chatting with her, although it is mostly all about her comfort right now and what she “needs.” We also reminisce about the granddaughters, rides in the convertible, family trips, funny events at work, and other things that help her exercise her memory.

She hasn’t been in the mood to watch any of the home movies lately, nor any of the oldies movies I purchased for her. She has watched a few minutes of television news in the last two or three days, but it puts her to sleep, just as it does me.  She naps frequently, often dropping off into a deep slumber for up to half an hour at a time. I think she is finally beginning to get some quality sleep, albeit in small bites.

The trips outside have definitely helped her attitude and her general awareness, although she probably won’t remember much at all about the things we are doing today. She asked me this morning, however, to print out a couple photos of yesterday’s field trip to let everyone see them, because “they enjoy them so much,” referring to how excited the nurses seem when they learn that she is getting to go outside now. She doesn’t realize their excitement comes from her overall improvement, rather than where she gets to go on her tours.

Physical Therapy put her on a tilt table today, to work on stretching her Achilles tendons, so she will be able to stand when she begins physical rehabilitation. Her feet have lain unsupported in the bed for so long we have to work on getting those tendons back into shape so he can begin walking rehabilitation as soon as she is off the ventilator. The boots we have been using have helped, but standing on her own two feet on the title table will help stretch those to the point she will be able to lean forward.

She was also taken downstairs today to have her feeding tube repositioned in her small intestine, as it had begun working its way out, or “up” into the stomach. The liquid “food” input into the tube was going into the stomach, and may be interfering with the rehabilitation of her digestive system. The repositioning will help with that issue, and we should see positive results within a couple of days.

The highlight of the day was the bi-weekly family conference call, in which Dr. Mah briefs the immediate family by telephone of the progress we’ve made, challenges that lie ahead, and the possible courses of treatment to resolve each issue as we reach that point in Lea’s healing process. He talked today of the skin graft procedure which will be done tomorrow afternoon, of the eventual removal of the drain from her abdomen, and other items that may be addressed in the next few weeks to make sure she is medically sound.

The hospital’s caseworker talked about conversations that are ongoing between Hartford Hospital and our insurer to find a facility with suitable capabilities to take Lea as a patient, and Dr. Mah is talking to our personal physician about her treatment, and what her medical needs will be upon transfer back to Indiana, as well as what needs to be done if certain ailments appear, etc.

It was about at this point that the conference room door swung open and nurses Liz B and Barbara wheeled Lea into the room in a wheelchair, with her life support equipment hanging out all over! Dr Mah, who was speaking at the time, said, “And, here she is!” You could have heard a pin drop. As she was pushed up close to the table to be able to use the speakerphone, you could hear sniffles over the speaker. She said, “Hi, everybody. Well, I made it!” There were several minutes of excited conversation with the family, as those of us in the room watched her. There were no dry eyes in the room. There was such silent joy!

You could see such pride and compassion on the faces of those around the table: Gena, our social worker, Kelly, nursing supervisor, Dr Mah, behind Lea, on a couch, her nurses, Barbara and Liz Blair, and David and myself. It was a wonderfully extended moment of grateful celebration for all of us, and praise and thanks giving for the miracles that brought us to that moment. Every eye was on her as she talked to her sons, her brothers and sister. She arrived late to join us on the call, but I can assure you, as she came into the room and joined the call, she took center stage and captured our hearts once again!

But, the story behind the story is just as exciting. We had the conference call planned ahead of time, and I had contacted each of the participants the day before to remind them of the time, etc. I did not tell them that we had all conspired to have Lea secretly join the call. We knew we couldn’t get the cardiac recliner Lea has been using into the conference room, as the doors are too narrow. So, we planned to do the call from her ICU room.

Gena arranged to bring a speaker phone to the room, to swap out with the phone already installed. We planned to put Lea into a cardiac chair, and push her bed out into the hall, to be able to get chairs for all of us in the room. But, everything went wrong. Lea had to be transported downstairs for the tube-feed procedure, and was still in her bed as the time for the call approached.

Worse, the speakerphone wouldn’t work! As it turns out, the telephone line itself has to be programmed for the type telephone instrument to be used on it, and this line was not programmed for a speakerphone. So, someone from facilities was called to come up to the room as get the line fixed so we could do the call. Four o’clock quickly approached, and was just a few minutes away. The phone line couldn’t be changed over as easily as we had hoped.

About that time, a medical technician arrived to install a port in Lea’s arm so she could be fed through an IV, since her nutrition levels aren’t where they need to be. She arrived during the confusion and panic of the moment, and made it quite clear that she was nearing the end of her shift, and if we wanted the line installed today, we would have to work around her schedule. That didn’t make anyone of us very happy.

However, we were past four o’clock, and it was evident that we were not going to be able to do the conference call from Lea’s room. So, everyone but Lea headed for a family lounge at the east end of the hospital, from which we had done previous calls. We regretted that Lea wouldn’t be able to attend, but proceeded anyway, as it was already past 4:00. As parting comments to the nurses, who had been looking forward to her being on the call themselves, we told them that we would be on the call for about thirty minutes, and reminded them that the cardiac recliner would not go in through the doors.

That’s why we were so delighted when Liz and Barbara wheeled her in the room. They, along with Danielle, had worked frantically, to get her out of her bed and into a wheelchair (for the first time), and figured out how to attach all her equipment, got her on a portable oxygen tank, and headed out of the ICU. It was quite a feat for them, and quite a treat for all of us! We have been so very blessed to have such caring caregivers!

After the conference call there was general ear to ear smiles, “thank you”, and back patting, and throughout the ICU there was a happy, uplifting, cheerfulness that helped “make the day” for a lot of folks who have taken care of us over these last three months. It was a victory of sorts; the payoff for many months of staying the course in faith that the end result would be worth the means. And, indeed, it was.

Lea felt so good after the call, we accepted Liz’s offer to take a short trip outside. We wrapped Lea in blankets and took the elevator to the front lobby, and rolled easily out the front doors in the wheelchair. It was a beautiful day! It was warmer than yesterday, not quite as breezy, but not as sunny either.

We went back to Meditation Garden, and sat in the gazebo for a few minutes before heading back inside. Lea and I chatted while Liz and David busied themselves with things that gave us a few moments alone together. It was a great experience, and just capped off the day with a wonderful few moments out in the real world.

Lea enjoyed it, and went back inside ready to get into bed. She was tired, and getting hungry. She was looking forward to a restful evening after a very busy day, and then a good night’s sleep. David will stay with her until she falls to sleep, and I will be there at six in the morning, to start her new day.

Boy! To say this was a very special day is a gross understatement! It was terrific! It was a blessing of the simplest kind; the type we take for granted. And, yet, it was such a victory to know that our prayers have been answered, and she has once again been able to reach out and do something we could all do every day, but don’t take the time for . . . to just say, “I love you. God bless you.”

Lets pray that His blessings will continue to flow through her as she recovers and witnesses for Him in the years ahead.

Today was a stellar day! Lea was still sleeping soundly when I arrived at six o’clock, and her night nurse, Flo, kept everyone out of the room so she could finish out her sleep. I crept into her room and turned on some soft music in the background because I knew rounds were coming up, and the conversation outside her door would wake her if I didn’t do something to cover the noise.

At about 7:15 she woke up, well rested, and saw me standing out at the nurse’s station and gave me that beautiful smile of hers. We started her bath, and put her hair up, because we wanted to get ready for another field trip, in case we got to take one. I had her pick out the skrunchy for her hair, and I put it up on top of her head so the wind wouldn’t blow it in her eyes. It was fun having the wind blow it the first time, but once is probably enough. (Sorry, guys. A skrunchy is that colored elastic thing that goes around the base of a pony tail to hold it in place). The things you learn in nurse’s training!

It was raining in Hartford when I went to see her this morning, but by midday the sun had come out, and it turned out to be a very nice fall day. So, she got to get bundled up in her chariot and was taken outside for a longer stay, since she handled the first trip so well. Respiratory Therapist, Cliff, nurse Chris, and Patient Care Assistant, Danielle, took her to the gazebo in the park area we visited on the field trip. The attached photo shows Lea with her medical team during today’s trip. My brother, David, escorted the group on today’s outing, and snapped the photo.

She was glowing with radiance when I returned to the hospital after the outing, and was in good spirits. She was off the ventilator for over twelve hours by late evening, and was not overly tired at that point. She has been able to clear her throat fairly well, ate a good portion of frozen yogurt, and she is beginning to assist with her own oral care, by trying to hold a toothbrush.

She is gaining a more extensive range of motion in her joints as the therapists continue to work with her three times a week, and Dave and I work with her in between their visits. Flo brought her a couple of exercise balls that she likes for exercise of her hands, and she seems to be willing to do her leg exercises more frequently now. So, all in all, I feel that she is making very good progress, after having to take a day off to recuperate from several active days in a row.

She told me today that she wants a pedicure, a manicure, a haircut and a massage! Guess she’s getting better, huh? Thank you, Father!

This was a tough day. Lea had trouble staying off the ventilator this morning, and couldn’t seem to get her breath. She coughed and coughed trying to get congestion out of her throat, but never did get it to clear enough for her to be able to talk much. We finally had to put her back on the vent and give her some medication to get her to settle down.

Later in the day, while I was teaching my classes, she had trouble breathing again, and experienced a panic attack that sent her blood pressure sky high. About that time the drain from her stomach started showing fresh blood, indicating that the ulcer they cauterized last week hasn’t yet healed up, or there is another source of leakage. It isn’t at the level that required emergency reaction, but does remind us of how fragile her condition is.

She complained of fatigue and soreness all over, displayed a bright red rash on the face and neck, and just didn’t feel well at all. Dr. Mah ordered an ultrasound of her gall bladder, and the technician found several small stones and some sludge, and we will learn from Dr. Mah tomorrow what course of action he wants to take. Dave and I talked to the nurse, and it was decided that it would be best if we left for the night, to decrease any frustration she might feel, and let them take care of her to maximize her rest and recovery tonight.

Two other doctors visited today, and told Lea that they have been studying her present condition and family medical history, and that they were beginning to get her back on some of the maintenance medications she was taking before being stricken with this illness. We were told that she is going to be a little diabetic, and that she is going to be super sensitive to estrogen, which can elevate the triglycerides, so she won’t be able to take some medicines she took before.

The good news is that they were talking about “when you go home!” How wonderful! This is such GOOD news for us, and such BAD news for her. She doesn’t have any idea how far she has come (and says that she isn’t ready to learn any of the details yet). Can you imagine the trauma she is going through trying to absorb all that is going on around her? There must be twenty different doctors, including those doing their residency, that are in and out of her room on a regular basis, all the technicians doing bedside procedures like ultrasounds, swallowing tests and X-Rays, as well as therapists and practitioners.

There was a really bright spot, though, yesterday, when she had some visitors stop by and visit briefly. Carl and Pat Monnin are some of Lea’s pray-ers in Austin, Texas, and were in Massachusetts visiting their daughter. They came by the hospital to meet Lea, and Carl, who has a fine tenor voice, sang a beautiful tune for Lea at her bedside. And, Lea sang along on the chorus! This was a wonderful blessing for her, and my heartfelt gratitude goes to them for caring enough to stop by and lift her spirits.

She also got an uplifting email from our friend Joe, who can empathize with a lot of what she is going through. He wrote:

“Hi Lea,

Pat and I were so excited to get your phone call last week! It was so good hearing your voice and made us feel that you are now on the road to real recovery. We were both crying afterward because we were so happy!

I went to the emergency room on Monday night around midnight, after my defibulator had shocked me. It had done that the previous night and was the third shock overall. That Monday night, I felt like I was going to get shocked multiple times, and I almost did. While in the emergency room, I had another spell and it was getting ready to go off again. The Dr came in and told me to brace myself and then told me to cough. I did and that stopped it, but they said then that they were going to admit me.

They put me on an Amiodarone drip to control the heart rhythm. I had dropped low on both potassium and magnesium. They spent Tuesday getting my electrolytes corrected and then did another trans-esophageal echocardiogram. This showed that the blood clot in my left atrium was gone, so they decided that I would probably do better if they went ahead and converted me back to sinus rhythm, which they did on Wednesday.

I got out of the hospital last Saturday, 15-Oct. We had been planning to go to my niece’s wedding at 4:30 that day. I had asked one of the assistants for Dr. Rordan, the electro-physicist who was taking care of me, to see if he would come around to discharge me by 11:00 AM so we could go to the wedding. I waited until about 1:30 before mentioning to one of my nurses that I guessed we were not going to make it. She said she would try to get in touch with him and he showed up about three minutes later.

It took about 30 minutes to go through the discharge process and another thirty for me to take a shower and get my suit on that Pat had brought with her that morning. We made the wedding, much to everyone’s surprise. It was out by Eagle Creek. We stayed and had some food at the reception then skipped the remainder of the festivities and left for home. I am maintaining the sinus rhythm so far, but I have very little stamina. The Dr told me to take it easy for the next week and then I could start the cardio rehab work again.

Larry said in one of his letters that he and Dave were doing shifts so someone would be with you all the time. When I became awake, there was a time when everyone was having a doctor’s conference and I was left alone the room – I think I had been napping. Anyway, when I woke up, I didn’t know where I was, no one was around, I couldn’t find any call button and I couldn’t move anything. I was really scared! When they finally came back, I asked them to never leave me alone again. That is when Pat and Scott started the shifts like Larry and Dave are doing now. You have no idea how much it did for me to know that someone was there when I needed them!

I was really happy to hear that you are getting to eat some things now. Believe me that having the green beans pureed is the only way I would recommend eating them there. My food there was terrible, but I was on low sodium, low cholesterol, diabetic, 1800 calorie diet, and a 1000 cc fluid restriction (that alone nearly killed me). I doubt that you will have as many restrictions, so yours may be better. Larry will probably be able to go out and get you pizza and everything. I loved reading in Larry’s letter about how you would roll your eyes and say ummm!

I remember doing the same thing, particularly when they gave me some orange sherbert, and then later grape pop-cycles. Oh those pop-cycles were good. Nothing ever tasted so heavenly. You forget the simple pleasures we take for granted in life. I am still having some troubles eating. I often eat a little bit and then feel a little queasy and don’t want any more. I often have to force myself to eat, particularly the proteins, since I know that I need them badly. I did not really understand what Larry talked about “thickening your fluids”, but I’m guessing that it has something to do with you being to swallow properly without choking. How do you thicken ginger-ale?

I was also tickled to read that you were getting to move around the hospital a little bit. I never got to go outside or see any of the things that they talked about, like where the apartments or ice-cream shop were. I presume after you get off the ventilator, PT and OT will really start working with you. It is hard but well worth it.

It will take a long time for you to get back to where you were before, but you will be surprised how quickly you will be able to get a little arm strength back. It makes such a huge difference to be able to grab the rail of the bed and pull your-self to one side or the other. Don’t give up on those exercises they will want you to do, even though they will make you really tired.

I will leave you for now but I will try to get better at sending you notes more frequently. Pat and I love you both very much. By the time you get back home, I hope I will be able to visit you frequently, perhaps even to spell Larry at times so he can do things he needs to attend to. We will do anything we can to help you get back to normal. Perhaps we could start planning our next trip. You know – the one where Larry and Pat get sick. Then again, perhaps not! ”

Praise God for the wonderful blessings delivered to all of us in such abundance! I am very grateful for the friendships we have been able to make during our time here in Hartford, and for the old friendships we have bettered, and for the reconnection we have all made with loved ones we have let slip away into all too infrequent contacts. Thank the Lord for warming our hearts with love for others, and for being willing to display it. It feels good, doesn’t it?

I’ve included another photo from Lea’s outdoor excursion yesterday. Toward the end of the tour, as we were heading back to the hospital, we came upon this scene in which a man was helping an elderly lady get out of his truck and into a wheelchair. Without hesitation, Chris and Danielle both went to assist them, while Lea waited near by, just enjoying being a part of normal life again.

Ninety days in Intensive Care! But, we can see light at the end of the tunnel! Each day seems to hold renewed promise as Lea’s condition improves. She is still in critical condition, of course, but it seems likely that she will continue her progress toward regaining control of her systems. Her mental alertness is very good most times, and her memory is sharp as a tack, with just one little lapse of about 90 days. Her physical control is slowly beginning to return, but there is going to be a course of several months of physical rehabilitation ahead.

She is scheduled to have the skin graft done on her abdomen next Thursday, in the Operating Room. Skin will be taken from one or both thighs to place enough skin on the healing tissue in her abdomen to close it up. The good news is that the wound is much smaller than it was originally. It still is the full width, of course, but, as the swelling has subsided, the height has been reduced by about 50%.

The feeding tube, in one nostril, delivers her liquid food to the small intestines, while the solid food she is beginning to consume, goes to her stomach. It is hoped that she will get her stomach working properly, regain her appetite, and be able to get enough calories through what she eats to be able to get off the feeding tube within a couple of weeks. The tube in the other nostril that goes to the stomach will remain in place for some time, just in case access to the stomach is needed for some reason.

Just after ten thirty this morning, her daytime nurse Chris, with help from Adam and Danielle transferred her to a cardiac recliner, where she rested comfortably for some time. She had come off the ventilator at 6:00 a.m. and had her speaking valve attached so she could visit with those stopping by to see her. At mid- Day, Chris and Danielle packed her up with portable oxygen and EKG monitor, put a couple of blankets on her lap, and took her off the floor and into the outdoors!

We toured the garden area in front of the hospital entrance, which includes many pretty flowers, bushes and shrubs along the brick pathways. There are also nice seating areas in the Meditation Garden, which is where the attached photo was taken. Chris is checking the EKG monitor in the photo, while Danielle squints to see what’s ahead. Oh, it was glorious to see God’s wondrous workings for Lea on her first trip into the outdoors in three months! A crisp fall day, with gusts of cool wind to blow her hair, and warm sunshine to stream down upon her lovely face. Gray squirrels frolicked nearby in the lawn between the trees, and fallen leaves fluttered and tumbled by as well-wishers waved from across the street.

She was able to see the hospital for the first time, and get an idea of the expansiveness of the facility. She has heard her visitors talk about some of the nearby restaurants, and was able to see that they are just a short walk from the hospital’s entrance. We snapped photos of her with Chris and Danielle for the scrapbook, and they snapped one of us in front of the hospital. It was an occasion made possible by God’s love for His children, and His response to the prayers you have given us. Thank you, and praise God!

I don’t know that my faith has been changed by this terrible ordeal, but I have come to feel that true faith is our acceptance of helplessness in the face of God’s ability to do what He chooses, when He chooses. Sometimes He chooses not to heal, or at least, not when we ask for it. We need to believe that all things happen for a reason; that they are part of The Plan, and pray for understanding and guidance.

It continues to amaze he how God has worked in the lives of others through Lea’s illness. The miracles He has brought about in the last three months humble me, and I am awed by the power of prayer and the power of Christian love. The miracles have been not only in Lea’s healing, but also in the meaning others have discovered in her day-to- Day trials to survive this affliction.

I know that Lea is not out of the woods yet. She is still in critical condition. She is on the cusp of full mental recovery, and is only just beginning physical recovery. She is very fragile, and could be taken from me at any moment. Yet, I understand now that we must continue our faith during the trials He gives us, and that He gives us the strength to bear the load He gives us to carry.

While my perception of faith hasn’t changed, my faith has deepened, and my awareness has been altered. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a dialogue with God going on, but nothing as intense as I have experienced in recent months. I have always trusted God, but didn’t realize I had allowed myself to place a limit on how much I was willing to trust in Him. When the low times in Lea’s recovery let me focus more on my own misery than the lessons He is leading me through, I realize that I am limiting how much I am willing to trust Him.

I don’t know that my faith has grown any stronger in the past few months. I accepted Christ as a youth, and He has been a constant companion over the years. He has always been there in times of trouble, and in times of joy. But, I think my faith has taken on a different, more proactive, perspective. I certainly am more vocal about my love of God than ever before. This has helped me through a time of discovery I was lead through a few weeks ago.

I received a letter that was a real test of my faith, and forced me to do some sincere soul searching. The letter was from a person who suggested I consider whether I was asking Lea to stay here with me in this life, when she would rather go to her reward in heaven. But, once I got over the initial reaction of anger a few days later, and the question played on my mind, I thought about it, meditated, read my study bible and prayed for insight.

As I did so, I began to realize that I didn’t have the power to make Lea stay here against her will. Only God can make the decision whether she goes or stays. Once I arrived at that understanding, I was given a peace that abides in my soul and comforts me. Glory to God!

As I’ve struggled through the challenges of these several weeks, I also came to realize that I didn’t have to step back from my ailing soul mate I love so much, and in despair just say, “The Lord’s Will be done,” without any hope of intercession or being able to affect how The Plan might be modified. I find it hard to believe that a God that would create the ever-changing beauty of this world would just simply create an unchangeable plan and sit back and watch it unfold. It would be like watching a television rerun!

I think God has an overall plan, but that He is active in the day-to- Day lives and battles of His children. That He is constantly at work in our lives, and that He can be approached to intercede on our behalf. That’s what makes the power of prayer such an awesome force! We are His flock, and He tends to our needs.

I am one of His children, and I can approach my Father and reason with Him. I’m allowed to plead with Him for my desires as well. And, although I may be required to drink from the cup of my spouse’s death one of these days, I am allowed to ask for more time before taking that drink. I may not be granted that additional time, but I am allowed to ask for it.

We have to leave room in our lives, and in our faith, for the mystery of how God works. We need to pray, knowing that God will answer prayer in the manner that best serves His plan. It may not be what we pray for, or what we want. But, many times, we see the purpose as we look back at events, and can see how they worked to achieve good in the lives of many others.

It will be interesting to see how this incident will be viewed in the years ahead. We don’t know how it is going to play out, of course, but we can be certain that there have been some wonderful miracles worked during this time of so many natural disasters in our world. We must not forget that our faith in times of trial is the ultimate test of how well we have followed God’s command to trust in Him.

Lea didn’t seem to rest as well overnight last night, as she apparently napped with frequent periods of alertness throughout the night. David stayed with her overnight again, bless his heart, and reported this morning that he was ready to go back to the room for some badly needed rest. Lea evidently had a lot of “I needs,” and kept him on his feet tending to her all night.

She is definitely getting better, although she complains of being tired, thirsty and hungry. She got a food tray this morning with hot oatmeal, hot Cream of Wheat, pineapple puree, orange juice, 2% milk and steaming hot coffee. Of course, she couldn’t have the oatmeal, milk or coffee, so that left the Cream of Wheat with Sweet & Low, and the pineapple puree. We also had thickened ice water and some thickened cranberry-apple drink I got from the cafeteria.

After I mixed up the Cream of Wheat with Sweet & Low, she tasted a bit from the spoon, pronounced it was “okay” and said, “Keep it coming.” She probably ate six or eight half teaspoons full, and was satisfied. We then laid her back in her cardiac chair for a little rest, waiting for our first “field trip” at ten o’clock. We had made plans with the day nurse, Chris, to cruise down to the family lounge on the east end of this floor, which has a nice view to the foothills between here and Long Island Sound, forty miles away.

Since she is able to be off the ventilator for several hours at a time, it makes it possible to put her in a recliner with wheels, and get her out of her room. It isn’t as easy to maneuver as a wheelchair, but this was great just to let her see some other scenery. She got a lot of “thumbs up,” “congratulations,” and huge smiles from the nurses and nurse supervisors as she was pushed through the ICU.

She also was told that if the weather is nice next week, that they would take her downstairs and outside the hospital for a brief visit on Monday or Tuesday. She will be having friends from back home visiting during that time, so it could be a terrific boost for her morale to get to go outside and visit with “the girls” for a while.

She is not yet reading books or magazines, nor writing or typing, since she has little strength or control of her arms and hands. She isn’t yet able to feed herself, stand on her own, or even adjust her bottom when it gets tired of lying in one spot too long. She needs quite a bit of help, and is willing to accept all you are willing to give. She doesn’t care to watch TV, and would rather visit with those who stop in to see her. She can’t yet hold the telephone receiver to make or receive phone calls, but once she’s ready for that, I think she’ll be much happier.

I have mentioned before that I just can’t imagine what it is like to be paralyzed, in bed, unattended, but Dr. Mah was right when he told us a few weeks ago that she would need someone with her most of the time after she came out of the drug induced coma and became able to communicate. Her mind is sharp and alert, although her body isn’t yet ready to do much of anything. She is still spending several hours a day on the ventilator, to get her lungs working at full capacity. (Thank you, God, for letting me make the comment that she is spending most of her waking day off the ventilator.)

It is hard to comprehend how weak the body becomes in such a short time, but the loss of muscle mass became very evident as she began taking off the large volume of water she had taken on during the illness. She is down now, incidentally, to less than 59 kilograms, bed and all. At one time she was 114 kilograms! She is very frail, and her lungs are weak, but the talking is helping build up her lung capacity, although she tires quickly.

She is starting to eat again, consuming about a tablespoon of food at each meal, and a “large” volume of liquids, by comparison, as she likes to have a variety of flavors of drinks, and usually has ten to twelve half spoons full every half hour or so. I’ve been making a number of small plastic foam cups half-filled with vanilla yogurt mixed with flavors such as cranberry juice, apple juice, cola, and mixing water with thickener to get it to the puree state so she can safely drink it.

It’s a challenge to keep up with her “needs,” because her mind seems to be running 100 miles an hour. I’m sure the pace will slow, eventually, from the constant streams of consciousness she experiences right now, in which she jumps from one desire to another. The muscles in her legs need massaged, she’s hot and needs a cold rag on her head, she needs her pillow under her arm fluffed, and the one behind her head changed for something thinner, and she needs to have her mouth rinsed again. And, you know what? I’m SO happy!

Thank you, Lord, for the wonderful blessings you have worked in this illness. Thank you for the many, many people who care about Lea’s recovery. Thank you for the support you give us through family, friends and others. Thank you for the blessings you give others through us. Thank you for the strength you give us to carry on. Praise your name, and to you the glory! Amen

By the way, I am attaching a photo Lea asked me to take and send to you, “So they’ll know where I am.” Here she is in her cardiac recliner after the tour of the floor. She is looking (really!) out the window to the south. She wanted you to see “all the wires and things.” Little does she know how few there are compared to what was required earlier. 🙂

Today was another tiring day for Lea. She started out just great, as she had seven hours uninterrupted sleep, but then started out the day by being overheated. David, who spent the entire night in the room with her, was slowly rubbing small ice cubes on her forehead and cheeks to cool her when I arrived at six o’clock.

She didn’t want the fan to blow directly on her, although she was hot, and just wanted ice rubbed on her face until it melted, waiting for the air to cool it. She wanted to get in the cardiac chair right away, saying that the bed was extremely uncomfortable, and asked me to massage her back for her. I washed her hair for her, but it didn’t want it put up today, so I just picked it for her, and fanned it out on her pillow to dry.

At eight o’clock she was taken off the ventilator and her speech valve was inserted over the tracheostomy to allow her to speak. From then on it was pretty much non-stop. She got into the cardiac recliner at about nine-thirty. She was SO tired, and her muscles were sore and needed massaged, pretty much constantly. She needed ice melted on her forehead and cheeks. She needed ice chips. She needed decaf coffee . . . . oops! She can’t have decaf coffee.

Well, that started a conversation among the nurses and the nurse supervisor, Kelley, who asked her what else she liked to drink, Lea mentioned her favorite soft drink. Kelley told her she could have some, but only as much as could be soaked into one foam dauber at a time. We normally use the daubers for cleaning her mouth and tongue, so they aren’t very big. Well, Lea was elated, and I was sent off to the cafeteria to get a soft drink for her. A few minutes later she was savoring the flavor and fizz of a cola. There was rolling of the eyes toward heaven and “Umms” enough for everyone. 

Moments after completing the first little pill container full of cola, the therapists came in to do the swallow test. They inserted a camera through the nose into the throat, stopping just above the vocal cords, where they could observe how well matter was swallowed. They gave her lovely blue applesauce to see how she did trying to swallow it, they blue thickened apple juice, blue regular apple juice, then bread dipped in blue applesauce.

She handled the applesauce and thickened apple juice just fine, but the thinner apple juice went down into the lungs as well as the stomach, and she had problems swallowing the bread. So, she was put on a diet of whatever she wants, as long as it is the consistency of puree. So, a little before one o’clock her first food in three months arrived (see attached photo if you don’t remember what hospital food looks like [not you, Joe!])

She ate about one whole tablespoon of food, but had tastes of mashed potatoes and beef with gravy, green beans and fruit cocktail (all the consistency of baby food). She also had several teaspoons of thickened orange juice. Then she had an upset stomach. It probably took about half and hour to get over the nausea with the help of some medication, but she was fine after that. In fact, Dr. Mah came in to check her abdominal drain, and she asked him if she could have some yogurt. He told her that he would get some ordered for her right away.

When it arrived, she had several spoon fulls of plain vanilla yogurt, and you would think from the eyes rolling up to heaven, and the “Ummms” that she had never had anything so good!  She only had a few teaspoons full but handled the yogurt just fine. Then she heard someone mention that they have ginger ale, and she just HAD to have some of that. I sounded SO good! So, I mixed some with a thickener and spoon fed it to her. And, I guess from her reaction, it WAS really good. (CUE: Roll eyes toward heaven, say, Ummm!) 

Do you realize how much fun it is to put happy faces in an update? !! Thank you, God!

We have had some pretty funny times too, as she is still coming back to reality from some drug induced place she has been for so long, and she still has some hallucinations. She told my brother David this afternoon that the reason she was so worn out is because she spent the whole night up on the next floor handing out five big bags of candy. And, she had five more to hand out in the trunk of her Mercury parked outside. But, she was just too tired to pass any more out today!

She also made phone calls to her sister, her mother-in-law, and to our friend Joe Stroup, who was paddled back into sinus rhythm yesterday. We had planned to call our youngest son after work hours, but he called us first, so she got to talk to him as well. We plan to talk to our other son, daughter-in-law and the granddaughters tomorrow. She usually has the speech valve in for eight or nine hours, and she may go longer tomorrow if she has the stamina. She is very weak, however, and tires quickly.

She still isn’t able to hold the phone by herself, so she needs assistance with taking calls, and it is pretty cumbersome since the person holding the phone for her can’t hear the conversation. She is working on regaining strength in her arm and legs, but it is going to take time. We are working, however, on building some strength, both in legs and arms, through exercises we are doing together.

Dr. Mah says that we may want to step up the physical therapy sessions to help her regain some of her strength, because he thinks we will be ready to do the skin graft next Thursday. He also thinks she will be able to get off the ventilator by next Friday, and have the tracheostomy replaced with a simple small plug in her throat, which will be reduced in size until the trachea is ready to close up. The remaining scar will be about the size of a pencil eraser.

Meanwhile, David and I are splitting shifts, attempting to have someone with her whenever she is awake. We will continue this support until she is able to fend for herself. I can’t imagine anything worse than being in bed, seemingly (or, actually) paralyzed, and have your mind running wild with all types of imaginings and fears. We will continue support for her as long as she needs it.

Thank you for your wonderful notes of love and support for her in the past few days. They have meant so much to her in realizing that there are folks who care for her outside of those thirty or forty brand new friends she just met this past week at Hartford Hospital. As nice as they are, it’s nice to know that there are others, too.

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
For Marnita
Praise: Gary
Praise: fellowship
For Herb
Praise: Joe
For Lea
For Unnamed

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