Monday, November 14, 2011

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Tuesday, November 8, began like any typical day, with kissing Charley goodbye and getting the kids on task with their lessons.  We did have an added adventure of learning how to run the church library. The kids were enjoying their "internship" of managing the computer entries for new books when I got a call from Charley saying that he was not feeling well and had left work early.  We quickly went back home and I could see that Charley was indeed not well and in a lot of pain.  I left the kids at home with their big sister and took Charley to the ER, where the person at the admitting desk advised that we might want to call his Oncologist first and see what they recommended.  Charley's nurse asked how quickly we could get him to their office and they saw him almost immediately once we arrived.  The doctor on call said that Charley appeared to have an ear infection and sent us home with a prescription for "Z-pack" (a five day antibiotic).  Charley took the two pills that night and some ibuprofen for the pain and went to bed early.

On Wednesday, Charley was up and had eaten breakfast as usual, but was still in a good bit of pain and running a temp so he did not go into work.  I had to do a wellness checkup for his company insurance, so I left the house a little before 10:00, dropped some books off at the library, had my check up and went straight home.  When I got home Charley was in bed, so I checked on him and asked if he wanted some toast or anything. He agreed to the toast and wanted to come out to eat it, rather than have it in bed.  He still felt warm and was still running a fairly high temperature. I called the nurse and asked her "at what point should I bring him in?" and she advised that if he was not able to keep anything down and becoming dehydrated that he definitely needed to be seen.  Shortly after "lunch" Charley went back to bed and while in bed he "lost his lunch" so I quickly helped him into the shower to get cleaned up.  He had been acting a wee bit peculiar, what I thought was hallucinating I now see as a "confused state of mind."

Getting Charley in and out of the shower was scary. He did not understand what I was trying to do and looked at me as though he did not know me.  I had him sit in his recliner while I cleaned up the linens/bedroom.  Not knowing better I continued to just check his temperature and feed him ibuprofen.  I called the nurse a second time to let her know that his temp was not staying down and ask what else I could do. She said that what he had was probably viral and to alternate tylenol with the ibuprofen every two hours.  While resting on the sofa Charley "lost his lunch" again and I had to take him into the shower again.  He had never been that messy before, so I was concerned, but assumed it was par for the course with this type of viral thing.  Back to the sofa he went and later that evening he felt cool to the touch, so I had hopes that his fever was breaking.

Charley had spent the night on the sofa, while I hovered nearby on the love seat.  He had gotten up once during the night to go to the bathroom and seemed bewildered about what to do.  After going to the bathroom I took him back to the sofa and he went straight back to sleep.  I didn't know what to do, but to let him sleep and hope the few more hours til morning would turn things around.  Instead it got worse.

Thursday morning took us to edge of the "Valley" ....

I got up, fixed some toast and grabbed a cup of coffee and another of juice for him to take his ibuprofen. I had difficulty getting him to sit up and when he took a couple of sips of the coffee he seemed to have great difficulty swallowing. I decided then to get him to the ER, but I couldn't get him to stand up, so I called Mandy up from her apartment downstairs.  We both could not get him to stand up or even understand what we were doing, so I called Rescue to come get him .... it took all three guys to get him on the gurney and out the door.

While they were getting Charley onto the gurney, Suzy called to get an update on Charley ... she had been praying for him all along, but wanted to stay on top of his most recent illness.  We had to cut our conversation short ... you can read about her side of the events at her blog.

Before leaving the house, I called our Deacon, Nick, to let him know and to get the word out for people to start praying.

Our local ER attending physician was deeply concerned about Charley's condition and mentioned some trauma to the brain and asked if we had discussed what to do regarding a living will.  This added to my shock, because I'm still baffled that an ear infection and seemingly "normal" viral infection has turned into a serious life or death situation.  They did a CAT scan and were on the phone with Charley's Oncologist to determine what needed to be done.  In the meantime, Nick and another Deacon, Brother Dave, came and stayed with me until the decision was made to send Charley north to a better facility and so his Oncologist could assess the situation.

At this point, Suzy was on her way to the hospital so I called to reroute her to the other hospital.  We had to wait until a bed was available and then for transport to come down and drive him back.  I dashed home to let Mandy know and to grab a different cell phone with more minutes.  As soon as the guys were there to transport him I got in my car and drove to the hospital. I met Suzy and Joey in the family room on the Oncology floor.

We've entered the "Valley" ....

When Charley arrived and they took him to his room it was clear on the faces of the staff attending him that this was more serious than they expected.  In fact, his Oncologist pulled me out into the hallway and said, "this is much more serious than I thought, but I want you to know that we are on this and we will have some answers right away."  A Neurologist was called in and then I started hearing the word Meningitis.  Infectious Disease was called in to do a Lumbar Puncture and sure enough, his spinal fluid was cloudy.  He was immediately moved to the Intensive Care Unit.  At this point, Mandy, Rachel, my Mom and Stepdad had all popped in to lend their support and prayers.

In the meantime, Charley was nodding at everyone in front of his face, but clearly not comprehending who, what, where or why.  He never uttered a word, he just moaned with pain whenever his head was moved ... only one time did he veer from that, to grin, at Suzy when he opened his eyes to see her standing before him.

Late Thursday evening I slept on a sofa while the doctors and nurses did what they could to make Charley comfortable and get him turned around.  I honestly did not know if he was going to make it.  I was trying to take comfort in the thought that many were praying and sending long distance hugs/love our way, but I honestly did not know what to expect next ....

Friday, November 11, I woke up early and in spite of little sleep I was alert and anxious to get into the I.C.U. and see how Charley was doing.  But, before I went in I desperately pleaded with God to give me some "hope" that Charley would be okay.

When I went to his room I had to put on a gown and mask and could see him watching me from his bed.  He kept his eyes open the entire time which surprised me and when I waved, he waved back.  My heart soared.  I was hesitant to hope, but I needed something, anything ....  When I approached his bed and looked into his eyes I saw a little bit more clarity than the evening before ... and then slowly ... ever so slowly ... watched a miracle unfold before my eyes.

Joey and Suzy joined me shortly after and we took great delight in seeing Charley start talking, asking questions and responding to the doctors and nurses.  He asked several times, "what happened?"  By Friday evening Charley was on the hearts and minds of literally thousands of people and I could see a clear ray of hope shining on the other side of our "valley" ....

He was not only talking, he was joking around .... and he wanted to watch his favorite Friday night show, Fringe!  Then a second night in I.C.U. was followed by more progress with doctors and nurses constantly expressing amazement at the changes.

Saturday, November 12, saw even more improvements in clarity of mind, memory recall, cognitive abilities ... in fact he didn't act at all like he was fighting a deadly disease.  His sister came up to visit, delighted to see him doing so well and able to go home with peace of mind, knowing he was mending well.

We took great joy in seeing him "graduate" back to the Oncology floor .... and I no longer had to sleep in the waiting room now that he was in a room with a sofa.

Sunday, November 13, was celebrated with the entire family crowded into Charley's room ... a day filled with laughter, a few tears (of joy) and a great sense of relief.

For Thou art with me.