Tuesday, May 17, 2011

april 20, 2011

Every hour that passed after the surgeries, the weight seemed a little lighter, the breathing a little easier. One hour out of surgery and nothing has come crashing down! Two hours out and he's still alive! Three hours out and he's stable! By the time evening came we were all absolutely exhausted but relieved and thankful and ready to go home for some sleep.

April 20. Lynette's Birthday. We were supposed to go over to her house this night and have an early Easter dinner. Lynette had said no gifts and no Birthday celebration, but who follows directions like that? I had a cute idea planned out and couldn't wait to give it to her. What a different day April 20, 2011 turned out to be than the one we'd planned.

Let me go back a couple days, though, because as I write there are so many details that I want to remember and so if I forget some I'll go ahead and add them out of order.

The day the doctor told me Alif would not survive his lung infection, we cried out. Everyone who asked about his condition knew how bad his infection was, and "pray for his lungs!" was the main prayer request that day. Several times I asked God to heal him so completely that everyone would know that it was by His power and for His glory that Alif had been healed.

Imagine my faithless surprise when I walked in to his room the next day and the respiratory therapist looked thrilled! I asked how it was going and he said, "you're not going to believe it. He's satting (saturating with oxygen) so well I went to get his nurse and the charge nurse to come check it out. I've been pulling people in here all morning to look at him. I can't explain what happened - maybe some whole other pocket opened up or something? He's satting GREAT." Smile! That's our God!

So back to the day after surgery. It was nothing but good news all day. Alif was (and had been since the 17th) still intubated and sedated, but his numbers were looking good all day. It was bittersweet to see him doing so well but to only know that by looking at his heart rate, his blood pressure, his oxygenation. Alif and I talk a LOT. Many times throughout the day we call each other's cell phones and relay some little detail, check in, joke around. How strange and disheartening to know my husband only by numbers on a screen. "How are you today?" "140/80, 76bpm, 93%." Not normal!

Even still, it was a beautiful day to have no crises pop up. It gave me a few minutes to reflect on how grateful I was to serve a Master who loves us in an all-consuming way. There truly is not a time in my life I can remember ever feeling closer to my Father than in those first couple weeks. I felt completely enfolded by Him - shielded, comforted, loved. Every moment of quiet I prayed. Every minute in the car I prayed over every system in Alif's mind and body. I was so thankful not only for a good-news day, but for the ultimate Good News that even if Alif didn't survive this ordeal physically, he was in his Father's hands and therefore absolutely rescued from every kind of harm.

What a comfort, what a joy!

april 19, 2011

There was a dance happening between Alif's doctors - or as Jan says, the doctors were all having to play nicely together in the sandbox. The cardio-thoracic surgeon, Dr. P, needed to do surgery to replace Alif's mitral valve. That surgery needed to be done immediately. The infectious disease doctor, Dr. K, needed surgery to wait at least a few days so that Alif wasn't going into surgery so badly infected. The worst-case scenario was surgery immediately. The best-case scenario was surgery in a few days.

Surgery was scheduled for April 19, 2011. Almost immediately.

I asked Jan, "Do you think he will survive?" She paused. She said, "that's two questions. Do I think he will make it off the table, or do I think he will survive after the surgery?" She assured me that she felt confident that he would make it off the table. She was also compassionately clear that his chances after surgery were slim. We would be fighting blood pressure, infection, etc. etc. Getting him stabilized would be tricky.

I decided I would spend the night with Alif that night - have some time alone with him, say all the things I'd ever wanted to say, pray for him, sing to him. I delighted that no matter how I wracked my brain, there weren't many things I could think to say that hadn't already been said. I told him how much I loved him, of course, how proud I am to be his wife, how thankful for the years and years he'd worked so hard to support the lifestyle we have chosen. When morning came I was exhausted but thankful for having had the opportunity to be as close to him as possible going into the surgery.

We had finally gotten ahold of Alif's parents and they were due in during surgery. Alif was scheduled at 9:30-ISH (we were told not to put much stock in that time frame!) and family and friends started to show up pretty early. I think they finally took him back around 11, and Rabae and I were able to walk him out and give him last-minute hugs and kisses. Then the waiting began.

Looking back on the situation, this particular scene makes me laugh. There's a waiting room outside the ICU that's a pretty good size. It has probably 15 arm chairs and a table with four chairs also. We had moved the table aside and set up a full size air mattress. There were about 30 people in that room rooting Alif on, praying, laughing, crying, hugging, eating, working on laptops, pacing. Later in the day Jan came in and said, "there are families complaining that they have nowhere to wait." Megan said, "Oh! We haven't seen anyone!" Jan replied tactfully, "I think they've been waiting in the hallway." It was like the Big Fat Greek Wedding of hospital waiting rooms.

I'd asked Jan to promise me something. "If he doesn't make it off the table, Jan, please make sure I hear it from you. I don't want to see the doctor walking in here with that look on his face." She promised.

Sometime in the afternoon, Fred and Juanita came rushing in. About 3 minutes later, Dr. P came with the surgery report. "Everything went well." Rejoicing! Everything had gone well!

Very shortly after, a nurse (Jan? I forget) came in and pointed at me, Rabae, Fred and Juanita. "wife, sister, mom, dad." We went into the hallway and there were several nurses putting gowns on us as we walked in to the ICU. We had about 15 seconds to kiss Alif, touch him, tell him we loved him, and then they whisked him back into surgery. He was bleeding. WAY too much. The next day a nurse told me that when he was in the second surgery, it was the longest 50 minutes of her life.

But he made it through the second surgery too, and the bleeding stopped. Well, slowed to a normal rate.

Mitral valve replacement surgery. Age 36.

Monday, May 16, 2011

april 18, 2011

I finally went home to sleep. Jan made me promise I would get at least 2 hours of sleep but preferably 3.  The night before I'd put the kids to bed only to yank them out at 11pm and take them to Lynette's house when I got word that they were moving him to the ICU, so now I had someone spending the night every night just in case.

I laid my head down in my bed that night and to say my mind was swirling would be a huge understatement. The thought of lying there while my husband was so sick in the hospital felt ludicrous. The LEAST I could do was to be there with him - but I knew that if I didn't sleep I would crash, and that was certainly not a good plan. I knew at that moment there were saints praying for Alif and for me and it felt almost like a physical covering. My Dad was at the hospital and staying all night - that helped too. I finally slept.

When I awoke I called my Dad to see how things were going. He said there was a doctor in and I said I would go take a shower and head over. Not more than two or three minutes passed and my Dad called back and said, "Hon, the doctor said there's no time for a shower. You need to come now."

It makes me quiver inside just remembering that moment - the fear, the FEAR. I prayed the whole way to the hospital, if it can be called praying to cry out over and over, "Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus."

I rushed up to the ICU and the pulmonologist was sitting in front of a computer screen. He showed me a scan of Alif's lungs, slice by slice, as if looking down on each section. The lungs should have looked black, open. Instead they were almost completely white. In a thick accent the doctor said, "Everywhere should be black. All of the white is infection filling the lungs. We are pushing oxygen in but there is nowhere for it to go." I stared at him, arms wrapped around myself. He said, "mortality rate is very high in cases such as this." I responded, "my God is bigger than that infection."

Then I walked away and cried. I donned the gown, face mask and gloves we were required to wear every time we went in to be with Alif and I sat by his side, holding his hand, praying scriptures over him, crying.

At some point during the day it was determined that Alif did indeed have a staph infection. Not only that, but his mitral valve was infected. This is a day we had worried about all of the time I have known Alif. We knew this day might come. We knew he should have his mitral valve replaced. We knew every little cut was a potential breeding ground for staph. We KNEW this. Why didn't we every take care of it?? Why had we waited until now, when he was at death's door? It was a major struggle on this day to forgive myself for not having been proactive YEARS before.

During these very early days, we were absolutely surrounded by our family and friends. Alif's parents were in Egypt, of all places, and we struggled to get ahold of them and let them know what was happening. People stepped up to take care of my kids, my house, my meals, and I basically lived at the hospital. I wanted nothing to eat as I constantly had a pit in my stomach, but those around me made sure I did anyway. We were - and are - so well loved.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

april 17, 2011

I was glad when Alif was moved to a regular room because I knew he'd be a lot more comfortable in a regular bed than in a gurney. As long as we kept current on his pain and anti-nausea medications, he was very comfortable. As opposed to the emergency room, I had to ask for his medications "on the floor" (nurse-speak for being in a regular room). When I asked for them the first time they gave him the pain medication before the anti-nausea and that made him a little miserable. The second time I insisted he get the anti-nausea first and he said, "you are the woman."

By this point I had been awake for goodness knows how long. Let's see - I'd slept on Friday night, but was up all of Saturday night and now we were at Sunday night. I was tired. At one point Alif said, "you must be exhausted." He was also concerned about making sure I was eating something. It was so ironic that he was lying there suffering with who-knew-what and concerned that *I* might be tired or hungry. My husband is a caring man.

Meanwhile, I was getting very frustrated that something was obviously wrong and no one seemed to know what. I asked the nurse, "So do we basically have no idea what's wrong and we're just treating symptoms?" She said gravely, "yes." I asked when the doctor would be back and she said either that evening or in the morning.

Somewhere in here the prayer chain at church had gotten word that Alif was being admitted to the hospital. Our friend Jan got this request, e-mailed me asking "what hospital??" and the next thing I knew, she was there with us. When she came in she looked Alif over, talked to him and then turned to me, saying nothing. I asked her what she thought and she said, "I don't want to alarm you, but I don't like the looks of this. He looks septic." Pit - in - stomach. Jan knows what she's talking about. She's been a nurse for a long time. She works with the most critically ill patients.

Alif's sister Rabae pointed out to Jan that Alif wasn't moving his right hand. I asked Jan why his oxygen was only showing at 84%.

Next thing I knew Jan was whirling about, making things happen. Talking to the floor nurses, asking questions, wondering aloud if this and that testing had been done. A nurse brought in a nasal cannula and put him on oxygen. It didn't help. They moved up to the next step, some other oxygen machine, and that didn't help either. Repeat several times. The last machine I saw him on was some sort of forced pressure oxygen thing. It was completely covering his mouth and nose and all I could see was his eyes. They were wild, terrified. It was horrifying. I started to be really afraid. What is happening to my man?? Jan started to talk about the possibility of moving him to the ICU, sedating and intubating him. After seeing those terrified eyes, it sounded like a reprieve. ICU sounded like a safe cocoon and I was thankful they were moving him there.

Jan joked, "You're going to my house now, Alif!" He asked, "do I need directions?"

My journal entry that night read, "Oh God, help my husband! Please heal him, and quickly!"

Saturday, May 14, 2011

april 16, 2011

Wednesday night I slept in Caris & Canaan's room. Any flu that would take my super-healthy husband and turn him into a slug that quickly was not a flu I was willing to risk!

Thursday and Friday were more of the same. Alif sick on the couch, Alif sick in the bed, Alif taking Tylenol and Motrin and having a fever of 100-101. Pushing fluids, watching him lie there with muscle aches, headaches and just flat-out sick.

I was concerned when several days had gone by and he hadn't improved, and not only that but no one else was sick. It's not normal to have a family of six and only *one* person get a flu.

Saturday rolled around and it was busy. We had soccer games, Grand Prix and mama's hair appointment on top of Daddy Sick On The Couch. I ran the kids all around, leaving one with Alif to make sure he had fluids and anything he might need. I checked in after each event to make sure he was ok. At one point I freaked out on him a little, chastising him for not drinking ANY fluids while I'd been gone for almost three hours. He started crying. Alarms went off in my head. Alif crying about fluids did not seem like a good thing.

The last event of the day was Graham's soccer game. When we got back, Alif said, "I can't do this any more. I have to go." I said, "to the hospital?" He said yes, so I called Lynette, dropped the kids off and took him to the emergency room. I drove on the freeway so I wouldn't have to stop and go so much. It made me think of when I was in labor and how miserable that ride to the hospital always was. When we got there I dropped Alif at the door and told him to just sit down and I'd get him checked in once I parked.

We sat in that emergency waiting room for four long hours. Shortly after we got there he started to complain of abdominal pain. I will admit that I was relieved - I thought, "Oh good! He's got appendicitis! They'll do surgery and he'll be feeling so much better by tomorrow!" I approached the triage nurse three times, begging them to get him in and explaining that he was in excruciating pain. It was absolutely a nightmare watching my husband writhe in pain and being completely incapable of doing a thing to make it better.

They did finally call us back and once they did they acted quickly. The nurse did an ultrasound of his abdomen right at the bedside and said that while his liver enzymes were elevated and his platelets were low, his appendix and gall bladder looked fine. I was disappointed - if not his appendix or gall bladder, then what was causing him so much pain and illness? They gave him some morphine and almost instantly he felt better. Relief!! A couple hours later the doctor said he was going to admit Alif to keep an eye on him. I was so glad that I didn't have to take him home feeling awful and wondering what was wrong.

There was a really quirky and kind nurse that morning. She came in and said to me, "do you want something to eat?" I was beyond exhausted at this point, worried, not thinking clearly. I just stared at her. She said, "A turkey sandwich, maybe? . . . . Turkey? . . . Yummy yummy? . . . . . I'll just go get one." She came back with a full meal. Some people really are cut out to care for others.

After the decision to admit him, we waited for a room to open up. It was well into Sunday when they finally moved him to a room.

Friday, May 13, 2011

a month ago today

April 13, 2011.

It's hard to even write something after writing out that date. It's so ominous. It's the date our lives changed. Drastically.

It didn't start out like anything but an ordinary day. We all went about our morning like usual and Alif left for work. He called me mid-morning and we made arrangements to meet at the post office to apply for Malachi's passport in hopes that it would be here in time for the upcoming father-son missions trip to Mexico.

As usual, Alif was running late so the kids and I went to Burger King for lunch. Alif and his worker-pal Rudy met us and we enjoyed lunch together. Some Diana Ross 80s song came on and Rudy sang along in perfect pitch, complete with diva-style hand motions. It was nice having lunch with my husband! He's a busy man so we don't often meet for lunch like that.

After lunch we made our way over to the post office, swore with right hands uplifted that Malachi is our son and Alif wrote a check for the passport fee. The clerk informed me that the birth certificate I had was the wrong type, and when I asked in an irritated voice, "what??" Alif kept his cool and said, "No problem, we'll go get the new kind." My feet were hurting in new shoes, but it had to be done so we said goodbye to Alif and Rudy and the kids and I went to get the new birth certificate and return it to the passport clerk.

Finally we went home, late for our daily quiet time. The rest of the afternoon was peaceful, though, and at 5:15pm I was actually relaxing on the couch when Alif came through the front door unexpectedly - much earlier than he normally comes home from work. He didn't look good. At all. You know how you can just look at someone you love and see that something is very wrong? I can still see him clearly in my mind - he came in and stood there a second, just looking sick. His skin looked damp and his energy was gone. I said, "what happened??" He responded that he didn't feel well.

Alif went to his office and took off his jeans and button-up and came back to the couch and laid there in his sweats and t-shirts (yes, more than one LOL). He had a fever of about 100 or so. I thought he must have gotten a really serious flu and we treated it as such, giving him fluids, Tylenol and Motrin and lots of love. There was no way he could make it to Awana that night so I fretted over having to drive his truck to church - Grand Prix was coming up and Alif was supposed to be cutting cars for the kids that night, so he asked me to drive his truck with all the tools in it so that someone else could do the cutting. I did fine with the truck, though a friend from church followed me home and backed it into the driveway so I wouldn't have to attempt that.

After I got the kids into bed I went to check on Alif, who had gotten himself into our bed for the night. He said, "I'm scared that it's staph, Emily." I assured him that it was not staph at all but just a bad flu, but inside a fear started to grow. I went downstairs and started some internet searching. What I found was not reassuring at all: his symptoms matched up with a septic staph infection a little too closely. I called our nurse advice line and once she'd heard his history (he had a staph infection in high school that caused endocarditis, an infection of the heart valve) and his current symptoms, she advised us to stay home and continue our course of treatment - fluids and fever medicine.

I wish I'd listened to my gut - and Alif's - and gone to the emergency room.

Monday, May 09, 2011

26 days

26 days ago my husband could take his little girl dancing.

He could hug his kids, go to work, walk, remember what happened 5 minutes before.
26 days ago Alif was a soccer coach for Caris' indoor soccer team. He was excited about the father/son missions trip to Mexico that was right around the corner.

26 days ago he walked with a bounce in his step.

Today he can't walk. A staph infection took him down in a matter of hours and he's been sick ever since. Very sick. Critically sick.

I'm sure I will eventually process here, pour out our story, fill in the details. For now I just ask that you pray. Please and thank you.