I’ve been urged many, many times to share my “story”. The nudging has come in many different ways; through family, devotionals, the Bible and the tug on my heart from the Holy Spirit relentlessly pursuing me to share. Not to share for myself or to receive any type of attention, just the opposite! That’s why I put off sharing in written form for 22 years. (I’ve shared before at church and in one-to-one settings.) I hope that my story gives courage to someone who may be going through something challenging, strength to pursue life to the fullest or maybe just a little ounce of hope that although life sometimes throws us unexpected situations, challenges, whatever you desire to call them, God is always pursuing us, carrying us and wrapping us in His love.
Experience of Trauma
My family had gone through a series of tough life changes. First my stepfather passing away from cancer six months after his diagnosis and my mother’s cancer diagnosis a month later and her passing the following year. I could write pages and pages about those struggles but anyone who has lost someone close to them knows the pain, mourning and sadness that goes along with the passing of someone we care about. There was hope though because I was expecting my second child a year later and all my day dreams involved welcoming this little baby girl into my family of three. I had set up her nursery with a basket of books next to the glider rocker that I often sat in and rocked while waiting for her due date to come. I hadn’t had the luxury of a nursery when my first daughter was born being young and on a very limited income so this nursery was a beautiful oasis of hopes and dreams.
I woke up early in the morning with contractions and decided a nice warm shower might help. By the time I got out of the shower and changed contractions were closer together and became regular. I was scheduled for a cesarean section ten days later since my baby was in a breech position. When I arrived at the hospital everything moved very quickly and my beautiful, healthy, 8lb 9oz baby girl was delivered by C-section. Everything seemed perfect. This is what I had dreamt about, planned on and expected. What I didn’t expect was pain from the C-section getting worse and instead of my stomach getting smaller it became distended. Five days after my daughter’s birth my doctors did a procedure to remove fluid from my abdomen and what they discovered when they pulled back on the syringe shocked everyone. Surgery followed and my last memory was waking to a friend telling me that they have me on the best antibiotics possible. That would be by last memory for 5-1/2 weeks.
Later I found out that during the C-section by cecum or lower bowel, was nicked. My abdominal cavity filed with bowel fluid and fungal material grew on all of my internal organs causing septic shock. From the septic shock my lungs failed developing ARDS (Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome) and I was intubated and put on a ventilator, placed in a medically induced coma and paralysis. During this time I underwent many other surgeries to clear out the contamination of my abdomen, remove fluid and a blood clot to my lung. I won’t expound upon the details of my medial procedures. The medical files outlining them fill a box in my storage. This is not what I had planned! To sum it up, I was close to death in a coma and my family and friends stood faithfully by my bedside.
Coming out of the coma was the strangest thing I have ever experienced. My thoughts were somewhere between a bad dream and reality and both were jumbled up in my mind. It was a very unpleasant experience. During the time I was in a coma and paralysis every muscle had atrophied. Once awake from the coma, physical and occupational therapist worked with me to help my painfully weak muscles build back strength. I was unable to move my atrophied body, unable to speak because of a breathing tube, eight chest tubes protruded from my body and many IV lines poked under my skin. Daily 4 am chest x-rays and twice a day injections were my new normal.
During this time my friends and family made encouraging posters with pictures and they were placed all around my ICU room. I couldn’t really see them clearly in my flat position and drug induced state but I could clearly read a sign that my sister placed next to the clock that hung high up on the wall in my room. The clock was my only barometer of time in a room where I couldn’t see the outside world and was always bustling with life-and-death energy. The sign was simple; it said “Jesus Loves You”. That’s all, and it didn’t mean much to me at the time. It was like saying, “Have a good day”. It was a familiar song, “Jesus Loves Me This I know”. But Jesus was an untouchable Bible figure in my mind. I had prayed in the past to God, the God that I knew was out there somewhere far off. When I look back now, I can see that sign and It’s almost as if it appears directly in front of me clear and focused in a halo of light with everything around it in a blur. God was speaking to me at that point in my life. I was at the weakest I could possibly be, physically, spiritually and emotionally. The control no longer was in my hands. Without my permission, all the control I had was given over to my family, doctors nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and many specialists. I don’t believe in coincidences. I do believe that God will not give us more then we can bear. I had to be broken before I could be restored.
As I mentioned earlier, during this time my faithful family and friends stood by my bedside often taking shifts. They filled the room not only with their physical presence but also their prayers. They spoke to those in their churches and other friends and I heard that people were praying for me all over the country and in other parts of the world. I received cards from these faithful prayer warriors but at the time I didn’t lift up a prayer.
Because I was in a critical state, my children were not allowed to visit. It wasn’t until the end of March, two months after the birth of my daughter that they were allowed to come to the ICU room, which was my new home. They came in, my oldest daughter who was seven walking in with a nervous smile on her face, trembling on the inside from the sight of her mother hooked up to a room full of tubes and machines, not looking like the mother that had hugged her when she said goodbye after visiting her new baby sister. The last hug she would feel from her mother for two months. The sight of the child that I loved so much but didn’t have the strength to lift up my arms to hug, or to caress her beautiful brown hair, tore me apart. My new baby had lost the redness of a newborn. Her cheeks were plump as she lay peacefully in my mother-in-law’s arms. I had one objective, which I didn’t hesitate to tell by lip reading or writing down, to anyone who would walk into my room. I wanted to go home.
“… We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He was given us.” Romans 5:4
God was working. Slowly, one at a time, tubes and lines were removed. The physical therapist painfully worked my legs, manipulating the muscles that had been inactive. The occupational therapist exercised my arms. I was given a pencil and clipboard where I scribbled out little one word notes to my nurses. My body had to relearn how to swallow and to readjust to being in an upright position. I learned how to take a step again.
During this time I wondered why everyone came into my iCU room with a winter jacket and kept it on while visiting. I on the other hand had a fan blowing on me trying to cool me down. I had a constant fever that persisted. I didn’t know at the time that one specialist was determining what course of action to take next. In order to be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital where I would work towards my goal of getting home, I would have to be fever free for 48 hours. On a Friday night I fell asleep in my hospital bed and in the ICU, my home for three months, my body battling a fever and my doctor making a decision. On Monday, he would take me back into surgery to determine what was causing my prolonged fever. I was not aware of all of this. All I knew was that my only desire, the only thing that kept me going, was the hope of going home to my family. On Saturday morning I woke up in the uncomfortable but familiar surroundings and my fever was gone. The fever that was a constant stumbling block for three months was gone. On Sunday, still no fever and on Monday morning, I left the ICU and was transferred to the rehabilitation hospital where I was weaned off the ventilator that kept me alive for three months. I learned to eat and walk again and one month later after intense therapy, returned to my home and my family, to the baby who was now four months old and who came home before her mother.
“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” Isaiah 41:13
God had miraculously healed me. The doctor who was ready to perform the surgery stopped me several months later as I was walking into the hospital for exercise therapy and he said to me, “You’re my miracle patient”. God does perform miracles. He does hear prayer. He used me in so many ways that I can hardly believe. There was no scientific or medical way to explain why my fever disappeared. The miracle He performed was a witness to so many people, the hospital staff, doctors and specialists. All of the people who were praying over the months for my healing and on that life changing weekend. They witnessed to the power of prayer.
I have to admit that this was not all made clear to me in a moment’s time. When I came home, I was on oxygen, I used a walker and was very frail. People had told me that I was lucky to be alive. At that time I felt despair, depression and fear.
Prompting of the Spirit
“ The inner prompting of the Holy Spirit gives us a sense of God’s leading, although that leading is not always what we might call a ‘feel good’ experience.” Charles Swindoll
I had attended a friend’s church a couple of times when I was out of the hospital but stopped. A couple of months later, I felt something that I had never felt before. I didn’t know what it meant for God to speak to my heart but that’s exactly what He was doing. I had a sense that I should be going to church and that my children should be there too. I didn’t know why I should go but I listened to what my heart was telling me and I attended a neighborhood church and immediately felt a deep sense of peace and belonging and that I was at the right place. Six months later I was baptized.
“…by the testimony of the Spirit, I mean, an inwardly impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God, that Jesus Christ hath love me, that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God. But He worked upon the soul by His immediate influence, and by a strong, through inexplicable orientation, that the stormy wind and trouble waves subside, and there is a sweet calm, the heart resting as in the arms of Jesus and the sinner being clearly satisfied that God is reconciled, that all his inequities are forgiven and his sins covered.” John Wesley (18th Century)
His Grace is amazing.
Life’s Journey Continues
Three years later I was back in Hawaii (I lived in Colorado when it all happened) and on oxygen. During my first day of pulmonary rehabilitation in Hawaii, my doctor said to turn off my oxygen and walk on the treadmill. I panicked. He reassured me that they were monitoring me and would need to see where my oxygen saturation was at with exertion. I looked at the poster of a peaceful winding road that was in front of the treadmill and I started praying. I began waking and walking and they told me to walk around the hospital and I ended up walking right out of the hospital without oxygen! I got to my car and it all hit me that God had performed a miracle….again! I was overcome with joy! Not having oxygen at the time meant I could now carry my 3 year old and whisper, “I love you” to her. Before this, because the hole in my neck I had from the ventilator was bigger then the trans-tracheal oxygen catheter, air escaped. In order to speak, I had to hold my hand over my throat to close the opening. I could swim with my daughters, sing and dance. God is good.
During the years after that, I was always “getting better”. I lived life with a new “normal” and stayed busy raising my children. My marriage ended. I re-married a wonderful, supportive, caring and loving man and we raised my two daughters and his two sons and had a house full of children and critters. I biked, walked, worked out and even ran 1/4 mile, once! The running was a little too hard In 2009 after the marriage of my oldest child, I decided to follow a dream and open my own wedding planning company. I filed for my business license and secured my website domain in January and then in February was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully it was caught early and after a lumpectomy I only had to have radiation. Those 6 weeks were incredibly joy-filled. Sounds odd but it was so true! There was camaraderie among the patients that had the same radiation schedule and life was full of excitement as I booked clients and grew my business.
“Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence” Psalm 21:6
I ignored the negative thoughts that tried to sabotage my dream and I forged ahead. I had amazing experiences with my business and met incredible people.
God is in Control
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:22-24
This is were part two of my journey begins. Early in 2010 I had a partial pneumothorax (lung collapse) and then another a few months later. I ended up hiring employees to help me at weddings but after several years of pushing my body, ending up sick and in bed, God gently closed the door to continuing. I can be very stubborn with what I think I can physically do so I’m thankful that God reminded me in order to protect me. In 2010 my pulmonologist retired and referred me to a new doctor. During my initial appointment they did in-office pulmonary tests. I hadn’t had any since 1998 because I was always “getting better”. That’s when I found out that my lung function had gone from 88% in 1998 to 50%. I was shocked! I couldn’t understand how I always thought I was getting better but I was actually a lot worse. It explained my increased shortness of breath, which I chocked up to not exercising enough, and the inability to go up my stairs with out being breathless. With my business closing a new opportunity arose to help friends on a seasonal part-time basis. It was a great transition allowing me to be involved in the wedding industry but at a much slower pace. I had to morn the loss of my business, something that I poured so much of my heart and time into and adjust to a new slower pace. I was also trying to process what was happening to me because I couldn’t understand why I was getting worse. My pulmonologist couldn’t explain to me what was going on but I finally had a name to what I had, Pulmonary Fibrosis. He said there was nothing that could be done. I saw him every 6 months and each time asked for a function test. I saw my lung function go down from 50% to 45% and now 42%. I took to the internet to understand and the more and more I researched the more I was lead by God in so many ways to advocate for myself. God led me to an online support group and then a local one as well. A series of events that was all God ordained, brought me to my latest doctor who is doing further testing. I am continually amazed at how God takes care of His children. I have hope whether there’s a solution or not because I know that God is in control.
“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” Isaiah 41:13
Reading other’s stories of dealing with pulmonary diseases helped me tremendously. I was led to a pulmonary exercise rehabilitation center in New York and through their webinar series I really learned the importance of strategic exercise. Feeling that needing oxygen was going to be in my future in God’s gracious way He prepared me. I was watching a webinar and a beautiful young oxygen-wearing woman inspired me that I too could live my life with oxygen whether it was at the gym, out to dinner or to Target if I should indeed need it one day. Well, a month later and that day came. If I had needed it a few months earlier I don’t think I would have been ready emotionally to handle it but God gave me time to get use to the idea, to see how it could be done and now that the time has come, I use it while walking and sleeping and I feel better. I feel like I’ve been given some life back and I am so thankful. Not that I have embraced the 50’ tubing that gets hooked on doors, knobs and dogs but I do get a chuckle at least once a day when I get stuck because I just find it funny how a tube can stop me in my tracks. I call the tubing my tether to the “Mother Ship”, my oxygen concentrator. My daughter named my portable oxygen concentrator Foxy Oxy and Foxy and I have become BFF’s, gym partners and lunch dates. I am still getting use to it and I believe it’s a process but God is journeying with me through the process and He knows what tomorrow holds so I don’t have to. I trust God.
And now….My story is far from over and I still have a lot I want to do and want to contribute to the world. I’m getting use to being “retired”. I love my family and friends. I am immensely proud of my children, deeply in love with my husband and over the moon enamored with my grandchildren. God has blessed me. Life can be challenging. It can also be sweet. I shed a tear here and there like everyone else. But I also now have a mission to smile at everyone who looks at my oxygen wearing face. I figure if I can put a smile on one person’s face each day then it’s a good day. God is good.
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.’ ” Jeremiah 29:11-12
Jesus Loves You