Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Valley

I love hiking.  Ever since my dad took me on my first hike up a Swiss Alp when I was five, I have loved the feeling of making it to the top of a mountain.  There's no feeling as invigorating as standing on a peak, looking down into the valleys below.  I remember when I was a teenager, standing in Beatenberg, Switzerland, listening to the church bells ringing joyously for a wedding way down in the valley.  I thought then that if I could choose any place on earth to live, this one spot was it.

So what drives me to the mountain?  It's the valley.  I look up from the valley, see the beauty of the mountain above me, and I know that the view from the top will make the climb worth the effort.  After all, without dark valleys, there would be no majestic mountains.

Our family is in a valley right now.  Bryan is sick, and the valley seems dark.  Here's how our descent began.

On April 16, Bryan started to have a painfully stiff neck.  We did the usual remedies- stretches, warm showers, even a couple of trips to the chiropractor.  Nothing seemed to help, and the pain was getting worse.  Then, he began to also have pain in his hip.  He made an appointment with his orthopedic surgeon, but an x-ray revealed nothing out of the ordinary.  The doctor told him to take Motrin and keep up with the home remedies.

During this time, Bryan was incredibly busy with a project at work.  He was gone 14 or more hours a day, dragging himself home just in time to fall in bed.  Several times the pain was bad enough that he woke screaming in the night.  I tried to give him neck rubs each night before bed, and while those seemed to help some, nothing alleviated the pain completely.  Soon, he couldn't lift his head without physically putting his hands on his head and pulling himself up by the hair.

Now, it's important to remember that Bryan has had joint and bone pain from avascular necrosis for 15 years.  He lives with pain that would drive most of us to the doctor.  He takes a few aspirin, and if the pain especially bad, he sleeps.  This determination, as well as the all-consuming nature of his project at work, worked against him this time.  It kept him from going to the doctor early.

I finally insisted that he go to see a doctor.  The pain was spreading to his ribs and I figured SOMETHING had to be wrong.  He would push himself all day at work, and then be completely immobile at home.  He had so many meetings at work that he couldn't make an appointment until June 1st, but he did get blood work done in advance of the appointment.  I told him to have the results faxed to us and that way, if anything looked especially concerning, we could get him the attention he needed earlier.  He forgot.

Saturday, May 26th, he was on the couch all day, rousing himself once to fix Carsten's training wheels and once to push Steffen on the swing.  Both activities wiped him out for hours afterward.  His appetite declined.

Sunday, he was determined to go to church.  He got up early because he knew it would take him a long time to get ready.  The pain was really causing him to slow down.  He made it through church and came home and went straight to bed.

Monday was Memorial Day.  Don't ever get sick on a three day weekend.  There's no one to help you.  He seemed so lethargic and confused that I made him call the doctor.  His family practice doctor had someone else on call.  That person took forever to call back, told him he needed to get some labs run, and then refused to prescribe the labs because she wasn't his doctor.  We debated taking him to the emergency room, but we were reluctant to do that, knowing we could wait forever, pay a fortune, and still not get any answers.

Tuesday, he headed to work!  I couldn't believe it.  By this time, his speech was slurred.  The kids told him he couldn't go because he sounded funny.  I told him he HAD to go to the doctor.  He said he would, after his 3 o'clock meeting. 

He never made it that far.  He called the doctor and she had him go straight to the ER.  He arrived at noon.  They realized that his calcium levels were extremely high (hypercalcemia) and he was suffering acute renal failure.  They admitted him to the hospital.  He called me, and I put away my painting supplies.  (Yes, I was repainting the house.) 

The next hours and day were a blur of tests, biopsies, CT scans, x-rays, MRIs.  There were holes in his bones.  His neck- his poor, painful neck- was broken.  All day Wednesday and half of Thursday, we waited for an answer.

Thursday afternoon, it came.  The kidney specialist came in and told us that he had some bad news.  Bryan had lymphoma.  The oncologist would be in to talk to us later.  He left.  The door shut behind him, and I stood there kind of shell-shocked.  I tried to go and pray with Bryan, but I don't think I really said anything.  Bryan, though he sort of heard what was going on, was too incoherent to express any emotion.

Then, the Lord helped.  The phone rang.  It was Pastor Loser.  He wanted to know how things were going.  He was praying.  I hung up the phone, and in walked our dear friend, Greg.  He had come to pray.  Neither of these men knew that we had just received a diagnosis, but God knew, and He was reminding us that, no matter how dark things seem, He's in control.

I sat there holding baby Austin, and I realized I was cuddling him close like he was my teddy bear.  He didn't mind.   My parents came to pick him up  and I immediately wished I hadn't asked them to take him.  That little baby had been giving me more comfort than anything else.

The day finally ended, as all days do.  I came home and prayed over my sleeping babies.  The next morning, I undertook the first stage of telling them about Daddy.  We prayed.  We read God's Word.

Bryan was transported to the main hospital, and he went in for surgery for his neck.  They removed the tumor that had dissolved the vertebra, and we were again blessed by a wonderful and kind neurosurgeon.  Bryan was able to sit up straight again, and the pain in his neck was better.

Throughout all of this, the prayers of our friends and family- the prayers of the saints- have upheld us.

"I will lift up my eyes to the hills-
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth."
Psalm 121:1

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