Each year we join forces with Cannon and Company to support a worthy cause for the Holiday’s. I could not be happier that this year we are raising awareness and asking for your help in supporting The SECU Family House here in Winston-Salem. Much like the Ronald McDonald House, they provide lodging for adult patients and caregivers traveling to Forsyth County for healthcare. SECU Family House is a compassionate, comfortable alternative to a hospital waiting room or an expensive hotel for people facing the challenge of out-of-town medical care.
Most importantly, they provide a warm, safe place to lay your weary head. A moment of silent peace when the storms of life are raging around you. A brief reprieve to heal, and gather strength to face some of the toughest days of your life.
My story is much like Beth and Sandy’s story. We were far from home and needed shelter from our storm. My sister Donna, stepmother Sharon and I experienced the blessing of a house such as this when my father Donnie was in Carolina’s Medical Center in Charlotte, NC December 2006.
Dad had been on the transplant list for a liver for quite a while, so when the word came one evening that a match had been located, we didn’t hesitate, even though it was December 23rd we were filled with hope. Maybe this was a Christmas miracle, his second chance, the answer to our prayers.
Funny thing about answers to prayers…as I have learned over the last decade, the answer God gives isn’t always the one you think is fair…or right, or easy to receive. Funny thing about the liver…it doesn’t play well with others. Needless to say…our joy quickly disappeared and through the next few weeks, we basically lived at the hospital.
Long stays at hospitals can become almost an alternate universe. The whole world revolves around similarity. Never ending doors and hallways, elevators and cafeterias. The outside world ceases to really exist, you’re totally consumed with the here and now, and you forget what day it is, what time it is, or what you are currently feeling. All you know is the constant coming and goings of nurses, doctors, and hospital staff. They glide in and out doing their job and that slowly becomes your normal.
Exhaustion, hunger, emotional highs and lows all blend into one toxic mixture of helplessness. After a day or so of quick wash downs like bird bath’s in locked hospital bathrooms, sleeping in a chairs for only minutes at a time, and wearing the same clothes in a string of days that lost definition. You realize that you have hit a wall. To be given a gift of normality, even if it comes in a soft bed, or a hot shower is a blessing above all comprehension.
That is what I remember feeling the first time I was shown my room for the moment at the Hospitality House in Charlotte, NC. It was right across the street from the hospital, so you didn’t get that feeling you were too far away, but far enough away to let your guard down, if just for a moment. I specifically remember my first hot shower I had there. It will be forever branded in my mind.
I had one of the most purging power cries of my life as the scalding water washed over me. Enveloped by those shower walls I could fall apart and let all the emotions I had successfully repressed go free. I could pour my heart out to God and release myself to the baptismal Grace that moment provided.
It allowed me to humble myself and let things go, and it was such a blessing to let it all go down the drain. A shelter in the storm, a place to restore, recharge, replenish myself for the days to come.
The ministry the house provides is so necessary and timely. Many times the people it serves have no idea they will be in need of their services. Much like my family, the events that lead us to the Hospitality House unfolded in a way that we had no way of foreseeing. Having someone give you a toiletry travel bag with shampoo, deodorant, a toothbrush may seem like a small act of kindness, but when you have slept in a chair for three days, it is a blessing of abundance, that far surpasses just simple kindness.
Top 10 Wish List: These are items we are collecting for the SECU Family House. We will have two collection bins at our 2160 Country Club Road location. This wish list is instrumental in keeping a stocked supply of things that visitors to the home may have forgotten, or they simply did not think they would need.
By donating to this wonderful cause you are providing what care givers need the most at a time when they are at their weakest. You can also help by doing something you will do this time of year anyway, shopping on for Christmas. While you shop online or on our wish list for your personal purchases, why not shop through Amazon Smile and choose SECU Family House as your charity of choice? It’s a quick, free, and one time sign-up, and Amazon donates .5% of the price of your eligible purchases to the House.
There is no one person’s pain or loss that trumps another’s. But if you ever need insight, if you want to know why this type of refuge is so very important, I pulled a page out of my journal to share with you. Why? Because it is a perfect example of the fragility that comes with watching and waiting for a sign.
The mindset of someone who is willing to bargain with God. The desperation one feels during their extended hospital stay.
Re-reading this today makes my heart still flutter, tears gather in the corners of my eyes, but that is what I have become accustomed to when I think back to that time.
More relevant than anything, it made me remember fondly how important having the Hospitalty House was during this journey. I wanted to give you some insight, just a glimpse of why it was so important to have places like the SECU House. They provide comfort when you are in the storms of life.
If this blog has touched you, or resonates with you in any way, please share it with others and help us support this most noble of causes. You can either drop off your donated items from the Wish List link to our office, or you may be moved to donate in a different way. Donate to the SECU Family House. Thank you very much!
Jan 6, 2007 at 2:01 PM
I can’t call each of you, it’s too hard to talk sometimes, but I thought I’d let you in on where I am.
To all of you, first and foremost I want to thank you for all of your prayers. It has been a hard road since 3 a.m. on Saturday December 22, 2006. I think the thing that gives me peace is that he was wheeled into OR smiling with a hope in his eyes that when he returned to us with a new liver, it would mean a new life. No more getting winded climbing stairs or chasing James, a chance to see Victoria graduate high school maybe Justin marry ( ha-ha ) and having a little more time to enjoy his life now that the hard work of reaching retirement had passed.
He told us all in that sweet voice to “give him smooches” and his blue eyes twinkled in a way that I don’t think I’d ever seen before…he was totally at peace with his God, with his life and with what was waiting for him beyond those OR doors.
The liver they gave him started out strong, but due to an unfortunate set of circumstances, he bled internally that first night after surgery. After 11 pints of fresh frozen plasma, they decided to go back in. This surgery was only six hours compared to the twelve the night before, and thankfully they were able to control the bleeding. The result of the bleeding however denied the transplanted liver whole fresh blood that carried oxygen, so the new liver began to die as would a flower denied water.
It took a couple of days to determine that the new liver would not rebound and time was getting shortened. They began him on dialysis because his kidneys wouldn’t accept the weakened liver. On Thursday they determined a new liver would be necessary.
Friday we were told that before he could get another liver a CT scan would be necessary to see if his brain was bleeding because his blood was so thin. I remember being outside the elevators when I was called by my Stepmother Sharon and told that. She and my sister were stuck in traffic behind a wreck on their way to the hospital. Telling my father that I’d be right here when he got back from CT was so very hard, because by this stage…every new fear became so much worse than the one before, but I never let him hear any of the fear in my voice, that was not what we were raised to do. Besides, this was still very much his fight and to believe in anything less than recovery would be a discredit to him.
No bleeding. Surgery scheduled at midnight Friday night, a new liver is one the way! Surgery moved to 4:45 am, liver is being held up…..Surgery canceled, the liver is no good. WAIT, another liver is coming, surgery at noon…Surgery canceled at 10:30 am due to the liver coming in with hepatitis B. We wait. We’re on the top of the list in Kentucky, Tenn., Virginia, NC and SC in both A- as well as O-. We wait…nothing. No word…It’s excruciating because they were coming in so fast before…somethings not right. Knock at the door at 1 am, Donna and I are in sleeping bags on the waiting room floor. We jump up as if on fire, it’s Carla the night nurse asking for consent to reinsert a heart monitor into his neck. I have found over the last week and a half, volumes can be said by the looks in the nurse’s eyes….volumes.
We wake up at 6:30ish and roll up our sleeping bags and fold our blankets and begin to tidy up the tiny…tiny family consultation waiting room they’ve been kind enough to let us live in for days now. Sharon my step mother arrives at the door, her face is ash grey….he has an infection. Once again the pain seems to stab deeper than the last wave of disbelief and once again the proverbial rug is yanked out and we are left falling without net.
His White blood cell count is now up to 50,000 and he is no longer a candidate for a new liver. His lungs both have fluid in them and there’s a bacteria in his lungs as well as the struggling liver that was supposed to be his “gift of life”. Irony oozes from every corner of my brain, and I begin thinking thoughts of “He did this for us, we pushed him…I pushed him…he never really wanted this…this was never the way it was supposed to be…” Doubt is the devil in disguise, I’m sure of it.
Most of Sunday, the last day of the year was spent trying to stop crying long enough to ease my head from the throbbing pain coming from either lack of good sleep, lack of sunlight, lack of courage, lack of faith that you can do this another day…My best cries were in my car, alone. Much like my father I can get hysterical over spilled milk, but not shed a tear if the cow dies…Real pain is something very hard for me to process and I don’t do it well with others.
I began to hate the phone ringing or the visitors. Not that I hated them as people who were calling or coming by to give us their best attempt at words of comfort, but because it means the retelling of the story…again…and again…and again. I hate the times it’s just the three of us, my sister, my step mother and myself…It is a virtual force to keep your brain from going to places that you can’t bare to think about. You curse yourself for not having hope and then reprimand yourself for not being realistic and after you have had enough of the arguing with the voices in your head…you go for a walk. I have several well-worn paths of escape through the corridors of a hospital I can maneuver through now like I was raised there.
I think often to a story my boss Jim told me about stubble on his father when he had fallen ill, and I laugh to myself because I didn’t “get it” until I see my father asleep now with tubes and beeps and bells and whooshes and a flurry of people swarming around him adjusting this and testing that and ALL I can focus on is that I had never seen him with facial hair, but there it was…as white as the hair on his head and I have to go walk because a nurse comments that he looks like Santa Clause….I miss his blue eyes so terribly this day. It is truly the hardest day yet for me.
Monday morning, a New Year, and new day. His White Blood cell count has slowly began to drop, his O2 levels have dropped to a steady 40% he is own his own bring his blood pressure down and he is here to remind us that all is not lost. I see him for the first time and it’s like God knew I needed a break, he is clean-shaven and looks less yellow and more fleshy and I swear for just a moment I felt him tighten a bit on my hand as we have our morning pep talk. The surgeons however are quick to remind us that his is far from where he needs to be, but are remarkably surprised at how hard he is fighting. I can’t help but laugh to myself that this is undeniably the most stubborn man I know. I think I laugh because it’s one of Daddy’s qualities Eric claims we share.
I send Donna and Sharon home on Monday after much convincing them that they need showers and their own beds. They need to switch out their suitcases and recharge their batteries…whatever the road ahead has in store, we are far from being done with this journey. I’ve not seen James now in five days. My heart aches for him and I miss the smell he has at the top of his head, the most beautiful “James my baby” smell that comforts me. I am going to go on Tuesday when they return, but tonight Dad and I will have our night alone. I sit for most of the night just staring at him breath.
I think Monday night I promised him the world. He could be the winner of every argument we’d ever had, even about protesting Jesse Helms and that whole arrest thing when I was 18. I told him that what I’d fought so hard against the last 35 years of my life was that he was my compass…my direction…and the person whose opinion of me mattered most. My father and I haven’t always seen eye to eye, but there are times when you let yourself acknowledge things that for the most part remain unsaid…we are bound by some strange rules of engagement, and when all is said and done we are each other’s Achilles heel.
Tuesday he responded in kind to all my propositions of grandeur by reducing his White blood cell count to 30, 000. He had managed to steady his O2, balance his blood pressure and even with the dialysis, was making a rally. The surgeons all met with me Tuesday morning. Dr. Denny who did the initial surgery barely spoke, but his face showed the amount of disappointment and responsibility he felt. I must say all of them, each nurse, each doctor, they all have been so wonderful.
The newest surgeon on rotation was introduced to me because it was his turn this week to take the transplant patients, but I can tell Dr. Eskind (who is the top transplant Doctor of the group) and sweet, humble and somewhat crushed Dr. Denny weren’t quite ready to let go of the fight yet. Dr. Denny reached out for my hand as I looked him square in the eyes that morning and said “You’ll tell me…either way…I mean, you’ll be straight with me so I’ll know what I should be prepared to tell James..” He squeezed my hand and without blinking said “Yes, I will always tell you.”
I came home shortly after that, Eric had cleaned house, gone to the grocery store, bought me flowers, had a roast in the crock pot and let me lay on his shoulder on the couch and collapse. It had been five days since I had seen or smelled my home, five days with no real point of reference, there waiting, arms open was my sweet husband who hasn’t complained once during all of this has forever gained a higher level of respect and gratitude from me. But I may never actually tell him that! 🙂
My step sister Lisa and my nieces Emily and Jennifer brought James home at 7:00 pm. He came running into our house arms flung wide open yelling “MOMMY” I swear to you it was the sweetest sound I’ve heard in my life…He hugged and kissed and hugged and kissed and then on to Daddy…”I MISSED YOU!” and he sincerely meant it…For the next few hours he would stop random play to come and kiss me or hug Eric and repeated said he missed and loved us “big much!” which to James, is the largest amount imaginable. We cuddled and watched football and then at bedtime we talked and I played with his hair and got a night-night kiss and hug…as I shut his door I told I was so glad he was home and he said with a great amount of relief…”Me too Mommy.”
I got a call around 11:30 pm from my sister that Dads white blood cell count was now at 20.7…:::smile::: that crusty old man with a sweet gooey center had done it…He had defied what the doctors had said and proved as all doubting Thomas’s and put himself right smack in the window of opportunity they have been waiting for. There’s a liver on its way, the surgery will be sometime today if all goes well with the liver. It seemed about right by my calculations, nothing had stayed the same for longer than seven hours from the very beginning of this, so this of course was par for the course. Nothing to do but wait, again.
This morning at 7:30 am, call from Donna, first liver was bad, second one is coming, and they are aggressively going to find a liver today. The doctors have told her it would be a disservice to Dad not to give him the best chance they could find since he was fighting so hard from his end of things…There’s nothing the man loves more than being right, but more importantly proving others wrong.
So now we wait, you’re all where I am.
For all of you that I’ve talked to over the last week and a half, thank you for weathering my ups and downs and being strong people who love me and listened to me fall apart and put myself back together all in one conversation. For all of you I haven’t talked to, please know I feel your thoughts and prayers but I have had limited ability to keep it together enough to re-tell, and I know you all have been praying for my Dad and I believe that prayers, positive energy, karma and good old fashion stubbornness has kept the fire alive. In any case I appreciate all of it.
For the next few days continue sending your good thoughts not only for my dad, but for the family to have peace in their hearts and grace in their steps where ever this path may lead us…For my dear sweet husband who has been my hero and soft place to land, my sweet child who knows that mommy is tired and strokes my hair and gives me kisses and in so many ways reminds me that I am good and worthy.
We all need to remember that Dad has never ever done anything he didn’t want to do. He walked into this with a smile on his face and gave us all “smooches” before they wheeled him away. There’s a plan bigger than all of us with roads that stretch out far beyond our wildest imagination. I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for walking with and sometimes carrying me through this part of the journey.
God Bless and I love you.
My father survived the transplant surgery of the second liver later that day, we were so relieved, elated and thankful that this journey was finally coming to a conclusion. According to the doctors, everything looked positive, and they smiled a reserved, but hopeful smile. We called the Hospitality House, and they agreed to let us in, for a good nights rest, to get ready for the day ahead. They welcomed us with hugs and comfort. He had made it! Of course he did, he was the stubbornest man I knew. I called my best friend Manya in Atlanta that night sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch and exclaimed my hopes for sharing jello with him in the morning.
Sadly, just a few hours after laying my head down, my father succumbed to a massive heart attack in the hallway heading toward ICU. It was at that wonderful house, I shed heartbreaking tears as a daughter without a father. On that front porch, have the distinct memory of the feeling of that deep soul ripping cry when you open your mouth, but the pain is too deep, too jagged to make a sound. The abundance of Grace they showed us that night will never be forgotten, the shelter in my storm.
God Bless them forever.