Who was it that said, "The more I try to do, the more I fall behind"? This describes my life perfectly. I keep telling myself to stop volunteering for activities and functions---and I've succeeded to some degree---but then life decides to add twists and turns to my days, and that's when things get absolutely chaotic….
Take, for instance, the month of January. New year, new beginnings, fresh start to life, right? Not so much for the Ostrander family. Over the Christmas holidays, my second youngest, Ashley, was sick with what was probably the flu. She had a slight fever, vomiting, and a burning sensation in her stomach that finally went away after about a week. Her appetite took a little longer to return, which meant poor Ashley was feeling ill for most of her school vacation. Fast forward to Thursday, January 5. My second oldest, Katie, began feeling a similar pain in her stomach, accompanied by fever and nausea. She was ill clear through Sunday, January 8, when she spent the day vomiting. By that night, she was asking to go to the ER, but Chad and I both said that would be extreme. After all, she'd not been vomiting even 24 hours; they'd tell us it was just the flu and to drink fluids. Monday seemed to bring some relief: no more vomiting, although the abdominal pain was still there, presenting itself in waves. I'd spent the weekend on Google attempting to pinpoint exactly what Katie's symptoms indicated---intestinal virus, appendicitis, female problems---and could only conclude that she'd picked up whatever flu bug Ashley had had earlier. We honestly thought she'd continue to improve and would eventually feel better. Boy, was I wrong!
Katie's pain persisted throughout that week. She was upset about that for multiple reasons: (1) she didn't feel at all well; (2) she could only eat bland foods in an attempt to pacify her stomach; and (3) she had told me she had an important job interview on Saturday morning, January 14, that she simply couldn't miss. Chad and I encouraged her to keep her basic schedule, getting some housework done during the day and going to her cleaning job at night. That makes us sound like bad parents, I know, but our philosophy is the world doesn't stop just because you don't feel well. Hindsight, however, tells just how off we were! Her appetite was greatly diminished, and she just didn't seem to be getting any better, despite eating a bland diet and drinking as much water as she could handle. Friday, January 13, I tried to get her in to see her doctor, only to find out that it had been so long since we'd seen the doctor that we were no longer considered current patients. Blessing in disguise? I started the request process to be accepted back as patients and decided to just take Katie to Urgent Care.
That place was packed!!! So much flu going around, so many ill people---I was scared to breathe. Katie had to wear a mask, since we thought she had the flu; her skin reacted, causing a slight rash on her face. We finally got called back to an exam room where the nurse took her vitals and registered the information in the computer. The doctor took another ten minutes to come in, but that was to be expected with the overflowing waiting room. When she entered, she asked us to explain again Katie's various symptoms and how long they'd been persisting. Then the big moment came. The doctor asked Katie to lie back on the table so she could examine her abdomen…..and Katie couldn't do it. Her stomach/abdomen had been hurting so much that it was easier to stay in a semi-hunched position; thus, it simply hurt too much to try to lie back and stretch her abdomen out fully. The doctor took all this in with one glance and stepped back. "I think there's something bigger going on here than I can treat, and you need to go the ER," she said. Katie began crying. "No, Mom, I can't be sick! I can't go the ER!" I assured her that she'd be fine once we got things figured out and not to worry about the job interview because she could explain once she got better. That was when the big news broke: "Mom, I don't have an interview. I have to go to the airport!"
The airport could only mean one thing: Amanda, my oldest, was coming for a visit! A surprise visit, that I wasn't supposed to know about. My husband and two oldest girls had cooked this up as a special surprise for me, since Mandie hadn't been able to come home for Christmas. This was the super important "interview" that Katie couldn't miss. Now I started crying! The poor doctor just stood there, completely in the dark as to what was going on. I managed to calm Katie down somewhat, explain to the doctor in a few sentences what was happening, and gather the paperwork we needed to head for the ER. Next step of our journey:
Once at the ER, we signed in and began the wait to be seen. They took us back for a few minutes to check Katie's vitals and such, but it was an hour and a half before we were taken to an exam room. Short for the ER but still interminable when you're in pain. The doctor came in to see Katie; this time, when asked to lie back, she was able to do it. The doctor pressed on her abdomen in different places and decided to do a CT scan, since he believed she had a kidney stone. This was something I hadn't considered, but he seemed to think it was so. Once the scan was complete, we began the next waiting period; by now Katie was just wanting to figure things out and go home. The intake nurse had set an IV port which was already causing trouble, Katie was exhausted from pain and illness, and she was still feeling terrible for letting out the secret of Amanda's visit. Suddenly the exam room curtain whipped back. The doctor entered and as suddenly closed the curtain behind him, ensuring complete privacy. Katie and I glanced fearfully at each other; this was not the expected "here's your diagnosis and prescription." He abruptly said, "So tell me more about when you were sick last week." We recounted the details of her illness, starting with Thursday and going through the vomiting on Sunday and the persistent pain up to the present. He said, "Well, it's not a kidney stone. You have a perforated appendix."
What??!!! I'd checked appendicitis symptoms, and hers didn't fit the description. I gasped at his announcement, but poor Katie didn't realize what he meant. Turns out, her appendix had apparently ruptured sometime Sunday (when she wanted to go to the ER, go figure!), but her body had walled off the area, preventing her from going into septic shock. After the doctor vindicated me by saying her appendicitis didn't present with the normal symptoms, we were informed that Katie would not be leaving that hospital until she had had an appendectomy. Thus began our six-day stay in the hospital. I called Chad, waking him up about an hour before he had to go to work, and told him what was going on. He called his supervisor (Miss June is a saint!) and was able to get someone to cover his shift so that he could (a) come to the hospital to see Katie and (b) pick up Mandie from the airport. Ashley was now left holding down the fort at home while Katie and I prepared to spend some unexpected time together in the surgical ward.
Her appendectomy took place mid-Saturday morning, but her recovery would take much, much longer. Because her appendix had ruptured nearly a week earlier, her intestinal tract/abdomen was a complete mess. The doctor was able to clean everything out, but he had to use gas to inflate her abdomen so there would be no chance of nicking something unintentionally; he also had to insert a drain to allow excess fluids to be drained off. We had been warned that the best way to get rid of the surgical gas is to walk around, but this was incredibly painful for my girl. She did it, though; Katie is a definite trooper! However, the next several days were horrible: she was in a tremendous amount of pain from the surgery, the trapped gas pockets were highly uncomfortable, she had zero appetite, and her intestinal tract was nonfunctioning. The doctors seemed to think everything was progressing normally, and once her digestive tract picked up again and her white blood count came down, they released her.
Thankfully, during this time, Amanda had become the "mother" at home, making sure the kids got to/from school, fixing meals and lunches, and reminding about homework. We had Monday, January 16, off school, and Chad had already arranged for someone to sub for me on Tuesday and Wednesday so that I could spend time with Mandie---which turned into spending time with Katie, who needed a sympathetic someone with her constantly. Chad did take a shift at her bedside so that Mandie and I could go to the mall for some fun time. Katie spent half her time apologizing from her hospital bed for ruining the special plans they'd made and the other half groaning in pain. Even after we got her home, she was in constant pain and struggling to take the monstrous antibiotics they'd sent her home with. We kept hoping she'd eventually turn a corner and begin to feel better, but that was yet to happen….
Five days later, on Tuesday afternoon, January 24, I got Katie in to be seen by one of the doctors in the surgical practice. I just felt that she wasn't improving like she should have been---a suspicion confirmed by the doctor's suggestion that we go back to the ER. We spent four hours waiting to be seen there, having checked in and had a second CT scan done. Finally, we received the news: Katie had developed abscesses in her abdomen from the surgery. The doctors weren't sure if these abscesses were filled with just extra fluids or filled with pus, but they readmitted her because she needed IV fluids and antibiotics. The ER was so full, we were put in a bed in the hallway! We were told we would probably stay there all night before a bed would open up in the morning, but we thank God that we received a bed in the newly-opened post-op waiting room---and this bed was in a private room! The rest of the patients were in beds separated by curtains, but we got a room with a door and a bathroom!!! Turns out that door was necessary because Katie had also developed an intestinal infection that was highly contagious. We were only in the hospital two days this time around, long enough for them to determine (1) they couldn't drain the abscesses without causing more damage, (2) the abscesses weren't filled with infection, just fluids, and (3) she had developed an allergic reaction to the original antibiotics. This time when they released Katie, she had new antibiotics to take and I had specific instructions to scrub the house with bleach to prevent anyone else from getting the intestinal infection.
The good news is that this time, there was definite improvement! Katie began having less pain and so needed less pain medication; she actually had to coat the antibiotics with butter to get them to slide down her throat (!); and she began to feel hungry. Her final check-up with the surgeon a week later revealed some interesting facts: the antibiotics were causing the nasty taste in her mouth which was in turn making everything taste horrible (that would clear up once she finished the meds), so her appetite would soon return; the sharp pain she still felt when bending over was caused by the still-healing drain site which had had to punch through muscle (as opposed to the laparoscopic site which avoided major organs and muscles); and she had apparently looked "like death warmed over" the week prior when she had had to be readmitted! He gave her permission to return to work on a lighter schedule at first, then more as she felt able. She still deals with occasional trapped gas, and she frequently feels exhausted after some activity that would normally just leave her tired. But she's healed very well and is able to resume her normal life activities, and we thank God so much for that.
His hand was very apparent in all of this, and anyone who cannot see that is simply not looking. Her appendix rupturing, her body closing off that area to prevent sepsis, her doctor not able to see her so the need to go to Urgent Care, the dreaded diagnosis, Amanda's timely arrival to help with the house and kids, the two hospital stays, the sub who so willingly filled in for me in my classes, the private room for her second hospital visit, the medication that she thought she'd choke on but that did the trick, the explanation for the extended loss of appetite---everything shows us that God is in control and He knows exactly what is going on, even when we don't. There are always going to be problems in life and situations we don't understand. There are always going to be difficulties and struggles and hardships. There are always going to be unexpected bills to pay and uncertain futures and unanswered questions to face. The one thing we can know to be certain, settled, and definite is God. His presence, His omniscience, His care, and His love are always there. Sometimes in the middle of our crazy, stressed, pull-our-hair-out chaos, we lose grasp of the fact that He's always there with us, right in the middle of the seemingly never-ending storm. But He is. When we choose to place our faith in God, we are choosing to align ourselves with Him and, what's more, let Him have control. It's like we're walking with God through a hurricane. When we step out from behind His protection and face the storm on our own, we're forcibly struck with the realization that we cannot handle the intensity of the swirling destruction by our own power; we need His hand to shield us from the worst of the storm's wrath. Oh, we'll still get wet; we'll still get buffeted with strong winds; we may even lose our homes or our health or sometimes our friends and family. But---and this is key---how much greater would our loss be if we hadn't let Him lead? If we hadn't given Him control? If we hadn't yielded to His protection and endured the storm with Him by our side? I'd much rather face life's storms letting God be my Guide than get angry with His decisions or question His choices and try to strike out on my own. After all….
Romans 8: 31-32 "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?"