Saturday, July 26, 2014

Two Turns in the Journey

For the life of me I can’t find the connection between a first-born child and open-heart surgery.

But I experienced both within 10 days just a couple months ago.

Which brings me to a bit of an announcement. On June 8, 2014 Jessica and I welcomed Reade Edwin into the world—five weeks early, beating us to the punch on picking a pediatrician and a name.

We learned of both baby and leaky heart valve last fall. The valve news came in September by way of a routine screening that I had asked for. The baby news came in November by way of a stick. Actually two sticks. We couldn’t believe our eyes.

Jessica and I had casually talked about family and had intended to have a “serious” conversation on the subject. Well, we never had that conversation, and now we don’t have to. At our first official OB/GYN visit last December a due date of July 15 was set.

With regard to the leaky valve, I had asked, as part of my 50,000 mile check up, and on advice from bro-in-law Rick, for a baseline stress echocardiogram (“echo”). I’ve had no symptoms and truly was expecting to establish nothing but a heart function baseline. I now have a new question I will never forget, posed to me by the cardiologist who was called into the room by the tech in mid screening: “You know you have this leaky valve, right?” Uhh, no. I do now. The doctor indicated that the leak would simply be something to be monitored, assuring me that only 10 percent of leaky valves need treatment. And of course, at my first official cardiologist appointment a few weeks later we learned that I was in the 10 percent. It was measuring as a “severe” leak and treatment was a matter of “when,” not “if,” sooner rather than later (with “treatment” being open-heart surgery). Our knee-jerk thinking was to wait until after our delivery date in that the leak wasn’t an emergency. But a couple second opinions and an opening at the clinic at the University of Michigan (where my cardiologist wanted to send me; and btw, if you are in need of cardiology in the Middletown area, I would highly recommend Gary Brown, MD, and his great team) pointed to a date before Reade’s due date. We scheduled the surgery for May 30, a date that would accommodate a 30-day recovery with a two-week buffer before the July 15 due date.

So I spent about six weeks contemplating my life as a younger-than-usual heart patient and an older-than-usual new dad. When people joked with me about being an older dad they would unknowingly assure me with something like, “Well, at least you’re healthy.” To which I would have to say, “Well, let me share something with you.”

Thankfully, after successful valve repair surgery, and thanks to the world class skills of surgeon Stephen Bolling and his world class team, led by his amazing nurse Marguerite, I am healthy.

And not a moment too soon.

Within minutes of being discharged from the University of Michigan Medical Center, while working on my prescriptions list in our hospital hotel room, Jessica began experiencing some alarming pre-labor symptoms. Her OB/GYN in Ohio said, “Well, I know the University of Michigan has a great labor and delivery department. I’ve seen it. Go ahead and have them check you out.”

My mom and dad, the blessed Bonnie and Miles, phoned my sister and her husband, the blessed Beck and Rick, who had just left the facility to head home. They made a U-turn. We called our newest best friend, my nurse Marguerite, who had championed me through my entire surgery process. Rick came back to our room to pick up Jessica in a wheelchair. Marguerite met them in the hotel lobby to wheel Jessica to labor and delivery.
I laid on my bed in the hotel room like a slug. It was my only way to help. (Bonus points to you if you get that reference.)
After the labor/delivery folks monitored Jessica for several hours, we learned that she was having contractions, was dilated one centimeter and had a possible placental abruption. So, they admitted her.

My thought, as I lay in the hotel room like a slug: This can’t be happening.

But it was.

It was a harrowing thought to realize that if our baby was born at that time that I would not be able to do one thing to help or support. If he would happen to be over 10 pounds (though unlikely), I wouldn’t even be able to lift him for 30 days.

Jessica, after having been admitted on Monday (June 2) was discharged on Wednesday, giving us two days of great care in yet another of the University of Michigan’s great health centers. She made best friends out of all her docs which included Dr. Breed (I know! Great OB/GYN name) who looked like a 12-year old kid (but a very gifted OB), and Dr. Berman who came to U of M on a gymnastics scholarship, attended medical school there and stayed and who constantly asked Jessica “Who ARE you?” as she learned more about Jessica’s career and accomplishments. We were asking the same question of her as we learned of her career and accomplishments. The two-day stay also included a visit from Marguerite and Dr. Bolling, my healthcare team.

We left the University of Michigan on Thursday, and Reade, probably in a move to hold out until we crossed the Ohio line, was born on Sunday.

With me still unable to drive, we had our dear friends and neighbors, David and Angie Miller, drive us to the hospital after Jessica’s contractions began. David is a urologist and Angie is a nurse. We were in good hands. We left for the hospital around 9:30 p.m.  Reade entered this world at 11:46 p.m. Yep, that quick. And he weighed five pounds, six ounces, thoughtfully coming in a good four pounds under my lift limit.

Arriving five weeks early, Reade was soon taken to the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) where, because of his prematurity, he could be monitored for any complications. Thankfully, these were few, probably because of the great care (and two steroid shots to Jessica to help Reade’s lungs) at the University of Michigan.

While the NICU stay did mean that we were now spending extra days at the hospital, it also meant getting exposed to some of the kindest, wisest, gentlest, best-all-around-est people on the planet: NICU nurses.

But you know, as I ponder the connection between these two watershed life events, open-heart surgery and a newborn, here’s what I got so far (admittedly, it’s pretty simple): it’s the strengthening of our receiving and giving muscles by deepening our connections with people. The NICU nurses were actually the lead band in a parade of the kindest, wisest, gentlest, best-all-around-est people on the planet. Jessica and I had a curbside seat. We saw kindness and wisdom and gentleness we would not have otherwise seen, and we saw it from a position of flat on our backs. All of us sometimes find ourselves in that position, times when we can do nothing but lay there like a slug. We have to depend. To rely upon. To, and this is the kicker, lose control. This causes us to engage emotional and spiritual muscles that we seldom use. I’m convinced that the more we exercise our receiving muscles, the more we fire up our giving muscles. Then as we become more upright, we can’t wait to give. And it’s a deeper, better give.

Throughout this stretch I have said several times to myself, sometimes out loud: “I can’t believe how giving people are.” We’ve had: Neighbors mowing our lawn, friends organizing meals, guy friends throwing me a “diaper” shower at a local pub (we have a wall full of diapers and a shelf full of “toys your kids liked when you were a new dad”, girl friends throwing bi-coastal showers for Jessica and setting us for life in baby gear, our families stepping up in countless ways (like my mom and sister taking the night shift several nights a week!), friends bringing food to us in the baby hospital, friends making the trip to Michigan to visit us in the heart hospital, lactation nurses inspiring us with new levels of persistence, labor and post-partum nurses in the Dayton hospital making sure I’m doing okay, heart surgery nurses in the Michigan hospital making sure that Jessica is doing okay, my heart surgeon and nurse visiting Jessica in the labor department, Reade’s neonatologist and nurses making sure I was getting rest (and watching my coffee intake). We even made an unexpected friend out of my hospital roommate (both of us had asked about the availability of private rooms).

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been pondering what God might be trying to teach us—if anything (everything doesn’t have to be a lesson)—through these concurrent life events. Then this happened. A few days ago, the day I started writing this post, I took my first “normal” bike ride—no babying of the heart and pushing as hard as I wanted. While on the final leg, a near-professional bike rider, all decked out in the latest gear with more logos than a NASCAR car, went zooming past. As he passed he said, “Did you see those deer back there?” To which I said, “No! How did I miss that?!” I mean really, how could I miss that? I quickly turned, and there in the edge of the woods, two doe. And two fawns.

Then, as if to put a giant exclamation point on the whole deal, as if to leave no doubt that God is up to something in all this, later that evening Jessica and I saw one of the biggest, boldest rainbows we’ve seen in a long time. I haven’t had a deer/rainbow combo since June 2011, the week Jessica and I met.

If you are new to this blog, this deer story post [click here] will help bring you up to speed on why these sightings of a deer and rainbow are significant. (Strangely, I don’t think I ever wrote a post about the rainbow story, but just directed folks to the newspaper story, which is no longer active. So, rainbow post coming soon. Meanwhile, if you search "rainbow" on this blog you will get some good background.) Simply put, I am in a blessed position (whether flat on my back or upright) to experience new life and a repaired heart, a heart that was broken in more ways than one.

Thankfully, more than one kind of healing has happened, too. Bring on new life. There is much to experience, much to receive, and much to give.

Thank you for journeying along.