Monday, December 8, 2008

Jennifer's life from Nov 17 to Nov 26

Jennifer has been sick since February. She has had reoccurring strep which has caused strep to get into her system even between active cases. Because of that she has had severe headaches and leg pains. So, in an effort to help her not to keep getting strep so that she will no longer have the leg pains and headaches we had Jennifer’s tonsils and adenoids removed on Monday, November 17.

The surgery went well, though after it was over, the ENT came into the waiting room where Jeff and I were waiting and rolled his eyes and said, “Redheads! They always bleed more.” Other than that there were not any complications and we came home a couple of hours later. Right before we left, the nurse told us that if we saw ANY blood in her mouth or throat to take her immediately to ER. She said it was very rare to have that happen, less than 1%. I remember thinking ‘It is going to happen!’ It seems that if anything can go wrong with surgeries, they happen in our family, at least they have for Josh and me.

Over the next few days, Jennifer seemed to be quite uncomfortable and in quite a bit of pain. I assumed it was because she was only on regular Tylenol. The Tylenol with codeine made her throw up. I also noticed that she did not bounce back nearly as quickly as Josiah had done after his T&A but I assumed that was because he had only been four and Jennifer was seven and the ENT had said that the older you are, the harder the recovery.

Thursday evening Jennifer seemed to be in a lot of pain. She was crying that she wanted me and she said that her tummy hurt and her throat hurt. I thought perhaps it was that she was still recovering from her tonsillectomy but suddenly she began to cry hard and kick her feet in pain. She cried out that she had to go to the bathroom so I carried her in to the bathroom. As soon as I set her on her feet by the toilet, to my horror, she began to cough up blood into the toilet. In the background I could hear the phone ringing and the answering machine come on and Ginny Stratford talking into it. For some reason, in the midst of that awful scene, hearing the voice of a friend gave me comfort, though I obviously did not go answer the phone right then. All four of the other children were watching in horror, too. To see their little sister coughing up blood was truly scary. Both girls were crying and I was working hard not to panic in front of them.

My first thought was to call 911 but then I realized I would probably get there faster if I called Margie Blair or Rhonda Collogan (who both live within a two minute drive of our house) to come and take us to ER. Praise the Lord, Rhonda was home and able to take us. While waiting for her, I carried Jennifer to the couch and then I ran to get dressed (I had changed into my Pj\Js) and began to yell orders through the crack in the door, “Josh, you’ll have to babysit. Everyone go to bed on time. Don’t worry. Pray!” and I am not sure what else. Joshua’s calm demeanor and quiet answers calmed me down a bit. Jessica asked if she could come to ER with us so I told her if she was ready by the time Rhonda got there, she could come. Jessica and Jennifer are very, very close and I knew Jessica would not sleep anyway. I also knew that if I had to leave Jennifer for a minute at ER (to use the restroom or something) Jennifer would be okay with Jessica there to hold her hand.

Rhonda was there very quickly and I still didn’t have my shoes on when she pulled in. Jennifer was feeling well enough to walk out to the car and so she and Jessica went on out while I put my shoes on. I noticed that a pair of “my” shoes were by the front door and wondered why they were there and but was glad they were handy and I put them on and went out to the car.

I was so thankful to be going to the hospital with a friend instead of being in the back of an ambulance. I know that was much less traumatic for Jennifer, too. Talking with Rhonda on the way helped to calm me down. I think it helped the girls, too. They were both calm and not crying any more.

I found out later that, after we left, Josh gathered his two brothers together and they prayed for Jennifer.

At ER we were quickly taken to a room. When the doctor came in she said “We take this very seriously” and she said we would be there awhile. There didn’t seem to be any point in Rhonda staying and she had a trip the next day so after a little while she went home. I called Joshua and got Jeff’s work number and then called Jeff who said he would come. During all this time, Jennifer got an IV (she was very brave; such a little trooper!) and a blood and urine sample were taken. The Child Life lady brought in a movie for the girls to watch while we waited for the tests results and for the doctor to reach our ENT by phone. That distracted them which was good.

After about an hour, the doctor came back in and said that Jennifer was going to be kept in the hospital overnight for observation. Jeff arrived at the hospital about the time they were transporting Jennifer to a hospital room on the fourth floor. It was so good to see him!

In the hospital room, we were asked a few questions, shown a few things and Jennifer was settled into her bed. They decided to leave her in her clothes instead of changing her into a hospital gown because the IV was already in. Jennifer was very pale and very listless and did not want to talk. Jennifer always wants to talk. She is very chatty and always has something to say. So we knew she was not feeling well at all. By the time Jennifer was settled and the nurses had left the room, it was nearly midnight. Jeff and Jessica went home. Jennifer was wanting me with her so I sat by her and held her hand until she fell asleep.

After Jennifer went to sleep, I made the couch into a bed and laid down. Jennifer seemed restless in her sleep and I could not sleep at all. A nurse came in to get her vitals (which Jennifer slept through) and she and I chatted a bit. I learned that she is a devout Christian and that she has a son Jennifer’s age.

Right after the nurse left and I laid back down on the bed, I heard Jennifer say, “Mommy!” in a panicky voice. I jumped up and went to her in time to see blood literally pouring out of her mouth. It kept coming for what seemed an eternity but was probably only a few seconds. It went all over her, the bed, the floor and even a bit on me. I rang for the nurse but was afraid they would not come immediately so I ran to the door and opened it and yelled (yes, I really did yell!) to a nurse that was passing by (who was not even Jennifer’s nurse) that Jennifer was vomiting blood. Within seconds, there were four nurses and the resident doctor in the room.

Jennifer was pale and quiet while one of the nurses tried to clean the blood off of her. The resident told the nurse to move Jennifer to a chair and leave the blood on the bed so another doctor could see the amount of blood that was lost. I can not even begin to explain how much blood it was. The resident then called the staff doctor and the ENT that was on call.

At one point during all of this, Jennifer reached her little blood stained hand up and put it on my arm and asked me in a weak little voice, “Mommy, am I going to die?” I was in turmoil. My mommy-heart cried out inside of me. The whole thing seemed surreal…my little daughter, soaked in her own blood, asking me if she was going to die. I could not honestly tell her that she would not die. With the amount of blood, I knew there was a chance, small perhaps, but a chance she would not make it. Already the resident was talking about a transfusion. The nurse that I had chatted with earlier gave me a look that I think was saying that I should NOT tell Jennifer she might die. I took her little hand and said, “No, Darling, you are not going to die.” and prayed I was telling the truth. The nurse looked very relieved and patted me on the shoulder.

The resident told me that he had reached Jennifer’s ENT’s partner and that he would be coming down to do surgery on Jennifer immediately. They needed to find the source of the bleeding and cauterize it. So, within minutes after her episode, Jennifer was being wheeled down to the first floor for surgery. I held her hand as we went.

I was nervous because I did not know the ENT who would be doing the surgery. I was even more nervous when he arrived because he banged on the security locked door and had to be let in and asked where the OR room was(I found out later he normally does not do surgery at that hospital). But after he talked to me and told me what the procedure was and what exactly he would be doing, I felt confident that Jennifer would be in good hands.

When it was time for Jennifer to be taken into the actual surgery room, I squeezed her hand and told her I loved her and would be praying for her. I was then given directions to the waiting room. It was quite far away and I felt very uneasy to be that far away from Jennifer especially because I had to go through two sets of double doors that locked behind me. When I arrived at the waiting room, I was not even sure I was at the right place. It was deserted except for an oriental custodian who was cleaning it. “Hi!” He said, “You have someone having emergency surgery, yes?” Apparently people don’t go to that waiting room at 2:00 AM unless they have a loved one in emergency surgery. I told him that my daughter was in surgery and he told me to help myself to the TV and the magazines and then disappeared and I never saw him again. That whole part of the hospital seemed deserted. I could occasionally see someone down a hall in the distance but other than that, I was alone the whole time.

There was no way I could relax enough to read anything or watch TV. I paced around the waiting room awhile, glad to be alone so that I could pace and pray. During all of Joshua’s surgeries I had to sit quietly in a room full of people. I felt very scared and lonely as I wondered if my daughter would make it through the surgery. I don’t remember ever feeling so alone in my life. Even in Joshua’s two emergency surgeries (and all his other surgeries), Jeff had been by my side. There was a phone in the waiting room and I thought about calling someone but didn’t want to wake anyone up at that hour. There was really nothing anyone could do anyway and I doubt anyone could find me in that remote part of the hospital behind all the locked doors.

I had called Jeff when right before she was taken to surgery and told him I’d feel better if he stayed home with the other kids because I didn’t want Dad to just leave in the middle of the night. Even though Josh could babysit, I knew they (especially Jessica) would be terrified if they were awakened to be told that Jeff was leaving and why, and so I preferred to let them sleep. As much as I wanted Jeff by my side, I knew the best place for him to be at that hour of the morning was home with the children.

After pacing restlessly around the waiting room for a while, I finally saw a Gideon Bible and sat down to read it. I prayed that God would lead me to just the right passage. I opened the Bible rather randomly and it was at Psalm 91. Reading the passage brought me such peace that I was able to stop my pacing and sit and rest in the Lord while I continued to wait.

"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him will I trust. Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler and from the noisome pesetilence. He shall cover thee with His feathers and under His wings shalt though trust; his truth shall be they shield and buckler. Though shall not be a afraid of the terror by night, nor the arrow that flieth by day."

The words “Terror by night” seemed so right for the occasion. Having your daughter vomit massive amounts of blood in the middle of the night is indeed very terrifying. But after reading that passage and praying, I was able to give the outcome to the Lord and rest in the fact that God makes no mistakes.

I found out later that Jeff was going through pretty much the same thing at home. After I called to tell him Jennifer was going in for emergency surgery, he could obviously not sleep so he prayed. He was struggling, too. Jennifer has always been a Daddy’s girl and the two of them are very close. A few hours later when he was able to give Jennifer over to the Lord and told the Lord that what ever His will was, he would accept it. After that he was able to sleep.

Even though I now had peace about Jennifer, I was concerned that the doctor would be able to find me after the surgery. He obviously didn’t know this hospital and I had no way of getting back to the part of hospital where the surgery was taking place because of the two sets of double doors that had locked behind me. Thankfully, though, after what seemed an eternity, he came into the waiting room to tell me about the surgery. He placed a jacket in the one door so it would not lock behind him and something else, I am not sure who, in the other door, which I didn’t think much about the time but later amused me greatly for some reason. The surgeon told me that he had found a blood clot on her right tonsil bed as big as the end of his thumb. He had expected to lift up that blood clot and see the source of the bleeding. But when he removed it, he could not see where the blood was coming from because there was no active bleeding at that moment. So he ended up cauterizing the whole right tonsil bed. He said he would have felt much better about it if he had found the actual spot where the blood was coming from and that there was a chance he’d have to go back in to do another surgery if the bleeding continued. Though I did not exactly like what he had to say, I appreciated his honesty.

I was taken back to Jennifer who was still asleep. Her face was puffy and she still had dried blood on her much of her body and in her hair (they had only cleaned her face for the surgery) but she looked absolutely precious to me.

We were taken back up to the fourth floor again to her room. Jennifer slept until morning. I sat by her for a long time until a nurse convinced me that she would be okay and that I should get some sleep. I slipped off “my” shoes for the first time since we had left the house. I slept from off and on from 5:00AM to 7AM, though I woke up a bit every half hour when the nurse came in to check Jennifer’s vitals.

At 7:30 Jennifer opened her eyes for the first time since her surgery. She gave me a weak little smile and I asked her if she remembered what had happened the night before. She said “Yes, I threw up blood all over the place and had surgery. I thought I was going to die but I didn’t.” I found out later, throughout the day as she made comments that she remembered every single little thing in detail.

Jennifer still had dried blood on much of her body and matted in her hair. It was troublesome to her and definitely bothering me so I asked the nurse if I could give her bath. The nurse stayed around and helped me bath Jennifer. Jennifer was weak and wobbly but her coloring was much better than it had been in the night and she actually smiled a time or two. She had so much dried blood on her that the water in the bathtub literally turned pink.

I made a few phone calls to let those closest to us know what had happened in the night. I was disappointed I could not make any long distant phone calls to talk to any of our parents and it was one of the rare times I wished for a cell phone. Jeff had sent my Mom an email in the night because she was coming to see us Friday evening anyway, so when Mom got to work and saw the email, she immediately called me and so at least she knew. She called a little while later to tell me that she had left work early and was already on her way. Later in the day, I called Josh and asked him to send out an email to close friends and relatives to let them know what had happened. Joseph had not been feeling well so I called home often to check on him, too. He had a headache and was a bit dizzy but didn’t seem to be too sick.

I went to put my shoes on and was really struggling to get them on my feet. I looked down and realized that they were not my shoes! Jessica and I have very similar shoes and, in my hurry to get out the door the night before, I had grabbed her size 7 shoes by the door (she actually wears size 6, these are little big on her). Some how had enough adrenaline pumping through me that I had managed to get my size 8 ½ wide feet (often I even wear size 9) into these size 7 shoes at home, while Rhonda and the girls were waiting on me! As I thought back, I realized that my feet had been hurting through most of the night but that just had not been important compared to everything else.
Jeff and Jessica arrived, with Jennifer’s Teddy and Blanky, a little while later. Jennifer was still a little pale and didn’t have much energy but was much, much better she had been in the night. We watched her constantly for any signs of bleeding but that didn’t happen.

A Child Life Specialist came in and brought the girls several crafts to do. Jennifer sat up in bed and she and Jessica painted wooden horses and kitties, made jewelry and made door frames. It was so good to see Jennifer sitting up and able to do crafts.

I called home several times, mainly to check on Joseph, who had been sick the day before. He was still feeling sick but not too badly and Josh was handling everything at home. I was so thankful to have a son at home who was old enough and responsible enough to “hold down the fort.”

Mom arrived from Omaha in the late morning and Jeff left to run some errands. Much to her delight, Mom brought Jennifer a balloon and stuffed puppy. Then we waited and waited and waited. We were told that Jennifer could probably go home that day but we would not know for sure until the ENT gave the final answer and he had not been in yet. One thing we have learned, with all the surgeries and hospital stays our family has had is that life in a hospital moves very slowly (unless one is being rushed in for emergency surgery, which we have now experienced three times with our children, twice with Josh and now once with Jennifer).

So we chatted, the girls did crafts, Mom and Jessica went to get us lunch, we ordered soft foods from the cafeteria for Jennifer, we admired Des Moines tallest building and Grandma’s new car out the window, watched movies and I tried to ignore my aching feet.

I was very thankful to have my Mom there. She works in a children’s hospital and is quite knowledgeable about how things work there. It helped to be able to ask her questions about different things that were going on, plus the girls and I enjoyed her company.

In the early afternoon Pastor Humburg and Angi stopped in to see Jennifer. They brought her a stuffed lion and Pastor prayed with Jennifer.

Finally, a pediatrician came in and said that she would be releasing Jennifer because the ENT was not going to make it (we never did find out why). An hour after that, we had signed all the papers, been given the at home instructions and left the hospital about 4:00PM.

The next day, Saturday, Jennifer seemed much better. She ate soft foods and was even silly with her brothers and sister. On Sunday she seemed to be in more pain but not excessively so. She had a bad headache and her throat hurt but she talked us into letting her go to our annual church Thanksgiving dinner that evening. She only ate the inside of a cream pie because everything else, even the mashed potatoes, hurt her throat. As she sat across the table from me, looking peaked and pale and hardly eating anything, I knew it had been a mistake to bring her.

Monday and Tuesday, Jennifer was in unbearable pain. She cried off and on all day. When she was on the pain meds, the pain was bearable but as soon as it wore off, the pain was excruciating. It broke my mother-heart to see her in so much pain. I was also frustrated because I was having a tough time reaching her ENT to see if there was something we could do for her pain that we were not already doing.

We prayed for Jennifer all day and I sent out an email asking others to pray. The Lord chose to say “yes” to this particular prayer and on Wednesday, she woke up feeling much better. She was still in pain when her pain meds wore off but on them she was in very little pain. Her cousins from Indiana arrived that evening and she was in so little pain that she was really able to enjoy their arrival.

Thursday was Thanksgiving. Jennifer looked so much healthier and had so much energy, it was hard to believe she had been in so much pain 48 hours before. She was still not back to feeling completely healthy but was much better than she had been in a long time. When I looked into her sweet face that day, I knew one of the things I was most thankful for was that my little girl was still with us and that she was back to her normal sweet, cheerful self.

Monday, November 3, 2008

You Mean All that Character Training Eventually Pays Off? by Kim Stilwell

Eagerly holding his number in his hand, my son was waited in barely contained excitement. As the woman by the table read off numbers, he anxiously waited to see if his number would be called. We were at the annual ice cream social given by my husband’s place of employment. Each year they give prizes to the employees’ children. Each child is given a number and then the numbers are called and the prizes are given to those children.

Suddenly, number 160 was called! My son beamed and went up to get his prize. It was a great big inflatable rabbit! However, before he could get to the table to claim his prize, a little girl, just as excited as my son, went up and claimed it. My son looked at me in disbelief and then showed his number to the person in charge. Upon investigation, it was discovered, that the little girl had made a mistake. Her number was 166 and she had thought it had been her number that was called. With trembling lips and tears in her eyes, the little girl handed the bunny to my son. Then I heard my son say, “She can have it.” I stared at him in disbelief, and then my heart flooded with joy! Like many children, this was a child who has struggled all of his life with “my rights” and putting himself above others. Now, he was offering to give his coveted prize to someone to whom it did not rightfully belong. The little girl smiled and thanked my son.

That was one of those moments in parenting when one feels like everything has been worth it. All those years of constant character training finally pay off! Obviously, first and foremost, the Holy Spirit was working in his heart that day. However, I would like to think that the years of working with him and teaching him that kindness and putting others first is more God honoring than demanding one’s rights had a little bit to do with it.

By far, the hardest task in parenting is training our children in Godly character. At one time in my life, I had a nine year old and four children under age six. It was all I could do to get through the day. If I managed to put three meals on the table, get a load of laundry done and homeschool the older two children, I felt that I had accomplished a great deal. Life was overwhelming. It was much easier to separate two squabbling children than to help them learn to work things out. I admit that sometimes I did just that. However, ultimately, helping my children learn to act in a way that is pleasing to the Lord needed to come first. It was more important even than laundry, their education and even more important than eating.

At our home, we try hard to work on character training. Does that mean that my children always behave perfectly? No, far from it. However, their mom has many character flaws to work on, too! Working on building a godly character in our children and ourselves is a life-long process.
Here are some ways my husband and I work on character training in our home:

1) The first and most important way is to focus on Scripture. Teaching our children the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) and I Corinthians 13:4-7 (patient, kind, not jealous, not boastful, not insisting on one’s own way, not irritable, not resentful, not rejoicing in wrong, bearing all thing, enduring all things) are two very good places to start. One key verse at our house, that we repeated every night before bed for years, was Ephesians 4:32, “And be ye kind, one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Proverbs is a gold mine for character building. Each evening before dinner, my husband reads a verse in Proverbs and expounds upon it to the children.

2) I often ask myself if my motives are pure. Why do I want my children to portray Godly character? Is it so that they will not embarrass me in public? Is it so that I can make homeschooling look good? It is to make myself look good? Or is my motive to help my children become more like Christ and to honor and glorify Him? Likewise, we try to instill in our children that their motive for good behavior should be to bring honor and glory to the Lord, not to bring glory to themselves.

3) We have family devotions four or five nights a week. Jeff reads a Bible story to the children and discusses with them how they can apply what we have read. We also read a chapter in the Bible together each evening. Jeff is very good at bringing the Bible to their level and helping them understand how they can apply the Biblical principles to their own lives.

4) This is the toughest one. One of the best ways we can teach our children to have a character that is pleasing to the Lord is to “practice what we preach.” Can I tell my daughter that she can not take her “grumpy feelings” out on the rest of the family when I am moody? Can I tell my son he needs to be honest if I fudge the truth from time to time? Can I tell my children how important it is to spend time in the Word when they never see me crack open a Bible between church services?

5) I love books and read a lot to my children. Right now, we are reading three books, one at breakfast and two at lunch. I also often read the children a bedtime story. That does not count all the reading I do in science and history for my child who struggles in school. Often, I am literally hoarse by the end of the day because of all the reading I have done that day. I try to have at least one of the books that I am reading to the children be a character building book. Some of our favorites are:

Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends
Wisdom and the Millers
Boyhood and Beyond
Beautiful Girlhood
Bright Lights sets
I Kissed Dating Goodbye
Do Hard Things
Missionary Biographies
Biographies of people who have overcome great difficulty

I have read most of these books to all of our children but some of these books are for older children and only my oldest son has read them, but I intend to have all my children read (or I will read the books to them) at some point.

6) We try to talk to our children about Godly character during non-confrontational times. If we only talk to them when they “blow it,” they may learn to resent “character building.” However, if we talk about it at other times, too, they are often more receptive and will open up their hearts to us. We often bring up character traits such as respect, modesty, kindness, diligence and others in casual conversation. It is amazing how open and transparent the children will become when they do not feel threatened by the conversation.

7) Proverbs says to give honor where honor is due. When our children do demonstrate godly character, we should let them know how pleased we are Not only that, but also how much they pleased our Savior at the same time. When my son gave up his prize to the little girl who did not truly win it, I later, privately, gave him a big hug and told him how pleased I was and how pleased the Lord was by his actions. He grinned and I knew that the encouragement would lead him to make other similar decisions in the future.

8) There are certain character traits we have been working on for years! It feels like we have been working with one child on laziness pretty much since birth. Another child, who hates having anyone upset, struggles with a desire to please people over God. If I am honest, I know that there are certain sins that I have struggled with my entire life. However, the fact that we will never achieve perfection on this earth is not a reason to give up. We should always have a desire to learn and to grow. We should also desire to become more like Christ with each passing year. The same is true for our children.

9) This is much easier to write than to do, but we, as parents, especially moms, need to be careful not to jump in and “protect” our children every time someone wrongs them. Obviously, it is our job to protect them and we should protect them from bullies, predators and peers that will lead them astray, as well as other dangers in life. However, if we rush to defend our child every single time someone wrongs them, we are harming them in the long run. We are teaching them to have a “woe is me” attitude. All our lives there will be people who say unkind things, rub us the wrong way, continually put us down and even lie about us. Our children need to learn to handle these situations from a biblical perspective. Instead of interfering every time someone crosses them, we need to help them learn to deal with the “problem person” in the way God would want them to do. Obviously, there are times when parents should interfere, but only in situations where our children cannot handle the situation themselves.

10) Character should always come first. No matter how late we are running in our school day, I always try to remind myself that ten years from now, twenty years from now, it will not really matter if we completed every subject in school with every child that day. However, if I allow my child to get away with telling a lie or mistreating a sibling, it certainly will matter years down the road.

Does the fact that we work hard to instill Godly character traits in our children mean that we have perfect children? Do they always behave in a godly manner, get along beautifully with each other, never embarrass us in public and are always mannerly and polite? Has a Sunday School teacher never approached us about our child’s misbehavior? If you know my family at all, you know the answer!

However, as the years go by, we are reaping the rewards of character training. When I see my son going out of his way to speak to the younger or shy boys at church, I know that our lessons on reaching out to others are paying off. When I see my children defer to each other in a matter, I realize that all those years of helping them work through their differences (and the three times of reading through “Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends”), are paying off. When I see our son who struggles with anger, make a conscious effort to stop himself from responding that way, I know the years of helping him learn to control his temper are paying off. When I see my daughter offer a cookie to the neighbor girl who yelled at her an hour ago, I know the years of teaching the children to return good for evil, are paying off.

One word of caution; when we see our children grow in Godly character and behave better than other children behave, it is easy to become prideful. (On the other hand, our children humble us occasionally by letting their sinful natures show at the worst possible moment!) Perhaps some of you have met parents who have very well behaved children and they know it and make sure everyone else knows it. We should never compare our children to other families. If our “fall short”, we feel discouraged. If they come off looking better than other children, we become prideful. The only standard we should ever compare our children to is to God’s Word. In light of that, there will always be character work to do, both in our children and in ourselves!

May God bless you as you strive to raise Godly children for His glory.