About that last West Nile post.. I got all fired up thinking about the way some of the doctors and nurses would treat my dad like something they had to “do”, something to check off the list rather than realizing he was a fully functioning, healthy man just days before he got this weird THING. However, he had some fabulous nurses and doctors, too, who answered all the questions patiently and helped manage my dad’s pain the best they could.
They ran all sorts of tests and took blood cultures and after several days, he was diagnosed with viral encephalitis. The kind you get from mosquitos – like West Nile. After days of waiting for the cultures to grow, several of the viruses were ruled out, including West Nile. It still remains a mystery exactly what caused this horrible infection. The doctors were and are baffled at the severity of his condition and would often tell us that if he did make it out alive, he may very well have long-term brain damage.
That thought was daunting: our father/husband/friend/uncle/colleague not being able to carry on intellectually stimulating conversation or share one of his cheesy jokes. Along with my mom and me, my brothers and sisters-in-law watched my dad go in and out of coma-like states with terrible shakes and groaning and sometimes even crying out for God to take his life. The pain was unbearable and there was nothing we could do. We were helpless and sometimes we felt hopeless, too.
After two weeks of not eating, he had a peg tube put in so he could get more nutrition. One day after the tube was inserted, and he showed that he was able to understand commands and even say a few words here and there, he was moved to a rehab facility. It seemed early but we had him moved at the advice of our medical team. The next day at the rehab unit, he got confused, tried to get out of bed (at this time, he hadn’t taken a step in over two weeks and his legs were like jello) and pulled the PEG tube out of his belly. He screamed in pain as the fluids from his stomach were spilling into his abdominal cavity and causing serious burning and infections. He had surgery right away to repair the hole and sew it to his abdomen. That night the pain was so substantial and the infection spread to the fluid building up around his lungs, so he was moved to ICU where he seemed worse than when this whole thing started. Again, nurses and doctors were baffled and couldn’t figure out what was causing the pain and the delirium. Relatives came into town and I refused to believe this was the end.
You do things you never thought you would do when you’re not sure if you’re going to see a loved one again. Each night when I left my dad, I would pray with him, rub his cheek and tell him I loved him. Often, in the midst of his greatest pain I would sing “Jesus loves (you) this I know…” and lightly rub his hand unless it seemed to painful to him.
But what surpised me most was what I witnessed with my mom. She has always been one to worry. My dad has taken care of her through several health issue. I some ways, she has seemed so fragile to me. But here was a woman who rose to the occassion and showed what it truly meant to surrender to Jesus. Despite what some people might think, she left each night so she could get a good nights’ rest and take a walk. She knew that was the best way to take care of herself so she could better care for and encourage my dad. She grieved when she needed to grieve and she took breaks when she needed that, too. But the part that impressed me the most was the respect she had for my dad. She kept telling him he would be okay. She told him things she had done, like paying the bills and talking to his brothers, as if he could hear every word. Then when things seemed especially bleak, she got on her knees and prayed out loud for my dad to be healed. Right there in the ICU this couple, married nearly 50 years, united with God in a desperate cry for help. And how God answered! Within two days, my dad was moved back to the regular hospital floor and then a day or two later he was back in rehab.
Not only did I get to see the miracles within my mom, I saw my brothers nurture and care for my dad in ways I never would have seen on a normal basis. I wish my dad had a tape of them taking care of him… how Todd would tuck him in to bed before he left for the night, and how Bill would tell him about the lake and the new boat that he had to see. They gave him things to live for, things to look forward to, things to hope in. They showed him that he was and always will be Dad, the man they love. They may be reserved about the whole feelings thing, but when push comes to shove, those two men he raised know what it means to truly love.
What a view that summertime mountain had for me. I don’t know how I got up that massive peak. It was literally one step at a time. But I will say that between the dark, shadowy valleys, there were beautiful surprises – friends and family that sat with us, provided visits when we were unable to be at my dad’s side, encouraged us with words, cards and e-mails, and so much more. The climb was not the one I signed up for but my God is still my God whether I climb mountains in Colorado or the mountain called Life.
There’s not a lot of info about encephalitis survivors out there but I hope that someone facing this scary, mysterious infection will find hope that there is a way out of the fog. One of my friends said she imagined that my dad was trapped inside his mind, and it was so foggy that he couldn’t find his way out alone. But with the encouragement of his family and friends by his side, he was able to find his way out of the fog… up out of the muddled thoughts and confusion. My dad has recovered to nearly 100% within a couple short months and his was one of the most severe cases the doctors had ever seen. It’s ugly and it’s tiring, but with support and prayer, there is a way to healing. As my cousin said, “Keep on keepin’ on.” So simple a phrase, but one that stuck with us and we claim as our motto now.