Suzanne turned to face me with a look of anquish and said, "She's gone to surgery.
They took her early, Dad. Just moments ago. You just missed them."
Then she added, "Mom told me to tell you that she loves you very much."
I stared at the empty bed. I began to fight to hold back the tears.
"I didn't get to tell her that I love her."
Suzanne came over and hugged me, and I put my arms around her. We were both crying now.
"Mom knows you love her, Dad.
Service is her love language just like mine is, and she knows how you have been taking care of her and serving her day and night.
She knows you love her."
We prayed, "Father, give Sylvia peace. Let her feel your presence and your love. Take control of her surgery and all those involved with it. Let the surgeon's hands be your hands. Lord, we trust you to take care of Sylvia. Thank you, Lord!"
"Dad, I called Robynne last night. I told her how seriously ill Mom was, and about the surgery, and that if she wanted to talk to Mom while she was able to talk, she needed to call now. She did, and after Mom hung up she said, 'Robynne told me that she loves me and she sounded like she meant it.'"
This brought tears of joy to my eyes.
Suzanne continued, "I spent the night with Mom and cried much of the night as I listened to her struggle to breathe with each breath.
"At one point Mom said to me, 'I'm sorry, Suzanne. It is too hard to live.'
"I said, 'Mom, don't give up. You've got to keep fighting. Promise me that you will.'
She said that she would."
During the night of June 21, 1996, I had a significant dream. In this dream I was in a nice building. It was very large. I didn't see any walls. All of the people were busy working and helping one another. One specific that comes to mind is the chandelier. It was on the floor and we hoisted it up to the proper height.
In another part of the dream, a woman came into the room with a large container of fresh cookies for Sylvia and I. As she was handing them to me, she said, "Help her!" I looked around to see Sylvia had gotten out of bed and was leaning over a dresser, coughing and gasping for air. Before I could respond, the problem went away and she was okay.
The symbolism of the chandelier was obvious. We were lifting it up to send forth light. The fresh cookies represented blessings, and the woman bringing them must have represented the Holy Spirit. I wasn't sure except that I knew this was a message from God and I wanted to know the full meaning.
A few days later on August 2, the Lord answered our prayers for the interpretation. God said, "I am making Bob a part of the working team, but he must not lose sight of the other important things I have called him to care for (Sylvia). I will take care of Sylvia (the problem got resolved), but I don't want Bob to lose perspective on what I have called him to care for."
As I sit here in 2004 and look back, I realize that the first part of that 1996 prophetic dream was fulfilled one year later when the Lord opened a door to the world with Theophilus.org on the internet and put me to work telling the story of our spiritual journey in the serial comic strip, "Theophilus and the Powers of Darkness." Now, seven years after that, the second part was being fulfilled.
Beginning June 5, 2004, Sylvia became very sick. During the following weeks she stubbornly refused to go to the doctor because she was so sure that she would get well on her own. During this time she took the antibiotic Azithromycin for five days. When she showed no sign of improvement, someone suggested that antibiotics will help stop bacterial pneumonia, but have no effect on viral pneumonia. Therefore she must have viral pneumonia, which has to run its course -- usually 6 to 8 weeks, it was said.
Until now, Sylvia, age 69, had no known health problems, except arthritis. She was a retired commercial insurance agent, but continued to work at the agency one or two days a week. She also worked out at the fitness center three or four times a week, did the housework, shopping and cooking, kept track of many who were sick, bereaved, or having birthdays and sent them cards and words of encouragement. She did a lot of e-mail correspondence, and had recently gotten a new eMac computer and enrolled in a class at Blue Ridge Community College to learn more about using the new operating system.
Sylvia had been healthy and very active. She had always been health-conscious regarding her diet, vitamins, etc. She has never smoked, drank alcohol, taken drugs or participated in any high-risk behavior. She had always been the caregiver. Now she was so sick she couldn't even take care of herself.
The dream I had June 21, 1996 about Sylvia coughing and gasping for air came strongly to mind several times as I watched Sylvia coughing and gasping for air in real life. I knew God was reminding me of my responsibility to help Sylvia. I was reminded also of how the Lord had been working on our relationship. That began with a different dream, one I received on July 16, 1994.
In that dream Sylvia had blood on the right side of her head. I asked her what happened and she told me the "doctor" did it. She said he had slapped her with a metal object that had a rough edge. When I questioned the "doctor" about it, he said that Sylvia had the wrong number.
The next morning I asked the Lord what it meant. I didn't hear a response, but I did have a thought that as Sylvia's protector, I need to prevent injury to her rather than wait and get involved after the fact.
Later the Lord told me that Sylvia had my number instead of her own, and said the "doctor" in the dream was Satan. Then He told me to see First Corinthians 11:3, which says, "...the head of every man is Christ, and the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God."
Now I understood. God the Father is first, Jesus is second, man is third, and his wife is fourth. A wife who is not in submission to her husband usurps the third position. She is number 3 when she should be number 4. Sylvia had the wrong number. She had my number. So, apparently I had hers. I had the wrong number, too.
"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. ...wives should submit to their husbands in everything." Both Sylvia and I could quote Ephesians 5:22-24, but we hadn't applied it to our marriage.
Sylvia had a strong will and privately she made decisions that I should be involved in. I felt I couldn't always trust her. Maybe she couldn't trust me either. I'm sure there were times when she didn't feel I was there for her. She didn't seem to respect me.
Mother had been my protector. After I married, I guess I expected Sylvia to compensate for my lack of strength. I hadn't known how to be the kind of husband Paul described in Ephesians 5:25 and the following verses, but I was determined to learn.
Concerning the dream where Sylvia is wounded, the Lord said that there is an open door which demonic forces are using to come against her.
Sylvia's submission problem must be that open door, I thought. But if Sylvia has a submission problem, then I must have a leadership problem. I prayed, "Lord, I don't know what to do. Teach me to be the man you want me to be. Teach me to be Sylvia's head and show me how to provide leadership in our marriage."
God responded, "Massage Sylvia's feet."
Getting down on my knees with my face at Sylvia's feet seemed like a strange way to take charge, I thought. Then I remembered that Jesus -- my head -- showed me how it's done. He washed His disciples' feet. He became a servant. That's how you lead.
I went directly to Sylvia.
"Sylvia, let me massage your feet."
"No. Don't touch me."
"It will make you feel better."
"No. You'll hurt me."
"I'll be careful. Please -- let me massage your feet."
Reluctantly, she let me do it. She was really tense, but began to relax as I gently massaged her feet.
Then God said to me, "You are learning to love Sylvia like you love your own body. Sylvia is learning to trust you and submit her will to yours."
From time to time I shared what God was showing me with Sylvia. Both of us wanted God's will to be done in our lives. But changing attitudes and behavior that had been practiced for so many years would not be easy. Try as we did, we continued to have confrontations. During one of those confrontations, I thought, "Lord, Sylvia is not being submissive!"
And God whispered, "Yes, I know. She is treating you the way you treat Me."
As Sylvia became sicker and taking care of her took more and more of my time, I had less time to give to the "Our Father's Children" serial comic strip (which the Lord had added to the ministry in 2002). In the comic strip I had recently been led by the Lord to show the involvement of Satan and his followers in the spread of human evil to the point that God saw that all except Noah and his family were beyond hope of ever responding to His Spirit and how God destroyed the evil people with the flood.
On June 12 I added the strip showing the ark landing in the mountains of Ararat to our web site. I did some work on another episode, but never finished it. Sylvia needed my attention day and night, and I gladly gave it. Nothing else seemed important.
One day I asked, "Honey, don't you think you ought to see a medical doctor?"
"No!" It was obvious that she was irritated by my suggestion.
On June 22 I wrote the following in an email to our daughter, Robynne, who lives in West Virginia: "Your mother has been very sick for three weeks now. Fever. Coughing that originates in her chest, not her throat. (She doesn't have a sore throat.) Chest pain. Pain in shoulders and lower back. The thought of food seems to make her nauseous; she eats very little and seldom. Swollen left foot and ankle. The swelling has almost gone down, but she still has difficulty walking. For a few days she could not walk at all since she couldn't put any weight on her left leg/foot. She has been pretty much bed-ridden."
I became very concerned about Sylvia's condition and asked again, "Honey, don't you think it would be wise to see a medical doctor about this?"
"No!!!" she exclaimed. "Stop threatening to take me to a medical doctor!"
Sylvia had been seeing Drs. Steve and Nancy Cagen for chiropractic adjustments. Sylvia had already rejected Dr. Nancy's suggestion that she see a medical doctor. Then on Monday, July 5, Dr. Steve said, "Sylvia, it's time we take this to the next level. You're very sick. You have lost weight and you're extremely weak. You're getting worse, not better. I'm really concerned. You need to see a medical doctor. Would you do that for me?"
Sylvia didn't answer at first. Dr. Cagen looked at me. I nodded in agreement.
Then Sylvia asked, "Who?"
"We haven't been in the area long, so I don't know much about the doctors here," Dr. Steve replied. "I do know Dr. Jay Buehler at the Toxaway Health Center, and I have a lot of confidence in him. Their office is closed today. But, you could go to the hospital emergency room."
It was apparent that the respiratory problem was not going to improve without medical intervention. When we arrived home, Sylvia asked me to call Dr. Buehler's office the next morning for an appointment.
Suzanne had been talking on the phone with Sylvia's sister, Trudy. Both were very concerned. Later that day Suzanne came to our home intending to try to talk Sylvia into going to a doctor. She was pleased, and relieved, to learn that Sylvia had already made the decision to see Dr. Buehler.
Early on the morning of July 6, I called Dr. Buehler's office and when I described Sylvia's condition to the receptionist, she told me to bring her in right away. After we arrived, I learned that they had no open appointments for weeks ahead. By the grace of God they had worked us in.
Dr. Buehler examined Sylvia and her x-rays and concluded that she had pneumonia.
"Hospital pneumonia, not walking pneumonia," he said.
He immediately put her on oxygen because her oxygen level was very low (80%). He told Sylvia that she needed to go to the hospital. She didn't want to go. He asked if she would rather go home and die or go to the hospital and get well.
She said, "I don't care."
I said, "Well, I care. And there are many others who also care."
Dr. Buehler was able to persuade her to go and sent her by ambulance to the local hospital. With x-rays, CAT scans, blood workups and other tests, the doctors continued to think she had pneumonia. But after another week of antibiotics, her white blood count continued to rise, and even on oxygen she continued to find it more and more difficult to breathe. She became sicker and weaker.
Tuesday, July 6 thru Sunday, July 11. In Transylvania Community Hospital under the care of Dr. James Shaw, Sylvia was given supplemental oxygen, increased from 3 litres per minute to 5 on July 8 to keep her oxygen level above 90% and treated for pneumonia with IV antibiotics Levaquin (500g/100ml) and Azithromycin (500 mg/250ml), but her white cell count continued to rise. Dr. Shaw ordered x-rays to determine the cause of extreme swelling in her left ankle (which spread to her entire left side and then to her right side while in the hospital) and an ultrasound to test for blood clots in her legs. Also CAT scans to look for tumors elsewhere in the body which could be causing fluid build-up, particularly in the lungs.
On Friday Dr. Shaw ordered CAT scans of her brain and abdomen to be sure there weren't any tumors or other problems that were contributing to her lung difficulties, and those scans were completely clear. Chest x-rays and CAT scans are not helpful because there is so much fluid in the right lung that it makes the lung look like a solid mass and they can't see through it.
Our son David drove up from Florida and arrived early Friday morning. David has a very busy schedule, teaching and preaching at the Dade City Church of Christ, working for the Tampa Tribune as Community Relations Manager of Pasco County, and serving in leadership positions of Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, and other service organizations, so we were surprised that he could come. His visit perked Sylvia up. Since She seemed to be doing better, David decided to return home Saturday after lunch.
Numerous foot x-rays found only a heel spur and tendonitis, but nothing that would explain a swollen foot for the past 5-6 weeks. An ultrasound on her legs on Saturday morning showed clear veins (no blood clots).
Monday, July 12. Everyone agrees that Sylvia still needs to be receiving oxygen at 5 litres per minute even though by now she should be completely off all oxygen according to the pneumonia treatment "path" -- especially considering that she has never had a need for oxygen before. She has no fever, and even though she coughed fairly constantly a few weeks ago, she doesn't cough often now, and when she does she only coughs up a small amount of clear matter. Saturday's blood work showed her white cell count had gone from 19 to 22. This morning's blood work is not back yet, but Dr. Shaw said that he would be pleasantly surprised if it has gone down.
Suzanne sent a fax to Dr. Darilyn H. Dealy at Asheville Infectious Disease Consultants asking if she could help diagnose Sylvia's illness and offering to insist that she be moved to Mission Hospital in Asheville (an hour's drive from our home in Brevard) if that was the right thing to do. Meantime, since there was no explanation for Sylvia's condition continuing to worsen, Dr. Shaw decided to send her via ambulance to Mission Hospital so that the pulmonary specialists there could take over. But getting Sylvia to agree to go would be another matter. It is interesting how God accomplished that with a series of events that began at lunchtime.
I left the hospital, intending have a barbeque sandwich for lunch. I arrived at Hawg Wild BBQ and learned that they are closed on Mondays. Next I stopped at Arby's, but for some reason decided to leave and go to Wendy's. As I ate my lunch at Wendy's, I noticed Rick Jennings eating alone on the opposite side of the restaurant. Rick and his wife Judy are pastors of Joy Outreach Fellowship, where we had attended for several years. I hadn't seen him for a year or two, so I walked over and said "Hi."
We shook hands and Rick asked how we were doing. We were both teary-eyed by the time I finished telling him about what Sylvia was going through. He said that Judy had a doctor's appointment near the hospital and he would let her know that Sylvia was there. As I left the restaurant, I noticed that he was talking on his cell phone.
I hurried back to the hospital and opened the door to Sylvia's room. Judy was already there. She gave me a big smile. Sylvia was smiling too. I could tell that Judy had brightened her day.
Within minutes the nurse came in and said that Dr. Shaw had arranged for Sylvia to be moved to Mission Hospital in Asheville. Sylvia said she didn't want to go. She was concerned that Suzanne would have the additional burden of driving to Asheville and back each day in addition to working all day and spending the night with her.
"Sylvia, she's young!" Judy said.
As I listened to Judy talk Sylvia into going to Mission Hospital, I realized that God had arranged for her to be here at this particular time. I marveled as I remembered that I had intended to eat somewhere else, but ended up at Wendy's where I saw Rick and he called Judy, who happened to be in the neighborhood and came right away, just in time to encourage Sylvia to be willing to receive the help God had waiting for her.
We prayed together and then Judy helped me carry Sylvia's personal belongings to my car, while Sylvia was taken to the ambulance that would take her to Asheville. I remember telling Judy about how God was teaching me to be Sylvia's servant leader, and that He was teaching her to trust me.
Then I added, "I believe when this ordeal is over, we will enjoy a wonderful relationship that is beyond our imagination!"
Tuesday, July 13. This morning Dr. Robert J. Pritchard, pulmonary specialist, sedated Sylvia and went into her lungs with a scope, looked around and retrieved some biopsy material to determine what was growing in her lungs so that the correct antibotic could be administered.
When Dr. Pritchard spoke with Suzanne once Sylvia was in recovery, he explained that her lungs looked good (no tumors, etc.) except for the mystery gunk that was growing in them, but he felt confident that he now had good specimens from the biopsy procedure and that he should know a lot more about what we are dealing with when he received the test results, and once the mystery substance was identified he could move forward with effective treatment.
When I saw Sylvia, she was feeling much better, probably because of renewed hope from Dr. Pritchard regarding being able to solve the mystery and also because Dr. Pritchard had suctioned fluid out of her lungs while he was doing the biopsy procedure.
Sylvia's outlook was bright and cheerful until around 3:30 p.m. That's when an infectious disease consultant came into her room and began firing questions at her in a manner that reminded us of a police interrogation rather than a calm, information-gathering effort. Once her head was spinning from the pace of his questions, and she was unable to quickly identify the source of her infection, the doctor stepped back and said, "Well, I have no idea why you're as sick as you are. In order to figure it out, we're probably going to have to get some tissue samples from your lungs." When she asked how that was done, he replied by saying they would cut into her chest and remove some lung tissue. Of course, that was upsetting to Sylvia and sent her into a full-blown anxiety attack -- her first in her nearly 70 years of life! It was as if the spirits of fear, depression, and hopelessness entered the room with the doctor and stayed when he left.
Three hours later she was still in pathetic shape. Between 6:30 and 7:00 the respiratory therapist gave her a breathing treatment, thinking maybe it would at least help her psychologically so that she could rest. It did and she was able to sleep for awhile, which helped her feel some better. The next day Suzanne sent a fax to Dr. Dealy, asking that this doctor not be allowed to come near Sylvia again.
Wednesday, July 14. The pathology report came back, "no infectious material found," so exploratory surgery was scheduled for the next morning.
Dr. Pritchard had already told Sylvia before I came into the room. When he told me that they needed to do the surgery, I looked at Sylvia.
"It's alright," she said. "Dr. Pritchard told me that it would require us working together, but he is going to try to get me well so that I can go to my granddaughter's wedding." Jennifer and Sal's wedding was scheduled to take place Saturday, August 14th, on Anna Marie Island, Florida. We already had motel reservations and were really looking forward to the wedding, being with family, and spending some time on the beach.
Dr. Pritchard had given Sylvia hope. So I said, "Okay."
Sylvia urged me to go ahead and leave at 5 p.m. to attend my weekly Photoshop class at Blue Ridge Community College in Hendersonville. Her evening meal arrived just before I left, so I cut up the meat and made sure everything was arranged so she could feed herself. Our grandson, Josiah, arrived just as I was leaving and stayed with Sylvia until Suzanne got off work and drove from Brevard to the hospital.
I had no idea that this would the last time I would see Sylvia's eyes for a month or hear her voice for two months. And there would be times when I didn't know if I would ever hear or see them again.
Copyright © 2005 by Bob West