I remember telling Dr. Pritchard and the medical staff around this time that I believe that they were all hand-picked by God to take care of Sylvia; that God loves Sylvia very much and He expects them to do their best and He will do the rest.
David called the service manager at the Ford dealership and talked with him about repairing his car that we left there Saturday night.
This afternoon Robynne and Allison headed back to West Virginia.
Tuesday, July 20. Dr. Pritchard had Sylvia moved from Cardiovascular ICU on the third floor of the Owen Heart Center to Medical/Surgical ICU, located on the seventh floor of another building.
There are two small waiting rooms located just outside ICU. The first one we looked at seemed crowded and noisy. Almost all the seats were taken and the TV was on and the volume turned up. The other one appeared to be more comfortable and peaceful. Suzanne, David, Larissa, and I entered that one, but before we could sit down, a hospital volunteer on duty there started to turn us away.
"They need some privacy right now," she said, motioning toward the family that was already in the room.
"It's okay," the father interrupted. The volunteer glanced in his direction and then motioned for us to come in.
They were on one side of the room. We sat on the other side. Later in the day, we introduced ourselves. They shared a little of their story. I will call the man Roy Smith, his wife Emma, their son Randy, and their daughter-in-law Barbara. I will withhold their real names to protect their privacy.
Randy was 46 years old. He was on life support in ICU. He had been a drug user when he was much younger. Now his vital organs were shutting down.
We told them about Sylvia, and we all said we would pray for each other.
I had already begun to notice that the Lord was using Sylvia's illness to draw our family closer to Him and to each other. Soon I would realize that we were also involved in what He was doing in the lives of others, including the family we had just met.
David picked up his car from the repair shop today. They think they have fixed the problem. I drove my car and he drove his to my home in Brevard.
Tonight I put an update concerning Sylvia's condition on my web site. I sent a copy to those on my e-mail list with the following personal note added: "Thank you so very, very much for your e-mails, cards, and prayers. I am spending almost all my time at the hospital, so I have not had time to respond. But I do read your messages and will respond when there is time. Please continue to pray for Sylvia's healing.
"I miss her so much. I am incomplete without her."
Wednesday, July 21. David was glad to have his car back so that he could do the driving to and from the hospital and that I wouldn't have to. We got in his car. He turned the key. Nothing happened. It wouldn't start. Apparently the repair shop had not located and fixed the problem afterall.
So I drove my car.
After we got to the hospital, David called the service manager with the news and gave him directions to my house. Then he walked down to the street and gave his car keys to the tow truck driver, who stopped by the hospital on his way to bring the car back to the shop.
Dr. Charles J. Cummings, one of Dr. Pritchard's associates, had seen Sylvia on his rounds today. He saw us standing outside Sylvia's room, and came over to tell us that the steroids seems to be stopping the spread of BOOP, but they had also weakened her immune system and slowed her body's healing process. Also the hole in Sylvia's right lung needs to be closed up and talcum powder applied to help it scar down, but she is not strong enough to live through the surgery.
In Med/Surg ICU the visiting times were 15 minutes just like they were in CVICU, except here we could visit 5 times a day instead of 4. Even though she appeared to be asleep and not able to respond to us, we continued to assume that she was able to hear us. We held her hands, patted her, kissed her, told her that we loved her, and encouraged her to continue to fight to get well. David would read aloud from Sylvia's Bible and we would pray for her.
I noticed that something was different about Sylvia's bed. Every few minutes it would rotate a few degrees. The nurse explained that the bed was automatically shifting Sylvia's weight, and that they did not have to manually reposition her as often to keep her from getting bed sores.
Suzanne brought in an album with about 20 Christian music CDs in it, and told the nurses that we would like for them to play the music continuously for Sylvia, but that they could select the ones that they would like to hear.
One of the nurses said, "Oh, thank you! Thank you!!! We're getting so tired of hearing that one CD over and over!"
I looked at the large ventilator tube that appeared to fill Sylvia's mouth and seemed too large to go down her throat, and I was glad that she was heavily sedated so she was unaware. I could imagine the gagging reflex and how terrified she would be if she woke up and felt that in her throat.
We visit, and then wait until the next visiting time and visit again. That was our routine. In between times, there I was in the hospital with time on my hands. During some of that time I got better acquainted with the Smith family.
I learned that Roy was a retired Methodist pastor, and that he had been a Nazarene pastor years ago. His family and others in the Nazarene Church were upset with Roy when he became a Methodist and they shunned him. I could relate to what he had gone through, for I had experienced the same reaction from some of our family and some of our fellow church members when Sylvia and I left our own "one true church." And my heart reached out to Roy with understanding and compassion.
The outpouring of love, concern, and support that came by e-mail today touched my heart, moistened my eyes, and blessed me more than words can express. Many of the prayers and encouraging messages were from those we have never met face to face. For example...
"Dear brother Bob,
"Thank you for taking the time to give us the update on Sylvia. My heart goes out to you and the family, but especially you. Over the years of reading 'Theophilus' and the few personal messages we shared, I have become very close to you as a brother in Christ. Because of your work, I feel I know Sylvia also. I know you have blessed many by revealing so many challenges in your lives through your work.
"I know that this is not the time to give up hope of her restoration to you and it has been my prayer that she is restored. I have a marriage much like yours. My wife and I are close, very close in every way. We are business partners, lovers, best friends, and most of all we are together in Christ. Unless the Lord returns first, one day one of us will leave the other. We know the only way we will be able to bear it is because He will be our portion. You know no matter what happens He will be yours also..."
Yes, that's true, I thought. One of us will leave the other some day. But surely not now! Lord, didn't you show me that Sylvia would get well?
I read other messages...
"May God mercifully and powerfully give life and recovery to your Sylvia."
"I wanted you to know that I have passed a request for prayers to all the prayer warriors I know. We will keep you all in our prayers constantly. If there is anything else I can do, just let me know."
"I was shocked to receive your e-mail this morning concerning Sylvia's health. My prayers started immediately for both of you, the rest of the family, and all the medical staff... I know you are spending most of your time with Sylvia, and even though she is sleeping, she still knows that you are there..."
"Bob, what a traumatic turn of events! I know you must feel Sylvia's every pain and wish you could bear it for her. I am praying for both of you. Thank you for sharing your concern with us."
And here are a few excerpts from e-mails Suzanne received: "I read the message about your mom and my heart weeps for you and your family. I pray that your mom will improve. May God give you strength and comfort during this trying time."
"Since Mom told me about your mother, I have been praying and asking everyone I know to add her to their prayer list, their church's prayer list, e-mail list, etc. I have decided to set this weekend aside to pray and fast especially for her. I will be doing a partial fast. I'm having a real tough time with sweets right now, so I will be fasting sweets. Every time I want something sweet, I will be praying for your mother."
"I was so shocked to get the prayer request for your mother. My heart is filled with overflowing for your anquish. Please be assured that I will speak her name to our Lord many times a day. I am also praying for you, your father, your siblings and all those who love your mother."
"We are praying for your mother, the medical staff that tend her, your father and your family... May God hold you close during this time of trial."
And from one of her Bible correspondence students: "...know that there is someone here in Nigeria praying and fasting on your Mum's behave."
Friday, July 23. Sylvia's night nurse accidentally dislodged her chest drainage tube while she was bathing her last night. Since her lungs didn't immediately collapse, the doctor decided to take x-rays every few hours to determine if she truly needed the drainage tube (as an escape route for ventilator air that was leaking in the area of the surgery where the necrotic tissue was attached to the "healthier" tissue and had not yet had time to heal and scar down).
Sylvia's Case Manager has been encouraging me to stay at the nearby Rathbun Center, so that I wouldn't have to spend two hours driving to and from Brevard each day. The literature described it as "a home away from home where families and caregivers can stay, at no charge, in a supportive environment while their loved ones receive treatment at Asheville hospitals." I finally decided to do that, and called to put my name on their waiting list.
The Ford dealer service department has been trying unsuccessfully all week to pinpoint the problem with David's car. No matter what they tried, sometimes it would start, and sometimes it would not. It was not consistent or reliable.
Regardless, David had been away from home more than a week and he was ready to be back in Dade City, Florida, with his family and to return to work. Shortly before noon I took him to the repair shop. The service manager said that they still did not know what was wrong with his car, but that the engine was running now. David told them not to turn the engine off, that he was ready to go home and did not want to risk it not starting again. He said that he would not turn the engine off until he got home. He settled with the accounting department, transferred his luggage from my car to his, gave me a hug, and headed toward the interstate.
I went back to the hospital.
Suzanne had been staying at the hospital all day every day, and stopping by the law office to work a few hours before going home each night. This afternoon Suzanne called Gayle Ramsey, her boss, from the hospital to tell him she would be in that night to finish preparing for a particular real estate closing. He told her not to come, that her place right now was with her mother, and that he and Wanda would do the work.
Robynne had been putting in extra time at work each day after returning home to Charleston, West Virginia, on Monday. So she was able to leave work at noon today for the five hour drive back to Asheville. She joined us just as Suzanne, Larissa, Josiah and I were going into ICU for our 5 o'clock visit with Sylvia.
Dr. Harry G. Burton, III, a surgeon, had come into the waiting room around 4 p.m. and told us that the reason the pressure in Sylvia's chest cavity was not at a dangerous level was because the air was escaping through her incision. When her incision closes up, her lungs were sure to collapse.
He had decided to go ahead and reinsert the drainage tube (a 15-minute bedside procedure), so he wouldn't risk receiving a call at 3 a.m. saying her lung had collapsed. He expected to be done well before our 5 p.m. visit. However, when we entered ICU and headed toward Sylvia's room at visiting time, the nurse turned us back.
"Dr. Burton is still working on her. I will come to get you when he is done," she said.
A little later, Dr. Burton came into the waiting room and said, "Mr. West?"
"Yes," I responded and stood to meet him.
"Let's sit down," he said. "This will take a few minutes."
Dr. Burton took the seat to my left. Suzanne, Robynne, Larissa, and Josiah sat down in a semi-circle around us.
He said that as he was reinserting the drainage tube, Sylvia's lung tore some more and collapsed. She could no longer be ventilated. Death seemed certain.
Suzanne asked Dr. Burton if he could operate and repair the holes in her lung.
He said, "No. She is too weak to survive the surgery. In addition to her weakness, her lungs are like wet toilet paper and I doubt that they are strong enough to hold the stitches even if she did survive the surgery."
He finally relented when we told him that we could accept the outcome more easily if we knew that he had tried absolutely everything to help her.
He left immediately and began preparing for surgery. The anaestesiologist came in and handed me a pen and some forms to sign. When she left, we immediately joined hands and began praying. As I cried out to the Lord, Randy's wife Barbara came over, knelt beside me, held my free hand, and silently joined us in prayer. My prayer quickly became one for Randy as well as Sylvia.
Then we called friends and relatives, begging them to pray hard too.
David was on I-26 somewhere near Columbia, SC, three hours away, when Suzanne reached him on his cell phone. Immediately, he turned around and headed back to Asheville.
After helping to move Sylvia to the Operating Room, Sylvia's nurse stopped by the waiting room to give us some encouragement. She said that after the surgery, Sylvia would be returned to her room in Med/Surg ICU. But after the surgery, someone escorted us to the Family Counseling Room on the second floor of the Owen Heart Center to meet with Dr. Burton. Sylvia would not return to Med/Surg ICU.
Dr. Burton was surprised and we were relieved and grateful that Sylvia did make it through surgery. However, he told us not to get our hopes up because her odds of recovery were not good and there were no further surgical options available. He had glued the holes, sewed them, glued them again and then applied talcum powder to encourage scarring.
Dr. Cummings had Sylvia put on a second ventilator while she was in surgery so that the surgery on her right lung would have a better chance of healing. He used the piston-driven oscillating ventilator that inflates the lung without pressure (ordinarily used on premature babies) for her right lung and the usual ventilator for her left lung, which was doing most of her breathing.
After meeting with Dr. Burton, we went to the first floor waiting area. As we got off the elevator, we were met by David. David is six foot five and much larger than me, but he seemed to melt in my arms. I hugged him and said, "Your mother is still alive." He was so relieved!
Kim Young was Sylvia's ICU nurse that night. Months later, on January 7, 2005, she wrote to me and shared these thoughts: "I don't know if you remember me or not, but I was the nurse in the ICU that received your wife back from surgery on the two ventilators and took care of her for the next couple of nights. I remember Mrs. West well, as well as your family. I can't begin to tell you how happy and amazed I was when Karl shared her picture and story that she was now home doing much better.
"I want to share with you how your family touched me. Your faith in God and the prayers you said when you came to visit with her showed me how strong your faith in God was. I knew it was going to take not only your family's support, but your strong belief in the Lord to get her thru this very serious time in her life. Looking back now, I remember having my doubts in whether or not she would recover, but God always seems to amaze me when things don't look too good. His divine intervention in so many ways is what pulled your wife and family thru this.
"I appreciated the prayers said for the nurses and medical staff. It's sometimes hard dealing with the critically ill and I will tell you from my perspective, I would not be able to make it in the intensive care unit without His help every minute of the days that I work there. I honestly believe working with the critically ill is a calling. I so enjoy my work and hope to do some missionary work at some point in the future. It's families like you and the blessings that we nurses receive from being able to be there for you and your loved one at the most bleakest of times that makes it all worth it. You have been blessings to us in more ways than you can imagine. I thank God for His ability to intervene, to guide us, and to show us that He is always in control."
Suzanne, David, Robynne and I saw Sylvia in the recovery area of CVICU for a few minutes a little after 9:00 p.m. Then we went to the cafeteria. When we finished eating, David asked, "Dad, will you be okay if I go home now?"
"Yes, I'll be okay, David. Thanks for asking. And thanks for coming."
When he arrived back at the hospital, David had turned his car off for the first time since he left the repair shop before noon. It was now around 10 p.m. I prayed that it would start and that David would have a safe and trouble-free trip home.
We walked with him to the parking lot. He got in the car, turned the key, and it started right up. We waved goodbye, watched him drive away, and thanked the Lord that He would be taking good care of David.
Then we left for home, too.
Saturday, July 24. Around 8:30 this morning I decided to call David to see if he was home yet. He said that he had just arrived and was getting into bed. He had stopped for gas and to get something to eat, but each time he left the engine running. Although he had to drive three or four hours from the time he entered Florida until he arrived in Dade City, he said that except for a couple of towns, he doesn't remember driving through Florida at all.
I said, "Maybe you didn't. Maybe you went to sleep and your guardian angel took over."
Later, Suzanne said, "As I sat up to get out of bed this morning, a voice in my head said, 'On Tuesday she will be with the Lord.' I wasn't even thinking about Mom at that point, so the voice startled me and I immediately answered, 'No!' and continued to ask God to help Mom."
When we got to the hospital, we learned that Sylvia's chest drainage tube became clogged (possibly with a blood clot) in the wee hours of the morning and her entire body inflated because the ventilated air that was leaking out of her chest cavity was being absorbed by the tissue underneath her skin. When we saw her around 11 a.m., she was extremely puffy -- she appeared to me to be about twice the size she was yesterday. The nurse assured us that she looked much better than she had a few hours earlier. The respiratory therapist, who had been present when the tube had clogged, said that Sylvia had inflated quickly, and that even her ear lobes had inflated before they could get the tube opened up.
Last night I packed a suitcase and had it with me just in case the Rathbun Center had an opening today. And they did. Suzanne, Robynne, and Larissa wanted to see where I would be staying and went along to help me get settled. Then we all returned to the hospital.
Sylvia continued to deflate during the day and her vital signs seemed fairly stable.
Sunday, July 25. Sylvia's condition seemed to remain stable today. No emergency. And the oxygen from the ventilator was successfully reduced to 50% (it had been 90% following her surgery). It was a good day.
This afternoon Robynne left for home.
Monday, July 26. No one could explain why Sylvia's condition nose-dived this morning. Her carbon dioxide levels were dangerously high and not coming down at all. She was on full ventilator support (100% oxygen with 10 peep) and barely maintaining a 90 reading on the oxygen monitor. Also, a paralytic drug was added to her assortment of IVs to keep her from trying to breathe out of sync with the ventilator, because that wasted oxygen and was counterproductive. Things didn't look good.
"How is she doing?" I would ask each time I saw a doctor making the rounds during my visits with Sylvia.
Usually, the doctor would look down, shake his head, and say something like "She couldn't be any sicker."
It broke my heart to see what Sylvia was going through!
Sitting in isolation on some concrete steps on a grassy knoll outside the Heart Center building, I cried out to the Lord again. With tears running down my face, I said, "Lord, I put Sylvia on your altar! Your will be done! If it is time for you to take her to be with you in heaven, it's okay. I don't know how I can live without her, but I know your grace is sufficient. Your will be done, Lord."
A little later I told David over the phone what I had prayed. He said, "Dad, maybe it is time for the Lord to take Mom. But, maybe He just wanted you to come to the point where you trust Him enough to turn Mom over to Him like Abraham did with his son Isaac. The Lord saw Abraham's faith, and let Isaac live. Maybe the Lord will do the same with Mom."
Suzanne told me later that on the way home from the hospital and continuing as she got ready for bed, she couldn't stop praying and crying. She reminded God of all the times in the Old Testament when He changed his mind about situations, including granting King Hezekiah 15 more years when he asked for more time on earth after his death was prophesied. She also told Jesus that she was going to do what He said to do in Luke 18:1 -- always pray and never give up.
"I was going to be like the persistent widow until He gave His final answer," she added. "Larissa was so sweet that night as she sat on the bed with me and patted me, saying, 'I'm sorry, Mom.'"
Tuesday, July 27. Michelle Sullivan and Mary Calvert, members of the Hendersonville Church of Christ where Suzanne and husband Fred attend, came to the hospital to pray with us. The chapel was locked, but a security guard unlocked it for us. Michelle, Mary, Suzanne, Larissa, Josiah, and I went inside and sat on the pews while Michelle read from John 16. Then we got down on our knees in a circle in the aisle and took turns praying aloud, begging God to show His power in healing Sylvia. During my turn I wasn't exactly sure what I should pray, so I decided to turn my tongue over to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to use my prayer language (a language I do not know) to intercede in accordance with God's will (Romans 8:26, 27).
Sylvia showed slight improvement over the course of the day and her carbon dioxide level decreased slightly.
One time when I entered Sylvia's room, I stopped and listened to the piston-driven ventilator that was providing 324 soft puffs of air per minute to keep her right lung inflated and give it time to heal without making the the holes larger. It was located right beside Sylvia's head. She had to listen to that sound 24 hours a day, day after day, I thought. It's loud! And it sounds just like a steamboat motor!
Steamboat?! Hmmm... Maybe I can say something that will make this a pleasant experience for her, instead of just constant, disturbing noise.
So I said, "Sylvia, I hope you're enjoying your vacation on our cruise up the river. You may not remember the beautiful scenery, but I expect you will remember the sound of the steamboat motor..."
Wednesday, July 28. I called Suzanne at work this afternoon to let her know that Sylvia's ventilator tubes were clogged and she could not be suctioned. The only solution was to take her off both ventilators long enough to suction her, then put her back on just one ventilator (discontinuing use of the oscillating model). However, no one thought she would survive that procedure; it would definitely be "touch and go." We prayed hard, Sylvia survived, and again we were relieved.
"God is definitely with her," Suzanne said, and citing Luke 18:1 she added, "and I am not giving up!"
Thursday, July 29. Sylvia is stable again, and seems to be doing fine at this point on just one ventilator. In fact, they were even able to reduce her oxygen a little this morning.
So the emotional roller coaster continues...
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Bob West