-Life sure has a way of bringing unexpected changes that you may or may not be ready for. Last year was a colossal change for me and to say the least, I cannot say that it was a change I woke up that Tuesday morning, April 1st, and welcomed with open arms.
It was a routine Tuesday morning. Les, my husband, was getting ready for work. Through the bathroom door I could hear his usual teeth-brushing gag that was normal for him. However, this morning it seemed more intense. When he came out of the bathroom, I inquired if he was okay, and he assured me he would be alright. Within twenty minutes or so, he was out the door. Today was going to end in a long night for him, as he was conducting an evening training after his regular shift.
On rare occasions, I would only hear from Les by text or by the end of the day. Today was one such time. Around 7:45 p.m. that evening, the kids and I were getting ready for bed and I receive a phone call. I suspected it would be Les letting me know he was on his way home. However to my surprise, it was Shirlynn, his boss, alerting me that Les was in the emergency room at Bolingbrook hospital. He had become ill at work, and she was waiting there with him. I could hear him in the background groaning in pain. I was floored. Hospital? Emergency? Now? I was on my last bit of juice for the day and reasoned in my mind that I had no more to give. I said a quick prayer for strength, got the kids dressed, and we headed out the door for the hour-long drive to Bolingbrook Hospital.
After settling the kids in the waiting room, I was quickly escorted back to the room where Shirlynn sat in despair, Les attempted to lay back but struggled in excruciating pain. He suffered from peripheral vascular disease. He had been in pain for months but regrettably ignored it and continued on with life as usual. But little did we know, that all was to come to a terrific halt.
Shirlynn informed me that he was about to begin his training class when he started to feel nauseous, sweaty, and light-headed. One of his students noticed and immediately called 9-1-1. Shirlynn was on her way home, and as she was exiting the company parking lot noticed an ambulance. Something prompted her to turn around. Obeying her instincts, she made a u-turn, and quickly found out that it was Les who was minutes away from being transported in that very vehicle that just passed her by.
I stood beside Les' bed trying to comfort him, but the pain had escalated to the degree that he could not be touched. Moments later, Dr. Carell (Les' vascular doctor), flew in the door eagerly interrogating Les as to how long his leg had been hurting and why he had not contacted him. Les mumbled something through the pain. After a brief look at his leg, Dr. Carell informed us all that Les needed to be wheeled in for an angioplasty. Within 30 minutes, Les was being taken down several hallways for surgery. I followed the nurses down what seemed like endless hallways. I was shell-shocked. It was all happening at lightening speed. My emotions could not keep up with the rapid events. Just before we got into the surgery room, the nurses pointed me to a waiting room and said it should not take long. I kissed Les good-bye and walked slowly into the lonely, isolated room I was instructed to wait in. There were chairs, a desk with a phone, and a television. I picked up the phone, called up front, and asked the emergency room clerk to send the children back to the room I was in. The children never made it, and I eventually found them asleep in the car. I urged them to come in, but they preferred our van to the uncomfortable, TV-blaring, impersonal, emergency waiting room. I could not leave the children in a hospital parking lot in the middle of the night. I could not leave Les to come out of surgery abandoned. I was in a terrible dilemma. What to do? I finally made the decision to go home and wait for the recovery nurse to call me. The children and I made it home about midnight, and we all went straight to bed. About 2 a.m. the phone rang, and I could hear Les on the other end crying in agonizing pain. "I don't understand," I said. "You just had surgery, what happened? Didn't Dr. Carrell fix the problem?" "No," he said. "My arteries are so clogged, he couldn't get through." "But didn't he give you something for the pain?" I asked. "Yes, but it's not helping." Les stated. I was torn. I needed to be there. I could not help him. What kind of wife was I? I was exhausted and helpless. All of a sudden I hear the nurse yelling in the background for him to get off of the phone. I later learned that he was half sitting up in bed putting pressure on his groin area which was forbidden after surgery. He quickly hung up the phone, and I began to pray.
April 2nd (today) was the day my family was to arrive. By now they should be at the airport. My sister and her family had been planning to visit us for months. She had come before to visit but never with her whole family. The children knew nothing about it. It was to be the surprise of the year. An expensive and well-awaited trip we were very excited about. I had planned to buy groceries that morning and make sure the house was ready, but all of that changed. I was torn again. I called a friend who immediately came over. She, in turn, called another friend to stay with the children while she and I went to the hospital. Before she got there I dashed to Wal-Mart to pick up a few things. While in the store I made a call to my sister's cell phone. I knew by now her plane had landed at O'Hare Airport. My brother-in-law answered letting me know that she was at the rental car counter. "Kendall, please have her call me right away, it's urgent," I pleaded. "Okay," he said. As I began to scan the groceries at the self-check out register, my sister returned my call. I could not speak; I just cried when I heard her voice. She was so excited. Through sobs I tried to explain what was happening at that very moment with Les. She was calm and soothing and demanded I leave the groceries right there and get to the hospital immediately. "But it's your vacation I continued with childish weeping, all the money you spent to come..." "It wasn't supposed to be this way." "Tasha, stop it right now," she gently ordered. "The Lord brought us here at the perfect time. I will take care of everything. Don't worry about anything. I will go to the store. I will take care of the children, I will get there...go to the hospital!" I drove home quickly and met my friend. We got to the hospital just in time for the second surgery. Unfortunately, the second and third angioplasties were unsuccessful, so Les was transported to La Grange Memorial Hospital where we would spend the next month.
The Lord personally ushered Dr. Walsh into our life. He performed the next level surgery Les required. A fasciotomy is needed when a person develops compartment syndrome, which Les had. Dr. Walsh was the best in his field which I detected instantly from our brief conversation. He assured me he would do everything he could to save Les' leg. The two hour surgery that was predicted became six hours. Everyone that I had informed up to that point was praying, and I was grateful. I needed all the strength I could inherit through intersession. I was surviving on prayers and adrenaline alone. By about 8 p.m. that evening Les was out of surgery. He was intubated and a trach was inserted. I was told he needed both since a fasciotomy is one of the most painful surgeries a person can have performed and thus he would be on high doses of pain medications. The fasciotomy was required due to Les developing Acute Compartment Syndrome. About one day post-op Les developed a high fever, but Dr. Walsh informed me that fevers were common after surgery and that it should break. He was closely monitored by the infectious disease team, but after a week the fever only increased. I could tell by the looks and whispers among the doctors that things were serious and that we needed to pray more than ever. I tried to call every prayer warrior I knew. Somehow, although I did not put Les' condition online, it became viral. I was overwhelmed by the love and support we received. I could not believe the interest and concern that surfaced. Additionally, a dear friend encouraged me to start a Caring Bridge journal which allowed me to post up-to-the-minute status' on Les and request prayers for specific needs. Caring Bridge was a true blessing. It gave me a place not only to log Les' condition, but I was able to journal the details of what I was experiencing as well.
After about six days of spiked fevers and the doctors doing everything they knew to do, I was informed by one of the team members that there were three possible options. (1) We could do nothing and hope Les improves on his own; (2) We could perform a debridement as Les' wound had become septic, thus the fevers; or (3) We could amputate the infected leg. Amputate!!! I never in my wildest imagination considered amputation. "He's only 47," I concluded. "What about our family?" "He is a dad with a young son." "What will people think of us?" Sheer fear ripped through every cell. This cannot be happening. "He just got a little ill at work. How did we get here? This is not happening to me. It cannot be. It is too much to bear."
As the word spread, prayers poured in. I felt strength from On High. Little did I know, there was more coming my way. My mind rested on Les having a debridement performed as that seemed the most logical solution. Just as I begin to settle on my decision, I was visited by another doctor who entered the room with the most sober look on his face. He pulled up a chair, which the doctors never did (they did not have time for that), and asked if he could talk to me. I sat next to him and listened intently. "Mrs. Hamilton," he began, "I know you were told you have three options for your husband, but actually you have only one. We will need to amputate your husband's leg in order to save his life. He is too sick to have the debridement performed. We need your consent right away," he stated. I stared in disbelief. I could not swallow. I could not think. I could not focus. "How could I make this decision for him. He is completely unconscious. He does not know anything. I cannot allow them to take his leg without his permission. I cannot do it." The doctor seemed to have no feeling or emotion. He did not try to comfort me whatsoever. He did not rub my shoulder, nor did he say, "I know this is difficult," or, "I'm sorry." Nothing. He just walked out of the room. I was left alone...devastated.
A couple of hours later a friend arrived, and I collapsed into her arms in total bewilderment. All I could say through tears and sobs were, "I cannot do it, I cannot do it." "Yes, you can," she assured me. I felt comforted by her motherly wisdom, but still knots surfaced in my stomach as the next surgery lingered. Many visitors showed up at the hospital for support. The love was so overwhelming at times it felt like a dream. Looking back now, I know it was God showing His great care for me in what seemed at the time the worst days and weeks of my life.
Many miracles happened during my lodging at La Grange: one nurse took my clothes to her home to launder, the Surgery Center allowed me to shower everyday, the chaplain allowed me to take naps in her office, the manager of nurses of the ICU was a Christian and showed me favor when certain nurses were behaving unprofessionally. My children even gave me a birthday party in the waiting room. Another nurse finished her 12-hour shift and left the hospital to go and purchase birthday gifts for me. I woke up after dozing off in the hospital room chair, and a dear friend from church was standing by my chair with balloons. I experienced some of the most amazing nurses' care that a patient and wife could ever ask for and for the greatest miracle of all--Dr. Moy.
There came a time after a month in La Grange that the doctors could do no more for Les. The amputation was performed and still Les' condition did not improve. He was lying at death's door. The doctor's walked around scratching their heads. They did not know what else to do. I struggled with anger and confusion as they told me that the amputation would surely take the fevers away, but in fact it had not. If anything, his condition had gotten worse. I decided I would take my first trip home and relieve myself from those four hospital walls that I had become so accustomed to. On my quiet drive home, I contemplated all that had occurred in the last month. It was surreal. "Was this truly happening to me?" "Was this truly happening to my husband?" The phone interrupted my thoughts. It was Laura, a good friend who had been walking this journey with me. She sounded strange and urgent at the same time. "What's wrong?" I asked. She said, "Christine (another friend on the journey), and I need to have a meeting with you." "A meeting, I thought?" "About what?" I asked. "I am not at the hospital. I am driving home for a little break." Through stutters, she proceeded to tell me that she and Christine had been talking and that it was urgent that they get together with me. "What about?" I inquired again. "What's going on," I probed forceably. "Well.....we, we, we... we think you need to get him out of there," she blurted out. "They have done all they can do and it is time for you to get him to a tertiary hospital." "Wait...what!! Hold on! What! How can I just take him out? I cannot just get him out of bed. He is intubated and has several IV's. How can I just do that? I do not know where to send him!" I got off the phone with Laura and I was speechless. I immediately dialed our friend, Andre, who works at University Illinois at Chicago and relayed everything that was just told me. He replied with a calm voice. "I think she is right Tasha. Angela (his wife) and I were just talking about that this morning." "WHAT!!" I say. How does everyone know what to do except me???? I began to vomit out all of my anxiety about what to do, where to go, how to get him out, what the current doctors will think about this rash decision? It was too much to bear. Andre calmed my nerves, told me he would call a doctor friend of his and get back to me.
By now I was home, pacing the floor not knowing what to do in this foreign place. I called Les' room and asked our nurse who this week's on call doctor was. She told me Dr. Moy. He was new to us, and that made me a little worried. He had not known all that we had gone through. He had not had a chance to meet me, to meet Les, to know that I was a devoted wife who had never left the hospital until now, that I only wanted the best for Les. He could not look into my eyes and see that I was sincere and that I was not there to judge any of Les' current doctor's ability as physicians. He was just coming on the scene this week, new, only reading a chart, not really familiar with our situation. What would he think when I insisted that my husband be transferred because he was not improving here? Andre returned my call and informed me that I needed to get a doctor from La Grange to approve a transfer for Les. That was the best and only way to insure a smooth transition. He also warned me not to transfer Les to UIC where he worked. He suggested Rush Chicago, Northwestern, or Loyola. He said that those were the best choices and to try to push for Rush Chicago. I called Nathan, who had been our assigned social worker during our stay, and told him of my immediate future plans. He let me know that if I had Les transferred on my own accord, that I would be responsible for all transport fees to be paid up front. WHAT!! There was no way I could pay that kind of money, that would be thousands of dollars! I disconnected with him as I could not ingest anymore from our conversation.
In a few moments the phone rang again. It was Dr. Moy. The most angelic voice I had ever heard over the phone was now speaking to me. "Hi, Dr. Moy, this is Mrs. Hamilton, my husband Les is one of your patients this week." And before he could say anything I regurgitated all that needed to happen and happen soon. I desperately needed his help to make it all come to fruition. I tried to sound dignified, intelligent and civil but somehow I do not think I came across that way. I finally quieted down enough to hear what he had to say. With the most delicate and gentle voice Dr. Moy said, "Mrs. Hamilton I completely agree with you. I just read over your husband's chart and I see we have done all that we can do. I would be happy to assist in any way I can." "What?" "You mean you will help us," I asked in disbelief? "Yes, I will do all that I can." I began jumping up and down quietly, "YES!!!! Thank you Lord!" "And by the way Dr. Moy, can we get Les into Rush Chicago?" I added. Dr. Moy suggested Loyola as he said that Loyola was more accepting of existing cases. That it would make it easier to get in and the transfer would be smoother there. He said that Rush Chicago had a tougher acceptance policy when it came to my husband's situation, especially being an ICU patient. I told him I would really like to get Les into Rush and that if he could not, Northwestern would be our next choice with Loyola being our final choice. He seemed a little disappointed at my insistence but agreed to give it a try.
Arriving back at La Grange's familiar second floor ICU wing, I proceeded to exit the elevator and round the corner only to find a gentleman in a doctor's coat coming my way. I did not recognize this new face and proceeded with my current thoughts. Behind him, about 100 feet away, was Jaycee, our nurse for the day, jumping up and down with her famous grin. "What's going on?" I thought? As this doctor approached closer, he said, "Mrs. Hamilton?' "Yes, that is me..." "Hi I'm Dr. Moy." "Oh, hi Dr. Moy." "You would not believe who I got on the line at Rush Chicago?" He stated. "Who?" I thought. "It was one of my classmates from medical school." And with the greatest grin, he informed me that Les was accepted that quickly and that he would be transferred in just a few hours. Unheard of...it was nothing but the grace of God. I learned that transfers rarely happened that quickly. Here I stood overwhelmed yet again at what God was doing for us. I could hardly believe the words that flowed from his lips. Just two hours prior it was only a strong suggestion that I get Les transferred, and now it was a reality--and all so quickly. This all happened because of Dr. Moy. Though our time together was brief, he was hand-picked by God-for us.
After leaving La Grange, Les stayed at Rush Chicago for two weeks where he immediately began to improve. He was transferred to Kindred Weaning Hospital for three weeks, then Hinsdale Hospital for rehabilitation and therapy for another two weeks, and finally released just before Father's Day.
In those two months the Lord taught me much. Along with the miracles, there were also devastations, too many to mention now, but God was faithful. He never left me alone even in my darkest hours. He taught me about His love and care for me through others. He taught me how to accept help from others even when I did not want to. He taught me about humility. He taught me that I cannot always control the outcome. He taught me about suffering and that He suffered with me. He showed me my pride. I did not want to share with everyone what was happening in my life initially. I did not want to be judged or pitied. But as people learned of our fate, many prayed for which I will forever be grateful.
We have and will face tough times through this loss, but I have learned to trust our Heavenly Father in ways I may not have otherwise.