This is Chapter 15 in a series entitled Telling My Story.
"Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God's plan, but God is not helpless among the ruins." ~ Eric Liddell, Olympian
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You may recognize Eric Liddell's name if you ever watched the movie Chariots of Fire. He was the son of Scottish missionaries to China, who became a world renowned Olympian, and later died in a Chinese internment camp. When I read the quote above a few days ago, I knew I had finally found the basis for telling the most difficult part of my story.
For those of you who have read the preceding chapters, you already know that my early life was a hard one, and that my early marriage at eighteen to a young man who entered the ministry (apparently very ill-advisedly) was also very difficult. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come.
When I had been working at the dental office just over three years, we seemed to be finally pulling out of the black hole into which we had landed when all our worldly goods were stolen and we had to start over from nothing.
Our oldest son, K., had just finished his freshman year of college, at this time, and had joined the military as a reservist in order to qualify for military tuition benefits, as we were unable to pay for more than a portion of his college expenses. He enjoyed boot camp and excelled to such an extent that out of his class of one hundred and fifty young recruits, he graduated first in his class. He tied records that had stood at Ft. Leonard Wood for over fifteen years. It still makes me sad that we were unable to attend his graduation ceremony, which was twenty-five hundred miles away.
He had always been "a good son" - certainly not perfect, but one of those children of whom we could honestly say we had never lost a nights sleep. He was obedient and helpful, a national merit scholar, and such a hard worker that he developed the largest paper route in town and bought his first gold Krugerrand with his own money at fifteen. He was something of a math whiz and planned to become a millionaire before he was thirty years old. Left unhindered I have little doubt he would have done just that.
Because of both his physical and mental prowess, he was heavily recruited near the end of boot camp for an elite special forces unit, although we only learned of this long afterward. When he landed at S.F. International, the whole family was there to meet him, and we were mystified when a "full bird" colonel was there to greet him as he came down the hallway into the terminal. Before we could hug and greet him, the officer drew K. aside, they spoke quietly for a moment or two, and I saw K. smile and quietly shake his head "no" before he walked over to where we were waiting. We learned later the colonel had been sent to make another attempt to convince K. to join this elite group. K. declined. He had other plans.
I tell you all this to let you know that he was truly an exceptional young man, not only by his parent's estimation. Mentally tough, smart (not brilliant in the academic sense, but quickly intuitive and savvy about strategy), six feet /one inch tall, with only four percent body fat due to the rigorous training he had just undergone. He could leg-press four hundred pounds, although he was slim and only weighed one fifty-five. He was, as they say, quite a specimen.
Less than forty-eight hours later he lay in the intensive care unit of a hospital fighting for his life.
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I awoke at 3:00 a.m. from a sound sleep praying for my son. I did not know what had happened, but I felt a deep sense of danger and literally was already praying when I woke up. Fifteen minutes later we heard an ambulance siren and minutes later our bedside phone rang advising us to meet the ambulance at the hospital which was only blocks from our house.
We rushed to the hospital where, after they stabilized him, we followed the ambulance thirty-six miles to the nearest regional trauma center where they would begin the months long effort to save his life. As we drove, his father said to me, "I will accept it. Whether God leaves him with us, or takes him home. I will accept it either way."
I felt cold dread wash over my heart, as I sat there and prayed. I had no premonition. I had no special knowledge. I do not know why I said what I did. But quietly I replied, "There is a third possibility. God may leave him with us, but he could be permanently injured."
His father did not even glance at me, as with a stony expression on his face, he drove relentlessly behind the ambulance. "That," he said fiercely, "I will never accept."
From that very moment, I felt a chasm begin to open between us that I sensed would never again be bridged.
We met with the heart surgeon who told us that the impact of the collision had created an aortic aneurysm of K.'s heart, and that if this was not repaired immediately he would die. Dr. M. further told us that if the "bubble" ruptured during the surgery, K. would die. Finally, he told us that there was a small chance, statistically speaking, that K. could become paralyzed as a result of the surgery.
"How small?", we asked softly.
"It only happens in about two percent of such cases. So it is rare. But we must let you know of the possibility."
We asked whether there were any other options. Could we wait awhile? No. There was no time to lose. Every minute counted. Could we get a second opinion? One was obtained and he concurred that the surgery was our son's only chance for survival.
So we asked the surgeon if we could pray for and with him, that God would give him steady hands and great skill as he raced the clock to save K.'s life. The three of us joined hands and bowed our heads.
Two teams operated for almost twelve hours. In the end, K. emerged with his head swollen to almost twice it's normal size. He was comatose and they could not say when, or if, he would ever awaken. His heart had stopped twice during the procedure, for between four and five minutes both times, for a total oxygen loss of eight to ten minutes. They said he might be in a vegetative state - permanently.
They had done all they could. It was all in God's hands now. But then, that was where it had been all along, even though we could not see it.
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In chapter 16 I will share with you the grace and mercy that were bestowed upon us in the coming months as K. struggled to regain his life. How he survived, and how some of us did not, at least not as we once were.
For now, I must simply let you know that last night (Feb. 2, 2012) K. was allowed to attend the first "outing" since his surgery last July. He has been bed fast for seven months, and still has at least two more months of recovery before he can resume teaching his special education high school students.
Nevertheless, last night was the local City Planning Commission's first meeting of the new year, and with his doctor's permission, K. was bound and determined he was not going to miss this one.
He teaches full time, he serves on the city planing board, he volunteers at various events, he has friends far and wide, and he does it all from his wheelchair. It is not what I wanted for him. It is not all that he wanted for himself.
But God is not helpless among the ruins. Of this I am certain.
Until next time ... Marsha