Child’s illness becomes instant game-changer

If you would have told me a month ago I would be penning this, jobless, from the Ann Arbor Ronald McDonald House, I would have thought you were smoking something. And given what I’ve gone through lately, I would have asked you to pass it to me so I could take an extra-large hit.
I almost didn’t write this, but I have never missed a column deadline for seven years and don’t intend to allow destruction to gain the upper hand by voluntarily throwing in the towel. So this is written as an act of optimistic defiance; publicly sticking out my tongue and saying, “My family and our God are tougher than our circumstances.”
Somebody needs to take a stance because a lot of what’s most fearful in life has recently ambushed me. First, I was fired from my job the day after Easter. I won’t go into detail because it goes without saying that being fired is a powerful blow, especially to a single parent. But destruction was only getting warmed up.
Kate & Kristy hospitalThat was day one of my children’s spring break. While I couldn’t afford a vacation for us someplace warm, I sprang for a cheap hotel with a pool in a mid-Ohio city (technically, we were heading south) where I was slated to attend a seminary orientation session before taking online courses toward my chaplaincy goal.
Long story short, upon nearing our destination, we got a flat tire, the repair of which ate up minutes on the early arrival shot clock and made me 30 minutes late for the orientation session. Trying to return home the next day, our car was side-swiped in traffic, necessitating waiting around for a police report and lamenting having raised my collision coverage deductible.
These things were scary, difficult and inconvenient, but paled in comparison to what happened once we got home. Due to suspected flu, my daughter, Kate, had stayed home with my mother instead of going to Ohio. Kate’s symptoms had worsened in my absence. She had periodic fevers, chills and headaches: Flu 101, I thought, in concurrence with the urgent care staff – until she went into seizures on Saturday night.
Thank God I got fired earlier in the week, for otherwise I wouldn’t have been sitting, applying online for unemployment, at the computer next to the couch on which she had been reclining and eating a Popsicle as a cooling mechanism. As soon as she stopped chattering at me, I turned and saw a blank stare and highly dilated pupils. Uh oh!
I knew from having a sister with epilepsy that something was wrong neurologically. Then what appeared to be a seizure began, but didn’t stop. I called a friend, who responded quickly. Together we loaded Kate into the car and drove to the Marshall’s Oaklawn Hospital ER. From there she was airlifted to the pediatric intensive care unit at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo. Two days later they transported her to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. Suspected flu quickly became re-labeled bacterial meningitis, pneumonia and a stroke caused by bacterial vegetation that broke off from where it had attacked and perforated a mitral valve, then traveled to her brain to cause a stroke.
The stroke affected the temporal, occipital and parietal areas of Kate’s brain. And despite mega doses of antibiotics targeting the bacteria that created the vegetation and the infection coursing through her circulatory system, the risk of more bits of the vegetation entering her bloodstream looms large.
The response of moving ahead with open heart surgery to address the valve and vegetation issue was not a safe option so close on the heels of her stroke. Without additional brain healing time, there’s an increased likelihood the anti-clotting compound used during heart surgery might lead to a bleed into the brain in the already affected areas and beyond. Nothing to do but wait.
Waiting has never been my strong suit, particularly with so much at stake. But there’s no choice. I walk the hospital hallways in silence, wondering about the outcome; wondering about Kate’s future; wondering about mine. That said, I trust the surgeon’s visible hand and God’s invisible one. Miss Kate will make it.


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