February represents many things to people. Valentines day, cold blustery weather and anticipation of spring.
It is a month that is moving beyond the holidays and well into the swing of a new year.
For most of my life that is what February always was to me anyway, until one particular February in 1993.
I guess I will need to go back a month to the end of January.
We lived in Salina, Ks. and were very busy with church planting, renovating an old house and raising four children, with one being a newborn.
On top of the church plant, hubby Rick was working a night shift job at a juvenile delinquent center. We were juggling many balls and had a very full plate of activity.
On this particular day at the end of January, our oldest child, Nicki had come home from first grade to play with friends who were staying at our house.
After a while, noticing her friends playing without her, I asked where she had gone.
The children told me that she didn’t feel well and had gone to bed. “Oh”, I thought to myself, “she must be getting that virus that has been going around school.”
It was not like Nicki to leave a play time to go to bed, so I went upstairs to her bedroom which was off of a little kitchen we were using since the downstairs was gutted.
She indeed was sick and had a fever, so I gave her Tylenol and left her to sleep as I went to tend to supper.
The other children left, Rick came home and we chatted as I sat in the chair feeding the baby.
After a bit we heard Nicki choking and realized she had vomited. Rick went in to check on her only to start asking her to speak to him. As his voice escalated in a rising panic, I ran in the room and could tell she was seizing.
Because we lived within 2 blocks of the hospital, Rick grabbed her and raced out the door to the E.R.
I grabbed the other children, and hurried to our neighbors to drop them off.
By the time I arrived at the hospital, somehow I was allowed in the room where they were working on her. Seeing my precious seven year old in such a state was more than I could handle.
As the blood drained from my face and the room started spinning, a doctor caught my eye and grabbed me stating “she is going to be ok. Everything will be ok.”
They put her in a room and for two days of tests, had no idea what had happened except maybe a febrile seizure. She was a bit old for that at age seven, but that was all the pediatrician could come up with.
We took her home and on and off for a month, she would run a fever and we would keep her home. Doctor visits with blood tests and checkups seemed to show nothing.
Until the end of February.
Rick had to leave in a snowstorm and head six hours north for a denominational district meeting. I remained at home to work on painting the downstairs kitchen. My parents had moved to Salina for one year to work with a friend in business, so mom was coming over to help me that day.
I had an errand to run, Nicki was at school and the other children stayed at the house with mom until I would get back.
I needed to stop by and take some lotion to Nicki because she was itching all over. At the time, I assumed it was due to dry skin in the winter weather.
After I left the school and dropped a gift by at a friends house, I headed home to my frantic mother meeting me in the drive.
Go quickly back to the school she said. Nicki had collapsed with another seizure!
I raced to the school and upon entering the library, I saw my sweet girl lying on the floor with paramedics working on her. As she lay there seizing I got down on my knees and prayed over her little body asking Jesus to please help her. No one cared that I was praying in a public school.
I rode in the ambulance as we rushed her to the hospital.
After being there for a bit, the chaplain came. This is not a good sign.
He told me that the principal had called Rick and that he had made it to his meeting and would turn around and head back.
He asked if I wanted to go to the family room and wait. No, I did not. I used to work with chaplains at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas. It was always serious when people were taken to the family room.
He asked if he could call someone to be with me. No, they will fix my child and we will go home thank you. He asked again.
O.K. fine, then call Sandy Green who is a pastor’s wife in Ellsworth to go watch my children so my parents could come.
We sat and waited as the chaplain listened to me talk about my girl. After a while, he told me something that has marveled me to this day.
It seems that the chaplain and the school principal where Nicki attended were friends. Just that very morning they were exercising at the “Y” and the chaplain told of doing a funeral that week of a young woman who died having a seizure. The principal happened to ask “what do you do if someone has a seizure?” He got coached in how to handle that situation, not knowing that a few hours later, he would put it to use.
Sandy arrived and sat with me. At one point after a long time of hearing nothing, she asked if I shouldn’t call in to the ICU and ask if there was a report. The nurse replied, “not now, we can’t get her to stop seizing!”
That is when the denial finally broke and I realized that she might very well die. This was very serious.
My dad arrived and I took him in the hallway. It was heartbreaking for him to watch his own daughter watch her daughter suffer.
The doctor came out to explain that Nicki had to be put in a coma in order to stop her brain from seizing. She was intubated and on life support.
We went and looked at her and I knew that whatever happened was out of my hands completely. It was all up to God.
I can remember telling my dad that Nicki might not make it and he told me not to say that.
To this day I remember my response: “I cannot make her live. God alone knows the number of her days and I cannot bear to see her suffer. If He is going to take her then it is in His hands, but I cannot live with knowing that somehow this falls on me.”
I was fully at God’s mercy, I could not fix this.
Sandy traded places with mom and when Rick arrived we were taken to a private room and told what the plan had to be.
Our pediatrician had consulted with a pediatric neurologist at KU Med Center. He confirmed that he felt she had encephalitis. That meant a virus had attacked her brain and caused swelling. She would have to be life flighted to KU Med Center for treatment.
As we signed papers, the social worker asked me if I had any questions. “Yes, I have one. Is there any way that I can trade places with her?”
A team came to transport Nicki, but Rick and I had to drive ourselves to Kansas City as my parents stayed behind to take care of the other three.
We prayed and sang all the three hour drive to Kansas City. We did not know what to expect when we arrived.
We arrived in the evening only to consult with doctors who had accents we could hardly understand. One of them said “she may live or she may die, we just don’t know.”
We were told to sit in the waiting area, which we did. It was going to be a long night.
At some point a man wandered in with a trenchcoat on and proceeded to lay down on the floor. I thought to myself, “oh great, who knows what kind of weird people we will get to hang out with.” Can I admit my attitude wasn’t the best at this point?
As I began to ask Rick questions about what I didn’t seem to understand, this man laying on the floor sat up and asked, “can I help, I am a doctor.” What??!!
Believe it or not, he was a Christian doctor who worked at a home for unwed mother’s delivering babies! His son Kevin was in ICU with Nicki . Kevin was severely handicapped and had a bowel obstruction. Since he only spoke in sign language, his parents took turns staying at the hospital to translate.
This man was Don Philgreen. We will forever be grateful for his help in translating medical terms with the compassionate heart of a parent who understood first hand our fears and confusion.
For the next few days, the Philgreens and us would pray for our children as they hovered in and out of raised hopes and concerns. Other people came and asked us to pray for their loved ones as well. We held many prayer meetings in that ICU waiting room. It was a comfort to all of us.
About the third day of Nicki being on the ventilator, we were told they were going to wean her off. It seemed she was breathing above it on her own. We were ecstatic!
They took her off and we were allowed to go in the room and talk to her.
The first thing I noticed was that she threw a sheet over her head when we came in. Nicki was not the sort of child to act silly, so this was odd to me.
She seemed not herself at all and I asked the nurse if the medication was causing this behavior. “No”, she replied.
So, we left ICU and moved upstairs to a regular room.
At seven years of age, Nicki was back in diapers. She could not carry on an understandable conversation and would count incessantly to 10 over and over.
Psychologists came in with observations and evaluations. EEG and MRI tests were run to determine if their had been any brain damage.
There was no brain damage. No reassurance either as to whether she would get back to the old Nicki or whether there would be changes to who she was. Some people come through this sort of thing with a totally different personality depending on how their body responds.
Little newborn Luke came to stay with us and the nurses provided a baby swing for his visits in Nicki’s room. He became a great part of her healing as she loved her baby brother and we would let her hold him.
It seemed during this time that God provided 3 things as needed. 1) Either a good report of improvement 2) A peace to accept any news that was troubling and 3) A person who showed up at just the right time.
The Ronald Mcdonald house had room for us and we stayed there and were encouraged by the hospitality and meals left for us. We could never have afforded to stay in a hotel for 2 weeks back then.
One day, there was to be an MRI. Nicki had been so poked and prodded that I just could not go through one more test. As Rick went down with her to get it done, Phil Alessi, our district superintendent walked in to be with me. He was the pastor of pastors. I burst into tears as he talked to me about his little baby who at one time had meningitis. Who better to empathize at that moment than him?
Another time, I had observed Nicki saying such demented things that I wondered how could I take her home if she is like this? How would it affect the other kids and how could we possibly function. I was at my lowest point.
The psychologist came in and examined her and made no promises of a full recovery.
I could not have felt more alone and sad. I cried out to the Lord, “where are you?” “You have always come through somehow and now it looks so hopeless.” He seemed so very silent.
As I sat despairing in the chair, a nurse walked into the room to change Nicki’s bedding.
I knew all the nurses and all of their shifts but not this one.
She started changing the bed and asked, “may I tell you something?”
“Sure, fine.” I replied.
She began to tell me that her daughter had the exact thing happen. I asked whether or not she thought her daughter acted like someone out of The Exorcist? “Yes”, she replied,” her brain would not shut off and we didn’t know if she would ever be the same”. “Really?” I asked. “Yes”, she replied,” but today she is just fine and your daughter will be as well”.
She left and I never saw her again.
A friend from our church plant sent her father who was a doctor up to see us. He handed us a wad of money and blessed us in a way he will never know.
When Rick had been at Midwest District Conference before he could come to be with us, he shared at the meeting that he had to leave for an emergency, that his daughter had collapsed. After he spoke, the leaders prayed for him and as he walked down the aisle, pastor’s from all over began to hand him money.
God showed up for our spiritual, emotional, physical and financial needs. We could not believe the many ways He carried us during this time.
It was a long two weeks in the hospital and Nicki made some improvements. We brought church elders in to pray over her and anoint her with oil. We sang songs and played uplifting music. All trying to reprogram her little brain with good messages and thoughts.
Finally, we were able to take her home. After a week of home she was out of diapers. A home bound instructor came to work with her. Her short term memory was not there for a while.
She could eat breakfast and come down 20 minutes later and ask why we didn’t feed her.
She had speech and occupational therapy. A dear friend, Velda Creer was able to do the occupational therapy and that was such a blessing.
Nicki used to be very strong willed and a fire ball. She did change and we brought home a much more compliant and passive child. We grieved the old Nicki, but were so thankful that she had lived and began to see her progress and get her bearings again. The new Nicki was refined by the fire of trial and she had a different inner strength if not a quieter one.
Nicki has had her struggles over the years but through this experience she has become one of the most compassionate and caring persons especially towards children and the elderly. She has overcome huge obstacles and even graduated from a college program at Frontier School of the Bible.
She now teaches pre-schoolers and loves it (most of the time!)
God got our family through this season and we look back and reflect on all of the ways that He met us at every turn.
He has proven my whole life to walk me through every trial. Truly, because he lives I can face tomorrow. He is the God of hope and comfort. For that I will always be grateful!
“For we know that all things work together for the good for those who love Christ and are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28