A little more than three years ago, my beautiful wife Karen gave birth to our little girl Evangeline. It was a C-Section and I admit that I was impressed with the proceedings for the most part. They went in like a team of ninjas and came out with a baby.
At some point in the process Karen came down with an infection that seemed minor enough at the time. She was running a low grade fever so they put her on IV antibiotics and she seemed to be responding well. Mom and baby were ok and after a couple of days we went home.
Within an hour of getting home, Karen spiked a fever... which was the one thing we were alerted to look out for... and it progressed rapidly... so back to the hospital we go.
It seems that the antibiotic had not gotten all of the infection and things were a bit more serious than we anticipated, but overall folks didn't seem too concerned. We hadn't left the realm of "unfortunate but it sometimes happens" yet. They re-opened the wound cleaned it out and put her back on a course of anti-biotics... while I juggled our new baby in the background.
After a few days she seemed better, no fever for the appointed time and the doctors had told us that we would need to decide to do a "primary closure" (stitch her back up) or to use a newer procedure called a "wound vac." I was mulling this on the way home to get something for Evangeline and I felt really strongly that we should push for the primary closure. I didn't really have a reason why, but called Karen and told her what I thought. She teased me a little and told me that we would talk to the doctors.
I would try to describe how I felt, but for some reason it was imperative to me that we go for the primary closure. I'm more opinionated than most people but this went far beyond my own normal arrogance related to how very right I am.
The next day we were fully briefed and then some. We basically had three options and the head of the department said that medically there really wasn't a strong reason to prefer one over the other, it was up to us.
Option 1 was a primary closure, they put you under, poke around and stitch you up.
Option 2 was a wound vac, which had the advantage of putting constant pressure by suction on the wound, causing it to heal a little more quickly and the nature of the technology made it a popular current choice.
Option 3 was the old school gauze and saline option, to pack the wound with saline soaked gauze and let it heal from the inside out.
The head of the department left and the very bright doctor who was assisting stepped in to strongly recommend the wound vac. She didn't just recommend it, she said it was the only option that made any sense. It was vastly superior to the other options, which were troublesome and she really put the hard sell on us. She did everything but put on a sweater and cheer, "Wooooooouuuuunnnnnnndddddddddd - vvvvvvvaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaccccccccc!" Like she was introducing an NBA superstar.
I didn't say a word while she went on for a good 10 minutes, but I was literally grinding my teeth. Something was Wrong. And this pirate doctor was going to talk Karen into the other path.
She finally left and Karen said, "wound vac sounds pretty good" - and from the description she had given, it did. I fashioned my argument against it.
- The big doctor said it would be fine either way, I think she may be over-selling it a bit.
- I know very little, but your skin is really good at keeping out infection - the primary closure works with that process.
- I really think we should go with the first option.
Karen wasn't convinced and in her shoes, I wouldn't have been either. I found myself getting angry... not because I wasn't getting my way, but because I felt like we were being bullied into the wrong road. Even so, my emotion and the strength of my feeling on this front had more weight than was reasonable. In hindsight, I was trying to communicate the internal force of my feeling... and of course I fumbled that part of it.
The conversation on my side, got harsh and a little mean - I express things with passion and when I'm trying to communicate importance, sometimes that comes out as aggressive or angry (when I don't mean that on the inside of my head). I finally said, "Fine. Don't listen to me. (and backing off my childishness a bit) Look, this is your body and it is ultimately your call. I'll support whatever you want to do - I really think we should push for a primary closure."
Karen saw it before I did. I think I saw an actual cartoon bulb appear over her head.
She said, "do you think God is telling you that's what we should do?"
And on the inside of my head I snapped my fingers and said, "YES! That's exactly what's going on here! I'm an idiot!"
On the outside where we are reasonable and I question my prophetic abilities I said, "I don't know (even though I did know)... that might be it."
But she had seen the look on my face (I don't play poker for this reason) and she nodded. Primary closure it is. And it was settled in her head. What courage... what trust... what a woman. I think she might have been getting something on this wavelength too and it took my silliness to confirm it.
I felt like a weight lifted off of my shoulders and I knew it my heart it was the right thing to do. We called in the doctor, who coincidentally was the female doctor who owned stock in Wound Vac, Inc., and told her our decision. She looked at us like we were baboons throwing feces at the pristine architecture of medical knowledge, did an about face and ordered the procedure while shaking her head at our horrible decision. Karen told her, I still didn't say a word. Inside I was gloating a little.
Later that day, Karen went in to be sewn up and I waited. And waited some more. After about an hour I asked if everything was ok (this was supposed to be a shorter trip) and the nurse told me that they had found something else and the doctor was coming to talk with me. Uh oh.
The doctor (head of the department again), came in, looking like someone had punched him in the gut. He came in, sat down and buried his face in his hands. That's not the normal posture for this kind of thing. They are supposed to stand in good lighting and issue information in a clear voice as if they are a Delphic Oracle. I knew she hadn't died - someone had already told me... but obviously something was wrong.
He started to explain. "when we do a closure like this, we really push around on the area to make sure it is healing cleanly... we open up the wound as much as we can, clean it out thoroughly and when we confirm all is well we proceed. As soon as we started the wound opened up completely to reveal a massive infection all through the adjoining cavity. We're cleaning out as much as we can, but this will be a lengthy procedure. It hasn't made it to her organs, that's the good news.
She's going to be ok. But I'm so glad you decided to do the primary closure. If we hadn't gone that direction, the unseen infection would have gone unchecked... and with another few days or a week without discovering this it would have progressed. It would have been very bad. There's no way this would have resolved on it's own."
The implication was clear enough. Of our three options, the first one was the one that would end up saving her life... the other two would have been much more serious and problematic, perhaps even life threatening. The glories of the wound vac, in this particular situation, might have been a death sentence.
I didn't feel like such a moron after all. I still could have been nicer to Karen though.
I took a moment to thank God for intervening and to pray for the doctors and team working on Karen. It was a powerful moment.
It was a tough recovery. We came through it and things are going well now. And by the way, we left the hospital that time with a wound vac in tow... and I couldn't have cared less. It really was my spiritual spidey sense giving me heartburn, versus some pathological mistrust of doctors or technology that somehow was internal to me.
My atheist friends (and the more cynical version of me inside my head) would be quick to point out that this doesn't prove anything. If God were real and involved in our lives, He would have just prevented the infection in the first place.
To those folks and to myself I lovingly say, "Stop that."
I seldom truly understand the bigger picture and I could rationalize my way into or out of lots of things. What's the point of a graduate degree if you can't drive it around sometimes?
But here, in this situation, with my family... this is my fairy cake to chew on, delivered by my invisible Friend - and it was delicious - you don't have to snack on those if you don't want to. On my side of things, it was incredibly awe-inspiring and comforting to think that God was looking out for us... and helping us find a good path forward in spite of the information we didn't have.
If I were going to learn something from this odd series of events, I suppose it would be the following:
- Ignore medical advice and go with mystical inclinations (just kidding - please do NOT do that)
- Understand that God loves us and will sometimes nudge us in the right direction
- If that nudge seems crazy or even just odd, seek counsel. Talk to someone you trust and listen to them.
- Look for His presence and influence in these situations, you might find it
- Don't be afraid to push a little with medical stuff... ask questions and give your instincts weight
- Be nice (I could have handled the conversation with Karen much better than I did)
- Look for agreement with your spouse and do the best you can
- Don't miss the opportunity to tell the doctors that God was involved, they prolly need to hear that from time to time
Peace to you all... and may a whisper to the best path for you be loud and clear.