Looking Back – One Year Later

Flashback one year ago today – one of those days that burns into your memory, burns into your heart.  March 11, 2014 – I experienced what I then called a “heart-stopping moment” and with today’s reflection, I can still recall that feeling – deep down inside where we store those moments for a lifetime.  Following this; when my heart began to beat again – my day was filled with wonder as I pondered what had happened and knew with a certainty that Heaven had intervened in our behalf.  
Today is the anniversary of our initial attempt to remove Jackie’s chordoma – a fist-sized tumor tucked up in the center of her thoracic cavity.  It was bordered by her spinal column, her aorta and her lungs.  Four surgeons would be working on her, sometimes simultaneously, through two different incisions; one vertical along the left side of her spine, the second running along the rib line on her left.  They would have to collapse her left lung in order to access the tumor.  
Weeks later – two of the surgeons would declare it to be “one of the coolest surgeries they had ever seen.”  On the morning of March 11, we weren’t thinking it was very cool – it was rather frightening.  We did feel, however, that we were in very good hands.  Our primary surgeon was very accomplished, and just within our own family he had removed a tumor from Mark’s left shoulder, multiple tumors from Natalie’s right shoulder, and replaced 10 inches of Greg’s tibia with an awesome prosthesis.
We had to wait several weeks to get the correct operating room for Jackie’s surgery – she was almost ready to be taken in when there was a thoracic emergency in ICU and our procedure was bumped back several hours.  They finally came for her, so Mark and I decided to go eat and then enjoy the spring sunshine outside.  She had been gone for a couple hours when we decided to go to the family waiting area.  We were not there long when I looked up and saw our surgeon enter the room… how strange… why wasn’t he with Jackie?  I knew the surgery could not possibly be finished.  Through the window into the hallway I thought I saw her anesthesiologist… who was with my daughter?  They asked to speak with us in a conference room – there were five doctors waiting to talk to us!  This could not be good….
They were quick to assure us that Jackie was alive and there were still several doctors with her (OHSU is a teaching hospital).  These several hours had been spent trying to start her arterial line – when the time came to collapse her lung they had to switch breathing tubes, but her airway had collapsed.  They had resuscitated her, but it seemed that they were all rather shaken.  They had come to ask us permission to stop the surgery and resume it in two days.  They did not want to begin a surgery such as this when her body had undergone such trauma.  YES!  By all means, stop and let her recover… (Apparently one of the doctors had seen this happen before and that family had been upset at the notion of postponing.)
Mark and I returned to the waiting area until she could be transferred to ICU.  We were both struck by the notion that his recently-deceased father had had a hand in this.  Mark said he could just see him there saying, “Stop!  Enough!”  Each doctor in the room had been in agreement that they needed to stop the procedure – I thought this somewhat remarkable from orthopedic, thoracic and neurosurgeons.  My experience working in the operating room was enough to know that these men are highly specialized, maybe a bit arrogant, and extremely busy and driven.  I appreciated their humility.
That night in the ICU was not very nice – Jackie woke up on a ventilator which is an awful experience.  Her hands were tied down and she could not speak or breathe on her own.  Then we had to communicate to her that the surgery was not over – she would have to begin again.  She was able to communicate with us by finger spelling.  
Naturally, no one was very anxious to remove the breathing tube.  We had many visits from a variety of physicians.  The anesthesiologist in charge was particularly attentive.  On one of his visits he expressed that this was an unusual situation, but it was as though God had told them all, “STOP!”
I don’t know that he was a particularly religious man, but he had been struck by what had happened.
I had been praying that not only would the surgeons receive help, they would know the source of the help.  My sister, Lori, told me later that she had been praying that not only would they know the source of their help – that they would express this back to us!  
What a harrowing day!  What a beautiful day!
I would never want to repeat this day!
I would never want to change this day!
Writing about it has made me feel weak.  Reflecting on it makes me strong.  The testimony felt that day – that God is so very aware of us, his children – stays with me. The reality of angels – loving us and strengthening us – this stays with me also.  
Life’s experiences teach us so much.  
Coming into the ICU and seeing Jackie unresponsive and hooked up to so many machines… well, it wasn’t a high point in my life.  Throughout the night, one-by-one, tubes were removed and monitors were cleared away.  Memories remained.  Love grew and intensified.  
I am so grateful to have had this experience with my daughter, husband and family.  The weakness I feel in remembering isn’t from the horrors of the day, it is from memories of my involvement in a day full of humility, love, trepidation, and support from loved-ones on earth and in Heaven.

Happy Anniversary Jackie!!  

4 thoughts on “Looking Back – One Year Later

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