On March 9, 2015, my family’s lives took a crazy turn. A walk on a ridiculously beautiful Pacific Northwest Evening turned into a journey we are still walking today.
It had been so good to get out of the house that night even though both Mike and I felt the pressure of our jobs telling us to stay at the table and correct papers. Mike was just six weeks out from finishing his Masters in Special Education (a brave career change), and then we’d both be teachers. But, his day had been rough. “Let’s take a walk, fix dinner, and then get back to this,” I had suggested. “Besides, you haven’t seen all of the neighborhood yet.”
We had moved to the East side of Tacoma right after Christmas and had been too busy to explore together. I wanted him to see a cute residence that looked out towards Mount Rainier where several houses were for sale. “Maybe we’ll be ready to buy in another year,” we dreamed that night, thinking how we had sold our house in Gig Harbor and closed his real estate business so that he could follow his heart.
On the way back, I marveled at how energetic Mike seemed. He wasn’t a fan of long walks or hills but tackled both voluntarily. Suddenly … he groaned and dropped to the ground. Immediately he was green, his eyes were rolled back, and foam formed around his lips. His heart had stopped. No warning … no clutching of his chest … no complaints of pain or discomfort … no tremors. His heart just stopped.
I screamed for help which came in the form of a call to 911 and a high schooler who helped me administer CPR until the paramedics arrived and shocked him back into a pulse. Then … off to the hospital where we would be for 29 days.
There are no easy descriptions of Mike’s medical condition (even doctors get confused), but at the core of this event was the discovery of an extremely large pituitary tumor. The discovery was accidental. Mike wasn’t coming out of a comma. Pretty quickly, doctors started preparing me and the girls for the idea that he had been without oxygen too long … quite possibly his brain couldn’t recover. They ran the MRI to check and discovered a normal acting brain and the abnormally sized tumor.
A damaged heart, a tumor too fibrous to operate on, questions about brain injury … doctors expected anything except what happened next. He improved. We were told not to expect a normal life. I was cautioned that he probably wouldn’t finish his masters program or work a demanding job ever again. It took an extra year and a lot of fighting with red tape and bureaucracies, but he did it. Mike and our youngest daughter graduated the same weekend from the same university … both teachers.
This year started out so much more hopeful than anything we had experienced in awhile, with Mike in a classroom at an area high school. Then, at the end of October, he experienced a scary seizure in our home. This put him in the hospital for the 3rd total time since this all started. Thankfully, it was only a couple of days and doctors felt that they had the right medication to take care of things.
December 20th, all grew dark once more. Sitting in our living room late in the evening, talking over Christmas plans, Mike began seizuring. “We’ve got this,” I told him, holding his hand and waiting for him to come out of it like he had in October. Only he didn’t. He slumped over and gasped like he had on the awful day in 2015. His heart had stopped again. Three resuscitation events in our home, two code blues at the hospital .. in some ways this was the scariest yet. I really thought that our oldest daughter was going to watch him die as we stood in the ICU watching doctors frantically pull him back to life during that first code blue.
God had different plans. Mike left the hospital nine days later as “Iron Man”. The girls call him that because of the defibrillator that is now housed in his chest. And after a month of recovering, he is back at his job.
“How are you coping with all of this?” our pastor asked during the very first incident in 2015.
“Six minutes at a time,” I didn’t really know what my answer meant. Just that life seemed doable if I could see it at about six minutes in front of me and no further.
And thus, six minutes it has become. With each medical crisis … With each stressful situation that has come our way in this season … With the hostile political environment that eeks through the news daily … I find myself wearing down. Life seems so heavy anymore. I heard friends whispering at the hospital that first night how strong I was and how much faith I had … that I would make it … that I would hang onto God.
If those things were ever fully true of me, they seem less true now, except for one thing. I keep hanging onto God … as long as I can do it about six minutes at a time.
I began blogging a couple of years before Mike’s collapse, but that experience has certainly reshaped my writing and my focus. Thus, I’ve reshaped the blog to share life as I see it now … six minutes a time. Thank you for reading.