Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Living in Hope

Just over five years ago, I received a call as I was returning from out of town.  A congregation member informed me that his brother and sister-in-law had to take their daughter to the hospital.  She was very sick.

I remember parking at the hospital at exactly the same time the mother arrived at the hospital.  To say she was distraught would be an understatement.  Through tears she cried, "What is wrong with my baby?"

We went to the room.  The little girl's pediatrician was/is my children's pediatrician.  I knew her, and I knew she was good.  But she wasn't specialized enough to handle what was going on this day.  Something was dreadfully wrong.

The little girl: R, had been admitted into the hospital with a urinary tract infection.  These were commonplace since she had a minor defect that would be corrected later in life.  Every instance before, she had been given anti-biotics, responded well and gone home.  Initially, this is exactly what happened.  But suddenly, R's condition deteriorated.  She went from improving to lethargic.  She began vomiting.  There was copious amounts of mucus and a dark substance that looked like bile.  After one episode of vomiting, the pediatrician did a minor test on it.  It wasn't bile.  It was blood.

"That's it," she announced.  "You are out of here."  She began taking all the steps to get R down into Houston.

The girl and her mom rode the helicopter.  The rest of us drove.

We ended up at Memorial Herman Children's Hospital in the medical center in Houston.  Family and friends gathered and waited anxiously for the specialists to check R over.  The head neuro-pediatrician arrived and thoroughly checked her over.  Not liking what was going on, he said they would have to keep her in ICU for two weeks and closely monitor her.

I remember being in that room.  I remember looking at the crib/hospital bed that looked an awful lot like a cage.  I remember R's parents, distraught, worried, extremely concerned about their daughter.  I remember praying with them and the tears that rained during the prayer.

It really sucks to see a child in such a predicament.  It takes a toll on you even if you aren't related.  As a father of a girl who was only a few months older than R, it particularly hit home with me.  My prayers seemed to have a little bit more urgency.

I didn't head straight home.  I stopped at the local tavern for a beer.  There are just some days when such a thing is necessary.  They are very, very few in my life, but this was one. 

In the next few days, I remember thinking often of R and her family.  I remember being out mowing the lawn after hearing a report.  I remember praying, "Lord, take care of R.  Let her live.  If it means that this congregation stops growing and that we level out, I don't care.  (We were growing by leaps and bounds at the time.)  Let her be with her mom and dad.  Don't let her die."

R didn't die.  She survived.  There's still a debate as to exactly what happened to her, but the results left no doubt.  R had suffered some sort of attack on her brain.  Portions of it had been permanently damaged.  Would she ever walk and play again?  Would she ever talk again?  Would she be able to communicate?  Would she remain comatose, non-responsive?  No one really knew. 

In the past few years, progress has been made.  It's been slow, and there have been a few setbacks.  One doctor was convinced R had a genetic disorder, would never get better, and would die if she contracted any type of cold or flu.  The doctor was wrong.  Thankfully.  Responsiveness returned.  In fact, better than responsiveness.  R has one of the most contagious smiles.  It infects a room whenever she is brought in.

And, she communicates!  Doctors were amazed after R's parents took her in for an evaluation.  They said, "She's all there.  She knows stuff."  This was kind of an anti-climactic answer for her parents.  They knew this, but the doctors had to discover it themselves.

Now, another problem presented itself.  If this little girl was there mentally, why couldn't she control her limbs?  Why couldn't she talk?  It was because of the part of the brain that remained damaged.  But was there anything that could be done to perhaps give her a shot to regain all function?

Through the marvels of medical technology (and I believe God gives us the knowledge to discover such things to help in the process of healing), a possibility arose.  Surgeons could drill through R's skull and implant electrodes.  These electrodes could be attached to a control system that would stimulate certain parts of the brain.  If everything worked correctly...  If everything aligned perfectly, R could get some or all control back.  She could experience some major healing.  It was a one in a million shot for the parents, but it was a shot they were willing to take.

Today is that surgery.  Today, we live in hope; hope that a miracle will occur.  And even if the surgery does not bring about a total recovery, there is still hope that one day one may be found--a new innovation, a new drug, a new way of doing therapy.

In the years that I have served as a pastor, there is one thing that generally helps people overcome difficulty after difficulty--they tenaciously, stubbornly, and with a reckless abandon hold onto hope.  Sometimes that hope bears visible fruit, and it is my sincere prayer it does in this circumstance.

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