A Month to Remember!

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Zelda loves posing for pictures! 🙂

Happy end of May, everyone! It’s been a hectic month for the Utomo/Crosby families, but it’s been a blessed one, and I’m glad to be back on the blog. 🙂

First and foremost, we’re no longer the Utomo/Crosby families. We’re proud to call ourselves the Utomo/Crosby/Stewarts after Anna and her fiancée Robert tied the knot on May 9th. Uniting their lives in my parents’ living room with Dad officiating and only three live witnesses (me, Ivan, and Mom) is the opposite of the church wedding they’d planned before COVID-19, but I’m SO proud of their maturity and God-focused attitude in the face of this trial. They never stopped smiling the entire day.

On an adorable (but much less life-changing) note, Ivan and I added a new fur baby to our family a couple of weeks ago. Zelda Fitzgerald is a nine-week old Tortoise shell kitten and she has more spunk than Ivan, me, and Daisy (our other cat) combined. I named her after Scott Fitzgerald’s audacious wife and she’s taking her namesake quite literally. (Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby as well as some other great novels and short stories.)

We – and the rest of California – are also excited as sheltering guidelines relax a bit and we begin the “new normal” other states have already implemented. The national revision of church closures is especially encouraging, and I’m proud to support Hillside which has complied with safety regulations throughout COVID-19. But regardless of your religious persuasion, please keep  prioritizing safety as we enjoy more flexibility in public activities and worship!

And that’s all for now. Look out for more detailed accounts of our recent adventures as well as future forays, especially since I’m on summer break!  In the meantime, I’m grateful for all God’s been doing in our lives, as well as the positivity I’ve observed in many of your social media posts. Joy and gratitude are choices – choices we can make each and every day. 

Special – Or Not?

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Celebrating feeling better with Thai takeout!

“I woke up to a world I never saw coming, and to medical and social communities that aren’t designed to meet my complicated set of needs. But I also woke up to a world where I experience God’s redemptive work in unique ways that would be unavailable to me if I were anyone but who I am.”

I wrote these words in the introduction to If I Should Die my capstone for the English degree I completed last August. It’s true. I’ve been the “special one” for the past three years, the girl who walks (or rolls, if it’s an emergency), into a healthcare facility and is immediately the top priority. With two strokes, seizures, and a semi-permanent migraine, how much more important could I be? Honestly, I wasn’t even too scared by COVID-19 since I was the special one. Any intelligent doctor would bump me to the top of their list if I happened to get sick.

Until they didn’t.

The week after San Jose’s sheltering order came out, I developed a dry cough. I called Kaiser, fully expecting a test since I was “high risk.” No test. Tests were for higher risk patients like seniors and asthmatics. When my seizure meds stopped working and my cough morphed into coughing fits, I called back. Obviously I was special enough to get tested now. No test. Now they were saving the tests for patients who were candidates for hospital admission. This time the doctor admitted that I’d be a special case under normal circumstances – just not at this point in COVID-19. I’d failed the “special” test for the first time three years. But not to worry, she said, most people like me got better in seven days. Seven days later my seizure meds still weren’t working, I couldn’t get out of bed, and I stopped breathing during my five-minute-plus coughing fits. But the pandemic had intensified to such an extent that even this wasn’t serious enough for a test, much less hospital admission. My doctor prescribed medicine strong enough to keep me breathing during fits and told me to hope for the best. Mercifully “the best” eventually arrived, albeit painstakingly slowly. Even more mercifully, Ivan never developed more than a mild cough. Praise God for His protective hand!

Getting sick was one of the best things that could have happened to me. God used it to remind me that I’m not always THE special one, in spite of three years of conditioning to the contrary. The truth? I didn’t need a test. Would it have gratified my need to feel important? Sure. Would it have helped me get better? No. I also didn’t need a hospital admission. There were moments when we thought I did, but my doctor was right after all. I didn’t need a ventilator or an IV to break a raging fever, and I would have just taken away a bed from someone who did. Thankfully prescription cough medicine sufficed, even if it didn’t always work perfectly. What I did need was to look around me. To remember that my doctor was treating patients even though she had a baby at home. To listen to the ambulance sirens wailing by our apartment every day. To read news articles about the outbreak already infiltrating New York. So many people were more special than me, in one way or another.

And that’s what I’d like to share as those of us in San Jose face another month of sheltering. It’s tempting to read about other states reopening and grumble, “What about us? Aren’t our financial and educational and social needs just as important as theirs?” Yes, our needs are certainly urgent. But there is so much at stake that we can’t see. Our leaders are looking at the big picture, while all we can see are our living rooms and the sky outside our windows. Local healthcare workers are still risking themselves daily to save lives, and if fewer people are dying or getting sick, it’s thanks to their efforts and the strict guidelines we’ve been following since March. So take heart and join me in supporting them and thanking God for our leaders, leaders who are trying to safeguard us even if we don’t always agree with their timeline.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established…For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. “

~Romans 13:1,4

 

 

 

Sheltering Week Three: Time for SPIES

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Ivan’s students were getting on Daisy’s nerves this week…

We form habits in twenty-one days. Those of us in Northern California are beginning our third week of Shelter-at-Home, which means we’re solidifying our unusual lifestyle. If you live elsewhere, you might be beginning your at-home journey or watching the news and wondering if this chapter will reach you, too. But wherever you fall on the sheltering spectrum, we’ve all had to adjust to social distancing, reduced resources, and potential illness over the past couple of months. Hopefully you’ve been able to build constructive habits to manage our new limitations, but if you’re still looking for some tips, feel free to check out this post.

As much as that post is a great place to start, there’s still more to thriving at home than setting goals, making to-do lists, and working out. Thriving implies holistic wellness, which includes mind, body, and spirit. Ivan learned the SPIES evaluation technique during undergrad at CBU, and I overheard him sharing it with his students this week. I wanted to post it here since it’s a wonderful tool for evaluating holistic wellness and setting positive intentions.

First, give yourself an overall rating in each category on a scale of 1-10.  “1” = “not at all” and “10” = “excellent.” The questions help you understand how to rate yourself and also make your answers more specific.

 

SPIRITUALLY: Am I connecting with God each day? How much?

PHYSICALLY: Am I eating well and hydrating enough? Sleeping? Exercising?

INTELLECTUALLY: Am I challenging myself to learn/grow? How?

EMOTIONALLY: What is my overall attitude like? Why?

SOCIALLY: Am I staying connected/investing in those around me? How?

 

Now that you’ve finished the quiz, go back and pick at least one category you’d like to improve this week. Hopefully this can give some inspiration for Shelter-at-Home Week Three as you keep building positive habits. And as always, stay healthy! 🙂

 

Ready for Shelter-at-Home Week Two?

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Quick photo op before Ivan started “classes!” 🙂

“I can’t! It says my username is already taken!”

“Well, that means you need to make up another one.”

Spying on Ivan’s work life was my favorite part of Shelter-at-Home Week One. 60-minute online classes may be sprints compared to the 90-minute live marathons he runs on “normal” weeks, but even these sprints proved enlightening – especially to my homeschooler’s brain. Equally enlightening were exchanges such as the one above. A simple sequence like downloading an app and creating a new-user account perplexed some junior highers, the generation we’ve labeled hopeless technology addicts.

As to the technology itself, most of Ivan’s classes weren’t exactly Zoom-friendly. The choir kids produced zero appealing sounds during their single attempt to sing into their microphones, and the piano kids logged into class without expecting to actually play the piano. (Some don’t have a keyboard at home.) But “sheltering boredom” played to Ivan’s advantage. Video lectures and group discussions were suddenly much more appealing once students realized Netflix only goes so far in one day. Learning and recreation had effectively swapped places – or at least negotiated a truce.

But what about those of us whose grown-up diplomas are stuffed in tubes or displayed on walls? How did we process our Shelter-at-Home Week One? I’ve noticed three recurring themes as I’ve scrolled my social media feed: Creative indoor activities, rants about the new “rules”, and variants of “In these uncertain times…” As someone who’s “sheltered-at-home” for three and a half years and currently “shelters in bedroom” when Ivan turns on extra lights to teach his classes, I’d like to offer words of encouragement to both inspired and anxious shelter-ers. For those of you stretching your creative limits and spreading your success on social media, keep up the good work! Learning isn’t linked to age or education, and what better time to learn a new skill, recipe, etc., or revisit an old one, than right now? You never know how sharing your experience might encourage someone who is feeling isolated or depressed.

For those who might be feeling overwhelmed by multiplying government orders, distressing news reports, sick loved ones, or just plain loneliness…Our times are certainly uncertain. We’ve grown complacent about wars, natural disasters, and even sickness as long as it’s somewhere else. What makes COVID-19 so disturbing is that it’s right here. But so is God. And God is more certain than any vaccine or treatment plan. If surfing social media feeds your anxiety, perhaps consider stepping away for a couple of days. I ‘ve reduced Instagram/Facebook use during difficult periods of my own recovery journey, and benefited from each break. There are plenty of other ways to connect with loved ones (think texting, phone calls, and Skype or FaceTime) that don’t expose you to negativity. But no matter how you opt to keep in touch with family and friends, make sure to keep in touch with God first. Praying and memorizing encouraging Bible verses are great places to start!

Whether you’re working, studying, or exploring new ways to invest your time at home…Wishing you a safe and healthy Shelter-at-Home Week Two! ❤

 

If you’re not a Christian but you’re curious about what it means to trust God, you can find out more here.

 

COVID-19: Hunker Down Like a Pro

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Ivan took an art class for teachers shortly before VCS closed last week 🙂

I climbed out of bed reveling in the glorious “Ahh” feeling that accompanies any Spring Break, much less a Spring Break that magically produces a stay-at-home husband. But my “perfect break” reminds me just how un-perfect this week – most likely these next several weeks – will be for most of us. San Jose was put into “Shelter at Home” status starting at 12 am this morning due to COVID-19. For those of you living in areas that are less impacted by the virus, “Shelter at Home” means we have to stay inside our homes except for essential activities like buying groceries, caring for relatives and pets, etc. School, work, church, and other social activities are canceled…hence my stay-at-home husband. (For the record, he is still teaching his classes online 😉 )

Being trapped indoors for several weeks sounds daunting – perhaps even terrifying, depending on your baseline activity or anxiety level. However, I’ve been “trapped” indoors for around three and a half years due to my neurological disabilities and I’ve learned plenty of tricks to keep my days not just full, but meaningful. Some of these I learned in occupational therapy, some I learned from managing online school, and some I learned from plain ol’ trial and error. Hopefully they can help y’all relax and view this time as an opportunity instead of an obstacle.

  • Make a plan. I was never a to-do list sort of girl before my accident, but I quickly became one afterward. Writing out a list of things to accomplish each day keeps you from feeling bored and also gives you a mood jolt every time you cross something off your list. “There’s nothing to do” is a dangerous slogan. There’s always something to do if you look hard enough. Besides, the more you say something, the more likely you are to believe it.
  • Set goals. This goes hand-in-hand with your daily to-do list but is more fun since it gives you concrete markers to aim for. Is there a book you’ve been wanting to read? Give yourself a certain number of days to finish it, then schedule a certain amount of reading time into each day. What about that Spring Cleaning project you’ve been threatening to start? Now’s the perfect time! The great part about being inside for a few weeks is that you don’t have to tackle everything all at once unless you want to. Instead, you can spread projects over multiple days by scheduling just a chunk of time per project per day. The important part is to stay consistent. Ready for the fun part about goal-setting? REWARDS! True, your reward bank might be a tad limited at the moment, but I bet you still have some rewards you can enjoy when you meet your goals. Or, if you really want something exotic, make another list of rewards to enjoy once you can go out again.
  • Stay active. This is a HUGE one for me. I have to exercise around an hour a day due to residual physical deficits, but did you know the average adult needs 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times per week? None of us will be going to the gym any time in the near future, but you can find plenty of exercise videos on YouTube. For those of us who are fans of walking or running on the treadmill, Spotify has exercise playlists organized by BPM. I’m trying the 140 BPM playlist for at-home walking (I can’t run)…my only disclaimer is I’d be careful about this option if you live on the second floor of an apartment complex! And friendly reminder, “Shelter at Home” doesn’t mean you can’t go on an outdoor walk by yourself or with a family member. Fresh air is always the best medicine…just stay away from strangers while you’re taking it! 😉
  • Set time limits. This one is both a “do” and a “don’t.” Scheduling activities to occur at certain points throughout your day and deciding how much time you will spend on each of them is a great way to make time fly. I’m frequently surprised at how quickly the time passes between my alarm ringing at 5:40 am (thank you, Ivan!) and my medication alert clattering at 5:30 pm. That being said, it’s a good idea to set limits on screen time as well. Vacations are notorious for Netflix and gaming binges, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. But we’re in this for a lot more than one week, and staring at screens for hour upon hour as you lounge on a lumpy couch is NOT good for your mind and body. So, enjoy your “guilty” pleasures but set a timer on your phone and make sure you’re getting up to stretch or…ahem…exercise. Even wiser would be investing an equal or greater amount of time interacting with those around you and exercising your mind through activities like reading or learning something new (podcasts are a great place to start!)

These are just a few of the tips and tricks I’ve discovered over the past few years. Feel free to comment below or on Facebook if you have some of your own that you’d like to share. It’s true that we’re in for a difficult few weeks, but I also think it’s an excellent opportunity to practice “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16).

 

 

Care Given to Caregiver

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This past week Ivan finally got some much-anticipated pho…it was pho-nomenal 😉

12:25 am. Harp glissandos fill the darkness – my alarm is ringing. I linger for a moment as I try to focus my eyes  before sitting up and groping for my phone in an attempt to silence the harps before they crescendo to an obnoxious fortissimo. Ivan is due for his next dose of Hycet at 12:30, followed by another at 4:30. I’m not qualified to administer either dose – it requires pouring an exact amount of the potent liquid into a tiny syringe, and I can’t even feel my left hand, much less help him push the narcotic from the syringe into his jaws, which are wired shut. The first night I spilled his medicine all over the bathroom sink, and surgeons are loath to refill medications that are hallucinatory and potentially addictive. I should know. I’ve been on it myself. But Ivan used to wake up not two, but three times a night to care for me, and he’s been my primary caregiver for the past three years. And so I insist on giving him his Hycet. Just as I flip on the bathroom light and begin squinting at the bottle and the syringe (and praying I drop neither), I hear a soft knock on our bedroom door. Mom and Dad pad in softly, bleary-eyed and concerned. Mom supervises me as I administer the medicine, and Dad will spot Ivan to the bathroom if necessary. They’ll be back for the 4:30 dose, too. The truth is that as much as I wish I could help Ivan on my own – even for just one task – I can’t.

I think that’s what I’ve come to appreciate (if that word is remotely applicable) about these past two months. It takes my brain longer to begin sorting traumatic experiences than most people’s, but I’m coming to realize that my stress as a temporary caregiver is a fraction of what Ivan and my family have faced for the past three years. True, I’m also more physically and mentally limited than they are, but I think the application is the same: no caregiver is an island, and no care given is as straightforward as it appears. At first I was embarrassed that Mom and Dad got up to check on me every time I administered Ivan’s midnight meds: cue me wasting an entire dose by spilling it in the sink. Plus, as I haven’t admitted until typing this very post, I take so much “sleepy” neurological medication myself that I easily could have slept through one of his doses. I can’t cook, I can’t drive, and I can’t do heavy housework, so my daytime “contributions” while we stayed with my parents involved sweeping, folding laundry, managing schedules, and keeping tabs on Ivan’s daytime needs (although my ability to meet those needs varied). As I watched my family work cheerfully with and around me every day, I realized they and Ivan had already been doing that for the past three years. I hope I’ve always understood that caregiving is a gargantuan enterprise, but I know I’ve never comprehended how relentless it feels, even for a few weeks.

God created humans to function in community, and while each member of my family contributed their part to the big picture, none of us was independently sufficient for this trial – especially me. Even we as a family unit weren’t completely sufficient, and remain incredibly grateful to all those who stepped in and provided resources when we found ourselves stretched too thin. I know this post reprises events from Ivan’s accident that we’ve shared before, but I wanted to contribute some final thoughts as a “care receiver” who tried on the role of “caregiver,” if only for a few weeks:

“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” ~ Ecclesiastes 4:12

Post-Surgery Update

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So Anna bought Ivan that shirt…

Thank you for your continued prayers this week! Ivan’s surgery went very well. The procedure lasted two hours, and the surgeon was able to reset Ivan’s jaw without inserting any permanent hardware, which was our best-case scenario. His jaw is wired completely shut for the first two weeks, which means he’s limited to a liquid diet and “talking” through the Google translate app on his iPhone. (Any advice on how to switch “her” voice to a man’s voice would be greatly appreciated!! 😉 ) The surgeon will loosen the wires on January 3rd so Ivan can talk a little and eat some thick liquids. If everything continues healing correctly, Ivan should have the surgical “braces” removed in around four weeks and then begin jaw therapy to regain normal range of motion.

Ivan also has a follow up with an ENT surgeon on January 6th, which is when we hope to learn the extent of the injury to his right ear. Ivan’s inner ear was too swollen and obstructed by the jaw fracture for doctors to be able to get a clear view after the accident, but they believe he will have healed enough by January 6th for them to diagnose the original injury and decide if there is anything further that needs to be done.

Ivan’s been a trooper this whole Christmas week. He has yet to offer one word of complaint – either about the pain, the diet, or the restricted talking – and he also remembers to type “thank you” into his phone and be concerned about what’s convenient for us in spite of his high levels of pain. As a connoisseur of pain and the one who manages his pain medications, let me assure you…his pain is real.

I’d like to close this post with a giant thank you to our families. My family stepped in before I’d even discovered there was a problem that night, and they’ve been God’s hands and feet ever since. Changing Ivan’s bandages, preparing liquid “meals,” taking care of our apartment so I can stay with him, getting us to and from Kaiser, waking up in the middle of the night just to make sure I’ve woken up and given him his pain meds…this list really deserves its own blog post. Ivan’s parents have been here as much as they can to visit and encourage their son, and have brought him plenty of comfy clothes that can fit over his head, as well as broth and bottles and bottles of Ensure (at the top of the ever-shortening list of things he can actually eat). And finally, thank you, our church and blogging families. We learned three years ago that caregiving in the wake of an accident is a full-time job, and your acts of service have freed us to focus on Ivan’s needs in ways that would not have been possible were we doing this on our own. Thank you for taking time out of your own busy holidays to minister to us!

On behalf of the Utomo-Crosby’s, we hope you’ve had a Merry Christmas, and we’re thankful for all the love and prayers that brightened our own Christmas this year. Praise God for a positive surgery outcome, and we’ll continue to keep you updated after Ivan’s post-ops at the end of next week.

Tis the Season for Asking “Why?”

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A season of liquid only does have some rewards…

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

I don’t know how much pain was coursing through Ivan’s body after he woke in a pool of his own blood on our bathroom floor, but I do know it produced a very abnormal reaction. His first response wasn’t to care for himself. It was to care for me. Most people with Ivan’s injuries would have been too disoriented to think straight or to care much about anything even if they could. Ivan was not only thinking straight, but he was opting for the slowest possible route to the hospital so that I wouldn’t wake up. He worried that if I found him covered in blood I would panic, turn on the wrong light, and possibly have a seizure. So he did what I could never have done. He remained completely silent, texted Dad what had happened, and also told him NOT to call back so I wouldn’t wake up. Then he grabbed paper towels and began cleaning up in case I did wake up and check on him.

I knew Ivan had been feeling sick, but I was puzzled when I heard a thud, then silence, then scrubbing when he headed for the bathroom that night. I decided that he must not have made it to the toilet in time, but I finally got up to investigate when the scrubbing went on longer than it should have. I was horrified to find him seated by the bathtub, blood running out of his right ear and down the front of his clothes. It was not until later that I realized the clean bathroom floor under my feet on was the result of the past twenty minutes of scrubbing. When I asked him what happened, he only shook his head and pointed to a string of text messages on his phone. I could deduce from the texts that Ivan had fallen, that he thought he’d damaged his ear drum, and that Dad would probably arrive in around five minutes. What I couldn’t understand was why Ivan wouldn’t talk to me. The truth was that he didn’t want me to realize his mouth was full of blood. He finally managed to request some clean clothes, but as I scrambled into our bedroom I felt myself starting to get queasy from the trickles of blood I had seen. I’ve never done well around injuries, and I still get light-headed even after my own accident. Get yourself together, I thought. There’s something very wrong with Ivan and all you have to find is socks. Think of everything he’s done for you over the past three years. Just as I started blacking out, I felt Ivan beside me. “You’re going to vomit,” he forced out between clenched teeth. “Sit down in closet. I’ll get socks.” He’d come looking for me.

Ivan had fully clothed himself by the time my parents arrived at our apartment a few minutes later. I was still in the closet, trying not to be sick. The last thing I heard before Dad ushered him into the hall was Ivan telling Mom to go find me in the closet.

After three years of December crises – first my accident, then generalized seizures, and now Ivan’s surgery this afternoon – I’ll admit to being a little jaded by the season that celebrates “Peace on earth, good will to men” and “God with us.” But reflecting on the accident story above also makes me wonder if it’s a micro picture of what the Christmas season is all about. Those well-known phrases portray Christ as our ultimate caregiver-redeemer, a role that cost that baby in a manager a lifetime of humanity and culminated in torture on a cross. No flawed human illustration could claim any real parallel with the miraculous story of our salvation. But as I fight the urge to ask “Why?” while waiting for the man who’s cared for me the past three years to go into surgery this afternoon, I have to thank God for reminding me about the gritty side of Christmas. Christmas came at an unknowable cost to Christ. And though my family’s Christmases feel unreasonably painful from a human perspective, I’m thankful that they remind me of the priceless eternal life bought by that baby in a manger.

Pre-Surgery Update

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Ivan in one of the rare moments when he’s not hibernating..

Hi everyone! Thank you for all your prayers and support over the past few days. I can’t tell you how encouraging every gift, comment, message, or text has been to us all!

Here’s what we know so far about Ivan’s injuries. He sustained severe fractures to his upper right TMJ in two places. One of the pieces that broke off appears to have punctured his right ear canal and may also have damaged to his right ear drum. The ear diagnoses are approximations based on his CAT scan and a partial visual exam. There is too much swelling and residual blood to see all the way into the ear, so we will have to wait till the TMJ fractures begin healing to know for sure. Ivan also fractured his jaw on the lower right hand side, but this fracture is less serious. There is some dental damage is well but, like the ear, this will be difficult to determine until his jaw has begun healing.

Ivan is scheduled for jaw surgery on Monday morning (the 23rd). The surgery is quite significant but it should be noninvasive if it goes as planned. Nevertheless, there is a chance they may have to place a small piece of hardware in the lower jaw depending on how things go in the operating room. Recovery time will also be hard to predict before we get to Monday. We will be living with my parents for the next couple of weeks since my own disabilities prevent me from giving him the care he needs round the clock.

As for Ivan, he has not complained once about the pain, nausea, dressing changes, or liquid diet…or the fact that those aren’t going away any time soon.  Just thought y’all should know. 😉

As always, we greatly appreciate your prayers as we trust in God’s larger purpose for this trial.

“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” ` 2 Cor. 4:18

Ivan’s Accident

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Hello, blogging family.   Today I’m writing a post I never thought I’d write. Today I’m writing to ask for prayer because Ivan had an accident of his own.

Ivan picked up a stomach bug over the weekend and fainted around 2 am Sunday morning, fracturing two bones in his jaw and puncturing his right ear drum. Dad rushed him to the ER around 2:15 am, and he was discharged later that morning to rest at home and follow up with an ENT specialist today. It appears Ivan will need surgery to reset the fractures in his jaw, but we aren’t yet sure to what extent or who will perform the procedure. These are the major points we hope to cover in his appointment. He is being incredibly brave, and it makes me incredibly sad to watch the man who has stood by me through thick and thin go through something even I can’t imagine.

For now, we greatly appreciate your prayers! I will keep you posted as we learn more, and will also share a longer post with his full accident story after things quiet down.

Also, a giant THANK YOU to my family who have moved us to their condo and are helping care for Ivan (read “doing all the tough jobs”) until he’s more stable. We’d be lost without them!

Sometimes it’s harder to write this than others, but I know God is good and this is still part of His good plan for us.