The Health of the Mother

My name is Grace because I have two older siblings in Heaven.

“Don’t worry too much,” my OB-GYN said in a soothing, motherly tone. “We can always take care of a pregnancy if anything goes wrong.” 

“Umm, no – ” I stammered. “ – No, not really. I would still go through with it. Can we go over birth control options one more time?” 

The year after my accident, Ivan and I learned I should never get pregnant. Not I could never. I should never. My two traumatic strokes, uncontrolled seizures, and heavy neurological medication meant I could die if I went into labor. This was a tremendous loss, especially since Ivan has always dreamed of a large family, but we learned to accept God’s will and make peace with our future. 

Until last year. 

Last year I found myself back in my doctor’s office, praying the pregnancy test would come back negative. Ivan and I had picked a birth control method that seemed effective and met our ethical standard for not terminating any life after conception. But no method is perfect, and last year we faced grueling days of discussing the “what-if’s” before I could take the test. Was I brave enough to say no to an abortion if my life was actually on the line? 

Thankfully, that test did come back negative, but God used our gut-wrenching wait to force us to flesh out what we really believed about choosing my life over a hypothetical baby’s. 

As Ivan and I hashed and rehashed our dilemma, we realized that terminating the potential pregnancy would be like holding the baby accountable for other people’s mistakes. It wasn’t the baby’s fault that I’d been hit by a car, or that the birth control hadn’t worked properly. If we didn’t deserve to die for those things, neither did the baby. No matter how early we confirmed the pregnancy, the pre-born baby would still be a living human made in the image of God. Psalm 139:15-16 says: 

“You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,

as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.

You saw me before I was born.

Every day of my life was recorded in your book.

Every moment was laid out

before a single day had passed.” 

It was frightening to surrender my choice to live, but how could Ivan and I tell God which of his two creations to spare? If the baby’s days were laid out in just as much detail as mine were, it would be arrogant to assume mine were somehow more valuable because I’d learned to walk and talk. What we could do was trust that we serve an all-wise and all-loving God, whose choices are always in our best interests. 

It’s one thing to argue from personal experience, but it’s another to learn from one of the most influential women in history. The “real” Mary of the Christmas story was an unwed girl between 13-15 years old when the angel told her she would be Jesus’ mother. Although we’re used to an idealized version of the story, the truth is that the angel told her the end result – she’d mother the Messiah – but didn’t give her any prediction of daily life until then. Unwed motherhood carried the death penalty in Mary’s day. While Mary knew she wouldn’t die, she still risked losing her fiancée as well as being ostracized by society, both of which could threaten her survival after Jesus’ birth. 

In our day, a teen mom facing these obstacles would be an automatic candidate for abortion. But what does Mary do? Instead of arguing with the angel, she responds to his message with gratitude: “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1:38). It’s easy to discount Mary’s story because she lived two thousand years ago and has attained an almost divine status in some churches, but the truth is that she was a teenage girl who embraced a terrifying proposition with truth and grace. 

I write all this to challenge our thinking on abortion, especially in light of the upcoming Supreme Court decision. Are health or socio-economic status really valid reasons to prioritize one human’s life over another’s? Or do we accept these arguments simply because their advocates are standing in front of us but their victims are not? My goal is not to condemn anyone who may have had an abortion in the past, but to stimulate us to a clearer knowledge of the truth and a firmer resolution to uphold it. One of my favorite Bible passages that speaks to this issue is 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” Let us not fear what may happen to us – or our loved ones – in the future, but let us trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to love our neighbor as ourselves. Even if our neighbor is unborn. 

Five Years Since the Accident

Hello, Blogging Family! Today marks exactly five years since I was hit by a car that ran a red light as I was crossing the street. I was carrying my violin since I was on my way to play my first Christmas concert of the season, and the driver hit me before he hit his brakes.

Mercifully, I don’t remember any of the actual accident: we learned the details later when police reviewed security camera from the intersection. What I do remember is God’s relentless grace toward us over the past five years as we’ve walked a surprising road toward physical and emotional recovery. In light of these experiences, Ivan and I would like to share some Bible verses that have encouraged and challenged us on our journey. 

~

GRACE

Matthew 6:33

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

This became one of Ivan’s and my key verses when we were dating since a graduate piano student and a college senior need multiple employment doors to open before they can marry! Thankfully God honored our desire to submit to his will during that period, and he’s continued to honor it as we’ve crossed bridge upon bridge after my accident: finding a job in Silicon Valley, treating my seizures in spite of a difficult diagnosis, and affording a house on a single income. Now, we still want to submit our plans to his will as we embark on a new treatment and recovery journey.

Psalm 139

In my last post, I mentioned memorizing verses 7-12 to ground myself during the tumultuous onset of my mental illness. But the truth is the entire Psalm has been my foundation over the past five years. From marveling at God’s intimate knowledge of my emotions, to trusting his plan for the body he designed before the world began, to renewing my commitment to follow him wholeheartedly, I continually turn here for encouragement and perspective. 

~

IVAN

Job 1:21

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” 

Job 2:10

“Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?”

God has promised us a perfect eternity with Him in Heaven, but He has not promised us a perfect life on earth. Sometimes we forget this, and get confused or angry when bad things happen to us. We think and feel that “it’s not supposed to be like this.” And in a way we’re right, since God created us to live in perfect harmony with him. That is what Heaven will be like. In the meantime, do we love and trust Him enough to accept the bad as well as the good, no matter how much it may hurt for now?

Psalm 68:19

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.”

Often when I think about reasons to praise God I think about the “big” things He’s done like creating the universe and human beings, as well as the work of salvation Jesus accomplished on the cross. This verse highlights another equally amazing aspect of God’s love for us—the fact that our daily burdens are not too trivial for Him. Some days feel more burdensome than others, and some burdens far outweigh others. Yet God bears these burdens with us, for us, every day. And He bears us in His arms.

~

CONCLUSION

Romans 11:36

“For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.”

We printed this verse on our wedding programs because it encapsulates our goal as Christ-followers: We want to glorify God with our thoughts, words, and actions, no matter what blessings and trials come our way. This isn’t a goal that we pursue out of obligation, but out of gratitude for the salvation God has made available through the death and resurrection of his Son. In Christ, we have eternal life and a hope that will outlast all earthly circumstances.

Thank you for walking with us. We love you all!

Darkness and Light

Discharge selfie! 😉

I’ve written and rewritten this post in my head several times, and it may be one of the hardest posts I’ve written. But a wise friend advised me to “proclaim boldly of God’s strength and humbly of your own weakness” as I draft my thesis, and I hope to do the same with this post.

***

Ivan and I have written about my traumatic brain injury (TBI) deficits a few times over the years. We spelled them out explicitly at first, then mentioned them less frequently as time passed and my symptoms plateaued. They include irrational anxiety, fear, and sometimes anger, and typically surface in open-ended situations or overstimulating environments. 

Put a different way, part of my brain is like a severed telephone wire: The logic parts of my brain stop “talking” to the emotion parts when I’m stressed. As you might imagine, this disconnect can put a strain on Ivan’s and my relationship, and I’m thankful for grace he extends when I panic during a “TBI episode.” 

During my initial recovery, we’d developed strategies to work around these deficits and have coped reasonably well for the past five years. But this year I grew more volatile and less resilient, and even took multiple blogging breaks as my TBI episodes began interfering with my ability to handle everyday life. These episodes were no longer the brief anxiety flare ups Ivan and I were used to navigating. Now I felt hopeless and worthless every day, in addition to panicking when things went wrong. I assumed my mood would lift with prayer and Bible reading, but the “broken connection” between my knowledge and emotions meant I continued to get worse.

I lost weight and hair. In October, I started running away from home every day without knowing why. Then came the voices and visions inside my head.

Mental illness is a sensitive issue and the current healthcare model prioritizes treating symptoms instead over the diagnosis, so I’ll summarize by saying that I’ve undergone two multi-day hospitalizations in the past six weeks. At first doctors were puzzled since my symptoms are serious and I have no  history of mental illness, but they finally traced them back to an imbalance caused by my traumatic brain injury. 

The past few months have been a lot to absorb, but I’m grateful for a clinical answer – and treatment – for a constellation of symptoms that have been an added burden for an entire year. This treatment will be ongoing for the foreseeable future, but the outlook is positive, and I’m blessed to have a team of healthcare providers I trust. I’d like to close with a passage from Psalm 139 that I memorized during my first hospital stay. It’s given me hope during my worst moments and continues to bring me joy every morning: 

“I can never escape from your Spirit!

I can never get away from your presence!

If I go up to heaven, you are there;

if I go down to the grave, you are there.

If I ride the wings of the morning,

if I dwell by the farthest oceans,

even there your hand will guide me

and your strength will support me.

I could ask the darkness to hide me,

and the light around me to become night –

but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.

To you the night shines as bright as day.

Darkness and light are the same to you.”

Hills and Valleys

Hello Friends,

I hope you are doing well as we near the end of October. This post will be brief, but I wanted to share that Grace has been struggling with new health challenges related to her traumatic brain injury (TBI). As she’s mentioned in previous posts, Grace’s doctors finally found a medication that controls her seizures enough for her to go outside without sunglasses, watch some movies, and enjoy some other “normal” activities, although she does still have a few seizures every month.

In the past weeks, complications with Grace’s TBI have brought me and Grace’s family into a new stage of caregiving. We are still working with doctors to find a medication solution for these new complications. Grace is not ready to write again just yet, but when she can she’ll provide some additional details regarding these new developments.

In the meantime, she asked me to post this devotional that I shared with my colleagues as part of a devotional series at the VCS Conservatory a few weeks ago; I hope it will encourage you. Thanks for continuing to walk with us through hills and valleys!

At Least I Won’t Get Tetanus…

Mom is long overdue for a picture on the blog!

“And you’re still having seizures?” My primary care doctor scrolls the “ongoing health conditions” cluttering my electronic medical record. Different providers have coded my seizures differently over the years without bothering to streamline previous entries.

“Sort of. I stopped having huge ones after I started that medication at the top of the list, but I still have smaller ones a few times a month.” 

“Never mind. It says ‘epilepsy’ way down at the bottom.” She scribbles a final note on my disability recertification forms, then hands the packet back to me. “Epilepsy, history of stroke, history of traumatic brain injury. That should do it.”

“Thanks so much! Sorry I have to bother you with a bunch of paperwork every year.” I fold the papers and reach for my purse.

“Oh wait – ” She frowns at the computer. “ – it says here you’re due for a tetanus shot. I’ll have the injection clinic call and set something up. Stay safe!”

By God’s grace, I have stayed safe through an eighteen-month pandemic and three rounds of Covid injections. Yet the same was not true of my tetanus booster this past Wednesday. Mom shuttled me to Kaiser at 8:30 am for what was supposedly a quick injection – until I started having seizures on the way home. They didn’t stop until around 7:30 pm.

Two years ago, fifteen seizures would have been an automatic ER trip. I’d like to think we stayed home this time because we’ve accumulated neurological life experience, and this may be true. I remember reminding Mom that there’s not much ER doctors actually do unless someone has an abnormal seizure or stops breathing. Although my memory gets fuzzier after that, Ivan must have agreed with me since he taught all his classes that day.

But whether or not we possess deeper neurological wisdom than in previous years, I suspect the real reason we stayed home is that we’ve gained perspective on what constitutes a “routine emergency.” I was not in danger of dying from my current symptoms, unlike the day I got food poisoning and had sixty-seven seizures in twenty-four hours.  

In fact, Wednesday featured several other protagonists with significant needs: Dad is still mid-recovery, and Mom is facing the physical and emotional grind that all caregivers face, no matter how much their loved one is improving. The last thing she needed was a second, higher-maintenance mouth to feed. (I mean this literally, since I stayed at my parents’ condo while Ivan was at work.) As for Ivan, next week is his choirs’ first live performance in two years. The last thing he needed was an absence two classes before showtime. 

But Wednesday’s biggest lesson was one of gratitude. Four years ago we used to wake up each morning wondering how many seizures I was going to have that day. Three years ago, we’d wake up praying I wouldn’t have an atonic seizure, since I often struggled to breathe and took hours to recover. Two years ago, I had fewer big seizures but still worried about little ones: a single incident could spark a week-long migraine. This year, I still have seizures and migraines several times a month, but thanks to better medication they’re no longer the first thing on my mind in the morning. 

Sometimes it takes a really bad Wednesday to notice how many answered prayers I’ve taken for granted. 

Truth in Trials

Hello, Blogging Family! Some of you know that my Dad’s been experiencing some health issues over the past few weeks. I mentioned in my last post that Ivan and I limit what we post about own lives online, so I won’t get into specifics about Dad’s health out of respect for his privacy. However, I would like to share what God is teaching me through an experience where I’m helpless to help someone I love. This is a trial we all experience at some point, and I hope these thoughts encourage you in some way.

Since my post-accident memory isn’t the best, I could only remember encouraging Bible phrases – not passages – as Dad’s situation developed. The first phrase was one I’d been praying over for most of the summer as it applied to witnessing for Christ in a secular society: “…We will speak the truth in love, growing more and more like Christ…” I was curious why God kept bringing this phrase to mind as I prayed for my Dad, so I looked up the original passage:

“Then, we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing more and more like Christ who is the head of his body, the church.” ~ Ephesians 4:14-15

Dad’s situation seemed detrimental to his ministry goals, and I thought it was even more unfair that my parents would experience their own health trial after they’d sacrificed so much for Ivan and me. But after reading Ephesians I realized I was buying into the “fairness” ideology that doesn’t account for God’s grace. I can’t always make sense of His  plans, but I have to trust that the God who sacrificed his Son for our sins – the epitome of an unfair bargain – sees our needs and will meet them perfectly. 

The second verse that was cycling through my mind was: “Put on your new nature and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like Him.” (Colossians 3:10). I’d been pondering this verse for a while, and it seemed fairly obvious that trials offer a deeper opportunity to take up my cross and rely on Christ. Still, I was still curious to look up the whole chapter and see how context altered or expanded the idea: 

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.” ~ Colossians 3:1-4

These verses actually come before the verse I’d been considering. The only way to put on our new nature as Christ-followers is to fix our eyes on the prize he’s won for us: an eternity with God in heaven. As much as I love my Dad and am praying for his health issues to be resolved, I can take joy in the fact that Christ has already ensured his spiritual welfare, and that we’ll all spend an eternity worshiping God in heaven.

And finally, there’s the book of James. It wasn’t hard to remember James 1:2 after five years of memorizing it every year as a kid in AWANA: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” But I still wanted to see how the passage ended since I’d been so encouraged looking up Ephesians and Colossians. Sure enough:

“For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” ~ James 1:2-4

This passage contained the four words that struck me the most of anything I’d read so far: So let it grow.

My natural tendency is either to resist trials or pretend I’ve got them under control. As I watch a loved one suffer, I’m also reminded I have the potential to resist on someone else’s behalf. Surrendering a trial’s outcome to God is the hardest response, but James says it’s the only way to increase our endurance. 

So let it grow. 

We’re still not completely of the woods with Dad. On a personal level, my brain injury damaged the part of the brain that connects logic with emotion, so reviewing what is true about God doesn’t always counteract anxiety. But the Holy Spirit is bigger than both struggles and God promises to remain faithful as we renew our minds daily in His Word. My hope is that these passages can encourage those of you facing uncertainty – and inspire you to be curious about the context of every verse God uses to encourage you along the way. 

The First Chapter…Literally.

Some of us still work best by hand…

Good afternoon, everyone! I hope everyone in the US is enjoying Labor Day weekend, and that you all are staying well. 🙂

Ivan and I often joke that we post less than 10% of our lives online, both for our own privacy and for the sake of those around us, and this has proved especially true in 2021. That being said, I’m excited to share some news I’d planned to post earlier this summer but have delayed given a variety of reasons, including appendicitis

For better or worse, I try to avoid discussing a project until I’ve finished it. My MFA in creative writing is 4 ½ years long, which is why I don’t usually mention it on the blog. Although this is still my modus operandi, I wanted to pause and give a brief update since I’m at a point in my degree that’s relevant to you all. 🙂

Just to review, I’m working on an MFA in creative writing. Although “MFA” stands for “Master of Fine Arts” it’s the writer’s equivalent of a doctorate, and I’ll be qualified to teach at a university after I graduate. (As a point of reference, the average master’s degree is 36-45 units long, Ivan’s doctorate is 60 units, and my MFA is 90 units.) The main reason my degree isn’t called a doctorate – at least according to what I’ve been told – is that there’s no foreign language requirement.

The other difference between an MFA and a traditional doctorate is the dissertation. Instead of writing an academic dissertation in order to graduate, an MFA candidate has to write a publishable fiction or nonfiction manuscript as their thesis. One of the reasons I went back to school was that I wanted to write a book about how God’s worked in our lives through the accident, but also I wanted to have the technical training to do it well. It’s hard to believe I’m ready to start working on my thesis! Reaching this stage is also exciting since I’ll have intensive faculty oversight and feedback while writing. 

But navigating faculty oversight may also become more complex as the manuscript develops. While I’m grateful to study at an amazing school like SCAD, I’m also cognizant that the Christian message I’ll be weaving throughout my manuscript falls outside what the school typically endorses. 

I began sketching some opening chapters in July, but I’ve spent the majority of my summer praying for wisdom about what and how to write. While some of my content will come from this blog, much of it will not: my goal is to show Ivan and me in weak moments as well as strong ones since God’s power is perfected in our weakness. Content aside, I’ll also keep seeking wisdom about how to integrate instructor feedback with Christian values. God’s given me amazing faculty who continue to push my technical growth, but I’ve also used “technique” to justify cutting or softening overtly spiritual content in my past artistic work. 

My hope is that with continued practice and plenty of prayer, I’ll be able tell our story in a way that honors God and my instructors at the same time.

I’ll keep you posted as we get closer to January 2023…And yes, it does take that long to draft a book. 

Facing the Mirror

One of the most exciting perks of purchasing our own home was the art. Although Ivan and I love art from a variety of cultures and influences, we’d opted to stick with a couple of neutral prints until we knew where we were staying long-term. We couldn’t wait to jump into the world of “real” art this past February – even though we imagined that making the jump at the same time as buying a condo might limit us to one original painting. Once we started shopping, we realized that our budget limited us to an original  5”x7”. After some careful consideration I decided “wall art” was almost as good as an original painting, and finally found a Peruvian mirror handcrafted in the Cuzcaja style (a traditional technique using reverse-painted glass). We hung it in our dining area, and I couldn’t believe that I’d be staring up at its delicately painted flowers each day while I wrote.

I only enjoyed the mirror for a couple of weeks. Once an angry complex resident discovered I was disabled and found ways to harass me while Ivan was gone, I grew convinced they knew when I was writing at our kitchen table. TBI exaggerates many people’s “fight or flight” instinct to extreme levels: I had no problem admitting it was irrational to think someone could see me in our dining area, but that didn’t keep me from hiding in the back of the house as soon as Ivan left for work and I was home alone.

Those days are in the past with God’s help, and support from a wonderful trauma therapist at Kaiser. But as I was admiring our beautiful mirror the other day, it struck me that my bizarre experience might not be so bizarre after all. How many of us had brilliant hopes for 2021? Covid seemed like it was on its way out, whether you were counting on the vaccines, herd immunity, warm weather, or some other intervention. The grueling 2020 elections were over, whether your side was successful or not. More and more businesses were posting job listings on websites or “now hiring” signs on their windows.

But as summer begins to fade, some of these hopes seem to be fading with it. The Delta variant is casting a shadow of uncertainty over our country – and even greater tragedy over others. The political situation in the U.S. hasn’t stabilized as much as we might have hoped, especially for believers. Those of us who live in California are facing a second year of extreme wildfires. 

So what do we tell ourselves and the world when we face trials that feel like the opposite of what we rightfully deserve? I certainly felt like I’d earned a peaceful, beautiful home after all we’ve endured over the past five years. Interestingly enough, the Apostle Paul uses a mirror as an example to answer that question in 1 Corinthians 13. “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity,” he tells us. “All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

I’m grateful to have moved past the situation that kept me from enjoying our mirror, although I still can’t discern any benefit from the trial – even looking back on it almost six months later. Whether or not the events of  2021 make sense in the present – or the immediate future – I’m also grateful we trust in a God who’s provided everything we need for our eternal future through his Son, Jesus. And if we can trust Him with our eternal future, we can also trust He’ll provide answers for our most confusing trials, whether those answers come in this life or the next. 

A Musical Thank You

“Selamanya” by Ivan Utomo

Happy Sunday, Everyone! Ivan and I have been incredibly blessed by your prayers, messages of encouragement – and stories of similar appendix mishaps! 🙂

An obscure fact about my life as a stroke survivor is that I still do physical therapy for an hour a day to maintain balance, coordination, and circulation. Over the years I’ve found methods that are fun as well as effective, so the deal isn’t as tough as it sounds.

As you might have guessed, appendicitis has put me on a therapy hiatus until the end of August. I spent my blogging hiatus learning a short piano piece after I discovered that I can still play the piano in spite of not being able to feel my left hand, so it only made sense to dedicate my therapy hiatus to continue exploring the piano.

This is a simplified version of the song Ivan wrote for our wedding processional. (Selamanya means “forever” in Indonesian.) I wanted to share it with you as a thank you for all the wonderful “get well” wishes!

P.S. My goal is to record a full-length piece of classical music by the end of the year, so stay tuned!

A Routine Emergency

Return of the hospital selfie!

I’ve always been a Type A, cover-every-base-twice, kind of girl. You could argue this is genetic since Mom and Dad are the same way. Ivan originally fell somewhere on the Type B spectrum, but the past five years have convinced him that our best shot at “normal” life requires anticipating – and eliminating – potential hazards.

As most of you know, my seizures have stabilized enough over the past year for us to buy our own place, even though that means we no longer live down the street from my parents. I knew enough to keep myself safe until Mom could finish the twelve-minute drive, we reasoned. And VCS and Hillside were only seven minutes away if I were really in trouble. But last Monday we discovered none of us had anticipated a run-of-the-mill emergency.

Last Monday, I woke up at midnight with a stomachache. It’s been at least six years since I had a true stomach virus, so I’d forgotten what the average bug feels like. I also have an unusually high tolerance for pain, which persuaded me that my virus probably wasn’t bad. 

By 8 am I was more nauseated but still determined I was okay, so Ivan texted Mom to be on standby (even a cold can trigger surprise seizures) and went to work like usual.

10 am found me growing suspicious of my little bug, so I called Mom for an objective opinion:

“You remember that thing you had a few weeks ago – that thing where you got nauseated every time you ate?”

“Yes! I was up and about every morning after a couple hours…Do you think you have that?”

“Did you have a stomachache?”

“Well no…”

“Like by your right hip?”

Silence for a minute. 

“That would sound kind of bad to me…except you’re still talking like normal. I’ve heard that appendicitis hits people like a wave. I think you’d be doubled over by now, barely able to get a word out. Why don’t you go back to bed and give me another update in a few minutes.”

I hung up and lowered myself tentatively into bed. Something was definitely wrong with my stomach. When my phone timer went off twenty minutes later, I couldn’t sit up.

It took Mom, Dad, and Ivan to get me out of bed, into the travel chair, and down the sidewalk. Looking back, I believe my main motivation for surviving the twenty-yard trek was to skip the ambulance fee – plus any possible embarrassment should this turn out to be a bad stomachache after all. 

We arrived at Kaiser around 12:30 pm, only to discover that the real battle had just begun. My brain injury allows me to bring a caregiver with me in spite of Covid – a special providence since I was nonverbal from pain and I can’t always think straight under stress, even in normal life. But the brain injury that typically pushes me past triage during neuro emergencies suddenly seemed to work against me for a “routine” emergency. The nurse seemed to think that a TBI patient signaling her pain was at a 9/10 could mean anything – even after Ivan assured them that I usually under-reported pain. How could they know I didn’t cry like a baby every time my stomach hurt? For our parts, we didn’t know that appendicitis usually occurs in teens and young adults, so I was actually a bit old for the infection.

They finally called my name around 4 pm. I’d been doubled over in the waiting room for over three hours.

Thankfully, my situation improved once the CT scan showed a very inflamed appendix. My attending doctor ordered surgery immediately; although this involved waiting until the OR opened at 8 pm, at least the next few hours included a warm bed, antibiotics, and pain medicine. Surgery finished at 10:30 pm and I was discharged at 12:30 am.

As Ivan posted last week, we really appreciate your prayers during the surgery. Appendectomies are routine, but general anesthesia is risky for me since it can cause blood clots and I’ve had two strokes and a brain injury, and also take several seizure medications. Anesthesia can impact “cognitive rebound” post-surgery as well: it was a couple of days before I could complete a simple task like writing an email to ask for homework extensions or walk down the hall without wobbling. 

This post would be remiss if I didn’t thank my wonderful family for their support. Things look a bit different since we no longer live in the same neighborhood and I could only have one “caregiver” at a time in the hospital, but everyone jumped in to keep things going, as usual. From the group effort to get to the ER, to Mom staying with me pre-op, to Dad waiting at our condo until 1 am to help get me inside, we couldn’t have survived those twenty-five hours without them. Special thanks also go to Anna and Robert for hopping on grocery duty later in the week, and to Ivan’s family for their prayers. 

 This past week has been a good lesson that “no emergency is routine when it’s happening to you,” as Dad likes to say. The 3-6 week recovery window seemed like no big deal when I was still loopy in the post-op room, but it now feels like a very big deal as I watch Ivan checking off all my chores from his daily planner and thank Mom for yet another pot of chicken noodle soup (nausea is a thing!) 

Moving forward, I hope I’ll be slower to say “That doesn’t sound too terrible” when I hear about someone else’s ER run. God might be reminding my prideful side that a lot of pain has nothing to do with being hit by a car.