Sep 27, 2010

Detour Blessings, Part 1

"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." James 5:16

There was one girl who needed to see the power of prayer.

It was my first week back after my medical absence, and my diagnosis was still up in the air. A diagnosis is a pretty important thing really. It could mean the difference between that horrible headache being a migraine or an aneurysm. In my case, severe anemia could be the symptom of a virus, some sort of genetic disorder, a marrow targeted disease…It could be simple, or it could be serious.

I decided to tell my cabin about my situation. I guess they didn’t have to know, but it seemed like I ought to tell them, so early in the week I explained what I was facing. And let me just pause here to say that my teen cabin was absolutely and incredibly fantastic! I charge anyone the task of finding a more caring and compassionate group of girls. They were God’s gift to me in so many ways.

Suddenly I wasn’t a counselor for teen campers: I was a counselor for prayer warriors. One girl, though, was a little skeptical. She’d experienced a fair share of pain in her life, and the idea of a loving God who answers prayer was somewhat foreign. When I would pray with her, she never quite seemed convinced about the whole matter.

My day off arrived, the day I would find out if I was making blood again, the day I would learn if things were more serious. It was hard to leave my cabin of wonderful girls, but when I finally did, there were hugs and shouts of “I’ll be praying for you!”

The next evening, I stood at the back of Cedar Island as the preliminary songs were being sung for campfire. I wiped my eyes dry and went to sit with my cabin, most of whom shot me anxious looks. As soon as we were all dismissed to go, my cabin shot up from their seats and asked me the news. When I told them my retic. count was up and I was making blood, they literally screamed for joy. Pure happiness in cabin Shasta!

Later that night, I sat next to her and asked her if she had something I could pray for. She said it was pointless. I was a little taken aback, so I asked her what she meant. She told me her request, but she knew it was “impossible.” And in my head I praised God for His timing. Using that very day’s events, I began to talk to her about the power of prayer. We ended up talking for a long time, having a very holy conversation, all thanks to God and parvovirus. Then we prayed, and I thanked God for answering prayers, lifting up her own as I did. After amen, I hugged her. She thanked me with tears in her eyes, and I knew that God had touched a chord.

As I closed my eyes that night, just on the brink of falling asleep, I smiled and praised God for answering the request of healing. He had heard my prayer and was healing hearts.

Sep 14, 2010

A Sparrow's Summer Flight

"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." Luke 12:6,7

Okay, as promised, here is my summer tale. I'm betting a lot of folks who are reading this know at least part of what I'm about to discuss, but I figured I'd write the whole story down, or at least what's happened so far. A couple months ago, if I had been asked what I was planning on doing on September 14, I would have figured I'd be settling into Pagudpud for the eight month haul. I'd be typing this update from the church pavilion or the Mitz's house. But here I sit, writing from the Seattle Virginia Mason infusion clinic, awkwardly typing with an IV residing in my wrist. Huh. What happened?

I woke up early Sunday morning, still wishing I could get a few more hours of sleep. I had been up late with my fantastic honor cabin campers having a marvelous Saturday night party. But now it was time for my kids to pack up and go home, making way for the new campers to arrive. As I went about cleaning my cabin and preparing for the new week, I kept having to pause. A headache had started itself in my brain, my throat was sore, and I knew I had come across a cold. But most of the Sunset Lake staff was feeling crummy. It was something we just had to work through. So I pressed on and entered the week.

Monday dawned, and I was no better. In fact, as time progressed, I was feeling worse and worse. My energy levels were running low, not a good thing for a counselor, especially at the start of the week. Still, I hobbled along, putting as much energy and excitement as I could into the day. When I brought my kids to dinner line call, though, I was told to go to bed. I didn't put up much of a fight. I told my kids I would see them in the morning and headed to bed.

The next day, my symptoms had lessoned: my headache was pretty much gone and my throat was feeling better. I was still tired, though, and I actually had a fever. I tried out the morning, teaching my drama class. But by lunch time, my energy was all gone, and again I was ordered back to bed. Wednesday dawned, and I was determined to meet back with my kids again. The nurse gave me one look over and easily saw that I was a walking zombie. "No, go rest." Frustrated, I returned to my cabin of quarantine. I really just wanted to be with my kids again. I knew it had been hard for them not to have their counselor there. Still, the fact that I could easily sleep for 24 hours clued me in that I should rest.

Since Thursday was my day off anyway, I went ahead and left for home early, driving out of camp Wednesday afternoon. As it turned out, it would be a while before I returned. I was a little nervous about driving, but I made it home safely after the usual 45 minutes. I slept as much as possible. But, feeling jipped out of a day off, I decided to see a movie with my mom on Thursday. I figured that wouldn't be too strenuous, just a different type of resting. Toy Story 3 was coming to an end, and I started to cry silently--not because of the movie but because I felt dead. I had never felt so lifeless and weak before, like the very thought of moving was an impossibility. I sat with my mom far into the credits before I could muster enough strength to get up and leave the theater. I called Sunset Lake and said I wouldn't be back that night. "I'm going to go see a doctor tomorrow," I explained over the phone. "Hopefully I'll be back tomorrow night." I didn't want to miss the special Friday night program.

The doctor didn't spend too much time with me. "It's most likely anemia, pneumonia, or both." She sent me off to get a chest X-ray and a blood test, promising to call with the results in about an hour. About four hours later, she called my house, slightly baffled. "You're severely anemic," she told me. "You have half as many red blood cells as you should have. Normally this is due to an iron deficiency, but your iron levels aren't bad." She said she wanted to retest my blood that evening to make sure that I wasn't losing blood rapidly. Thankfully I wasn't. Since it was the weekend, my doctor told me to go to see a hematologist on Monday. "But if your fever spikes or you feel worse and worse, go to the ER." And after a particularly crummy Sabbath, that's exactly what I did.

I got into the ER around 8 on Saturday night and was admitted upstairs around 1 in the morning. For the next 22 hours, I took too many types of tests to count: X-rays, CAT scans, blood test after blood test. I also received a blood transfusion to tide me over until my body started making its own blood again. When I left the hospital, I had no more answers as to what was going on. The best guess my new hematologist friend/doctor (Dr. A) had was that I had a genetic disease that had been dormant my whole life until a particular virus came along and flared it up into a fury. But, he said, nothing was conclusive yet. The blood tests would tell, hopefully, in due time.

In the mean time, I went back home to rest. It's amazing what blood will do for you. Suddenly I could walk around my house like it was nobody's business. I still had to sleep a lot, and I had no desires to go out and run a marathon (admittedly, I never did), but I was feeling a lot better after the transfusion. A few days later I was back at Dr. A's to figure out what the blood tests revealed.  It turned out my body had pretty much decided to stop making blood. My retic. count (the level of red blood cell production, which in a healthy person is 5%) was at .1%. Not good. "We've determined it's either a virus, which will pass on its own," Dr. A told me. "Or it is related to a problem in your bone marrow. If that's the case, we'll have to do a bone marrow biopsy and go from there. It would be more serious: you would have to take immunosuppressant steroids for several months and, if that didn't work, we might have to do a marrow transplant." If that was the case, then the Philippines would have to be delayed for several months, if not more. "But if you begin making blood again, then we'll know it's just a virus and not something more serious. But it has to be a significant increase. Something higher than .1%. We'll check again next week and see if your numbers have increased or if we need to do a biopsy. Till then, feel free to do whatever you feel like you can handle." I went back to camp.

I had been gone a week and a half, getting back in time for teen week to start. As I got myself resettled in my cabin, I began to feel very nervous. I wasn't sure I was ready to counsel again. But then my girls came. All doubts left. It was a little bit of an odd experience at camp that week. If I had been home, I know I would have been thinking about my health all throughout the day. But at camp, it seemed like a whole different life. Sure I thought about it, prayed about it, and talked about it here and there, but it wasn't an all-consuming worry. I figured things would work out according to God's plan. I really wanted to be able to go as an SM, but if God had something else in mind, well, I'd just go along with that. Another comfort and boost for me throughout this entire experience was the support, love, and prayers of my fellow staff members, campers, friends, and family. I was tremendously blessed throughout it all.

And so it was with the hopes and prayers of many wonderful people that I went in on my day off to get my blood tested, checking my retic. scores for red blood cell production. If I had gone up to 1%, that would have been a tenfold increase and very incredible. My number? 3.9%. Praise God, my bone marrow was fine! I got back to camp and immediately my cabin wanted to know the results. When I told them, there was much rejoicing to say the least! It looked like the Philippines was on!

The next week I returned to get my blood checked, making sure I was progressing fine. Now we knew that my bone marrow was fine, but we still had no answers as to what exactly was going on. It was probably a virus, but we didn't know what. When I met with the doctor after having my blood drawn, he told me I was progressing decently. But what was more, it looked like we finally had an answer. "We did a DNA test, and you showed up positive for parvo." Parvovirus B19 to be exact. It's somewhat common, though usually found in infants. With babies, the only symptom tends to be extra rosy cheeks, and when adults get it there is usually not a single symptom. Generally speaking, it's a benign little virus. Most of the time. Every once in a while though, it does a little number on the body's ability to create red blood cells. Enter Katelyn Campbell.

It was nice to have a conclusive answer. Now I just needed to wait out the results and watch as my blood returned to normal. I did, however, need to have something else looked at, the result of my testing way back in July. During my overnight stay in the hospital, a CAT scan had documented a mass in my abdomen. It was completely unrelated to my virus, but it still needed to be checked. So on my final day off, I went in to see Dr. Cryder.

"Well, we have to operate." Dr. Cryder didn't give me good news. After a month of craziness, I had come out the other side thinking that, miraculously, I would be able to go to the Philippines after all--only to be told that I would have to take some time out for an operation. "It's benign, and it doesn't have to be removed right away. But it needs to go." I explained that I was hoping to fly out as a student missionary. "Well we'll have to wait for your blood to get back to normal," she said, "then we'll have surgery, then it's 4-6 weeks of recovery." She smiled. "You might have to just go a little late." Not a great day off.

Camp ended soon thereafter, a sad occurence indeed. I was definitely going to miss everyone and everything. Now it was time to focus on medical stuff. I went back to Dr. A to check my blood's progress. Sadly, I was plateauing--not getting better, not getting worse. But in order to have surgery, I needed to be getting better. I anxiously requested that we do the surgery as soon as possible. Dr. A was hesitant; Dr. Cryder agreed. They both warned me that I had a greater chance of needing another blood transfusion if we pushed ahead with the surgery. I accepted that. They did too. Both my doctors wanted to see me taking off for the Philippines. "We're just going to get you as healthy as possible before you go," Dr. A said.

I continued to get checked up for this and that. At my next blood test, I unexpectedly dropped in iron levels. Since I needed iron-rich blood for surgery, I was put on an 8-week infusion plan. That's why I'm here now: iron is being pumped into my veins for the third time (a somewhat painful process for someone with little veins). Last week my surgery date was finally set, scheduled for September 16. Things have been progressing. On Friday, when I came to get my second dose of iron, Dr. A came in and said that I still had traces of parvo in my blood. "That's why progress has been going a lot slower than we anticipated. In a normal case, it would have been gone by now." So he put me on a three-day protein infusion treatment. That's also why I'm here. Today's third dose should clear up the rest of nasty Parvovirus B19. And with my bolstered iron levels, I'll be heading into surgery on Thursday.

Dr. Cryder is going to attempt a laparoscopic surgery to quicken my recovery time and get me out of the country. If she is able to and there are no complications, I should be able to fly out in the middle to end of October. Still, expectations throughout this situation have repeatedly not been met. I'm going to just see what happens and go with it. I choose to trust that God's got a plan and reasons for all that comes, since I know He does.

Well, that's what's been happening. It's a pretty quick version of a long summer. More eloquent analysis and discussion to come, most likely after my surgery. Till then, grace and peace to you from God our Father.

Sep 5, 2010

September 5: Departure Date

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5,6

So today was the big day. I got into the car, drove to the airport, and met my fellow student missionaries at Korean Airline. Excitement was in the air for sure. After taking a number of pictures, we gathered in a circle to pray. Then came the goodbyes. I bid everyone farewell and promised that I would be keeping in contact. Finally it was time to go, to leave on the great adventure that was beckoning. With one last “bye,” I watched them head through security and on to the next year’s journey. I stood there a moment. Then I turned around and headed back to the car.

 Up until July 16, I was sure that September 5 was my big departure day for the Philippines. Then my story took a twist I wasn’t anticipating. I think I’ll save this summer’s story for another day, but the end result is that I’m not as healthy as I should be for flying out to be a year-long student missionary. I’m still planning on going soon, though. It’ll just be delayed a little.

 The last couple months, I haven’t really been able to think about going to the Philippines too much. I mean really think about it as a reality. I’ve been occupied with working as a camp counselor and taking the sickness journey. I’m going to be having surgery soon, and honestly, that has seemed a lot closer to reality than going as a student missionary. I guess I’ve been having to process other things and haven’t quite worked my way to missionaryhood.

 But today it seemed a whole lot more real. Today I met three people with whom I was supposed to be starting an adventure, and rather than walking with them onto that plane, I said goodbye. It didn’t feel right. I was on the wrong side things. The plane is in the air, and my feet are on the ground.

Still, I think this is a good start into being a missionary. I decided to call my blog “naim bag toy puso.” In Ilocano, the language of Pagudpud, Philippines, this roughly means, “it is well with my soul.” This is what I remember when God causes or allows my path to take a different direction than I anticipate. No matter where I go or what I face or what I think I miss out on, it is well with my soul because God’s got things covered. He knows what’s going on and He’s working it all for good. I’ve already seen Him at work, using my situation for His glory and for the benefit of others as well as myself. Since I wanted my first post to be more introductory (and since I’ll have a decent stretch of time on my hands), I’ll hold off on delving into the blessings for another post. But the point I want to make here is that perspective makes a difference. I’ve decided to dedicate my life and service to God, and however He chooses to do things sounds like the best way to me. I’m just along for the awesome ride.
Whatever comes, naim bag toy puso.

My Substitution for Flying to the Philippines