“Our Christmas gift is Kris.”
Christmas Eve Greetings to you all!
Our day yesterday (Thursday, December 23rd) started as any other: I was at the rehab hospital by 8:30 a.m. ready to wash and dress Kris, and get her ready for another day of therapy. A dear friend and co-worker of Kris’s (Col. Gemma Smith) and her husband came by to see Kris just as she was going to physical therapy. This would be her last session (she had four) for the morning, and Kris couldn’t wait to show them what she could do. She walked with her therapist, Jamie, just slightly holding her arm, then she worked on the parallel bars and walked some more. He loves to give Kris her head and she loves to tell him (by pointing) where she wants to go! She is amazing!!
Russell and Joshua came at lunch time to spend some time with her while I went home to pick up George and do some grocery shopping. It was when I was walking into the super market when my cell phone buzzed and I saw the name in the readout: Dr. Richard Teff. You’ll remember he’s the neurosurgeon that saved Kris’s life when he operated on her the night of the accident back in April, and he’s also the one who operated again on her in November to “clean up” some problems resulting from the cranioplasty surgery back in September (which he wasn’t able to do). Dr. Teff had emphasized strongly the need to constantly be mindful of any bleeding or “oozing” from incision areas after each surgery. That’s why I called him on Wednesday this past week after a rather large dried “ooze” area suddenly fell away when I shampooed her hair Tuesday evening during her shower. It was bleeding slightly after her shower and that concerned me. Dr. Teff had cautioned: Where there is bleeding or seeping, there is an open wound. Where there is an open wound, there could be infection, and where there is infection in the skin or scalp over the implant, that is tantamount to disaster because the infection could reach the brain.
I called Dr. Teff’s cell phone on Wednesday morning and left a message explaining what had happened. It would have been useless to try to reach him at is office at Brooke Army Medical Center this close to Christmas. When we were going into the supermarket yesterday, Dr. Teff returned my call. He was very, very concerned, and he felt Kris should be taken into BAMC immediately to be examined. He explained again that infection could mean real trouble if it reaches the brain, and he felt there was a strong possibility Kris may have to have the implant removed for a time of skin growth and then re-inserted. I felt my heart crack and my nerves begin to fray. We grocery shopped quickly then returned to the hospital at once.
So concerned about her was Dr. Teff that he called the neurosurgeon on duty over this Christmas weekend to explain the situation and ask him to look at Kris. I called Russell but he had to leave to pick up Andrea. We would talk later. The thought of Kris going into surgery on Christmas Eve was just so much more than I felt she could handle or deserved. When would it all stop? My heart ached and we both cried. Later when I actually explained to her what was happening, she took it better than I did. Being a nurse, she is always aware, of course, of the damage any infection can do, and she is likely very aware of the impact on her brain should infection reach it. She took it like a trooper; we fell apart.
Dr. Teff called back and said a Dr. Dean, another neurosurgeon, would be coming to see Kris himself on Friday morning at RIOSA. I stayed with her through the night and prayed, cried, and prayed some more. They started in IV of antibiotic at once and did a culture of the area that had been bleeding. It bled some more. I spoke to Russell later and he allowed he had been afraid things were going too well. He prayed.
Dr. Dean came in about 9:30 a.m. this morning. A very deliberate and intense sort, he assessed Kris’s scalp all over, shaved a patch around the area in question, pressed and rubbed, and then he said quite calmly, “I am going to give you your Christmas present now! I don’t believe this small sore requires surgery. It is actually on the scalp where hair is growing, which means there is blood supply, which means it is healthy tissue even though it’s over the implant. Wash the scalp every other day with strong soap, keep it dry and clean otherwise, and I’ll be back on Christmas day to check it again.” He smiled just slightly then and said, “And you can say ‘Praise God’ for this one now. I don’t think this is a serious problem and I will call Dr. Teff and let him know.”
He was quite right. Christmas Eve day became a glorious day even if the weather was rainy and gray outside. Kris smiled up at Dr. Dean, and I’m just as certain that she was relieved as well. The attached photo was taken in the cafeteria at RIOSA on this evening where we three spent some time sipping coffee and laughing at George’s jokes. Kris was laughing and held her own coffee cup. She took small sips (with some assistance to hold the cup at the right angle) and enjoyed about half a cup of coffee for the first time. That was the best so far for sipping a liquid, and she was quite proud of that accomplishment. The patch on the side of her head is where the doctor shaved it to examine the sore spot. Her laughter, her smile, her personality is one of the greatest gifts this year; the other one is that she will not have to have surgery... hopefully not again ever! Praise the Lord!
A few side notes as we close this day much happier than we closed yesterday. Daughter, Stephanie, is due to have her baby January 30th. Unfortunately, she is spending Christmas in the hospital back in Pennsylvania while waiting to see which will come first: the baby or a kidney stone. Prayers for her would be greatly appreciated.
A good report on son, John, who had cancer surgery for melanoma last winter. A recent PET-scan showed no cancer cells; he is cancer free!!!! Praise the Lord again!!! He and his wife want to come to San Antonio to see Kris some time in the early spring, likely. Son Gary, who visited Kris in November and certainly brought joy to her as she recuperated from that November surgery, wants to return next year along with his wife to RE-visit and take Kris to her favorite restaurant here in San Antonio. Daughter Diana and her husband are thinking of coming to visit Kris as well. With all of those visitors coming from back home in Pennsylvania, that should certainly bridge the gap until we return in early April. Either that, or we’ll all show up at once! What a reunion that will be!
With a myriad of doctor appointments (George is about three months late for a six-month checkup after his cancer surgery last December), and lots of performance commitments (all necessary to be able to return to Texas in April), and a great many pressing matters, we will leave San Antonio on December 28th to return to Florida. I have already shed enough tears to float a boat, and it seems that Kris is trying to tell me she’s going to be “okay.” She is brighter, more alert, has even made some excellent attempts and printing and writing with her right hand and her left hand (the right hand is dominant but it is not as strong as the left), and is just awesome in therapy now. Her level of understanding is also amazing, and her memory (both recent and past) seems to be unbelievably sound. For all that she has been through and has yet to face, Kris is such a miracle. The talking will come. The eating will come. We don’t know when, but it will all come back. And my guess is that she will return to BAMC at some point to assume at least a position of lesser stress (a pediatric intensive care unit nurse must have stress!), so that she can finish her military career and retire with the dignity she has earned and deserves. That would be Kris’s way: return to work. We’ll leave that to God... He’s in control anyway!
As we end this Christmas Eve day 2010, tired but blessed and oh, so very happy, may you all enjoy the day tomorrow as we truly celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Christ, the King of Kings! We will return to be with Kris and spend the day tomorrow. Russell and Joshua and others will come to see her during the day. Andrea will certainly know that Mommy loves her and is still “getting better” and she will see her mother soon. A very quiet peace exists at RIOSA, I’ve discovered, as so many patients leave to spend Christmas at home. There are just so many miracles there. We are part of a grand family of healing and everyone wishes everyone else... Merry Christmas!
Our hearts are so full. Thank you for your many Christmas cards and for your prayers. Oh, those prayers!!! They are our strength, our support, our healing! They are heard! Have a joyous Christmas and an exciting and healthy Happy New Year! God’s greatest blessings on you all!!!
In His great care,
Carol and George
[Tears of joy flow as I read this update. This wonderful family has been through so much and yet they choose to trust God completely and be so grateful for what they know God is doing and has done. Wow. Wow.]