Posted by: trevormeers | August 15, 2010

There’s One More Person You Need To See…

Astronauts have been coming to mind a lot the last few days. Ever since I went on a space-flight reading binge a few years ago, I’ve tended to think in terms of NASA-style checklists before any major undertaking. But this time it’s not a countdown ticking in my head (roughly T-minus 36 hours to Katie’s surgery as you read this) that has me channeling John Glenn. It’s the avalanche of preparation required for such a complex action.

Tom Wolfe’s epic The Right Stuff is full of stories of nutty testing Mercury astronauts went through leading up to their flights. Some made perfect sense. Anybody can see the value in spinning an astronaut around in a centerfuge to see how he handles serious G-force. Other tests seemed like they were dreamed up for some Dr. Strangelove-style spoof. Wolfe writes about America’s manliest test pilots waddling down busy hospital corridors in gaping gowns, toting plastic bags and tubes connected to various parts of their anatomy for reasons clear to no one. At any moment before their missions, the astronauts might find themselves shuttled off to another room for a going-over by another person in black-framed glasses and a lab coat.

The last week has been our version of this drill. Suspecting that Katie would need surgery within a few days, her neurosurgeon sent us on a whirlwind tour of the University of Iowa Hospitals complex, getting checked out by every specialty that would come into play in the 10-hour operation coming up. We’d be summarizing the morning’s tests in our notebook and thinking we were about to go home, when a nurse would walk in and declare, “We got a page that you need to get up to prosthetic dentistry, stat.” (Who knew hospitals even had such departments? And who knew medical people really use the word “stat”?)

The neurosurgeon’s vigilance in all these pre-flight checks exhausted us, but it produced confidence that when we reach zero on the countdown and the operation begins, he’ll have a checkmark in his own writing next to everything on his list.

This surgeon sits atop Iowa’s medical power structure. Look up the highest-paid state employees, and you’ll find him in the neighborhood of the university sports coaches. (In yet another Dr. Strangelove twist, Todd Lickliter, who went 38-57 at Iowa, was making twice as much as one of the country’s best neurosurgeons.) The surgeon, who is more personable than this sounds, told us at the start, “I don’t do the minutiae” of prepping patients for surgery. But as the days wore on, we kept discovering that he’d personally walked around the hospital ahead of us, securing appointments with department heads and other experienced people he hand-picked to handle our case. You’d rather not find yourself in a position so delicate that a big-time neurosurgeon feels compelled to put a rush order on every detail, but once you’re there, you’re glad he’s assembling the A-team on your behalf.

We’ve spent enough time around hospitals to recognize the logistical coup he pulled off over three days of pre-op testing. In the past, we’ve waited weeks and considered bribes in order to get in for a cardiology exam or MRI, but the surgeon and his Miss Moneypenny of a physicians’ assistant ushered us around the velvet rope in half a dozen offices.

By Thursday morning, we’d reached something like the meetings I’d read about from the Apollo program where teams of supervising nerds went one-by-one, declaring their portions of the mission ready. We didn’t actually see our team around a single table, but Miss Moneypenny ran down the list:

                Family practice: Go

                Cardiology: Go

                Anesthesiology: Go

                Blood work: Go

                Genetics: Go

                Dentistry: Go

                Neurosurgery: Go

Early Tuesday morning, we’ll reach the zero hour and get things started. Then, we’ll have one more thing in common with astronauts. At the launch, they strap in and wait for someone else to light the fuse, praying that a whole cast of people they hardly know have done their jobs with a million different components that all simply cannot fail in the next few hours. Which reminds me of one last item for the list:

                Faith that God does the minutiae: Go



  1. Thanks for the update, friend. Know that we continue to approach the Throne with confidence. Tell Katie she has lots and lots of people praying for her and loving her and her whole family 🙂

  2. “Put aside, then, all anxious thoughts and imaginations”…the Lord is reassuring all of us that He is in control…orchestrating all of it…every last detail. What an AWEsome Lord we can trust. The rest of us will be watching, praying, praising!!

  3. Havaing just been through spinal column surgery, your column struck a particularly strong chord.

    • Ever since Katie has entered this universe God has sent her orbiting through the lives of many. It is a wonder how someone so small can make such an impact. We may never fully know how many she has already touched, or rather He has touched through her. At present there is another mission and He is going to give her the stamina to carry it out as He will the whole crew. We have been and will continue to send our petitions to the most High. Love and prayers Aunt Sandy

      Psalm 89:1

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