Posted by: trevormeers | August 26, 2010

The Girl in the Doctor’s Coat

My favorite part of Dean Karnazes’ book Ultramarathon Man recounts his first Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile odyssey for masochists through the Sierra Nevada. Somewhere around mile 15 (and I’m loosely paraphrasing here, since I didn’t pack Karno’s book for the hospital), he crests a mountain and takes a quick break beside another runner studying the horizon. “See that range over there?” the veteran runner says. “After that, it’s just 75 miles to go.”

Right now, we’re gazing out on a similar view. The finish line is a faint concept in this Western States of a medical journey. But we’ve clawed our way up to a vantage point where we can at least see that the goal lies somewhere out in the haze of the general direction we’re heading. A couple of events this week prompted us to stop for a breath on the ridgeline before we plunge back down the far side to continue the run.

First came Tuesday, when Katie started coming back to us. For seven days, a breathing tube ensured she had a clear airway no matter how much her tongue swelled after surgery. Around noon on Tuesday, the tube came out, an event I’d been waking up thinking and praying about for the last two days. I was in Des Moines with Allison at the time, texting for an update every few minutes. When I finally walked into Katie’s room late Tuesday, I immediately noticed things felt a little roomier. It took me a minute to realize that the ventilator had been shoved to the far corner, and the screen that had been full of bumpy lines and numbers for a week now simply read, “Standby.” I’ve read nothing better this year.

Katie’s face was clear of tubing and tape, and over the next 24 hours she began shedding a whole series of lines and needles, the space around her bed steadily growing less mechanical.  Now when she slept, I heard the gurgle of her soft snoring rather than the hum and beep of pumps. With the breathing tube gone, she could also start working her way off the sedatives that had kept her sleeping for a week. We hadn’t heard from her since the morning I stuffed her plastic star into my bag a week ago (I’ve carried it everywhere I’ve walked since). For seven days, we’ve sat by her bed, watching our crank-the-dial-up-to-eleven kid remain quiet for endless hours. She was here but not.

The chemical fog will take a few days to dissipate, but as the doses tapered, the Katie the nurses have never met began to show. I asked if she’d like to watch a cartoon, and she whispered out a raspy, “Yeah.” When Alli tried to leave the room, Katie raised her hand to the door and said, “Go,” her code for “Who thinks they’re getting out of here without me?” Two noisy little girls passed by outside the door, and she laughed. To be honest, it’s maddeningly slow, like scenery-starved prairie pioneers spotting a mountain in the distance, only to spend days reaching its actual base. But the foothills are coming.

Wednesday morning brought the second glimpse of what we’re aiming for. The neurosurgeon looked in and said, “Mr. Meers, could you come out and meet someone?” He introduced me to a short, brown-haired, college-age girl in a white doctor’s coat without the usual script name and university badges. The surgeon said, “She had the same surgery as Katie 12 years ago, and now she’s job-shadowing me.”  I looked down into her eyes and could only say, “I am so glad to meet you.”

A happy sight at bedtime: Katie sleeping away with no gear more high-tech than her new neck brace.

The surgeon was taking this girl around the hospital so she could see his current work. But I had little doubt that he also brought her to our room so I could see his work, too. Her visit presented flesh-and-blood proof of what we’re working toward—proof that real little girls grow up to look like this after this surgery. The surgeon also stepped into the room to make a further point to both me and the girl. “Look,” he said to the girl as he gestured toward Katie in her brand-new neck brace. “We don’t use the halo like you had.”

That night at supper back at the Ronald McDonald field HQ, we talked about this day and about the days to come in the future near and far. “Do you think we’ll see a lot of him down the road?” Teri asked about the neurosurgeon, who is now a central figure in our family’s history. He’ll be an old man 12 years on from Katie’s surgery, but I still like to imagine her walking the ward with his hand on her shoulder, a future trophy of his career, brought in to inspire the next generation of weary parents. “I think you can bet on it,” I said.

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Responses

  1. Thanks, Trevor. I am just now realizing that when Teri posted on FB this past Tuesday, “can’t wait ’til my kiddo is awake & making us smile again,” she meant that Katie had yet to come out of sedation at all since surgery. I assumed that Katie was just sleeping extra hard that day. I’m becoming more aware of the extent of the surgery now. Sorry to be so slow… We are so glad that as you look at the terrain ahead you can also now look back and see quite a stretch in the rear view mirror. Press on, friend, and know that you are continually being lifted up in prayer.

  2. Your family is such an inspiration. It is faith affirming to watch as our Lord uses the medical community to help heal young Katie. And then He offers the encouragement of the young woman in a white coat! You gotta admit, it’s all pretty amazing! Continuing in prayer for all four of you.


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