Posted by: trevormeers | August 31, 2010

Can We Stop Sleeping On Vinyl Couches Now?

An SUV jammed with stuff--including a kid just sprung from the hospital--pulls out of the Iowa City garage.

As I chatted with the world’s #2-ranked neurosurgeon, I was wearing a dapper TJ Maxx golf shirt/waterproof khaki shorts ensemble made all the sharper by the fact that I’d just slept in it. My mind was equally rumpled from spending the night on a fold-out vinyl couch in Katie’s hospital room. (Lifetime totals for sleeping in Katie’s hospital rooms: Teri: 20. Trevor: 1.) Throughout the night, Katie’s respiration rate would change a bit several times an hour, setting off an audible alarm that would jerk me awake to check the screen to make sure everything was OK. (Lifetime totals for whining about sleeping in hospital rooms: Teri: 0. Trevor: 1.)

Morning chats with the neurosurgeon were a habit now, since we’d been seeing each other every morning for 14 straight days, but I still worked to present myself as an alert, involved, reasonable parent each time he made his rounds. But on Monday morning, it took me a moment to process the meaning of his words when he said, “From my perspective, you can go home whenever you’re comfortable. Today or tomorrow would be fine.”

“Wow,” I said. “Uh, that’s good to hear.”

“Well,” he said, “I planted the seed about this with your wife yesterday.”

It hadn’t taken root, because when Teri showed up from a luxurious night at the Ronald MacDonald Field HQ and heard about the doctor’s report, she said, “What?!” We haven’t had a lot of down time since. When the surgeon’s word trickled down to the medical staff, Katie began entertaining non-stop callers who came to the room to prepare her for going home. It was a far more enjoyable version of the scramble that occurred three weeks ago when the surgeon declared she needed spinal surgery ASAP. This time, we were running a full week ahead of the surgeon’s original schedule of a three-week post-op stay. But with Katie’s good progress and our proven track record with fairly high-intensity home care, he was giving us an early parole.

The occupational and physical therapists came to discuss Katie’s homework and schedule for heading back to school (which the surgeon later declared a little too aggressive). The neurosurgery resident came to remove some stitches. The nurse walked through the wind down of medications over the next few days. And, lastly, the neurosurgeon’s Miss Moneypenny came to pull the IV. When she’d removed the last of the many tubes once attached to Katie and tossed it in the trash, Allison said, “Katie, you’re not connected to anything anymore. You’re back to your regular self!” For her part, Katie just looked tired and started crying at the sight of someone in scrubs entering the room.

While much of this was going on, I was back at Field HQ, packing our lives into the 4Runner in a pouring rain. With the truck full of clothes, food, balloons, school books and two mountain bikes strapped to the back hatch, I went into the office to turn in my key. The manager said in the kindest way, “I hope we don’t see you again.” I said, “Agreed” and walked out, hopefully for the last time as anything other than a volunteer coming back to help the next parents down the line. (And lest I sound like one of the Bible’s ungrateful lepers, I should point out that I was praying plenty of “thank yous” through the day.)

When I got back to the hospital, Katie finally had her papers, and in a surprisingly unceremonious send-off, the nurse said, “You’re free to go.” Teri sat in a wheelchair with Katie on her lap, I took the handles, and with helium “Get Well Soon” balloons bopping off the walls, we were gone. Packed into the 4Runner, we drove under the big hospital sign I’d stared up at when I carried Katie in at 6:30am on surgery day. We rolled by the mound of construction dirt (dubbed “Mt. Backfill”) that marked our walks home each evening. We waved good-bye to the Field HQ.

We’d been here for two weeks steady; more like three, counting the week of pre-op testing. But as cramped as the hospital rooms were feeling, the stay had come to seem surprisingly brief.  That happens when you inherit a jar of chili powder from a guy leaving the Field HQ after six weeks, and when a visiting friend recounts her nine-week stay with a premature baby.

We got home by 5:00, and as I unloaded bag after bag of goldfish crackers into the pantry, Katie flopped on a stack of pillows while Allison put barrettes in her hair. When Allie left the room, Katie pushed herself up with an elbow and sat upright, a welcome sign this early on. Her balance will require some practice, thanks to the rigid plastic brace she wears to ensure her head, neck and torso can move only as a single unit while the bones knit. The hospital calls it her “turtle shell.” I prefer “Kevlar,” but I don’t think it’s going to stick with anyone else in my all-girl household.

As a kid, I remember feeling at loose ends the couple of times my parents came home from surgeries. We’d looked forward to their return for days, and I somehow expected them to return like a car from the mechanic, running in top shape after the repairs. Yet now that they were here, they still couldn’t do the normal things. So I found myself stuck in an unfamiliar routine dragging out longer than I thought, and now without the distraction of staying at a friend’s house or having old ladies at church buy me toys because they felt sorry for me.

I imagine Allison’s going to struggle with many of the same feelings, since the Iowa City stay generally played out as a pleasant lark from her perspective. She saw Katie making steady progress, and Allison got to go on bike rides, compress her school day into four hours and duck into a Hawkeye volleyball game for free late one Saturday night. For her, coming home adds up to being separated from Katie, giving up the 24/7 family movie channel at the hospital and going back to a classroom.

But now that I’m the parent, I’m not struggling with any such ambiguity. We have an unanticipated week of our lives back. Tonight, Katie is falling asleep in her familiar old way—rolled over on her left side, tracing shadows on the wall with her finger until she drifts off. Allison is burrowed into a nest of stuffed animals, with Balto the sled dog under her arm. Teri is sleeping beside me in a room with no monitors to make your own heart leap in the night. And even though tonight was my scheduled night to stay at the hospital, I don’t have to sleep in my clothes or have a morning chat with the world’s #2-ranked neurosurgeon for the first day in a very long time.

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Responses

  1. Teri & Trevor
    What fantastic news!!!! Only God and lots of prayers has Katie home tonight. PTL. Will continue to pray for complete healing of Katies body. Praying for rest for both of you!

    Mary

  2. I am very, very happy and relieved for you and your family. Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home! And I get to send up a lot of thanksgiving prayers!!! Hurray for the Meers’ Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!!!!
    PS: You are a special man with a wonderful gift of sharing what’s going on in this life!

  3. glad you’re all home. what kind of stats do they use to rank world class neurosurgeons?

    • Good question on the rankings, Dan. I asked that myself. Apparently someone does actually rank these people based on mortality (# of patients who, uh, die) and morbidity (# of patients with problems afterward). And, no, I don’t know who the #1 person is out there or whether you boost your ranking by running up the score.

  4. Praise the Lord…Answered prayer!!!!

  5. Katie is truly a precious gift from God and to think he chose you, Teri and Allison to share this gift with and to behold the miracles he would perform not only in her life but yours as well. How awesome is that?!
    Please continue to keep us updated so we all know how to direct our prayers for you and your family.
    WELCOME HOME

  6. Welcome home! I was so surprised when I saw Teri’s post yesteday on facebook. Praise the Lord for the awesome way He is taking care of Katie! Continuing to pray for full and complete recovery.

  7. Trevor, That is awesome news to hear that Katie is home early and starting the process to get back to her normal self thru a great surgical process graced by God’s hands and healing. May His continued healing wrap around Katie until it is complete!


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