Be the Light in Somebody's Tunnel

@MrBrettClark 4 Comments

I've gone back and forth about writing this post about what's gone on in my personal life since last November. So, if I am publishing this post, let me first tell you what the purpose of the post and the message I hope to get across in this post.

The purpose of this post is to remind all of us that no matter how dark or grim our circumstances may be, there are people who will be there to prop us up and get us through even the most unimaginable things.


Here is the "too long didn't read" version of this story. My wife began getting sick towards the end of last year. On January 29 the doctors at University of Louisville performed life-saving surgery. After spending a combined 11 weeks in the hospital and a physical rehab center, Ruth was finally able to come home. She still has a road of recovery ahead of her but she will recover. Every day is getting more and more normal. Today, May 27, we are celebrating 15 years of marriage!

The deciding factor for me on if I would write this post or not is when several people began saying to me these past couple weeks, "well, I bet it's nice to see the light at the end of the tunnel." Now this is a phrase that we have all heard our entire lives. However, I'm here to tell you today, that for me and my family, the light was not at the end of the tunnel but because of our strong support system of faith, family, friends, and co-workers, our tunnel was well lit the entire time.

The Beginning

I will do my best to keep this as short as possible. My wife has dealt with Crohn's disease since she was a teenager. She's had her ups and downs with it over the years but prior to the beginning of this story, she had gone over 2 years symptom free. 

Toward the middle of October, 2014, she began to get sick. By the first of November she was having a colonoscopy and I thought she was going to get admitted to the hospital that day. The treating physician decided not to admit her and gave her some pretty aggressive medications for her to take a home. She continued to deteriorate throughout the month of November and the beginning of December. On December 11 I came home and she couldn't explain to me what day it was, what medicine she had taken, and was in need of immediate care. This was the beginning of her first hospital stay. 

After a couple days in the hospital we found out the medicine she was prescribed played a large factor in her hospitalization. Her white blood count was 0.5 (10-15 is normal). Over 95% of her WBC had been wiped out. They stopped her medications, gave her blood and platelet transfusions, and numerous prescriptions while her WBC slowly climbed back up. 

On December 23, Ruth came home from the hospital. Her WBC was much better but her Crohn's disease still raged on. By the time she was released from the hospital she had lost the ability to get out of bed or a chair on her own. She walked with a walker and we used a wheelchair as well. This was all due to how long she had been bedridden. 

For the next month she did physical therapy at home 3 times a week, began another treatment for her Crohn's disease and I thought we had seen the worse of it. She was still weak and sick but I was hopeful and encouraged by the small progress she was making. 

The week of EduCon she began to take a turn backward in her health. I was scheduled to speak and after discussing it with Ruth, decided to go ahead and go to EduCon. Her sister was staying with her and I knew she was in good care. Sunday morning at EduCon my sister-in-law called me and Ruth was going back to the hospital. She was having hallucinations and was once again in dire need of medical attention. 

I changed my flight time, made it home as fast as I could, and went straight to the hospital. She was dehydrated, her blood sugar was low, and she continued to have hallucinations. Things began to move quickly that week. On Monday I noticed severe bruising on her thighs and abdomen. By Tuesday the bruising was from the top of her feet, up to her chest. Tuesday night with our boys in the room, she suddenly screamed out in pain. I rushed the boys out and got help. They gave her pain medicine, got her pain under control, and said the doctor would see her in the morning. 

The next day we found out the pain was from a perforated colon and air was being released into her stomach wall, along with what passes through the colon. She was in need of surgery and would need to be transferred to the University of Louisville Hospital. Around midnight she was transferred and once again we would wait until the morning for doctors to come evaluate the situation. 

The next day, 1/29/15, was the longest day of my life. 

The colon team was the first team to come see Ruth. Didn't learn much more than we already knew but more doctors were on the way. The hematology team was next. Ruth had contracted C. Diff and Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC). The DIC is what was causing the bruising. Ruth's blood wasn't clotting anymore and was literally seeping out of her veins.  It was then the doctor told us that Ruth was in a dangerous situation. Not really wrapping my mind around what he was saying, I asked him what he meant by that. He said, "She is in a life-threatening situation."  

The problem was the combination of her perforated colon, C. Diff, and DIC was going to kill her and only way to get it under control was to remove the colon. The DIC was preventing her blood from clotting and that made surgery very dangerous but if they didn't do surgery, then she was surely going to pass away. 

It was a little past noon. I began to alert family and friends of the situation. I told family that they might want to consider heading this way. The majority of our family lives 1-3 hours away. 

We prayed, we cried, I held her hand and couldn't take my eyes off of my wife. Our Bishop and his wife came and prayed with us. Time moved slower than it ever has in my life. I didn't know when/if they could do surgery. 

Around 4pm the surgeon came in and said they were prepping the operating room. Surgery would begin within the hour. A flurry of questions came to my mind and this conversation will be etched in my brain for a long time. 

How often do you do this surgery? "I removed a colon almost every day that I work. I've already removed one today. I've been doing this for 10 year." How often do you see cases like Ruth's? "I might see somebody as sick as your wife 3-5 times a year. What about the DIC? What about the blood-loss issue? "That does make it difficult but I have a plan. She'll be hooked up to blood and we will do our best to put it back in her as fast as it's coming out. I do know that if we don't do surgery soon the infection will get worse and we'll lose any control we have left of the situation." How long will surgery last? "It should only take 2 hours." What are her chances of making it? Do I get a percentage? "I honestly don't know and it wouldn't be fair for me to put a number on it." What about... "I know you have questions and I want to answer them, but she needs surgery now and I have to go prep for it. You need to go fill out paper work." 

And with that he turned and walked away. It wasn't rude, he had a confidence that was reassuring. I knew he understood the situation and he had the best possible plan to save her life. I did what I needed to do and began to fill out paperwork.

Within 30 minutes they were ready to take Ruth.

I can't put into words what it was like talking with her before they took her down. We expressed our love for each other, prayed, and shared a goodbye kiss. When they took her out, I didn't know if that was the last time I was every going to talk to my wife. 

I went down stairs and waited. 

My Bishop and a couple members of our church waited with me. Family was on their way. I talked excessively to pass the time. Halfway through we got a report that things were going as planned and she was doing great. Almost two hours on the nose after surgery started the surgeon came out to talk to us. I wanted a smile, a thumbs up, anything that told me that she was ok. What I got was, "lets step into here and talk." The consultation room couldn't have been more than 30 feet away or so but felt like a mile.

Once in the room, the surgeon quickly told us that Ruth was okay and the surgery went as well as could be expected. We'd be able to see her soon but they would keep her sedated throughout the night.

The next week showed me once again just how sick she was when she went in for surgery.

The next morning they took Ruth off of all sedation medication, but she didn't wake up. The weekend passed and she was still unresponsive. They'd try to wake her up and she might wiggle her toes when she was asked but she wouldn't give you a thumbs up or squeeze your hand. Spent hours just waiting and talking with her. Nothing changed.

On Tuesday she had a seizure with just a nurse and me in the room. They began to run more test on her and found out her liver was filtering her blood that it should've been. They decided to do dialysis to remove the toxins from her blood. The doctor would tell me later that at that point he just wasn't sure she would ever wake up.

My Bishop was one again by my side. The dialysis machine finished doing it's thing. My Bishop prayed with us and left. Not moments after he left, she squeezed my hand for the first time.

Another round of dialysis and prayer and she began to wake up.

The next few weeks are honestly a blur. Looking back on it now, it shocks me how little time actually passed because days felt like weeks and weeks felt like months. Her body took weeks to recover from the surgery. Her liver had been given the task of filtering all of the poison and medicine and it almost couldn't handle it.

The back half of her stay in the hospital consisted of monitoring her liver, waiting to see when it was going to bounce back from the surgery, and going through physical therapy. She had to relearn how to swallow food and drink. Speech therapist working with her on swallowing techniques and making her swallow dyed food and then looking at her throat with a camera to see how much went to where it was suppose to go.

Her muscles had developed atrophy during her stint in the hospital. It was literally like watching an infant develop. Learning how sit up on her own, trying to stand but not being able to, and working on gaining full motion of her feet and ankles.

Out of the hospital!

Finally, after five weeks in the hospital, she was released to a nursing home to complete her recovery. Here they taught her how to walk again. First it them holding her up while she learned how to put pressure on her legs again. Then she learned how to stand on her own while holding onto parallel bars. I remember the day she texted me and told me that she took her first steps on her own! She said she was just tired of standing and decided to give walking a try.

From there things seemed to move quickly. Well, at least it felt that way to me. Every day she was telling me how much further she walked, or how much stronger her legs felt. The boys and I spent as much time there as we could. It was always so cute as our youngest always wanted to lay in the bed with his mom.

Even though the time went by much faster and the progress was amazing, she still ended up spending six weeks at the nursing home.

Between her hospital and nursing home stay 11 weeks passed, we celebrated birthdays for two of our three kids, she lost close to 100 lbs, I think I gained about 30 lbs, and our lives were forever altered.

Time to go home

Then it was time to go home. Since coming home she just continues to make great progress. She's gone from traveling by wheelchair, to walker, to just a cane. She's gone from hardly being able to get up a single step, to being able to get up multiple steps, to being able to go down into our finished basement.

She still has a road ahead of her and may even have a followup surgery but every day gets more and more normal.                                                      

I wish I had more to say here. I wish I could adequately explain how much joy it is to have my wife home with us. I even smile just listening to her trying to get our boys to complete the simplest chores.

The truth is, I'm not a master of the English language, and I don't have the right words. Everything I have thought about typing just falls short. If I could sum up how I feel in one word, it would be the word complete. I feel whole, I feel happy, and I feel beyond blessed to have my wife of 15 years home with us.

The Light

As I said above, the purpose of this post is to remind all of us that no matter how dark or grim our circumstances may be, there are people who will be there to prop us up and get us through even the most unimaginable things.

People really did say to me at different times throughout this trial, "it must be nice see the light at the end of the tunnel." Now don't get me wrong, I know what they were saying, and it's true that as my life has gotten more and more normal, I have thought the same thing.

That being said, I can tell you that even though this was easily the darkest moment in my life, my tunnel was well lit the entire time. That's due to Jesus Christ, my amazing family, church, friends, colleagues, and total strangers.

I know I won't capture everything that people did, and please know that I appreciate everything people did for us and are continuing to do for us. So, if I don't mention you by name, please accept my apology.

Here is a short list of how my tunnel was lit throughout the journey.

  • Prayer - I can't even begin to tell you the number of people from around the globe who told me that Ruth, the boys, and I were in their thoughts and prayers. 
  • Family - Even though our family lives 1-2 hours away, they were there at the hospital the day of her surgery as fast as they could get there. Ruth's sister and her family drove down from Wisconsin the next day and stayed for a week to help. My dad came and stayed with us. He of course picked the week we had a snow storm and my boys were out of school all week. I think about everyone on Ruth's side stayed with us at some point during all of this. Of course, all of the phone calls and text messages kept me going and my mind occupied during the darkest times.
  • Christmas - My church stepped up in a huge way in December. They decorated our house, took our kids' Christmas list, went shopping, and wrapped their presents. My kids wouldn't have had the great Christmas we had if it wasn't for my church family.  
  • Speaking of my church...prayers, phone calls, visits, food, and childcare.  Honestly, there were times when people asked me who had the boys, and I didn't know for sure because so many people from the church were stepping up to make sure they were taken care of when family wasn't in town. 
  • Friends - I could mention a lot of people, and I will, but I have to give special thanks to Bill Ferriter. If you don't already know, the guy is a special kind of awesome. The day after I got back from Philly he called me and wanted to know what was going on. He offered to be my contact for all of education friends. I would keep him the loop and he'd make sure people knew what was going on. He gave people my address and the next thing I knew people were mailing me cards with words of encouragement. I can't tell you the number of tears I shed reading those cards. Everyone of them touched my heart.  Bill even set up a GoFundMe that has helped lessen the blow of our medical bills. I can honestly tell you that I love Bill like family. He's like my big brother and I'm forever grateful for his friendship.
  • Tom Murray is right up there with Bill. This guy was relentless with his text messages to me. He just wanted me to know that he's thinking of us and praying for us. I wouldn't hardly go a couple of days without hearing from Tom. 
  • Tom Whitby, Amber Teamann, John Spencer, Erin Klein, Philip Cummings, Paul Cancellieri, everyone in SportsVoxRadio land, and everyone else who I met on twitter or at conference that has reached out to us, I say thank you! I'm sorry I couldn't name everyone. 
  • Chris Lehmann - When I was in EduCon, as I stated above, I had to change my flight and get home as quickly as possible. Well, I found Chris, told him what was happening and that I couldn't lead my conversation with Erin Klein. He sprung into action and grabbed three students. One of them put a note on the door to announce the change in schedule, one changed my flight for me, and one got me a cab. I got home quicker to my wife because of Chris and his amazing students! 
  • Evansville - We lived in Evansville, IN for almost 8 years of our marriage. We had ladies from the church where Ruth and I were the youth pastors that came and cleaned our house from top to bottom. The pastor sent a basket full of snack and games. One of the highlights of the hospital stay was when a group of them surprised us at the hospital. Thank you Abundant Faith Family!
  • Colleagues - First of all, I have the best boss ever. Amy is somebody who will never seek the spotlight but she is just amazing. Her and my Superintendent gave me the freedom to care for my family and never one time put any pressure on me to return to work. I wouldn't have wanted to have gone through this under any other leadership I've worked for besides this one. Just amazing people, who love people, and are true leaders.
  • My team - We are leading a large 1:1 initiative and it's a hard job. My team didn't miss a beat! From our eLearning Coaches, to our managers, building level techs, and the best administrative assistant a guy could ask for! It's almost scary how well things went while I was out.  Thank you team for carrying the load, providing support, and caring for my family!
  • Our Boys - Micah, Nathan, and Levi aren't perfect but they are amazing kids. They all stepped up and probably grew up a couple of years in just a short amount of time. I have never actually sat them down and explained to them just how close they were to losing their mom. I'm not sure if/when I ever will. Their hugs, kisses, and smiles are more precious to me than almost anything. Some of my most fondest memories of this trial will be the joy and excitement they expressed every time Ruth made some sort of accomplishment. "Oh mom! You're standing! Good job mom! You're walking without the walker! That's great mom!"   
I'm sure I'm missing something. There's no way that this is it, but I think you get the point. This was the worse thing I've ever lived through. People have told me time and time again, "I don't know how you made it through all of this. I'm impressed with how well you've handled everything." Well, I hope this post serves as an answer.

Our tunnel was long but it wasn't dark. Yes, there were times when I was discouraged, scared, and frustrated but when I took a deep breath and looked at the whole picture, I knew we'd get through it. We all go through test and trials. We all get stuck in tunnels. We all know people who are in those places right now.

The biggest thing I've learned through all of this, is that you don't have to wait until the end to see the light. If we will be there for each other, then even in our darkest moments, the path will be well lit.    

Be the Light in Somebody's Tunnel