Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Week 52 - Always a Good One

The week between Christmas and New Years has been a good one in regards to bringing children into our family.

December 31, 1999 • While the world was celebrating Y2K, we did some celebrating of our own and found out about six weeks later that Jackson would be arriving sometime in early September. He was born August 29, 2000 (three weeks early).

December 26-31, 2003 • Lots of discussions between Dana and I took place this week about international adoption. We searched websites, made phone calls and did some deep soul searching. Could we really do this? I think we only had $50 in the savings account, but with lots of prayer, soul searching, researching and a little bit of craziness, we took a HUGE leap of faith and started the paperwork to bring Gracie home to the USA. Little did we know that our little girl wasn't even born yet, but God had us started on the journey to get her. We applied for copies of our birth certificates and marriage certificate on December 30, 2003.

December 30, 2007 • We got the call from the adoption agency that we'd been waiting for — travel approval from the Chinese government to go to China to pick up DangHui - aka Gabriel Stanton. It was a fast and furious couple of weeks of final paperwork and travel itineraries, but we left for China in late January 2008 and came home with Gabe in early February.

Thankfully, there are no more additions to the Stanton clan, but I always enjoy this week between Christmas and New Years. This time of year brings great memories - and has an important part of each one of our children's life story.

Goodbye to 2013

It's the end of the year and many people are looking back at the past year and looking forward to the upcoming 365 days. I guess I'll jump on the bandwagon and wax philosophically a bit about this changing of the calendar from one year to another.

The last 365 days have had their ups and downs in our family. We've been to many soccer games, swim meets and music programs. We've dealt with various crises you have in a family with a teenager, an almost 10 year old and an 8 year old. We've celebrated 75th birthdays of both my parents and we've moved from one house to another.

2013 was a year of reflection for me - especially the last six weeks of the year - after my open heart surgery. I've realized how fragile life is and that how lucky I am to have been given a second chance at continuing my ride on this third planet from the sun. I could have easily dropped dead from a heart attack, but luckily, had the sense enough to tell my wife I didn't quite feel right and she took me to the ER. In my recovery from surgery, I've realized a few things:

  • Cherish your friends and family. During our experience in November, we had many friends and family help us out in many ways. Whether it was helping us move our earthly goods from one house to another, bringing over a meal, an offer to watch the kids, a $20 bill in a get well card or a prayer from far away, we appreciated everyone of them.
  • Be thankful for where you live. I feel so lucky to live in a community that has the benefits of a big city with the simplicity of a small-town. We have medical professionals who choose to live in a rural setting, but practice big-city medicine. I was able to have an advanced surgical procedure less than one mile away from my home. My wife and family did not have to travel hundreds of miles to be with me during my hospitalization.
  • Sometimes life doesn't happen the way you have it planned. We've dealt with some things this year that we definitely weren't planning on doing the way it happened, but we all survived.
  • Don't sweat the small stuff. I've looked pretty closely at some of the things I was doing a year ago and am evaluating if they are necessary. Some are, some aren't. I'll be saying "no" more often this year to some requests and saying "yes" to others. It's not because the ones I'm saying no to aren't worthwhile, there are some other items that need my attention a bit more.
As we look at a new year, I hope each and everyone of you evaluate what you are doing, how you are living, how you are loving and how you are interacting with your fellow human being. 

Happy 2014. I'm looking forward to another trip around the sun!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Few Things I've Learned in the Last Month

Four weeks ago I was laying in a bed in the ICU of the DeBakey Heart Institute of Kansas at HaysMed, recovering from quadruple heart bypass surgery. Here are a few things I've learned in the past 28 days.

1. General anesthesia and I really don't get along. Sometime in the middle of the night after surgery I vomited. This isn't fun when you have had your chest cracked open earlier in the day plus having a breathing tube shoved down your throat. I should have remembered this tidbit of info from when I had my appendix taken out in the early 1980s. I woke up vomiting in the middle of the night after that surgery, too.

2. It takes a special person to be a nurse. From the moment I walked into the ER at HaysMed to the moment I was discharged from the DeBakey Heart Institute of Kansas at HaysMed, I was amazed at the quality of human beings who served my every need as the nursing staff. These men and women answered my endless questions, laughed at my horrible jokes, soothed my worries, took care of my pains, shaved me from head to toe, helped me go to the bathroom, made me comfortable so I could sleep, listened to me talk about my wife and kids, and were in my room at the ring of a buzzer - all with a smile on their faces. I am amazed at how each and every one of them totally focused on me and my needs - especially when they are working 12 hour shifts and caring for multiple patients. They are my heroes.

3. The Glenn Fox sneeze is about ready to kill me. My Grandpa Fox had a sneeze that could be heard for miles. It wasn't one of those little wimpy sneezes that some people have that you wonder what they are doing. These sneezes would rock the shutters on the house. I inherited those sneezes. When I sneeze, you know it. Now couple that obnoxious sneeze with a sternum that is trying to heal and you get some pretty intense chest discomfort every time you sneeze. I'm just glad I still have my heart pillow to hold on to when the feeling comes.

I'm sure I'll have more observations. These are on the top of my mind today.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A God Moment

Here's a picture of Fr. Daryl Olmstead giving my daughter, Grace a hug after Mass this morning. Today was the first time Grace had participated as an Altar Server in Mass.

Right after taking the photo, I gave Fr. Daryl my own big bear hug. He has had the knack of coming into my life at a wide variety of times - at just the right time. I first met him when I was growing up in Logan and he was the new young Catholic priest. We weren't Catholic, but in such a small town with a large number of Catholic families, I ended up going to youth activities and even church with many of my friends.

He was the priest who baptized my sister into the Catholic faith when I was in Junior High.

He was the priest who officiated at my high school classmate's funeral a few years ago and it was so nice to see such a familiar face and hear a soothing voice from behind the pulpit at the funeral.

When my wife decided she wanted to join the Catholic church and then we decided to raise our children in the Catholic faith, her church of choice was St. Nick's in Hays - where Fr. Daryl is the priest.

Now, I'm not Catholic. I was baptized about 10 years ago in the Methodist church and I'm fine with my faith as I sit in Mass as a non-Catholic. But God keeps bringing Fr. Daryl back to me and that's where my story ties into my open-heart surgery.

Four weeks ago today, I was sitting in a hospital bed at the DeBakey Heart Institute of Kansas and it had finally hit me. I had experienced a heart attack the previous day and I was going to have open heart surgery tomorrow.

Open heart surgery! They were going to crack open my chest, cut my sternum in half, take a vein out of my leg, cut it up in pieces and sew it around my heart.

My parents, my sister and Dana had all been there that morning for my heart cath procedure and would return again tomorrow (along with my brother and brother-in-law) for my surgery. Dana was still trying to get all of the stuff settled in our new home and said she would be back sometime early evening.

But I was having my meltdown now. I realized that, yes, I was going to have a life-changing surgery in less than 24 hours and I was scared to death. I called the house and Gracie answered, seeing my name on the caller ID. She was all excited about talking to Daddy on the phone, but I needed my wife. By the time Dana got to the phone, I was hysterical and in tears. "I need you to come out here, now," I pleaded to her. She said that she was leaving right now.

As I hung up the phone and looked up at the foot of my bed, there he was. Fr. Daryl was just standing there with a smile and simultaneous look of concern. He was the person I needed to have in my room right then and there. I remember him dragging over a chair next to my bed and just sat and talked to me in that soft, soothing voice. I told him in the same sentence about my irrational fears and my rational knowledge that my heart was strong and my doctor said I was the perfect candidate for this surgery.

They still were going to cut me open!!!!!

He did what he does best. He listened. He calmed my fears. And in a few minutes, in walked Dana and he calmed both of our fears. Then he prayed with us and blessed me with holy water. I joked with him that I was concerned it might mix with the Methodist oils my Uncle Dink had anointed me with earlier in the afternoon. He laughed and said, "No, it shouldn't burn!" and we all had a good laugh.

Although I'm not Catholic, I'm blessed that I have Fr. Daryl in my life. He has been a spiritual influence to me throughout the years and God keeps bringing us together. I guess God knows what he is doing!

Friday, December 06, 2013

I Had a Heart Attack at 44

Three weeks ago I had a heart attack. It wasn't the big, dramatic heart attack like you see on TV or the movies. We were moving that November Saturday morning and I was running around the house unhooking the washer and dryer and then had taken my two youngest kids beds apart. As I was sitting on my son's bedroom floor, unscrewing his bed, I realized that I was out of breath, had some discomfort in my chest and had sweat through my t-shirt by 8:30 a.m. Something wasn't quite right.

My wife had already loaded our mini-van with boxes and had taken the load to the new house when all of this was happening. When she got home, I was headed out to the moving van to see if there was a dolly in it or if we needed to go borrow one from my office. As she pulled up into the drive way, I told her that "I just didn't feel very good," and that I wasn't sure why...  We got in the van to head to my office to borrow the dolly for the weekend and I still had the discomfort in my chest and it wasn't going away. I had caught my breath and was no longer sweating, but this lingering feeling on the left side of my chest was still there, nagging me.

Like I said earlier, it wasn't a tragic, sharp pain that makes you fall to the ground. This was just a little nagging discomfort. Have you ever had a potato chip stuck in your throat? That little nagging discomfort that drives you crazy? Yes, that one. That's the feeling I had, except it wasn't in my throat - it was on the left side of my chest.

Back to the trip to the office...

After leaving my office, we were driving by the local grocery store and I asked my wife to pull in there and we would check my blood pressure at the pharmacy (our blood pressure cuff was packed away in some box at the house). The numbers weren't good: 142/104 the first time and then 140/98 the second time. We stopped and talked to a friend of ours for a few minutes and then got back into the van. My wife and I talked about what we thought we should do. Being a typical man, I thought I would just be OK and I would "take it easy" during the moving process - yeah right.

As we were headed back to our house, my wife didn't turn down our street. "Where are you going?" I asked as she went right on down the street. "I'm taking you to the ER," she said matter-of-factly. Really? The ER? It was 9:45 a.m. and we had college students lined up to head to the house at 10 a.m. to help move and we didn't want to lose this valuable help. So I convinced my wife to just drop me off at the ER and to head back home. I would give her a call in about an hour when they had checked me out.

When you walk into the ER on a Saturday morning and the waiting room is full, you think "Oh joy, I'll be waiting for at least until SNL comes on tonight..." But a magic thing happens when you put "chest discomfort" on the slip of paper that has your symptoms on it and had it to the receptionist. You move straight to the top of the list! I hadn't been sitting down for a minute when they called my name and took me directly to a room. I guess they meant business.

The intake nurse was awesome. After listening to me talk a few minutes about my symptoms and the fact that I've had diabetes for 30 years, he got things rolling with an EKG and blood tests AND I actually got to see the ER doctor in a relatively short amount of time. The nurse told me that I definitely made the right decision on coming to the hospital. He said there are three categories of people who don't have the typical heart attack symptoms: women, the elderly and diabetics. Well, I am definitely not a woman and don't think I'm elderly, but I have been dealing with the Big D since I was in high school (that was just a few years ago, right?) and although many of these past 30 years I've been in good control of my blood sugars, there were many years when I felt I was bullet-proof and didn't give a damn about blood sugar control (but that's a whole 'nother blog post in itself).

The EKG came back normal (whew!) and then we just had to wait for the blood tests to come back. After about an hour (and some children's chewable aspirin) my blood pressure came back down and I was pretty relaxed. Just waiting on those blood tests. After about an hour, the ER doctor came back in and said that with my family history, my diabetes history and various other factors, he wanted to check me in for 24 hours of test and observations. Ok, I thought. Better safe than sorry. You know, I've been wanting to have that stress test, but just kept forgetting to schedule it - yeah, right!

Well, the blood tests finally came back and they said that my heart enzymes that show up after a heart attack were within the normal range. Whew! I didn't have a heart attack... but they still wanted to observe and do tests. Ok, I thought.

I put out a Facebook call for help to our friends to help out with the moving process, since I was going to be sitting in a hospital bed for the next day. Thankfully, they came in droves and helped get that job done. My wife called several times through these two hours checking on my status and when I told her I was going to spend the night, she took it like a trooper...

Upon checking into the Debakey Heart Instuite at HaysMed, I got to have more blood drawn and another EKG. No biggie - except I have HORRIBLE veins and am a phlebotomist's WORST nightmare. They dug and dug and dug some more throughout the day and took several vials of blood for more and more tests. Well guess what, the second and third blood tests revealed the enzymes that indicated a heart attack.

Heart attack? I had a heart attack?

There's no way in hell that I could have a heart attack. I'm only 44! I have three kids under the age of 13 and I don't plan on leaving this world before they give me grandchildren (and I definitely don't need grandkids at this age).

After the cardiologist left my room, I kind of set in a stupor for awhile, but then realized that I was definitely in the right place. My wife and our friends were wrapping up the moving for the day and when my wife came to visit that evening I had to tell her the news. Yes, I had a minor heart attack, but the doctors all felt I would be fine.

I told myself that this hospital bed was way more comfortable than the cold marble slab at the mortician's office... and that's how I got myself get though the first few hours of realizing my life would be forever changed.

I had a heart attack at 44.