A Trip of a Lifetime ((part 3)) — TBA
If you have been following along, I have been sharing the story of our recent trip to Washington State and the unexpected journey that followed. If you haven’t read part one & part two, take a few minutes to find out why our doctor was locating a pilot & plane to rush Shepard to the mainland.
“You need to get Shepard to the mainland.”
With the utterance of these few simple words, our vacation was over. My emotions were clustered and extreme. I felt deep concern and strangely relieved. I was fearful and peace-filled. I was isolated and numb, yet aware of being carried and sustained. My thoughts were buzzing and my soul remained focused.
Words cannot fully portray the range of emotions pounding through my heart and mind. I was taken off of one path and abruptly transplanted. There would be no recipes, no clams, no beach explorations, no hikes, no s’mores, no tide pool discoveries, no rock collections, no swimming in the frigid waters of Twin Lakes, no Orcas.
All of these things were, in one single undiscriminating swipe, replaced with an entirely different itinerary. As far as my earthly eyes could see, this new agenda was filled with pain, isolation, urgency, separation, uncertainty and the unknown. Perhaps most disturbing of all – the itinerary was TBA.
I have never really liked TBA. I remember the first time I came across the acronym. I was walking along the sidewalk, past the Microbiology building on the campus of the University of Oklahoma. It was cold and the sky was signaling the day was coming to a close. At the time, I was taking Zoology with Dr. Farmer. My Zoology lab instructor required all of her students to attend several special lectures throughout the semester.
As I walked across campus, I glanced down at the list of lecture subjects she had distributed. Every single lecture was held at the same location – “TBA”. Now being the cool freshman I was – I didn’t want to stop and ask for help in determining where TBA was located. I went straight to my dorm room and scoured my campus map – looking everywhere for the letters: “TBA”. Surprisingly, they were nowhere to be found.
I put the map aside for a few weeks, hoping it would come to me in time to make it to the first lecture. As time passed, it became obvious: TBA was MIA. I broke down and asked a fellow dorm friend. “Where is TBA – I have a lecture in that building & I have no clue where it is.” He died laughing. Hard. As soon as he explained what was so funny – I couldn’t help but laugh too. TBA = To Be Announced.
We waited for just a few minutes, I assume, but time could no longer be measured by human means. Time was now measured by the number of doors being opened and closed.
The doctor opened the door and gave me instructions. It was time for the buzz in my head to quieten. I needed to hear. The information that followed was brief “A pilot has been found. The airport is next door. He will arrive in 10 minutes. He will fly you to the mainland. I am contacting the ER. You will need a taxi to the hospital, I will arrange that for you. They will be waiting for you.”
Zach carried Shep, we left the clinic and the door closed.
I drove to the airstrip, left Shepard and Zach in the car and walked through the door of the Orcas airport. I quickly noted a white-haired woman sitting off to the side working a crossword puzzle. I walked up to the little counter and peeked through a door searching for someone who looked as though they could tell me what TBA meant.
A woman walked through the office door. “Can I help you?” she asked. ((Yes!! I need a load of help. First wake me up, tell me I am dreaming and take me back to the house nestled in the woods overlooking the most beautiful blue ocean waters. Oh, and a bag of freshly harvested clams would be great too.)) “Yes, a pilot is supposed to be landing any minute to fly us to a town – not Anacortes…I can’t remember the name.”
“Okay, you can wait in your car – I am closing the office now.” she replied – apparently uninterested in hearing any of my how’s and why’s. Just then, the white-haired woman in the corner piped up: “Why are you flying to Bellingham?”.
I unloaded every little detail that led me to this spot: Oklahoma…vacation…landed a day and a half ago…throw up…8 years old…fever…appendicitis. I fought back the tears, but they came anyway. The woman looked at me and said: “My daughter had that, everything will be okay.” And with that, a small wave of reassurance washed through me, I took a breath and one step toward figuring out TBA.
The airport manager suddenly didn’t seem to be closing the office. “Who is meeting you at the airport in Bellingham?” “The doctor we just met is trying to contact a taxi service for me”, my words sounded hollow and distracted. I was sure this wasn’t happening.
“That won’t work very well, I have a better contact. I won’t leave until I am certain someone is waiting for you. Do not worry – I will take care of this.” Her words were a promise. Another wave of relief came over me. We looked out at the airstrip to see a little turquoise and white propeller plane landing. Our plane had arrived.
She walked with me out the airport door, Zach scooped Shepy up and we walked quickly to the airplane. The pilot opened the doors to the plane, handed us life vests and helped us into his plane. Within a few blinks we were airborne. The views were magnificent, breathtakingly magnificent. So much so, that we became distracted with all the wonders our eyes were taking in. Shep looked at me and smiled, I relaxed and the words: “this is not a surprise to Him” echoed through me.
As quickly as it started was as quickly as our plane ride seemed to end. Our flight was over, the plane doors were opened, we rushed through the tiny Bellingham airport to find, waiting at the airport entrance, a taxi. “You headed to the hospital? The fast way, right?” he helped us in, shut the taxi doors and off we sped. It seemed as though this ride took longer than the plane ride, my tensions were mounting.
I felt disoriented, uncertain, and knew our medical needs were urgent. Yet through all of these emotions, I felt led and I trusted the One Who was doing the leading.
The ER doors automatically opened for us, someone to the side was choking and throwing up – I was immediately worried throw up would land on me. The ER receptionist seemed unfazed, “Is this Shepard?” she asked. ((Yes)) “We have been waiting for him, Dr. Shinstrom told us everything. We need a urine sample. You can do that now and we will take you to the ER exam room when he’s done.”
We were moved ahead of everyone. Within moments, an IV was placed and Shep was receiving heavy doses of pain medication. He slept. The ER doctor ((He introduced himself to us by his first name: Duncan)) came in – asked questions, felt Shep’s belly and ordered an ultrasound.
At this very moment, my dad was laying on a table in a heart-cath lab. I needed an update on my dad. Loved ones were frantically calling and texting – looking for information about Shepard. My phone was dying. I asked everyone for a phone charger. Every time I asked for help I was painfully reminded – I had nothing. Everything I wanted and needed was left on the island. I was not prepared to be in this place. A charger was just a small shadow of all that I knew I needed at that moment.
Just when it seemed my ability to connect with the world outside of that little ER exam room would be snatched from me, a smiling nurse appeared from behind the curtain/door — waving a borrowed charger. I was given a temporary connection with the world of people I needed near.
I immediately phoned David, I don’t remember much of the conversation except for this “I need help. Hang up the phone and call Rusty and John. Tell them I need help and prayers. I need them to send someone from a local church to me.” As I recall speaking those words, I can remember the tension and deep painful need I felt at that moment. I needed some food, I needed a phone charger and I needed unexplainable help.
I could not remember where I was – I wasn’t even sure I was still in the United States. After asking the same nurse 3 times “Where are we – what is the name of this town?” she wrote it down for me.
The sonographer walked through the door. We wheeled Shepy’s bed into a warm, dark and distinctly quiet room. The sonographer placed her wand on Shepy’s belly and began hunting. I praised God for the effective pain medication, Shepy seemed mostly unfazed by the repetitive pressing.
I stared at the screen wishing my eyes could accurately process the images that were flickering through the darkness. The technician left the room and came back with the radiologist who began scanning Shepy herself. I understood enough to know this meant the technician either saw something or nothing…which was not helpful at all.
Then in the silence, the radiologist muttered, almost accidentally it seemed, “That’s impressive”. “What — what is impressive?? is that good?!” I said in a sort of gasping exhale. “Oh, it’s just there is quite a bit of fluid and blood flow in this region of his lower abdomen…” she answered casually. “What does that mean?” I continued to quiz her – I had waited in TBA long enough – I needed to know now– would we stay or would we go.
She turned to me and answered, “As far as I can tell, his appendix is fine. I believe he may just be showing signs of a very bad intestinal virus.” And with those words, I sank. No waves of relief, no peace – no rest, I felt deep concern as I looked at my red-cheeked boy who lay motionless, stretched out on the exam table. I prayed, “God let me know what I need to know”.
We returned to our little corner of the ER and waited. Shift change meant I needed to return the borrowed charger, and with that – I began another countdown to losing touch with the world beyond our room. Our new nurse was equally sympathetic to our situation. She asked if we had eaten anything ((NO)). You better hurry, the cafeteria closes in 10 minutes. If you don’t get some food now, you will only have vending machine food until tomorrow morning.
Then Duncan returned and confirmed what the radiologist had already mentioned. “Nothing was obviously wrong, it could just be a bad stomach bug. We just can’t tell. He is so lean, without any extra fat between his organs, it is really hard to see exactly what’s going on inside his body.” He went on to tell me we could go home or he could order a CAT scan for Shep. “I am not the type of doctor that orders CAT scans for every patient, I am just not sure what to do here. We really need to see if there is a problem, and it seems it is always at times like this, the CAT scan doesn’t show what I need to see.”
After more discussion, I requested the CAT scan to be ordered. Within minutes, Shep was laying on a table and being moved through a donut-like x-ray tube. We returned to our ER room and waited again. I sat across from Zach and said, “I am just praying we know what we need to know.”
It seemed as though only seconds had passed between the return to our spot in the ER and Duncan’s return. He breezed in with a very satisfied look on his face and exclaimed, “We got it! He is not going anywhere, do you want to see the films?!” Indeed, it was clear to even my untrained eye, Shep had appendicitis. With this news, I felt a strange sense of relief and deep thankfulness. God heard my cries, I now knew what I needed to know.
At this moment something amazing happened, which will hopefully explain why I have been talking of food and phone chargers when more pressing things were occurring. Our original ER nurse, who just left work at the shift change, returned – holding a brand new cell phone charger. “I was thinking of you while driving home and looked up to see I was passing a Best Buy. I just had to stop and see if they had a charger for your phone, I hope this works – you have an iPhone, right?”. ((Praise be to God!! It was exactly right.)) No longer would I have to worry about being separated from the world.
Within minutes of receiving this gift, a woman ((named Diane)) entered our ER room with Subway sandwiches saying an elder from my church had contacted their church and she wanted to bring us some food. A few moments later ((or maybe before, the evening is a blur of need and provision)), a man who is an elder in another local church entered our little corner of the ER. “I was in a church meeting when a man from your church called me and told me what is happening. I came to pray with you.”
Even now, a little over a week since this storm has passed, my eyes fill with tears and my throat clenches as I recall this moment. God met me in the middle of the crashing waves. Just as I felt pressed hard on every side, He opened the flood gates of His goodness. He extended His care and compassion. He met my every need, specifically and completely. The alarm in my heart was quiet for the first time in days. Slowly, the details of TBA were becoming clear, or so I thought. ((to be continued))