Here is a lesson I taught on Psalm 22 in women’s bible study a few years ago. It deals with death and hope. Psalm 22 podcast version
I hope you are enjoying the Christmas season and pondering the significance of the baby born in Bethlehem so many years ago. Last Sunday I taught an adult Sunday School lesson on my favorite Christmas passage in Matthew. You may listen to it if you click here. It might not be exactly what you would expect. Merry Christmas!
Will weighed 1565 grams, which is 3 pounds 7 ounces for those not on the metric system. He was 16 and a half inches long and had a full head of dark hair. His first APGAR score was a 7, I think, and we were encouraged upon hearing this. We had been told he could take one breath and his lungs would explode, but he was breathing. He was living.
Just after we heard his score and he was passed through the NICU window for a full examination, there was a splat on the floor. “What was that?” I asked Dr. Al-Malt. “Oh, just a little hemorrhage,” he said as he started putting pressure on my abdomen to stop the bleeding. As everything began to get dim, I remember thinking, “I bet he wishes now he’d had time to change into some scrubs.”
The first thing I remember after the hemorrhage is being in a different room, maybe it was another birthing suite, I’m not sure. Adam and my mom were there, and maybe some other people too. A man in a white coat came in and began to talk to Adam and me. He said a lot of things, but the only thing I remember is the phrase, “If he succumbs…. If he succumbs….If he succumbs….” It was like an unwelcome chorus underscoring the frightening picture he was painting for what would happen if Will were to die. He told us they were doing everything they could for Will, but he might not make it. He was on full levels on a ventilator, not breathing at all on his own. It was shocking news. We were so confident that he was ok, but in the moments after Will was passed through the window into the NICU, he had, to use a technical term, tanked. I asked a direct question of him, something like, “Are you saying he might not live?” He confirmed this and then I told him, “I don’t expect you to work a miracle, I just expect you to treat him as best you can.”
To this he replied, “No, I can’t work miracles, but I know the one who does.”
I said, “So do I.”
He asked about our church and then said, “Can I pray with you?” He led everyone in the room in prayer for Will and for us. I have no idea what he said, but I knew God was absolutely present with us in the midst of the most frightful night of my life.
As it turns out, this neonatologist was a part time student at RTS, where I had just graduated from seminary. We had been in school together. I’m not sure how many neonatologists are part time seminary students, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a very large number. It felt like one of those moments where God winked at us, as if to say, “I told you I was everywhere.”
Previously on Will’s story…
Pregnancy, trouble, hospital, food, hospital food, water breaking…
They hooked me up to pitocin at about 9pm Sunday night and we waited. (Pitocin is what they give to induce labor.) I don’t think I really slept because I kept trying to have contractions. I’d never had a baby, so I kept asking, “was that one?” The nurse would smile and say, “mmm, maybe a little one.” They were too nice. The next morning, the Today show came on. I remember the Today show because I watched it every morning as a child. There was a point in my life when my dream was to become Jane Pauley, former co-host. So as this day dawned, I felt like the famous Today show intro should go something like this:
“Good morning. It’s been three months since trouble was discovered in the womb of Lindy Davidson. After 17 amnio infusions, 7 weeks in the hospital, and more calories consumed than the mind can comprehend, the moment of truth has arrived. Labor has ensued, today, June 3, 2002.”
As the sun rose, I was still making an effort to contract. Nothing was happening. At 9am, the IV bag ran out of pitocin and they hung a new one. Apparently, this one had something new in it, and that morning, I learned what a contraction really feels like. I also realized that pitocin gets its name because it is the pit-o-sin. OUCH!!!
That morning, Linda, a friend from church and the birthing coordinator for the hospital showed up to save my tail. From her I got a crash course in child birth. It was marvelous, I recommend this method of Lamaze to everyone because you don’t have time to forget it, and you can instantly apply all you learn.
I was offered some options for pain since I was finally experiencing real contractions. I know some of my readers land in the camp of “all natural, no drugs for birth,” and perhaps that is a better choice for a normal pregnancy, but as soon as you go down the road of pitocin, you go down the road of pain management. And who could begin to track all the experimental medical roads I’d already taken on this journey? They gave me two options: I could get an epidural or I could have some IV meds to dull the pain. I chose door number two because I didn’t think I was at the epidural stage yet. The nurse hooked me up and suddenly, I realized I’d made a big mistake. As soon as the first drop hit my veins my eyes got big. I looked at the nurse and said, “That’s a sedative isn’t it?” It certainly was. Maybe this isn’t a problem for most people, but when I’m given a sedative, I become a total idiot. From the report of others, I laughed hysterically for about 15 minutes without stopping. Adam laughed with (or rather at) me the entire time. My tongue got really thick and the next few hours are just a blur.
Eventually, the contractions were too much for even the idiot juice to handle, so I called for the epidural. The anesthesiologist came in and set me up. It was working great on my left side, not so great on my right. They told me to roll to my right side, it would “drift over.” Yeah right. I was feeling major pain on my right side and nothing on my left. I was very clear about this problem, but no one seemed to want to fix it. A nurse came in and asked me how I was doing. I replied, “I would be great if I were going to have this baby out of my left knee!!!” I think everyone thought this was funny except for me. Later they promised me a “boost.” A guy came in the room I did not recognize and I asked, “Are you the boost man?” He just looked at me. He was an EMT student there to observe the birth. There was no boost. I was going to have a baby, and I was going to feel it.
Dr. Al-Malt had been checking on my progress periodically throughout the day. I was at 5cm (half-way) in the late afternoon, so he knew he had plenty of time. He left the hospital. Just after 5:00 they checked me and said, “Oh my, you’re at 10 cm, time to push!” This not only surprised me, but also Dr. Al-Malt who had to rush back to the hospital. They wheeled me to the operating room for delivery because it had a window into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the NICU. I refused to push until Dr. Al-Malt got there. We had been through so much together over the past two and a half months, there was no way Will was going to come out into anyone else’s hands. So I waited, but I didn’t wait quietly. “WHERE. IS. DOCTOR. AL-MALT!?! Tell him to HURRY UP!!!” Over and over I screamed this until about a thousand hours later, he finally arrived.
As soon as he got there, I started pushing. It still took me 30 minutes of pushing before Will made his way into the world, but at 6:42 pm on June 3, James William Davidson was officially born. Dr. Al-Malt laid him on my chest as he cut the cord. I could only see Will’s back. I took my right hand and stroked him one time and said, “He’s beautiful.” Then they whisked him away from me. Our 31 weeks of absolute unity were over. Will was in the real world now.
I did not fall off the face of the earth. I did not suffer some sort of finger ailment which keeps me from typing. I did not forget that I have a blog. In fact, on the list of things that plague me with guilt, the ignored blog actually rates. It’s kind of a low-level but constantly throbbing guilt. ”So why,” you two subscribers may be asking, “have you left the blog unattended for so long?” One word, “school.” Not just one school, mind you, but four schools. Our whole family is wrapped up in school. I teach 9 hours of public speaking a semester at one college. Adam is in school full time at a different college (and working full time too, of course.) Will and Aaron are in elementary school, and Levi is in Pre-K for exactly the amount of time I am teaching each week. So when summer rolls around and the stack of stuff on my desk no longer represents 70+ students who are wondering what they got on their latest speech, I will pick back up on the story of Will. If I’m still alive, that is
For “go time,” I was rather still. Dr. Al-Malt was returning that day, Saturday, June 1st, from his conference. He had ordered me to receive another round of steroids to give the baby’s lungs an extra boost although I had already had one round at 24 weeks. Two shots had to be given 24 hours apart, and since my water had already broken, I was laid flat in bed and forbidden to move. The baby and I were also put on the monitor 24 hours a day. I was not contracting, so everyone was fine with me just lying there until the steroids could do their work. It was at this point that I began to realize how not fun a hospital can be. My diabetic diet, which I hated, had been down-graded to a liquid diabetic diet. I don’t think there’s a word for the feeling I had about that, but I think the term “beef broth” pretty much sums it up. I got to experience the bed pan for the first time, and I got a sponge bath as well. Enter: humiliation.
It was during this time that I realized I was going to be birthing a baby, very soon. I had not had the opportunity to take birthing classes, seeing how I was already in the hospital at 24 weeks. A few weeks earlier, I had watched a video on C-Sections. After that video I asked if there was a third option. That did not look like fun. Will had been breach my entire pregnancy until Wednesday night of the prior week. The little sweetheart had turned around and put his head in the right spot. I nearly came off the table when I saw on the sonogram that his head was down. He must have seen that C-section video too.
I had been doing all kinds of tricks to try to get him to put his head down. One involved me in the strangest position. I was face down, but on my knees. My arms were flat beside me and basically, I was a big pregnant woman with her butt stuck up in the air. The only place I had to do this was my hospital bed, so if someone walked in the room while I was holding this position (5 min. at a time), it made for an awkward situation. This, or another one of our tricks using a flash light or music, must have worked. I was going to have a vaginal delivery, which everyone seemed to think was best for the baby and which seemed to be better than what I saw on that C-section video.
The actual birthing process was still a mystery to me. I knew I was going to need some help. As soon as my water broke, my mom left Kentucky to be with me. She made it in plenty of time. Adam had not left the hospital since the moment he teleported himself there after hearing my water had broken. He decided to go home on Sunday afternoon at about 5 pm to get a shower and some sleep. At 8:30 or so that night, the nurse came in and said, “Ok, we’re gonna have a baby tonight.” Seven months earlier, when I found out I was pregnant, this was not at all how I pictured delivery. I called Adam and told him to get back to the hospital. Of course, he did. So that night, they wheeled me over to labor and delivery where I was allowed two glorious things, an opportunity to get out of bed and go to the bathroom, and a shower. After two days of lying around doing nothing, we were finally getting somewhere. It felt like the moment of truth.
The last week of May, Dr. Al-Malt went to a conference. He did not have a partner in his practice, so another perinatologist covered for him while he was gone. On Tuesday of that week, Dr. Rickets assisted Dr. Bayuth in an amnio infusion of 1200 ccs, and then on Thursday I needed another so they infused 1600 ccs, that’s more than a liter and a half of fluid. My first infusion had been 48 ccs, and the amount had gradually increased with the size of the baby. I was needing infusions more and more frequently, so they were infusing more and more fluid to try to stretch them out as long as possible. It hurt to have that much fluid infused. Of course, it’s no picnic having a needle stuck in your belly, but there aren’t that many nerve endings in the belly, so it’s not as bad as you might imagine. However, you do have a lot of muscles in your belly. And when fluid is infused to the tune of 1600 ccs, the belly stretches like a balloon being blown up, and when the belly stretches, the needle begins to pull against the muscles, and that, my friends, is painful. Of course, I began to contract, so they would stick me in the shoulder and shoot me up with terbutaline.
I didn’t do much the rest of that day, but the next I was feeling better and entertaining visitors again. My visitors on Friday, May 31 were Hill & Susan and James & Stacy. They were friends from church and seminary who, like us, were just beginning to have kids. I remember feeling fairly good during their visit. They brought KFC, which was approved by the dietician. (Insert eye roll.) That night was like every other. I was hooked up to the monitor for an hour, Adam read to Will and we prayed, and then I went to sleep.
My journal entry for May 31 said this:
“The past three days have been pretty rough… I am so full and very tired from all of these procedures. I think the baby will most likely be born next week around Wednesday or so. We’ve seen his chest rising and falling on the sonogram, which is a good sign of lung development. We’ve also seen him stick out his tongue and lap at the fluid. He’s just like a little puppy! Yesterday he kicked at the needle and was very excited over the fluid coming in all around him. I love him so much already, and he’s a likable little guy too. I hope and pray that he’s ready to be born when we’re ready. I’m exhausted and feel like I’m about finished because my body can’t sustain these every-other-day infusions, especially at nearly 2 liters a time. I will be happy to see Dr. Al-Malt when he returns. “Lord, sustain us for as long as we need to wait. Protect us from infection and problems. You deserve all our praise. Thank you for taking us to this point. I love you, Lord, and I promise to raise my child to love you also.”
After this I wrote:
I Peter 4:13 “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
And then this prayer:
“Lord, I see that in some ways I am participating in your sufferings. It is because I worship you and love you that I am willing to go through this for my child. Although others suggested I not continue this pregnancy, I couldn’t even consider it because of you and what I know of you. Lord, show yourself strong and powerful in all of this. Help us to keep pressing on toward you and your glory. Help others to see you and the light that you are in this world. Heal Will, Lord, and help me to be the mom I need to be.”
The next morning I was up early, about 5:45. Apparently, someone had poured water in my bed. I went to the bathroom and for the first time, rang the emergency call button by the toilet. The nurse came on the intercom and I said, “I think my water broke.” She was there in about 2 seconds. The amnio infusions were over. I had reached 31 weeks, and it was go time.
I had problems with the hospital food. I had many problems. Since I had been a long-term resident, the dietician told me I could write in requests on the menu as long as they met my strict diet guidelines. She told me what foods they always had in the kitchen so I could request them at any time. I started doing this, but apparently, the people in the kitchen were unable to understand my requests. One day I asked for a green leaf salad. I got a big styrofoam box of spinach leaves. One day I asked for a baked potato. I got three raw new potatoes. This kind of thing was very upsetting to me. I’m sure I was nowhere near mentally stable at this point, but I was railing against the unseen cafeteria food preparers. I plotted ways to get back at them. I considered going down there and stuffing raw potatoes in their mouths. Fortunately for them, I was under close supervision. And fortunately for me, I had kind nurses who worked hard to make sure I had something decent to eat at every meal.
The nurses were the great comfort of my hospitalization. Doctors are great, but they never hang around for very long. Nurses are the people who make or break a medical crisis. They are the mamas who cared for me when my mom couldn’t be around. I got to know most of the nurses on the high risk unit. We watched tv shows together, talked about their children, laughed about different things, spoke disparagingly about the cafeteria staff, we just hung out. One nurse in triage told me that she liked working triage because she didn’t have time to get attached to her patients. I came through triage every time I had an infusion, so we saw one another constantly. She told me when I left she would miss seeing me and that we’d have to go hang out by the pool or something. Sadly, we haven’t kept in touch. I think of her every time I look at the back of my left hand. I have a scar from an IV she gave me there, just one of many marks left from my hospital “residency.”
Scars are things that some people, especially women, try to cover. By the time I left the hospital, I looked like I’d been in a fight with a porcupine, and I had definitely lost. I still have scars from many of my IVs. I have scars on my belly from the troker, and I have the ultimate badge of honor for any mom, stretch marks. I thought I was going to be in the clear on the stretch marks. My belly didn’t have a single one. I felt this was only fair since I had so many other battle scars. What I did not realize was that stretch marks are not limited to one’s belly. Let’s just say those nasty things literally sneaked up behind me. Oh the joys of pregnancy.
The stretch marks only added more marks of the battle. My belly had been a pin cushion for two months, so I had pin-pricks all over it. Every time I had an infusion, I would get a shot of Terbutaline in my shoulder, which often left a bruise. Oh, and did I mention I have an Rh negative factor, so I got Rhogam shots in the rear after each infusion as well. The diabetic diagnosis meant I had my blood sugar checked 4 to 6 times a day, each time meant a prick in the finger. One would think I would stay as far away from needles as possible, but the hobby I spent the most time on in my last few weeks of hospitalization…quilting. I guess you could say I was a glutton for punishment.
Eight years later, I still have many of these marks, and I would never dream of trying to cover them or have them surgically “fixed.” It would be like trying to erase the past, and although this was a difficult time, erasing it would be like erasing a part of me, or worse, erasing Will. Scars only exist on the living. If a wound kills, it doesn’t leave a scar. A scar is a sign of healing. People who are scarred have been changed by something difficult and are living life on the other side. When the resurrected Jesus presents himself to His disciples, he shows them the nail marks in His hands. If Jesus stands on the other side of death with scars, there must be great beauty in bearing a mark for the sake of another.
One problem with being in the hospital for a long time is that I lost track of the days. Every day was exactly like the day before. The only things that changed were the tv schedule and the menu. The hospital where I gave birth to Will had a menu that repeated itself every week, so if I was having succotash, it was Friday night. Needless to say, I didn’t like Friday night, but then again, I had an endless parade of food offerings to supplement the undesirable hospital fare. I was always marking days in my pregnancy and checking my charts to see how big Will should be and what developmental milestone he should have reached inside of me. I remember a poster on the wall in my room that had footprints of babies at different ages of gestation. It said something like, “Every day counts.” In my pregnancy, I was marking the days, but as far as the rest of the world around me was concerned, it was as if time stood still.
After I’d spent a few weeks in the hospital in a private room, the nurse came in and told me I’d been upgraded to the private suite. Apparently, they gave the private suite to the person who had been on the floor the longest. Lucky me. It was nice because I had my own private shower and a refrigerator to expand my 7-Eleven stockpile. The room was slightly larger also.
I was in the big room when I reached 28 weeks. This is a magical number in every pregnancy because it is when they give the glucose challenge test to check for gestational diabetes. I failed the first test so they gave me another one. I had to drink this horrible sweet drink and then have my blood tested a little later to see if my body had processed all that sugar. Hospital lab schedules being what they are, they gave me the nasty drink at six o-clock in the morning. I drank it, rolled over and went back to sleep. I now believe that this was a big mistake. I failed the second test, just barely, but failure is failure so I was declared DIABETIC!!! (You should hear scary, horror-movie organ music right now.)
No more sugar for me. No more Krispy Kremes, no more Snickers, no more Tootsie Rolls, no more Little Debbie cakes, no more fun. About two hours after the declaration of horror, a friend of mine showed up with a massive cinnamon roll and a bowl of fruit. I had to fight back the tears. She felt really bad, but her other food offerings had always been met with great enthusiasm, so how could she have anticipated this?
The only thing worse than hospital food is diabetic hospital food. (Airplane food rivals hospital food, but airplanes go to fun places, so it doesn’t count.) Dr. Al-Malt cut me to 2000 calories a day. I tried to explain that this would shock my body and there was no way I could survive without my Krispy Kremes, but he was unshakable. Adam came in with a big bag and removed all the sweet treats from the premises. It was the meanest thing he ever did. I think I saw horns coming out of his head while he was stealing away with a nearly full package of Snickers.