Unexpected Words: Our Family’s Story~Chapter 18

After the excitement of Easter, we focused again on getting Annie well…and she was making great progress! The occupational therapist did a swallow

Un-thickened apple juice!

 study to gauge her ability to eat without choking, and it was determined she was ready to try some “regular” food and drink un-thickened liquids. She was also able to take some medications orally instead of through IV’s. To mark each step toward wellness, we instituted “Celebrating Subtraction:” every IV that was removed, every medication that was reduced, any treatment that was “subtracted” was cause for a party!

Soon, Dr. Cohen and his team  determined that Annie could be moved from the post-surgery floor to rehab. We were delighted, knowing that this was a leap towards our goal of going home! We packed up our belongings (no small task at this point, given the flowers, balloons, cards, and toys we had received from loving folks!) and moved to the 7th floor. We settled in before lunch, and then Annie went to a therapy session while I decorated her new room with pictures and the cards we had received.

As I did this, I was struck by the sheer volume of letters, gifts and cards, as well as acts of service …given lovingly by complete strangers! We had been attending a church for several weeks prior to Annie’s illness. The men’s prayer group, led by Pastor Don Grauer, met each Thursday morning to write letters to those in need, and pray for them. Annie became their “darling,” and she received a note from these gentlemen every week for well over a year.

Returning from a PT session

One day, a package arrived in the mail from a lady I had met only once from our town in Maryland. She led an aerobics class at her church, and had heard about Annie’s illness through Lori Cole. Inside the envelope was this letter:

Dear Annie,
We heard that you weren’t feeling too great and had to go to the hospital. Many of us women at Body and Spirit Aerobics have been praying for you to be all better. God loves you and He has a special plan for only you. Did you know that God even knows how many hairs grow on your head? That’s how precious you are to Him.

We love you, too. Some people sent you some gifts to play with while you get all better. The blue piece of paper inside this card is for your parents–because we wish we were close enough to physically help, but since we’re not, this is what we want to offer. Please accept this loving gift from the Aerobics women and use it to pay your phone bill, or gas for the car, or coffee at the hospital.

Please keep in touch through Lori. You all are in our prayers.

With Christ’s love,

                                                                      Lucinda Nelson

We were humbled by this generous gift. I knew that many of the women in that group were stay-at-home moms, just like me…keeping close track of their budgets and clipping coupons. Still, they had, without hesitating, shared with us to make our life more comfortable and easier at this time.

One evening after work, Tom came in to spend some time with us. After snuggling with Annie a bit and helping her with her dinner, he said, “You’re not going to believe what I saw when I got home last night! Our lawn looks amazing…somebody cut it for us!” It took us quite a bit of sleuthing to figure out who had done this…a neighbor we hardly knew had seen that the April showers had encouraged a jungle to grow around our house. Knowing our situation, he cut it for us. This was a huge relief, especially for Tom, who had been trying to determine when he would find two hours to accomplish this task.

“Oh, and I almost forgot,” Tom continued. Check THIS out…” He handed me an envelope with Annie’s name on it. “I found this in the mailbox, he said.”   


We learned later that the mailman had become concerned by the deluge of mail for Annie he had been delivering, and had asked one of our neighbors about it. Upon learning that she was sick, he lovingly created this homemade, colorful card for her. 

Later that week, Tom’s mother Barbara brought Bill for a visit. He had some new story books with him, and I asked where she had gotten them. “Oh, I didn’t buy those,” she said, “Mr. and Mrs. Wassum brought them over.”
“Who?” I asked.
“They live nearby, and they got wind of what was going on and figured that Bill might like something special to do, so they brought him some new books!”

We reflected on all of these wonderful gifts, and contacted each of these “strangers” to give our thanks. Invariably, we heard, “Oh, that was nothing!” or “It was the least we could do.” As the recipients of these gestures, it was nearly impossible to describe their magnitude to the humble givers. Books, cards, and freshly cut grass added up to more than care and convenience…these strangers were the hands and feet of Christ, joining this journey in very tangible ways. So, while we were “Celebrating Subtraction,” God was using these new friends to multiply our blessings and remind us of The Constant: His unbelievable love.

As my darling husband would say…”Don’t you just love math?”

Coming in Chapter 19: Rehab for Annie: building strength and skills… Rehab for us: getting reacquainted as a couple

Unexpected Words: Our Family’s Story~Chapter 17

Annie was able to open both of her eyes by late Saturday afternoon. This was excellent timing, for she had a lot of people to see! Relatives and friends flooded her room that weekend…our dear friend John traveled all the way from Washington, DC to spend some time with us. He, like Juanita and the Liles, had known us for a long time and was able to elicit laughter with references from our high school days.

Preparing Easter dinner...Mom, Betsy, Katy

My sister, her husband, Ed, and their sons, Matthew and Joey drove down from Michigan to spend the weekend. As promised, Betsy brought Annie a darling red hat, along with a special T-shirt that she and her boys had painted. The shirt had a wide neck, so it was easy to get on Annie’s swollen, sore head without touching the stitches; I was so thankful for her attention to detail, and Annie was thrilled with her colorful new shirt! I knew that Matthew, then 8 years old, was a bit nervous about seeing Annie; to prepare him, I borrowed a Polaroid camera from the art therapist and snapped a picture of “post-surgery Annie” and taped it to her door. Matthew was able to study the picture a bit, and then he and I walked down to the atrium to buy a treat. When we returned, he hesitated at Annie’s door for a moment, and then pressed on. Her delighted smile put him at ease and they hugged. Later, he told me, “You know, Aunt Katie, I was a little nervous, but now I can see it’s just the same Annie I always knew. Just without the hair!”

Easter dinner was a feast, prepared by my mother, in the atrium. My parents, along with Katy and David, Betsy and Ed, and all four grandchildren were there, plus a couple of  my brother’s college friends. My sister had brought Bill with her. As soon as he saw me, he ran toward me and leaped into my

Matthew, Dad, Bill

arms, laughing, hugging and snuggling. Tom brought Annie down from her room in a wagon, wearing her new hat and special “cousin” shirt. We pushed several tables together and joined hands to pray before dinner. As I bowed my head, I saw Dr. Cohen out of the corner of my eye. I grinned at him, and his eyes twinkled as he stood quietly and respectfully while we prayed. After the prayer, he joined us,

chatting with us while he examined Annie casually with his gentle hands.

We stayed in the atrium for a long time, visiting and laughing and telling stories. My brother-in-law, Ed, took charge of Annie. Clearly feeling more energetic, she had decided that she would try walking, which was really more like stumble-wobbling. Ed followed closely behind her, supporting her and balancing her. (and preventing her from falling!)  And she smiled, her lopsided grin exuding the greatest joy. Joey, not quite 4 years old, stuck right by Annie, his innate kindness overflowing as he gently held her hand and walked at her pace. The kids threw pennies in the fountain, and were delighted when a lady approached them and gave them each a quarter to toss in, “For some really BIG wishes,” she said. The food, lovingly prepared by my mom, tasted delicious, and we savored each bite. My brother and his buddies told story after story, sparing no detail of their antics in college. We roared with laughter until our sides hurt.

Mom, Matthew, Annie, Betsy

It was a wonderful day…the kind of old-fashioned-feeling day, without television or technology…just talking and laughing, sharing a meal and being together. 

One of the speech pathologists had talked with us early on about recovery factors in pediatric stroke. She told us that research had shown that a critical

Annie and Joey

 factor, and a primary indicator of long-term recovery,  is family support. As I looked around at the familiar, beautiful faces in the atrium, I knew that we had it. In abundance.

Coming up in Chapter 18: Surprises from strangers; our move to rehab

Unexpected Words: Our Family’s Story~Chapter 16

We felt tethered to the  phone in the PICU waiting room that day.  Our parents came and spent the day with us. They periodically cajoled us into taking a walk or going to the atrium for coffee.  Our forays into other areas of the hospital were brief; we didn’t want to miss a call from the surgical team!  The clock moved at an excruciatingly sluggish pace. Finally, the first call came, and the nurse told  us that all was going according to plan;  the doctors were working with Annie’s fragile blood vessels under their microscope. Two hours later, the phone rang again, and the nurse reassured us that Annie was stable and tolerating the anesthesia well.
Katy and David brought Bill to play for a while. His two year-old busy energy was a welcome distraction as we played with toys and read stories.  He entertained ( amazed!) us by performing a rendition of a Winnie the Pooh story he had memorized, acting out each part with great expression, providing a long-winded  narrative of the plot.  His intense expressions of surprise and delight  mesmerized us, and provided unanticipated comic relief on this ponderous day.
Two more hours passed, and we learned that the doctors had determined that Annie could continue;  the team was working on other side of her head. As the day wore on, my nerves began to fray. It was taking too long! What if she can’t recover? Is she going to have another stroke during the surgery? What if this doesn’t work? The worries flooded my mind as panic took up residence in my gut. Tom’s mother, Barbara, regarded me and said, in her ever-practical way, “Well, I just think this is going to be fine. The doctors know so much now, and they can solve this.” Comforted, I took a deep breath and sat between my mom and Barbara.

The sunlight faded, and the PICU waiting room took on its evening tone. People seemed to walk and talk more quietly in the evening, and many visitors went home. There was a hollowness to it, and I longed for more information about my daughter. I glanced at the clock, calculating; it had been more than 10 hours.  

Dr. Cohen appeared in the hallway, his long legs striding confidently toward us. We all stood expectantly. “She did great,” he told us. “Let’s sit.” He told us that she was in recovery and would be coming to the PICU shortly. “She tolerated the anesthesia and we were able to do both sides. And before we closed on the left side, we could already see the scalp arteries sprouting some new vessels. That’s good!” he enthused. “Now, I’ve gotta go to the bathroom!” We laughed with him and he told us we could see Annie when she was settled into the PICU.  

We waited expectantly, craning our necks to see if Annie was coming. Soon, the doors opened and we saw her tiny head, wrapped in gauze. Her bear had been placed back in her arms, and our note and verse were firmly taped to her gown. And…she was crying. Tom and I looked at each other, huge grins on our faces, “She’s CRYING!” we rejoiced, knowing that this meant she could breathe on her own. Dr. Bass appeared and followed Annie into the PICU. She emerged shortly and smiled, “VERY nice! You can go in and see your daughter now.”  

Tom and I rushed in and stood by Annie’s bed, feeling like we had cleared a seemingly insurmountable hurdle. The nurse encouraged us to get some dinner, as Annie would be asleep for quite a while. Now late in the evening, we realized we were hungry! While we sat in the atrium, we marvelled at the day’s events. Suddenly, Dr. Cohen appeared, pulled up a chair and dropped a tray of food on the table. “Hey, so what do you guys think? Pretty great day, huh? Any questions for me? Really, the surgery went great!” We couldn’t believe it. This man had been on his feet all day, working to save our daughter’s brain, and yet here he was, at 9 pm, having a hamburger with us and chatting like an old friend. Thank you, God.  

We spent a couple of very long days (and nights!) in the PICU as Annie dealt with post-operative pain. By Friday, Dr. Cohen felt she was stable enough  

A post-surgery smile!


 to be moved to the floor. Although we were again thankful for the intricate care we received, we were overjoyed to move toward wellness. Annie’s swelling was going down, and she was almost able to open both eyes. She was regaining strength, and she had even smiled! We were excited about the weekend…Easter was coming, and our family would assemble to celebrate.  


It was a very good Good Friday.