A Trying Month
It feels good to be blogging again, although I confess that taking this July off was not only beneficial spiritually, but also necessary emotionally. It turned out to be one of the most trying months of my life.
We began the month with celebration. Corina and I found out we were expecting again, and we began anticipating the day our family of four would become a family of five.
We were also hopeful that Corina’s brother, Cristian, would be able to visit us in early August for a couple of weeks. As our family grows larger, it becomes more and more difficult for us to afford trips to Romania to visit family. To have Cristian stay with us a couple of weeks would be a blessing, as well as a bandaid for the homesickness that is always a part of life when your marriage is international. (I probably ought to do an entire blog post about this constant sense of heart-dividedness. It was more acute for me, of course, when my wife and I were living in Romania during the first years of our marriage. It is even harder now for her, since our trips overseas have become less frequent.)
Unfortunately, the U.S. embassy in Romania rejected Cristian’s request for a visitor’s visa. We were heartbroken, but not totally surprised. This was the first trial that came our way in July. Shortly afterwards, Corina got bitten by a spider and another bug. Her lip swelled up from the bug bite and became quite painful. The doctor prescribed some medicine that began to alleviate the symptoms.
The next day, our three-year-old daughter Julia was suddenly struck with severe swelling in her kneecap. Within minutes, she was unable to walk or bend her leg at all.
Corina took Julia to the pediatrician who, afraid it might be a serious condition known as septic joint, told us to hurry to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville. We packed an overnight bag, made sure our 7-year-old son, Timothy, was taken care of, and then we hurried to the hospital. By this time, Julia’s entire leg was swollen (even down to the ankle), and a red splotch had developed on her lower leg.
We were frightened. In a matter of seconds, my mind was racing through possible scenarios: What if there’s a serious infection? What if the doctors have to amputate her leg to save her life? What would it be like to push my daughter down the aisle in a wheel-chair at her wedding one day? When a time of crisis comes your way, your mind races in a hundred different directions at once.
Within hours, the doctors had ruled out the septic joint, but they were unable to stop the swelling. They had us stay in the hospital all night and they instructed us not to feed Julia until they were sure she wouldn’t have to have surgery. The medical symptoms were strange. The blood work was coming back good. The doctors weren’t sure what was wrong.
During our second day, we were frightened in a different way than on the first day. At first, we were concerned that it was something serious. Then, we were concerned because no one could figure out what it was. The lack of knowledge was disconcerting.
Around lunchtime on the second day, 24 hours after the initial swelling occurred, Julia had recovered enough to start walking again. She had also developed some red spots on both her legs. By this time, the doctors were pretty sure that our daughter had a strange, viral infection called HSP, which stands for Henoch-Schönlein purpura. It manifests itself with a rash and with joint swelling.
During our second night in the hospital, Julia’s right hand swelled up. In an odd sort of way, we were relieved to see another joint swelling. We knew that there was nothing wrong with her swollen leg, and we also knew that this confirmed the HSP diagnosis.
On the third day, the doctors sent us home with instructions. Because HSP can attack the kidneys, Julia will need to have a urine test done every week for six months. They also told us to be prepared for more sudden swelling. Sure enough, on the fourth day, Julia’s left ankle suddenly swelled to the point she was unable to walk for a few hours. This time, we knew how to handle it at home.
As soon as Julia began recovering, my wife began showing the first signs that we were having a miscarriage. For 24 hours, we hoped that this wasn’t the case. But when we finally got an ultrasound, it was clear. No heartbeat. The baby’s development was a few days behind where it should have been at this stage.
We were heartbroken. All that evening, we grieved the loss. The next day, we went back to the doctor for another ultrasound. The uterus was empty. So were our hearts. The days in the hospital with Julia had exhausted us physically, and now the miscarriage had exhausted us emotionally.
The other night, when I was putting our son to bed, he expressed his frustration at all the recent events. He said, “I just want everything to go back to normal!” I told him that it was natural to want to feel secure and in control, but the truth is, we are not in control. And during these difficult days, we have the opportunity to experience in our hearts something we already know in our heads: We are utterly dependent on God.
During these trying days, my wife and I have been encouraged by a song by Bebo Norman, “God Of My Everything.” (See video here.) I already liked the song before this month, but the words are more meaningful to me after this time of trial.
Through it all, the Lord has been good to us. When I put the word out on Twitter about Julia, dozens of people responded and assured us of their prayers. It was so encouraging to sense the support of people who love us. We needed those prayers, and still do.