My friend Adam Richardson and I were students together at DTS. After Seminary, Adam served as a missionary in Russia for eleven years, and he is now pursuing a PhD at the University of Leicester, doing his work at Tyndale House, Cambridge. At the time the events he relates below took place, he was in Seattle for a brief furlough and a few routine medical appointments.
God has given our family the priceless gift of perspective. I want to share that 52-hour experience with you.
It was Tuesday morning Dec 16, 2008, and I was doing what most of you were doing – year end work and meetings wondering when and how I would shop, when I got the call.
“Adam this is Dr. Shreuder (Jon’s pediatrician. Jon was 3.) Jon’s lab results came back; you need to take Jon immediately to Children’s hospital for a blood transfusion. He has acute anemia. They are waiting for him on the sixth floor; his room is ready. Take several days’ worth of toys and books.” My mind flooded with questions – could I give the blood for him? Is the transfusion safe? What then? Why would we be there several days? As I am thinking of all this, the doctor continued: “Normal blood contains many fluids, and red blood cells should be about 35-40% of that. They carry oxygen to the body. Jon’s RBC count is not 35-40% but 9%. Meaning, he has about 25% of the oxygen carrying power he needs. His body has compensated with his heart working in overdrive, but this could lead to heart failure.” That’s when the world stopped rotating.
Heather and I hastily packed and headed to Children’s Seattle; they were waiting. They explained that he would soon begin a 16-hour transfusion of four pediatric units of RBC’s only. This should bring him out of the danger zone. For the first time we asked what could be causing this – why his bone marrow had stopped producing RBC’s. She spoke in general terms, but we caught the gist. There seemed no good news answers. He had only complained that his “tummy hurt” so we took him in for some blood tests. And now, hours later, we were about to get a transfusion to treat the symptom caused by inactive bone marrow. Wow.
Meanwhile, my dad who is a physician was communicating with me over the phone; he got the lab report, ran it by his people and gave us the first shaft of light – a viral condition called TEC that that temporarily suppresses the marrow and resolves on its own like most viruses. It affects 1 in about 200,000 children; maybe Jon would be the one. In light of alternatives, we were actually now HOPING for this illness.
They moved us to another room and started the transfusion. There would be no time for me to donate since they have to test, treat and specially package donated blood. Praise God someone had seen fit to give their blood so my son could receive it in his hour of need.
To experience the full force of our shock at Jon’s comment (I will relate in a minute), I want to set the scene – It’s now Tuesday evening and Jon has been in a hospital bed for over 4 hours (12 to go this round), wires everywhere, and arm splinted with an IV. We have no assurance when or how this will end. That’s when Jon blurts out, “This is the best party ever!” After all, Grammy sent balloons, he’s eating candy canes, watching the movie “Cars” for the third time, he got to pee in a jug (perk for a boy), his bed has a good stash of toys, ride bikes in the hospital halls (a childrens’ hospital), and to top it all off – Santa’s elves came to visit him to take his list straight to the Pole.
Bottom line is this – everything turned out as a best case scenario. As for the transfusion, the first round got his RBC count from 9 to 21. They kept us an extra day and gave Jon another four units of RBC’s and got his count up to 31. Close enough to discharge. As for the diagnosis – TEC was it. Basically, it’s the freak happenstance of some virus that he picked up (and has already gone) that just happened to have the exact combination to Jon’s physiology and opened the vault, suppressing his bone marrow for a period of 2-8 weeks. It is not contagious; millions of other children could get the same virus with no effect. The body should recover “on its own” (amazing design isn’t it?) in a matter of weeks with no long term anything. Our follow up visits confirmed his recovery.
What did we gain from this?
* SIMPLICITY – Walking out of the hospital on December 18th I still didn’t know what would be under tree (seriously), but I knew we’d all be there together. Our extended family of faith reached out as well with prayers and notes and calls. If your biological family is small as you celebrate this Christmas, know that your spiritual family is huge – and we are glad to be a part of it.
* SACRIFICE – For about six weeks until he recovered, some stranger-saint’s red blood cells were running through my son’s body to bring him oxygen and nutrients. I was at the blood bank on Monday morning rolling up my sleeves. Please join me in this.
* FAITH – Jon was 3 and didn’t even really know what happened. He knew he needed “good blood to make him strong again.” But he was shielded from the myriad of discussions, decisions and processes behind his recovery. All he knows is that he went to the hospital for several days, he didn’t like pokes, he did like candy canes, and now he’s better. I wonder what God shields us from? Jon could not understand why he had to experience some pain there; we the caregivers knew, and put him through it for the greater good. I wondered what God cannot explain to me since I am not able to comprehend it. At times Jon trusted me; at times I had to pin him down. It made me sad to think that sometimes people reject God because they cannot understand everything about God or life or pain. Realizing that God’s love for us is infinitely greater than mine for Jon’s, I’m more willing to believe – even when I don’t understand.
* PEACE – I believe in a sovereign God. I don’t know whether that means He “caused” or “allowed” this to happen – I won’t die on that mountain because it doesn’t matter. What I do know is this – that the valley does not surprise or alarm God. In fact, it’s a part of His plan. And not for us to go there alone – God was with us there. When I got that call and was agonizing over potential long-term scenarios, God was with us. He knew what was happening, was not surprised, and knew the path for us to take would be to trust Him, wherever that path led. His complete sovereignty gives me peace, not because I expect life to turn out well, but because I know He’s got the whole world, with all its joys and sorrows, in His hands.
As for Jon, as we were leaving the hospital, he wasn’t walking, he was hopping. Days later he went sledding and didn’t complain once of his “tummy hurting.” He has fully recovered. Thanks be to God, who is with us, has provided for us through blood donors, medical professionals, and the family of faith. And one day, when Jon is down about something, I’ll tell him this story. He’ll be blown away.