“MARK! WATCH OUT!”
My husband jerked the steering wheel but still grazed the parked motorcycle with our car. It was the second minor driving accident in two days.
Being the calm, soothing wife that I am, I asked, “What’s WRONG with you? You are driving like a mad man. Can’t you SEE????”
His negative answer surprised me. “Not really. I’m losing my peripheral vision.”
Several Taiwanese doctor visits later we received the diagnosis: Keratoconus: degeneration of the cornea.
We learned that although most keratoconus patients are able to have vision restored with rigid contacts, Mark’s eye couldn’t hold a contact. His right eye was shaped more like a football than an orb.
His cornea tissue was so thin that the inside of his eye was bulging outward, skewing his vision. Every time the optometrist placed a contact lens on Mark’s eye, his eye would spit it across the room. It is difficult to balance a convex lens on a cone shaped cornea.
“So what are our options?” we asked.
“Cornea transplant,” was the doctor’s shocking reply.
Mark’s Taiwanese doctor continued, “You don’t want to have it done here, as organ donation is rare. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and don’t want to go into the next life missing a vital organ.”
“I do perform some transplants, but I will be frank. The corneas that we receive are mostly ‘seconds’ from the states. Their quality is poor.”
Thus began a year and a half journey. We packed up our Taichung apartment, flew back to Texas and Mark was put on an organ waiting list. The sobering fact is that someone else must pass away before a transplant can be harvested.
Even after Mark’s surgery was complete, there were complications. The mother tissue didn’t bond with the foreign cornea. For 16 months, Mark endured misery as his eye attempted to reject the transplant.
It was a long sixteen months. We spent most of it hovering around a 15 watt light bulb.
Yet, as we walked together through those valley of shadows, we discovered something that the Psalmist knew thousands of years prior:
It’s in the valley that our Shepherd is nearest.
Go back with me to Psalm 23. When King David began his prose, he spoke of his Shepherd in third person.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
But when David descended into the shadows, his perspective changed. He spoke with the Lord, not just about Him.
“You are with me.”
Mark and I found this to be true not only through the transplant journey, but in each juncture where our road has narrowed and the shadows have deepened. Our conclusion?
Stop talking about prayer and begin talking to Him.
How about you? How does your conversation need to shift?
My husband, Mark, has agreed to finish up my short series regarding our daughter’s accident. Pull up a chair as he walks you through this crisis from a male perspective. You’ll be glad you did.
“After the initial shock of the accident subsided, a new wave of terror came slamming into my world. What steps do I take now to maximize Hilary’s opportunity to recover? Conflicting diagnosis and confusing reports must yield to clarity of action. And that clarity of action needed to understand all available information. It was there, in the center of the crisis, where the clarity came. It was possible to act intentionally and, as needed, aggressively, because Peace surpassed my ability to compile, collate, and understand information.
“I told God what I wanted (Phil 4:6). I want the best available treatment by the best available doctor in the quickest available time. And while I wait I want no mistakes to be made that will impede Hilary’s path to recovery.
“The first answer was to move Hilary from an understaffed and outdated rural clinic to a well-staffed and medically updated urban hospital. The crazy hi-speed drive in a crude emergency vehicle to the hospital in Taichung was a big “no mistake” concern. The scar caused by the “ambulance’s” loose tire tool cutting into Hilary’s right ankle is a permanent souvenir of her joy ride.
“The decision to shave her temples and put her head and neck in traction was tough. I wept as they prepared her for the process. But until a long term solution could be found, we had to stabilize Hilary’s damaged spine. The grinding of the screws into the side of her head was painful, and the pain was constant the entire twelve days of traction.
Lesson learned: in order to endure suffering the future must be better than the present.
“As Hilary slowly gained feeling and use of her arms and leg , the traction was replaced by a neck brace. She could sit up in bed, although she still was confined to a bed pan. We all knew that for Hilary to ever go home, she would have to be able to function beyond that. Her first attempt to stand resulted in increased pain, dizziness, and vomiting. Then, she collapsed back onto the bed. It would be awhile before she attempted that again. As I stood over her and encouraged her to try again she looked into my eyes and replied, “Dad, I don’t know that I can really ever do it.” I was aware she was afraid she might fail again. And she had to address that on her own.
Lesson learned, in order to succeed, the hope must be greater than the fear.
“Once I finally gained access to medical records, I overnighted Hilary’s records to professionals in the U.S. Quickly, a leading neurosurgeon responded quite clearly that Hilary needed to have stabilizing surgery as bone fragments were perilously close to life-altering damage in her neck. By this time, Hilary was well into her final semester of her senior year.
“I asked if we could wait until graduation and keep her in a neck brace for another two months. “Spinal integrity is more essential than high school graduation”, was the reply. He was pretty clear that a minor jolt or misstep could pierce her spine. We quickly prepared Hilary for a trip to the U.S., wondering if she would return to Taiwan.
Lesson learned: the reward must be greater than the risk.
“Hilary would return and graduate with her class. But that is another story of its own.
“How about you? Are you risking present pain for future reward? Hope is greater than fear.
Mark and his two daughters – China Medical Hospital 2004
Friends around Hilary’s traction bed: (L to R), Sarah Cox, Becky Courson (behind), Rachel Kuhn, Steph Craker, Rachel Courson Swensen, and Jamie Torgerson Willett (kneeling by bed)
Park picture courtesy of Sara Jeng Grewer.