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My 2023 Hospital Holiday

On Saturday, December 23, I woke up in my Chicago hotel ready to return home after a week-long work convention. I got up early and had plenty of time to get ready because my flight wasn’t until 1:40pm that afternoon. My day got off to a great start, I had a nice long Bible and devotional time and began to start packing. At around 9am I noticed that my stomach was tight and felt a bit uncomfortable, so I started drinking more water and laid down for a bit to see if it would pass. It wasn’t going away, but at this point it was just annoying more than anything so I carried on getting packed up and ready to check out of the hotel.


By 10:30am I was all packed up and made my way to the hotel lobby and grabbed a taxi to the airport. I still felt this tightness and contracting stomach muscles that I first thought was cramping but the more it went on the more I knew something else was happening. I didn’t feel feverish, there was no nausea, it was just a gripping feeling in my gut. By the time I got to the airport around 11am, I started to feel my body wearing down from the constant strain. I decided to grab something to eat thinking perhaps my empty stomach just needed a little something and perhaps that would help. I got a little salad and some chicken tenders and orange juice. Although it did not make me feel worse, it definitely didn’t help my condition.


After I ate I went and sat down at my gate and by this time it was about an hour and a half until the plane would board and I was feeling pretty poor. I needed to make a decision whether to stay the course and board the plane trusting that my condition wasn’t going to worsen, or leave the airport and find an urgent care to find out what was going on with my insides. It really wasn’t much of a decision. The idea of being stuck in Chicago over the Holiday and even worse in the hospital was not an option, so I put my head down and just fixed my thoughts on getting home. That was pretty much my complete focus over the next five hours. On the plane I closed my eyes, had my worship music on and just kept complete focus on home. When my flight arrived at the Savannah airport, I got off the plane, got my bags, and went to my car with nothing in mind but getting home crawling into bed with the hopes that I would wake up fresh and ready for the Holiday fun.


Since I was gone for a week, I knew when I got home that I would be taking over all of the fun Christmas traditions with the kids while Leslie is fully engaged in the many masses on and around Christmas. This year was particularly special because my brother Daniel and his wife Sarah had dropped off their kids, Noah and Gwyneth, to spend three weeks here in South Carolina with us while they spent two weeks in Europe. They would then return a few days after Christmas and spend the new year and a few days beyond here with us. It was all set up for a great cousin reunion and then the brothers back in action together, so there was a lot of reasons to get back home and feeling better in order to dive into the Holiday experience. However, as I approached home, Leslie called to check when I might be arriving home. I let her know that I wasn’t feeling well but wasn’t sure what was wrong. She decided that the best thing would be to make sure the kids were all staying down the street at my parents house to avoid any spread of a virus if I was contagious (although I assured her that my symptoms didn’t match any kind of stomach bug or virus). Still, all the kids were safely set up at the grandparents house and prepared to do their Christmas Eve morning games and activities. At long last I arrived home and climbed into bed and attempted to sleep.


To say it was the longest night of my life would not be in any way an overstatement. There was not a position I could find where I could get comfortable enough to fall asleep. During the long hours of the night I could feel my insides swirling and if I tried to lay on my side it was painful, however laying on my back brought no relief either. For the next ten hours I did all I could to find rest, but by morning I was done and knew I had to go to the ER and get checked out. At 7am I got out of bed and told Leslie I was heading to the hospital. She said she would take me, but I knew she had a full day and I wanted to have a car to come home afterwards. I got in the car and drove maybe two blocks before I started to throw up. It came out of nowhere and fortunately was only a couple of times, but I couldn’t go any further so I turned around and went home. I got cleaned up and Leslie came to my rescue helping get the car cleaned up and then took me to the ER.


She dropped me off and we both knew it would be a long wait, so she went to play her morning mass and I got checked in and began to wait. After about forty-five minutes I started to throw up once again. Fortunately, this time I was equipped with a bag. After a few episodes I was done, but I soon realized that all I could see in the bag was blood. I mentioned to the staff behind the desk that I just vomited blood and they told me to stay seated and someone would come when available. That is what I did. I waited. It was probably another thirsty to forty minutes before someone finally came and got me to a room. By that time my stomach no longer hurt and all the pain moved up into my chest. Breathing became painful as I felt like someone was sitting on my chest.


Finally a nurse asked me what brought me into the ER and I told her my stomach had been hurting for 24 hours, however since I threw up blood my stomach felt fine but my entire upper body was now in extreme pain. She said they would get a doctor and begin to see what they could find. At this point, my mental state shifted from just getting through until I could get some relief and then answers, to now, I was curious how long I had before my body would completely shut down. For all I knew an organ had burst inside and it was a matter of time before my body went into complete shock or worse. My chest was squeezed so tight I wondered how much my heart could take. It hurt so bad to take even small breathes that at every exhale was an involuntary moan. After at least 45 minutes of nurses coming and going taking my vitals then leaving me alone for long stretches of time, I came to the point where I asked God if He would let me just pass out. The pain was more than I felt possible to bare any longer. I thought about how in movies people in extreme pain would pass out and that seemed like a great option at this point. Then a nurse came in and I asked her for some kind of pain medication to take the edge off. I told her I don’t think I can handle this any more. She made it clear that until they knew what was wrong they couldn’t give me anything that might inhibit their ability to diagnose the problem. After that she left, and in the midst of the quite room and my intense paid, Jesus spoke to me. He said “will you partner with me in my suffering” and then I saw His hand reach to me. From that moment everything shifted. A peace filled my entire body and I suddenly had purpose and I had His presence and I knew that was everything I needed.


Now physically nothing changed. I was still in extreme pain and every breath was excruciating. Yet inwardly I was filled with peace and felt comfort on every side. I just pushed through waiting to finally see a doctor and get closer towards a solution to this deteriorating situation. The next 24 hours I only remember a few things. I remember finally getting wheeled into the X-ray room and how extremely painful it was to get out on the hard platform and hold my breath as they took pictures. I also remember getting MRIs and having the same intense pain. After being returned to my room, the nurse came in and finally give me some medicine, which she said would make me feel better right away. When she came back a while later and asked how I feel, I told her that nothing had changed and my pain level was still at a ten. I don’t know how much time went by but eventually the doctor came and things started to happen.


Leslie tells me that as the doctor spoke to me and heard my symptoms and was able to diagnose that I had a torn esophagus and things started to happen fast. I was finally given some pain medication and for the first time since I arrived at the hospital I felt relief from my pain. The last thing I remember I was in the Operating Room and was being given anesthesia for surgery. When I came to I was being wheeled into my room in the ICU. I was later told of all that had transpired over the prior 20 plus hours.


**The first miracle was the doctor himself. It turned out that the doctor on duty when I came into the ER was the only doctor in our small town of Beaufort who was able to perform an on the spot surgery to put a stint in my esophagus to repair the tear. Had he not been there to to assess the issue it could have been hours before I would have been able to have my surgery. Additionally, we were informed that the standard procedure for an esophageal tear is for a complete cutting of the rib cage and siphoning of the toxins that had spilled into the body. The recovery time of which would have been months verses weeks.


So after the stint was put in I was airlifted to the main hospital Charleston (60 mi north) to be under careful overnight observation in case the stint did not take and the bigger operation would become necessary. The next day (Christmas Day) it was determined that the stint was working and the operation was a success. **Miracle number 2: it turned out that the hospital in Charleston did not have any rooms available in their ICU and so I was taken by ambulance back to Beaufort where I would spend the next nine days. This allowed Leslie to stay in town, do the masses she needed to do, spend time with family, and still be able to visit me in the hospital. If I were in Charleston none of that would have been possible.


The next few days were filled with constant monitoring. I was hooked up to four different IV ports, blood work drawn daily, vitals checked every three hours, and daily x-rays and a couple more MRIs. Breathing was extremely difficult as my entire chest felt like it had been completely crushed. There was the restriction of the actual stint, but the other factors was my weakened lungs as I had been incubated for a couple of days and then several days of not being able to take more than weak shallow breaths due to the pain. One of my main goals over the next few days was to get my lung strength back up. In addition to getting my lungs back to full strength there was also the issue of all the toxins from the esophageal tear that had gathered around my lungs causing pneumonia symptoms. The deeper the breath the greater chances of keeping my lungs clear and avoid further complications.


During my time in the ICU, Leslie was with me a lot of the time and then later when I moved rooms, I had wonderful visits from my mom, my brother and his wife, and my kids. They all took time away from their Holiday activities and family time to visit me regularly, which is so kind and incredibly humbling. Although sleep was hard to come by, thanks to the many meds and painkillers that were regularly in my system I was made as comfortable as possible. In the times alone the Lord spoke so many things to me and there was a continual sense of communing with Him through it all. After four intense days in the ICU I was eventually transferred to the Patient Care Unit just down the hall.  This was a good sign of progress and a more relaxed environment. The tests were less frequent leaving me with a lot more time to myself. Here I was able to have assistance to get out of bed and start to walk, which felt so good. I also was no longer in need of constant pain medication, and although I became more aware of my breathing discomfort, I was also strong enough to be able to have longer conversations with visitors as they came by to check up on me. A special "thank you" to my cousin Scott for taking time out of his family vacation to see me in the hospital. I know how much you hate hospitals and still you came to visit - and listened to my whole gory story. I appreciate you!


On the first night in my new room I had the most bizarre experience that kept me up the entire night. I started having a weird heart beat. It started off as a noticeable inconsistency where there was no rhythm or pattern just odd beats, some very strong and others quite weak. It than started to pound strong and fast like a drum for about twenty seconds. This set off my heart monitor and so I paged the nurse as it was quite intense. She came and took a listen and said she could see on the monitor that there was a change in my heart pattern, but nothing that was alarming. She said to call if it happened again. For the next twenty minutes the irregular heart patterns continued and then the intense fast pounding happened again and set off my monitor once again. I called the nurse and she checked but couldn’t find anything that seem to concern her, however, she ordered an EKG to run some tests. They came ran tests and even while they ran the tests I experienced this fast, strong heart beat, although not with the same intensity as before. After all the tests they concluded that nothing was wrong and they would just keep a close watch for any further developments. From that point on I never experienced it again, but I also was unable to sleep as it was quite a jarring experience.


The next few days were all much the same, I was now able to eat solid foods after a few days of a strict liquid diet. I slept, I read a new book that Father Andrew (my wife’s boss, the Priest at St Peter’s Church) gave me during his visit, and I began to walk more to start my strengthening process. On New Year’s Day, 12:30am to be exact, I was woken up by my nurse letting me know I was being transferred out of their department to the surgery recovery floor because they were under staffed in their department and it was clear that I no longer needed as much oversight as others in that department. At first I was concerned that I wouldn’t get the care needed, but after a day in my new room I found that I really enjoyed the independence that came with the new placement. I was cleared to walk the halls as I pleased, I no longer needed the multiple IV ports so I was down to only one (which felt so nice to have an arm completely free of any needles and tubing), I started to feel somewhat human again.


On the tenth day of my "hospital Holiday", the doctors finally gave me the update that my antibiotics would be completed later that day and I would be cleared to be released from the hospital the next day. There was still no conclusion on what caused my stomach pains that brought me to the hospital or what might have caused the tear in my esophagus. All they knew was that the stint was successful and would be scheduled to be removed at the end of the month (January 29) at which time they would do both an endoscopy and a colonoscopy in order have a full look and perhaps get more information about what happened or at least make sure there are no other issues going on that needs to be addressed.


On January 4, 2024, after ten days in the hospital, I was finally released to come home. Although the recovery has been a bit slower than I had hoped, I am so grateful to be able to be home with my family and continue the journey of healing and building back up my overall strength. God has been so faithful through all of this, and I am certain that my entire hospital experience and all of miraculous events (both known and unknown) are a direct result of the prayers and support of so many people. It would not be an exaggeration to say that these prayers saved my life and have kept me going beyond even what I am aware of. When I met recently with my doctor to check up and assess where I am in the recovery process, she was very clear in letting me know that there was a point in the ER and even once in the ICU where there was “great concern” and awareness of the potential fatal nature of what I was experiencing. All I can do is thank the Lord for allowing me to "partner" with Him in His suffering. He gave me peace and purpose in the most intense time of my entire life. I am so thankful that he, even now, continues to keep me in His care and in His presence throughout this entire journey and for the rest of my life.

I have to give so much love and deep appreciation to my amazing wife, Leslie, who not only balanced work, Holiday activities, kids schedules but also managed to stay with me for long stretches AND get word out to my work, friends and family members to pray and updated them on my status all the way through my time in the hospital (most of which I was unable to do much of any communication). She is the real hero in this story for sure! I love you so much! Additionally, so much appreciation must be given to my mom and dad, who were thrust into full time kid duty, not just with my two kids but with their two cousins as well. Any ideas they may have had of a peaceful and quite Holiday were definitely disrupted, but they did not hesitate to step in and help create a wonderful Christmas Holiday for the kids while I was unable to be with them.

I also must thank each and every one who has sent me messages of prayers, support, and love over the past month and even while I was still in the hospital. I am so blessed with an amazing family and friends from all around the world who have stood with me through this life-changing event and continue to lift my spirits daily with their love, prayers, and support. I am blessed because you are in my life, and I am forever grateful. THANK YOU!


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