The Night that Changed Everything

I had just gotten home from taking Ellie to her last American Heritage Girls’ meeting of the year. To celebrate, I picked up some hot chocolate before we dropped off a friend and made our way home. Ellie said her throat was a little sore, so I gave her some Benadryl hoping it was just allergies and that a good night’s rest would do the trick. Who would have know that this was God’s way of protecting her from the events that would occur later that evening. After Ellie had gone to bed, I laid on the couch exhausted from a long day and feeling nice and cozy after having just finished my hot chocolate. 

Shelby wanted us to do yoga before we went to bed because the day had been stressful with the two little ones bickering. I told him I would just watch because the hot chocolate had done me in. So I watched him from the comfort of the couch do downward dog and all the warrior poses, but the combination of the soothing music and hot chocolate made me call it a night and head to bed early. I had only been asleep for maybe an hour or two when I heard a distant “thud”. Not knowing what it was, I went back to sleep not thinking anything of it. A while later, another “thud”, but this one sounded closer. It’s hard to say just how much time had passed between the two thuds because it was the middle of the night and I was dead asleep.

I got up, walked down the hallway and noticed the kitchen light was on. It seemed strange since it was about half past midnight when I awoke. And then a sight that still shakes me to my core. Laying on the floor, right outside the kitchen, was Shelby. He was as white as a sheet, sweating, shaking and with fists clenched above his head. I thought perhaps he had had a seizure. I began screaming, “Shelby, Shelby”. 

I looked around trying to gather my bearings. I was barely awake, and didn’t notice that our weary-eyed three-year-old had come out of her room and sat next to her daddy as he lay on the floor. At this point he had regained consciousness and was taking deep breaths to help slow his heart rate. As I scanned the room, I noticed a bright red pool of what I thought was frozen strawberries on the kitchen floor.

“He must have been making a fruit smoothie,” I thought. But who in their right mind makes a smoothie at midnight. I also noticed the same bright red liquid on his leg. “He must have dropped the bag on his leg and spilled it all over himself and the floor.” My thoughts were disjointed and didn’t make any sense. None of what was happening made sense. And then a sane, yet scary thought crept into my mind and out my mouth,

“Shelby, are you bleeding?”

A nod and a breathy, “Yes”

Then the panic set in. “He cut himself chopping up strawberries for his smoothies,” I thought. I began racing around the kitchen and bathroom looking for something I could create a tourniquet with. I finally found some towels in the bathroom. But wait, I don’t know how to make a tourniquet and I didn’t even know where he was bleeding.

“Where are you bleeding?” I frantically asked as I tried to locate where the cut was.

“My butt”

“What?!” I said with probably the most puzzled look on my face.

“I need to call 911”

I ran back into our bedroom and grabbed my phone. It’s times like these that I wish I never had a passcode on my phone. I was losing precious seconds just trying to unlock the only thing that stood between me and getting help. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure you can make emergency calls on a locked phone, but when the adrenaline is pumping and you’re not thinking clearly, your brain just goes into autopilot and starts entering in any combination of numbers.

I’d seen shows on TV of recorded 911 calls, so I thought “I got this”. But I remember the dispatcher repeatedly telling me to just calm down and breath, so I must not have had it as under control as I thought. I remember telling her, “there’s blood and I don’t know what to do.” She asked if I needed an ambulance and then put me on hold for a brief second. The next voice on the line asked me the same questions I had just previously answered, so I was a little annoyed that I had to repeat myself all over again. Didn’t these people know I had dying man lying in my hallway?

And my children. I needed to find someone who could watch them. I wanted to put 911 on hold while I called my parents who had just arrived several days earlier to spend the holidays with us (more evidence of God being in the details of this whole ordeal). I needed them to come over and watch the kids so I could go with Shelby. I needed to be with him.

The dispatcher wouldn’t let me hang up and I grew more agitated until I heard Shelby whisper from the floor, “call your parents on my phone”.

Great idea! But by the time I got to Shelby’s phone the ambulance had already arrived. They came in, and because he fell, took him out on a gurney and also put on a neck brace. They would take him to the hospital while I waited for my family to arrive and watch the kids so I could be with him.

My sister-in-law ended up driving me in what seemed like the longest ride to the hospital. It felt like an eternity, but once I finally got to the ER they sent me back to Shelby’s room.

Doctors and nurses were coming in and out of his room. Each one asking all the same questions, “Was he in pain, had he complained of bleeding before?” To each a definite “No.” All of this was such a mystery. There was no history of him bleeding or being in pain. I had even asked one of the nurses if maybe he had a high tolerance for pain. She said it was highly doubtful.

The ER doctor had ordered two units of blood because when Shelby arrived he had already lost half of his blood. Later the surgeon would tell us that he could have bled to death had I not found him when I did.

While in the ER, they ordered several tests to determine the location of the bled, but both the CT scan and Nuc Med exam came back negative. They also stuck an NG tube down Shelby’s nose to see if there was any blood in his stomach. One of nurses that performed the procedure said that they normally do it on unconscious patients and it was going to be very uncomfortable. But in true Shelby fashion, he took it like a champ and only complained that it felt irritating.

Initially, there was no blood from the NG tube, but after coming back from the Nuc Med test, blood started to appear which meant he was still bleeding and he would have to be admitted into the ICU until they could determine the location of his bleeding.Before going to the ICU, he was scheduled for an endoscopy. As I sat in the waiting room while he had the procedure done, I kept seeing images of him laying on the floor. Thinking to myself, what if I had only woken up the first time I heard a noise, maybe he wouldn’t have bled as much? And then a much more frightening thought, what if I hadn’t woken up at all?

In the middle of my thoughts, the GI doctor came out to tell me Shelby’s procedure was done. The good news was they didn’t find anything. The bad news was they didn’t find anything. They would have to schedule a colonoscopy to see if they could find anything. She was gracious and kind and showed me to where Shelby was.

Apparently the drugs they gave Shelby to put him under were pretty good, because he was chatting it up with the nurses asking them if they wanted to run a marathon with him even though he hates running. It was comical, but my heart was heavy not knowing what was the cause of his bleeding. A million fears flooded my mind. What if they couldn’t find where he was bleeding, what if it wasn’t curable, what if it was cancer or something life-threatening. And then a single, quiet thought entered my mind, “God is our refuge and strength an ever present help in trouble.” 

That was it. Those simple words, like a salve on my anxious heart. Breathe in. Breathe out. It will be okay. God will see us through this.

We finally arrived on the ICU floor the next morning. I knew this place. I’d been here many times before. It was where my grandfather would spend the last two months of his life before eventually going to be with the Lord over twenty years prior. My mom had also suffered nearly the same fate in the ICU, but God was gracious and spared her life. We passed by each room, most of the patients were unconscious with tubes running in and out of their mouths, noses and arms. ICU had become a place that was as close to death that you could possibly get, but it had also become a place that gave back life.

Since they had given Shelby a blood transfusion in the ER, his levels were back to normal and he was feeling great. The color had returned back to his face and for now things had stabilized. The hospitalist even said Shelby could have been one of the 85% of people who have issues like this that resolve on its own.

This didn’t bring me any comfort because there was no way I was going to let them send Shelby home until they figured out what was wrong. I didn’t want to find him on the floor again because they had missed something and just chalked it up to him being one of the 85% of cases that just resolve on its own.They had scheduled his colonoscopy for 9 am the next morning and so Shelby was placed on a liquid only diet. Later that afternoon he would have to drink 4 liters of GoLYTELY, which cleaned out his system so they could get a good look at his colon to see if that’s where the bleeding was. When I left the ICU to go home, Shelby’s levels were all normal so I had a little peace of mind knowing that he was okay and he was in good hands should anything go wrong.

The next day I planned on heading back to the hospital before his 9 am colonoscopy and as soon as I got in the car, Shelby sent a text saying they were going to take him in early. I rushed to the hospital hoping I would get to see him before they took him in. I arrived at the ICU only to find his room empty, but his nurse took me down to the GI floor where he had just taken Shelby. He hadn’t gone in yet and said that after I had left the night before, he started bleeding again and his hemoglobin levels had dropped.

My heart sank, but I was also grateful that he was being taken care of by medical professionals who could provide him with the best care. They wheeled him back for the colonoscopy and I headed for the waiting room again.

More waiting. And yet earlier that morning, as I drove down to the hospital, my prayer had changed. Instead of asking God to take away my afflictions, I asked Him to help me accept my challenges with grace and humility and to give me steadfastness.

Soon the GI doctor came out with the same good news/ bad news as the day before. They didn’t find anything in his colon, but when she looked into his lower intestine she could see some bleeding. She wanted to do another CT scan, but unfortunately the only way they could detect something was with an active bleed. She sent us back to the ICU to wait.

On the one hand the doctors didn’t want him to bleed because of the amount of blood loss he had earlier and yet they needed him to bleed in order to perform the scan. It’s moments like these that you realize your life is completely in the Lord’s hands.

So we waited and waited and waited. Aside from the fact that Shelby was pretty bloated from all the liquids he had been given, it was a pretty uneventful day. I left the hospital that night thankful that he wasn’t bleeding, but we were no closer to finding out what was wrong than when we first got there. It’s so frustrating when you know that something is not right, but you can’t figure out what’s wrong. The thought that they could send him home without discovering what was wrong terrified me. What if this mystery disease struck again but next time he was at work or driving or I wouldn’t find him in time. It was unnerving to say the least.

The next morning as I parked the car in the hospital parking garage, that same small whisper said, “this sickness will not end in death.” It was as if God was preparing my heart for what was to come. When I got to Shelby’s room, he told me that his blood levels had dropped again and so they had given him another unit of blood and meds to help his blood clot. Shortly after I arrived, the GI team comprised of four doctors and nurses came in and said that since he hadn’t had an active bleed for them to do a CT scan, they were going to a CT enterography which he’d have to drink contrast to enable them to get a good look at his lower intestine.

When the results came in, the GI doctor called and talked to me on the hospital phone. Shelby’s scan showed a pea sized spot on his small intestine where they suspected the bleeding was coming from. Because of the amount of bleeding he had, they wanted to remove the spot and the surrounding area. Since they were unable to get to the spot with a scope, the GI doctor had contacted a surgeon who was on his way over to talk to us. She didn’t want us to be alarmed when he arrived and wanted to give us a heads up as to why he would be there.

The surgeon arrived and showed us the tiny spot that showed up on the scan. It wasn’t until he zoomed in that I could see what he was talking about. He was pretty amazed because the area they discovered the spot in is usually a grey area that they typically can’t detect issues, but the fact that Shelby had bled made things very black and white as to determining the exact location where they suspected the bleeding was occurring. Also, the fact that they found it while it was still relatively small was a very good sign. The surgeon said he just came up from seeing a patient downstairs who they discovered had a massive tumor that was inoperable. There was nothing they could do. She was going to die.

It was important that they perform the laparoscopic surgery as soon as possible since they didn’t know if or when Shelby would have another bleed again. He currently wasn’t bleeding and so they wanted to do it before there were any complications that would prevent them from performing the surgery.

I was so grateful that they determined where Shelby was bleeding and they had a possible solution to take care of it. It also amazed me that the things that seemed so horrific were the very things that would save his life. Had it not been for the fact that he bled, they might have never been able to discover the source of his bleeding. In order for them to administer the proper treatment Shelby needed that awful night needed to occur. Another nurse also said that it was a good thing that I heard him fall, because had he just stayed in bed, I might not have woken up and he could have just bled to death.

So much of the time we view the tragedies in our lives as these horrific occurrences that we wish would have never happened. But God, in His sovereignty, knew these things needed to occur in order to save our very lives. How many times do I wish I hadn’t gone through heartache and sorrow, but maybe God was actually allowing these things to happen in my life for my good. Those were the very things that saved me. That was His way of rescuing me from something far worse.

I arrived at the hospital early the following morning. Our former neighbor and school chaplain showed up and waited with me the entire time Shelby was in surgery. The attending nurse in the OR said that at a minimum the surgery would take an hour and a half. They would post updates on the board in the waiting room that showed when his surgery began and when it finished.

At 8:13 am, the first post read that they had begun surgery. The cell phone reception in the waiting room was horrible, so I went up the elevator into the lobby to update our family and friends on how things were going. When I got back to the waiting room, it didn’t take long before there was another update. It read, “8:49 am, closing up patient, should be finished soon.”

In my naivety, I figured that meant things must have gone well. There were no complications and everything went well. It wasn’t until later that I was told that quick surgeries could also be a sign that the situation was so bad that there’s nothing the doctor can do. Thank God for my ignorance.

The surgeon came out and said that things had gone better than expected. Because of the scan, he was able to go to the exact location where he discovered a Meckel’s diverticulum, a rare congenital defect in 2% of the population. They were doing a biopsy, but the Meckel’s most likely contained stomach tissue that was secreting acid straight into Shelby’s small intestine which is what was causing the bleeding. They were able to remove it and were pretty confident that it was what had caused the bleeding. 

Later that day, Shelby moved from the ICU into a normal room and his blood levels kept going in the right direction; up rather than down. He was soon walking and eating solid foods, but they didn’t want to release him until he went to the bathroom. He was so anxious to come home. Basically running laps around the surgical floor hoping to get things moving. Nothing.

The kids wanted to see their daddy for some time and I thought maybe if I brought them over for a visit it would brighten his day. We stopped by CVS first to see if we could find something that would cheer him up. What luck when we found little “poop” emoji stuffed animals. 

We walked in his room ready to give him our surprise only to get an even better surprise.

“The doctor released me. I can come home,” is what we were greeted with when we walked through the door. Oh the joy! We were all so thrilled to have daddy come home with us that afternoon. It was the week before Christmas and the best gift we could have ever received. Having Shelby come home in time for Christmas was better than any present I could have ever asked for. 

From our nightmare before Christmas to an early Christmas miracle, our hearts were filled with so much joy and gratitude. There were so many wonderful people who loved on our family in countless ways.  It was truly amazing to see such generosity and kindness on display. It definitely restored our hope in the goodness of people. And our hope in Christ could not have been made stronger. I truly believe our God is in the fine details of things. In his providence He provided for us in so any ways that I’ve lost track. That week I experienced God in a very real and powerful way. He was comforter, refuge, strength, provider, sustainer, and healer. I saw promises I had only read about in the Bible become realities. I’m so thankful to serve a God who is good. Even when things seem so awfully bad, He is so undeniably good. Even in our darkest moments He is there, constant, steadfast and true. My heart couldn’t be more full. Right now, everyone is home and that is enough for me.

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