Sam was readmitted last Friday. It was sunny so she arrived in a lace and muslin dress with shoestring straps. We waited a few hours as usual for a bed and then finally we were shown to the ward. It was a dark corner of a four bed room. The heavy grey curtains blocked out any memory of the sunshine and the bitter despair in her room mates voices ushered in the storm. The fevers rose without warning bringing with them teams of nurses calling up doctors who came to examine and poke at her veins.
It’s hard to find a vein these days. Most of them are bruised from too many needles, too much blood being drawn out and too many fluids, too many antibiotics being pumped in. I feel the ache in her arms. I see it in her eyes. She’s fearful of the next prodding, the next canula to be inserted only to slide out again from her tiny veins. They try taping it in place but that too gives her rashes because she’s allergic to the latex. One day they suggested trying a vein in her legs since all the other access points in her arms and her hands are bruised and thick.
When they finally found entry they brought bottles that look like those that hold Tabasco sauce and they filled them with her blood. They told us time and again that if they can catch the bug that is causing the fever they will be able to more accurately predict the source of infection and inject the right kind of drug to cure it. The procedure is repeated every couple of days on the onset of a fever but after a week nothing has cultivated in the laboratory.
The weather changed last weekend, the friendly kiss of summer drowned in storms bringing winds of gale forced power. The wind blew against our house so hard that the latch on the French doors in our bedroom unhooked, throwing them open. The rain, flooded down, filling the gutters to overflowing and a waterfall cascaded on our front deck. I rolled over, feeling the chill and muttered in my sleep that perhaps it was time to clean out the gutters again.
A crash of thunder and flash of lightning lit up my room awakening me, reminding me that I shouldn’t be sleeping, there is much to fear and I find myself thinking of Sam at St Vincent’s alone. Sitting up in bed I realized that the doors were open and the rain had flooded the carpet. It’s too much to deal with. There is a storm without and a storm within and I am undone, unable to imagine how to continue to be strong.
Storms come, don’t they? Jesus told us they would. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
I feel like I’m falling, like my house is tumbling, that all my strength has gone. I’m angry and afraid. I can’t take anymore. It doesn’t really matter what type of house you build or where you choose to build it the storms are going to come.
On Monday the rain continued and the wind was busy turning umbrellas inside out. Emma and I watched the people walk through the city from the refuge of my car. Somehow she thought it was amusing watching strong men wrestle with their brollys and she tried to capture them with the camera on my phone. Our journey had taken so long that she had missed her lecture completely and decided to come to hospital with me instead.
We warmed ourselves at Bunkers with sourdough toast and jam washing it down with the contentment of coffee fueling ourselves for the unknown battle within the ward.
Watching my girls embrace, I sigh. I’m so glad Emma missed her lecture, I need her today. I need to not be alone. The hours passed slowly and eventually Emma caught the bus to her tutorial. I stayed until Reid arrived late to walk me to my car in the darkness. He knows I’m afraid and the shadows of Darlinghurst haunt me like ghost tales at a teenage slumber party.
Returning on Tuesday I tried to pretend I am strong. In the late afternoon they wheel Sam to recovery for the bone marrow biopsy. I’m quietly praying that this will be the last one she ever needs to have and I’m trying to tell myself that I can do this, I can hold her hand and breathe her through the pain.
They returned her to the same bay that she was in on the day of the septic fever, September 11. I recognize the nurses but not their names. My mind takes flash backs to that formidable day. I’m trying to concentrate between pictures; trying to encourage Sam to be calm when the 2nd line for the day has tissued instead of finding a vein. She needs no encouragement. She is already brave. It’s me who feels vulnerable and stripped of courage in this room where I though I’d lost her for good.
Then the doctor comes to explain the procedure and I register that this bone marrow biopsy is going to be with general anaesthetic. This has never been done before. At RNSH it’s done with gas and at best with sedation. I’m off the hook and told I need to leave. So I ventured to the café for a pot of tea. As I pour it leaks all over the table and somehow it releases my tears as well.
“Faith leaks,” that’s what my pastor says. I hear his voice in my mind validating my tears and God comes to rub my back reminding me that I’ve been through a lot. That tears are okay. Faith does leak. It oozes out of the wounds in our heart leaving an empty trail down to our stomach, causing great pain. Fear attacks deep in our guts. It makes our belly button sting. Fear catches us off guard when we are unprepared. It finds us in the night seasons. It blows against our walls.
Fear reminds us that we are in adequate, unable to fight, unable to endure. Fear isolates us. It tells us there is no one who can possibly understand our journey, the intensity of it all. Fear speaks fact not truth. Truth reminds me that I’m just the house and though my walls have been rattled, though the waters seeped in, though there are places that need renovation my foundation is strong.
He reminds me that surviving this battle is more to do with Him than me. All I can do is to keep walking. All I can do is to be obedient, to keep getting up, to keep celebrating the small things. It is Him who is strong and my foundation is in Him.
In the middle of it all my friend Bridget sent me this message: God himself took charge of his people, took Jacob on as his personal concern. He found him out in the wilderness, in the dry place, in the empty, windswept wasteland. He threw his arms around him, lavished attention on him, not missing one detail. Guarding him as the apple of his eye. He is like an eagle hovering over it’s nest, protecting it’s young. Then in the right and perfect time it spreads in wings, lifts it’s young and teaches them to fly. God alone led him. God lifted him onto the hilltop, so he could feast on the crops in the field. He fed him honey from the rock and oil from granite crags, curds of cattle and the milk of sheep. He fed him with the choice cut of lambs and goat, fine bashan rams, high quality wheat and the finest wine.
God finds us if we let Him. He doesn’t leave out any detail. He leads you to discount tops on sale racks, He reminds a friend to send you a verse and someone who you hardly know but you have always admired texts you to say ‘stick to the game plan and do not budge.’ He provides someone to walk the same road in a different hospital and though far away it feels tremendously close. He even inspires someone to bring rice pudding. You don’t even need to ask sometimes, He just knows what to send you because he loves you and he knows you. He reminds you that you are not alone.
So I am learning to walk day by day with my Father. He slips His hand into mine, He knows when to be silent, He knows when to speak. The gnarly hand of fear loosens its grip on my heart.
By Thursday night after another whole day of waiting for specialists, waiting for answers, waiting for test results the registrar apologizes again that we won’t be able to see the professor for another week. They discharge Sam without answers, telling us how to manage the fevers at home, reminding us to phone the haemotology team or come to emergency if we need to. In a fragile state we make our way back to the cottage that is our home. It is still standing and so are we.