I just wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas, filled with fun, joy, laughter and good company.
I recognize many of us celebrate this time of year in different ways and in different holidays. I completely and whole heartedly respect however you celebrate and worship during this time of year. My family and I celebrate Christmas. Christmas is such a wonderful time of year. It is a time to remember our dear Savior’s birth and the beautiful life he led here on this earth.
I thought, since it is Christmas Eve today, now might be an appropriate time to share with you the experience my family went through earlier this year as we experienced one of the hardest trials of our young lives. I have teetered back and forth whether it would ever be an appropriate thing to share with you on this blog, just because I don’t like to mix that much personal life into my blog life. Many of you emailed and reached out to me when I first announced my husband was diagnosed with this syndrome and several of you have emailed long since after the fact to get an update on how he is doing, and I cannot express to you enough how much you sweet people mean to our family. I find it appropriate to share our experience with you today because it has everything to do with our loving Savior and the mighty miracles that are still performed upon this earth today.
In mid March, our family went through one of the most difficult trials of our young lives. Derek was diagnosed with Guillain Barre Syndrome
, or GBS as I will refer to it from henceforth. For those of you, who like me 9 months ago, never heard of GBS, it is a rare syndrome that causes your immune system to attack your nervous system making it difficult to move and function independently and in some cases causing complete paralysis. It starts in the feet and works its way up and eventually works its way back down. In more severe cases, the numbness and tingling can spread through the entire body effecting the individual’s breathing and heart rate. My husband was one of those cases. I would like to share with you a few of the miracles we experienced and some of the eternal truths the Lord taught our family during the hardest month and a half of our life.
Derek’s form of GBS was very fast progressing. The weekend before he was admitted, he had collapsed on three separate occasions and finally had reached a point where he could not walk without assistance. He was admitted to our local hospital after he had lost feeling in both his feet, had a constant tingling burn up his calves and had lost all reflexes in his legs. Treatment was started to slow the symptoms down as there is no cure for GBS. The doctors kept reassuring us that Derek would be fine and very few patients ever have severe complications. However, early the next morning, the doctors informed me that during the night, upon an effort to stand up, Derek’s heart had crashed and his breathing had gone haywire. The doctor’s said things had become serious enough that Derek should be life-flighted over to a hospital more suited to handle the more severe cases. As the situation had now taken such a serious turn, my shoulders began to feel heavier and heavier by the minute. Was Derek going to be okay? What were the next few months going to look like? How were we going to pay for all of this? Who was going to watch my children? How long would Derek be out of work? What about my sweet baby boy Jace?…He was still nursing but I was not going to leave Derek’s side. How long were we going to be away from home?
Derek, reading my face of fear, asked the nurse if we could have 10 minutes alone. After she left he said, “I want to say a prayer for you.” In one of the darkest hours of my sweet husband’s life, while he lay weak and sick, barely able to move, Derek was worried about me, his wife. Because Derek was too weak to sit up, I went and knelt down on the cold hospital floor while Derek limply hung his hands over the side of his hospital bed and prayed for me. He asked that I be blessed with strength, faith, and courage to get through this trial. This blessing was a great source of comfort to me over the next few weeks and as I went home and to pack for an indefinite amount of time.
Soon after Derek was admitted to the Neuro Intensive Care Unit at the new hospital, the doctors once again began the treatment that helps slow the GBS down. Unfortunately, things were not getting any better at the new hospital. Derek continued to lose feeling in his legs and now began to have severe pain in his abdomen. The doctors suggested the pain was because he was constipated and his bowels were shutting down due to the GBS; but before long, his kidneys began shutting down, too, and Derek became white as a ghost. Derek was soon labeled, “The Mystery Man,” as these were not typical symptoms of GBS.
It was very hard on all of us to see Derek in so much pain. One of the neurologists that came and spoke to me said that he expected Derek would be put on a breathing machine within 24 hours because of how fast things were progressing. He also thought a best-case scenario for Derek going back to work would be at least six months. He said he was confident Derek had dipped into the 5% of serious GBS cases. I looked at my mom who was visiting at the time with tears in my eyes. After the doctor left, I started to cry in my mom’s arms. As she held me she told me “Right now you just have to get through today, and then we will take tomorrow when it comes. You need to be asking your Heavenly Father for your daily bread, what you need to get you through each day, not worrying about the bread you will need tomorrow.” This became one of my many mottos of this whole experience. “Grant me my daily bread.” I think it is easy to get caught up in the big picture and become overwhelmed, but sometimes, we need to take life day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. This was something I had to learn in a very real way as my husband’s body was failing him fast. Sometimes, I caught myself praying every 5 minutes. “Lord, please give me the strength I need to make it 5 more minutes.” It was though these prayers I developed a very real and powerful relationship with my Heavenly Father and also came to know my Savior and the true power of His atoning sacrifice.
Saturday was the hardest day on Derek physically. Just when we thought he could not get any paler, he did. When they tested his blood, they said it was very, very thin. They really didn’t have an explanation for this so they said it must be from the medication. (Mystery Man strikes again…) They ordered a blood transfusion and gave him one liter of blood. His kidneys continued to fail, and his pain had not subsided. Since Friday morning, he had be MOANING in severe abdominal pain. It is so hard to be the one on the other side of this trial. To sit there knowing the only thing I could do was hold his hand, and even then, he had lost so much strength he couldn’t even hold it back. At one point he yelled in pain louder than I could take. I pulled up his robe to see if I could see anything for myself. Derek is 6’2″ and 150 lbs, needless to say, he is a VERY skinny person. Well, when I looked down at his abdomen, it looked as if he was 6 months pregnant. This is saying something. For some reason the medical staff did not seem very alarmed at this. I guess when you are not use to looking at someone as thin as Derek; the protruding stomach was not as obvious to them. But I kept insisting this was not my husband’s stomach and tried desperately to get someone to do something.
He wretched and threw up all day. Finally, one doctor began to take the situation seriously and ordered a CT-scan of his abdomen, (just to ‘make sure’ nothing else was not going on). Again this was not a typical symptom of GBS, so they continued calling Derek, “The mystery man” as nothing about Derek’s case was presenting normally.
The next hurdle for Derek was getting the barium sulfate down without throwing it up. Derek, desperate for the doctors to find a solution to his pain, prayed in faith before he attempted to drink the barium. He prayed the Lord would help him keep it down and his stomach would be able to tolerate the barium so he could have the CT-scan in hopes that someone could figure out how to help him. Miraculously, he was able to drink the barium and get the CT-scan. For someone who had been vomiting every few minutes, it was easy to recognize this as one of many miracles.
The afternoon wore on and I found myself alone with Derek waiting for the results of the scan. Several hours had now passed and it began to feel like an eternity as I sat next to my husbands bedside waiting to hear word. After listening to Derek moan for an extended period of time, I could take it no longer; I went and confronted the nurse about the scan. After being persistent with her she finally agreed to look at them. Moments later she entered our room and told us the doctor would be in to speak with us shortly. By the tone of her voice and the look on her face I knew they had found something wrong. She later told me in tears, that I was truly inspired to urge her to get those scans as the care Derek needed couldn’t have waited any longer. Again, another miracle.
Within a few short minutes, the neurologist came in and said, “The scan shows a slight tear in Derek’s spleen, and it seems to be leaking a little blood into his abdomen. We are going to do emergency surgery and take the spleen out.” The Neurologist gave me a look that let me know it was much worse than what he was explaining.
It was at this very point, I felt as though someone were bearing me up and supporting me with strength beyond my own. No sooner than the neurologist left, the surgeon rushed in with his team and bluntly stated, “Derek, your spleen has ripped in two, and it is pooling blood in your abdomen. We have to get it out right away, it cannot wait any longer.” The surgeon pulled me outside and told me that with the current state Derek’s GBS was in, where his breathing and heart rate were already in a negative state, that things could get dicey in the OR and that Derek would most likely come out on a breathing machine.
It was at that point I was completely overcome with a feeling of incredible peace. I KNEW everything was going to be okay and that despite all the chaos around me, Heavenly Father blessed me with peace. I turned to Derek who was only coherent enough to catch that he was going in for emergency surgery. Seeing the panic in his eyes I immediately turned to comfort him saying, “Everything is going to be alright. This surgery will take away your pain. You probably will come back on a breathing machine, but it will help you feel better. I love you. Really, I know everything is going to be fine. I will see you soon.”
All I can say is, that was not the Nikki I know. My mom describes the phone call I gave her right after Derek was wheeled away for surgery that I had a tone as calm as someone ordering “take-out,” as opposed to someone who just learned she may or may not ever see her husband again. I felt extremely calm and completely in control of myself. I know that I was being blessed by the faith and prayers of family and friends.
The surgeon came back an hour later and told me everything went well; but that Derek was on a ventilator, and his recovery would be set back even more because of this. He also said that he had taken six and a half liters of blood out of his abdomen. He said that Derek probably only had, at the most, seven liters of blood in his entire body. In other words, he didn’t have long before he would have bled to death. The doctors said that to have a spleen rupture in half the way Derek’s had without any direct and blunt trauma is extremely rare and very confusing. He said there had only been one other documented case of a GBS patient whose spleen had ruptured, and they really didn’t understand why. They continued by saying, “Derek really is our mystery man.”
One thing the surgeon mentioned to me was that in all the years he had worked in the O.R., he had NEVER seen someone get into an O.R. room as fast as Derek had! From the time they read the CT- scan to the time Derek was put under, was ten minutes. Even the surgeon said it was nothing short of a miracle. Apparently, there was actually a guy being prepped for surgery in the room Derek needed. When they discovered Derek’s spleen had ruptured, they wheeled the man out of the room and rushed Derek into the room. The Lord’s hand was so obvious in this; no one could ever doubt Derek still had unfinished work here on earth.
The next day brought new challenges and miracles. It was Sunday and Derek still had not slept—three days and counting. It was decided that Derek had reached a point that they felt comfortable that he could breathe on his own. While the events of the day were most unpleasant, Derek getting off the ventilator this fast was nothing short of yet another miracle.
The Nuero Intensive Care Unit is not an easy place to sleep. Between being poked ever hour to two hours, stats checked multiple times every hour, constant beeping from all the many machines you are hooked up to and staring out the same glass window wall for days on end can be difficult and frustrating to say the least for a patient. Getting off the ventilator was no small ordeal! Unfortunately, no one prepped Derek, and the trauma of the situation triggered some erratic behavior. Lack of sleep and trauma are a very bad combination! It caused something inside my husband to snap. To Derek it seemed as though he were actually living in his nightmares. When things were the scariest for Derek, he asked his brother to pray with him. And even though Derek’s new symptoms did not improve right away, I am sure this prayer helped the speed in which the frightening situation eventually dissipated. The psychosis raged havoc on Derek’s mind throughout most of the day. He insisted he did not want to see anyone, especially me, because he knew he was not himself and did not want to frighten me. He told me to go home until he was better. I was devastated and drove back to my parent’s house.
This was by far the darkest day of all for both Derek and me! My husband had physically not been himself for a few weeks at this point, but now he was mentally not himself. This seemed to be more than I could bear. The doctors still did not have many answers about anything. They continued to call Derek, “The mystery man.” Today, this was one phrase I was SICK and TIRED of hearing!!! I wanted answers and I wanted to hear everything was going to be better and soon!!! But nobody would tell me that. I was ready to scream at the next doctor who dared call Derek ‘The Mystery Man’ one more time!
When I finally arrived at my parent’s house, I was an emotional mess. I think the stress and worry of the last few weeks finally caught up with me, and I had the cry of my life! I went upstairs and my mom followed close behind. Nothing could console me. No words, no hugs, nothing. All I wanted was to have my husband wrap his arms around me and hold me. I wanted to have him next to me, and I wanted him healthy again. I wanted to feel the support of his arms, because my arms were beginning to feel weak from having to bear all the stress and burdens of this trial. I wanted to hear him say one of his witty lines and make me smile. And right then, no one could give me these things.
My mom asked if we could kneel together in prayer. As we were about to pray, she was inspired and turned to me and said, “Even though Derek may be a mystery to the doctors; he was not a mystery to the Lord. There are no mysteries to God. The Lord knew exactly what was wrong with Derek, and He had made sure Derek received the proper treatment when he needed it the most. The Lord had saved Derek’s life and had prompted key people to do what needed to be done when it was most critical.” Even the nurse with whom I got stern about the CT- scan came back later in tears to me and thanked me for pushing her to look at the CT-scan again. She said she knew I was inspired to tell her to check it exactly when she did. My mom reassured me the Lord was still in control and would continue to micro manage the important details.
This calmed me down right away. In fact, the tears subsided and I began to feel the peace again. I just needed to be reminded that Derek was not a mystery to the Lord. After our prayer together, we had a great conversation about faith and prayer, and about ‘our will versus the Lord’s’. We talked about how appropriate it is to plead for miracles, but that all petitions should conclude with “Thy will be done.”
Our objective is usually to enjoy a life of comfort and ease. After all, nobody enjoys trials, right? The Lord’s objective, however, is Moses 1:39 “This is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” That is it. It is not complicated. For Him, that is the culmination of the entire plan of salvation; eternal life, His life. Because He loves us so much, He is willing do whatever is necessary to make us into who we are meant to be.
This is why life is often so hard. It is meant to be. A loving Heavenly Father does not allow us to stay in our comfort zone too long as there is no growth for us there. He knows that in order for us to become like Him, we need to stretch and grow and have experiences that will polish us and refine us. Sometimes He even has to apply intense heat and put us in the furnace so that we will learn to trust Him and turn to Him, -no matter what the circumstances. This is how He grows our faith, and this is how we come to know Him (on our knees), and most importantly; this is how we become like him; one experience at a time.
I will tell you, I had probably the most real and meaningful prayer after that by myself. I pleaded to my Heavenly Father for a miracle, to bring my husband back to me in every form. To use my faith and prayers along with our friends, family and our entire ward’s fasting, faith and prayers to perform a miracle to restore Derek back to his original healthy form. But this time when I prayed it was different. My heart had been softened and humbled and I was truly willing to accept whatever the outcome maybe. Even if Derek wasn’t made whole again like I wanted him so desperately to be, I would be okay with it. I ended the prayer with thy will be done. When I arose from the prayer I felt peace once again. Not because I knew my husband would be made whole, but because whatever the outcome was, was how Heavenly Father intended it to be and that His hand was involved. And I was 100% okay with that.
About 2 hours later, I received a call from my sweet husband, and it was really him. He told me he knew he wasn’t himself earlier but that he was back. He told me he loved me and everything was going to be okay. It was that phone call on Derek began to turn around and for the better. I don’t believe it was coincidence that on the same day so many were fasting and praying on his behalf that mighty miracles happened. I don’t believe it was coincidence that on the same day all these fasting and prayers went up on his behalf, Derek hit the bump and started his turning point in the direction of recovery. It is the reason why my husband was discharged 2 weeks later with nothing but a couple of tingling feet. Every doctor we have spoken with has said they don’t understand how Derek’s GBS healed itself so quickly, how he could walk as soon after as he did. The rehab doctors didn’t even know what to do with him because he was already in such great shape considering what he was going through.
I am a witness that mighty miracles still happen today, it is not just something we read about in the scriptures or something that happened “Once Upon a Time..”. Heavenly Father doesn’t give us anything we cannot handle. Jesus is the Christ, and not only did he die for our sins, but He died for the inequalities, the pain, and the suffering. Regardless if the doctors want to call Derek a mystery or not, I know that there are no mysteries to God. He has a hand in everything and through this experience I have learned to both rely on and trust Him. I know that it is through trials we become closer to be who we are destined to become. Trials are there to polish and refine us- and if we rely upon Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and asking for our daily bread, we will come out the other end better people for it. I have learned Heavenly Father can only do so much until we open the door to Him. He wants to help us, He is just anxiously waiting for us to soften our hearts and let Him in. Even in the darkest hours of our life, our loving Lord is still the Light. We can always find him if we seek him out. Miracles do happen, it is the reason my husband stands, walks and lives today.
I hope you all have a Merry Christmas. I am so grateful for our Savior and for his atoning sacrifice. His life was and IS beautiful. Everything the Savior has ever and will ever do is for ALL OF US. May we all find a way to serve one another this holiday season and remember and think about our dear Savior, his birth and his life.
I should be back posting sometime this week, but am going to take a couple days off to enjoy the company of my sweet family and friends. I love you all and am so grateful for you support, kindness, sweet emails and comments. Each and every one of them mean the world to me. However you celebrate and whatever you believe, from my home to yours, Merry Christmas!