Day of Darkness
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Twenty-three-year-old Megan rested on the leather couch that had become her daybed since her diagnosis of severe congestive heart failure and hospitalization in December.
Unlike other days, the strength she often felt with daylight dissipated quickly. No matter how much Megan tried, she couldn’t readjust her frail body where the seams of the cushions pressed against her thinning thighs. Her name had been on the heart transplant list since her recent hospital stay in early February, but weeks later she still waited and prayed, Oh, God, please hurry.
This wasn’t just any Thursday; it was Maundy Thursday, the day of darkness some people observe as they prepare their hearts for Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
This Thursday was the darkest day Megan had ever known. She’d awakened thinking, It will be another day like all the others: lay on the couch, listen to the juicer as mom concocts some nutritional drink, chat with the home-care nurse, take a nap, and hope for the phone call stating, “We have a heart!”
But, that’s not how it happened.
When Scott, the home-care nurse, arrived to take routine vitals and change the dressing on the IV line, he asked Megan, “How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine,” Megan replied. She was afraid any negative word would send her back to the hospital, and she didn’t want to go there again until a heart was ready.
Suddenly she vomited the nutritional drink that Mom had created that morning.
Scott knew Megan wasn’t fine.
“How could I have gotten so bad so quickly?” Megan inwardly cried.
* * * * *
A few miles away from home Megan’s dad, Wayne, felt weary. His job as an elementary school principal at
was busy enough without the added care of his beloved daughter, Megan, or Meg,
as he liked to call her. As soon as his wife, Kathie, had returned home from
grocery shopping that morning, he had left the house eager to celebrate spring
break by restoring a house he had purchased for resale. He welcomed the
solitude as he hammered in rhythm to his worship CDs. North County
Then Kathie called.
“Do we have a donor heart?” he asked hopefully.
“Scott says Megan needs to go to the hospital,” Kathie replied. “But they won’t have a room ready for a few hours so why don’t you wait until two o’clock to come home.”
* * * * *
After Kathie ended her call to
Wayne, she made a mental
list of everything she needed to do in the next three hours. First, she would
call on Facebook friends to pray.
She wrote: “11:00 a.m. The home-care nurse found Megan very weak today and is sending her back to the hospital. She needs to gain strength so that if a heart becomes available, she will be strong enough for the surgery. We are praying for strength, for healing, and a new heart. God is able!”
Despite her desire to just hold her daughter, Kathie succumbed to the need to be efficient.
* * * * *
“Mom, we need to wash my hair; I haven’t felt up to it all week,” Megan said.
Unfortunately, washing Megan’s hair was no longer an easy task. She didn’t have the strength to stand in the shower for that long, so she and Kathie had discovered doing the chore was easiest if Megan stretched out on the counter with her head in the kitchen sink.
Megan sighed, wondering if this might be the last time in a long time that she’d feel the pleasure of warm running water flowing through her hair. While Kathie gently massaged her head, Megan realized the warm water was no longer soothing; it was a vivid reminder of how helpless she had become.
And with every passing minute, more strength left her.
“How will I ever have strength to get down from here?” she wondered.
When the towel was snuggly wrapped around her head, Megan slid from the counter with her mom’s help and walked the few steps to the family room. Megan gratefully slipped onto the comfortable couch. In weeks past, she had rested until she had enough strength to comb and dry her own hair, but today her moments of rest were not restoring her strength.
Kathie realized how weak Megan was and took the hair dryer into the family room. “Megan, can you sit up so I can dry your hair?” she asked.
“Mom, I really can’t!” Megan whispered.
Kathie placed dry towels under Megan’s head and looked into her daughter’s ashen face. As she brushed and dried Megan’s fine, blonde hair, she thought about the last four months. Megan had good days and bad days, the ups and downs that kept the roller coaster ride a daily surprise.
But this morning Megan seemed stronger, Kathie thought, even as her hopes of a good Easter weekend with family were vanishing.
With the last strand of Meg’s hair pulled into a pony-tail, Kathie stood abruptly and told herself, I refuse to be discouraged. The hospital staff will help her have a better day tomorrow.
Kathie headed to the bathroom to put away the blow dryer and damp towels. Next on the list was packing Megan’s travel bag.
“Hold on to me, Megs, and I’ll help you to your room,” Kathie encouraged.
As soon as the bed was near enough, Megan gently fell into it.
I don’t care what I look like, or who sees me. I just need to get to the hospital, she realized. As Kathie chose necessities, Megan thought, I know I won’t be coming home this time… unless I get a new heart. I have never felt this weak before.
Kathie set Megan’s travel bag by the door and scurried through the house to pack things she would need. The hospital was only 35 minutes away, but she’d learned from experience to pack for the long haul. She’d need changes of clothes, cosmetics, and her neck pillow for napping between interruptions. She definitely needed her laptop and power cord; they went everywhere with her since she used her computer to do scheduling for a telecommunications company. She’d take a good book. And, she needed some very dark chocolate for herself, and a few snacks for
Wayne. She was ready…or at
least as ready as she could be for whatever lay ahead this time.
* * * * *
“I love you, Meg. We’re almost ready,” Dad said as choked back tears and tried to appear strong.
Wayne and Kathie hurried to finish preparations. Finally Kathie went to Megan’s room to get her while
Wayne loaded the car.
“Megs, it’s time to go,” Kathie said.
Megan tried to sit up and scoot her feet off her bed.
“Mom, I don’t think I can move,” she whispered.
Wayne, I need your help,” Kathie called. Wayne dashed into the room
and each one took one of Megan’s arms, gently lifting her to a standing
position. Wayne and Kathie supported their daughter as the three slowly walked
down the short hall to the family room.
“I can’t do this. I can’t walk,” Megan admitted as her legs collapsed.
Only four months ago she was the supervisor of the front office at the Ritz-Carlton, and today she can’t even walk, Kathie thought. Oh, God, help us through this dark day.
* * * * *
Wayne and Kathie had learned that two cars were necessary for their hospital visits: one for the caregiver who stayed at the hospital, and one for the parent who returned home for a few hours of sleep.
hurried ahead hoping to find a parking space in the hospital garage, secure a
wheelchair, and be waiting at the roadside drop-off when Megan arrived.
I wonder when I last carried her, he thought. Perhaps she was seven or eight. Too old to be carried, he was sure.
Meg had fallen asleep on the way home from church—or pretended to be asleep--so she could enjoy one more of those “safe-in-Daddy’s-arms” trips to bed. He hadn’t cared that she was faking; he savored the moment since his baby girl was growing so fast.
So much had changed in the family mosaic the past few years. His oldest daughter, Mandi, had been married to Kyle for almost five years, when the birth of Kinsley made him a grandpa.
Next his mind shifted to 21-year-old Jason. Hard to believe he’s married. He could still picture the beautiful outdoor wedding Jason and his wife, Dani, had months earlier—unfortunately, on about the coldest October day in
Less than six months ago I was dancing with my beautiful Meg, as close to the column heaters as we could get. He knew she had hoped to be married before her younger brother, but that night she’d seemed content to let her daddy be her man. I’m so glad, Lord, that she has been willing to wait for your best…Oh, God, please spare my baby girl’s life so she can have a wedding some day.”
Wayne neared the hospital, he called his
sisters. Sheryl lived near his mom and dad and could break the news to them. He
then called his oldest sister, Sharon, who lived a few hours away and his
youngest sister, Shar, in California.
As the all too familiar buildings of the
Barnes-Jewish-Christian Hospital complex came into view, Wayne prayed, Lord, you know how sick Megan is and how every minute counts. Please
help me find a parking space and a wheelchair.
He turned into the parking garage across the street from the hospital hoping to find a space near the entrance. There it was: a parking space with an abandoned wheelchair next to it.
Thank you, Lord. You care about even the little details of our lives!
Wayne arrived, he saw Megan throw up and
Kathie gently wipe Meg’s mouth. He knew the admitting process could take 45
minutes or more as they signed papers and waited for transport. He was relieved
when the admitting clerk ignored procedure and personally took Megan to her
Wayne and Kathie were surprised they hadn’t been assigned to the eighth floor cardiac unit where Megan had stayed before, but at least Megan had a bed. The second-floor medical staff repeatedly entered and exited the room without conversing.
“What is going on?” Kathie asked
Wayne. “Can’t they see how
sick Meg is? Why aren’t they doing anything besides checking her?”
While Wayne and Kathie waited not so patiently for nurses and doctors to begin Megan’s care,
called their pastor and requested, “Please begin the prayer chain.”
“Megan’s condition is too critical for this unit,” the nurse explained. We’re preparing to move her into the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit.”
This was more serious than their previous visits to the cardiac unit. Wayne and Kathie hugged each other. During Megan’s two previous hospital stays, they had watched three Cardiac ICU families grieve the loss of their loved ones in that unit.
Within minutes Megan was wheeled to Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (also called CCU), and her intensive care began. Strong medications flowed through the IVs to increase Megan’s heart function. As the staff surrounded Megan with equipment, wires, and tubes, Wayne retreated to the waiting room to update his praying friends on Facebook: “4:30 p.m. Meg is in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit getting additional meds to help her heart beat strong enough to send blood to her vital organs. Thanks for the prayers.”
On this dark day, Wayne and Kathie realized that all they could do was pray and wait.