God gave me a better plan than to go AWOL.
I had met a Sergeant that cut travel orders and we had become friends. I told her what was going on and asked what she could do to help. Unfortunately, she told me there was nothing she could do, but occasionally orders get lost in the paperwork shuffle, and when the travel orders expire, they issue new ones. Well, I accepted that possibility and left it to God to lose my paperwork, then showed a picture of Caitlin to the Sergeant. Amazingly, my First Sergeant never brought me any travel orders. When I asked him about my request to go to California, he shrugged and mumbled something. Only a few weeks later, I had recovered enough to begin participating in our morning calisthenics. We ran five miles my first day back. I was in so much pain afterwards that I wanted to cry. I went back to the doctor and she examined my test results and wrote out medical evaluation orders for me. In short, my discharge was pending, and it would happen in just a few months. I only hoped that God would hold off until Caitlin was out of the hospital.
In the meantime, things were up and down with Caitlin. She started to become jaundiced, and was left under a purple light for three days. I felt so bad for her; every few hours the lab people would come by and take a blood sample, and then a nurse would give her upwards to 1500 dollars worth of medication. Then she would get her diaper changed, and then it would be time to weigh her and change her bed sheets. She received no end of torment. It was hard to watch. Sarah spent her entire day at the hospital sitting next to Caitlin. They would let Sarah hold her often and she would sing over her. Caitlin was a sweet baby. She would quietly squeak when we had to put her down. Those premature babies hardly ever cry.
She received so much medication, that the doctors inserted an IV straight through her chest. As much as I hated that, it was better than having to reinsert an IV needle into her arms and legs and head. To this day, she has many scars on her arms and legs from IV needles. Slowly, things started to get better. Caitlin drank more milk in gradual stages. She was up to around 20cc every few hours. She was even starting to gain some weight. A few more weeks went by and one day, we saw a big banner on her incubator that said, “I am a member of the three pound club!” We were so proud of her! Our little baby was growing!
Many things were going on around us. A baby near Caitlin’s bed had undergone three of the surgeries that Caitlin had. He had a colostomy bag, not to mention all of the other things that plagued him. Occasionally his heart rate would slow way down, or he would stop breathing. I really felt for him, his parents never came to see him, and nobody but the nurses could hold him. We bought him a Beanie Baby to keep him company, but we always regretted that we couldn’t help that baby more.
Another baby was born deaf and blind. His mother was a 14-year-old, and hardly ever came to see him. That poor baby would lie in his crib and cry, I suppose he could feel the vibrations of his crying and it felt good.
A little girl died one day while we were in the room. It was so sad to hear her monitor suddenly scream out and to see the staff run us out of the room. In only a few hours, the baby’s parents came and claimed the baby’s body. It was the third time they had come to see her.
All around us were baby’s that were very sick. Caitlin had her share of problems, but it was obvious that God had specially chosen her for something. I watched those babies on their respirators, knowing that they have to have the oxygen, but the oxygen causes severe problems in their eyes. Many of those kids have to wear glasses from birth.
Everyday we would come to the nursery hoping that Caitlin was having a good day, but there were many days we would see her back on a respirator, or back on certain medications. These things happened while we were not there, usually at night.
That October, Sarah’s grandparents came to visit us from Texas. They cried a lot and held the baby a lot; overall, we had a great time with them. Once, Sarah’s grandfather took off his wedding ring and slipped it over Caitlin’s arm, she wore it like a bracelet.
Thanksgiving was hard on us. We were still at the Ronald McDonald House, and we were missing our families. Sarah and I ate our Thanksgiving meal by ourselves, a meal donated by some kind soul. We had so much to be thankful for, but this ordeal was starting to take its toll. We were so tired all of the time, and we were living in a house that was not ours. We shared our home with many people, all of them having as many problems as we did. That very week, a family was staying at the McDonald house because their son had accidentally shot himself while hunting. He was around twelve years old, and was alone. He shot himself through the lower abdomen and the bullet shattered his leg. He had to drag himself almost a half mile through mud and wild rose bushes in near freezing weather to help. He was a great inspiration because he had so much courage. His family was thankful that he was alive.
After Thanksgiving, we started counting down to Caitlin's discharge day. It was only around 10 days away. She was nearly four pounds, and was having good days. The doctors were very optimistic that she was almost ready. When there was only three days left before Caitlin’s discharge, we received a phone call around 3:00 in the morning. It was one of the night doctors, and there was a problem with Caitlin. We rushed over to see her, her abdomen was swelling again, and it was very painful. Her heart rate had started falling, and she was back on a respirator. The doctor called us because she thought Caitlin was dying. Sarah looked down at her baby, who was unconscious and she began to cry. She cried long and hard. They wouldn’t even let us hold her because her existence was so fragile.
Only two things could have happened. One, her intestines had started dying again, or two, she had developed a blood infection that would most likely kill her. They wouldn’t know for sure until they did a culture test, which takes three days. In the mean time she could die. They did X rays on her, but couldn’t find anything wrong with her intestines. It was a very grim time for us. What few times she awoke, she was hungry, but they wouldn’t let her eat anything, so they had to sedate her. Otherwise, her thrashing around would have pulled out her IV and other tubes. Sarah and I prayed, but God gave us no direction. There was no gift of faith this time, we could only pray. For three days, we sat by her bed, waiting for the test results. On the third day, she improved, just before her results came back. There was no infection. They had no clue what had happened, in fact, they never did find out. One day she just improved and never had a sick day again.
Remember the twin boy I told you about when I first visited the nursery? Well, he developed a blood infection and died about a week before Caitlin left the hospital. The little deaf and blind boy was transferred to Atlanta for special care. The baby with the colostomy bags was still in the nursery, and weighed five pounds! I understand that after a series of surgeries he went home healthy. We saw many people come and go and we will never forget any of them.
We ended up spending Christmas in the McDonald house. It was sad and lonely, but my parents came and spent the next few days with us. The nurses cried when Caitlin left to go home with us. They each took turns holding her before we left. We had become good friends with the staff, and it was hard to say goodbye to such special friends.
Things were great, but her discharge was a problem within itself. We had no place to stay, and the Ronald McDonald House will only let you stay as long as you have a family member in the hospital. I was within a few weeks of my discharge, but not long enough to sign a lease to rent a house. We couldn’t stay in the barracks, because Sarah was not authorized. We found ourselves homeless.
God works things out, for we had found a great church just before this, and a family from that church opened up their home to us. Sarah and I decided that it would be better for Caitlin if they went home. I stayed behind and waited on my discharge paperwork to process. I swore to Sarah as I put her on the plane that I would be home for the Super Bowl, later that January. My paperwork dragged on, the Army didn’t know that Sarah had gone home, and they sure didn’t know that I was staying in Alabama with our friends, and driving back and forth to Columbus, Georgia. It took an hour to commute. Things worked out well with my discharge; I was given a disability, but not much of one, and sent home to my wife and daughter.
When Sarah and I reunited, John Elway was about to win his second of back-to-back Super Bowl victories. We returned to Cloudcroft, where I picked up a new and better job of selling Real Estate. A few years later, we moved to El Paso, Texas where I took a job with the Federal Government. Occasionally, Caitlin will have periods where she has complications and requires occasional hospitalizations, but her condition will clear up after prayer. Caitie now has a little brother named Seth, who was also born premature, but didn’t suffer any medical setbacks. Through it all, God was faithful; we only had to trust him and walk where He told us. It was not easy, not by a long shot, but it was the best hard time we ever had!
In the course of events, Caitlin had a total of four blood transfusions, and around a half million dollars worth of hospital care. When things seem challenging for you, think back to the people that are in a life and death struggle, and don’t have a relationship with God to help them. Your problems will seem less threatening.
Thanks for your patience. I hope ya’ll enjoyed my rambling along at a slow pace, and I hope this story was a blessing to you.
Caitlin (8) and Seth (5)