Sorry about taking so long, but as Gandolf told Frodo, "Sorry, but I was delayed."
Earlier that day, we had walked into the nursery and noticed that one of the beds was missing. I asked what had happened to the baby, but the nurse whipped a tear from her eyes and told me that one baby died. “It was hard,” she said, “but he had been dying for a week and it was expected.” The baby was born deaf and never heard his mother’s voice. (Is there a better charity to give to than the Children’s Miracle Network?) Every since that day, I never asked where a baby was or what happened to his bed.
On day three, Caitlin’s stomach started swelling; it was obvious that she was in trouble. We called and activated the prayer chain, between all our churches, and the Walk to Emmaus, we estimate that upwards of 2,000 people were praying. It was now lunchtime, so we went down to the cafeteria to eat. After lunch, all of us grandparents and parents went back to the nursery. I was shocked to see that Caitlin’s bed was gone!
The nurse saw the look on my face and rushed to our side. Everything was okay; they had only moved her to another room. It seems that they did a culture test and Caitlin showed positive for staph bacteria to be present. She didn’t have an infection, but rather, the possibility existed.
We gathered and held her little hands as the nurse wheeled her off to the X ray department, to see if they could find her stomach problem. It didn’t take long; it appeared that a portion of her small intestine was dying and it would have to be removed. Later that afternoon they started prepping our baby for surgery. We gathered and prayed for our baby again. While we were praying, one nurse got my attention and asked me, “Would you like to hold the baby?”
They wrapped Caitlin in swaddling clothes and handed her to me. I was so scared to hold her, but when they turned off the lights in the nursery, Caitlin opened her eyes and looked at me for the first time. I looked into her eyes and told her “goodbye” as they laid her back into the incubator and wheeled her off to surgery. I can’t shake that horrible feeling I experienced that day, wondering if I would ever see her again, but trying not to cloud my mind with doubt. We gathered in the surgery waiting room and waited. We could not pray, or sit, or stand. We could not eat or drink.
Okay, we ate Chik-fil-a sandwiches and drank Cokes, but we were useless to the rest of the world. The hours slowly walked by, the hours got to their knees and crawled, the hours got on the floor and slowly rolled past. The surgery was only to last for two hours, but the surgeon advised us not to get nervous if it took longer, even up to four hours. After three hours, we turned on the TV and watch Touched by an Angel.
After four and a half hours, the doctors came and visited with us. “She lost six inches of her bowels, but she has oodles left,” the surgeon said. (He was the first doctor that could speak good old American English.) She was doing fine, in fact they said she would recover nicely. We stopped and praised God that things weren’t as bad as they first seemed.
She settled into recovering, but the storm was not over. After five days, her bowels still hadn’t moved, or shown any sign of recovery. The doctors were incredibly concerned. Everything was supposed to be working right, but nothing was working. We had a conference with the doctor. He started out with, “I hope that things aren’t as bad as they seem…” Well, when has that ever been a great opening line? “But it appears that cystic fibrosis could be the reason that her intestines aren’t working.”
Sarah and I looked at each other and at the same moment, God gave us a gift of faith and spoke to us that this was not the case. We told the doctors that we believed that God was in charge and they smiled and hoped with us. Cystic fibrosis is a devastating disease that usually shortens life expectancy to around 15 to 20 years. It is a very hard disease on parents.
After day 10, she messed her first diaper! We were all so excited! At last, things were starting to move—forward that is. Just a few days later, the doctor placed a hand on my shoulder and whispered, “The cystic fibrosis test came back negative.” I smiled and thanked God in my heart.
Sarah and I were now alone in Georgia. Our parents had long ago driven home and left us to defend the fort. Things were working out okay; in fact, God gave us grace and mercy in the middle of our storm. There were some really hard days, but the Lord held our hands through all of it.
Probably one of the hardest parts of Caitlin’s surgery was that she didn’t get to eat anything for about 10 days. She was hungry, how could she not be? When a baby is born, they start looking for Mama, but Caitlin never got that opportunity. Now after 10 days, the nurse gave her 1cc of milk, which she greedily consumed. It was a big teaser, it almost seemed too cruel to just give her a taste and then take it away. I was confident that the staff knew what they were doing, but it was very frustrating. She lost down to one and a half pounds during the time that she was in recovery and wasn’t eating. She was so small, but she was incredibly cute. The nurses got to where they started fighting over who would attend our baby in the nursery! Gee, what a feeling of relief to know that she was receiving top care. Once, we had gone for a few hours and one nurse had purchased a doll dress at Wal-Mart and put it on Caitlin! She was so cute….
Things began to progress after her surgery, she did develop an infection in her incision, but it cleared up after a week. Things were okay enough that the Army demanded that I return to work; they also wanted me to return to the barracks without my wife, but there was little chance of that happening. I told my First Sergeant that I was more than eager to carry my workload, but my responsibility was to my wife and baby. Many things could yet go wrong for Caitlin, and within a few days, they did. Somehow, God gave me favor and the Army let me stay off post at the Ronald McDonald House, at least 25 miles from Ft. Benning. This was a staggering accomplishment, for I was not even an official graduate of boot camp. I was still under direct orders of my Drill Sergeants (talk about stress…) but the fact that I was injured and only useful for desk duty was a great help.
I learned many things while I worked at the personnel office, one of which was that the Army approved my request for transfer, I was on my way to California to undergo 1 year of training. The best part was, they weren’t even going to tell me, I was just going to receive orders to be in California by the end of the week.
There was tightness in my chest. How could I possibly go to California with Sarah and the baby in Georgia, and the baby couldn’t move for another two months? The Army suggested that I just take Sarah with me and come back for the baby, when I hesitated at that idea, they made it an order. The warmth of that suggestion overwhelmed me, but there was no way Sarah or I could leave a sick baby in the hospital for months, not even certain if the baby would live. I began to consider the option to go AWOL—a decision that could haunt me for the rest of my life.