PICU; Pediatric Intensive Care

This is not a post about our strawberry farm.  This is a tribute to God for his care in December of 2015 when we ended up at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis for 3 weeks with our 4 year old son. There are many ways this tribute could be written.  It could be to our family and friends who stepped in and took care of the farm and the other children.  It could be to my parents and sisters who came from Ontario and Pennsylvania to support us in this hour of need.  It could be to the fantastic medical team and hospital staff that cared for our son, or to the Ronald McDonald House that provided for Dan and I.  

Please read this knowing that we are deeply, deeply grateful for all of those pieces of the puzzle, but the piece of the puzzle that I describe below is the one that causes us the most wonder: the connection between YOUR prayers and the events that unfolded in the PICU ward.   If you are one of the people who prayed for our son, this is your story as much as it is ours. 

Have you ever been on a Tilt-a-Whirl?  On a Tilt-a-Whirl, you are belted into a cage, you feel things coming at you too quickly for you to respond or process, and the world spins crazily around you, leaving you gasping for air, and flung from moment to moment.  December 7, Dan and I stepped onto a medical tilt-a-whirl.

We took our 4 year old son to the local ER because his breathing was deteriorating, but it was different from previous asthma attacks.  We thought it was less severe than prior episodes, and that we’d be home soon.  Instead, a chest X-ray revealed that his left lung was completely filled with fluid.  The pediatrician was summoned, but she told us there was no way she could handle it at this hospital.  Arrangements were begun to send us to a larger hospital, but the doctor at that hospital took the time to look at the X-rays and declared that he could not handle it either.

We were taken by ambulance to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.  We went from the ER to the critical care unit, where the doctor there declared he couldn’t handle it in that room, either.  We were moved to pediatric intensive care. (PICU)  All these transitions took about 15 hours, and our son went into respiratory failure.

The doc team filled the room and put him on a ventilator to keep him alive, inserted a tube through his ribs and into his left lung to drain the fluid, and sutured a line into his neck for medicines.  We were told, at about 8 pm on Monday, December 8 that after a few days of fluid drainage they’d remove the tubes and we could go home.

Back home, our small town was disturbed by a great deal of turmoil.  There had been a vehicle crash involving a missionary family on leave and our daughter (as a passenger) the day before.  A middle-aged man had had a stroke that morning.  A young lady in a neighboring town committed suicide, and our son was in critical condition.  Two ladies from church called a prayer meeting of the women of our town to intercede for the community, and specifically for the people involved.  I’ve had this prayer meeting described to me many times in the past two months, but it really defies description.  All the women I’ve spoken with agree that it went for over three hours by the clock, but that at the time they would have sworn it only lasted about ten minutes.  They were praying for those of us that were in critical condition, but many other prayers were answered, on the spot, for themselves.  One lady paced the room calling out “Breathe!  Breathe!” for nearly an hour, not knowing that our son had lost his breath and did indeed need the breath of God to sustain him at that exact time.  Another told me that a specific prayer of hers, from five years prior, was answered.  Another wrote that “it was amazing to see the Spirit leading the exact prayers that needed to be said.”

In the PICU room, Dan and I sat, shivering and shaking, and wondering how to share what was going on.  I prayed long and hard over our first Facebook post, searching the Bible for words to share what we needed.  I posted, “Breathe life into our lungs, so we can shout your name!” Psalm 80 (The Message)  That theme of BREATHE was God ordained.  Who needs breath?  Our son, or the people of the town we came from?  Our son, or each of us, in need of the breath of God to fill our lives with His power?

Our shivering and shaking didn’t get any easier as the docs came in around midnight, telling us that our son’s lungs, prone to asthma attacks, did not like the two tubes and had seized up.  Starting at about 5 am the next day, a stream of doctors and specialists started coming in, each one telling us about lab work they were doing, and things they were working on to figure out what caused the intensity of his condition and how they’d try to fix it.  They plied us with dozens of questions about our family medical history, and every aspect of his health from pregnancy to present.  He’s a 5th child!  I could barely remember his birth weight!

Things went from bad to worse the next two days.  The docs asked if we’d immunized our son.  Yes. They told us there were hardly any signs of antibodies in his blood.   They decided to give him a massive infusion of the part of the blood that fights infection.  This infusion was culled from the blood of ten thousand different donors.  Would we sign off on any liability for infected blood?  Yes.  It took four hours to infuse him.  They filled his lungs with medicines and changed his position every few hours so that gravity would slosh the medicine around.  Up.  Down.  Side.  Lift. Adjust tubes.

Then alarms were going off everywhere, and the room filled with nurses.  People were rushing around while we sat in that corner, shivering and shaking.  One of the nurses paused long enough to say to us, in a voice of forced calm, “Oh, we just found out there is an air leak somewhere — how lucky that we noticed!  We’ll get this taken care of, don’t worry.”  A hole had developed in his lung and was leaking air into his heart and kidney area.  The room filled with the sounds of a large bubbler, as more bloody pink fluid was drained from his chest and we could watch a bubbling chamber that showed the rate that air was leaking out of his lungs.

That night, Wednesday, the ladies of our town had another prayer meeting.  Our missionary friend was a bit concerned going in, “How can they do intercessory prayer when they haven’t learned about intercession yet?”  But she was encouraged by the Monday night prayer meeting, where clearly, intercession was happening.  One lady wrote detailed notes on the lesson: “Intercession carries burden with your prayer until answers come.  It is hearing God’s voice on what you need to intercede for.  It doesn’t always end in a physical blessing, but may be a blessing of spiritual authority that you gain.”

The ladies of the community had a burden for our son, for their friend who’d had the stroke, for the community grieving the suicide.  They didn’t just pray and then go home, they carried this burden with them, and to God, in prayer.

Dan and I have been humbled, over and over again, by the prayer burden people carried for us.  God laid it on their hearts, and they groaned to God with us.  One lady told me that her prayer at home was so intense “something would go through me, like in labor or something, a type of birthing.”  This was only the second time in her life she’d had that experience in prayer.  A long-distance friend wrote that, “my middle daughter, aged 7, has been especially consistent in praying for (your son).  She prays that he’d “be able to breathe better and that he would keep smiling for his mama.”  A homeschooling friend of mine told me that her young son prayed with incredible intensity, night after night, that God would place a “shield” around our son.  One of my sisters wrote, “We are praying for him constantly.  Our (daughter) is such a sensitive soul that she was in tears over it two bedtimes.” Dozens upon dozens of people have told me how much they prayed for our son.

What happens when an entire community rises up as intercessors?  Women and children, Christian school and home school.  Church and family.

There’s a catch in that lesson about intercession though.  The lesson notes of that night read that “intercession often requires suffering as Jesus, our ultimate example of Intercession, demonstrated for us on the cross.  Intercession is not for the selfish.  We will never be asked to do anything that hasn’t already been done by Jesus.”

Jesus died on the cross.  His father, friends and family watched him suffer and die.  Our little son lay on the table near death.  When I google the medical terms in his hospital notes “morbidity” and “fatality” come up frequently.  Dan and I were wracked with agony until Saturday, when I laid it at the foot of the cross.  For fifteen hours I fasted and prayed, asking God what He wanted me to learn.  I have pages of notes and words of the Bible that took on life and meaning.  They leapt up into my heart and understanding shone.

I can testify that when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need fear no evil, for He is with us.  As I sat there, staring at the body of our son on the table, with heaven opened up on the other side, I released him to God.  Whether our child went to heaven, or stayed with us here on earth, it would be OK.  And God reminded me that when Jesus died, it wasn’t a meaningless death — it was for a reason.  God promised that if our son died, good things would come of it.

Sunday night, the ladies of our town had a third prayer meeting, this time inviting their husbands. I have not heard as many stories about that meeting, but Sunday night was a turning point in our PICU room.  The hole in our son’s lung healed.  His asthma symptoms started relaxing their strangle-hold, and Monday morning, the docs started talking about pulling out the chest tube, and maybe the vent.

The first time they tried removing the vent, our son would not start breathing on his own.  They eased up on the sedation meds and tried again a few days later, with Dan and I holding on to his arms and legs and speaking words of peace and calm into him so that he would not thrash and cause damage.  Thursday afternoon, it was successfully pulled out, along with gobs of mucus and black goop.  Not long after that, he opened his eyes briefly, and we were able to take turns holding him in our laps for a while as he shook and shivered with narcotic withdrawal.
I’ll bring you back now to the analogy of the tilt-a-whirl.  Dan and I were not blind to the prayers that were happening.  We were being flung around by the medical terminology and the gravity of the situation, but the hand of God held us firmly in place through the prayers of His people.

We were in the hospital a third week, this time in the recovery ward working with physical therapists, weaning his body off the meds, and easing him onto solid food.  He appears to be back to normal now.  His throat has healed from the extreme trauma.  The narcotics have worked their way out of his system.  His muscles and lungs are back to strength and functioning.

However, I don’t think that Dan and I will be the same again, and we don’t really want to be the same again.  It was awful, but it was wonderful.  To see God answer prayer so clearly and powerfully, to have an entire community moved to intercessory prayer, and to be given peace no matter what happens here on earth is amazing.

Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone be the Glory!


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