Update From Cecil Van Houten #6

02.18.13 | Sonny Delfyette | Comments[4]

From Cecil:

A Matter of Perspective

Medical update - God has been faithful again this week.  My overall condition remains stable.  A few weeks ago I mentioned that two out of three cardiologists found me to be a boring patient.  Yep, it happened.  This week I'm three for three.  Oh well.  Thank you for your ongoing prayer support.  No one but the Lord knows how long the wait will be but your prayers continue to make all the difference.

I was talking with someone this week and the conversation inevitably turned to how long I’ve been here on “the Rock” – which will be 16 weeks on Tuesday – and they asked what it was like to be in a different environment for so long and to have to give up so many things.  My first reaction was that it doesn’t seem like that long.  But I thought more about it and as I recounted all the events of the last few months it did start to seem like a long time.  Here’s what I mean.

On a daily basis I have a steady flow of things to do.  I’m still working remotely from here so every day there are emails to handle, input on decisions to be made and details to be followed up on.  The routine medical stuff takes a good chunk of time every day.  I’m writing the blog and other things as well.  Friends and family stop by to visit.  All this activity keeps me busy and focused.  The days go by surprisingly fast so it doesn’t seem like I’ve been here that long.

But as I zoom out and consider the broader view it seems much different.  When I came in at the end of October there were leaves on the trees.  It was warm.  The grass still needed to be cut one more time.  The first two or three weeks were all about getting settled into the daily routine of long-term hospital life; tests and x-rays and blood draws and ultrasounds; being tethered to a pole with IV systems, a heart monitor and more.  The Swan-Ganz catheter was inserted in my neck and threaded through the right atrium, the right ventricle and into the pulmonary artery.  (Now we're having fun.)  

The weather turned colder and trees outside my window became dark silhouettes against the sky.  Conversations turned to Thanksgiving and the holiday season.  I went two weeks without the catheter while they treated an infection followed by several weeks where my kidney function was in question.  Meanwhile birthdays and family events came and went, and even though I saw photos and Facebook and talked with people, I felt strangely distant from it all.  By the time Thanksgiving arrived I’d been here nearly a month and while it was different to be in the hospital, the whole experience still seemed fairly new.  December meant planning for Christmas.  I usually do some shopping online; this year everything was online.  One person in the unit received a heart.  A couple people came into the unit and a couple left.  You don’t always know what their stories are since the conversations that would have been a normal part of the daily buzz in the past are muted these days by HIPAA laws.     

The New Year’s arrival was uneventful.  Connie and I did what we would have done if we’d been together – ate, watched a little TV and fell asleep.  By 10:30.  Through January my vital signs maintained acceptable ranges, my major organs functioned as well as could be expected and the goal shifted from getting things stable to keeping them that way.  Another patient received a heart. 

Now, halfway through February I’m on my fourth catheter and my twenty-fourth roommate.  I’ve met over fifty people whose profession ends in “ologist”; eaten over 250 food service meals ("Please sir, may I have some more?") and had about 18 pints of blood drawn.  Along the way I’ve met seven people who’ve had heart transplants, my ICD has fired twice to correct severe arrhythmias, I reconnected with a number of old friends I haven’t seen or talked to in decades and received hundreds of cards, emails and FB comments.  I guess it has been a long time.

Putting time in context is, in part, a matter of perspective.  But so are the things I’ve “given up”:

  • Almost any semblance of privacy
  • The freedom to come and go as I please
  • A good night’s sleep (yeah, right...)
  • Being with Connie and our dogs Cricket and Ella
  • Eating a meal uninterrupted by something (In the real world we go about our lives and deal with interruptions when they happen.  The reverse is true here – each day is a series of interruptions marked by occasional flashes of real life.) 
  • 2-ply toilet paper (but thank you for all the gifts I’ve received since my last blog.  The staff stopped asking questions after the second package arrived)
  • Certain food items (not that I’m restricted from eating them but they’re not on the menu)
  • Going to church for worship and fellowship
  • Playing the piano (with the exception of the grand piano in the lobby of the Wilmot Cancer Center ‘after hours’ sometimes) 
  • Interacting with folks at work, doing the work I love
  • The ability to take a shower (who knew people really used moist towelettes for moist toweletting?)
  • True mobility (to quote Austin Powers, "Freedom, baby...yeah!")
  • Breathing fresh, outdoor air
  • Doing routine things like voting, Christmas shopping, going to Wegmans, going out for dinner, etc.
  • A decent, reliable wifi connection (even Jimmy Stewart didn't stutter this much)

It seems like a lot doesn’t it?  And in some ways it is.  But look at it from a different point of view.  Here are some of the things I have not given up:

  • The privilege of waking up each day and thanking God for it
  • My legal rights as a citizen of the U.S.
  • Voting (absentee ballot)
  • Good quality medical care and a team of skilled “ologists” (who are among the best in their fields)
  • My salvation
  • The ability to freely exercise my faith
  • Seeing the kids and grandchildren
  • Reading Scripture
  • Being able to listen to, talk with and pray for people
  • The prognosis for a reasonably good quality of life after this period
  • My iPad
  • (Thank you God for) Netflix
  • The ability to think and make decisions, having all my faculties (or as many as I ever had)
  • The regular bills that need to be paid
  • Reading the Sunday Times
  • The opportunity to write and express myself
  • Pulling pranks on the nursing staff (For one thing they’ll never take another call from a very insistent guy wanting to know what room Harry Butts is in)
  • Being able to appreciate a good cup of coffee  (made in my French press – thanks Goose & Jeremy)
  • The joy, comfort and peace that comes from my relationship with Connie
  • Opportunities to share the faith with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations
  • The ability to listen to music
  • Having wonderful, caring friends and family who pray for us and do thoughtful things like make blankets and scarves, send surprise packages and rubber chickens (don't ask) and bring in treats from Don's Original (and yes, for the record, those ARE heart-healthy onion rings)
  • Reading a good book (currently “The Future” by Al Gore)
  • Laughing and being able to make people laugh
  • The opportunity to learn something new (at least one thing) every day

When I compare the two lists, much of what I’ve “given up” are simply conveniences or accessories, not things that are essential to a life well lived.  So what have I given up?  Not much.  What do I still have?  A lot, thanks be to God. 

It’s all a matter of perspective.

Father God, we are grateful for all we have.  We acknowledge it comes from the abundance of who you are.  Everything we are and everything we ever hope to be are gifts – unmerited yet freely given – by you.  Even the notion of a life well lived can only be fulfilled as we understand that all our beginnings and endings are found in you.  Find us faithful, Lord, as we seek to serve and follow you.  Give us a right spirit.  And grow in us the hope of heaven as we seek your face day by day. 



Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 02.18.13 Patricia Hannel commented

Dear Cecil: Your updates are so uplifting, as I look into the world you live and fully understand what you have given up as you wait for things to change. I cannot help but to think of my own situation as I experience a different way of life as my husband was arrested and thrown into prison back in November missing all the holidays, birthdays, important events with no hope of being a part of these things until October of this year. I know that God has plans for you, your recovery, your family, your friends and coworkers as they await your reentry into the normal. Speaking from my heart, I find your updates an encouragement. I offer my prayers for healing and getting home. May God continue to be your light...and keep up that wonderful sense of humor Cecil....God's love and peace to you brother!!!

on 02.18.13 Connie Juul commented

Dear Cecil,
Your blogs are truly an inspiration!! Your trust, faith and stength are very evident. Praying for continued strength and for your medical team through all of this!!!

on 02.18.13 Marcia Bauchle commented

I'm sitting here reading your post, while being very frustrated and upset. I'm having my left knee replacement surgery next Tuesday. The other knee's not that great, but this weekend it really flared up. I had to go back to using crutches. I have so much to do to get ready for my surgery and probable weeks of rehab afterwards. I found out a few minutes ago that I can't have a steroid injection in the "good" knee before the surgery. I am praying that I can have as good of an attitude as you have about your situation. If you think of it, please pray for me. I'm not doing as well as you and my problem is no where near as bad as yours. You are a wonderful example to us who are waiting for a miracle or surgery and alot of painful rehab. Thanks for sharing. I will be thankful...I will be thankful...I will be thankful. See, it's already working! :-)

on 02.18.13 Diane York commented

Cecil, so glad to see you are "boring" the doctors. LOL was hoping you were getting to play the piano. I LOVE hearing you play it (heard you in Titusville PA). God bless you and keep you Brother. Prayers for you and your family.