For those of you who may be interested in my son Paul’s story, I’ll be interviewed on Real Presence Radio this Monday, November 4th, at 10am. I hope to speak of God’s greatness in allowing us to suffer this trial. May He be glorified and adored forever!
For those of you who may be new to Musings From the Home, click HERE for more pictures and a brief account of his suffering.
And Just For Fun
And lastly, just for fun…HERE is a video of some men destroying Pachamama with explosives. Not kidding.
Anyone remember this photo that I posted awhile ago?
At the time, we thought it might be a bull snake, but we were wrong. That is definitely not a bull snake. It’s a fox snake.
The boys and I recently made this discovery while we were in Rochester last week. During one of Paul’s good days, I took the twins to Quarry Hill, which features some scenic trails and a little nature center. This nature center happens to house a few snakes (yuck), and a staff worker kindly let the boys hold their fox snake (yuck, yuck, yuck).
Now this is obviously disgusting, but the boys were undaunted by it and had no problem holding a live snake. Me? No. Way.
The point is, is that I was gravely mistaken about the difference between a bull snake and a fox snake. In case anyone is wondering, a bull snake is fatter, and while the colors of both are nearly the same, their patterns are not. See below.
As it is, when my husband and I were hiking this last summer on some nearby trails, I believe it was a bull snake we came by. But all the other snakes we have seen this year have been fox snakes. Like this one I snapped a shot of towards the end of summer:
And here it is, trying to get away from my boys:
There. I’ve made my correction. My conscience may rest in peace. Science class is over for the year. May I never see a snake again. Amen. Alleluia.
P.S. For those of you wondering about Paul…he’s doing well. He is having daily headaches, but they’re “small,” which means that both of his shunts are working. We travel back to Rochester at the end of November. If both shunts continue to work, but he still has daily headaches, then likely he’ll be in for that big, complex surgery. St. Jude, pray for us.
P.P.S. We’re just kind of hoping the headaches disappear all together. But in the meantime, this last week has been nice, as these headaches are not the scary ones, and he can fully function with them.
I want to begin by soberly thanking every one of you who has offered a prayer or a sacrifice for Paul and our family. Again we are deeply thankful for all the kind words, meals, money, and most especially, the prayers and sacrifices. God works in mysterious ways, and please know that we feel His love through you all.
Unfortunately after another shunt revision surgery last Friday, Paul is still hurting. His head is aching, in an ebb and flow manner, and he isn’t eating well.
Because we were able to secure a house within walking distance of the hospital, however, Paul was allowed to join us. This has been a great blessing for our family. It cheers him to be around all his brothers and sisters.
Yesterday we took the whole family and attended a Latin Mass at the shrine in La Crosse, WI, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. During his brief homily the priest paused and said quietly, “One of two things happen, when one begins to pray the rosary every day. He either quits sinning, or he quits praying the rosary.”
Put so starkly, those words gave me great hope.
Incidentally, we were able to make this pilgrimage to the Shrine through the generosity of some friends. But also, on a practical level, we were able to take Paul because the Shrine offers rides on a golf cart to those individuals who are unable to make the ten minute hike up the wooded hill to the church. Our Lady was surely interceding for us!
We prayed for Paul, but also for a friend of ours suffering from cancer and for the Amazon Synod. We lit a candle in this small chapel on the hillside:
It was a beautiful day, even if our hearts were aching for our son.
Tomorrow Paul has more appointments, to determine what should or should not be done. Every day we live in uncertainty as to whether he’ll get better or not. It is agonizing. But we continue to trust in God. We want to be loyal to His will, no matter the cost.
Tomorrow is also Paul’s 11th birthday, which he of course shares with his twin brother, Michael. (I wrote about their birth HERE.)
But today…today we thank God for his most lovely and fair mother. Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!
Paul is unexpectedly back in the hospital. (For those of you who are new, click HERE for more details and pictures.)
We are choked with grief, as we watch him suffer. He’s been vomiting for two days now, as the doctors are deciding what to do. As it is, they are going to tap his spinal shunt, to see if fluid will come out. If no fluid comes out, then Paul will have another shunt revision surgery. If fluid does come out, then that means the shunt system is “working,” but it’s not helping him. In this case, he’ll have a cranial reconstruction surgery on Monday or Tuesday. This is where they cut and peel back his skin from ear to ear, take apart his skull, and put it back together, allowing for more space. (St. Jude, pray for us.)
In the meantime, his doctors will do everything they can to get him through the weekend. They can go in, open up his cyst, and drain fluid to release pressure, but again, they won’t do the cranial reconstruction surgery until Monday or Tuesday because it requires more doctors and planning. It is a complex surgery, to say the least.
We should know later tonight which surgery to expect.
This is very painful for all of us. It’s heart-rending.
Just now, we’ve booked a house within walking distance of the hospital, and the children and I are leaving tomorrow morning to join my husband and Paul. Our whole family will be together.
Please remember us in your prayers.
P.S. A friend sent this to me. I feel it in my heart. Thank you, dear friend.
I can’t wait to get at it. Fr. Z has pulled some tantalizing quotations HERE. When I get a chance to read it, I’ll be sure to let you know my thoughts. I have no doubt that this will be an excellent read. His other two books were.
I did notice that Sarah’s new book begins with a Part 1 titled “Spiritual and Religious Collapse.” He quotes Luke 18:8, “When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Indeed, will he?
Paul is Recovering
We are now home again after two more surgeries and a week-long stay at the hospital in Rochester. Paul’s doctors are now experimenting with two shunts. He’s got one that sits in the arachnoid cyst on his brain, and the other is in his spine. The hope is that these two shunts will better regulate the fluid in his brain.
We hope this works, as it’s a difficult strain on our family to be separated so much–to say nothing of watching Paul tremble in pain during periods of incredibly high levels of pressure. I really cannot describe the agony one experiences just watching him. I have a new respect for Mary at the foot of the Cross.
In any case, thank you all for the prayers. Truly, we are grateful.
I am sorry to have such depressing news lately, but it cannot be helped. We need your prayers once again for Paul.
Last week he began having prolonged headaches again, and we knew something was up. On Sunday I drove through the night, back to Rochester. It was an excruciating drive, as he was vomiting, and during intense periods of head pain, his body tightened into a ball, and he slurred his speech, unable to control even his facial muscles.
I prayed that Mary would fly us to the hospital.
Paul prayed for Ex-Cardinal McCarrick, that he might come to his senses, and for my brother, who is suffering from a terrible year of farming.
Well, we made it, and spent a few sleepless hours in the ER. Yesterday Paul had surgery to revise his shunt once again, which, due to the incredibly small space within which the catheter must go, keeps getting blocked.
Tomorrow he’ll undergo a second surgery to place another shunt in his spine, in hopes of alleviating the pressure in his brain.
Today, Paul is feeling much better. I am sorry I don’t have a picture to show it. I am incapable of figuring out how to sync photos from my phone to the laptop. My Web Master* will hopefully attach a photo later this evening, for those of you who might be interested. So be sure to check back.
In any case, we pray that this next surgery will be successful, but if not, we pray for the strength and courage to continue suffering this battle. And if you think of it, would you kindly say a prayer for us too?
We cannot thank you enough for your kind words of encouragement and more importantly, for your prayers.
We have good news today.
After 5 surgeries, and ever since late last Thursday, the Feast of the Assumption, Paul has steadily been getting better. His heart rate and breathing are normal. He hasn’t vomited. He hasn’t had any seizures. His head does not hurt very much. He sat up, and he smiled. He ate and is gaining weight. He even went for a little walk around the ICU.
And he lost a tooth.
A good friend of ours drove 8 hours to bring Paul’s two brothers to see him yesterday. This was a great boost to his morale, which had been waning after 3 and a half weeks in the hospital.
If he continues to feel well, the doctors will remove the tubing in his spine, and he may get to come home sometime later this week. We certainly hope this will be the case.
Again, we cannot thank you enough for praying for him and for our family. This has been the most difficult trial we’ve ever experienced.
Nevertheless we feel God’s love, and we thank Him.
Well, I am back at it, after taking a 3 week break. During this break I had intended to vacation with my family, attend my brother’s wedding, and enjoy some carefree timelessness.
But nothing has gone as expected.
Rather, two days before we were to leave for South Dakota, my husband and I had to rush our son, Paul, to our local ER. His incision from last May’s surgery had become infected. And before we knew it, he and my husband were driving straight through the night to St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester.
And thus began 3 weeks of the most excruciating suffering I’ve ever known–watching a child suffer.
Paul Endures Surgery After Surgery
During these last 3 weeks, Paul has undergone surgery after surgery, with almost everything going wrong that could go wrong. His shunt tubing became blocked. His heart rate kept dropping dangerously low. He quit breathing for 10-15 seconds at a time and would struggle for breath, for hours upon hours. Blood leaked into his brain. One shunt malfunctioned. Another shunt slipped out of place. His left ventricle collapsed. He hasn’t eaten for days upon days and is losing weight. He is suffering seizures. And then there’s all the vomiting.
All of these things have been happening in addition to the most excruciating head pain. And we sit helplessly by him and watch and pray. I’ll never forget the terrible day and night I had to watch his heart rate slow, his breathing cease, and then the trembling of his body to grasp a breath. It was terrible.
And it’s still going on. I beg of you, dear Readers, to remember him in your prayers. But remember the other children too. They are suffering in a different way. They wonder, where is Paul? Why can’t Paul just come home? Why can’t the doctors fix him?
We don’t know the answers. We only know that for some mysterious reason God is allowing this suffering, and we can choose to accept it, or we can drive ourselves mad with endless, unanswerable questions and blame God for ruining a perfectly healthy little boy.
But we choose to trust in Him. He who is the beginning and the end of all things. He who created the heavens and the earth. He who loves us so much that He died for us. And His name is Jesus. And all knees on earth and in heaven will bend to Him at the end of time. May His kingship reign forever and ever.
Paul Prayer Intentions
In the midst of his suffering, Paul has been praying. He has been asking Mary to hold him. And he has been praying for Ex-Cardinal McCarrick and for my cousin, Tony. Up until today, Tony had been in psyche ward of a hospital. All within a few years, his brother died in a motorcycle accident, his wife died from cancer, and his father just died last week.
Tony was released this morning. He drove to his father’s house and killed himself.
Please, Jesus, You have a most merciful heart. We pray, that in those briefest of moments before his death, Tony in his agony turned towards You.
I just recently miscarried our 8th child. I had only been pregnant 5 weeks, which is to say, that I had only known I was pregnant for about a week before the baby died.
Backing Up a Bit
Now let me back up a bit. In case you’re new here, you may not know that our family has had one wild year, with the most stressful thing being the health of Paul. In particular, we have spent the last few weeks making multiple trips to Mayo in Rochester, resulting in two surgeries.
In the midst of this, I became pregnant. Now I know some of you will think this is irresponsible. Some of you will shrug your shoulders and scoff at the effectiveness of NFP. Some of you will think we’re just downright crazy.
And so we are. For we knew what we were doing. It was not a reckless choice; rather, it was a decision of love.
Because I do chart according to the Creighton Model, I knew I was pregnant before I took the test. And truthfully, in spite of it all, I was struggling with feelings of doubt, of stress, and of, well, craziness.
In fact, I spent an hour with Jesus in Adoration, discussing these very things. After I poured my heart out to Him, I opened my Bible to read my passage for the day, which happened to be Isaiah 61. Knowing my passage was coming from Isaiah, I fully expected to read something about fire and brimstone and years of exile. Instead, I got this:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me…to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted...to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called the oaks of righteousness…”
A Year of the Lord’s Favor
I read and reread that passage. A year of the Lord’s favor…garlands, oils, mantles of praise… I let it wash over me, and I left Adoration feeling light and full of hope. This was going to be a year of the Lord’s favor. I mean, that’s awesome! Who know what’s in store for me? Whatever it is, it’ll be great.
A few days later, a pregnancy test confirmed my suspicions. I’d be lying, however, if I said that I was all jumping jacks and high fives. No, I was worried. My pregnancies are never easy after all, and how was I going to handle this?
Then I thought of all the things I’d have to say “no” to. No to a silent retreat. (I’d be too sick.) No to running and biking and even walking later on. No to fitting into my clothes again. No to wine and lemon martinis. No to sleeping ever again. No, no…no.
Thankfully, however, I have great friends who reminded me of my silliness and then, I also remembered Isaiah 61–a year of the Lord’s favor. After I hyperventilated for one more minute, I stopped and laughed out loud. A year of favor from the Lord!
Yes, suffering and pregnancies and children are great blessings from the Lord. All one needs to do is read Psalms 127 and 128 to know that. In fact the Bible is replete with passages about children being a blessing.
As a couple of days went by, my husband and I began to be excited. 8 kids! Under the age of 13! Wow, we’re so blessed!
St. John Marie Vianney’s Heart
During this time, the heart of St. John Marie Vianney happened to be at the Cathedral for two days of public veneration, so I loaded the children up and braced myself for long lines.
When we walked into the church, however, almost nobody was there. I held the baby, grabbed the hand of the 3-year-old, and led the children straight to the kneelers, which were placed directly in front of St. Vianney’s heart. We knelt and prayed. We touched our scapulars to the glass of the reliquary. Then I handed the baby off to The Eldest and prayed some more.
I prayed that my guardian angel would somehow take the heart of St. Vianney and touch my heart with it. I prayed that he’d touch the heart of my cousin, who suffers from alcoholism. I prayed that he’d touch the heart of a certain priest I know. I prayed that he’d touch the heart of my husband, my children, and lastly, the little baby growing inside of me.
My heart swelled with emotion, as I knelt there with all 8 of my children surrounding me. God is so good, so good.
Afterwards, we stopped by a friend’s house, and I mentioned my pregnancy and the Isaiah passage about a “year of favor from the Lord.” She said, “You know, that reminds me of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel greeted Mary with, ‘Hail, Favored One.'”
How beautiful! To connect a year of “favor” and pregnancy to Mary, Full of Grace, and certainly favored. My heart was full.
My Heart Breaks
Two hours later I began bleeding. At first I couldn’t believe it. Maybe the baby would still be ok? I called my doctor, but I couldn’t get in to see him until the next day.
And that night the baby died, as I bled and bled.
In the morning, my husband and I stood before the icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and my soul cried, My little baby! I will never hold you in this life! Did I tell you how much I love you?
My husband held me. We prayed Morning Prayer and knew that the baby needed a name. As I had mentioned Isaiah 61 and the Annunciation to him earlier, we named the baby Gabriel Marie. We thanked God for his life, and we commended him to Jesus and Mary.
We told the children too, as they joined us for Morning Prayer, and we answered their innocent, concerned questions as best as we could.
Then my husband had to go to work, and I had to take care of the children. It was an emotional day.
My Heart Grows
Life must go on.
A few days later I was in Adoration again, and I was overcome with a spirit of doubt–doubt about my feelings, doubt about naming the baby, doubt about the existence of the baby himself. Maybe I was just being ridiculous? Overreacting?
I soon realized, however, that these agitating thoughts were not from Jesus, and I cast them aside. But still, in a place of fear, I begged Jesus, Please will you give me a sign about little Gabriel? Jesus, I am weak. If my Gabriel was real, let me come across someone named Gabriel today. But not my will, only Your will be done.
I left Adoration feeling a little down and drove to the grocery store. As I pushed the cart around, I forgot all about my prayer and moved to a checkout lane. I zipped by an empty one, because I was looking for a particular clerk that I always go to. But she wasn’t there, so I backed up and entered the empty lane and began unloading my groceries.
When I glanced up, I noticed a new clerk, someone I had never seen before. His name was Gabriel.
I was stunned. Could this be a coincidence? No, for there is no such thing for those who believe in God. Oh, how my heart swelled again! How weak and fickle I am, but Jesus is so good to his little ones. I felt His love in that moment and knew that my Gabriel would be ok.
I continued unloading my groceries, and I smiled at Gabriel the clerk.
When I got home, these greeted me:
While I was away, someone had anonymously sent me these beautiful flowers with a quotation from the Bible which reads,
“Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age, alleluia.”
For those of you who are following Paul’s plight, here’s an update.
On Monday we began the long trek back to Rochester for a second surgery, which lasted about 3 hours. His doctor reopened his incisions from 7 years ago and made a thorough examination of his old shunt system, beginning with the shunt itself, down to the valve behind his ear, and finally snaking all the way down his neck into his stomach cavity.
The doctor was hoping that he’d discover that it was malfunctioning, which would be an easy explanation for the incredibly high levels of pressure in Paul’s brain during his migraines. But he did not. The old shunt was functioning. Nevertheless, he replaced it with all newer equipment, in hopes that even though the old equipment was functioning, perhaps it wasn’t functioning optimally.
And how was Paul during this four day trial? Physically he was as well as could be expected, but emotionally and psychologically, he was down. Very down. As a mother, this was the hardest thing to watch. He didn’t want to be in a hospital anymore. He didn’t want to have wires and tubes sticking out of him. He didn’t want to wear a hospital gown. But he didn’t cry about it; he just looked terribly sad.
So we prayed through it. This time he chose to offer his sufferings for our family. We prayed rosaries. We prayed morning and night prayer. But really, I think he was just exhausted, as we all were.
Finally the day after his surgery in the afternoon, he picked up a little, as the beautiful water fountain out of his window was turned on that day, and he could watch it from his window.
My mom and I also walked him down the hall to a pottery class for the children on his floor. He didn’t want to walk out there in his hospital gown, dragging an IV cart along, but he did.
We also found other things to distract him with. We watched the Twins play baseball. (Paul’s a big fan of Rosario, and it was neat to see him hit a few home runs.) My mom bought a lego set, which he put together, took apart, put together… We read a few light books, you know, like Frog and Toad.
In the end, it is our hope that this new shunt will somehow alleviate his migraines, and they will disappear. High levels of pressure in one’s brain is a very serious thing. Children with hydrocephalus die or go into a coma with the same levels that Paul was experiencing–levels into the 40s and 50s. But because his levels are cyclic, however, he manages to be ok, and has not had any damage to his brain, yet.
Paul’s doctor has said that if this shunt doesn’t work, then we’ll have to think about another surgery wherein he’ll take apart his cranium and reassemble it with a plastic surgeon to allow for more space, in an attempt to alleviate those pressure levels.
Lastly, a Thank You
Truly, my husband and I are very thankful for the great help of the staff, doctors, and nurses at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester. They’ve all been so helpful and kind.
We’re also greatly indebted to our parents who have done so many things for us over these last four weeks–watching children, cooking meals, paying for hotels and gas and food, allowing us to use their reliable car, and indeed accompanying us on these many trips. How could we do it without you? We couldn’t. May God bless you for your generosity and love. We love you all so much.
Lastly, we want to thank everyone who has prayed with us during this difficult trial. As prayers and sacrifices are hidden things, and we may never know about them, we pray that God, who is a great Father, will reward you all abundantly.
For those of you interested in my son, Paul, here is another update.
Last night he finally slept, and as you can see from the photo below, he woke up with a little more pizzazz.
As an aside, the other day, when the nurses wheeled him in for surgery prep, one of the nurses asked him, “Do you know any jokes?”
With a twinkle in his eye, Paul politely answered, “Yes,” and calmly asked, “Have you seen the new movie called Constipation yet?”
“Nope. Never heard of it.”
“Well, that’s because it hasn’t come out yet.”
And that, my dear readers, is my son’s favorite joke.
The Plan, In Short
After two days of monitoring the pressure in his brain, his doctors have determined that his existing shunt is malfunctioning and possibly sucking in bits of his brain. So next Tuesday, Paul will have another surgery to remove the existing shunt and to place a new one in.
One more week of this! Oh, please pray for me too!
And a Thank You
Lastly, we want to thank Fr. Kasel from the archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul for traveling to Rochester to anoint Paul. Truly, we are very grateful. He not only anointed him, but prayed with him, heard his confession and played cards with him.