A Turning Point

By Diane E. Schroeder

Date: May 22, 2018

Category: Family Living

The day after Thanksgiving was a turning point in my life. I was admitted to our local hospital with a bowel blockage caused by intestinal infection and swelling. A colonoscopy was attempted the next day but failed because of the swelling. Upon returning to the recovery room, I vomited and aspirated the colonoscopy prep liquid into my lungs. I was immediately transferred to the ICU for pulmonary support. My lungs eventually failed. I was ventilated, and my doctor attempted to keep me alive by pumping me with 100% oxygen and paralyzing me so that only my internal organs were supplied with oxygen. Still I continued to decline.

My oxygenation level dropped to the low 70s; it should be 90% or more. Without help I would die. My doctor started making calls to Chicago’s teaching hospitals, looking for an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine and an ECMO medical team to keep me alive. An ECMO machine uses a pump to circulate blood through an artificial lung that oxygenates the blood. I needed a machine to breathe for me if I was going to survive.

The University of Chicago answered my doctor’s call for help, and they sent a portable ECMO machine and accompanying medical team via helicopter to my hospital. (It had been determined that I would not survive an ambulance trip.) At our local hospital, they hooked me up to the machine, which immediately oxygenated my blood, and then flew me back to the U of C ICU for further treatment and, hopefully, recovery. Two nurses hovered over me daily—both an ICU nurse and an ECMO nurse. To the medical community, I was the sickest person in the hospital—ECMO is a last resort for survival.

After weeks in the ICU and a failed attempt to take me off the respirator, I was eventually weaned off the respirator and finally the ECMO machine. My lungs have healed enough for me to breathe normal air without assistance, although I continue to work on my lung endurance for daily tasks. They may never heal completely—only time will tell.

During this whole experience, the devotion of my husband and children was overwhelming. My husband, Carl, kept a careful record of my progress (or lack thereof) on Caring Bridge, where friends and relatives could follow. As I look back at this record, what is astonishing to me is the spiritual uplifting and prayers offered on my behalf by my Christian community. From Caring Bridge:

“The same God that she has served so well is holding her in His hands.”

“Know that your CareNet friends are praying for you, all trusting God and the way He will provide for you.”

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and all your soul. God hears and answers prayer. Know that many, many people are praying for one of God’s miracles for one of God’s faithful.”

And when I started to get better, Carl posted, “I know that we have truly assaulted the gates of heaven with our prayers, and we see the results. Keep praying!”

My daughter Liz summed it up best: “Her recovery process has been a perfect reminder that God works in His time, and not in ours, but that it is always worth it to wait on Him! I look forward to seeing what else He has in store for Diane in this season and to the ways He is shaping all of us through this process. God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good! He alone deserves the glory!”

Through the weeks of hospitalization, the delirium, and the procedures, I never once felt afraid or threatened. God was holding me in His hand. I felt as if I was in a cocoon surrounded by love and support. All the prayers offered on my behalf made a difference. I truly believe that God changed His mind and decided not to bring me home. Like Hezekiah who prayed to God for additional years for his life, God granted all of the prayers offered on my behalf and healed me.

The medical community tells me that I am a walking miracle. Against the odds, the ECMO machine kept me alive and allowed my lungs to heal until I could breathe on my own.

But the greatest miracle is that God saw me as I lay in that hospital bed, held me in His hand, and in His infinite wisdom, granted me healing. Nothing that occurs in our lives is coincidence. God is in complete charge. Although I don’t know the specific purpose behind my near-death experience, I do know that God took this control-freak person and taught her some lessons. It is not often that we are blessed by having our mortality thrown in our face and then living, but the lessons it teaches are life-changing.

  1. Life is extremely fragile and unpredictable. Do not take it for granted.

  2. Time on this earth is limited. Plan it well.

  3. Do not wait to tell your spouse you love him, spend time with your children, play with your grandchildren, or forgive another person who has harmed you. Once the opportunity is gone, you might not have another chance.

  4. Appreciate the small things. I learned the incredible value of breathing, something most of us don’t even think about.

  5. Love unconditionally and forgive. Life is too short. Focus on the big picture, and don’t let yourself get drawn into the weeds of pettiness.

These are all truths that we say we know, but the reality is that our lives do not reflect their importance. We still believe that we are in control of our lives and that we have time. Not true.

God has given each of us a limited time to be on this earth, a purpose for that time, and people to share that time with. Don’t wait for a near-death experience to teach you the lesson of appreciating to the fullest what God has given you.

Life is too short.

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