I’m sorry that it took so long to share an update. Every time I thought I was ready to say something, things changed. This past week has been an absolute nightmare for our family, and I’m not sure I can even put into words what we’ve been through.
I’ll start with the best news of all – dad was released from the ICU late Tuesday night and transferred to a spacious room with large windows, a bathroom, recliner, couch and cabinets! He is living in luxury compared to the place he called home for six long days.
Last Wednesday night, we learned dad had a rare and dangerous reaction to chemotherapy – tumor lysis syndrome. The rapid breakdown of the cancer cells released toxins that his body could not process, resulting in acute kidney failure. His potassium level was the highest the ICU team had seen and required emergency dialysis, which thankfully reversed the problem. By mid-morning on Thursday, his kidney function and blood tests showed significant improvement. When he woke, he cried and thanked us for helping him. He told us he went to hell and back. If we only knew that was just the beginning.
In an effort to save time, mistakes and dignity, I’ll forgo the timeline and details of what happened next. In summary, it seemed that as one thing improved, another thing went awry. On day two, he spiked a fever. His blood pressure and oxygen dropped while his heart rate exceeded 200. His platelets hit the teens when they should be at least 150,000. It was one thing after another, and this man had more doctors and medications than I ever thought possible. We all hit a very dark place. We experienced every emotion possible – relief, joy and gratitude along with fear, grief and anger.
One of the most powerful moments of this experience took place on Monday. My mom, Kelly and I were all in the room with dad when a music therapist named Stephanie stopped by to visit. We were quiet and skeptical. We felt defeated. We were noticeably sad. She sensed that and pushed us to open up to her. My dad, who had been unusually quiet for several days, started to answer her questions. He told her what he used to do for a living and what he likes to do for fun. He told her about his cars and his family. He told her he liked ‘the oldies,’ and they agreed on “Old Time Rock & Roll” and “Under the Boardwalk.” While we held hands with tears flowing, she sang those two songs to our family in the most perfectly soothing and folksy way. That was the medicine our family needed. It was then that the true healing began.
That evening, the four of us watched the CAVS game together in Room 24 of the ICU. I read my last blog, “Chemo – a catch 22” to dad, and we walked him through his experience. That night, we slept more soundly aside from the hourly nurse visits, beeping monitors and uncomfortable sleeping arrangements. The next day, we learned that all of his electrolytes were normalizing. They removed his catheter. He sat in a chair. They decreased or eliminated some medications. He was on the mend. Dad was back.
Despite all of this, it’s been very difficult to answer the question, “How is your dad doing?” Not only because the situation was ever-changing, but because we also came to terms with the reality of his diagnosis. One of our favorite doctors said it most eloquently: “There are clear skies and sunshine ahead, but there is a dark ominous cloud following behind.” We aren’t sure what the future holds. We don’t yet know if treatment is an option, or even a desire. What we do know is that chemotherapy nearly killed him, and we will not let that happen again. We will do what we set out to do from the beginning – live with cancer. And I mean, really live. Dad has already talked about getting fitted for his prosthetic leg. We have lots of baseball and softball games to see. We have a NBA championship to witness. We’re making plans for the summer. We are going to live and love bigger than we ever did before. And that won’t be hard for us.
This week changed us all. We became closer, if that’s even possible. We were raw. We ‘cried ugly’ together. We witnessed how fragile life truly is. We saw so much pain, sorrow and suffering in one unit of a hospital, that to understand how that extrapolates throughout the world is suffocating. But, we also made new friends with other families, nurses, doctors and staff. We saw healing and hearten. We developed an appreciation so deep for the wonderful team that took care of dad in the ICU especially Tina, Tat, Morgan, Melanie, Jen, Kyle and Jared. You will always have a special place in our hearts.
Dad should be discharged tomorrow to a rehabilitation center where he’ll spend a short time working with a therapy team to regain the physical strength he lost during his hospital stay. Ironically, we don’t really have a map to follow from there yet, but we are ok with that. All we want is to get back to enjoying the sunshine.
Until next time,
4 thoughts on “To hell and back”
Our prayers are with Chuck and all of the family. Sorry my cold kept me form visiting, but we were better served by my presence away. I will call your mom later today to set up a visit. Chuck has been on my mind constantly these past few days. I have offered up my time before the Blessed Sacrament this week for him. Prayer and God’s people will help get you through this time of trials. May the Lord Jesus help to comfort you until this time passes and better days be ahead for the Herb family. Deacon Ed.
Carol and family, sending prayers and positive thoughts from one of your oldest friends…Janet Grice Turner
So happy you are doing better . Will
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