But God lights up our darkness

Luke 1:78-79 Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.

Luke 1:78 KJV … the dayspring from on high hath visited us.

The “O” antiphon for Monday: “O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

These final lines from Zechariah’s beautiful prophecy always remind me of Psalm 30:5,Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. It’s interesting that this antiphon falls on the winter solstice. After today, the night will be shorter; daylight progressively longer.

From Shutterstock by Thankapon ch

This waiting room story continues the long vigil from yesterday’s vignette.

Flickering, Karis age 21, Pittsburgh

Karis’s doctors did not expect her to survive the night. Yet the long night hours slowly passed without the call we dreaded. When Dave and Valerie called from Newark, desperate for news after their long flight from São Paulo, I was able to say, “She’s still alive.” And before they landed in Pittsburgh, our flicker of hope grew stronger. Dr. M came to our private waiting room to tell us the story.

A doctor who rotated between labs at various hospitals happened to be on duty at our hospital that morning. This man, who had done his PhD research on Legionella, was probably the only person in Pittsburgh capable of recognizing this early that Legionella was the bacteria growing in Karis’s cultures. There had not been a case of Legionnaire’s disease in this hospital for twelve years. The head of infectious diseases had seen only one case in his entire life.  

“What this means,” Dr. M said, “is that each hour Karis stays alive strengthens our tiny flicker of hope a tiny bit—our tiny hope that there will be time for the correct antibiotics to do their work against the Legionella.”

Why did he have to keep emphasizing the word “tiny”?! Hope was hope. My heart latched on and held it tight.

From Shutterstock by Romolo Tavani

As we absorbed this information about Karis’s lungs, Dr. M explained the other big challenge. Karis’s transplanted intestine was disintegrating because they had stopped all immunosuppressant medication to treat the pneumonia. They had to get the graft out before Karis went into septic shock. But Karis was still dependent on the oscillator. Operating on a shaking body was simply impossible.

We needed a magic window in the next two or three days, when Karis’s lungs were well enough to transfer to a normal ventilator but before she died from sepsis. That is, if she stayed alive long enough for antibiotics to work against the Legionella.

Hour by hour with many others around the world, we kept vigil. Hour by hour word came that Karis was still alive. But getting her off the oscillator was just not happening. On 100% oxygen her blood gases began gradually to improve, but the nurses still could not alter her position in bed even a little without immediate decompensation. Her lungs were too compromised by the invasive Legionella. Every system of her body was impacted by the double threat of virulent pneumonia and runaway rejection. As her kidneys and liver began to fail, our tiny flame of hope flickered.

Two days passed, then three—the outer limit the surgeons had postulated for finding the “magic moment” to attempt surgery to remove Karis’s disintegrating intestine. This surgery would be more difficult than the original transplant surgery, but they would have to do it as fast as possible to limit her time under anesthesia.

Finally, on Tuesday evening Karis was successfully transferred from the oscillator to a regular ventilator! Surgery was scheduled for 7:45 the next morning. Our family lined up in the hallway that connected the ICU to the surgical suite. The ICU double doors suddenly popped open and the medical team came through the doors RUNNING with Karis down the hall to the OR, one of them kneeling precariously on her bed pumping oxygen into her lungs as they ran. We barely had time to wave and yell “We love you, Karis!” before they disappeared.  

And then it was waiting time again. We just moved from the ICU waiting room down the hall and around the corner to the surgery waiting room. The surgeons had given us no hope that Karis could survive such an invasive surgery, with her lungs, kidneys, liver, and intestine all in terrible shape. As the minutes ticked by, though, our hope increased, and seven hours later we were called to line up in the hallway again to watch Karis being rushed from the OR back to the ICU. Miraculously, she was still ALIVE!

Karis herself, deeply sedated, had no idea what was happening to her, or of the miracles that had preserved her life. For 74 days in the ICU, most of that time in induced coma, she battled one complication after another. When she was finally released from the coma, from the ventilator, and from the ICU, we were told she was the sickest patient ever to leave that ICU alive. Her reaction? “Mom, why were you so worried? Of course I didn’t die. God still has plans for me here!”

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