Diary of a Survivor

Abbie Creed

© Copyright 2023 by Abbie Creed

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

This is about my husband, Dan, and his life changing event that caused our whole family to go into survival mode. He was the love of our lives, a wonderful father and role model as well as my friend and mentor. He spent 25 years in a wheelchair, unable to work, but his strong faith and that of our family, taught us many new life lessons and gave us a strong sense of the importance of family and friends.

The last weekend of March 1981 was the type of weekend to write home about and one that I cherish dearly. Little did I know that it would be the last of its kind. My husband Dan, his mom, dad, and I went to Paintsville to see our new granddaughter, Denise. The trip up and back was unforgettable. The weather was picture-perfect, and the air was so clear and fresh, and quite a treat for us city dwellers. The scenery in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky is breath-taking in early spring. The roadside is covered with jonquils, wildflowers, and purple thatch. For miles, assorted green trees line both sides of the road and, occasionally, a redbud or tulip poplar that is budding out adds a bit of color. New life was bursting out all over, even at Kelly’s and Mary’s house.

We spent the weekend making over the cutest baby in the world, who seemed to be puzzled by all those strange people in her life. This chubby little girl with sparkling blue eyes was the first child for our son Kelly, and his wife, Mary. After taking lots of pictures for showing off back home, hearing about the family’s new home away from home, and getting caught up with all the family news, we returned home to get the house readied for the wedding shower I was giving for my niece the following Sunday. We had also planned with my sister’s children to host a surprise 25th wedding anniversary party for her and her husband at our home on April 24. Dan had hand-written the invitations in calligraphy, and they were in the mail.

After dinner on Tuesday evening, I went to my weekly jazzercise class at our church, and Dan headed out to purchase a lawnmower at a nearby Service Merchandise store. As I was leaving my class, one of the priests from our church came running over to the gym to tell me that he had received a call from the hospital emergency room. My husband, Dan had been taken there suspected of having had a stroke.

I probably broke several speed laws and made only rolling stops getting to the hospital. I prayed out loud and begged God not to let Dan die, at least until I got there. My memory of seeing Dan in the emergency room is cloudy at best, but I remember thinking that he looked better than I had expected. He was awake and seemed to recognize me when I came into the room. Tubes were in his arm and his chest was bare because he was hooked up to a heart monitor. He was being given medication to reduce swelling in his brain because he had fallen and hit his head while putting the lawnmower into the car. A young mother on the scene had given him CPR. His heart stopped, and he had no pulse. I met her later and she told me she thought EMS would never come, and she wondered if she had done the right thing by reviving him since she had not known how long he had been without oxygen. Of course, she had. She had saved Dan’s life!

After a few days of testing, a heart attack was ruled out, but the diagnosis showed three aneurysms. One of the aneurysms was leaking blood behind his optic nerve and another, located in the center of the brain, was exceptionally large and in danger of bursting. If that happened, it would mean instant death. I asked the surgeon if he believed in miracles. His reply, “If I didn’t, I would not be doing this kind of work,” was like a light in the darkness. I told him that I believed in miracles too and asked him to do the surgery and assured him that we would do the praying. I had to pray for a miracle, even though I feared I might not be deserving of that. Dan was given only a 10 percent chance of making it through surgery, but an operation was our only choice.

At that time, I was barely able to keep my mind on praying and was relying heavily on the prayers of others. I felt so strange. I had been teaching Religion in an elementary school for 14 years, and now I was faced with putting into practice what I had been teaching. A simple concept, but not so simple. After all, I was always the one who gave a hug, or put a Band-Aid on the sore, or kissed away hurts. I had juggled schedules for our family of eight. I was a wife, a mother of six children, the youngest a senior in high school -- and a teacher. I was an organizer. I got things done! And now…helpless. My life was turned upside down. I felt as if I was on an emotional roller-coaster and Dan couldn’t help me. He was not just my husband but my mentor and best friend and the one who held me together when things got rough.

We are a close family and are blessed with a special group of close friends as well as our church family, who all came to my aid. But I felt so alone. I needed to talk it all out. I needed to talk to Dan about my fears, but that was not to be. It was at that time of aloneness that I discovered the importance and value of faith. I knew that I needed to “let go and let God.” I knew that I could not be in control on this one.

Dan developed pneumonia, a stress ulcer, drop foot, Vaso-spasms, and a serious drop in his potassium level. Each of these required the special attention of several other doctors. All these conditions, except the drop foot, were life-threatening and required delaying the surgeries. We prayed Dan through each of these issues and in a few weeks, he was stable enough for surgery.

I recalled a class that I had taken the summer before, about death and dying, and I remembered learning how important it was to free a person to die. One example that stuck with me was a story about a man who was suffering from terminal cancer and his wife who would not let him talk about dying. He needed to tell her about their personal matters, but she refused to discuss them, always telling him that he would be fine. She had prolonged his suffering! I could not let that happen to Dan and me. One night when he was moving in and out of consciousness, I knew I had to tell him that I would be fine if he had to leave me. I whispered in his ear, telling him how much I loved him and how much his love had meant to me. I praised him for the wonderful job he had done raising our children and reminded him that our youngest had just turned 18 and was graduating high school the next month and that our job of parenting was almost complete. Without any doubt, that was the most heart-wrenching thing I have ever had to do. My faith had gone into high gear and that freeing moment changed my life forever.

My children and I had arranged to have one of us at the hospital day and night. One time when it was my turn to take the late shift and Dan was improving, a code 300 was called in ICU. My heart sank. I covered my head with a blanket and prayed that it would not be for Dan. I knew my prayers had been answered when an elderly gentleman, who had been called to the hospital because his wife had taken a bad turn, came into the room to await the bad news. He was alone, and I knew how he felt. He talked about his wife and family and how they worked together on the farm, and about his wife’s illness and how it had changed their life. He was trying to keep the farm going and take care of his wife as well. The farm was quite a distance away and he had barely returned home when he received the call from the hospital that his wife’s condition had changed. We talked for quite some time before he was called out of the waiting room. Though the circumstances that brought us together were quite different, the changes brought about by them were remarkably similar. I remember thinking how awful it would have been for him to come into an empty waiting room, and then I recalled something I once read that a coincidence is God choosing to remain anonymous. This encounter brought me a new awareness of how God works in and through events of our everyday lives. During the seven weeks that we lived in that waiting room, my children and I learned that there was a special ministry very much alive there and we were deeply involved in it.

Dan survived two successful eight-hour surgeries and many complications along the way. We spent eight weeks in the hospital, seven of them in ICU. He was then moved to a rehabilitation center for a month. I was taught how to take care of him while they were teaching him to shave and feed himself. However, he was like an adult baby unable to turn over in bed, sit up, or dress himself. Though a nursing facility was recommended, we refused since the surgeon had told us to keep things as normal as possible. With all of us working together and with thousands of prayers continually offered for Dan and for us, he regained most of his memory and learned to sit up on his own. Though he never was able to walk, he began to use his left arm and hand, which was totally unexpected, and eventually was able to play the piano again. His speech was never impaired--a surprise even to his doctor. Dan talked and laughed and improved almost daily. He was not able to return to work or to play his classical guitar, but he enjoyed life, had a wonderful sense of humor, and his claim to fame was the fact that all but two of his seventeen grandchildren learned to walk using his wheelchair for support and playing peep-eye with grandpa.

Our lives had been turned upside down in a short two hours that Tuesday evening back in April 1981. All the plans we had made were suddenly unimportant. A life was hanging in the balance. I have been abundantly blessed by this life-changing experience. The power of prayer brought us through two surgeries, a heart attack, and 25 wonderful, life-giving years, my own bout with colon cancer, and the deaths of Dan’s parents and his only sibling. We were privileged to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary with our 6 children, 17 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. ( Now 18)

Dan passed away after a ten-month bout with lymphoma. He opted to try chemotherapy but had to stop treatments because of many life-threatening complications. He was a man of faith who inspired all who knew him. Even though he spent the last 25 years of his life unable to work, nor could he walk, he never complained, had an appealing sense of humor, and always appreciated what anyone did for him. Dan taught me and my children to appreciate every day and to enjoy the simple things of life. He showed us all how to live and how to die with grace.

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