Bringing Brian Back- Part 2 of 3

By Amanda Miller
PC: Unsplash

Alone I stumbled back to IMU to frantically pack up our things; alone I crumpled, sobbing, into a corner in the much-too-familiar ICU waiting room; alone I pleaded for updates while they still wouldn’t let me see Brian.

This was one of the only days I was alone. It feels a little cruel that this of all times was when no one was there with me, but (especially after the fact) I can see the grace in it. In all reality, I was only by myself for a couple hours — the hours of crisis when I had no idea what was happening with Brian or if it was all over. There was no one to distract me, comfort me, strengthen me—no one to lean on but my God. The other crises I always had people to bolster me, but this time I only had God...and he was enough.

Brian made it through the day, and over the next day or two showed small signs of progress — before he started tanking again. His lungs started shutting down, and in a horrible progression he went from room air to a bi-pap mask to the ventilator. I didn’t understand the severity of the diagnosis right away when the surgeon told me, but it began to sink in. Brian had contracted Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, a condition where the walls of the lungs fill with fluid and become unable to contract, as well as sepsis, an infection of the blood. Either of these alone can kill a healthy person, not to mention someone severely deconditioned and still recovering from serious injuries.

I thought the emotional trauma of the initial injury was bad, but this was worse. I had been sleeping on a hospital chair or cot for a month, riding the highs and lows of cycles of hope and discouragement, sitting in this cold sterile building watching my husband in constant pain. My reserves of personal strength were already wearing so thin; I muffled screams into my arms and my nose raw from tissues.

The still somewhat-experimental treatment for ARDS is to induce a medical coma in the patient, paralyzing his or her body in complete sedation and letting machines breathe for the lungs that need rest. For three days, Brian would be living by machine only, and then hopefully he would wake up out of the sedation, and hopefully his lungs would try to work again...but no guarantees.

I said goodbye before the sedatives dripped into his bloodstream, kissed his warm face, looked into eyes that made me wonder if he understood any of it at all. Maybe I should have just said see you later, but really, it felt like goodbye.

Those three days are both like a blur and like a brand—hard to see through the fog yet seared on my soul. Each time when it seemed impossible for there to be anything lower, yet underneath are the everlasting arms. The next day when I somehow went lower, underneath are the everlasting arms. The next day I was again at my lowest of lowest; yet underneath are the everlasting arms.
Each day I knew the next had a definite possibility of being devastatingly even lower, places so dark I honestly didn’t know if I’d be able to carry on.

Yet, underneath.

Minutes were hours and hours were days, in a climate-controlled ICU room where time is a construct. I remember being so cold, cold in my bones, with the exhaustion of sorrow overwhelming me. I knelt and crouched by my lifeless husband for hours, just trying to be near him or hold his grossly swollen hand. Loved ones surrounded me, fed me, sat with me, held me and my tears, and hundreds if not thousands joined in prayer.

Brian was unconsciously fighting for his life, and it feels kinda like I was, too. I had asked for suggestions for songs I could play to fill the room with praise, and the hundreds of responses helped me keep worship music constant. I paged desperately through the Psalms, praying truth and scripture out loud and in quiet. I think back, and I feel the swirling blackness and peace together in a strangely dichotomous harmony.

This was like The Crisis moment; I came out of it before Brian did, but maybe not in the way a Hallmark movie would.

I gave up. I gave up on Brian, that is. While I had a lot of people telling me to keep thinking positive, telling me they just feel he’s going to pull through, telling me Brian wouldn’t have survived this long to go now, God wasn’t telling me any of that. 

Looking realistically at the situation, I could see that most likely Brian was going to die. I don’t mean at all that I didn’t have faith that Brian could be healed, that we shouldn’t pray for great things, or that God can’t work above and beyond the logical and rational. Looking at our story, I think there’s no way I couldn’t believe those things.

But I also don’t think that we should gloss over reality or refuse to face facts. In fact, only through faith can we truly meet reality: reality is incomplete without acknowledgment of God’s presence.

I took a rare moment to get outside and push fresh air into my lungs that were struggling to contract; there wasn’t water in my lungs like there was in Brian’s, but there was plenty spilling out of my eyes. The place of most solitude I could find in close proximity to the hospital was, ironically, a graveyard. I trudged past a few headstones, desperately smashing my water bottle into trees and willing it to shatter like my heart. Even that didn’t work.

Apparently time was still going on in the outside world. Seasons had changed while we sat in the hospital, and the fallen leaves crunched below me as I crumpled to the ground. As the minutes passed, the pang in my heart didn’t lessen in intensity, but it gradually became matched by a bittersweet sense of calm. I was terrified of losing my husband, and I was never going to “be okay” with it. Brian would die and I would live, and I would have to figure it out. But my hope was not going to die with him, because it is based in someone else. 

In that little graveyard clearing I stacked my rocks, I built a memorial of the heart. It was there I gave up hoping for Brian’s life; it is a symbol to me of how God and I have come to a different level of understanding. It was strangely encouraging and strengthening, to hold hands with both dark sorrow and real hope. I know in a deeper way now that my hope doesn’t need to feel happy or look nice. 

And then I put one foot in front of the other back to the hospital, out of the sunshine and through the doors and up the elevator and into the unit, into Brian’s room where he literally hadn’t moved an inch. It was still dark, and it was still cold, and he was still going to die. 

I wrote quite a bit in that week. I wrote a lot about Psalms and truth, but I also wrote about how my whole body trembled as I laid my head on his arms for hours while I sobbed, how my heart was technically pumping blood but I wasn’t sure it was working right. When all the news is bad news, the exhaustion of grief and crushed hopes takes over.

Gradually, gradually, the paralytic and sedatives began to wear off, and we waited to see if and how Brian would wake up. It wasn’t a flipping of a switch; it was days of watching how his lungs and organs would respond to being off of machines. The steady stream of bad news started to morph towards the positive side, with little snippets of good news here and there actually being ours.
This was oddly scarier than I anticipated. I felt like this wizened and worn old cynic, and it both confused and frustrated me that people around me were jumping on the good news, rejoicing, laughing, assuming we’re trending upward.I could see his vitals, his ventilator. I know more than I wish I did about what stats mean. I could hear the snippets of progress at the same time as others in the room, yet I also heard the hesitations, the concerns. 

But mostly, I remembered what happened the last time I was filled with hope. Brian miraculously made it through the initial accident, but look at where we were now! 

I knew all these steps forward could turn around in an instant, and I just didn’t think I could handle that depth of a fall again. Finding myself absolutely desperate in sorrow on a cold hospital floor again, a month after the first time, had broken something in me.

Even though my agony was not physical, my whole body still ached in post-weeping tenseness and my hands were still the cold purple of shut-down mode. My eyes had swelled so much from perpetual tears that I could barely get them to focus. 

How did I know we were through the valley where death was more than a shadow? Are those days lurking just around the corner again? Will the next hour bring life to a halt again?

Brian was doing legitimately well for his situation, but that wasn’t even close to a guarantee that that would continue. I wanted to gleefully snatch each piece of good news as it came, to build stepping stones of hope into recovery and beyond, to be encouraged and encouraging. But I couldn’t. I did not have hope in Brian. If today was good, he might die tomorrow. 

I was afraid.

I realized that if I sit here and place my hope in Brian, I am going to be tormented by fear every day, every minute. He is my love, the most important person in my life, the only thing I think about right now. But he is not my hope. Look at what happened in one afternoon, in the minute of the accident. No warning, nothing I could do. 

Only when I remember my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness will I be able to do this. Even if the miracles continue and by amazing grace we go home to an almost normal life, that won’t stave off the fear. Brian is the strongest man out there — but even he can’t keep us safe, as we know.

We often quote that perfect love casts out fear, so maybe I just need to love God more. But I’m not sure any “amount” of love for God or knowledge of his love for me will ever erase my fear of facing life without Brian, and I don’t think that’s even what Christ asks of me. He’s the one who gave me this man to love, and it would be silly to be fine with losing him.

And in grace upon amazing grace, I still have him. Though it started agonizingly slow, the good news kept coming in inescapably miraculous ways. At just the right rate to keep my real hope and trust anchored outside of his progress, Brian woke up. It took days, and he battled delirium, horrible fever, dead skin peeling off, exciting blood pressure and heart rate, but he woke up.

Amanda and her husband Brian live on the family dairy farm in Hutchinson, Kansas, and are so grateful for the incredible support they've received from their church, community, and beyond. Amanda loves teaching cooking classes at a local kitchen store and writing for the local newspaper, but also enjoys nerding out over food science, traveling in East Africa, interacting with different cultures, riding her bicycle, making cheese, and living in a way that respects creation.


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