Bringing Brian Back- Part 3 of 3

By Amanda Miller
PC: Unsplash

God and I were still working through a lot of things together in my soul, while God and Brian worked through a lot of things in his body. The doctors were able to localize and contain the sepsis, and the coma gave Brian’s lungs the rest they needed and the energy to try and work again. I had to explain several times to Brian what had happened, but slowly there started to be more clarity behind his silent eyes. Then they started to reduce the ventilator settings, testing to see if the lungs could handle it, and they could.

Suddenly, Brian was going to live. His forward progress was almost overwhelming, especially after weeks of only creeping changes and then that steady string of horrible news.

It was Friday when we could say the ARDS and sepsis had resolved enough and the intestinal issues were stabilized enough that Brian wasn’t going to die. Saturday, they pulled out the ventilator and he was breathing on his own, able to carefully talk again; his throat was raw and his voice gravelly, but it was the most beautiful sound from the lips I thought I might never kiss again.

By Sunday, he was taking bites of soft food — he had had the nasogastric tube down his nose for over a month, pumping bile out of a stomach that couldn’t digest. In the hilarity that ensues from immense relief and sheer exhaustion, we cued the “Hallelujah Chorus” as the nurse pulled the feet of NG tube out, yet another physical proof of Brian’s body returning to functioning. His first swallow was a spoonful orange jello, followed by a nibble of roast beef, and two bites of the Wendy’s frosty he had requested. A feast if we ever saw one. It had been forty days since Brian had eaten, whispering of a fasting in the wilderness that brought us all into closer communion with the One who feeds our souls.

Bit by bit, Brian continued to come around. His ileostomy started to work, he stopped throwing up, an IV line came out here and there, he started weaning off of IV nutrition and meds. Eventually his vitals weren’t even being constantly monitored, so I couldn’t stay glued to a screen watching his blood pressure and heart rate numbers. It was both a relief and a breath of faith to let them go. We moved out of ICU and onto “the floor,” I got a cot to sleep on instead of a chair, we started making plans — WE started making plans, how glorious is that!

And then one day, we left the hospital. It had been 50 days since Brian had been outside those walls.

We left a little differently than we had entered. Although at one point Brian had retained 70 swollen pounds of water weight, he had actually lost 25 pounds off his frame. This man, who could work 20-hour farm days and just always did what needed to be done, could barely take a step or hold his arms up to brush his teeth. His knees were wider than his thighs, his skin sallow and saggy, his face gaunt and his eyes dulled with pain. He could barely stomach any quantity of food, he had a large open wound, and he still had abscess-draining tubes sticking out all over. We wheeled him out and gently eased him into the van, a man almost unrecognizable.

But he was alive—beyond any logical expectations or medical probabilities—alive and improving. It was so like a dream, yet it was so happening.

I maybe didn’t look so different from when I went in, but I was. Brian got around like a man far beyond his years, and that’s how my heart has felt. I wasn’t quite 30, but I felt so old. The depths of pain and joy, sorrow and celebration, despair and hope, always change us.
Of course, things weren’t just magically all better. We left that hospital to go to the rehab unit of another, where more tears fell. We were there for 16 days, plenty of time for infection scares, ileostomy troubles, torn stitching—all that fun stuff. Brian worked so hard, learning how to use his muscles again and slowly shuffling around with a walker, but we still spent Christmas in the hospital. Now that survival wasn’t our only focus anymore, exhaustion of the last months pressed in hard, and I just wanted to go home.

But you know what, one day we did that too. 

In a strange twist of events, Brian actually never went back to our home after he left for the farm on that fateful day, as various circumstances necessitated us moving out, but kind people packed up our house for us and more kind people provided a temporary handicap-accessible room for us. After only a week or so there, Brian’s broken pelvis had healed enough that he could ditch the walker (which he did, enthusiastically), and before long he had regained enough strength that nurses and therapists stopped checking on him.
In the year since, things have kept happening. I could write and write and write, elaborating on the ups and downs and in-betweens. We had lots of slow recovery days when Brian lived on the couch, lots of small victories and small set-backs.

We had days of more drama, too, and we were back in the hospital twice more for surgeries to repair Brian’s intestines. We were hoping for just one surgery, about six months after we got out, and I was doing well at doing my best to emotionally prep myself for being back in that surgery waiting room. Before I could get all my plans together, however, things went downhill, and a same-day-care kind of question resulted in Brian getting admitted immediately and scheduled for surgery several days early. 

In that strange painful way that God proves his love sometimes, I again could not rely on myself and my helpful strategies for dealing with things, instead being tossed into the unknown of ocean of trust. Even Brian, he of steadfast calm, had a couple freak-out moments when the pain was excruciating and it looked like the plan of a temporary ileostomy and a general return to normal was going to be switched out for a permanent colostomy and major vocational changes.

And again in this odd grace that leaves us floored, danger seen on the CT scan disappeared; Brian lost 18” of his colon instead of feet and feet of all of it. In stark contrast to the previous surgery report I had received alone and in desperation, this one was shared with cheering family around me.

The next, and last, surgery went even better. In fact, the surgeon said it may have been her best re-anastomosis (reattachment of intestines) she’d done in all her years of opening people up. Brian didn’t even have much of the intense pain associated with reawakening the digestive system. It’s such a pleasure to be acutely grateful for normal things like having all your intestines on the inside.

Throughout the months, sometimes things still felt like a soap opera; we visited the surgeon’s office so often everyone knew us by name. Brian’s long midline incision kept getting weird and infected, for reasons they couldn’t necessarily identify. At one visit we learned, with some level of astonishment, that during the last surgery, they had removed Brian’s appendix “because it looked funny and we were in there anyway”: turns out he had a very rare and hard to diagnose carcinoid tumor, and the way to treat it is to remove whatever organ it’s growing on. The chances of him, first of all having that kind of tumor, is extremely slim, and then secondly to have had it removed without any idea of it being there, is ridiculous. Like I said, soap opera.

Or I guess, also just life. The ups and downs will always be around; that’s why we have Jesus. It sounds cliché, but I mean it for real. Underneath are the everlasting arms, always!

It hasn’t been quite so dramatic around here, but honestly, this fall was harder than I expected. Especially going from looking at being a widow to having a healthy husband, you would think life would be gliding by in rosy happiness.

But this beautiful life keeps throwing things at us, in bittersweet reminders that we always need Jesus, whether we feel desperate or not. Sometimes life gets more messy, when physical survival seems more cut-and-dried than relational and emotional issues. Brian and I found ourselves in the middle of a very unhealthy family situation, where many days I looked at the hospital with wistfulness for its “simplicity.” Tractors hurt, but so do people. 
Ever since I was four years old, all I ever wanted to do was be a mom. I’m thirty now, and I’m still not. The ache in my heart is stronger on some days than others, but it’s always, always, there. I cry at the most random and inopportune times, just because the desire has been held for so long that it can’t help but escape out onto my face. We thought we were going to adopt a baby, and then it fell through; we had one class left in our foster care requirements when the accident happened and everything came to a standstill for a year. 

Why is this so hard?

Many times I have had the privilege of reminding myself that God IS still—still the God I know on the cold hospital floor and on the lonely floor of my bedroom. He is not God just in the times of drama and trauma, for he is so much more — he is God in the most mundane aches of everyday, as we long for his kingdom. Life is crap sometimes, but the beauty is that that doesn’t change God’s identity at all. I knew in my soul that he was good even when I was about to bury my husband, and I know in my soul that he is good, no matter what. Today, he is good.

People usually get tattoos to make a statement, and the scars on Brian’s body will always be physical proof of God’s goodness and the amazing grace we have been given. The unseen emotional scars in my memory testify to the same goodness and grace; truly we have seen him who looks after us. 
One of Brian’s many doctors deemed this whole ordeal a “pretty remarkable recovery.” I think we can all agree.

There are so many things Brian should never have survived. It’s easy to look at all the details of the accident and ask why: why did tractor keep going, why did this all happen in the hardest-to-find way, why did he have so many infections, why did he get ARDS. But as soon as you start asking that, you have to keep asking why: why on earth didn’t the discs slice him to pieces, why was the temperature in the field exactly right to keep him from bleeding to death but not get hypothermia, why did his liver repair itself, why were we prayed for by thousands of people we don’t know, why was the surgeon able to miss that almost impossible artery, why did the fistula disappear, why why why.

I don’t know why we are the recipients of such grace, of Brian’s survival and the unbelievable covering of thousands of prayers. To be fair, I also don’t know why all this horrific stuff had to happen to us in the first place. I don’t know why some days feel good and some days feel bad. To an extent, I have given up trying to understand why at all. I just don’t know. None of it makes sense. Really, none of it.

I guess it doesn’t have to. It is; He Is. 

With amazing grace we do not deserve and cannot explain away, God brought Brian back. As if that weren’t enough, we received incredible blessings through community, and will be forever grateful to intentional and dedicated love of so many. The continuous outpouring of support as people have decided to walk alongside us in this crazy life has been, and always will be, truly shocking, humbling, and strengthening. I have pages of notes of what people did for us or brought to us, pages of generosity that make me cry even now. I have a drawer with hundreds of cards we received from people we may never meet, and I can’t go anywhere in public without someone at work or in the grocery store asking me how my husband is. When Jesus told us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn, I think he meant like this.

Is Brian a walking miracle man? Yes...I guess? There are lots of things that happened that we could call circumstance, medical expertise, miracle. But think about it, maybe it isn’t helpful to pick and choose, to try and parse out what is “technically” miraculous. I absolutely believe that God is God over all those things, that we can give thanks no matter.

And I absolutely believe that if I were writing these words alone, if Brian had died, God’s love and goodness would be no less—even if they didn’t feel as good sometimes. When people rave about how God answered our prayers for Brian, I want to step back and say YES he did, but he was all along. I bet you know people that have died, or maybe are even in the process of dying. Do you think God loves them any less than people that are living or have been miraculously healed? Like much of all this, even Brian’s epic recovery is bittersweet — I heard two people die while we were in the ICU. Why did I walk out of there with tears of joy, when others left with wails of grief? In our own celebration, let us not forget the pain of those around us, because I’ve been there, too.

And I might be there again someday. You know, Brian’s been out several times in that same tractor in the same field doing the same thing. I could be paralyzed every day by fear each time he goes out and farms. I am strangely comforted and strengthened, counterintuitive though it may be, by the knowledge that anything could happen again. My fear won’t stop it; even my faith won’t stop it. We have no guarantee on anything but God’s presence, and each day, it will be enough. 

Grace for today.

So here we are, a little over a year since the accident. Our life is forever changed, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. The bitter is what makes the sweet; the paradoxical interplay of the two is what makes today real. Trauma and sorrow are a part of each of our stories, and rather than arguing against the presence of Christ, they only intensify the evidence of his mercy.

I can’t say I’m glad this all happened, and I’d rather not do it again, but I can see blessings all around. Not only did I get thousands of new friends out of the deal, but I got renewed appreciation for every day I have with my husband. I am better acquainted with sorrow and its strange beauty. I’ve learned to claim joy in the morning just as I allow for grief in the night. It is all so bittersweet.

I read through my journal, and tears stream down my face at the depth of remembered emotion, pain, and truth now flowing with gratitude. Even Brian’s many scars are bittersweet: constant reminders of infinite, undeserved grace. May it all be for His glory.

Underneath are the everlasting arms. Bless the Lord, o my soul. Come and see what God has done!

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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