It’s a curious thing to be in a situation where you need help. Like, REALLY need help. If you don’t have help, people will die or you will lose your home or any number of catastrophic things could happen.
My husband Tim and I have been in this situation more than once. In 2003, he underwent a liver transplant at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. Our community, near and far, came through in amazing ways with prayers, love, financial help and so much more. Read more about that here.
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We recently found ourselves in this familiar situation once again, dealing with an abdominal aortic aneurysm that was discovered during his liver transplant. Back then, the U of M doctors said it wasn’t big enough to worry about, so they’d keep an eye on it. After several years, Tim had a procedure to repair it at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City. The surgeon botched the surgery, however, and in fact, didn’t repair it, and we ended up with more problems than before.
In February of this year, we began a journey that resulted in three major emergency surgeries at U of M Hospital to fix that aneurysm, which unbeknownst to us, had grown to a whopping 17cm. Three times Tim nearly died. Twice he took midnight ambulance rides to Ann Arbor. Three emergency surgeries, three stints in ICU, three recoveries in U of M’s Cardiovascular Center, and nearly a month of rehab in Ann Arbor.
My part involved countless drives back and forth to Ann Arbor, the financial strain of keeping the mortgage and bills paid from Tim’s ICU room(s), being Tim’s liaison at the hospital, and most of all, the gut-wrenching stress of possibly losing Tim – three times – and facing life on the Old Mission Peninsula without my soulmate.
But after 74 days, Tim came home. He’s doing great, and our next appointment at U of M is in November. All of this is a really long story, and you can read more about it through the links below:
- Jane’s World: Sometimes You End up at University of Michigan Hospital
- Jane’s World: Sometimes You End Up BACK at University of Michigan Hospital
- Jane’s World: Aneurysm Tales – Tim and Jane’s Medical Adventures, Part 3
“Needing help” is fraught with emotional turmoil. First, if you’re in a position where you need help (someone will die or you’ll lose your house), that in itself is daunting. No one wants to be there.
Second, no one likes to admit they need help. I’m a farm girl who grew up on the Old Mission Peninsula. I don’t expect anyone to solve my problems for me. I fight my own battles. Or in this case, my husband’s battles.
And third, once you admit to yourself that you need help, then you have to actually accept it from people. That can be surprisingly challenging, and yet, it’s very humbling and reminds you that we’re all interconnected on this planet.
During Surgeries #1 and #2, a few friends approached me about doing a fundraiser. Things were tough, and my credit cards were getting a workout, but I wasn’t quite ready to “go there” yet. We hadn’t lost the house yet, after all. That’s my benchmark – are we in danger of losing the house we’ve worked so hard to build and keep all these years?
By Surgery #3, however, losing the house was a real possibility, and I was getting behind on bills. My pastor at Old Mission Peninsula United Methodist Church, Melody Olin, and her husband, Denny, called me and asked if I needed financial help. My first instinct, of course, was to say, thank you so much, but I’m fine! Really! But I wasn’t fine, and after some hemming and hawing on my part, I accepted their gift of love. Then I got off the phone and cried tears of gratitude. They reminded me that it’s ok to admit you need help and then accept it.
Then my friend Kris Hains organized a fundraiser at YouCaring.com and even hijacked Old Mission Gazette to write this post about it. Things are a little hazy from that time, but I think Kris may have gone ahead and organized the fundraiser without me knowing about it – because she knows I will do everything in my power to struggle through on my own, gosh darnit! I can do it myself! (No, Jane, you can’t.)
Here’s the thing – and this is what Tim always reminds me. If you’re in a dire situation, people WANT to help. They WANT to feel like they’re doing something useful, and they need a way to do it. Thank you, Kris, for providing that way. That fundraiser was an incredible act of kindness that likely saved our house, and for which I’ll be forever grateful.
Donations started pouring in, and folks near and far prayed for us and offered love and support in amazing ways. Every day at the hospital – much of it in ICU with Tim hooked up to a breathing tube and unable to speak – I would read to him everyone’s notes on the fundraiser page, on my Facebook updates, and from the folks in my group-text. Those notes from all of you kept him alive, and I mean that exactly how it sounds.
During that dark time, after enduring three major emergency surgeries, all of them unplanned, leaving him in a very frail physical and emotional state, Tim later told me that he could have easily slipped away. That it would have been much easier to drift off, especially after the third surgery, which turned out to be the “big, scary” one we were trying to avoid because the doctors didn’t think he would survive it.
But as he lay there in that ICU bed and heard me read those notes from friends, family and yes, even strangers who prayed for us and supported us, I – and all of you – were throwing him a virtual lifeline to stay alive. Never ever underestimate the power of prayer and love and community support during a crisis. We felt every ounce of it – and continue to feel it every day.
I had intended to write individual thank-you notes to everyone who helped us along the way (because throughout my life, my mom said to ALWAYS write thank-you notes). But after we got back home, my life was consumed with getting Old Mission Gazette back in motion, getting some revenue coming back in, and dealing with all the day-to-day stuff of this sweet, precious life. So I’m hoping that everyone reads this post and understands how truly and deeply grateful we are for everything.
Thank you to everyone who prayed for us, donated to the fundraiser, sent checks through the mail, and handed me money when they saw me out and about. Thank you to everyone who called to check on us, sent cards of encouragement, gave us gift cards to grocery stores, offered to bring food and clothes to the hospital, visited us at the hospital and rehab place, sent food to the house, and took me to lunch when I was in Traverse City.
Thank you to Sally Van Vleck and my yoga community for meditating and radiating peace and love for us, and to my beloved church family for taking up a collection for us and praying us through our ordeal. Thank you to Tim Gallagher for bringing a guitar for Tim to play while he recovered at Glacier Hills Rehab in Ann Arbor, and to Rob and Deb Holt for always being there when we need you (and for that awesome coloring book you brought to Glacier Hills).
Thank you to our niece Abby, a nurse at Beaumont Hospital, for sitting with me during Surgery #1, pulling me back from the brink of insanity, deciphering the doctor-speak so I knew what was going on, and bringing Tim a birthday pastry. And to you and your mom Jane (my sister-in-law) for visiting and cheering Tim up at Glacier Hills.
Thank you to my brave text-group, who waded through my daily updates from the hospital and texted back notes of encouragement (my apologies for sending you every.single.detail of the surgeries and recoveries, which I’m sure were way TMI – Too Much Information – at the time!).
Thank you to our neighbors, Pat and Deb, for being there, and to the Monday night dominoes gang for the friendship and wine therapy. Thank you to my writer-friends for listening to me vent about everything that was happening, and offering encouragement and love.
Thank you to my nephew Cory Reamer – my niece Heather’s husband – for taking time out from his paying work to install my free kitchen cabinets and basically build me a new kitchen, complete with a sink, dishwasher, countertops and microwave that he GAVE to us – all in the midst of our medical crisis.
Thank you to my friend Maura Sanders for giving me those kitchen cabinets – the first I’ve ever had after living 30 years in this house. Little did we know last fall when we chatted at your house that those cabinets and Cory’s selfless act of picking them up, storing them in his trailer, and installing them would be exactly what I needed months later – something non-medical to focus on amidst all the medical trauma.
I will never forget pulling into the rest stop near Clare – on my way back to Ann Arbor – to read your text that the cabinets were ready, and me texting Cory to let him know but having no idea how it would all work, and Cory texting me back that he’d take care of everything. These are the kinds of things that keep a person going when they have no idea if their husband will live or die.
Thank you to the amazing doctors, nurses, physical therapists, Gifts of Art musicians (including Gregory Maxwell with his guitar), and staff at U of M Hospital for keeping Tim alive. The ICU nurses are a special breed of angels, and by Surgery #3, we knew a lot of them by name. We couldn’t have asked for a better ICU nurse to start us off than Roger, who calmed both me and Tim down that first night after Surgery #1, and ending with a wisecracking nurse who made us laugh and feel like there was life after U of M Hospital.
Thank you to all the nurses at U of M’s Cardiovascular Center, where we moved after each surgery and ICU recovery. Again, after three stints there, we were on a first-name basis with many of these nurses.
The surgeons who performed the surgery and did rounds each day were, of course, amazing, especially Dr. Peter Henke, the lead surgeon who performed the life-saving Surgery #3. I also have to mention Dr. Silas Norman (one of the transplant doctors) who shook both Tim’s and my hand every time he entered or left our hospital room, and Dr. Andrea Obi (one of the vascular surgeons), who declared Tim her miracle patient and had this joyful laugh that made us feel like everything would be alright.
Thank you to everyone who might not have known they were sending love our way. The girl who sang so beautifully while fixing sandwiches in the Cardiovascular cafe, the people in the U of M elevator who smiled at me, the cheery folks who scooped an ice cone for me at the Middle Branch Country Store on M-115 (thanks, Dave and Donna Tuttle, for letting me know about this cool place), the lovely servers at The Soup Spoon Cafe in Lansing, where I had lunch with our MSU son Will on my way through one time, and so many others.
Thank you to everyone for helping me keep my soulmate alive. I’m grateful for it every single day. It really hit home for me when Tim came home from Ann Arbor and felt strong enough to attend a few Old Mission events with me – Peninsula Community Library’s half-way mark party, Neahtawanta Center’s 30th anniversary, OMP United Methodist Church’s chicken barbecue and Lorey Kroupa’s retirement party, to name a few. All events that Tim would have missed had he not survived the surgeries. That I would have attended without him.
At the recent Old Mission Parade and picnic on Bay Street, as I sat there watching Tim eat potato salad and chat with his old friend Jeanine Mlujeak in Connie Parliament’s back yard, I couldn’t help but think what a sad day it would have been if Tim wasn’t around for that wonderful day on his beloved Bay Street in Old Mission. Thank you, all.
Beautiful, heartfelt and inspiring writing Jane.
Good luck on his next phase!
Positive thoughts and prayers!
How wonderful. Love being your neighbor and sharing this awesome peninsula with you.