Manifestation of Psalms 40

Posted: May 5, 2017 in Uncategorized

This is probably the most crazy series of events that has ever happened or will ever happen to me.

Before I get to the main part, I have to set the stage a little. My freshman year in college I came down with what the doctors thought was mono. Seems like a logical sickness to get your freshman year, and it was definitely going around on my residence hall floor. The only problem was that my symptoms lasted for about three months, instead of two to three weeks. Beyond fatigue, I developed odd symptoms like itchiness, yellow skin, yellow eyes, odd colored waste, dehydration, and elevated liver enzyme levels. The doctors did not prescribe any medicine, and more or less gave up after narrowing it down to what they thought was mono. I eventually got over being jaundice, through taking over the counter green tea extract pills and liver cleanse pills. However, for several years after I continued to quietly become sicker and weaker. It culminated to me getting gallstones while studying abroad in Doha, Qatar (kind of a major event in it of itself – check out my https://journeytoqatar.wordpress.com/ blog for more about my experience Qatar). I’ll never forget those three weeks in the hospital, hoping and praying that I would make it out alive. I wondered if the doctors even knew what they were doing, and why they were making me go through every medical test I had heard of (plus some). I was trying to keep my parents from having a conniption; and trying to have a positive attitude through it all because I felt like I was, in the midst of it all, pretty blessed. It was very difficult. My doctor explained to me that they thought I had what is called PSC, primary sclerosing cholangitis. For those that don’t have an advanced medical degree, this is a rare biliary autoimmune disease that corrodes your common bile duct so much that it causes blockage in your liver and GI tract. There is also no known cure, and the medical community is still unsure about the root cause. So here I am, 23 years old, stuck in a hospital room with 4 other unknown men from various places around the world (Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar from what I could gather), wondering if this was it for me; grappling for the first time seriously about my own mortality. It was a real thought. One that I’ll never forget, and one that has never really left my mind.

Fast forward a few years later. I still have the disease and it has progressed further. I made it out of Doha, Qatar alive, and I am sort of back to living a normal life. By this point I have had semi-frequent doctor visits, blood labs, and suffer through moderate symptoms on a day to day basis. I’ve become pretty well adjusted mentally to the prospects of dying or living out my days in suffering. I had accepted it as my lot, just part of the journey. In fact, I’m really not even bitter about it. It has taught me to appreciate life in a whole new way, and not take things for granted. I have been able to encourage others with my fight. Many of my friends are confused about it, and ask questions that I don’t even know how to answer. My parents are worried constantly about me, and rightfully so. I regret this in some ways, but I often undersell the true condition of my physical well-being so as to not alarm them more than necessary. I’ve learned to listen to my body and understand when things get to a level that needs serious medical attention. Even my dating life has been affected, in that I feel bad involving a significant other. To this point I’ve been consistently jaundice for about 2 years, most days I feel hungover most days (though I’m completely sober). I’m 27, and by the world’s standards, far too young to be going through all this.

At this point, I had just moved to Texas about a year earlier. It was a really good move for me personally and professionally. My first week in my new job, I came down with a cholangitis infection. This feels like intense sharp pain in the abdomen and feeling light headed. After finishing work, I drove myself to the emergency room, and they greeted me with a wheelchair, a hospital bed, and morphine. Lots of morphine. I was taken in an ambulance to a larger hospital in Dallas, where I met my now, gastroenterologist doctor. He seemed to know his stuff. He was a straight-shooter, but wasn’t too much of a jerk about the way he relayed heavy news. He had a sarcastic sense of humor too (bonus points). After a few follow up appointments with this doctor, I received news that my liver was in third stage cirrhosis, and I needed to pursue getting on the transplant list. This was a pretty big deal to me. To this point I was thinking maybe in my 30s or 40s, this might be the case. It was very bittersweet and hard to deal with. On one hand, great, a chance to improve my well-being; but for the most part I was in shock.

A few more hospital visits occurred and my condition continued to creep down a dark path. All the while I maintained an active lifestyle. I’ve tried to keep living on as if I was in normal condition. After my fall checkup, the doctor told me he was going to set everything up for me to get on the transplant list in Dallas. Within a month, in October 2016, I was back up to Dallas going through all the pre-transplant information sessions and lab work. I remember walking out of my information class and staring pensively out of an eighth floor window. I didn’t realize how intense this whole endeavor was going to be. I knew a transplant was major, but learning the details brings on a whole new perspective. I couldn’t help but shed a few tears, again wondering how much time I really had left on this earth. I received notice not long after that the board had reviewed my case and they were going to put me on the list. I didn’t realize it at the time, but with an 18 MELD score (not great but not super high), that was a significant blessing. By December, my liver levels improved and my MELD score dropped to 14. In my mind, I was cruising, improving.

Here’s where the story gets good.
On February 8th, 2017 I received a call from my transplant coordinator telling me that I needed to visit and get more lab work done. They need updated records on me to determine my MELD score. She told me that given my B positive blood type, I was surprisingly high on the list of potential donor recipients. This came as a shock to me. I had prepared very little for the transplant and told family and friends very little about what they needed to do to help me prepare. I had also only been on the list about three months. I freaked. I sobbed pretty much the rest of the day, and called few friends to vent. They all helped consul me, but I was still pretty shook up about the whole thing. To top it off, I was supposed to lead a group of college men in a Bible study at my apartment that night. It was our first night of the semester, and I knew there would be a few newcomers. The last thing I wanted to do was be a blubbering mess, and spill the beans that I might not be there to lead the next week (or next few months).

So the next morning I went in and got blood taken. Pretty routine thing. I went right back to work, and didn’t say much to anyone about it. I did talk to my direct supervisor, and mentioned in passing to my office mate that a lot was going on, but that was it. All the while, at this point I was mentally prepping for the scenario of me having to drop everything for 7-12 weeks and drive back to Dallas for a life altering surgery. Later that day I got a call from my transplant coordinator, and she told me I could be moved down on the list because more people had been hospitalized overnight. Part of me was relieved. This meant I might still get to go on vacation in New Zealand (terrible priorities right!?), and I could have more time to plan and prep everything. The scare however was strong enough that I knew I still needed to get things in gear and prepare just in case.

I called my team – my parents, my music pastor, and my boss. I gave them all detailed instructions on how to proceed should I get a call. I called and texted as many friends and loved ones I could think of in my frantic state of mind to tell them I loved them. I cried more, laughed, and prayed. I prepared my heart for the worst, and hoped for the best. I could hardly sleep at night though, so I would lay in bed and pray and plan and think about all the what if scenarios. I think I was planning in my dreams too. I wanted EVERYTHING to be taken care of, no stone unturned. Funny thing is, I didn’t have to do near as much for every detail to be taken care of.

That Friday night, I went out for Tex-Mex with a few friends, one of them being a girl I was particularly fond of. We laughed, cried, ate sopapillas, and mused about how grateful we were for each others friendship. By the time I got home, I was exhausted mentally and physically. It had been a long week at work and in my personal life, and I had cried far too many tears of sadness and joy. I fell asleep quickly and peacefully that night conservatively at 2:00 am.

I woke up in daze around 4:30 am and zombie walked to the restroom. Without boring you too much about my “bodily rhythms” and sleep patterns, I’ll just let you know that this was very uncommon. So as I stood above the toilet I heard faintly my phone buzzing on my bed. I wondered, “Who in the world is calling me at 4:30 am on a Saturday morning?” I quickly remembered that the transplant coordinators had told me that calls for a transplant could sometimes come in the middle of the night or the weekend. Double whammy! I stumbled over to my phone and dug my phone my phone frantically from underneath the covers. I saw that I had two missed calls and two missed voicemails. One pair was from an unknown number and the other was from my uncle. I listened to the unknown voicemail first and it was the hospital in Dallas telling me to call right back.

I called back and received word that I was a back up for a liver transplant. Apparently protocol was that they call me when I was a backup, so that I could my stuff in order. I took the news like a soldier going into battle. I instantly became laser focused. I called my uncle back, my parents, my boss, and my ride to the hospital within 20 minutes; then packed my things, cleaned my apartment, deposited a check, and put gas in car, all by 6:30 am. I was still waiting another call to let me know if I was next up to go in for surgery.

Side story: I had played some tunes for a daddy daughter dance the night before and I needed to return some sound equipment (I know, priorities) before leaving town. Problem was, the music shop I rented from didn’t open till 9:30 am. I called the store owner hoping to notify him of the situation, but all I got was his voicemail. I decided to try and drive to the shop and see if they were there early, but no luck. I drove to a nearby McDonalds, because I knew they had Wi-fi, and I could make calls and texts easily without overextending my data plan. As I pulled up a wayfaring gentleman walked up to my vehicle and asked me if I had any spare money. I quickly reacted, startled, explaining I didn’t have any cash on me. As he walked away I felt like God was tapping on my shoulder, and I knew I needed to do something. I thought, ‘Man, the least I could do is buy the guy a biscuit.’ I had few extra dollars from just depositing that check in my account. So I pulled around the drive-through and bought three biscuits, a coffee, and an apple pie. I drove down the street and found the man standing in front of a What-a-burger. I handed him a cup of coffee and bag with two sausage biscuits inside. I ate the apple pie and a separate bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit. I drove away thinking, “Alright, got that off my chest. You happy God?” It seemed like an uncomfortable inconvenience, but I still felt good about helping the man out. We exchanged the proverbial ‘God bless’ and head nod and went about our days. In a way I feel like God was testing me to see if I still cared about helping people in need, even when it wasn’t convenient for me.

I drove back and parked back at the McDonalds to eat my biscuit and get back to it.  Around 7:30 am I received another phone call from an unknown caller, and I picked up right away. It was my coordinator again, and this time she shared the news that I was ‘primary for the liver’. She asked how soon I could be in Dallas, and I roughly estimated about 11:00 am. I then called my ride, Kyle, back to share the news and let him know the game plan. I also punted the hope that I would be able to return the sound equipment that morning so I made arrangements with him to get that taken care of. The next four hours on my way to Dallas, are kind of a blur. I was constantly on the phone, giving people directions, saying ‘just-in-case’ goodbyes, and sharing awesome but scary news with loved ones. I cried a ton, laughed more, stayed even more laser focused, and yet kept my hopes at bay. I knew from the information sessions three months prior, that there was still a possibility that I could get to the hospital and not receive the transplant.

I’ll never forget talking on the phone with parents, as they were driving from Tennessee to Dallas. We prayed, talked over scenarios, strategized, and even spoke about what needed to be done if I didn’t survive the surgery. Talk about a hard conversation to have over the phone with your parents. Or their end, with your son or daughter. Not a dry in their car or mine (Kyle included). As the hospital came in site, Kyle told me to pause and take a moment to breathe and take it all in. It was so hard to do that in the moment, but I tried my very best. My mind was all over the place. At about 12:30 pm, we walked into the hospital about as casually as possible. I joked with him, “I wonder if anyone else just walks in and says, ‘Hi, I’m here for a liver transplant.’” As we checked in with the nurse on the 14th floor, the receptionist greeted us with a smile and a nearby room to prep for the OR, as calmly as a hotel receptionist might get you checked in.

Very quickly medical professionals followed me into the room taking blood, checking my vitals, doing all the things they have to do to make sure I was prepped for surgery. I had never seen a medical team operate so quickly. Very soon the first surgeon came in to share the game plan and tell me all the possible things that could go wrong. She shared that it was going to be a partial liver from a 22 year old with the same blood type. She also seemed confused when I told her this was the first time I was hearing details about it being a partial liver. Apparently that was a detail that should have been shared with me when I received the initial call. She shared that since I was young and relatively healthy pre-operation that I shouldn’t be too worried. While I was confused and a little worried (Who wouldn’t be!), I figured if this was my fate then so be it. Statistically I had a pretty good shot at survival, and I didn’t want to live any longer with the junky cirrhosed liver in my body. I knew the new liver would regenerate over time to become a full liver. She left and more nurses and techs followed in behind her preparing me for what was to come. I was pretty nervous about it all, and everything was starting to feel more real.

Then the main surgeon came in and shared more about the surgery. He shared more shocking news that fifteen people had passed on the liver they were about to partially put in my body – FIFTEEN PEOPLE! I was stunned. The probability of me being put on the transplant list with a now sixteen MELD score, called up for a liver that had passed on by fifteen people, only being on the list for three months, having a rare blood type, and about receive a liver from a donor that was six years younger than me was not only mathematically improbable, it was a miracle. This was planned, orchestrated. This had God’s fingerprints all over it. The surgeon, while equally stunned to be sharing this bit of news, shared that he was confident that I could survive this major surgery. While nervous, I was all the more ready to go considering the situation. Humorously, the surgeon described a liver transplant surgery to being like a party. To paraphrase his words, no one hosts a party thinking that everything will go as planned. When you host a party you expect for a drink to fall over, a lamp to bust, carpet to get spilled on, and maybe even the cops to show up, or worse. He explained that no one who can’t live with those risks should host a party. He said that the best approach is to manage the hurdles one by one and keep persevering. That’s a heck of an analogy for a transplant, but I all I could think of to respond with was “Let’s party!”. As he was about to leave, the surgeon mentioned that he had been in several consecutive surgeries (he estimated about 20 hours) and asked if he could take a break so he could go eat dinner with his kids. I was like “Dude! By all means!” He looked pretty exhausted, bordering on mad scientist. That fact didn’t ease my worries.

More techs and nurses came through to prep me for surgery that was now about four hours away. I sat in the hospital bed, still in my jeans, stunned. Kyle and his wife, Elizabeth, were there with me and we were dang near in tears over this news. Again…. God. I can’t tell you the amount of emotion I spilled in Kyle’s office a few months earlier talking about the possibility of this very day. At that time it was still a pipe dream.

At about 5:15 pm the surgeon came back in to let me know the surgery was officially a go. He then mentioned, with pause and shock, that I was now going to receive the full liver.

What?!?!

Is this real?

How in the…

God….why….

I sat there numb. But only for like 10 seconds. Kyle and Elizabeth audibly screamed out ‘What?!’

Reality set in and I hopped in the shower and soaped off with that smelly anti-bacterial stuff. I came out in my fresh hospital gown, and sat back in the bed awaiting to be rolled down to the OR. As I walked out, Kyle stayed back to let me know the nurses were out in the hall waiting for me and they had a surprise. As the two husky men maneuvered my hospital bed out of my room I noticed the nurses were in the hall ahead lined up with green and white pom poms. As we rolled through the cheered me on and wished me good luck in surgery. It was a pretty cheesy but touching moment. Again, not a dry eye in the house.

As they rolled me down the halls en route to the OR, I bowed my head and sobbed. This was the first time that I really let everything all set in. I prayed and asked God, begged God, to be with me.

In the waiting room outside the OR, I talked with my parents on the phone one more time. They were stuck in traffic about 20 minutes away, but I wasn’t able to see them before going under. That was pretty hard.

As I was rolled into the OR and got in position on the operating table I started to pray again. I felt like I was about to go out of a tunnel on my out into a football stadium. Everyone in the room was laser focused, prepping their equipment, and yelling out instructions. I laid there terrified and so again I prayed. I prayed one final time that God would be with me and take care of me. I told him I loved him no matter what happened.

You know how sometimes you can be in a room and someone you know walks in but you don’t have to see them to know they just entered the room. You feel their footsteps, hear their breathe, sense their presence. As I prayed that prayer I felt someone, that I can only describe as God, behind me. In that moment I was so comforted, and knew I was taken care of. That was the last thought I had before slipping into a deep anesthetic sleep.

I woke up in the ICU the next day, with wires and machines all hooked up to my body. I was pretty sore, but not as much as I thought I would be. I was on a lot of medication. I had survived! God had given me a new liver! Surgery was a success! Wow!!!

Over the next few weeks and months I have slowly improved, and my overall wellness has drastically improved. I’ve been able to share my story with lots of loved ones and unknown ones, and felt the presence of God very near in my life. Many have told me I am favored and blessed; and they are right in saying so.

The probability of all these events, is as I mentioned improbable at best. I’m not, like my doctor said, “a lucky son of a b****”. I am claimed. I am His. I have a purpose. I always have. I know that now more than ever before. I’ve experienced God’s divine mercies, and watch him orchestrate a scenario where there was no room for me to question whether or not it was Him. I am His. And I am so glad to be. My life has become a manifestation of Psalm 40, my favorite passage of scripture.

Psalm 40 (New Living Translation):

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,

and he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the pit of despair,

out of the mud and the mire.

He set my feet on solid ground

and steadied me as I walked along.

He has given me a new song to sing,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see what he has done and be amazed.

They will put their trust in the Lord.

Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord,

who have no confidence in the proud

or in those who worship idols.

O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us.

Your plans for us are too numerous to list.

You have no equal.

If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds,

I would never come to the end of them.

You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.

Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand[a]—

you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.

Then I said, “Look, I have come.

As is written about me in the Scriptures:

I take joy in doing your will, my God,

for your instructions are written on my heart.”

I have told all your people about your justice.

I have not been afraid to speak out,

as you, O Lord, well know.

I have not kept the good news of your justice hidden in my heart;

I have talked about your faithfulness and saving power.

I have told everyone in the great assembly

of your unfailing love and faithfulness.

Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me.

Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me.

For troubles surround me—

too many to count!

My sins pile up so high

I can’t see my way out.

They outnumber the hairs on my head.

I have lost all courage.

Please, Lord, rescue me!

Come quickly, Lord, and help me.

May those who try to destroy me

be humiliated and put to shame.

May those who take delight in my trouble

be turned back in disgrace.

Let them be horrified by their shame,

for they said, “Aha! We’ve got him now!”

But may all who search for you

be filled with joy and gladness in you.

May those who love your salvation

repeatedly shout, “The Lord is great!”

As for me, since I am poor and needy,

let the Lord keep me in his thoughts.

You are my helper and my savior.

O my God, do not delay.

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