Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Zac's Surgery - 48 Hours Later

After the events of Monday, Karlene and I were exhausted – physically and mentally. It was a grueling, 12-hour roller-coaster ride that left us spent. Karlene turned in at 8:30pm and her parents soon followed. I volunteered to take the first shift of watching and taking care of Zachary.

Zac was excited about being back home after the surgery. He was also still under the influence of some pretty heavy meds and therefore not exactly in his right mind. We had a cane waiting for him and for the first several hours after arriving back home, he was hobbling around jabbering about this and about that. We actually had to get on to him about his excessive talking – that he needed to take it easy because of all the facial work and that the stitches needed to heal.

Zac’s aunt, Rebecca came over to the house bringing a great dinner with her and a cool balloon bouquet for Zac featuring a giant “Get well soon” balloon that actually sings (“Don’t worry, be happy”). Unfortunately, “Aunt Becky” dropping by also meant a fresh set of ears for a re-run of Zac’s stories from the surgical front.

By 7:00pm, we finally got him quieted down and onto his temporary “bed” in the downstairs living room, reclining on the couch. I would be sleeping downstairs, also – around the corner on an inflatable bed that we had temporarily set up for Zac in the back room. However, when the doctors told us that he needed to sleep in a propped-up position, we realized that the inflatable was not going to work for him. At around 7:30pm, Zac finally succumbed to the siren’s song of the meds in his system, as they ever-strongly urged him to follow their beckoning call to La-La Land.

After Zac was in place, everyone else drifted off to their rooms to drift off to a much-anticipated night of sleep. That is, with the exception of our resident night owl, Tara and myself. I sat down at the computer and blogged about Zac’s big day. After that, I went and tried to sleep on the inflatable bed and, as tired as I was, had a hard time joining everyone else in the household in that blissful place called dreamland. I tossed and turned and prayed. I put on a B movie and tossed and turned and prayed some more. Finally, after two straight nights with very little sleep, I dosed off. It was around midnight.

Something went “bang” in the night and I sat straight up in bed. There was nothing but silence. Thinking, it was another dream, I laid back down. Then I heard some noise again. It was coming from the bathroom upstairs. It was still dark so I looked at the clock and it was about 5:30am. I heard the bathroom door open and the floor creak as my father-in-law made his way back to bed. I guess he wasn’t ready to “get-up,” either. I rolled over and closed my eyes and then heard Zac stirring.

Zachary had awakened with a considerable amount of pain – plus a considerable thirst – and was attempting to get out of the reclined sofa (a task for most people, even in the best of circumstances). I jumped up and went to assist him. I helped pull him to an upright position and stabilized him so he could begin to walk. As he went to the bathroom, (with no assistance from me – thank you very much), I went and got his meds and mixed him a drink. Zac’s drink of choice: Orange Gatorade mixed with Orange Juice. So Zac was up and I was tired.

Karlene’s mom and dad got up a while later. Big daddy joined Zac and I at around 7:00am, while mom came down around 7:30am. Karlene, the early bird in the family, was nowhere to be seen. She came back to the land of the living at around 8:30am – a 12-hour snooze. Understandable, seeing that she got almost no sleep at all the night before Zac’s surgery.

Karlene’s parent’s pulled a fast one and decided to head home early. We said our “thank-you’s,” and “good-bye’s” and they were on the road before 9:30am. I guess they felt that Zachary was in capable hands and that their work here was done. We appreciated their support.

I got cleaned-up and then headed-out to run some errands, pick-up some groceries and get Zachary a game that he wanted for his Xbox360. When I returned home several hours later, Zachary looked bad. His face had become very swollen and he was in a lot of pain – everywhere. When Zac’s in pain, we all are in pain. The game had cheered him up a bit, but Karlene and I prayed for him and tried to get him to rest.

The difficult day turned into a difficult night. I am the night watchman. Karlene volunteered to stay with Zac during the night, but I wouldn’t allow her to. I told her “one of us needs to get a good night’s sleep and it might as well be you.” So I sent her off to bed and stayed downstairs again with Zac – this time sleeping near him on the loveseat (yes, friends, me sleeping on a loveseat). It wasn’t a good sleep (some surprise, eh) and Zac was up before dawn, again today. The routine continued with a big exception, thankfully – Karlene, back on schedule, got up and took over and I went looking for my lost sleep. I haven’t found it all, but I guarantee you I’m working at it.

Thanks for the prayers, cards, meals, calls, etc. We appreciate them, and each of you, immensely.

Tomorrow is Zachary’s surgery follow-up exam back up in West LA.

The saga continues.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Zachary Has Surgery

It was an early wake-up call this morning, as we wanted to be on our way to the hospital in West Los Angeles by 5:00am to beat the Monday morning traffic. Karlene and I were joined by Karlene’s parents,’ and my mother, as we rolled in the darkness toward Zachary’s big surgery day at the west LA Kaiser Medical Center – the home of Zachary’s cranio-facial team of doctors and two of his prior surgeries.

Zachary has actually been looking forward to this surgery. An opportunity to make some improvements in the looks of a teenager is generally a well-received proposition and with Zachary it is no different. However, as we arrived at the hospital at about 5:40 in the morning, his excitement and anticipation turned into nervousness and a bit of anxiousness as he was called into the pre-surgery prep room.

It had been eight years since Zachary had experienced his last surgery -- which meant that this time around, he was mature enough to realize the seriousness of having major surgery. He was especially concerned about the breathing tube they were to put down his throat during the surgery. Karlene stayed with him throughout the pre-op preparations as they would only allow one parent in with him until he was all prepped and ready to go – then I was able to join them.

The nurses, anesthesiologists, doctors and surgeons all filed through asking the same questions, getting the same answers and, of course, talking to Zachary. They started Zac on intravenous drugs and hooked him up to monitor his vital signs. The surgery resident, (Doctor Reiss) that would be assisting the surgical team (Doctors Turan and Wexler), came in and drew “X’s” on Zac’s left hip and the tip of his nose with a black marker --pinpointing the areas that he would be having work on.

For the uninitiated, Zachary was born with a cleft palate. He had two previous surgeries to repair the defect – one when he was only 5 months old and another when he was 7 years of age. The third surgery couldn’t (and wouldn’t) be done until his face had structurally matured in his mid-to-late teenage years. This third surgery was actually prompted by Zac’s orthodontist who wanted him to get a bone grafted into the cleft so that he can put a dental tooth implant into the area in the near future.

So, since he was going to have to do a bone-graft surgery on Zac, his Cranio-facial doctor (Doctor Turan -- pictured above) decided it would be wise to also surgically repair his nose and lip at the same time. The rhinoplasty would consist of removing cartilage from his left ear and rebuilding/repairing his nose with it. Since the nose would be reshaped, the upper lip would also need to be re-aligned. For the facial graft, bone was to be harvested from his left hip and implanted into the cleft area of his gums. I know, I know -- it hurts just to think about it!

They prepped Zac for over an hour and a half and then finally carted him off to surgery at around 8:00am. The team said that they should be done in a few hours with Zachary repaired, renewed and into the recovery room by 11:00am. It turned out that they were optimistic -- the best laid plans of docs and men.

At 11:00am, we got a call from the Operating Room apprising us that the surgery was going well, but (don't you just hate those "buts?") it was a bit more involved than they had anticipated and they wanted to let us know that they would be going into extra innings. Shortly after noon, they called us again and said that the surgery was finished. Zachary was heading to the recovery room and we would be able to come in and see him in a short while.

Because of a couple of small complications, (difficulties with the lip repair and his breaking out with a rash), we were unsure if Zac would be released to go home or if they would retain him and we spend the night in the hospital. God answered our prayers and Zachary was finally released at 3:00pm and we were able to bring him home. (Special thanks to Jay Garzon for coming by the hospital and assisting Zac when released.)

On the lighter side, back here at home, Zac is walking with a cane and acting quite funny (due to the effects of being drugged-up). He told his cousin, Bobby, that he is walking around with a cane just like "Dr. House" (from the TV show). Although he is in a fairly large amount of pain, he is resting comfortably at this writing – with the considerable assistance of a bottle of Vicodin.

Thank you for all of your prayers and kind thoughts for Zachary and our entire family. We are believing God for Zac’s speedy recovery.

We are also believing for a full-nights rest!

We all need it.

My Brothers' Photographs

Just before my brother Michael's untimely passing, he had put together a brand new website to showcase his photos. Photography was the one thing that Mike really and truly enjoyed. I thought that I would share a few of his photos here on my blog and also post his website for anyone who might be interested in taking a look at the world through my brother's eyes. The website is

Michael had a special affinity for lighthouses. He even had a collection of miniature lighthouses in his home. So I included one of his photos of the Point Vincente Lighthouse that sits on the Palos Verdes peninsula.

The photo of the cactus flower just happened to be one of my favorites and I told him so as he showed me his big portfolio the last time we were together. He took a lot of photos at the LA Arboretum and South Coast Botanical Garden and was working on a deal with both of them to sell his prints in their gift shops. His desire was to actually be able to make a living from what he really loved doing.

The final photo is one of nature in action. A Blue Heron preparing to finish-off his catch -- a sunfish. Michael entered this wonderful photo in a nature photo contest last Summer and was a finalist.

These are a few of his works. I'm proud to be able to share them. I do not know how long the website will remain up, but as of now it is functional. Thanks for looking and I hope you enjoy them as much as my brother did.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Final Farewell

We headed out of Torrance in my freshly washed PT Cruiser through the gloomy and rainy first Monday in March toward our destination some 45 miles to the north – the Eternal Valley Memorial Park in Newhall. Karlene, Tara, Zachary and I made good time getting there, especially in lieu of the rain. One thing you can be sure of -- L.A., freeways, and rain are always a bad combination.

We were heading to the funeral memorial service for my brother, Mike. Along for the ride was a larger-than-life framed portrait of my brother that we had made to display during the service. We were also toting a box full of memorial programs filled with a pictorial chronology of Mike’s life. I was concerned that the programs might be overkill, but was thankful that we had created them when we arrived and found out that the funeral home did not make their program after all.

The family was there and we hugged and sobbed and smiled and laughed all at the same time. One thing that I have found in my years of pastoring, funerals tend to bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. Fortunately, in this instance, the worst wasn’t very bad and it really turned out to be a wonderful memorial for Michael.

I did the service and found that it was more difficult for me to do than I had even anticipated. As a pastor, I have officiated funerals of various individuals including my Grandparents, uncles, and cousins. However, this was different – this was my brother – and it was certainly more challenging than I thought it would be. Thankfully, my wife Karlene stepped-up and read a letter from Mike’s friend in Canada that lightened the moment and rescued me from my temporary melancholy.

She then opened the microphone for thoughts to be shared from friends and family members. A few of Mike’s associates, whom had worked with him at Panavision, came forward and shared glimpses of him in the workplace and beyond. Then some of the family came forward and shared some of their own memories – most of them humorous and some of them bittersweet. It was a time filled with a mixture of tears and laughter in a combination that is really unique to a good memorial service.My mother closed out the “friends & family” sharing session with her favorite story about her first-born son. I will try to do the story the justice that it deserves.

It was sometime around 1953-1954, which meant my brother was about 3 or 4 years old. My mother had come to pick Michael up from Grandma’s house and she told him to get in the car so they could leave. The family lived in suburban Los Angeles, but back then it wasn’t the sprawl that it would later become (and is today). For whatever reason, (mostly talking with her mother, I believe), Mom took her time getting to the car – a habit that she has faithfully maintained to this day.

When she finally got into the car to leave, she looked in the back seat and there was no Michael. She looked down in the floorboards, but still no Michael. She got out of the car and hollered for him, but still no Michael. Her mother said that there was a house a couple of blocks away that had some ducklings and Michael liked going over there to look at them so she would head off that way to try and find him.

Mom jumped in the car and headed over to Redondo Beach Blvd. There was a Lucky Supermarket down the boulevard where they got their groceries from time to time and she decided to head toward it. Looking intensely for little Michael as she drove, all of a sudden she spotted him walking up the street. Relieved and terrified at the same time, she noticed that there was an old wino following him a short distance back.

Frightened by the man following close behind her son, Mom quickly flipped a u-turn and pulled-up next to the sidewalk and yelled at Michael to get in the car. He didn’t want to get in and looked back at the old bum and motioned for him to come-on. She noticed that the man was carrying something in his arms. Fearing the worst, Mom reached out and grabbed Michael as the old guy approached the car.

said the old wino that looked about like Otis from the Andy Griffith show. “Is that your kid?” he asked in an exasperated voice. “Yes” Mom told him. The wino replied, “Well, he needs a whippin’… You know he made me carry this 6-pack of Pepsi all the way up here from down at the store!”

Mike had gotten tired of the wait and decided to go down to the store by himself. He promptly walked in and picked-up a pack of Pepsi-Cola and walked out of the store. The Pepsi’s were too heavy for him to carry all the way home, so he enlisted the bum that sat out by the market to carry them home for him. That was my brother.

Similar stories were shared by others, memories relived and retold, and the tears and laughter continued. Then I concluded the memorial speaking of the comfort that knowing Jesus provides even in the worst of times and situations. Dad gave the benediction. The memorial service concluded with the Navy Ceremonial Guard who honored Mike’s 10 years of service to the country by presenting the flag to his son, Michael. Ironically, in all those 10 years with the Navy, my brother never was on a boat or ship. The day turned out to be a nice and fitting memorial for my brother.Afterwards, we spent time talking and catching-up with family and friends and then went to dinner with the entire family at the Mimi’s CafĂ© in Santa Clarita. It was good to get together. It was good to laugh. It was good to cry. It was good to share. It was good to sigh. It was good just to be there.

The long winter Monday drawing to a close, we said our good-byes, embraced again and then headed each of us toward our homes. It was a long day, indeed. An exhausting day, an emotional day, a challenging day, but it was a good day. It was a day that I shall remember – the day we said good-bye to my brother.