Saturday, May 17, 2008

Katherine's story: more on the Problem of Pain and how faith has buoyed a family and thousands of friends

I thought about mentioning a personal story Monday when I talked about the Problem of Pain, It was a recent event, with ongoing recovery, that has both shaken my wife and I emotionally and encouraged us spiritually.

Last month, one of the leaders of the Young Marrieds group at Bel Air Presbyterian that we've been involved with suffered a brain hemorrhage. Katherine Wolf is my age, and my wife had just seen her two days before at a baby shower. Beautiful mother of an adorable six-month-old son, husband weeks away from finishing law school -- prime of her life in every cliché sense. So young, and yet there she was at death's door.

The emails for prayer went out immediately: "Important -- prayers needed immediately" was the first subject line I saw. And after an unbelievable 13-hour surgery that doctors at UCLA weren't optimistic about her chances to come out of, Katherine was stable. Very sick, but stable:
My beautiful girl was fairly unrecognizable until she opened her eyes and a shot of that unique aqua blue flashed out. She had a huge ventilator tube twisting her swollen, torn lips to one side and a feeding tube distorting her nose. Since we’ve switched to a tracheotomy and feeding tube in the stomach, she looks more like Katherine, although her face and neck are still swollen. Her head has been shaved in patches. It looks like an unlovely patchwork quilt. There is a square on the right front part of her head with several angry-looking holes, one of which has a tube coming out of it. There is a large shaved area across the back, where the main vertical incision was. But she still wears the matted ponytail of what’s left on top, darkened by crusty dried blood. Clear tape covers much of the whole mess. There are ‘boo-boos’ all over her body from one ghastly life-saving procedure after another. Tiny machines are attached to tubes entering her arms, hands, abdomen, thighs...which are hooked up to big scary-looking machines crowded around the bed.
Her mom went on in this April 29 account; you can read it here.

Katherine continues to make progress, chronicled at this blog and on this Facebook page, which are followed closely by her friends, who pretty much haven't left the lobby of the UCLA Medical Center since April 21. (My wife and I slept there one night last week.) There is no sugarcoating, only the portrayal of profound faith and an awareness of the steep hill Katherine will climb before she leaves the hospital.
Katherine had a steady day yesterday. Our medical friends continue the attempt to open her natural brain drains by increasing the cranial pressure. The process slows Katherine’s responsiveness but is showing some results. However, her friend, Whitney, brought a “People” magazine and it received 2 “thumbs up” from Katherine! The medical team is fabulous and they are offering superlative care.

Katherine’s heart rate was high and she spiked a fever so they are backing off a bit on her breathing and physical therapy efforts. This is a huge battle. God encouraged Joshua as His people moved to new territory, “Be stong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:)
Katherine's husband, Jay -- I previously admired him for sporting a beard -- has shown a spiritual maturity that has left me in awe. In his shoes, I fear I'd be very angry with God. Healthy angry, hopefully. But angry nonetheless. Jay, however, has been a warrior with immeasurable wisdom.

To me, the most amazing story here has been the outpouring of love and support from Katherine and Jay's friends, particularly those at Bel Air Pres, which became their home after they relocated here from the South. "This is the body of Christ," a pastor said at a special service the Sunday after the next step in Katherine's life began, referring to the way the community had rallied, the way people had forgone work and sleep to comfort and counsel. Katherine's friends also started a little movement to memorize Romans 8, a portion of Paul's letter that reminds us we are "more than conquerers through him who loved us."

At the prayer service, Katherine's mom, Kim Arnold, joked that her daughter had always wanted to be famous; her story now has been told on news programs in Jay's native Montgomery, Ala., where his father is a Baptist pastor, and last night on Fox 11 in L.A. Here is the link to the Fox report and the transcription of a bit that discusses how faith has buoyed the Wolfs, Arnolds and their church family:
Fox: Prayer is what this family knows and does best.

Jay: God has given us everything, in saving her life and in healing her in miraculous ways everyday.

Fox: Still in intensive care, Katherine is showing signs of recovery -- the answers, say the Wolfs, to their prayers.

Pastor Wolf: I believe I am sitting on the frontrow of a miracle, and God is showing up and showing off.

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