After my meeting with Dr. Shahinian that February Monday morning in downtown Los Angeles, we left the Skull Base Institute in city of Angels and headed out to hike Skull Rock in the Santa Monica Mountains! How symbolic this was- Jamie and I reached the rock and I sat inside “the skull”, pointing to the place where my tumor was. The next day was Tuesday, February 17th, and we had special dinner guests at the bungalow my family was renting. Bruce Marchiano, the “Jesus” actor and pro-life film producer, along with his beautiful wife Maria, came for a night of joy, laughter, stories, food, and friendship. The next morning, the day before my surgery, Jamie surfed with one of his best friends from camp growing up, Tyler, who just happened to be in Malibu visiting his parents that week! I sat on the beach with his wife, Katie, enjoying the California sun and laid back surfers’ atmosphere. We had a delightful lunch with them and then Jamie and I went off for our final hike pre-surgery. It was a gorgeous day and the mountains were lush with life. I heard some runners come up suddenly behind us, and turned to my astonishment…my two brothers were right in front of me! I screamed in absolute surprise! They had flown to California to be with me for my surgery! So that night was a family feast with food and prayers and laughter and face-timing with family back home and reading encouraging texts, and just giving it all to the Lord. Sushi and lavish chocolate cake were my celebratory/prepping foods of choice! I slept like a baby that night and woke just before my alarm went off at 3 something AM.
Off to Mission Community Hospital for the big day! I remember the quiet drive to the hospital- I was totally and completely calm. Only the Holy Spirit could cause such out-of-this-world peace. I sat in the back seat of our rental car and posted this to facebook and twitter: “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him.”Psalm 28:7 It’s a day to trust God. Dr. Shahinian was ready and eager to start surgery pronto- his confidence and smile were an additional calm assurance to my spirit. I prayed with my family before being rolled into the OR, and we gave hugs and kisses. I remember meeting Filipino nurses who were prepping me, and I told them about my trip to the Philippines…and I remember this tall nurse from Boston who was tickling my toes and getting little needles prepped to test my nerves all throughout surgery. Before I knew it, someone asked “Do you want to see your family?” and I said, “Yes, I’ll say goodbye one more time.” They told me, “No Caitlin! You’re finished! Surgery is over!” I couldn’t believe it! I exclaimed in my weak voice over and over again, “I’m alive! Praise Jesus! I had the best team! I’m alive!” I couldn’t see much of anything as everything was double and blurry. The hearing in my left ear was totally gone. (Dr. Shahinian had stepped into the waiting room, mid-surgery, and explained to my family that hearing loss would likely be the case if he were to continue the surgery and completely remove my tumor. The hearing nerve is just incredibly delicate, and sensitive and the tumor was wedged between those three cranial nerves and brain stem with a vital artery running right through it!) My time in the hospital was extraordinarily painful, but I was ecstatic to know that my tumor was 100% removed! Truly, the nurses around the clock were the kindest, most detailed nurses in the world. They were the best-trained team I could have asked for, and I wish I could now thank each one of them. It made me appreciate all my friends who are nurses and the care that they give to countless patients and their families. It was also such a wonderful comfort having Jamie there for a few days before he had to fly home back to work. The way he prayed over me, faithfully loved me, and stood by me, with my family, was just incredible.
The bungalow we rented was a beautiful place to recover- as I was able to sit outside and enjoy the breeze. My parents held my hands and guided me as I walked. For those first few weeks- both in California and back home in Delaware- I felt like for the first time in my life I could imagine how Helen Keller felt…deaf in my left ear and my vision so impaired that it was painful to even open my eyes, and when I did all I could see were blurred objects. My balance was off so that I had to have someone hold me anytime I attempted to walk. I couldn’t even brush my teeth alone or feed myself. The left side of my face was paralyzed which hampered my ability to smile normally. I never knew the intricate role nerves play in our bodies! I remember lying in bed at night, the pain raging and my head swollen, the ringing in my ear non-stop…There I was, imagining the day I would run again, sing again, see again, hear fully again. I remember thinking about suffering and the beauty of it all, the way I depended on others for life and how they valued my life so as to take care of me 24/7. I will never be able to fully thank my parents who were my at-home nurses at every waking and sleeping moment. The one verse that kept coming to mind in those suffering hours was Psalm 3:3-5, “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the LORD and He answered me from His holy hill. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.”
The rest of my recovery at home is one long blur…day after day, night after night, of pain, of nerves on fire. I would have good days and attempt to do too much (walk around my house too much, open my eyes for too long) and then I felt it the next few days as I was wiped out. I couldn’t have visitors because the sight and sound was too much to bear, my senses on overdrive. I couldn’t watch movies or read or look at a cellphone or computer screen or even listen to music…it was all too painful for my head. I did listen to books on audio at a very quiet volume. First my Dad read aloud to me Dr. Shahinian’s international thriller spy novel, Khamsin- how fun and exciting! Then I listened to Eric Metaxas’s biography of William Wilberforce, Amazing Grace. That was awe-inspiring and truly got my mind off my present state of being and made me think of others’ suffering and our call to relieve and free those in bondage. I lightened the mood by listening to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, one of my all-time favorite classic love stories. Then I listened to Christian classics- some of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and the autobiography of St. Patrick, Confession. Jamie drove 5 hours round trip to visit me every single weekend He would just sit next to my recliner and hold my hand as my eyes were closed and I couldn’t really talk or engage much at all. He and my friend Rachel kept the #youtubeTUESDAY videos posted and facebook updated.
At the one month mark of recovery, it was my hardest day. My mom had been my primary caregiver for those 4 weeks, and we were quite tired of being sick and tired. I had reached a breaking point. I was frustrated with her because I had no one else to take it out on, and she was frustrated in return as I was sounding quite ungrateful. Harsh words were exchanged and tears were shed in my exasperation. We reached a point where she said, “Caitlin, we need to get some sleep. Let me pray and ask God to forgive us.” So she did, with her hand on my head, and of course in the prayer she once again asked God to heal me. She left the room after praying and a few crackles and pops happened in my head that very moment…my hearing completely returned in my left ear! I began sobbing again, wishing I had the strength to run and shout for joy! I was healed! I experienced in that moment the coming to life of James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” I did not deserve God’s grace, but he showered it upon me in my moment of weakness and confession. Beethoven was one of the greatest composers of all time with hearing in neither ear…and I was ready to tackle the music world with only one, but God decided in His mercy to restore the left ear and allow me to use both.
All His grace- His sovereign will and purpose and goodness. My heart was filled with praise for all the Lord had done. Little did I know that the journey was not over yet…and that tests and trials were around the corner that would challenge my faith and take me to even greater heights of trust, but in those moments of healing and grace, the Lord was ministering to my soul. Psalm 103:1-5, “Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise His holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things He does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!”