An atheist finds his God.

Given the intensity of the last few days I thought that I would share what I wrote on a personal page because of the kindness displayed by family and friends, including KP readers. It basically summarises the core of the experience. Here it is:

When it comes to my son, for this atheist there is a god and it is plural. God is two teams of human surgeons working in tandem to save his life from a slow death. The saints are a staff of nurses and clinicians who do the before and after surgery work. It is very early days yet–it is less than 48 hours since he entered the operating theater–but if not a full miracle it has been a revelation of sorts.

The surgery took 6 hours, and then it took 2 hours to slowly wake him up given what transpired. The surgery was a mix of keyhole and open chest (sternotomy, for those into the lexicon). They drained him first using the keyholes while looking at the mass in real time through the telescopic micro-camera before opening him up. They went through the original scar, which was tough because there was scar tissue and metal to work through. They excised the bulk of the mass via resection (“debulking” is the term), then focused on the phrenic nerve. The cystic mass came off the nerve and they do not believe that it is damaged, although it will take time to tell whether it is intact or will regain function. But he is breathing from his diaphragm so the outlook is positive even if it takes a few months to confirm.They also found that the mass was moving to the upper right side of his chest so that was removed as well.

They then proceeded to the carotid artery. They found that it was easier to remove the enveloping mass than they expected. Think of an arm warmer being slowly unwrapped. As before (after the first surgery), his heart was not compromised by the mass. The overall outcome is to my mind astounding–complete removal of the cystic mass with only the possibility of microscopic bits left. This is way beyond our hopes.

The down side is that they scraped and cut more extensively than during the first surgery, so the kid is in agonising pain when the painkillers are wearing off. They have him on a cocktail of things normally associated with junkies because he is allergic to morphine (the cheapest and crudest painkiller), which causes him an excruciating full body itch (it turns out the entire class of opioids that morphine is part of is allergic to him). So they are working on mixes that also have a sedative effect, as he has developed a full-on phobia about tubes and drains regardless of whether they are being placed or pulled. Since we can see the vital signs monitor readings on screens connected to the cables attached to his six monitor points (electrodes connected via adhesive plastics), we can see that his heart rate, blood pressure and breathing spike at the very thought that someone is going to “mess” (his words) with the tubes.

Worse than that is hearing his cries of pain when they actually do it. The experience of hearing his cries is both blood curdling and agonising because although his phobia is mental the pain is real, even if it is just the pulling of a tape holding one of his tubes. He now has 3 big ones to go. And to be clear: this is a boy who has a very high tolerance for pain and who is steadfast and resolute when dealing with adversity. He is not a snowflake of any sort. But we also have a sense of perspective, because his are not the only cries we hear in the ward, and they are not just from children.

The best news is that when compared to his first big surgery he is in far better shape and recovering much faster. They have removed 3 tubes including the catheter (a major negative event) and he has now gotten off the bed and sat in chair twice as well as used the bathroom in a normal way. Those are major milestones that he did not achieve until a week after the first surgery and now it is just a day and a half since he got out of theater. All of his vitals are good except when he freaks out, so he has been moved from ICU to an observation room and should be sent to the general heart ward if things continue along the same trajectory. If that is the case he may, in fact, be discharged earlier than expected.

They are working on a protocol to sedate him when they take out the last big drains, which should happen in 2 days. The psychologists and pain relief people are very much involved at this point, even as the surgical teams take a step back now that the most their work is done.

The boy has a few lacerations on his left lung where it adhered to his inner chest wall when deflated, and it is leaking air, but the consensus is that the leaks will seal in the next days and weeks. The lung deflated before the first surgery and did so again before this one, so it was good that they got in before further damage was done. They cannot be sure how much it will re-inflate but the fact that he was doing deep breathing right out of the operating room is a very good sign the the phrenic nerve is working and the leaks are not major.

Anyway, we are much relieved and thankful for the surgical skills displayed by the cardio-thorax and internal medicine teams working together. It is amazing what people can do when working towards a common goal, especially at a global moment when all appears to be just the opposite.

Thanks to all of you who have offered support and empathy for what we are going through. He is not out of the woods yet and there’s a long road ahead to being whole again, but to completely jump the shark on this mix of metaphors, there is light at the end of the tunnel that leads to my son’s future.

14 thoughts on “An atheist finds his God.

  1. Thank you for the update Pablo. I’ve been thinking of you all since your news about your son’s operation – especially your son – and am so happy to hear your news. I will admit I have been “sending one up there” for him. I know we differ on that but prayer is something I have found hugely helpful at times like these, especially when my own son was undergoing heroic surgery for cancer in the UK, or at other times of crisis for my loved ones. We cope in whatever way we can.

    You are right about these amazing medical specialists & nursing staff who do this work. They are special individuals and they do have superpowers!

    I hope the road ahead can be made as smooth as possible for your boy. It sounds to me that his parents had prepared him very well for this operation, hence his wonderful progress.

    Wishing you all strength & complete healing for your son.

  2. Thanks for the update, Paul.
    As a parent it is excruciating to see your child in pain. Your whole family has our positive thoughts.
    What is great is that your son’s prognosis looks so good.

  3. Amen to what Di has said.
    I am over the moon with your news and update!
    Like Di I too have a god … and have held you in my thoughts … in fact, all day Sunday the 3 of you were at the back and often forefront of my mind. I think this is the way the world works, and I do know that healing can be achieved over a distance. The physical repair as you described, the surgery etc of course is vital too. It all works …together. The outcome is never certain though.
    You had asked for help in your own way through this column.
    And if people ask it must be given. (Perhaps you do have a god?!)

    I am so pleased … these surgeons, teams, must deserve medals on a regular basis! They must work from time to time in unfamiliar territory like this. Challenging. (To say the least.)

    I wish your son a speedy and happy recovery.
    It will be such a relief.

    ‘God’ bless you all :-)

    Barbara Thomas

  4. Perhaps you’ll permit me to use some uncivil language and “shouting” here on your blog but,….


    Long ways to go yet as you say, but it looks good so far, and I’m so happy for you and your family.

  5. It’s the truth. It’s not a belief. It’s the truth.

    As someone who has been through something similar (skin cancer) I can say that out of all of drudgery the sharp knives and needles and strong chemicals and the pain it’s the hair loss that’s the worst.

    It’s just my anecdotal experience but there’s no real recovery until you get that final scan ten years later.

    My surgeon, Proffesor Kerry Smith is also a mericle worker. If I shared all of his words of wisdom that he shared with me while I was under his care you’d never want to play poker with him. He just knows everything you can’t bullshit him.

  6. I’m fully on board with Tom’s remarks too. There’s a time & place for strong language and this is definitely one of them. :)

  7. Pingback: I said a little prayer – No Minister

  8. Pablo, I am a long-time friend of Jeanne Guthrie. We met and later worked together once-upon-a-time at Valencia Community College in Orlando, FL.

    I am one of God’s children and have been praying for a miracle for Enda since Jeanne first told me about your precious son. It sounds like the many prayers that have been lifted up to God for him and his surgical teams are being answered in ways we hoped. These prayers will continue.

    May many blessings be bestowed on you, your wife, and son, and may all good things come to all involved.
    Sending your family much love,

  9. I concur with Paul’s correspondents here who recognise one of the most fearsome and agonising events that can befall a parent. I wish the boy and his Mother and Paul the best I can think of. I have rubbed shoulders with the most senior of the medical profession in Canterbury and I can assure Paul these people are not God, so far from that. My own brother is one of them So far distant from God in fact that Medicine is now controlled as a body by evil masters, This is easy to verify. We can look deep into Pandora’s box and there beneath the pain and the hell is some salvation, and that salvation even if seen as illusory is the real God that has been with us all the time

  10. Thanks Paul,

    For having the decency to express sympathy for my boy. I am sorry to hear about your experiences with the medical profession in Christchurch because at Starship, save for a few minor mistakes and misunderstandings, our relationship with the medical staff from top to bottom has been excellent for the most part. Maybe its the water.

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