Reflections On An Illness And Family Crisis - By John Lepper

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May 3, 2013 is a date that our family will long remember.  That’s the date Connie, my wife, fell and broke both ankles.  As you might imagine, our family’s focus for the past 2.5 months has been to help Connie as she moves toward health.  If you are a “Facebook Friend,” you are aware of our saga, since I have posted information about this along the way. I will not re-hash the saga here but will summarize in a brief paragraph or two and offer some reflections.  

We were in Atlanta when Connie fell down two steps and broke both ankles. She traveled to the hospital emergency room by ambulance and was provided immediate care.  Later that weekend we returned to Louisville and made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon.  She had surgery on one foot a week after her fall; she spent 3 days in the hospital followed by 11 days at a rehab center. Until last Friday, she wore those heavy “cam” boots and, until June 21, was unable to put any weight on her feet (and then only gradual weight from 25% to 100% over a four week period).  Last Friday the surgeon gave her clearance to “wean from cam boots to regular shoes.”  So she has progressed from wheelchair to standing in those cam boots, to walking in cam boots, to walking in shoes. 

She began physical therapy at the rehab center and has continued that, with the guidance of a home health physical therapist and now twice weekly in an outpatient center.  As many of you know, she was able to travel to Greensboro to attend the CBF General Assembly and participate in family time during a vacation that followed General Assembly.   

A number of years ago I wrote a book titled, When Crisis Comes Home. The revised edition was published by Smyth and Helwys a few years ago and it remains in print.  You might imagine that I could now write a new chapter to the book on family crisis.  That chapter will probably never be written, but today I am writing some reflections on this family crisis.  Perhaps you can identify with some of my reflections.

A family crisis demands attention.  In fact, during more intense periods of a family crisis, it’s difficult to focus on anything else. During those first days and weeks following Connie’s fall, I often worked remotely (with an iPhone and a computer, I often work in a “traveling office” anyway).  But during the first week or two after Connie’s fall, it was difficult to give much attention to work responsibilities.  The crisis claimed my focus.  

A family crisis is a time of bonding and provides opportunities for teachable moments for children.  Lilly, our five-year-old granddaughter, was present when Connie had the accident.  The EMT asked her to hold the sheet while Connie was being attended to.  After the immediate treatment and after she was placed on the gurney, the EMT asked Lilly (calling her by name) for the sheet.  At bedtime when Lilly’s mom prayed with her, Lilly said, “I’m sad about Nana’s accident but glad I could help.”  For weeks, a visit from Lilly was one of the few things that brought a smile to Connie’s face. Lilly later learned how to apply ice packs to Connie’s feet and continues to enjoy being a helper.  We were delighted to spend time with our other grandchildren, Abigail and Kaitlyn, during the CBF General Assembly and following.  They too rose to the occasion and again, the family crisis became a teachable moment as we all pitched in to help out.  My observation is that all three grandchildren matured during this family crisis AND our bonds with them were strengthened. 

I can’t overstate the importance of a network of friends.  From the beginning, Connie has used a borrowed wheelchair and now uses a borrowed walker—and in both cases, those who loaned these aids were more than glad to do so.  We have cherished visits and calls from friends.  Even now, seldom does a day pass but that Connie receives a note of encouragement.  She has collected a large basketful of such notes to overflowing!  We have been reminded of prayers of people across Kentucky and indeed across the USA and beyond.  At crucial times Connie received bouquets of flowers or fruit baskets!  

Food has been a symbol of the concern of friends and family.  Our Sunday School class and other friends participated in a “meal train” organized by our daughter and another friend. I jokingly said we were like baby birds in a nest, chirping until our food arrived.  Connie and I did not have need of food preparation for over four weeks—from the day we came home from the rehab center until the day we departed to attend the General Assembly.   I’m grateful Connie has returned to preparing some meals--just two days ago we had homemade meat loaf, spoon bread, and vegetables!  But words cannot convey our deep gratitude for the many friends who provided meals.  

Our intimacy as a couple grew during this time of crisis.  For these weeks I have focused on caring for Connie in scores of ways.  My role has been one of cook, housekeeper, nurse, driver and caregiver.  And while I have not had to dress or bathe Connie, I have been present and attended her while she dressed and bathed.  I have changed bandages and provided ice treatments when she could not do that for herself. For her part, Connie strived to care for herself to her maximum ability and has grown in that ability AND she never failed to thank me for every little thing I did!  Again, words do not convey the ways in which our relationship was deepened and strengthened during this family crisis. 

Now that we are beyond the intense crisis and now that Connie is almost back to full independence, we reflect on and cherish the ways in which our friends have reached out to us. Even as our relationship as a couple has grown deeper, our friendship and relationship with others has also grown.  

In addition to the support of friends and family, I want to say a special word of thanks to the KBF staff and council for their support.  The council has been understanding and allowed me to have a flexible schedule during this time and Josh Speight and Kristin Belcher have literally stepped up and filled many gaps and kept the KBF office and operation running efficiently.