• Dana L. Butler

Spinal Taps, Surgeries, and the Father’s Faithfulness {where I’ve been for the last week

Dear friends,

I wanted to write tonight to let you know where I’ve been, and this is what came out.  It is fairly raw, mostly unedited, and spilled somewhat haphazardly out of my tired mind and heart, and my out-of-practice fingers.  Thanks for grace.

It’s Tuesday, February 11th, and it starts out like any other day — with one exception: Isaac is sick.

And over the course of twelve hours, we progress from thinking he has a cold, to thinking (and our doctor agreeing) he may have meningitis.

So Stan stays home with our sleeping Maia, while I load one crying boy into our minivan, trying not to slip on the ice that covers our driveway, and off we head to Children’s Mercy Hospital.  Thankfully, it’s only 10 minutes from our house.


Rewinding a bit:

Sometime in early January, I’m driving down the road and I must pray a lot while I drive, because it seems driving is what I’m most often doing when Jesus unearths something huge and terrifying in my heart.  With two perfectly healthy kiddos in the back seat of my minivan, I find myself silently confessing the sense of terror and trauma that pierces my heart when I imagine either of my children ever having major medical issues that would put them in the hospital. The thought of my kids having to undergo any major medical intervention, the trauma it would cause their bodies, their hearts — it makes me sick to my stomach.

Now, Jesus is faithful and I know this.  He’s sustained my heart through a LOT of trauma and loss in the past.  But this thing of my kids being so sick or hurt that they were subjected to hospital life for a period of time?  I suddenly found myself begging Jesus to never let that happen to our family.

The thought occurs to me: “I wonder if, since I’m afraid of this, the Lord will allow it to happen.”  Not because He’s cruel – it’s not that at all.  But because He is so about proving His faithfulness to sustain me through the things I dread.


This isn’t our first trip to the ER with our boy.  When Isaac was younger we ended up here a couple of times, once with a horrible ear infection and once with a stomach bug that wouldn’t let up.

This time though?  Things feel different.

We arrive at 7:30pm, and I sense an urgency in the nurses’ quiet but hurried communication with one another about Isaac’s condition.  They quickly move us through triage and into the Emergency Department.  The ER doc sees us soon afterward.

Too soon.

“Hey Isaac, can you look at your mommy over there? {Hey Mom, move over to this side now.}  Okay, can you look at her over here?”

He won’t, or can’t, turn his head.

More whispers.  The doc gives me his immediate thoughts.  About running tests.  Blood work.  Nasal swab.  He needs an IV.  A spinal tap.

Oh Jesus, no…

And if the spinal tap doesn’t show meningitis, he’ll need a CT scan and we’ll have to sedate him —

My brain’s overwhelmed with information, and I’m scared.  Straight up scared.

By this time it’s after 10 pm.  They get my permission to sedate him for the lumbar puncture. (Medical terminology for spinal tap, I guess? Is this supposed to make me feel better about it?  Because it’s not working.)  I’m thankful that he won’t be awake for the procedure.

I stand by him, hold his hand until the meds have worked their way through his IV and into his system.  He’s sedated, so I step out of the room, entrusting Him to Jesus and the ER docs.

I call Stan.  Confess my fear.  We pray together and rising up inside me to match the intensity of my terror, I find this tangible sense of Him.  The nearness of the God whose grace is sufficient for this moment.  And will be for the next one.  And the next.


Time creeps by.


2 AM.

Spinal tap is negative for meningitis.  They sedate him again, run the CT scan.  And finally, there are answers.  Abscesses.  Deep neck abscesses, an infection behind his tonsils.  His spinal cord is inflamed, causing the limited neck movement.  There’s talk of taking him into the OR.

They call the operating crew in early for our boy, and surgery commences at 6 the next morning.  I’m thankful to be allowed to stay with him until he’s under anesthesia.  Then I wander the halls of the hospital till a kind nurse takes me under her wing and shows me to the cafeteria.  I’ve had 20 minutes of sort-of sleep.  My options?  Either cry my eyes out, or eat an omelette.  I choose the latter.

Surgery initially seems to go well.  Relieved doesn’t come close to describing my feelings about having my boy back in my arms afterward.


The week wears on.  They have to re-start Isaac’s IV because the first one quit working, and starting an IV in a 3-year-old is nothing short of awful.

We endure another CT scan, followed by yet another surgery, two and a half days after the first.  The first surgery was unsuccessful and the infection had continued to worsen.  I watch my li’l guy in perpetual pain and discomfort, sedated, put under for numerous procedures.

He is scared.  And angry.  Angry at the doctors who keep sticking their tongue depressors in his mouth.  Angry at the nurses who keep checking his vitals.  Angry because he wants OUT of the hospital, wants to go home, wants to be with Daddy.


They were heart-wrenching, those 5 days.  But I kept moving.  Caring for him, advocating for him.  Putting one foot in front of the other.   Leaning into Jesus and into my husband, who came morning and evening most days to sit with us, to let me grab a shower and a bite to eat.

Our time in the hospital was hard and exhausting, and I’m still not recovered physically or emotionally —  I’m not gonna lie.

But as I sit here writing tonight, remembering our 12 hours in the ER that began exactly one week ago, followed by days and days of hospital life, I remember grace, grace, grace.  Woven so tenderly and tangibly throughout those hospital days.

I remember texted Bible verses from my husband that reoriented my heart to the truth in critical moments.

I remember 70, 80, 100+ Facebook comments from precious friends who had our backs in prayer.  I remember visits and meals and being loved so well by the Body of Christ that it just about totally undid me.

And I remember how my bond with my son was deepened.

I remember lying in the hospital bed with Isaac, who was up way too late, unable {or unwilling} to sleep.  How he let me cuddle him, how I sang him the songs my mom sang to me when I was a little girl and the songs I sang to him when he was a baby.  How he let me stroke his hair and hold him tight.

How I placed my hand over his little heart and I would have given absolutely anything in the world right then to make him feel how for him and how with him I was.  Would have pressed my heart right into his, to stabilize and cover and secure him in my love.  How I longed to love him fierce enough and raw enough to make all his fear and trauma and pain flee.

And I remember the Father’s whispers to my heart in the wee morning hours: “Feel this, Dana?  the way you love your son?   T h i s.  i s.  h o w.  I.  l o v e.  y o u.  This fierce. This gaping and bleeding. This raw.  And?  This is how I love this boy, right here.  This precious one I’ve entrusted to you.  And I am proving myself worthy of your trust here in this place.  Right now.”

I remember that in every moment I dreaded, He was present.  In everything I thought I’d never be able to handle, He was constant.  In every medical procedure I just knew I wouldn’t have grace to watch my child endure?  His grace was tangible.  Calming.  Peace-bearing.  Sustaining.


No, so much more than.


We’re home now, and our boy is nearly himself again.  Wild and rowdy, spunky and fun.  A bit of a cough left over, but he’s well on his way to being healthy.  Our church family is bringing us meals and we are so blessed and well taken care of.

And as for me?  I’m pondering these things in my heart.  Cherishing the kindness of my God who won’t allow me to escape this absolute knowing of His faithfulness, even when I beg to.

What fierce love.  What relentless pursuit.  What tender undoing of my soul.

Through it all, after all, and whatever comes — He is enough.  And He is good.


Linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee for #TellHisStory.

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