To paraphrase the opening of the old television series, Star Trek, “These are the voyages of the Starship GENESIS two seven –its 3 year mission to learn the lessons the Lord has prepared for the passenger and crew…” I call myself ‘the passenger” because only God can be the Captain – all those who are close to me, my loving wife and family are the crew and are bound upon this voyage. Call it shanghaied or crimped; they had little choice in joining the voyage for it had set sail with them aboard before they knew of its undocking.
This is to be a journal of my voyage, as the passenger, a 63 year-old male facing the unknown of a lung disease the pulmonologists and pathologists have yet to define completely. The initial diagnosis is Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, (IPF) a disease that is unknown in its origin but often fatal in its conclusion minus divine intervention and the miracles that come with lung transplants. Be certain I hold no expectation of a fatal end. I have every hope that either the diagnosis is not completely accurate or, if it is, that the likelihood of transplant in the years ahead can forestall the inevitable end of life. The Bible, I know, teaches that God knows our every day, our first and our last. They were known to Him before creation itself had begun and He is the only One who can determine what day I will be transformed from this earthly plain to a heavenly one.
And this is the ALPHA, the beginning, the first steps in the voyage whose timeline will be determined solely by my Lord God, the Creator of all things in whom my every hope resides. Whether, as this voyage continues, I can hold fast to that hope is a prayer I offer now on my own and ask those who choose to follow this voyage to pray on my behalf. Whether I will cower and cry at the events ahead or stand boldly, upheld by the might of His right hand, I cannot predict. I only ask for the readers’ willingness to not judge but to be a traveling companion, a shipmate aboard the Starship – GENESIS two seven. Hold-up, in your prayers, the crew for they are indentured servants upon this voyage, not of their choice but bound by their love.
Within the ALPHA has been first a bronchoscopy which failed to provide enough of the correct tissue for a sample that would provide evidence of the interloper within my body. This came after a visit to my primary care physician with a complaint of shortness of breath. For a few months I blamed my continuing struggle to catch my breath on my age, my weight and being in less than robust physical shape. A career cop with a few donuts too many. It had become extreme however and a short exam showed a precipitous drop in my oxygen saturation levels. A CAT scan and chest x-rays showed significant issues and then came the visit to the pulmonologist who performed the bronchoscopy.
The failure of the bronchoscopy to render usable evidence brings the next professional to join the Starship GENESIS two seven, a surgeon whose sole task was to do an open biopsy. He would insert a camera and other instruments into incisions in my right side, along with a chest tube and remove substantial biopsy segments for examination. Prior to going into surgery, the anesthesiologist informed me they would deflate my right lung during the procedure to permit access to the areas for removal and then re-inflate it and hold pressure on it with the chest tube until any and all leaks would seal themselves. I thought I saw a bicycle tube patch and a jar of glue on the table by him, but maybe it was the drugs they were pumping in my arm!
I have undergone many surgeries, almost too many to count unless you just use the scars on my torso to help with the numbering. I have had little trepidation about any of them. This one was different. It was, for example, the first one that was NOT to fix something. Every other surgery was expected to go in, find the issue, fix it, and get out. This was not such a procedure. This was the first time, while awake and in the surgery suite, the nurses and others putting tubes and things in all sorts of places and talking to me calmly about what was about to happen, I found myself praying. I commended to God my life and asked that if He intended I die on this table that He would welcome me into His heaven because of my faith in Christ. Now, I know, as a believer in Christ that heaven will be my eternal home and, in fact, the Bible shows us in Ephesians 1:3 that we are already positionally blessed in the Heavenly Places in Christ Jesus. Not yet physically, but already received there and welcome. Still, at this very moment in the operating room, I was sharing with God my faith in Him and in His Son. This was the first surgery I ever approached having written a note to my wife should I not survive it. These things were not out of fear but, I think, out of a desire to accept what may be even though I did not expect that it would be.
The open lung biopsy went well, and some great tissue was taken. It was done, as I mentioned, by a surgeon who specializes in thoracic surgery. However, I have to say that when it comes to welcoming professionals onto the Starship GENESIS two seven I am incredibly pleased with a physician I will call only Dr. N because I have not his permission yet to identify him more fully. A pulmonologist, he performed the first bronchoscopy and I had not met him until in the surgery pre-op area. By the time he walked up I was fully gowned for the surgery and had the mandatory hair-net on. He does not know me, of course, but walks up and says, ‘Nice hat’. I replied, “Actually I have a hair-net fetish, and this is the only place I can wear it and not look out of place!” He gave me a double-take and then chuckled.
Now, a week from the open lung biopsy, this same Dr. N has just finished describing for us what the decision is on the case following a review of the biopsy. There remains a very definite indication of IPF, but he is sending the biopsy to a pathologist specializing in pulmonology at the Cleveland Clinic for a second opinion. He is still not convinced that the case presentation fits exactly enough to be strictly IPF. In the meantime, he has ordered a high-dose steroid regimen to begin. Allow me to say that after one has read all the side effects that can go with high dose steroid use it almost seems the treatment is worse than the disease. Everything from severe depression to inappropriate happiness, high weight gain, swelling of the face, hair growing out of places hair is not supposed to grow, and excessive facial hair! It may lead to osteoporosis, can bring on diabetes, and the list goes on! A couple of good things. It may make my arthritis and back pain go away and give me more energy. Mood swings and outbursts of anger perhaps concern me the most. What I do NOT want to happen is for my grandchildren crewmates to recoil at what has become of Papaw. Please make that a matter of prayer!
So here we have it. This is the end of WEEK 1 aboard our new starship and these next few weeks we will continue our ALPHA chapter since, with so much still unknown, we are just at the beginning! One of my first lessons is to be reminded that although this is happening to me, this very thing and many things much worse are happening to other people every day. How easy it is to hear of a person you do not know who is on a ventilator and probably not going to find a lung in time, being a young man with a family. We listen and sigh. Maybe we express our sympathy for such an issue but then life continues on and not another thought is given. I know there are thousands of brave souls battling incredible odds against diseases more painful, more extensive, and overwhelming than my own. I’m humbled by those folks and the victories they have won. My time with Gunner as a service dog and we visited particularly Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio. We met some of the most amazing kids who were fighting giants a hundred times bigger than them and even when they weren’t winning, they continued to fight. Those people are heroes. The issue I’m facing dwindles in comparison to so many, but it is different. This one is mine. Not mine alone because I do have a crew and I do have a Captain. I thank God for my First-Mate. The biblical equation that two become one is true and after nearly 42 years of marriage, I can attest to that. What that means, though, is that my battle, my disease is hers as well. She didn’t ask for it. She doesn’t deserve it. But here she is. There is no more valiant a First Mate than mine so we will go forward in the Starship GENESIS two seven and we will voyage through this current storm to learn what lies ahead.
I promise to my crew and those of you who choose to be shipmates that I will be honest in what I portray. I have no idea what lies ahead and I don’t know how it will present itself in my writing. All I can assure you is that it will not be candy-coated or struggles hidden. My purposes are three-fold. Journaling is good medicine, so I am told by people I trust. Others may gain something good out of what I present. My Lord may be glorified by my journey. See you next time with ALPHA 2.