As I record this, it’s Thanksgiving Eve, and this is without a doubt, the most special Thanksgiving my family has ever had. I’ve been telling you about what happened to my son, Steven. Today I will finish the story and talk a bit more about this life of faith.
So today I’m just going to pick up where we left off last week.
My Son’s Story Concludes
It’s now Steven’s twelfth day in the hospital, January 20th. His fevers have not gone away, and the tube that was inserted through his ribs into the area around his right lung has produced very little fluid. Also his red blood count keeps dropping. The three different antibiotics are still running twenty-four hours a day, and the picc line is still giving him his only nourishment.
Now it looks like the incision, which runs from just below his sternum to just above his pubic bone, has become infected. Dr. Ha has had to remove all the staples, except for a few around his navel, so that the wound can be cleaned. This means that it will have to heal from the bottom up, or put another way, from the inside out. The staples were removed without anesthesia, and once the wound was opened, it was, is at the widest part, about 3 1/2” wide and 2” deep. There were areas of dead tissue and infection, and a couple of places where the bowel was very close to coming out, or eviscerating. As Steven’s dad, watching the doctor poke and prod the wound to evaluate the situation was almost more than I could take. It was obvious that every time the doctor touched the wound it shot pain through Steven, but I knew it had to be done. The wound is packed with gauze, and four times a day the gauze is changed out. Of course, the gauze adheres to the tissue as it absorbs the fluids that seep from the wound, and when it is removed it causes a great deal of pain.
At this point, Steven is truly my hero, because he is beyond brave as he endures all of this. Only one time during this entire ordeal have I heard him say, “Why am I going through this, God?” His faith has remained steadfast.
And I have begun to feel a bit like Job. But I’ll talk about more after I complete Steven’s story.
On this day, after working on the wound, Dr. Ha said that Steven might be able to go home in a couple of days if Steven begins to improve. He really wants to get him out of the hospital. It’s easier to get really bad infections in a hospital that at home, and he knows that Steven will get better rest at home.
But the next day, Steven’s fever goes back up to 103, and he has a rash all over his body. And of course, the packing on the incision is changed four times a day. Steven is becoming really discouraged at this point. It’s obvious that he won’t be released tomorrow.
Two days later, after looking really good in the morning, by the afternoon his fever again spikes to 101, and a chest X-ray shows fluid around his lung again.
I posted on my Facebook timeline “As for me and my house… We. Will. Serve. The Lord!” By now I am becoming increasingly aware of the fact that this entire episode is an attack from the enemy. I know that my commitment to the Lord is being tested, and I am determined now more than ever, to cling to my Creator. More on that later.
Also on this day, it’s now January 23rd, the wound treatment was changed. Instead of doing the gauze thing four times a day, an apparatus called a “Wound Vac” was brought in. Without going into all the details, I’ll just say that a special type of foam rubber is fitted into the wound, and then a vacuum is applied. What this does is help draw out any infection, but more than that, it stimulates blood circulation to the area, speeding up the healing process. Also, the dressing only has to be changed three times a week. The process of changing is extremely painful, however, so three different pain killers are necessary, including morphine. He’s pretty much asleep during the procedure.
On the morning of Saturday the 26th, it looked like we would be taking Steven home. He was more than ready to get out of the hospital. He was tired of nurses coming in every two hours to take his vitals, he was tired of seeing people check into the bed next to him and then be released before him, some of whom were loud and/or out of their minds, and most of all, tired of being told he would be going home in the next day or so only to be disappointed with a setback. But in the afternoon, we were yet again told, “Not today.” This time it was because of red tape. Seems they couldn’t find a home care group who were willing to take on Steven’s case. I have to confess that We pretty much went ballistic on our case worker. It seems that she hadn’t even tried to set up the home care arrangements until that day, when it had been known now for three days that this would be necessary. And she waits until Saturday to try to set this up? A weekend? We were livid, and Steven finally boiled over. Pretty much the entire floor heard his reaction. He felt as if he was in prison, and he was so sick and tired of seeing the same four walls of his room, of laying in the same uncomfortable bed, of being poked and prodded every two hours, of the noise of the hospital, of getting no fresh air, of hearing “You’ll be home soon.” I didn’t blame him a bit. But later, he apologized for his outburst.
All along the way, we were posting Facebook updates and letting our church community know what was going on with Steven, and I know that the prayers that went up for us definitely helped us through, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Steven’s fevers have not gone away, they still spike to 101, 102 and even 103, but the consensus of the doctors seems to be that if they keep the heavy-duty antibiotic IVs going and treat the fevers with Motrin, eventually whatever is causing the fevers will give up. The infectious disease doctor does insist on a final test before releasing Steven, but finally the tests are complete and home care arrangements are made, and on Tuesday, January 29th, Steven is released from the hospital. It’s been 21 days since we nearly lost him, but our boy is home. He still has an open wound, he still has IVs running 24 hours a day, he’s 40 pounds lighter than he was when he got sick, he’s barely able to walk, he has an ileostomy that needs care, but he’s alive and on the mend.
LeeAnn and I are trained by the visiting nurses how to change Steven’s IVs. The longest time between changes is five hours, with most changes taking place at two hour intervals, so we’re on duty pretty much 24/7 for the month that the IVs are needed.
The wound vac is a part of Steven’s life for a total of nearly three months. Slowly, the procedure becomes less painful and fewer drugs are needed to dull the pain.
Finally, Dr. Ha tells us that the wound vac has done all that it can, and just like that, it’s gone. The wound is now only about five inches long and only a few millimeters deep. And now it’s time to talk about the next surgical steps.
Steven can live with the ileostomy for the rest of his life, if he wants. Many people live nearly normal lives with them. The bag, or appliance, just becomes a part of their daily routine. But Steven is only 21 years old, and there is a procedure that can be done that will restore him to being able to eliminate waste normally. In layman’s terms, part of the small intestine can be made into what is called a J-pouch, which will sort of take the place of the now absent colon.
And here is where my respect and admiration for Dr. Ha went from an already high level, right up to the stratosphere. He told us that he could do the procedure, but that he had not yet done one, and it was very complex. He didn’t want to make a mistake on Steven, especially since he was so young. He suggested we find a specialist, and he gave us some recommendations. Now, being a young surgeon, I’m sure that there was a part of him that would have loved to do the surgery so that he could have it for his resume’, and of course, surgeons in general have a very high opinion of themselves. But Dr. Ha put all of this aside in order to give Steven the very best chance of living a normal life. I love Dr. Ha, and I thank God that he was Steven’s doctor.
So the surgical process actually involves two surgeries. The first procedure is to build the J-pouch and connect it to the anus. Then about six weeks is needed for the tissues to heal, before allowing the waste to go through. So the ileostomy is still functioning during this healing time. Then, six weeks after that surgery, all the plumbing is hooked up, the ileostomy is closed up, and you’re done.
God led us to UCI Medical Center’s Dr. Steven Mills, who is the chief of the Colon & Rectal Division of their school of medicine. He, too is a young doctor at only 40 years of age, but after doing our due diligence, I believe him to be one of the best specialists in the country in this field.
So Steven had two more hospital stints in 2013, but they went without a hitch. Obviously, Steven was much healthier, because he wasn’t fighting ulcerative colitis any longer, and his insides had not just been bathed in poisons from his perforated colon.
Dr. Mills and the staff at UCI Medical center were awesome. The surgeries that Dr. Ha rightfully described as complex, were routine for Dr. Mills and the gang at UCI. They do them many times per week. It felt so good to be in their care.
Steven’s recovery ended up being faster than we expected. When this chapter began, Dr. Ha told us that the entire process, with all the surgeries and recovery times, would probably take ten months. That would have meant that Steven would be able to return to normal life in about November. As it turned out, his first day back to work was on September 21, and at his last checkup, a week after his last surgery, Dr. Mills told Steven, “I’ll see you in a year.”
As I record this, Steven’s back to his normal weight, and he just bought an engagement ring for Tarynne, his girlfriend of six years. My wife, the lovely lady LeeAnn and I, are thrilled. She stuck by Steven’s side during the entire ordeal and was a very real help to him.
This Thanksgiving, the Webb family has so much to be thankful for!
We still have Steven. We have a new, beautiful granddaughter from our oldest son, Matthew and his beautiful wife, Mareena. Our youngest son, Tim survived an auto accident that, had his car been a foot to the left, would have killed him. But he walked away with a few minor scratches and a totaled car.
We have a church family that supported us through the ordeal with prayers, with dinners brought to our home, and even financially. I don’t think I mentioned during my retelling of the story, that a week after Steven went into the hospital, LeeAnn lost her job. The job through which we had our health insurance. Yes, our church family was a nearly perfect reflection of what the New Testament church should be. People sacrificially gave to us to help us get through the worst times. We love them, and thank God for the very real ways they love us.
Some of the listeners to my podcasts sent financial gifts, as well. You know who you are, and I thank God for you, too. Steven’s girlfriend, Tarynne, set up a website to take donations for Steven, and many of our friends from many different walks of life, gave gifts as they were able. You know who you are, too. We thank God for you. Steven and Tarynne are fans of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team. There’s a clothing company that makes Ducks jerseys and t-shirts. They designed a special shirt for Steven, and all proceeds from the sale of that shirt are given to Steven to help with the bills, which are staggering. We are thankful to them. The name of their company is Violent Gentlemen.
I could go on. Suffice to say that God showed his love to us through countless people who reached out to us and supported us with these financial gifts, and even more important, with their prayers and well-wishes. I know that there were hundreds, even thousands of people around the world who were following Steven’s journey. We owe a debt of gratitude to so many people, some of whom we will probably never meet on this side of Heaven. We were truly humbled by the emails and Facebook comments.
The Story of Job and This Life of Faith
So I mentioned earlier that I felt a bit like Job in the midst of this ordeal with Steven. In case you’re not very familiar with Job’s story, I’ll take a moment here to give you the 10,000 foot view. Job lived a very long time ago, and he was a righteous man.
One day God mentioned to Satan what a good and righteous man Job was. And Satan said, “Of course he is. You’ve put a hedge of protection around him. You’ve blessed him with wealth and a family and every good thing. Take that away from him and he’ll curse you to your face.” So God said, “Ok. I’ll give you everything he has. But you can’t touch him.”
So Satan took everything away from Job. All of his wealth, and all of his children. One after the other. In one day. And the Bible tells us, “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
And then the story goes on to tell us that God even allowed Satan to strike Job’s body, and he became very ill with sores all over him. His wife told hime to curse God and die.
And his friends told him he needed to confess whatever horrible sin he must have committed for these tragedies to befall him. But Job did not waver. He continued to worship and love God.
In the end, God restored everything that had been taken from Job, and even doubled everything.
Now my story, thankfully, is not identical to Jobs, and I am not comparing my righteousness to Job’s by any means. But listen here. Several years ago, specifically it was 2007, my wife and I had an extremely good year in our family business. We had a record year. We had a beautiful home in a nice area of our town, our boys were all doing well and they loved the Lord, we were in ministry at our church and my podcasts were ministering to people around the world. And I remember being thankful for each blessing we had. I also remember saying on one of my podcasts, and in other places, that my faith in God was unshakeable. That there was nothing that would cause me to turn my back on Him. I didn’t say this from a prideful place, but from a place of gratitude. It was a statement not of my faithfulness, but of God’s faithfulness. In every situation, at every turn, God has demonstrated His faithfulness to me, even when I was not faithful. He patiently and lovingly built my faith to the point where I believed that nothing would shake it.
And I think that when I said that in such a public way, the enemy (satan) said, “Oh yeah? Let me at him, God.” And I am humbled to say that I believe God agreed to let me go through the process.
Late in 2007, both my dad and LeeAnn’s dad died. My dad had been sick for a long time, so it was not a surprise. LeeAnn’s dad, however, was fairly healthy, and he died as a result of bad care in the hospital after a routine surgery. In 2008, our business was hit especially hard by the economic collapse. We took a 90% hit. I also went through a very ugly, unjust legal battle with my sister and mother, which effectively tore both of them from me, and we began a multiyear battle to try to scrape enough money together each month to keep our home.
Literally, almost overnight, our lives were turned upside down. We went from having everything we wanted, to living on the edge of having our basic needs met.
To this day, we struggle financially. I’m working three jobs. LeeAnn still hasn’t found employment. Things are very slowly getting better, with the recent addition of my third job, but at least we are still in our home and food is on the table.
You may ask why I still have faith. I have faith because of the miracles I’ve seen since all of this began. So many times, it looked as if we would lose everything, and then God would supply, miraculously, at the last moment. We would receive a gift just in the nick of time to pay a utility bill or a house payment. I would get a voiceover job that would pay the medical insurance bill. And on and on it goes.
Also, I look at life more from an eternal perspective that I do an earthly perspective. We are only on this planet for a flash of time. It’s just the blink of an eye. I can endure hardship here, knowing that very soon, I will stand before God. And I want to hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
This life of faith is not about having an easy life. It is about having a life of knowing God and serving Him. It’s about living a life of love, and sharing the love of God with those who need Him. Love is not about warm, fuzzy feelings. It is about helping others, it’s about sacrificing for others, it’s about building up and supporting other people. It’s about doing for other people.
This life of faith is about serving. It’s about standing fast, knowing that the One who loves me will never leave me or forsake me.
So don’t despair if you, too are going through hard times. I don’t deny that it’s hard. I don’t deny that there are times of the fear of the unknown. I have often wondered, “How is God going to work this out?” But I have not doubted that He would.
Life may be different than I thought it was going to be, but my life belongs to Him. He has the right to do with me what He wants. But for me, that is not a scary thing, because I know that He loves me. The New Testament book of Romans tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” I know that I love God, and I know that He called me, so I know that all things in my life are for my ultimate good. And I can rest in that, in the midst of all the trials.
This life of faith is not easy, but there is peace in the midst of the trials.
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