Eli’s Story // by Leslie Walther
Steve asked me a few months ago to share with the church family some of our experiences during my pregnancy with Eli. I started having complications early on in my pregnancy. I entered the hospital at their new location September 15th, 2008. Little did I know this would be my home for the next 87 days. From the moment I entered the hospital, this church rallied around our family in every way possible. Between being a stay-at-home mom and with Andy’s work schedule, it would have been very easy to succumb to fear and worry: at times we did. It was hard to sit back and have no control over what myself, Andy, and the girls were going through. It seemed like just when we would come to a breaking point, someone from the church would do something or say something to help us get over the hump we were stuck on, and sometimes it happened many times in one day.
You know, you go through life and witness misfortunes and tragedies all around you. Though you hear & see these events, you never pay much attention to the outcome. Well Centerville Christian Church, in this story, the outcome is a beautiful baby boy that I get to see every day. This outcome, I know, was affected by YOUR efforts & prayers. You were God’s hands and feet in so many ways. From help with laundry, cleaning the house, bringing meals, visits from so many of our church family, weekly Communion, getting Eli’s nursery ready, gift cards, fixing a fence, a rotation of constant DVD’s, Christmas decorations & presents bought and wrapped ready to be put under the tree, switching out the girls summer & winter clothing, remember, I have three girls. Hospital food can get old pretty quick. I was treated with flurries, Starbucks?, homemade cinnamon rolls, pumpkin doughnuts and smoothies; food for myself and my soul.
Oh, the wheelchair rides! I was allowed 10 minutes each day a wheelchair ride to escape my room, and let me tell you, SOME drivers were better than others! I remember one ride in particular. My emotions from day to day were up and down. Most people didn’t get to see that. I got really good at putting on my mask. My brother came over from Martinsville to spend the night with me on a day I wasn’t handling things very well. We went out that night on a wheelchair excursion, late. No one was around, just the two of us. We roamed the halls going on an adventure, going places we probably shouldn’t have. My big brother, being the loving, protective guy he is, decided I needed psychological care. He decided to wheel me to the 6th floor, the PSYCH Ward and push the button on the intercom and make a run for the elevator. Need I say more! Believe it or not, it was times like that, that helped me get through the bad days and nights.
87 days in the hospital took its toll on the entire family. It brought both Andy & myself comfort knowing we were so loved & cared for by our church & family. It is one thing to believe in God & his love; it is another to have that love acted & lived out. Generations from both sides of my family went above & beyond the call of duty to help out. Not one day passed where I ever felt alone and it was because of all the help & support we were given.
On day 8 of my stay, my oldest daughter Lizzie turned 10. We had ordered balloons and a cake to be delivered to Reid in order to celebrate her birthday. I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen. At about 7:30 that evening, after soccer, auctions, and all that was going on without me, Andy and the kids arrived at the hospital. As they walked in the room I tried to create excitement for Lizzie’s special day. But instead of excitement, I got the first real glimpse of just how my family was being affected by our situation. Instead of celebrating, I had kids crying, fighting, and reacting out of pure exhaustion and fear of what was going on. Before I knew it, my condition had relapsed. The nurses rushed in and as fast as my family came in they were ushered out. Liz was the last to leave. Balloons in one hand and her cake still in the box in another. She simply said, “Mom I don’t care about a party or even being with my friends. You only turn double digits once and all I wanted for my 10th birthday was to be with my mom.” My entire family cried walking to the elevators and, from what I hear, so did the entire nursing staff.
On day 29, I had an ultrasound and was told that my sub-chorionic hematoma was dissolved and that I could go home. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic. Bev was visiting the hospital when I got the news and had me packed and out of Reid (with all of my belongings) in less than 15 minutes. Andy and I surprised the girls and picked them up from school. As witnesses stood by and watched the girls run to me, it was another moment full of emotion and tears.
Our joy was soon a faded memory, within 24 hours my condition again relapsed and I knew that I needed to go back to the doctor. When I went to the doctor, I was told that the ultrasound had been read wrong and that my only option was to go back to my room at Reid. Dr. Smith wanted to immediately take me from his office back to the maternity floor, but I begged him to let me go home for an hour to be with my family and tell them that mommy had to go back to the hospital. As I drove home, by myself, all I could think of was that I wanted to be home. As I entered my kitchen, I saw signs of my kids everywhere. It completely broke my heart. Cereal out from breakfast, their favorite blankets on the couch, there were reminders everywhere. I ran and crawled in to my girl’s bed screaming “? God, I can’t do this”. Asking him over and over “why did you let me come home? And now you are sending me back? Why is this happening to my family? Help me to see you in this because right now I simply don’t.” It felt like a cruel joke.
I remember picking the girls up from soccer feeling like I was literally going to vomit. As we broke the news, I watched my little girls for the first time cry like grown adults. It was not the typical 8 year-old cry. They were all staring out the window in complete silence with tears rolling down their cheeks. The silence felt like an eternity.
That night was one of the darkest days in our valley. You see, Dr. Smith told me that this time I would most likely not be coming home until January. Up to this point, I had always tried to stay strong for my kids and my unborn baby with the thought of going home. I always thought that I would be in the hospital “just 1 more day”. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hold it together any longer. Going back was extremely difficult for everyone.
After my return to the hospital, I wanted to be left alone. I didn’t feel like even having my family and close friends around. When the phone would ring, I wouldn’t answer. When people would come I would pray that they would hurry and leave. But guess what? CCC kept on keeping on. You called anyway, you came anyway, and you prayed anyway! I never felt alone. The entire 87 days, I never felt alone for one minute. So many of you did things behind the scenes. I don’t have time to name everybody and everything. But, I do want to say thank you:
Thank you to my Friend that knew I hated the weekends at the hospital and came every single weekend to sit with me, And to my Friend that knew I hated the nights and slept with her phone 87 nights and I knew I could call anytime no matter what, And to my Friend who would take my kids every Monday night and make them feel special, And to my Friend that came and gave me massages and manicures, And to my Friend who would come and keep my moral high, and before leaving would give me 10 minute hugs that would last throughout the week, And to my friend that organized food for my family for a solid 5 months, And to my best friend from Martinsville who would drive over to shave my legs, And to my friend whose hospital room for a short time was exactly one floor above mine and gave me comfort by being there, And to all of my family who sacrificed unselfishly, And to all the friends who would stop by for an encouraging word or to drop me off a “Friday fresh baked cookie” from the hospital, I say thank you. I was and am so impressed by this church. I realized, as I watched you all being so selfless, how caught up I get in my own life and how I need to try to serve more.
Days went by. School pictures, fall soccer season, school parties, report cards, birthdays, and Halloween were soon past. I so dreaded the holidays. Those of you who are close to me know, I get a little carried away with fall and Christmas. I spent hours reading about my condition! Wondering if baby Eli was going to make it? We experienced several scary nights and only God knew the future. Never before, with the other pregnancies, had I bought the head sets with the microphones to talk to the kids in my belly. God absolutely has his hand in everything! For some reason before any complications set in, I bought one. I even remember putting it in my cart and taking it out, thinking I don’t need one of those things. That is silly. Well guess what? I spent hours talking to my son. And he started responding. I sang (which you can ask Jon and Chas it’s not pretty), I read my BSF notes, and I told him about his daddy and sisters, his mamaws and papaws, and his Aunts and Uncles. I prayed with him. I told him several times a day how much he was loved already. I would blare Nicole C Mullins over and over again. The nurses would walk by my room (I liked having my door open) and would say, “Oh Lesli and Eli are having church again”. And every night I would read the book Brown Bear, Brown Bear. I spent a lot of hours in that hospital room. Eli and God were my only constant companions. Finally, in the middle of my heartache, something inside of me snapped. I came to a decision that no matter what the outcome, even if it wasn’t good, I made a vow with God to let him take control. That I would trust him no matter what.
Day 77, 4 AM, Thanksgiving Day, my water broke and baby Eli was born. Andy couldn’t go into the room with me due to the emergency c-section. I remember being cold, shaking like crazy from the drugs trying to slow my labor down, and completely scared out of my mind. The nurses knew me and could see my fear. So as my family traveled to get to me as fast as they could, the nurses surrounded me, literally holding me tight, and taking turns praying out loud. Dr. Black informed me that as soon as Eli was born he would be sent by helicopter to St. Vincent’s. He said that Andy could drive and I wouldn’t be able to make it for a couple of days. I signed the papers and off we went.
I woke up to Eli’s cry and Dr. Black telling me that it was a miracle because he was stronger than they anticipated and that he was going to try to keep him at Reid. Can all of God’s people say amen? (I’ve always wanted to do that.) The first time I saw Eli will be shown in a picture on the slide show you will see later. They wheeled my bed in. His little chest was caving in and out. He looked nothing like the other 9 babies in the nursery. His oxygen was low. And all I could do was recite Brown Bear Brown Bear. I wasn’t even aware of the staff and family watching me. At that moment, it was just me and my son. God’s miracle! And guess what? Eli responded to my voice like crazy. In fact, I had to stop talking to him on several occasions because it made his little body work too hard.
Dr. Smith (who is the greatest) told me later how lucky Eli and I were. He thought we lost him on 3 different occasions. And although he never let me know it, he had no idea what our outcome was going to be. He said, “Lesli so many babies don’t make it. I haven’t had anyone in the hospital this long for over 20 years. I haven’t seen anyone bleed this long ever.” After, Eli’s birth, Dr. Smith told me that the ONE other case, only one, that he had handled in his 20+ years like this, the baby was stillborn at 32 weeks. Eli is such a lucky little boy. I simply responded, “Not luck Dr. Joe, God!” Joe Smith paused and said, “Over the months, I saw your church family surround you! I saw your family surround you. Yes Les, not luck at all, prayer.”
Remember that I told you when I mistakenly got sent home I screamed out to God “let me see you in this”, he showed me OVER and OVER again during the rest of my hospital stay. When Steve and Jon would come and visit they would always tell me to be a witness to as many people as I could. I tried really hard, but there were days I simply couldn’t. And that is when this church stepped in and pulled me through by witnessing to me. I was so proud to call you my church family. I was so thrilled watching you guys literally being the body of Christ.
I?for a minute, I want to STOP talking about Eli’s story, and instead talk about our church’s story. Our CHURCH is made up of hundreds of people. Some I know, some I don’t. Some I love, some I ?? some that are a little harder to love. We all have different perceptions of our church. I started preparing these words a couple of weeks ago and since I started, things around here have? well tightened up a bit. I have never been afraid to ask a question, or give an answer whether right or wrong. I know many in our church are hurting and unsure. I talk to Steve often and as we talked Wednesday I asked him about our church and he without delay told me ” ??. There will be many more days with Steve Abernathy, Lesli, and her family at the Centerville Christian Church?.” Our Church is hurting, but our church is Strong. Jesus brought our family through really dark waters and without a doubt Jesus will guide our church as well.
Andy and I say thank you with all of our hearts. Throughout our ordeal, our youngest daughter, Avery, would have major meltdowns, our middle daughter, Addison, held everything in. Lizzie, oh the big sister, became me, the mother of her siblings and the house. The girls leaned on each other. They became tougher, stronger individuals. And I hear Andy didn’t smile from the time I went in until the time I came home. I would also hear through the grapevine it wasn’t a really good thing to ask him about me either. He didn’t like going down that road. He didn’t want to talk about it. We missed each other greatly. He left my hospital room several times crying, not wanting to go back home without me. Him and the girls felt like the house wasn’t the same with me being gone. For 87 nights my king sized bed was full. Three little girls, one stuffed bear, and a daddy. Not one night did Andy make them sleep alone. I remember walking up my sidewalk coming back home for the first time while Eli was still at Reid. I was still walking slowly due to surgery; Andy came out to get me. He had turned all my Christmas trees on, was playing music, and had my coffee going. He came out to the sidewalk with big tears and whispered welcome home. You see, Andy took his wife to the hospital in flip flops and picked her up in a winter coat.
I’m going to close with one last story. Addison called me one afternoon all excited saying, “Mommy, mommy you are never going to believe what I am looking at!” I knew she was talking about the first snowfall. I said, ” Addison hang on just a second.” I got up and walked to my window and said, ” tell mommy what you see.” She said, “I see the first snow and the flakes are huge.” I responded, “guess what? I can see them too.” After a pause she said “you can?” Then what she said next blew me away. She said, “let’s put our hands up to the window at the same time and watch them fall.” I never cried in front of my kids during my hospital stay. I had to be the cheerleader. Fighting back the tears, I said “ok”. She said,” mom are you doing it?” I put my hand up and watched the snow. I said, “yes Addie are you? Yup mom I Am.” I then I told her, “Do you know what?” “Just because I’m not sleeping at home every night right now doesn’t mean I’m that far away. I can see the same rain that you can even the same moon at night. So if you ever get scared and miss me know that mommy sees the same things you can see.”
So church, whether you are sitting in your dream house, the corner booth drinking coffee, or a hospital bed, people are out there hurting, lonely, scared. Maybe you’re being wheeled down the hall before a big surgery, maybe you’re standing at a grave site, or at the birth of a child that you don’t know what the outcome will be. But isn’t it awesome that God has put above us the same moon, the same stars, the same sun, and the same snowflakes. God is always watching over all us. All of the time!
Thank you for being my church!