Four Hours From Heaven

Some if not most of us get up in the morning, have a cup of coffee or a bowl of cereal, sit down for a minute and try to swallow it. We think about our day, where we have to be, what we have to do. We may or may not be happy about what is in front of us for the next ten hours or so. Our day could be boring, tiring, exciting. Who knows.

One morning after getting our two girls off to school, I found out that a one’s day could be dangerous and life threatening.

It started off normal enough. I fed the girls, packed their lunches, tied up their hair, drove them to school. Told them to have a great day, and waved goodbye as they left the car and headed into class. I drove back to the house, where their Mom was trying to start her day.

Diane was just over eight months pregnant. The unusually hot April and first of May was getting her down physically, still she smiled and seemed happy. We all looked forward to the birth of our child, boy or girl. We had not planned this child but we were happy about it. Well, maybe I could have been happier. I was so concerned and worried about my failing business that I was trying not to think too much about the cost of another mouth to feed.

My telecommunications business, which I was part owner of, along with my brother and his brother and father in laws, was simply not doing well. We were very good at installing and maintaining phones but not so good at dealing with a huge amount of competition and managing our overhead. I thought, mistakenly, that putting in more hours would fix things. It didn’t. It did not make the business better, just made things at home worse. My kids didn’t see me much, Diane missed me and needed me to look after her more. Yes, I said what a lot of workaholic-husbands said, “I’m doing all this for you and our family.” Do we really mean that when we say it or are we just fooling ourselves?

I did have it a bit tough. Wayne, who was my best salesman and a very good friend, had been murdered just a few months before. His lady friend’s crazy business partner shot them both dead, and killed himself in the process, one terrible evening. I was really struggling to deal with that. Church, prayer, family, nothing was moving the darkness out of my mind and soul, nothing made me think about anything else but “saving” My with a capital M business.

This particular morning something changed my focus.

As Diane was coming out of the bathroom, I noticed right away that her face, fingers, and ankles were very swollen. My heart sank to my shoes. I knew what this meant. She appeared to have toxemia, again. This dangerous condition for both Mom and baby is rare with the second and never with the third pregnancy. It usually happens with the first. In Diane’s case, like her mother’s, it was the second, which led to an induced labor, and early delivery of Jeri, our daughter. It was a scary time. Diane’s blood pressure, before and during that delivery, was very high. Jeri’s arrival took care of that problem and right fast too.

The alarms were going off, telling me that she needed to be looked after as fast as possible. Some would say, “as luck would have it” but I say “as God would have it”, Diane had an appointment with her obstetrician that morning. We were in the Doctor’s office an hour early. Everything else would just have to wait, business appointments, service calls, everything.

Doctor DeNiro came into the examining room, saw me in there as well. His nurse, having checked Diane’s blood pressure already, and seeing how swollen she was, knew the doctor would need to see us both. He checked Diane’s blood pressure as well, listened to her heart, tested her reflexes, checked her blood pressure again. Then he looked over at me. His face was white, as white as mine I bet.

“You told me how sudden this came on last time, but I would never have thought this could happen again, not with the third pregnancy and not at this stage. You need to go directly to the hospital, I will call ahead. Go, Now.” He said, his voice very anxious.

Diane just sat there for a moment. She looked at the doctor.

“Derrick, take me home first, so I can get some things, then we will go to the hospital.”

We were both floored by how quiet she spoke. She looked calm as a cucumber, a phrase I don’t really understand.

“I understand but get there as fast as you can, please.” the good Doctor said.

His use of the word “please” scared me more than anything else.

“Let’s go Diane, tell me what you need on the way” I said. I took her hand as we headed out the door.

I was scared and worried. The first thing I did, was try to pray. I think a prayer induced by panic and fear is certainly better than no prayer at all.

Diane, between her verbal directions to me, began humming to herself, a praise and worship song. She had this soft and quiet look on her face. Unlike me there was no hand trembling, no sound of tension in her voice, just this quiet little tune, a mix of many songs she led in church, with her guitar hanging around her neck and resting on her swollen belly.

She kept it up while packing her things.

I loaded up the car and I called our neighbor friends to look after the girls if I was not home when school let out.

I kept praying, dealing with my fear. Diane continued to quietly hum during the drive to Portsmouth General Hospital.

She was singing not to herself, but to God, and to our unborn child.

We arrived at the hospital. One of us calmly walked in, the other did not. We checked in at the desk, and as soon as Diane gave them her name, an assistant came around the counter, grabbed a parked wheel chair, told Diane to sit down, and headed down the hall to the elevators. I watched as a door opened and Diane was wheeled in.

I signed what I had to sign, gave numbers and cards when asked to do so. It took a bit of time. Once done I headed up to the maternity ward. I was directed to a room, past the nursery, the neo-natal unit, and half way down a long hall, room on the right.

I walked into a private room, and found Diane dressed in one of her own night gowns, bathrobe on, in the lone bed, with the rails up and locked. She was laying on her left side facing the door. For some reason, just over her head, there was a tongue depressor taped to the wall. One end of it was wrapped in cloth.

Diane saw me looking at it.

“That’s there in case I have a seizure, they don’t want me to swallow my tongue” was her nonchalant explanation.

“What?”

“My blood pressure is pretty high, first a nurse took it, then left the room, another person came in and took it, left the room, the third person who took it, put the rails up and taped that thing to the wall.”

“Wow” was about the only thing I could say.

“She also told me to lay on my left side only, don’t think I can do that when I am sleeping, but I might not get a lot of that anyway. I am told my blood pressure is going to get checked a lot, every hour for awhile .” She said “And we have an ultrasound scheduled for tomorrow, they want to check the baby and we will get to see if we have a boy or a girl, what do you think about that?”

How about that? I wanted to sit down and cry to tell you the truth. I was just about to do that when there was a knock on the door and the doctor came in.

We had a good but very serious talk. Diane was just at thirty four weeks into her pregnancy. Thirty four out of forty. She would have to spend a few weeks in the hospital, in bed, on her left side, eating a very bland no salt diet, with constant monitoring of her blood pressure, and her urineoutput. We had to be concerned about the unborn child, her kidneys and the possibility of a stroke. They would monitor the health of the child and deliver early but not too early. It didn’t sound good, but she and our child were under the best of care.

Those as it turned out, were not just empty words.

For the next couple of weeks, life for me was difficult and very busy. Business had been slow, but all of a sudden it was not. I had two hotels that needed phone system installed, plus there were a couple of other jobs as well. Diane’s brother Billy was working for me at the time and we found ourselves putting in long hours just to keep up with our deadlines. Good Neighbors looked after Christine and Jeri until I could get home. I wanted to be with them for dinner, sometimes I cooked, sometimes we ate out, most of the time somebody from our church brought us something. I would visit Diane at night and sometimes in the afternoon. The girls stayed home, excitement and chatter had to limited. We cheated and called each other against doctor’s orders. She hated the food, but we didn’t cheat about that.

There was an ultrasound, the first of a few actually. I was there, and having never seen one before asked the doctor, while pointing at the monitor,

“Is that the baby’s ear?”

“No it is not an ear, that indicates you are having a boy” He told me.

Okay, so I made a slight mistake. Diane thought it quite funny. I suppose our technician did too, he was smiling quite a bit.

Later, while sitting in a chair next to Diane’s cage, as we called it, I held her hand and we prayed for her and a boy, who we wanted to hold one day soon, named Joel Derrick Parker.

I went home hoping I would be the father of a healthy boy and the husband of a healthy wife but I was very worried that there was a strong possibility I could end up being neither. Diane was a very sick lady and for Joel, the term living on borrowed time came to mind.

I woke up the next day to the sound of music coming from my alarm clock. WXRI radio was playing a contemporary Christian song called “I’m Not Worried”. The artist is Brent Lamb and the album is called “Tug of War”. That is what I was in, one minute I trusted God to look after my family, the next minute I was worried that everything would go wrong. Back and Forth, the trouble with being a double minded man is that it wears a person flat out. My faith was being tested, my energy being exhausted.

Our close friends Sherri and Dennis tried to help me, tried to keep me from drowning in my own fears, kept reminding me of God’s love and that between Diane’s care in the hospital and the care of the Great Physician that I should not worry, it did no good. Of course she was right about that, but it isn’t easy to keep trouble from blowing you over, especially when it gets worse.

Diane had been in the hospital for about two weeks when Dr DeNiro told us he was going on vacation. He hated to leave us but really needed to go to New York to visit his mother and family. Diane insisted that he went, she trusted that Dr Psimas, his partner to look after things. So he went.

One Monday mid-morning, May 13th 1985 to be exact, Billy and I were at a brand new Ocean View motel. I was standing in a dark phone room, talking on a two way radio to Billy who was going from room to room, in numerical order, sending a tone to me through the telephone wiring, so that I could find it, cross-connect that jack to the new phones system and provide that room a working telephone extension. We had been at it for sometime, when my voice mail pager went off. I called in, and the message was from Diane.

I needed to rush to the hospital, she was scheduled for an emergency Cesarean Section delivery that afternoon.

After listening to the babies heart and hearing a problem, another ultrasound had shown that the baby was in distress. Diane’s womb had very little amniotic fluid in it. There was the risk of infection, even though it was still a bit earlier than the doctors wanted, the baby needed to be delivered. Diane’s kidneys were failing and her blood pressure was way to high. Both lives were in danger. It was all coming to a boiling point.

I drove like a mad man to the hospital, its a miracle I didn’t have an accident. I rushed to her room only to be told we would have to wait for an operating room to be free. In the meantime they performed another ultrasound and the nurses tried to calm me down.

I called church friends including Sherri and she called our pastor and the prayer chain started to knit together.

At around seven pm that night, an epidural was administered to an already prepped for surgery Diane. They soon wheeled her into the OR. The doctor stopped me as I was coming out of the prep room, where I had washed up and dressed out to be with her in the OR. We had signed forms to make sure this was the last time Diane would become pregnant. The surgeon assisting Dr Psimas and Dr Gregory, the pediatrician wanted me to verity that we still wanted to “tie her tubes”. He asked because there was the possibility our son might not survive, Diane was only thirty-three yeas old, and we might want to try again. After I got over this unpleasant thought, which took me about a minute, which was a good thing because that was all the time I had, I said YES no more babies.. We will not put her through this again.

He nodded okay and then said,

“Let’s go make them both feel better, Dad.”

Music to my ears, his confidence was very inspiring. I knew then I was about to meet my son.

At seven thirty five, the day after Mother’s Day, Joel came quietly through a lot of blood into the world. He didn’t scream or cry. I saw him for less than thirty seconds before he was placed into an incubator and rolled out of the room. During that thirty seconds it looked like he had the hiccups or something.

Then the surgeon looked at me.

“I have her tubes, are you still sure? Do I proceed?”

“Yes.” I was a bit surprised he asked again. The doctor nodded and continued.

The doctors told Diane that Joel was alive and looked good, they needed to attend to her. The closed her up and then she was immediately put under to lower her blood pressure. They would keep her that way for some hours.

I don’t remember exactly all that happened for the next couple of hours or so. I visited Joel but they were still tending to him so I went to recovery and sat next to Diane. Her Dad came to see me, her and his new grandson. He had been with our girls and their classmates to Bush Gardens that day. Once he dropped them off with our neighbors he came to the hospital. He stayed for a short while. Diane didn’t really know he was there even though she sort of talked to him.

The nurses, told me to go get some rest, to use her room and bed. They would provide a meal as well. I didn’t want that if she was not there with me.

I lay in the bed thinking about the meals we had together here in the room, joking about the food. Diane was always cheerful, smiling, only cried because she sometimes missed the girls. We took Lamaze classes in the hospital, and I always had this idea we would not get to use all that we had learned. I was right about that.

I got up after awhile, it was very late, way after midnight, I think. I walked down to the nursery. Dr Gregory was still there, in his all white scrubs, standing in front of one those X-ray viewers. He turned when he saw me.

“We have a problem, a serious problem.” He paused for a moment to let that sink in.

“Joel, has a lung problem, it happens sometimes with Cesarean deliveries. When a baby doesn’t get squeezed by the birth canal, a surfactant doesn’t get released into the lungs. This fluid helps to inflate them, keep them from sticking closed if you get what I mean. Joel’s lungs are like a balloon that can’t be inflated all the way. That’s why his breathing doesn’t look normal. He is retracting. His being in distress in the womb, low fluid, may have contributed to this also. We will treat him with oxygen, monitor him, but if things don’t improve, if he keeps having to work so hard to breathe then we will have to send him over to King’s Daughters and put him on a ventilator.”

He looked at me hard.

“I am really hoping that will not be necessary because if it happens, he may not be able to come off it, and then you and Diane will have a very tough decision to make. I think you need to know that now.”

I needed to sit down. The room was buzzing.

The doctor rolled over a stool.

“Sit.”

“How long do we have?” I asked from my chair.

“Three, Four hours at the most. It doesn’t look good, but I am not going to give up quite yet.” he said. “You look tired, so go back to your wife’s room. I will stay here with Joel, try to get some rest if you can, okay Mr Parker?”

I nodded and said a weak okay.

I didn’t go back to the room, I used a phone in the hall to call my parents, to let them know what was happening. Then I went to the room and called my best friend Bob Wray. He and his wife Mary Ann were very good friends, both Mary Ann and Diane led music in our church, we spent quite a bit of time together, their kids and ours were friends. Bob answered the phone.

I told him what was going on he agreed with me that what Dr Gregory was telling me was either Heaven would come to Joel or Joel would be going there.

Bob knew that my son needed a miracle, he was four hours from Heaven one way or the other.

Bob led us in prayer. Bob was and is not one of those “It is God’s will” kind of praying people. No, he reminded God, in the name of Jesus, of just who He is, a miracle making God, and that we have the power, no we have the responsibility to believe that He can do something great, fix any situation.

He prayed for a long time, and did it with purpose and power. I knew he was reaching, getting through.

There was also many more prayers coming from many other people They were coming from friends, family and church members. I just didn’t know it at the time. I had to believe that Bob had started something, and that something would heal my son.

After I hung up the phone, I lay there in the quiet dark, wrestling with my own thoughts. The Bible says to have the faith of a mustard seed, and that if two together believe anything, it will be done. There are all kinds of verses like that, yet I knew that people were still sick, so sick that they died. So were some prayers not answered and why not? I didn’t know the answer to that then, and I still don’t know why now. I only knew as I lay there that God could make my son's lungs perfectly well. The harder question for me was, Would He? I was frightened He would NOT heal MY son, and I struggled with my doubt until I had a thought. Joel is His son to. God knew him before he was in his Mother’s womb, and when I realized that, a peace started to come over me.

I heard a cart being rolled down the hall. It was feeding time for the new babies. A new mom was in the room next to Diane’s. I heard her start to sing to her new child. I started to cry. At that moment I simply surrendered to God, and asked him to heal Our baby boy, and then I think I fell asleep.

Some hours later, I woke up. I thought I heard a voice talking to me. It may have only been in my head but this voice said:

"Get up, go visit your son, he is fine, then go tell your wife that your son is doing well."

I got up, walked down the hall to the Neo-Natal unit, scrubbed up and went in. Dr Gregory was still there, once again standing in front of the X-ray viewer. He turned to me and with a smile on his face said,

“Joel is fine! He is breathing without retracting, his blood gases are good, he is a little jaundiced so he will have to stay on the beach for awhile, but other than that, he is good.” he said and then paused.

“I have never see a recovery like this before, and I can tell you now I was quite worried about him. Thought we might lose him, but not now. He is doing great.”

The doctor looked as happy as I felt.

“Now we need to get his Mom up and moving about. This boy is gonna be hungry real soon.”

I did visit Diane. She sleepily asked me if our son was doing okay. I was able, with tears in my eyes, to answer that question.

“Yes, my love, he is doing very well. You will see him soon.” She did, very soon.

Diane recovered very quickly. She spent eight more days in the hospital receiving great care from the staff. She stayed an extra day to look after our baby boy .

The doctors gave me some instructions. I had to learn to take her blood pressure to make sure it was normal, and to provide extra care because she would be quite tired and sore. The most pain she felt was when I kept telling jokes about zucchinis or something and had her in stitches which hurt her stitches so to speak. She finally had to tell me to shut up.

The girls came to see her and Joel. Gus, her father came back, and we had a visit from our pastor.

Once home we had to make a few extra post natal visits to her doctor and to Joel’s. I used to think it was more for their peace of mind than mine. I can understand that. Diane and Joel, had both been in pretty bad shape. We had a lot of help from friends and family who looked after the girls, and stayed with Diane for a couple of weeks. The day came when we were able to be on our own again. Thank God for that.

Diane, pre-delivery, was on the verge of eclampsia, which was the reason that after delivery she was treated with morphine to bring down her blood pressure.

Eclampsia is the onset of seizures (convulsions) in a woman with pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is a disorder of pregnancy in which there is high blood pressure and either large amounts of protein in the urine or other organ dysfunction. Onset may be before, during, or after delivery..

Joel, who was born pre-term, had Hyaline Membrane Disease. Today it is known as IRDS, Infant Respitory Distress Syndrome. This is the formal definition:

Infant respiratory distress syndrome (IRDS), also called respiratory distress syndrome of newborn, or increasingly surfactant deficiency disorder (SDD), and previously called hyaline membrane disease (HMD), is a syndrome in premature infants caused by developmental insufficiency of pulmonary surfactant production and structural immaturity in the lungs. It can also be a consequence of neonatal infection. It can also result from a genetic problem with the production of surfactant associated proteins. IRDS affects about 1% of newborn infants and is the leading cause of death in preterm infants.The incidence decreases with advancing gestational age, from about 50% in babies born at 26–28 weeks, to about 25% at 30–31 weeks. The syndrome is more frequent in males, Caucasians, infants of diabetic mothers, and the second born of premature twins.

Years later when Joel was a very successful high school track star, with district and state records for the mile and lots of other events, Dr Gregory would always say to Diane when she took Joel to see him,

“This boy sure has a great set of lungs. You would never know from looking at him just how sick this boy was.”

Joel was and still is a miracle. So his Diane, his Mom.

Derrick

Posted from Deer Creek Motorcoach Resort.

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Joel Derrick Parker

Born May 13th, The day after Mother’s Day, 1985

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Joel and our lovely new daughter Ashley Fick Parker

(we are sure she loves him as much as we do!)

Some years after Joel was born, I was asked to sing in church, by Diane I suspect. I chose to sing this song, which I was not able to do as good as the original of course. Still, it had a very special meaning for me and I managed to sing it without losing my composure, not until I sang the last note then the tears came.