March 17 is special to the Martin family for far more than just the fun of wearing green and celebrating an interesting Irish holiday. In 2005, while just 7 months into marriage, Ben and I came to the pinnacle of a stressful several months, by each enduring a 12 hour heart surgery in very different ways. Rewind several months before this, in November after a pick-up basketball game, Ben comes in and lays on the floor with a racing heart beat. Here I am, new to being a wife, and I’m watching Ben’s chest cavity quiver and convulse with each fast heart beat. Off we go to the ER, only to have missed the prime moment to capture what could be happening, as the racing heart beat subsided. Fast forward to December 10 of 2004, Ben’s birthday… laying on the bed opening birthday presents that morning, and his heart races yet again. We rush to the ER, and this time, it’s scary… I’m beside myself, and honestly, not sure what to do.
The months that followed this were extremely difficult. We traveled to Houston to have a workup done, and find that Ben’s heart is essentially failing in it’s ability to function how it is supposed to…. his right atrium, was filling with blood, and because it was so full, the blood was just sloshing around instead of being pumped out to the body. We met with the surgeon who told us of the risks of such a surgery and what would be done, and we were devastated. Dr. Frasier, one of the world’s greatest heart surgeons was going to basically reconstruct Ben’s heart to make it function more efficiently, and it would take him about 15 hours to do this. 15 hours…. 15 hours! All I could think was, “what could I possibly do for 15 hours while my husband fights for his life on a cold and sterile operating room table? How am I going to be able to do this? What if I become like my mother… a widow… how can this be? Oh Lord, deliver us from this!”
Ben and I wrestled and fought with this news for 3 full months before the surgery actually came. We would pray for a miracle, for deliverance and cry night after night, just almost not able to bear the incredible burden of this reality. Ice cream became our friend, and needless to say, we gained much weight during those few months. Anytime depression would set in, ice cream would be consumed!
So, March finally comes, and we fly to Houston. After a series of highly frustrating events that took place as soon as we got in our rental car to drive to the medical center in Houston, we end up having to do an extra cath procedure and stay overnight in the hospital, unexpectedly. There, we met a doctor who ended up being a friend of our sweet friends, the Lewis’, who would actually be there to sit with me while Ben was in surgery. (One of many ways God would show himself in this whole situation.) With no parents at our side yet, we had a truly wonderful friend come to our rescue, and because of that, Dr. Bill Heston and his sweet wife, Angie, are still so dear to us. We had one night in the hotel between hospital stays, and I remember it being a night of extreme emotional tension and uncertainty.
The next day, we go to the hospital early in the morning, and the day we have been dreading is now underway. There are so many things I wish I could forget about that day, and yet they remain neatly tucked away in my long-term memory because, let’s face it, it has become apart of my identity in Christ… a defining moment… a crisis of faith. I almost couldn’t handle it when they wheeled Ben back to the operating room. He was already a little loopy from the medicine, and it strangely stung me to know he was already out of it… not knowing that I was saying repeatedly that I loved him. My father-in-law was so good to just hug on me in that room for a few moments before we joined the others for a long day of waiting.
I’ll never forget the friends and family we had surrounding us with love there in Houston and around the world. It was evident that day that the LORD was dwelling near, and oh how we needed that. There is agony in waiting and many tears were shed… but after updates every couple of hours, the twelfth hour came and with that, the sweet red-headed nurse came in and said they were finished and we could go see him in a few minutes. I was so glad to know that we would not have to endure three more hours of agony. Relief rushed into my heart… Now, I can be with him… I can do something to help him… I knew my place. I knew where I fit with Ben. I could be his caregiver… I could be his wife… I could be his friend, his advocate, whatever I needed to be in that moment. The reality of how God put us together was very evident in that ICU while Ben was incapacitated, with wires and IV’s seemingly coming out of every part of his body. As I held his hand, I could almost feel the Spirit’s power… his hand was warm, and there was love still to be had.
Somehow in my heart, I knew everything would be ok. Some others who had been through many more surgeries than I told me repeatedly that Ben still had a long road ahead of him, and I understood that… but somehow, someway, I knew we’d walk out of that hospital sooner than later.
And miraculously, and in perfect timing, Ben was in the ICU for three days and in a regular room for four days, and then we were released. We had to stay in Houston for a week to make sure everything was going well, so Ben’s sweet grandparents loaned us their RV to live in. Those days were interesting days, but I look back and am still thankful for the times I grew so much in maturity and how our relationship grew and gelled together in a way it wouldn’t have otherwise. Those moments of struggle and pain gave birth to something wonderful… faith, hope, and the assurance of the wisdom of God.
We want to say thank you to all of you who prayed for us five years ago… friends, family, and those who didn’t really know us. Thank you because through you, we were able to have the strength to endure, the finances to pay off our medical bills, and the blessing of meals provided to us so I could focus on just taking care of Ben. We love you so much, still today, and will NEVER forget your love for us.