All About Eve
“Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of…” (Genesis 3:20, NIV)
Not long after Eileen and I started dating, my mom called me aside one evening with some information that she thought I should know. Eileen’s mom had confided to my mom that Eileen was diabetic. Eileen had not yet worked up the nerve to tell me herself, but my mom thought I should know it in case some diabetic complications were to occur while Eileen and I were out on a date.
At that time I knew of diabetes but not much about diabetes. So I decided that I needed to learn a little more. As coincidence would have it (there is that word again), the Chicago paper we subscribed to was running a series on diabetes. I was surprised to learn about the possible long-term effects (blindness, kidney failure, vascular disease, coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease). Just the possibility of these complications is enough to make one ask just how serious they are about continuing the relationship. In the end, my love for Eileen overcame my fear. I decided that the complications were only possibilities, not certainties. I reminded myself that any other girl I might marry who was in perfect health could die young in some tragic accident. After all, life offers few guarantees to anyone about anything. If any of these complications surfaced we would face them together. Besides, these were things that happened to other people, not the people I loved. As it turned out, Eileen would eventually be afflicted with almost all of these side effects as well as a number of other health issues. But they were issues that we did indeed face together.
Eileen had developed diabetes when she was nine years old. In those days (now there is a phrase I learned from my parents that I thought I would never use myself) the detection, treatment and monitoring of diabetes was a lot less precise and effective than it is today. As a result, it was harder to control and it made the likelihood of the complications greater than they are today. Eileen’s diabetes was harder to control than most and she would ultimately experience more side effects than most as well.
Eileen lost her sight before we had celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, and Eileen was one of the statistics. Medical technology, armed as it was with the latest in laser surgery, was unable to prevent (or even delay) Eileen from going blind. In less than one year she went from relatively normal vision, doing all the things sighted people take for granted, to total darkness taking nothing for granted. She went from a house wife who also worked outside the home to a homebound wife. She went from being fiercely independent to being largely dependent (at least initially) on others.
But her stubborn insistence on being independent made her far from helpless. Here are just a few of the things she tried after going blind – ski lessons at Winter Park in Colorado, snowmobiling in the rocky mountains (okay, so I was in front on the snowmobile when not snapping pictures), three-wheeling at a family reunion in Nixa, Missouri (she was in the front) and Wii bowling at Joel’s apartment in Des Moines, Iowa. These are just some of the more unusual ones, unless you count accompanying Joel for his driver’s license test.
In addition, she has bowled, jumped on a trampoline, played miniature golf and air hockey. The saying goes that Ginger Rogers could do the same dance moves as Fred Astaire, only backwards and in high heels. Well Eileen has been able to do the same everyday tasks that other wives and mothers do routinely, only with her eyes “closed.” She keeps house better than some sighted people, is a great cook and cared for two infants/toddlers (one handicapped with some fairly involved medical needs).
Around 1985, Eileen’s kidneys failed. This was also associated with being a long-term diabetic. Dialysis helped her for a time, but it was rough going. As the newspaper article that follows states, her energy level was completely sapped and she did not want to do anything. In reality she could not do much of anything even though she wanted too. For a time, we had to hire someone to come into the house and take care of Joshua and Joel while I was at work (yes, we paid the nanny tax).
Eventually, in 1986, she underwent a successful kidney transplant. Pretty routine today, but not so much back then. I remain convinced that if she had not been able to receive a new kidney (a very unselfish sacrifice on the part of her sister Joyce – see following article) she would not have lived very long on dialysis. While it cleansed the toxins from her body it was very hard on her system. As her primary physician stated at the time, Eileen was a ticking time-bomb ready to explode. But the kidney transplant de-fused the bomb.
As modern medicine progressed, she also underwent a successful pancreas transplant in 2002. For the first time in 38 years she no longer needed daily insulin injections to stay alive. This remained the case for nearly ten years. Technically, she was no longer considered diabetic. Today, the transplanted pancreas no longer works and Eileen is back on insulin shots.
As remarkable as the pancreas transplant was in improving her lifestyle and longer-term health, the years as a diabetic had taken its toll on her vascular system. In 2008, despite having no noticeable symptoms, we learned that four coronary arteries were substantially blocked. She was not a candidate for an angioplasty to open them up due to the location of one of the blockages, so a quadruple by-pass was performed. The same physician that did by-pass on an Illinois Governor (the one that did not go to jail) performed Eileen’s by-pass. She continues with cardiac rehabilitation to this day as she does not want to repeat the surgery if it can be helped.
Since about 1979 Eileen has also been plagued by crippling and painful rheumatoid arthritis. Unresponsive to even the latest and best medications, only steroids have been able to relieve the pain and swelling. Ultimately, she had to undergo two total knee replacements, one in 1990 and one in 2009, due to the degeneration in the joints. Although probably considered more “routine” than a kidney or a pancreas transplant, the total knee replacements have enabled Eileen to regain pain-free mobility. Except for the scars and the metal detector alarms in airports you cannot tell that they are not part of the “original equipment”. It is somewhat amusing, however, to see this petite blind woman being patted down as a potential threat by the TSA (really happened).
A more recent chronic condition is skin cancer, which is a side effect of her anti-rejection medications. These medications are required in order to keep her body from rejecting the kidney and pancreas transplants. Periodically she has to have these cancerous and pre-cancerous growths frozen, scraped or cut out. Over the years she has likely had well over a hundred such treatments. Thus far, none have progressed to melanoma, which could be the case if not caught or treated early enough.
Along the way, Eileen also had two miscarriages, likely caused by her difficult to control blood sugar levels. Both miscarriages were before the births of Joshua or Joel. Given Eileen’s underlying health issues and the fact that two attempts at having children were unsuccessful, our prospects of ever becoming the parent of one child, much less two, seemed highly unlikely.
There were other more “routine” health issues over the years as well. She had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. She endured the pain of a bladder stone. It had formed on a stitch from her kidney transplant that had infiltrated her bladder wall. It caused months of severe pain before the cause was finally detected and easily removed. At one point she needed surgery to treat a blocked bile duct. Lately, she has been plagued by poor circulation in her lower legs and feet (common with diabetics) that makes wound healing difficult and slow. An angioplasty to open up arteries in her left leg (the worst) was largely unsuccessful in improving the circulation. So she must be extra diligent in treating any sore on her lower extremities early and faithfully.
For some of these trials God miraculously answered prayer and delivered Eileen from the affliction. But this has not always the case. In just as many instances His answer has been “My grace is sufficient for you, my strength is made perfect in your weakness.” Nevertheless, in each instance — whether by miraculous deliverance or through grace that was sufficient — God’s touch has been unmistakable in her life. An inspirational story? A courageous story? A story of perseverance? Absolutely! As my dad would say, Eileen attended the “school of hard knocks.” And this education has given her clearer “vision” than many sighted people have.
But this is not just the story of Eileen. It is the story of a powerful and loving God at work in and through her life. A life that is now lived in darkness brings light and inspiration to others. But, as Eileen is quick to acknowledge, the light is merely a reflection of the God she loves. A reflection of how He has worked in her life through each affliction — whether by a miracle or through grace. He is the source of the light and she prefers that people focus on Him and not on her.
Perhaps the greatest miracles, however, are the lives that followed death. These were the birth of our two boys that followed the two miscarriages. Even when problem-free, child birth is perhaps the greatest gift (except for second-birth) that God has given us. For Eileen, it was anything but problem-free. After the two miscarriages, we had all but accepted the fact that we would have no children of our own. But she was willing to continue trying and put her own life at risk in order to bring new life into the world. At the same time we were investigating adoption, having reluctantly accepted her doctor’s prediction (the same doctor who said she was a ticking time-bomb) that Eileen was unlikely to ever carry a child to term. Her diabetes was just too difficult to control. Needless to say, God had His own plans and blessed us with two wonderful boys. As a result, we have been twice blessed by incredibly miraculous “deliveries.” Eileen turned out to be an incredible mother. What a shame it would have been if she had never been able to become one.
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)
The two became one flesh. I thought I knew what that meant when we took our vows in November 1975. But when our two sons were born this took on an even deeper meaning for me. Next week you can read (and see) Joshua’s story – “Cain’t Leaves His Mark.”