The Christmas Code

I sat there, half asleep on the couch, as the kids excitedly prepared for the day’s festivities. I found myself, coffee mug in hand, staring at a pile of Christmas gifts, thinking, “What did I do to get us in this situation?” Yes, it was Christmas morning. The tree was decorated, as well as the house. This year, Chrissy had the foresight to wrap almost all the presents in advance, which made things easier, but definitely not great. You see, Chrissy was 30 minutes away, laying in a hospital bed, fighting for her life.

Here I was at home, with our kids and Chrissy’s parents, who had arrived in their big RV the night before. Just thinking how is it that I’m in a place where I may lose my wife, best friend, lover once more?

Let me back up and start from the beginning.

It was in the beginning of December 2004 when it all started. Recently, we had received dental benefits with my compensation package at church, so we were on a dentistry kick. Getting everyone’s teeth looked at and fixed, cleaned, you know the drill. Chrissy was in for a simple cleaning, being new to all this dentistry stuff, we really had no clue of things you should be careful of. One such thing is that if you have a heart murmur, you should be medicated prior to dental work. Most dentists will ask you this, and then make sure you have what you need prior to the dental work. Chrissy has a heart murmur, and well, she should have had an antibiotic before her teeth were cleaned. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Chrissy had her teeth cleaned, and everything seemed to be fine, for several days afterwards. That was until she started running a fever; we thought she had gotten the flu. She got sick and then she would seem to gain her strength, only to relapse. Finally, it got worse. Chrissy had a fever and started getting a rash. So, we went to the local convenient care because we had not yet established a family doctor. We had just moved to Chicagoland the year before.

We went to the immediate care, and the doctor who saw her said it was just the flu, not to worry, and get some rest. So, we went back home. A  few days passed, and she still had not fully recovered. Then she started to complain of a crushing pain in her chest. This really scared me. She also started to break out in hives.

We thought this must be an allergic reaction to something. We went back through everything she ate, and if we changed anything like soap or detergents, anything we could think of and the answer was no, so we headed out to the convenient care again.

This time, different doctor. Chrissy was short of breath and on the verge of a panic attack because of not knowing what was going on. She still had a fever and when they went to take x-rays of her chest, she passed out for a few seconds. After all that she tried to explain everything that she was feeling, but the doctor concluded that it had to be a allergy to something.

Side Note: I was not able to go back with her because I was on kid duty in the waiting room.

The doctor prescribed some meds and sent us on our way. Chrissy felt like they thought she was crazy. We got her on the meds and saw some improvement.

Somehow, we managed to Christmas shop, attend work parties, and go to church. Chrissy and I also decided while wrapping presents that it would be a smashing idea if we used a secret code system on the Christmas tags instead of names.

This year, we had not only gotten better insurance, I had also received a nice pay raise, and we were so excited that we could buy some nice presents that the kids really wanted. This was going to be a very special year.

We did have one huge dilemma; we had a peeker in our family. You know the kid who likes to look at their gifts before Christmas and guess what they were. Oh, Ben is a peeker, and a good one at that. He would shake and squeeze things. He had even been known to unwrap things and rewrap them.  If we would hide the presents, he would find them. He could never keep it a secret either, he had to let his sister and brothers know what he did. He was so proud of himself.

So, this year we came up with a diabolical plan. Looking back, I think Chrissy was having some sort of delusion from the fever or side effect to the medications she was taking because this was just a crazy plan. Actually, it was a genius plan.

We thought we’ll code the presents and hide them in the garage. That is exactly what we did. We would wrap the presents. Chrissy would get out the highly secret code key and label the presents, and I would take them to the hiding place in the locked garage.

This code thing really was genius! Somehow each code was different so there was no telling which present would go to who without Chrissy and the key. This was a brilliant plan for sure! We would have our sneaking peeker foiled this year!

Then Christmas week was here, and Chrissy still had not gotten fully better. I was in charge of all the kid’s ministry Christmas services, all 6 of them. We had 2 on what we call Christmas Eve-Eve, and then 4 on the actual Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve morning, we got up, and Chrissy’s body was absolutely covered with hives. She had a high temperature, the shortness of breath and the crushing chest pain. So, I decided to call a doctor I had recently seen and luckily was able to make an appointment for her that day. We arrive at the doctor’s office, and they got us in quickly. The doctor looked at her and told us that she needed to be admitted to the hospital, and that this was very serious. He gave us orders for blood work and told us to go now and they would be calling the hospital to let them know we were coming.

We got to the hospital and they admitted her and had the blood work done and started her on a course of penicillin. Her fever had spiked to 104. My love was white as fresh fallen snow. They hooked her up to all kinds of monitors. They said that they were doing all they could to make her comfortable. When the Doctor finally came in he told us that she had sepsis of the blood and that the next 24 hours would be the most critical. Not the words you wanted to hear. I remember praying as hard as I could.

I called to let my boss know that I would need to call off. I was then told that no one could fill for me, so I needed to be there. On top of that, Chrissy’s parents were on their way in, and I needed to take care of my four children. This was turning out to be the Christmas celebration from you know where.

I left Chrissy, got our kids around for Church, and headed off to work with them. After the last service, we rushed to the hospital to see Chrissy one last time for the night. She seemed to be doing better, but that was just my opinion– the Doctor had an opposing one. He said she seemed to be reacting well to the meds, but needed rest.

I remember Chrissy pulling me in close and whispering that she loved me and not to forget to get the train table put together for Silas and have the clown bike put together for Jonah. I said I would, and I told her not to worry.

At this time, I had not given any thought to the codes we put on all the presents. I was just trying to figure out how I could get the kids to wait for mommy to come home and see them unwrap the cool presents that we had picked out for them.

Presents are a big deal in our family, and there is a lot that goes into choosing the right gift for that receiver. This goes all the way down to how it’s wrapped and even sometimes how it is presented to the receiver.

Side Note: For some presents that are given to special people it takes months of preparation and orchestration, especially if it’s Chrissy giving the gift. She puts her whole heart into making it a positive memorable experience. I absolutely love this about her.

I got the kids home, did all our Christmas eve traditions, and put the kids to bed, As soon as I started to work in the garage on the last presents, in rolled the big RV with the in-laws. I tried to get them welcomed and settled, so I could finish up my projects. I do remember it being around 2 am when I finally crawled into bed and prayed one last payer for my love.

The next thing I knew was that I had four very excited kids bouncing on my bed wanting me to get up. I thought I could buy some time with having the kids go see Grammy and Pop in the RV. That didn’t take long. I was able to get a cup of coffee and get myself dressed.

Now this is where I started this post. With me sitting on the couch. My mind was overwhelmed with thoughts on what to do. I wanted Chrissy to be here to watch the kids open the gifts, but who knew when she would be home, it could be days or maybe even weeks.

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I told the kids to go ahead and open their stockings. This would give me time to seek wisdom from the in-laws. I then remembered the codes. Oh no, those terrific, horrible codes! I thought I got it! The Grandparents always bring tons of presents… I’ll just have the kids open the presents from them now, and then when Chrissy gets home,they can open ours. Brilliant!

So, I thought. But I was shot down by my mother-in-law, and told the kids needed to open our presents. I tried to convince them otherwise even reasoning that I would make the kids wait until I knew when Chrissy would be coming home. That was when the guilt trip started, and I totally lost all strength to fight.

I set up the video camera, and away we went. It was a disaster.  The biggest mistake I can remember is that everyone was opening each other’s gifts, and Ben opened up Tori’s American Girl Doll. Which seemed so funny to everyone, but me and I’m sure to my wife later when she found out. I believe the dog’s present was even messed up.

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Afterwards, I was told that when Chrissy got out of the hospital, the kids could open the presents that the grands brought.  I was so frustrated!

I told the kids to get ready; we were going to see mommy. We got to the hospital and they got to see Chrissy. She looked tons better, but still was super weak. The doctor told us that she was lucky to be with us. They also said she needed much rest and care.

We left the hospital and stopped by a Churches Chicken– one of the only places open on Christmas to get a take-home meal which was our Christmas dinner.

Side Note: We never ate Churches Chicken because of a horrible shooting that took place in one of the restaurants, so Chrissy would never ever go there. She refused to.

So, the next day we went back to the hospital and the Doctor said Chrissy should be in there a few more days. Chrissy’s mom asked the doctor why, in a challenging way. She argued with him that Chrissy would be much better at home with her family. After much banter, he told Chrissy that she could sign herself out against doctor’s orders and go home if she wanted to.

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Chrissy’s mom convinced her that would be the best thing to do.

So, she signed herself out and we took her home.

By now the news that the kids had opened everything we had gotten them sunk in. This was a hard thing for us both as we watch the kids tear into the presents that were brought from Pennsylvania. We tried to make the best of it, joking about the clothes that were always too small for me or the strange presents that one of the kid would get that only someone who didn’t really know our kids would get them.

The next day the RV pulled out of the drive, and was off to Pennsylvania again. Leaving our family to care for each other and hopefully give Chrissy the rest she needed.

Unknown to us, but this was the start of a new battle for Chrissy. This sickness did much damage that in the years to come, we would slowly uncover really how bad it was. This was the start of anxiety and depression, as well as a few other issues that still to this day are challenges for my wife.

We now look back and cherish this year and will never forget how blessed we are to have Chrissy with us to celebrate yet another Christmas.

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