NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED TO PROTECT FRIENDS AND DOCTORS.
This story is real. It is filled with pain and anguish and heart break. And unequaled joy. This situation I believed for a time was an abrupt change to what was the real story. But now, in clearer thought, I understand, this was God’s story for our lives all along. It just wasn’t what we anticipated . It wasn’t the way we thought the story went. But God knew. He knows and He is good.
This part of our lives began in mid-September. My sister Stori and I were getting ready for our bi-annual jobs at Marburger Farm. It takes us away from our homes for 10 days. During those days my mom comes to my home and cares for my children. While we were gearing up for the trip my father began to feel sick. He just didn’t feel right. I called him on several occasions and told him mom could stay home with him and I’d make other arrangements. He told me no. He would be fine.
One week before our trip to Marburger, the doctors discovered my dad had gall stones. He had a procedure to put in a stint and remove the stones. Again, I asked that mom stay with him. Again, He refused that idea. He insisted our lives go on as planned.
He began to feel better and we went to Marburger. While we were there, we were getting calls from my sister Tess and brother-in-law John. They told us dad was in extreme pain. They took dad to the doctor and they did a CT scan. They discovered the stint had moved causing the pain. They also spotted a tiny lesion on his pancreas.
On Thursday night October 4th, my father called me and Stori at Marburger and told us they had diagnosed the lesion as pancreatic cancer. He told us the following week he'd undergo a surgery called “a whipple procedure” to remove the lesion. The evening God gave each of us girls a verse. He gave it to us independently and in different ways but it was all the same verse. We came together the next morning on the phone and each shared the verse God had given. It was Hebrews 12:1-3
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
That morning I texted dad, I told him, “Dad, God asks this of us. Let’s do it well. Lace on those racing shoes, I will run beside you. Tell God you are ready. And then, we trust Him”
Stori and I returned home on Saturday, October 6th.
On Tuesday, October 9th, I drove to Tyler to spend the day with my dad as he was to do the whipple surgery on Wednesday October 10th. The night before the surgery we prayed, we sang, and we talked. It was a very emotional time. We knew it was a serious surgery. We laid hands on dad and prayed. Dad gave us a plan if anything happened during the surgery. We listened but we were all sure everything would be fine. He had the best surgeon doing his surgery.
At 5am on Wednesday morning, October 10th, mom, dad, and I loaded into the suburban and headed to the hospital. Dad began talking part of the way there. He began to express doubts about doing this procedure. I tried reassuring him; I reminded him that we trust a sovereign God.
When we arrived at the hospital Tess, Stori and John met us. We all sat and waited. They called his name and he bravely walked back to pre-op.
They allowed us to see dad in groups of two. John (Stori’s husband) was back with Dad and Tess was allowed in. When Tess was talking with dad, again, he began to doubt. He said, “Surely this cannot be about extending my life by a few years.” He was shaken in his resolve. Tess quickly came to reassure him. She was talking with him and reassuring him when a family friend walked in. He was a doctor that we grew up with who loved my dad and just wanted to check on him before the surgery. Dr. Smith came in the room and had a quick smile and conversation with dad then left. When the curtain rested behind Dr. Smith as he left, Tess said, “Dad, remember our verse? Remember Hebrews 12:1-3? That we run this race set before us so the cloud of witness can see and know the Lord? What if Dr. Smith is one of those witnesses? He does not know the Lord. He is lost. What if all of this, ALL OF THIS, is because he is one of the witnesses? Would you do it dad? Would you do all of this so that Dr. Smith could come to know the Lord?”
Dad raised his hand, high into the air, and said, “Sign me up.”
Tess said, “what if it was for Alyssa, or Jonathan, or someone else? Would you do it if they were the cloud of witnesses and came to know the Lord by watching you make this walk?”
Dad raised his hand, high into the air, and said, “Sign me up.”
He willingly went back to surgery with the confidence that we as a family would walk whatever the Lord asked us to and we’d honor Him. We’d let the cloud of witnesses watch us, no matter the outcome, and see that our God is good.
As dad was taken back to surgery we were led into a waiting room. We waited. It was an 8 hour surgery. They took dad back about 8am and right about 6pm Dr. Clark came into the waiting room. Dr. Clark told us dad did great. He was in recovery and we’d see him as soon as they got him into the ICU room. He told us the tumor was tiny. Dr. Clark was confident there was a great outcome. Dr. Clark said it would be a painful recovery but he felt really good about the prognosis.
About 2 hours passed and we still hadn’t seen dad. They hadn’t come to get us. We were getting antsy. Then our family friend Dr. Smith showed up. He just wanted to see how everything went. We grabbed him and, being that he was a doctor we thought he could help us. We begged him to go find dad. He shrugged and said, Ok, I have no power but I’ll see what I can do”
Minutes later we were being led back to see dad in the ICU. Dr. Clark had told us Dad would be in a medically induced coma for pain control but we could kiss him, tell him we love him, and then go home as dad would be unconscious the whole night.
We rounded the corner and saw dad in his ICU room. He was straining and hollering and yelling. He was in incredible pain. We were shocked. He was completely coherent, aware and lucid. He was telling us where his pain was, what medicines he needed, and that the recovery nurse had neglected him. Being raised by a do-er, us Hadden girls would not sit by and allow this.
I looked at the attending ICU nurse and said, “He supposed to be counting pink bunnies!! Where are his pink bunnies!? Why is his pain NOT controlled??!”
The nurse, whose name was Roger, pulled up a chair and told me to have a seat. He said in a condescending tone, “honey, if you sit down maybe your daddy’s medicine will work better.”
I narrowed my eyes, planted my feet and said through clinched teeth, “oh. No. you get Sarah. Or Dr. Clark. They are his nurse and doctor. I insist. Get them NOW.”
Roger replied, “I don’t see a “Sarah” on my clipboard.”
I lowered my voice to almost a growl and said, “I don’t give a damn what’s on your clipboard. GET HIS DOCTOR NOW.”
Roger just stood there. I spun on my heel and left to find his doctor.
While this was going on, Tess was calling Dr. Clark’s cell phone and Stori was on the phone with a patient advocate. When Stori picked up the patient care phone, all the nurses looked panicked. That phone is reserved for extreme cases when a patient feels that the level of care is not adequate. When that call is placed, an advocate comes immediately and a new nurse team is put in place. The attending team is released from duty. This is an egregious mark to a nurse. Panic set in for the nurses.
Before 3 minutes passed from that call Dr. Clark was in the ICU room and barking orders. Within 20 minutes my dad was counting his pink bunnies.
The family relaxed, I took mom home and we rested. We knew it was going to be a long road.
My dad spent the next 9 days in the hospital recovering. To say it was painful is an understatement. It was excruciating. He was so very brave. His spirits were high even in the most extreme pain. He walked the halls and did everything he could to speed recovery.
The oncologist came in his room and said, “Dr. Hadden, we tested all 20 lymph nodes. They were clear, and the lesion was the smallest we’ve ever removed. It was tiny. I am CERTAIN we got it all. I declare you cured. Cancer free. I am certain.”
We celebrated. We cheered. We BREATHED.
Dad went home on Friday October 19th.
I went back to College Station knowing my dad would recover. It would be slow and painful, but He’d be ok.
I called and checked on him often. He always seemed painful but put up a very brave front.
On Monday, October 22nd, I check in on him and was surprised how painful he was. Tess told me she thought he’d had a very low fever. I began to worry.
On Tuesday, October 23rd, I was called and was told that dad was so painful they took him back to the hospital and he’d been admitted. They were going to run tests to figure out why dad was so painful. They scheduled a CT scan to look for possible leaks.
I was told he was ok, painful and to wait in college station to find out more info. I tossed and turned all night with my cell phone in hand. I couldn’t sleep. At 5am I had made the decision I was going to drive to Tyler to see him. If it was good news, GREAT. I could turn around and come back, If it wasn’t, then fine. I was there.
On Wednesday, October 24th, I left the house with Lockett and Cora in tow and headed for Tyler. At 11 am I pulled in to the hospital driveway and my niece Alyssa came from my dad’s hospital room to the drive way to take my kids and babysit them through the day while I stayed with dad.
Alyssa came down and said dad was painful but ok, they were waiting for a surgery room. Dr. Clark wanted to go in and see what was happening. They suspected surgery at about 5pm. I said ok, and passed the kids on to her.
I walked upstairs and was looking for my dad’s room when I saw hot pink legs scurry past. I told the nurse who was looking for my dad’s room with me, “never mind, that’s my sister’s hot pink pants. I’ll follow her”
I walked in behind Tess and saw my dad in extreme distress. He didn’t acknowledge me, he was wild eyed, gripping the bed and frantic. He was sheet white and sweating but ice cold to the touch.
I was confused. I said, “WHAT is going on??! Waiting for tests? How long has he been like this??”
Tess said, “just now! It just started! We are trying to get help!”
I looked at the small young nurse in the room. She was dialing on the phone, hanging up, dialing, hanging up…. I said, “really!!? Lady!! Get help!”
Just as we were about to throttle the young nurse and her lackadaisical dialing, a face we recognized walked in. It was Martha, dad’s nurse from the previous week during his recovery. She said, “I heard the calls go unanswered and I know Dr. Hadden. What’s…..? Oh my gosh!” Then she began to frantically work on dad. She pushed buttons and began administering him aide. She couldn’t get any vital reads, He had crashed. She called in a trauma team and respiratory team. The room began to fill.
I said, “Tess! Call Stori!” Stori had left just shortly before, thinking all was ok.
Martha looked at us and said, “Girls!! Get your dad’s attention!”
We began to talk loudly and earnestly with him. We began to quote scripture and shout questions to him.
The trauma team revived him and he came back aware.
He sat up and vomited black liquid. Buckets of it. Jet black bile. It was surreal.
Two chaplains had taken my mom aside and prayed with her. We continued telling dad scripture and talking to him.
As the trauma team prepared him to rush to ICU, dad spoke. He said, “GIRLS! Listen to me! I love you. I met with the Lord. I know I won’t come back from surgery. But it’s ok. I simply go before you. Follow the plan”
We argued with him and told him he’d be fine. We ran beside his bed as they wheeled him to ICU. We said we loved him and minutes later at 12:30pm, they were taking him to surgery.
We were ushered back into the surgery waiting room.
A couple hours later Dr. Clark came into the waiting room. His face was grim. He told us our dad had an infection from the surgery. A bacteria had been introduced into his body during the initial whipple surgery. It was bad. Very bad. He told us it was like a forest fire. It was raging out of control in dad and he wasn’t sure what the outcome would be. He told us he cleaned out as much of the infection as he could and it was a wait and see situation. He hoped to go in again on Friday to clean out more and then again on Sunday.
He told us they’d come get us when dad was in ICU. He told us dad would be in a coma. We sat for about 15 minutes when I looked at Tess. I said, “Screw this!” and with that look in my eye I said, “Want to go for a walk?” She knew that look. She said, “Yep!”
We went to find dad. We walked into the ICU areas and searched until we found him. He was in a coma but he was there. He was in room 123. I left Tess and went to get mom. She needed to see her love.
I grabbed mom and said, “Mom! Come! We found him” she jumped to her feet and followed. Stori, followed as well.
He was in a medically induced coma. We saw him, and we loved on him. Later that evening we decided everyone needed to go home to sleep because it was going to be a long road.
I stayed with dad that night. He didn’t move or make a sound. He slept. I was in a tiny chair beside him. I watched the trees sway all night and prayed for God to spare my dad’s life. I prayed that if it was God’s will was to take my dad, that He hem me in. That He help me honor Him. I wanted to run the race honorably.
That began the 168 hours of bedside vigil. When people ask us how long Dad was in ICU, I tell them 168 hours. It wasn’t 7 days. It was 168 hours, because we lived by the minute.
We never left him alone. We were vigilant and steady for him. We took turns, shifts, watching, caring, and helping him. For the most part he stayed in a coma but occasionally his pain would break through and it was excruciating. It was intolerable. I felt like I could rip out of my own skin. It broke my heart to hear him in pain.
My husband Tim, knowing it looked like a long road in ICU, gave me the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. He flew his mom in to College Station from New York and took the kids back home. They left me so I could stay undivided by my dad’s side.
I stayed at the hospital. I didn’t leave my dad. I slept on the floor. I couldn’t bear leaving him.
Throughout the next few days, which from sleep deprivation ran into each other, we had several experiences with dad when he broke through the coma.
He would occasionally wake and say, “Who’s here? Who’s with me?”
We’d answer. “Tara, dad.” or “Tess dad” or “Stori is here, we aren’t leaving you.” He’d say, “I love you. Don’t leave me alone.” we assured him we wouldn’t.
Once he woke up and said, “Satan is here. He’s firing his fiery darts at me. Pray. His darts are hitting me.”
About half way through my dad’s ICU stay there was a nurse change. The nurse who had so rudely told me to sit down that my dad’s medicine would work better had been put on duty for my dad. Roger was assigned to care for my dad. I glared at him and was very doubtful the two of us would make it through his shift. But Roger was humble, jumped at my requests, and gave me no reason to scalp him. I was waiting for just one reason. It never came. Instead, a humble, kind, apologetic Roger waited hand and foot on my dad. He spoke to my dad with love, kindness and respect. Even though my dad was unresponsive mostly, Roger talked to him like he was human. Like my dad was there. Roger literally washed my dad’s feet, cared for him in intimate, humbling ways and did it with the utmost love. Roger was on duty during the days. He was there for the rest of my dad’s stay.
Jessica cared for my dad at night. She was his night nurse the entire time. She too cared for my dad with precision and expertise. She was vigilant and kind. She worked tirelessly to ensure my dad’s every need was taken care of.
My dad was too fragile to take to surgery for cleaning out the infection on Friday October 26th, so we waited an extra day. On Saturday they did a bedside minor cleaning out. They couldn’t tell much. We need him to stabilize before we would see how bad the infection really was.
That evening I was sitting in the corner and my dad woke up. He said, “What day is it?”
I said, “Dad, it’s Saturday. October 27th. 8:23pm”
He paused. 2 minutes passed. I didn’t breathe. I stood silently by.
Dad said, “Who’s winning?”
I said, “who’s winning??! Who’s winning? Who’s winning what??...... Oh, the aggie game?”
Dad said, “Yes”
I took my phone out of my pocket as Tim had been texting me updates all night and read the latest text, “the aggies are devastating Auburn. 55 to 21”
Dad paused for minutes. I thought he’d fallen back to sleep when he said, “praise the Lord”. I smiled.
We didn’t hear from dad again that night.
On Monday, October 29th, they decided dad was stable enough to transport to the surgery room to open him up and get a look at how bad the infection was.
Monday, October 29th at 3:30 pm they took dad back to clean out the infection, take a look inside and put in a feeding tube. We knew it would be a situation where, when the doctors came out, they’d have a good idea if dad could survive. We knew there would be good news or really, really bad news after that surgery.
The waiting room filled as people knew this was a tense situation. We all waited. Around 4:30 Dr. Clark came back in the waiting room, His eyes swam and his shoulders slumped. Mom, Tess, Stori, and I gathered close. John (Stori’s husband) and David (Tess’ husband) close behind us. Dr. Clark said, “I’m so sorry. There is no hope. He cannot be saved. The infection is too bad. He will not survive.”
My hands flew to my face. I heard a voice, my own, say over and over, “oh my God. Oh My God, come. My God, come. My God. Come.” My heart shattered. My voice failed. My world stopped.
I felt myself reach for my phone. I called Tim. I heard chokes. I heard sobs. I heard Tim say, “Baby.” I don’t recall any other words.
I felt large strong hands pulling me. I saw the waiting room grow smaller. I was flung into a seat in a private room. I hugged my knees.
I scanned the room. Mom, sitting beside me. Tess, standing, Stori, John and David. All in the room shocked. I saw Dr. Clark. I saw Dr. Canny. I heard them say, “He cannot survive. He will die. You can prolong this, by a couple weeks, maybe. Surgeries, life support, etc. But he will die. That is certain.”
I heard mom say, “Dr. Clark, if it was your family. What would you do?”
Dr. Clark responded, “Let them go quickly. I'd stop this.”
We all agreed. Dad asked for no lifesaving interventions. He’d want us to let him go be with his Savior.
We all agreed.
We all wept.
We went back to be with my dad as they slowly took off his IVs, his dialysis, and his respirator. We now just waited. We waited for our God. We waited for God to take my dad home.
That was Monday October 29th.
We stayed with him constantly just as before. We all took our turns talking with him, telling him our goodbyes, telling him we loved him. And we waited. We read to him from his bible. His devotional.
We prayed. We cried.
Roger was diligent. Jessica was stoic. We sang one night to dad; Steve Nix (Stori’s father-in-law) played the guitar. Jessica, dads nurse, sang loud and beautifully with us.
Over the next hours, Roger hugged our family, cried with us. He had been affected.
On Tuesday October 30th I stood beside my dad and looked up at Roger washing my dad’s feet. I said, “Roger, I remember you. I remember that first encounter when you told me to have a seat.”
Roger grimaced, he said, “yeah, not a good start.”
I said through tears, as I saw him serve dad, “I never in a million years, on that day, could imagine that I’d want to nominate you for the Nursing Excellence Award. I never could have imagined that you’d be family to me.”
Roger said, “I’ve seen so many people come in here and sob and honor and love your dad. I just wish I’d known him, and I hope someday to be half the man he apparently was.”
I said,” Roger, anyone who can make a mistake, like you did on that first day, then come in here and wash my dad’s feet and serve so humbly will no doubt be a man like my dad”.
We cried and hugged.
On Tuesday October 30th, Dr. Smith (our family friend) came by the ICU room. He was so upset and saddened by the news and what dad had to go through. I walked away from the conversation and Tess spoke with Dr. Smith.
Tess said, “Dr. Smith, it’s ok. Our God is sovereign. As sure as I stand here, I KNOW, with ASSURANCE my dad will be with Jesus. Do you, Dr. Smith have that assurance?”
Dr. Smith said, “No, I don’t."
Tess said, “Do you know you can have that assurance?”
Dr. Smith said, “Yes.”
Tess said, “Do you know how?”
Dr. Smith said, “yes, but I’m not ready”
Tess said, “Ok. But you should know, that before my dad’s surgery, in pre-op, I reminded dad that we do this walk to be a witness to others. That we want others to know the Lord and when I asked dad if he’d go through ALL of this, so that you, Dr. Smith, could come to know the Lord as your savior, my dad raised his hand High in the air and said ‘sign me up’”.
Dr. Smith’s tears ran down his face. Tess said, “My dad would do this all over again if it meant that you, Dr. Smith, accept Jesus as your savior.”
Dr. Smith said he had a friend who he needed to talk to about all this.
Tess said, “Ok. WHEN you accept Christ as your savior, please let me know. It would make my dad’s suffering worth it.”
Dr. Smith turned and left crying.
On Wednesday Oct 31st, we were scattered around the hospital. I was sitting in my regular chair pulled up next to dad and noticed his machine was beeping. His heart rate was accelerating.
I went out the door and said, “Roger, his machine is beeping. The top number is gong 135, 136, 137, 138… not sure what it means, should I just silence the alarm?”
Roger jumped to his feet and came running in. He checked the machine. He looked me in the eye and put his hand on my arm. He said, “This is it, honey.” I said, “It’s what? What is it?” Roger said, “He’s dying sweetie”.
I dropped to my knees beside my dad’s bed. I put my head on my dad’s arm and sobbed. I felt hands on my back. I heard voices. I heard feet running. Someone had gathered my family.
Tess, Stori, John, David, Cindy, mom and I were at his side. Stori played on her IPhone the song, Christ is risen. They sang loudly.
“Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave
Oh death! Where is your sting?
Oh hell! Where is your victory?
Oh Church! Come stand in the light!
The glory of God has defeated the night!
Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave
Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave”
We sang and my dad went to be with his Savior and Satan was conquered.
Roger said quietly, “you can stay as long as you like”.
I said, “Why? Now I can leave. My dad is no longer here. He’s with Jesus.”
This picture was of me with a family friend right after dad died.
These memory verse cards were found on my dad's desk recently. They were the only ones found exactly as pictured.
This picture is of my, my mom and my sisters at my dad's memorial service.
When we were told there was nothing more anyone could do to save my dads life, we changed his medical board: