Cathy Sparks Forward with Cathy Sparks

First post: Jul 24, 2020 Latest post: Feb 8, 2022
     For those who don't know me, I'm Cathy's husband of almost 25 years. When we met, I was 16 and she was almost 18, and we didn't get married until our mid-20s, so I wasn't around for most of her first 25. However, her family are all born storytellers, so I was brought up to speed quite readily. To bring *you* up to speed quite readily, I'll say this: my wife has had a history of health challenges for most of her nearly 50 years on earth, culminating in her current reality.
     To begin with, we'll start with the first decade of her life. She was a miracle child, much prayed for and arriving just shy of her parents' 11th  wedding anniversary, the first live birth after a decade of lost babies. Cathy's mom Patsy nearly died of labor complications, and her baby girl was sent home without her. While Cathy was still a young child, her parents quickly learned there were allergies: formula, sulfa drugs, etc. Otherwise, Cathy was an active, highly social kid. She sustained concussions at ages 4 and 6, which may have exacerbated already-present learning disabilities. With a move to private school, where classes were smaller and tutoring available, she found her footing, but barely missed the cutoff limit for allowed sick days every year. She seemed to catch everything that was going around, having confirmed cases of chicken pox, for instance, in both 2nd *and* 9th grades. She had the standard childhood illnesses, but with her, they weren't standard: like many kids, she had her tonsils removed when she was 3. At 17, she had to have them removed again, as they had grown back. The one-day procedure turned into a multi-day hospital stay due to complications. 
     Having mentioned 9th grade and being 17, obviously we have advanced to her second decade. Despite her illnesses, she was still active, especially in speech and Drama; in 1988, she took an acting class, and that's where she met me. As it happens, 1988 is also when she had her first symptoms of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, which was diagnosed conclusively in the early 90s, following pneumonia, a collapsed lung, and some minor cognitive and cardiac issues which cost her her first semester of Belmont. She would have to take medical withdrawal seven more semesters after that. 
     During her third decade. she had two firsts: her first (and I assume only) engagement, to me, and her first time to go full code (which, if you don't know, is hospital jargon for "nearly buying it"). Her first full code, as it happens, had a currently topical element, as she nearly died from taking a drug often given for SLE, one you may have heard of: the anti-malarial Hydroxychloroquine, of which our current President recently said, "What have you got to lose? TAKE IT!" (Sorry, Mr President, but she won't be taking it. But I digress.) Less than a year after she nearly coded, there was, however, a bright spot--in August of 1994, she actually went into remission, meaning her SLE was at long last inactive, and stayed that way for just under a year. Was she healthy for a year? Yes, with the exception of a pulmonary embolism in December. She was back out of remission by the time we got married in 1995, and soon after our nuptials, had her first case of bilateral pylonephritis (or, as we mere mortals call it, a wicked bad infection in both kidneys), which led to another hospitalization. The late nineties are something of a blur of hospitalizations, for (among other things) a broken leg, a blown-out ankle, a broken foot, gallbladder removal, colonized pseudomonus and MRSA (those two had her in and out of the hospital for most of a year), her second clot (a DVT this time), the first of many kidney surgeries, and a bariatric procedure. As God is my witness, I'm forgetting some of them. (I'm also nearly forgetting that her life was not wholly defined by illness; she also had successful careers in ministry and non-profit during these years, as well.) 
     Her fourth decade, the first of the new millennium, brought hospitalizations for more surgeries and more infections, but she was now also juggling being an active mom to three elementary-age kids. (They largely enjoyed Mom's hospital time, which for them meant cable TV and free ice cream.) She managed to work a while as a case worker and certified special needs respite provider, but juggling that with being room mother, and then homeschool mom soon forced a choice. Cathy chose home and hospital. Surgery and infections continued throughout the decade, indeed throughout our seeing all three of our children into adulthood, indeed through to her fifth decade, during which her body has actually managed to raise the already staggeringly high stakes. (If I seem flippant here, it's because, as we have both learned, a sense of humor is, in a life like ours, mission-critical.) 
     The stakes got higher in August of 2018, when my wife planned to join my son and I on his move-in trip to his special-needs college. Those plans were (wait for it) derailed by a slight snag: a 105.3*F fever she developed the day we planned to leave. The fever was, we learned, caused by sepsis from an undetected kidney infection; the sepsis led to her spending ten days in the hospital--of which she remembers four--and a month in Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Clinic. Then she got sepsis again in February 2019, spent another ten days in the hospital, and went to Creekside Rehabilitation, for a month and a half this time. Most people don't have or survive sepsis twice. Now she faces another series of complex medical challenges that she'll address in journal entry #1. 
     I don't know how frequently I'll be picking up my co-author's pen on this site. This kind of task often falls to me, as I am usually the one who can recall the full narrative of her health in chronological order. That's one of the tasks common to the caregiver of a chronically ill spouse, but then, Cathy and I are unusual, in that we are caregivers for each other: when we promised "in sickness and in health", at the ages of 23 and 25, we were a little more informed than most couples about what that promise would entail. I knew about her considerable health history, and she knew about my ADHD and high-functioning autism. When our special-needs son is home, we are co-caregivers for him, but he also provides care in his own way for both of us, making a triad. It's one of the things I'm most grateful for.  
     Her last medical summary gives the following ailments on Cathy's "problems list", a highlighted section of her medical record meant to  give any treating physician or specialist an overview of her health. From her June 26th telehealth visit with her rheumatologist, a Lupus researcher, her current "active problems list":

Abnormal finding of blood chemistry 
Acute coronary syndrome 
B12 deficiency 
Benign intracranial hypertension
Chronic interstitial cystitis
Cushing's disease 
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) history 
Depressive disorder 
Essential hypertension
Fungal skin infection 
Gastric ulcer resolved 
Gastroesophageal reflux disease inactive 
H/O elevated homocysteine 
History of failed Roux-en-Y gastric bypass 
History of pulmonary embolism
Hypothalamic mass 
Iron deficiency anemia
Kidney stones 
Long-term use of high-risk medication 
Post-sepsis syndrome
Raynaud's disease 
Sleep Disorder Insomnia 
Sleep Disorder Night Terrors  
Stone, kidney 
Systemic lupus erythematosus
Uterine leiomyoma

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