Gastroenteritis my butt!

So it's been a long, crazy, and at times horrendously frustrating week. Long story short, Crystal is about 6 grams lighter after parting ways with a nasty, infected appendix. (And a few pounds lighter after not being able to eat much thanks equally to pain and pain medication.) She is recovering well, but still quite sore. But, on the bright side, she's alive -- which can't be said for many whose appendicitis go undiagnosed as long as hers did. 

Her pain started almost a month ago. After two different doctors and a number of theories, her pain had not subsided at all. 

Crystal, being a superhero with insanely high pain tolerance (and just the tiniest-bit terrified of doctors and hospitals) had decided to tough it out. Finally when I came home from work and found her crying in the fetal position on the bed, I took he to the local ER. 

We went to a little hospital, not too bad a wait (even in emergency), but when we got out of the waiting room and back into a bed, I realized we might have made a bad choice. All the little curtain rooms were full and there  were 4 patients on beds and in wheel chairs in the hall. The armed security guard sat outside our curtain, watching the two men in restraints who the staff referred to as L2K (my smartphone taught me that that means they're crazy, suicidal, or in some other way no longer legally competent.) So I peek out, see the guard who's maybe 5'4 and 140 pounds, and then notice that both the crazies are MUCH bigger than he is. So I was pretty amped all night, ready to knock out any loony who tried to get into my wife's little room. 

Anyhow, we got there at 6:15 p.m. and were discharged at 4 a.m.; the charge nurse congratulated us on almost making it though a full shift. We were certainly not the doctors' first priority ... which is understandable considering the fact that she also had to deal with 3 suicide attempts, a baby who needed a lumbar puncture, and a dozen other patients while we were there. Luckily they kept Crystal loaded with really good pain medication (Dilaudid -- they say it's about 5x stronger than morphine) so she slept through most of the wait. 

Doctor ordered blood tests, urine tests, x-rays, and a CT scan. (Crystal loved the "make your guts glow" lemonade they made her drink.) And found nada. Diagnosis: Gastroenteritis -- THE STOMACH FLU! Yeah, they just gave a tiny little girl three shots of a pain killer that makes morphine look like an Advil, and then they have the audacity to tell her it's the stomach flu. I was frustrated, angry, confused, but really didn't have any option other than to say thanks and leave. 

I knew the diagnosis was wrong, but wasn't sure what to do about it. The discharge papers told us to see a GI (gastroenterologist) within 24 hours. I put my trust there; the specialist would have to find what the ER docs couldn't.

We got home at 4:45 and by 7:00 I was awake and calling the GI they recommended to us to get an appointment. He was out of the country. He had no backup. I got on the insurance page and called every GI in our city – not one of them would see us for at least 10 days. Then I started calling the docs in Vegas. At this point I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and experiencing perhaps the worst frustration I've ever had. I'm hugely protective of women, especially of my wife, and I knew I had to find someone to help her... but everyone told me no.

With each call I got more frustrated, more dejected, felt more helpless. It was a truly terrible experience. I looked over at my sleeping wife, who was curled into a ball holding her stomach and began to feel empathy for John Q. (OK, maybe I was being a little dramatic). Finally, choking back tears of frustration I found a doctor who could squeeze us in in 5 hours. I breathed a great sigh of relief and began praying that Dr Saud would be able to help us. Crystal's parents went to the temple and put Crystal and the doctor on the prayer roll.

Finally the appointment time came. Dr Saud touched Crystal only once and said that her pain was too severe for Gastroenteritis. He ordered an MRI and told us if it got worse to go to a bigger hospital. I went with his nurse to schedule the MRI and Crystal sat in the waiting room. When I came out she was uncontrollably shaking and cold to the touch. The doctor and nurse came out and the nurse asked if she should call an ambulance. Dr. Saud looked at me and said, "the hospital is right around the corner, you can probably get there faster than an ambulance." 

He was right. I flew. We made it in less than 2 minutes. Then, because we hadn't come in an ambulance, we got stuck in the waiting room. Fifteen minutes later the triage nurse took Crystal back. Usually that's when they get your info and then tell you to go wait... but this time I saw something I'd never seen before. The triage nurse called for a doctor. He saw Crystal's pulse rate (156 bpm) and told them to take her back right then.

They hooked her up to a heart monitor, started an IV, ran an EKG, then blood and urine (again), x-rays (again), then loaded her full of pain meds. The doctor wanted to run another CT scan -- this time without the glowing insides juice (I think they called it contrast... but I like my description better). 

We waited for 2 hours for an opening in the schedule (Trauma cases kept coming in and pushing Crystal back). She hung in there like a champ. Finally they took her up... and I realized I hadn't eaten in 38 hours - so I found a vending machine and got some potato skins. They were gross.

She came back and then we had another 2 hour wait while they read the results. About that time I was pacing the hallway when one of the staff came up to me. "I know you," he said. And while he did look familiar, I had no idea where from. Men's Chorus, BYU, Work? My poor sleep deprived mind spun but nothing clicked. "I think I'm in your ward," he said. "You got up and bore your testimony last week, right?" He was right. I had. 

I'd never talked to Tyler before, but he became my new best friend as he brought me a sandwich and a glass of milk from the staff lounge. 

Finally the doctor came back with the diagnosis of a perforated appendix. That was about 10 p.m., and by 10:20 the surgeon was there for a consultation. He was a funny guy. Asian, looked younger than he was, (or else he is the real Doogie Howser) he seemed like one of those guys who would stay up all night beating Nintendo games on extreme difficultly just to prove he could. 

"I just did and appendectomy... I'm warmed up," he said. "Let me see if I can get us into an OR right now!" He was way too animado - even for me.

Turned out the OR's were booked for 2 hours, but we'd go in at midnight he said. I grabbed Tyler again and we were able to give Crystal a blessing. I'm pretty sure that brought me more comfort that it brought her as she was highly medicated... but either way - it was truly a tender mercy that he had recognized me and been willing to help me administer to her. 

Those two hours passed quickly. I was on the phone talking to the whole world and explaining to them what was going on. My battery died quickly, but the crazy "I talk to dead people" medium lady whose husband was in the bed next door offered me her charger. (The random things women have in their purses... awesome).

So they rolled Crystal off to surgery and escorted me to the waiting room. I'm pretty sure they're going to bill the insurance for the carpet I wore out pacing back and forth for the next hour and a half. To keep sane, and because I'm really bad at keeping to myself, I made friends with the only other people in the room - a guy and his mother in law who were waiting for his wife to have spinal surgery. They had come in all the way from Hurricane, Utah for the operation -- said this was the best surgical center within 400 miles - which made me feel a little better.

Anyhow, after what felt like 6 hours the surgeon came in and told me it had all gone well and that Crystal was in recovery. The appendix, he said, had twisted and tucked itself in behind her colon, so there was "quite a bit of dissection involved" in the extraction. I'm still not sure what he dissected... the colon? intestines? just the  appendix? Whatever it was he said it would make her recovery a little longer and more painful. 

That proved true. We're now 10 days post-op and Crystal is still sore. She has a hard time sitting up straight, but between her Mom and Dad (who were here last week) and me (having been with her as much as work would allow) she's been well taken care of. The pain, she says, is nothing compared to what she was feeling in the week before they figured out what it was. It's hard to watch her hurt... but at the same time I have to be amazingly grateful for that surgery and for the doctor who squeezed us into an already full day, and then told us not to trust the other diagnosis. If not for him, we may have waited the 10 days for a GI appointment. With the condition of her appendix, she probably wouldn't have lasted that long. The microperforation would have become a rupture and a painful condition would have quickly become a deadly one. 

It was a frustrating week and a challenging week, but it was a week of miracles. Not massive, obvious miracles, but small, simple ones. Things fell into place exactly as they had to to accomplish what was needed.

Could it have been coincidental? Absolutely -- but I can assure you that it wasn't. It was evidence that God hears and answers prayers - sometimes in overt, obvious ways, and sometimes so subtly that we could easily miss them. That only doctor that would see us was right next door to the best surgical center in the state. The surgeon there had hundreds of appendectomies under his belt. The staff there included a worthy Priesthood holder who recognized me because I had just happened to feel impressed to get up the week before to share my testimony. His brother (who was working one floor above us) happened to have consecrated oil because mine was locked in the valet parking office... It's too perfect to be anything but Divine intervention. 

Thanks to all who have shared kind words, prayers, service and advice over the past few weeks. We truly appreciate it. It has been both humbling and inspiring to see others offer service and time so freely and we will not soon forget your generosity and friendship. God bless you all! 

What I do for work...

This morning I represented my employer, Shift4, at the Jump for Scouting event atop the Stratosphere Tower here in Vegas. Aside from being there as a representative of the sponsoring organization, I was also afforded the singular opportunity to leap from the top of the Stratosphere on the SkyJump thrill ride.

The event went off with out a hitch. Mother Nature cooperated beautifully providing a picturesque morning sky (complete with a rainbow over the Sheep Mountains) as a backdrop for the event and keeping the winds just below the no-go threshold set by SkyJump safety regulations.

Fifteen local business leaders and politicians participated in the event (including the Mayor of Henderson and two candidates currently running for the mayoral seat in Las Vegas). In all nearly $20,000 was donated to the Scoutreach program, which benefits at-risk and underprivileged children in Las Vegas by establishing Scout troops in their communities.

My day started at 5:30, when I woke before my alarm with a pit in my stomach and an impeding sense of near-certain doom. I got ready for the day and kissed Crystal goodbye, making sure to tell her I loved her – just in case.

As I drove to the Stratosphere I was struck by the same thought that has plagued me for the past two weeks, “Holy cow that thing is huge, and I’m going to jump off it!” The trouble with the Stratosphere is that no matter where you go in the Las Vegas Valley, it is always visible – so for the past two weeks I have been constantly reminded of my own insanity at volunteering to participate.

As I got closer to the Stratosphere, the building grew from a landmark on the horizon, to a massive, frightening edifice so tall that I could only see the bottom third in my windshield. I leaned my head out the window of my car and strained my neck looking up. The news helicopter from channel 8 was hovering at the height of the tower, filming the first jumper of the day as he made his leap.

I made my way inside, through the labyrinth of slot machines and drunken revelers, and to the base camp for the SkyJump. I checked in, and was told to wait outside until it was my turn to suit up. Outside I was warmly greeted by Scout executives and Cub Scouts who innocently told me how crazy they thought I was for doing this. (They had already seen a few people come down by the time I got checked in and signed my life away).

Now at the base of the tower, I had a true sense of its colossal height. It seemed surreal as I watched other jumpers make the 855-foot dive. That surreal calm left the moment my name was called to suit up. I donned a one piece jumpsuit (no pun intended) and a monster harness.

Once dressed, I was weighed and escorted to the scariest elevator in the world. Up, up, up I went – 108 floors above the Las Vegas Strip. Stepping out of the elevator, I was struck with a stunning panoramic view of the Las Vegas Valley. It was beautiful, and then – being the glutton for punishment I am – I stepped over to the edge and looked down. If I was prone to use expletives, it would have been prime time to drop some choice phrases.

Watching the simplicity of the machine I was struck with the realization that there was only one wire connecting me to the deceleration device – and, essentially, to my life. No backups, no fail-safes, and… no looking back. My name was called. It was my turn.

I stepped into the equipment room and was hooked to a safety cord. My harness was checked and rechecked and then the doors opened to a platform. Looking back now, I’m sure it was larger, but at that moment in looked about the size of a doormat.

“OK, hold on to the rail while I clip you in,” the attendant said. I froze as I heard him unclip my safety line and didn’t feel much better when I heard the main cable click onto my harness.

“Hang your toes over the edge and then I’ll start the countdown.” I would pay to have a picture of the face I shot him when he told me to hang my toes over – the moment when my expression went from “yeah right, buddy” to “oh gees, you’re serious.” I inched forward, looking down to confirm my feet were in fact doing what I was trying to do. I felt strangely disconnected from my feet (I think they realized what I was doing was nuts).

I saw my toes, hanging over the edge and then saw what was beyond that edge – NOTHING – eight-hundred-plus-feet of nothingness and then an infinitely small landing pad on the roof below.

“Three!” he said, my mind whizzing with thoughts of all the things that could go wrong.

“Two.” Suddenly peace, I realized that thousands had done this before me and they had all survived.

“One.” Peace gone. Terror back. Just because they had survived didn’t mean I would. I froze. I gripped the handrails with all my might – I wouldn’t be surprised to go back and see indentations from my fingers. Every muscle in my body clinched with similar terror, and every part of my carnal being screamed “NO!” But then peer pressure kicked in – everyone was watching, I had to do it.

I leapt. For a few moments I could not feel the harness or cable and I again was faced with my own mortality. I was certain that death would result from my jump and found peace with that. Then I felt the straps catch my weight. Relief, of the variety I have never before felt. I breathed for what felt like the first time since the elevator ride some 10 minutes before.

My stomach caught up with my descending body and the scary-roller-coaster feeling subsided. I was flying. Well, maybe not, but in the words of Buzz Lightyear, I was “falling with style.” The view was stunning and the feeling unlike any I have ever experienced.

I landed, not very gracefully, but I was glad to be back on solid ground. And then the rush – adrenaline, relief, invincibility … I’m not sure exactly what hit me, but I felt like a superhero. I looked at the vertical wall next to me and honestly thought, “I bet I could do one of those Jackie Chan back-flips off the wall right now.” (Luckily I didn’t attempt it or I would probably still be waiting in the urgent care for stitches in my head.)

I was congratulated and presented with a plaque, some pictures, and a DVD of my jump (which I will upload to YouTube later for those who want to see it). It was awesome. One of the Cub Scouts in attendance snapped a salute, which I returned – feeling rather like the President disembarking from Marine One. I wasn’t really sure if I should use two fingers, like he did, or three, because I’m not sure I ever graduated from Cub Scout to Boy Scout… but whatever I ended up doing worked for him and a smile lit up his face.

It was terrifying. It was invigorating. It was insane. But mostly, it was an honor to be able to help a great organization to reach out to kids who really need what they offer. These kids are learning to be Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent, and in their communities in this day and age, there are not many other places for them to learn these skills. (Woah, check it out, I know the Scout Law… somebody should upgrade me from Bobcat—since I’m pretty sure that’s the last merit badge I ever earned). 

The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways

A few weeks ago we were sneaking out of church after sacrament meeting (I wasn't feeling well and just wanted to go lay down). Well, we got caught. One of the counselors in the Bishopric asked if we had a second to talk to him.

(Translation for people who aren't LDS: one of the lay leaders of our congregation caught us sneaking out of church only 1/3 of the way through the meeting).

Anyhow, being life-long members of the church we know that this could only mean two things... 1) he wanted us to speak in church in the following weeks, or 2) one of us was getting a new calling. He quickly let usknow it would be the latter. Since I'm already teaching in the Elder's Quorum, I was pretty sure it was for Crystal -- but for some reason she assumed it was going to be an additional assignment for me. This made for a pretty funny shocked face when he turned to Crystal and said "So, Sister Casper, we would like to call you to be the ward chorister."

Yup, chorister. My shy, quiet, timid, hates-being-the-center-of-attention wife was asked to stand up in front of the whole congregation and lead the music. (For those who know me and not her, let me also make it clear that she's not a singer.)

The look of shock on her face morphed to one of unabashed terror. Her eyes widened like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Her voice trembled noticeably as she said, "OK." Not "yes," not "are you serious?" no-- those would have taken more air than her terrified frame could have spared at that moment. She kept her cool - except for telltale look of utter bewilderment on her face -- until he left the room. Then she looked at me and it all came out at once. "Me? What? how? who? what the? uh? ughh! ahh! HOW? WHAT? ME? really, ME?!?!"

Yes, her. Yes, conducting the music. Yes, in front of EVERYONE.

Now, we believe our church to be led by revelation -- inspiration by direct communication from the Almighty -- so we're not prone to turn down any calling, and I'm certainly proud of Crystal for accepting something so amazingly far from her comfort zone. But we also know that each and every calling has a purpose. God puts us in the positions to teach us something, or to prepare us for something. Well, for the past few weeks we've both been wracking our brains trying to figure out what on earth the Lord was teaching Crystal with this calling.

Then, today, the first day she actually had to lead the music, she leans over to me in the middle of the service and said, "I figured it out. God finally found a way to keep my from falling asleep during sacrament meeting." I looked over, noticed her still-trembling hands and asked, "fear?"


So there you have it -- there IS a purpose for every calling. God is greater than us all and He does have a plan for us -- and sometimes that plan includes devising unique ways to keep us alert during Sunday school.

Not to brag... but

Last weekend we had the amazing opportunity to visit Disney's Club 33. If you're not sure what that is, then this post won't mean much to you... if you'd care to know, you can read about it here.

If you do know what it is, you're undoubtedly asking yourself "how on earth did they pull that off?". Well, I'll tell you - Much Schmoozing. Two years' worth of well-placed, well-timed, and indiscriminate pleading with anyone who knew anyone who had heard of anyone who might have an in. Finally we found one. A business associate of a friend of a manager at work has a membership. (No, I'm not kidding, it really was that far removed). But, being relentless in the pursuit of pretty much whatever Crystal asks for -- I made it happen.

Access to the Club gets you free park-hopper passes for the day, so we stopped by Guest Services to pick those up and made our way in. We got there early, so we were able to hit a few of the big rides before the crowds got ridiculous (10 minute wait for Indiana Jones -- SCORE!). Then came time for our lunch reservation. Luckily, Crystal (being the ultimate Disney fanatic) knew where the entrance was -- even though it's intentionally understated and designed to be ignored. So we made our way to the restaurant, announced ourselves in the speakeasy box, and were buzzed in.

The "secret" entrance... hidden in plain sight 
The place is old-school Disney awesome. Original Walt Disney sketches on the walls, decor from some of the classic films, an art-case harpsichord -- the whole place reeked of class. Oh, and being an amateur foodie -- OK, really I'm just a chubby kid who loves food -- I must say the grub was phenomenal.

The Dessert Buffet -- of course we tried them all.
Service was great, too. But I guess that's to be expected; Disney is famous for their above-and-beyond customer service, and in their top-drawer restaurant they absolutely lived up to our expectations.

 Perhaps the coolest example of their service was what they did without being asked. The trip was the weekend following Crystal's birthday -- and it was her present. So on the way in we picked up one of those "It's My Birthday" pins that Disneyland gives out. We didn't mention that fact to anyone else that day, yet following our meal the waiter came out behind Crystal with a chocolate Mickey Mouse with a candle inthe top. I guess we could call it a Mickey Mousse (yes, I made that up... clever, eh?) It may or may not have made her cry a little.

The Birthday Dessert -- check out the chocolate Disney font!

To be honest, I wasn't expecting it to be as amazing as it was. I knew Crystal wanted to get in, but I was much more excited by the challenge of finding an "in" then actually going to the Club. Now that I've been, my opinion has totally changed. It was amazing. Someday we'll get our own membership so we can get you all in... yeah, someday. ;-)

Jiminy Cricket - I Actually Do Have a Conscience!

OK, so my conscience finally got to me. I'm a writer, a communicator, I do social media for a living for Pete's sake... and I don't have an active blog. Luckily, I realized that - just like most areas in my life where I am an epic failure - Crystal can help me overcome the patheticness... so I'm pawning the updating of this blog off on her.

Not that I actually expect her to write in it often; I just expect her to nag lovingly remind me when it's time to update/post/not-be-pathetic.

Anyhow, we'll use this as a place to share our adventures, our hilarious stories, and the fun parts of life... maybe we'll share meaningful stuff every once in a while, too -- but don't bet on it. We don't do serious.

Standby for entertainment!