Rodney and Ellen Riggs 1975 to 2015 and counting!

The months of hospitalization, the confusion that strokes bring, the unbelievable stress that comes from having your life completely pulled out from under you began to take their toll on both Rod and Elly

IMG_3868It began without warning. Chest and abdominal pain – a trip to a local hospital and a transfer to a regional one. The doctor said, “I don’t think you’ll make it through the night.” Rodney Riggs, sixty-eight years old, was told he had necrotizing pancreatitis. His pancreas was eating away at itself. The hospital doctors decided to transfer Rod to the Cleveland Clinic Surgical Intensive Care Unit to have emergency surgery to forestall the destruction of his pancreas. The doctors told him he had a 9 in 10 chance of not making it through the surgery. That was about March 2, 2015. Rod never had to have the surgery. Most believe that it was the prayers of so many that stopped the pancreas with about 30 percent still functional, just enough to live on. While he battled the pancreatitis, infections and fevers haunted him. Then again, without warning, Rod suffered a debilitating stroke which made his entire left side non-functional. Weeks would drag into months as the roller-coaster ride of infections and fevers would drive Rod deeper into trouble. Eventually, he was transferred to a specialty hospital on the sixth floor of the Mercy Medical Center in Canton. It is now spring time. Rod’s wife Ellen, Elly, had been working, trying to get to the hospital as often as she could while struggling with her diabetes and high blood pressure, remnants of a mild stroke she had suffered years ago when she had a non-malignant tumor removed from her brain which also left her deaf in one ear. Then it came. The phone call that Elly had collapsed at work. She was taken to a special unit of the Akron General Hospital where it was learned that she had suffered a shower of strokes and was severely incapacitated. Eventually, Rod and Elly would be both in the specialty hospital at Mercy in Canton and from there they were transferred together to the Bethany Nursing Home, also in Canton for more focused physical therapy.
The months of hospitalization, the confusion that strokes bring, the unbelievable stress that comes from having your life completely pulled out from under you began to take their toll on both Rod and Elly. Depression and anger, both natural parts of the grief that comes in dealing with such a loss; was worsening. This was an incredible double loss. Neither of them could count on the other to help them because each was helpless on their own. Rod celebrated his 69th birthday at Bethany. Elly had turned 69 in April while Rod was hospitalized in Cleveland. There was hope and a desire that when Rod and Elly would celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary on August 26, 2015 that they would enjoy it in their own home. God is the only one that can foresee that timing. But on July 15, 2015 Rodney called his brother Ross, an ordained minister, and asked him if he would be willing to come to Bethany and officiate as Rodney and Ellen renewed their wedding vows. And that is just what they did. IMG_3866
Many times, young people speak their wedding vows and the words, “for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health” just roll off their tongue without much more than a passing thought. When Rod and Elly spoke those words this time, it meant a great deal more. We celebrate with them and thank God for their love and their desire to go through whatever lies ahead, together.

A New Friend

My two good friends speak the same language without a single word uttered between them

Riggs Ministry Minute: When there’s only a minute for ministry

Have you ever met someone and almost immediately you knew you could be friends? What about meeting this person and knowing not only will he seldom speak more than a word or two to you; that you could never travel physically anywhere together? Yet, somehow there was, in the sparkle in his eye, a warmth that bid me welcome. Everything seemed to be transmitted in those amazing eyes. When his days are tougher, you can see it in his eyes. Even though  I and my other ‘pal’ have only visited a few times; never have we been asked to step away; always it is, come closer I want to see you. I want to feel your closeness, even if I cannot feel you more closely..                                  

Gunner and Dad

Slowly I am beginning to learn more about this new friend. For example, long before his hospitality wears out; I find I am struggling with my emotions for my new friend. I have just found out that, like my son, my friend was in the U.S. Army as a Paratrooper – he during the Viet Nam War, my son, of course, now in the War on Terror. My friend wants a picture of my son – to remind him to pray for Daniel.

A closer bond than I and my new friend is that between my ‘pal’ and my new friend. My ‘pal’ is Gunner – my black Lab/Chow/Shepherd mix. Gunner and I proudly serve as part of the Mercy Hospital Pet Patrol – a Delta Dog certified program that permits me to follow Gunner along as he visits patients; one room at a time. Most of the time, Gunner saunters up and allows the patients to pet him on the head, tell him how strikingly handsome he is; then returning to a stretched out position on the cool linoleum floor, he waits while I and the patients share pet stories; stories now Gunner has heard a hundred times. Still he never tires of it because every time I say to him, Gunner, time for work; or I bring out his special harness and Delta Dog vest. He knows only too well where we are headed and his anticipation is palpable. He can barely wait for me to sign in or for the elevator doors to open.

Sometimes the nurses or patients give Gunner a small treat (usually the ones I carry in a treat bag for him). But with our new friend it is a little different. I have always believed that dogs (and some other special animals) can sense when we do not feel well or when something or someone requires a very tender touch. My new friend enjoys giving Gunner treats now too but with us it is a little different scenario.

Gunner ‘patiently’ waits while I take a treat from the bag and I place it right where my friend’s fingers curl into a partial fist, laying still and immovable on the bed. The height of the bed and the position of my friend’s paralyzed hand on the bed puts the treat just barely in reach of Gunner’s searching nose. Once he finds it, by nose and not eyes, Gunner seems to understand that if he snaps it up, his teeth could graze those fingers that lay so still. But yet he must have that treat. Ever so slightly he inches his nose closer to the prize to just where he can touch it with his nose and then so gently with his tongue he pulls in the treat; much to the delight of my friend.

Gunner and this new friend, whose injuries have left him completely paralyzed, have a special bond. Perhaps it is because Gunner suffered a near fatal encounter with a car or truck along U.S. 62 one year ago that left him lying along the road in the snow for almost three days with a broken pelvis. Now fully recovered, Gunner runs and plays with Lilly his good friend the Boxer/Rottweiler mix and pads his way along the halls of Mercy Hospital in Canton Ohio. My two good friends speak the same language without a single word uttered between them. The joy of finding a new friend is one of the many advantages of Pet Patrol but it may be its greatest.