by Becky Karnsund
One night Pontus woke me up at 2 am unable to walk or talk. Too shaky to make the call myself, I ran to our neighbors for help. They called 911, the ambulance came, and took Pontus away. I couldn't leave our four children alone, so a neighbor went with him. Torn between wanting to be with him and staying with the kids, I watched from our Spanish 3rd floor balcony as the ambulance drove away.
After an hour, I called the hospital. I had them hand the phone to Pontus, who started talking to me in Spanish (the little he knew). No matter what I said, he wouldn't speak English or Swedish (his native tongue). Instead, he would laugh and say, in Spanish, that he was speaking English.
The next morning I was finally able to see him. As I walked into his room, I stepped over a trail of dried blood. It led from the bathroom to his bed, where I saw more red stains all over his sheets. I still don't understand why that was not cleaned up right away, but was later told he had pulled all his cords out during the night, wandered around the halls looking for help, and then threw up in the bathroom.
I hadn't been there for him.
I sat by his hospital bed and tried to feed him. His eyes were closed and he could barely take the teaspoon. He was not communicating at all. They came in and wheeled his limp body away, wired his head up with sensors and put him through all kinds of tests. The doctors found some disturbance in the brain activity but couldn't figure out the root problem.
I don’t remember how many days went by. It’s all a bit of a blur. At one point they isolated him when they suspected Tuberculosis. Nurses would come in wearing astronaut suits and I had to wear a mask to see him. He was famous for breaking every single thermometer they brought in. I can't remember why, but he kept dropping them and mercury would bubble up all over the floor.
Our four kids were not allowed to visit their daddy. I had nowhere to leave them, so most of the time, I would park where I could see the car from Pontus' 4th floor hospital room, buckle them up tight with shaky hands, pray for them and wander numbly into the hospital alone.
Finally a neurologist visited Pontus. I caught him in the hallway and explained about the language issue and he immediately started putting him through a different set of tests. The next day, he called me in, where he let me know that Pontus had both encephalitis and meningitis (inflammation of brain AND the lining of the brain - usually people get only one). He coldly and bluntly added that there was 50% chance that Pontus would pass away and that if he survived, he would most likely be handicapped.
My knees gave out under me, my body went cold as ice, and I could feel the taste of blood in my throat. I don’t remember much else of that day except that I took the kids home, gathered them on my lap around YouTube, and we sang together a kids song titled "Forever Faithful" . God was faithful, God was strong, God was with us, no matter what the outcome. We truly felt that God would take care of us, even if he took daddy. And so we praised him for that. We truly experienced a peace that passed our understanding.
The teacher asked to speak to me one day and shared a conversation she had had with our Nicole (who was 6 at the time): "How's your dad?" she had asked Nicole. "He's in the hospital." she answered. "He might die, but if he does it's ok, 'cause he will go be with Jesus and we will see him again." The school must have thought our kids were a little morbid.
Meanwhile that week, my dad had also taken turn for the worse. He had been battling sarcoma cancer and had started radiation treatments. He was very sick and weak, and couldn't talk on the phone. I tried telling him what was going on and he'd whisper back a word or two. My mom wished she could be with me, and I was wishing I could be with her.
Pontus continued in the hospital a few more days. The doctors found the cause was viral, not bacterial, but it was a virus they had never seen before. Specialists in Spain started researching the places we had been that year (England, Sweden...). One man got excited and said he wanted to call it the "Pontus Virus".
Being a virus, there was nothing they could do, but wait for the body to fight it on it's own, so they sent Pontus back home. Still sick and with warnings from the doctor that he could have a relapse, any interaction with people or with the kids made him have all kinds of symptoms. He would see millions of flies coming at him, get headaches, couldn't handle light, and he felt extremely tired and sometimes sick. It was all just too much on his brain.
I couldn't have him home in our small 900 sq ft apartment with four little ones. I didn't know what to do. Suddenly, we got an amazing gift from some friends in Wilmington. It was a week stay at a hotel. He had a quiet and dark place to be, but I was still scared to leave him alone. Doctors warned me I needed to keep an eye on him. Trying to manage my time between him and the kids felt like a big mountain to climb. Another gift, was a friend from Madrid came and stayed for a week with me to help me.
I mostly wanted to be alone though. The phone would ring off the hook all day long, emails swarmed my inbox, and neighbors would check in. But it was all too much. I used the little energy I had to be a mommy and be a wife. I had nothing else left to give.
Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. We had scheduled a summer travel around the States to raise support, but I contacted everyone and cancelled everything. One thing we didn't cancel, though, was a house swap we had planned with a family in Arizona. They were going to stay at our place, and we would stay at theirs. But we had to make it across the ocean first. I asked the doctors and they weren't sure if we should go. Pontus, kinda oblivious at his own situation, said he felt great and it would be no problem. We decided to go for it. Against his wishes, I at least scheduled a wheel chair to meet us at the JFK airport. I knew the connection would take a lot of walking and I had to be in charge of four little ones. I'm glad I did. He was not doing well by the time we landed. I was so thankful to have help to wheel Pontus to the next terminal while continuing to be in charge of four young children by myself after a 7 hour transatlantic flight
One of our partnering churches in Arizona took good care of us. They brought us meals, took our kids out, and loved on us. Pontus stayed in his room most of the time and the rest of the world just continued to pray. I felt like a single mom of five.
One Sunday we met a teenage boy had been through meningitis. He was crippled, couldn't walk, and couldn't talk. That day Pontus came home and cried. Why had God protected him from that, but not have healed the boy.
Suddenly one day, Pontus woke up and he was different. For the first time in 8 months, he was himself. He was alert. He had energy. Our flight back to Spain was much different this time. I had help with the little ones again.
A few weeks after arriving back to Spain we went back to our doctors. Once again they wheeled Pontus off, wired his head up, and put him through all the tests. They returned baffled again, but this time because they couldn’t find anything. Nothing. Not even scaring on his brain a nothing had happened at all.
There are moments in life when you wonder why sometimes God chooses to heal, and other times not. With mixed feelings of thankfulness, guilt, wonder, and awe, we returned home knowing there had been a miracle.
Little did we know what an effect that year had on us. From then on we viewed life differently. Our priorities changed, our souls were strengthened, our passions deepened, our marriage improved, our relationship with our kids grew, our goals clarified, and our purpose for life crystallized. "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps." NIV Proverbs 16:9
I caught Joel singing this song in the car one day during this time. A reminder to be thankful in all circumstances:
Born and raised in Spain to American parents, Becky left home when she was fourteen to attend a Canadian boarding school in Germany. Since then, she has traveled over thirty countries and lived in four of them. Becky met her Swedish husband while working on a ship in Mexico, got engaged at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, married in Spain, moved to Sweden, and now lives in North Carolina with her husband and their four children. She invites you to travel with her through the journeys life has taken her.
We caught our 2 year old singing away and being thankful!
The First Christmas
A video I made once, performed and narrated by the kids from a church we were part of in Arizona.