On a sunny, winter afternoon in February, on a wooden plank laid across two pieces of log, overlooking our valley and as we took a lunch break from working on our home, Dave asked me to be his wife. It wasn’t fancy, the ring wasn’t huge, he didn’t get down on one knee. He grabbed my hand and looking at our valley, he asked me if I would be willing to spend the rest of my life with him. It was that simple.
We had been through so much, and we were still in the battle, but we knew we were meant to be together forever. Even if I wasn’t Dave’s wife and Dave wasn’t my husband, we were so much better together than apart. As we looked over our valley together, I said yes, I would be honored to be his wife.
A Home Complete
We both knew that we wanted a simple ceremony, and we wanted to be married on our property. What better place than on our deck, overlooking the very same valley that started it all? When Dave asked me to be his wife, we were about 8 weeks from being completed with our home, if nothing went wrong. We knew we needed to work even harder than we already were to make sure that we had a final inspection on April 8th, because on April 9th, we were going to unite our futures forever on our deck. No pressure ~ but we accomplished our goal and met our timeline! 🙂
After 10 months of construction, a brain hemorrhage, hundreds of hours of therapy, and blessings beyond measure, we were awarded final occupancy on April 8th, 2016. We moved most of our household items in that day, but didn’t move in our bed. We wanted our first night in our new home as husband and wife.
Never in a lifetime of dreaming did I imagine that I was going to meet a man as hard working and tenacious as Dave. Never did I imagine that I would not only help build, but live in a shipping container home in a valley that brings peace to my soul. Never did I imagine what my future would hold when I said, yes, let’s build a shipping container home. Never, in this lifetime or the next would I change the past 5 years. We have been so blessed and we have grown in ways that would not have been possible if we were still chasing the ‘Jones.’
As we exchanged vows on our deck with our children present as witnesses, little did we know that our story wasn’t over, but really just beginning. That the challenges and trials ahead would be almost as difficult as the ones that we had already overcome in the past 10 months. Dave and I would learn that Joy was our only hope.
Joy is not always present. You have to choose joy in the midst of the trial. Joy is a choice. That is the biggest lesson that Dave & I learned over the last 5 years. When you choose joy, life is not nearly the struggle that it could be. Yes, life is still hard. There are still so many hard things that we have to face every single day. But together, choosing joy, we are better.
4 years later, we are together, in our tiny shipping container home of 406sq ft, looking over our valley, feeling more blessed than we ever thought was possible.
I’ve come to the end of our build story, but our story really just began with that Certificate of Occupancy awarded to us on April 8, 2016. It was only after we began our life in our valley together did we discover the real joy of That Tiny Life Love!
As we came down the final stretch of converting 2 cold, ugly, metal boxes into a legal home, I (Jaimie) knew we needed to be on our A game and get organized. To stay on schedule for a move in date of the 2nd weekend in April, I reverted to my old friend, Excel to help keep us on task 😉 .
When I emailed Dave my spreadsheet with everything organized by task and weekend/date to complete said task, he laughed initially, followed immediately with an, ‘Oh My.’ But, he quickly realized how valuable our schedule was so that we could efficiently use our time to finish up the required interior elements of our home of our home by the 8th of April.
In February of 2016, 8 months into our build and 6 months after Dave’s brain hemorrhage, he asked me to be his wife. I will share more on that in the next blog 😉
We knew that if we were going to get married, we wanted it to be on the deck of our home. We decided that we were going to put a date on the calendar and knew that we HAD TO HAVE THE HOUSE finished by then so we could start our forever together.
Transforming a Box into a Home
The foundation was poured, the containers were placed, the welding was done, the walls were framed, plumbing and electrical were in, insulation was sprayed, sheet rock was hung. It was time for the final transformation of 2 metal boxes into our home.
And as I usually do, here is our creation in pictures 😉 Enjoy!
Our dream was becoming a reality ~ and we were on schedule for our together forever date of April 9, 2016.
I remember that I had received a message request through Instagram early in 2019 from Rasa, Bryce’s partner the gorgeous soul behind the camera. She had asked if we were interested in being featured on their YouTube channel. To be honest, I had never even heard of Living Big in a Tiny Home. We don’t really follow the tiny house movement; we just live our best life every day in our own tiny home. 🙂
So when Rasa sent that first message and a couple of clips of what the video would look like, I have to be truthful when I say, I didn’t even open the links. 😦 I read her messages, told her I would let her know and then forgot about it all. Life was so busy in the early part of 2019 as we had just come out of a long hard winter and were dealing with some issues with a couple of our kiddos.
Thank Goodness Bryce & Rasa are Persistent
Fast forward 6 months, and Rasa reached out to me again. She said that they had just returned to the states and would love to film our home. At this point, I had still not ever watched or heard of Living Big, but I did take the time to click on her links and watch the video clips. Watching what they produce, it seemed surreal that they were reaching out to us. We had never expected anyone to think our house was as amazing as we thought it was 😉
I responded that yes, we would be interested and to please let us know what they were thinking and their time-frame. I didn’t hear from her again for a couple of weeks and so didn’t think much more of it. Like I said, it had seemed too good to be true, so it probably wasn’t true 😉 Later we learned that they actually film or travel to their next filming destination EVERY SINGLE DAY. No wonder she didn’t have time to respond back – Bryce and Rasa are so very busy sharing people’s homes and stories.
Late August, I received another message from Rasa asking if they could come and film our home the first Saturday in September – just 2 weeks away. Dave and I talked about it and said, sure, why not. Let’s do this! knew that I needed to do some homework and research what their show was about and what to expect. I clicked on one of their videos and then told Dave, this is a BIG deal. Look at these videos and these gorgeous houses that they film all over the world. Oh, my goodness. What have we signed ourselves up for?!?!?!
We Are Just Ordinary People
We live in 2 shipping containers that we love, but it really isn’t anything special. After watching just a few more of their videos, I knew that we needed to make sure our windows were washed and the dead lawn mowed and get our home as ready as possible! We tend to keep our home very tidy, but we do live in the woods, so bugs and leaves and spiders and all the dirty things tend to get everywhere all the time.
Is This Really Going To Happen?
Again, I didn’t hear anything from Rasa after we settled on the filming date in September. Dave and I worked to get our home ready, but because of the ‘radio silence’ weren’t even sure if this was really going to happen. We figured if it didn’t, at least our house was spick and span to go into the long winter ahead. 🙂
Saturday morning arrived and so did Bryce & Rasa – we couldn’t even believe that this was really happening! They had driven from their previous shoot in Colorado just two days before. As soon as they got out of the car, we asked how they were doing, and Bryce said, ‘tired.’ Oh, my mama’s heart went out to these two lovely people that had chosen to drive from Colorado to our little town in Washington State to film our home.
Immediately Bryce started asking us questions and soon discovered that our home was more than just a couple shipping containers stacked like legos that we lived in. We had a story. An amazing story of perseverance, joy, love, and hope.
Bryce and Rasa spent the better part of 2 days filming our home and listening to our story. They cared. It was genuine and you could feel it. After the first day of filming, we asked them if we could take them to dinner. We also offered our son’s room for the night as he was away at his grandmas. Bryce & Rasa ended up using our home as a base camp for the better part of a week as they traveled North & South of our home to film other tiny homes & stories.
During their stay with us we talked and laughed and learned so much about the tiny house movement and cooked and built a friendship. Bryce is a permaculture encyclopedia and Dave learned so much from him in a short amount of time. Rasa is an amazing cook and made us the most delicious dinner right out of our garden.
Behind the Scenes of Living Big
Have you thought about how Bryce and Rasa live to travel and shoot so many tiny homes? They literally spend the majority of their time living out of a rental car. They shoot or travel every day of the week for months on end. They edit in the evenings and throughout the night to make their weekly episode deadlines. They shoot hours and hours of footage on each home they visit and condense it into 16 minutes. They own what they can carry in suitcases, for the most part. They seldom get the opportunity to cook home grown meals and rest in a real bed that isn’t a hotel bed. They truly are angels sent to tell all of our stories…
Our Shoot in a Nutshell
I’ve read so many of the comments on the YouTube episode. So many questions and because not everything can be included in 16 minutes, here are the highlights of what you didn’t see:
We found our property on Craigslist from a private party for cheap. When we purchased it, it was a goat trail along the side of the mountain. Dave & I have done all of the landscaping ourselves, mostly by hand. We have rented a small excavator a couple of times and we had an old backhoe that didn’t have brakes and almost killed Dave 5 times, but mostly, we do things the old fashioned way – one rock or shovel scoop at a time. 🙂
We pay for things as we go to continue building out our property. We both still work the same jobs we have worked for years. Dave has been at his job for 29 years and I am an accountant and have worked for the same company for 9 years. When we want to add a rock wall or a greenhouse, we can because we don’t have a mortgage. Because of Dave’s health, our home and property is our stay-vacation destination and we spend so much time enjoying the gorgeous valley we live in!
We intentionally built with only 2 containers because we wanted TO BE MORTGAGE FREE when we completed our build. We accomplished that. We love our home, but yes, building a home out of Shipping Containers is definitely more expensive than a traditional stick built home of the same size. Live and learn 😉
Dave has always wanted a shop – doesn’t every guy wants one? In 2018 we built him his shop so that he can work on his projects and stay busy and active. He has an enormous crane in there that is his pride and joy and everything he needs to keep his creative juices flowing and his mind as healthy as possible. 🙂 We have recently turned the living space in the back of the shop into an Airbnb when our kiddos aren’t home and to create passive income 🙂
Our shoot was in September, so our seasonal creek behind our home was dry. The ‘Ferris wheel’ looking thing is actually a water wheel that plays a ‘not so sweet’ melody during the rainy months. 😉 It is essentially a large piece of garden art made from a pipe reel, galvanized buckets and an old bicycle. Dave loves to create!
I didn’t intentionally do the majority of the talking. Dave talked lots, especially in the beginning when Bryce and Rasa first arrived, but after a couple of hours he was tired and his words weren’t working as well. You don’t see this because the video is actually edits that cut out his stuttering and loss of words and replace it with me explaining a lot of things. When Dave watched the episode, he just kept saying over and over – I am not the same man I used to be. He sees how much he has lost. It is heartbreaking to see the strong man you love and admire and who is a hero in your world be so vulnerable and weak. I am glad that Rasa & Bryce protected Dave from the ugly comments that would have been made had they left all of Dave’s stuttering and difficulty talking in the episode. A lesson to be kind always, because we don’t know what other people are battling.
Angels in Disguise
God gifted us with angels. Angels that were wanted to share our story. Dave and I told Bryce & Rasa, that while we were so honored that they wanted to film our home, it was our story of love and perseverance, even when all seems impossible that we wanted to share. Our prayer was that if by sharing, we could touch just one person’s life, then it was all worth it.
Bryce uses the word amazing a lot. Honestly, it is Bryce & Rasa who are amazing and the work they do to bring tiny homes and their stories to life, are a true testament to their selflessness. Dave and I feel so blessed to have been able to spend a week with them. We were also able to learn how to support them in their journeys just a bit. As a Patreon supporter, we sponsored Bryce & Rasa for $1 per video or an average of $4 per month. Being able to spend time with them and seeing the sacrifices they make personally so that they can share tiny home stories – let’s just say it isn’t all glamorous living out of a rental car and suitcase. You can learn more about being a Patreon here https://www.patreon.com/livingbig. For those of us that love what they do, please consider sponsoring their work – Dave and I thank you, personally!
Thank you, Bryce & Rasa for your love and friendship. Until we meet again…
The ICU is a busy place in the middle of the night. The nurses in and out of the room every 10 minutes, sometimes more often if Dave’s alarm started to go off. There was a constant sound of paging, alarms, and more than once that long night, the sound of someone coding.
I tried to make myself shut my eyes and rest while Dave was resting, but the minute Dave’s alarm, or an alarm in the hall or a code sounded, my eyes flew open to make sure that Dave’s chest was still moving up and down.
At around 2am, I gave up on rest and just sat watching Dave and prayed and prayed and prayed; I begged; I pleaded; I bargained; I negotiated. I would do anything, God. Just please don’t take him from me yet. We aren’t ready. We have so much we still want to do; adventures to take, a home to build, vacations, growing old together and sitting on the deck rocking together. Please God, I will do anything…
And for hours, I repeated this conversation in my head, waiting for the sun to rise and marking off his second huge milestone – living through the night.
Google IS NOT Your Friend For Prognosis
Between the praying and watching Dave sleep, I did the stupidest thing ever – I Googled Intracerebral Hemorrhage. At this point, the doctors hadn’t given us much information or a path forward, or prognosis, or really anything. They were so skeptical and were not expecting a good outcome, and had pretty much stated that, and not much more to this point.
It took me but a minute to find out a whole lot about what ailed Dave – DUMB. There was so much information, and 95% of it was heartbreaking. According to Google, Dave didn’t stand much of a chance either.
Would he wake up? – probably not.
Would he have lost more ability throughout the night? – most definitely, yes.
Would his brain have endured more damage from the hemorrhage? – what was left of the undamaged gray matter.
Would he be better or worse when he woke up? – most definitely worse.
Was he ever going to walk or talk again? – with aids and assistance devices, or even in a wheelchair.
Would he live? – there was less than a 25% chance.
If he lived, what kind of quality of life would he have? – Less than 3% of returning to 90% pre-ICH status.
Never, I repeat, NEVER visit WebMD while your best friend is lying in a bed in ICU and expect any reassuring information. It took me less than an hour to learn my lesson. I put my phone away, and did not ever look again. Going forward, I would let the experts, Dave’s team of neurology surgeons update me on our path forward. I couldn’t stomach finding the information out on my own, because according to Google, there was almost a 0% chance of our life going forward to resemble our life up until this morning.
He Out-Slept The Sun
Dave actually slept pretty well all things considered. He barely responded for his constant monitoring and 3x per hour neurology assessments that were conducted throughout the night. At around 7am, he finally started to rouse into a more wakeful state. The sun had been awake for hours, and for Dave, 7am might as well have been noon for as often as he sleeps in. But considering what his brain and body had endured in the previous 24 hours, he deserved and needed every single minute of that sleep. I was just so thankful to see him waking up.
The minute his eyes opened, he sought me out, making eye contact with me and the look of, ‘This really happened, didn’t it?’ crossed his face and the panic set in almost immediately. I didn’t even know what to say, except that I wasn’t going to leave his side and we were going to be okay. We would fight this together. I squeezed his hand and kissed his dry, cracked lips. 20 hours with nothing but a few ice chips by mouth, really dries a guy lips out.
My Tongue Was Bleeding
From biting it to keep myself from crying. How could I stay strong for him, when I could barely hold myself together? There was a constant prayer in my mind, ‘Please Jesus, keep me strong for him. Please.’
Oh, my sweet boy – I just didn’t have words for the heartbreak I was feeling, not only for myself, but so much heartbreak for my hardworking hero that was now laying ½ paralyzed in a hospital bed. The fear in his eyes, and the panic in which he held my hand with were almost my undoing. Hang in there, sweet man. Don’t give up. We will do this together.
I couldn’t wait for the doctors to make rounds and give us a plan on what going forward looked like. I had so many questions – my first question was going to be what caused this? And second – how do we stop this from ever happening again? All those hours in the middle of the night watching Dave’s quiet breathing gave me lots of time to think and I needed to know why this happened.
I needed to know why and how this happened so that I could do everything in my power to make sure that it never happened to him again. I needed a purpose, a path, a goal – I needed a plan.
A Day Of No Answers
Finally at around 10am, the doctors arrived for rounds. The plan for the day was to take him for a cerebral angiogram and see what was going on in his brain. If there was something there to repair, they would, but it would give them more of a clue as to what happened. As they prepared him for his small surgery, Dave’s anxiety grew. Anytime you go into the brain, there are so many risks, and he was again fearful that he wouldn’t wake up. The surgery was expected to take about 1.5 hours, and I took this time to take a shower and put on clean clothes that my daughters had brought. I am here to tell you, there is nothing that fresh breath and a clean pair of underwear can’t fix. After my shower, I felt much lighter of heart and ready to take on whatever was in front of us.
Finally, they brought Dave back from surgery, and he had to lay completely flat for 6 hours without moving at all. He was already so exhausted from everything going on, that he slept most of the time. About the time that he started to wake up, the surgeon came in to update us on what they had found.
Sitting up for the first time 🙂
Finding JOY in the pain!
They could see nothing because of the size of the blood clot taking up so much of the inside left quadrant of Dave’s brain, which means that they couldn’t tell us much at all. They couldn’t see if there was a malformation in the brain that had caused the bleed, they didn’t see any weekend vessels that could have caused it. There was no explanation for why my boy was laying flat in an ICU, with no feeling on his right side, unable to speak legibly. After the doctors explained this all to us, they said that we would continue to watch and wait for the next 72 hours and keep Dave in the ICU, because they didn’t think the clot was stable and wanted to be prepared in case he started to re-bleed.
I’d wanted answers – why this had happened and how to prevent it from happening again. And the doctors had no answers. They didn’t know why it had happened in the first place, and they didn’t know how to prevent it from happening again. I can’t lie, in that moment, I was angry with God. No answers – just a spontaneous bleed. This wasn’t fair.
Watch and Wait
And so we did what they said to do – we spent the next 3 days in the ICU, watching Dave and waiting for him to re-bleed. Literally, that was what they were waiting for. During that time, they came in to talk with us about what Dave’s aftercare with discharge was going to look like. Did we have a safe place that would accommodate his new limitations for him to go home to. We were so fortunate that while Dave had no feeling on his right side, he was able to stand, bare weight and walk. He had maintained his strength on his right side, but no feeling. Another thing that they couldn’t explain, but we were so thankful for the small victory.
I clearly remember a comment that the Therapist Coordinator said to me on the second day of Dave’s ICU stay – he said, ‘You are going to advocate for Dave’s life, for his therapy, for his recovery, for his quality. If you don’t advocate, his future is grim at best.’
Wow, powerful words, but words that shot straight to my heart. I might not have a reason why this had happened, but I had a goal and focus that I could work towards to help Dave recover the best quality of life that was possible for him and us.
Finally, after 4 long days in the ICU, they discharged us to the stroke floor for 2 more days of observation. It was while on this floor that Dave got terribly sick and they took him in for another emergency CT scan, hoping that he hadn’t dislodged the clot and started to re-bleed. Thankfully, the clot was stable, and his body was just rebelling from all the trauma that it had been put through.
I’ll Never Leave Your Side
Through this entire time, I never left Dave’s side, sleeping in his bed with him at night, holding him. The nurses brought me food, and except for when he was taken aback for a procedure or scan, I was with him around the clock for his entire hospital stay. His nurses loved me because I took care of him, fed him, bathed him, making sure he was as comfortable as possible.
Finally, after 5 long days in the hospital, his neurologist decided that he would be okay to go home, since the sights and sounds of the stroke floor where causing him severe anxiety and making him physically ill. All of a sudden, the reality of the journey that lay before us overtook me and the fear that I wouldn’t be able to give him the quality of care he deserved and needed caused me to pause. And then this still small voice reminded me – I am Dave’s biggest advocate. If I don’t work hard to get him the therapy and help he needs, he won’t have the life he deserves going forward. That small voice was all the reminder I needed that while I felt completely inadequate and ill prepared to become Dave’s primary caregiver, this was the job that God had given me in this season of our lives. I had a goal and a purpose – that my hero would talk, walk and feel again.
We arrived home on a Tuesday afternoon. Dave didn’t even have any clothes to travel in, so one of the nurses found some disposable scrubs for him to escape the joint in 😉 We arrived home and he settled himself into the chair to rest while I started his shower and lay out his clean clothes. Our shower was upstairs, and this was our first attempt at stairs, but thankfully because he still had the strength, we were able to climb the stairs together and get him refreshed and rested. The reality of the monumental task that lay before us became very clear.
Just Call Me General Advocate
Tuesday, while Dave rested, I spent the day on the phone scheduling speech, occupational and physical therapy appointments for Dave. The therapy started on Wednesday, because I believed that if we didn’t get right into therapy, there was a greater chance that Dave’s brain would struggle with regaining what had been lost. And so we started therapy, 3-5 times per week every week for 3 months. I was with him for every single appointment since he couldn’t drive, and pushed him hard during those sessions. I researched home therapy that we could do in addition to the clinic therapies, and Dave spent no less than 8 hours a day working his brain and body.
Getting better was his full time job. Speech was, and still is the most difficult for him. His brain struggles to put words together, to remember words that he has commonly used before his bleed, and still stutters when his is tired or stressed. We read, we played games, we wrote lists, we spent hours and hours working on his speech therapy. We also spent hours and hours stimulating the nerves in the right side of his body with sensation therapy so that he could regain feeling again.
His occupational therapist was amazing and actually used projects at our home as part of Dave’s therapy. When he was strong enough and well enough, laying out our deck, installing with a screw gun the deck boards and stair treads was a huge piece of Dave’s therapy. What once would have taken him for a weekend, took him almost 8 weeks, working 6 days a week at it to complete. Because he couldn’t feel his right hand, he had to watch so carefully everything he was doing. His brain was also struggled with managing and thinking through the next steps of what he needed to do. But he never gave up, even when it was so overwhelming, he persevered, and slowly but surely, he had a huge victory when he completed that project, almost 3 months after his bleed.
A side effect of Dave’s bleed was that it affected the portion of his brain that regulates fear. Situations Dave would have never put himself in prior to his bleed, things he would never of done were all of a sudden common everyday occurrences. For months, it felt like it was my full time job to keep him alive, and not just because of his bleed, but because he became a daredevil. I couldn’t keep him down, and he would badger the kids into driving him to the property when I was at work. This pattern started just a week after his bleed. He wouldn’t rest, but was so restless to get on with his life, with our home build that he would get angry if we tried to keep him from the property. This made me so worried and anxious, but I just had to give him to God, and prayed constantly, God, please keep him alive today. 🙂
A couple of weekends after Dave got home from the hospital, my sister and her husband had come over to help me prime our metal deck railing and roof so that we could get it painted before the rain started and it rusted. It was a slow tedious process, because we were doing it by hand, with paint brushes. This was driving Dave crazy as he looked on, but I didn’t know how else I could accomplish this task. It took us all weekend just to get the railing’s primed, and had planned on painting it next weekend.
Well, on Monday, while I was at work and just 2 week’s after Dave’s bleed, my daughter told me that Dave had asked her to drive him to the property, but she had to go to work so couldn’t stay with him. When I got off of work, I went and checked on him. I pulled up and he was STANDING on the top of a 12 foot ladder painting the railing and deck roof, with a paint sprayer. Not only had he drug out his ginormous air compressor, figured out the tubing, located his spray gun, but he had taken it upon himself to complete in 1 day, what would have taken my sister and I another full weekend. He was so proud of himself that he had gotten it all accomplished. I was so angry at him for doing it. Not that I didn’t appreciate that I wasn’t going to have to, but because he could have easily hurt himself, falling as he could not feel the right side of his body at all still and he was standing on the top of a tall ladder. I messaged my sister immediately and said, ‘Well, deck railing and roof metal are painted, and Dave isn’t dead – so good news, all in all!’ We laugh about it now, but I still remember clearly the panic I felt when I pulled into our driveway and there perched my husband, 12 feet in the air, painting away.
The Day the Seizures Started
Almost 3 weeks from the day of Dave’s initial bleed, while at Occupational Therapy, Dave had his first seizure. It was terrifying, to say the least. Another ambulance ride, another CT scan, so many medications. The trauma to his brain, the ongoing injury was just to much for him and his brain was done. The start of the seizures was actually harder for us both than the initial bleed. Managing them, listening to his body, keeping him calm, trying to keep him from overdoing it. That was the hardest part because he had a goal to finish our home and in his word’s, “I don’t have time to die or seize out. I have a home to build.”
God was and to this day continues to watch over and protect Dave. While his self regulation for dangerous situations has tapered off in the years since his bleed, it is still something that I have to regularly remind him to be watchful of. He is a much better sport about it now, where as before it would make him so angry that I was ‘bossing’ him around. He now knows that I am not and was not trying to boss him around, I was just trying to keep him alive. He depends on me now, more than ever, to gently remind him to be safe, because sometimes, he just forgets.
I am so thankful that my boy lived, that we were able to continue on with our dream of building our home and most importantly, that we get to live every single day so intentionally. Not everyone does that, but really, it is the only way to live!
Dave’s wave and attempt at a smile sustained me during the drive to the larger hospital 40 minutes away. As the life flight helicopter took off and raced my boy south for emergency brain surgery to stop the bleeding in his brain and stabilize him, I stood for a moment on the top of the hospital roof and just asked God for peace. And I felt it, immediately.
By that time, my sister, Shannon, was by my side, holding my hand and said she would drive me to the new hospital as I didn’t have a car. As we drove, I called my children and our elder and asked to be placed on the prayer chain. Dave was being lifted up within the hour by hundreds of people and the peace I felt about the new, unexpected journey that Dave and I were now on, was surreal. I didn’t know how this day was going to end, much less the new path we were on, but I knew that somehow, we were going to be okay.
Defying All Odds
I made it to the hospital in record time and rushed inside to check on his status, expecting him to be in surgery. To my amazement and surprise, they directed me to an emergency room and when I walked in, there, my fighting man sat, in the bed as the doctors and nurses continued to monitor his neurological status and vitals. A doctor introduced himself as head of neurology and said that while Dave was in critical condition, he was already stabilizing and they had not seen any increased signs of distress in the brain since he had arrived. He was not sure why Dave was was awake and not declining, or what the next 30 minutes or even the hour held, but at that moment, they were going to wait on brain surgery and fall into a watch and wait pattern. Thank you, Jesus. It had been a little less than 2 hours since Dave had called me in distress, and now he sat here, amazing the doctors with his status. Dave was not well, but he was alive – another miracle!
The doctor then pulled up the CT scan of Dave’s brain – the one taken in the last 30 minutes, Dave’s second of the day, on the imaging board in Dave’s room and showed us what we were dealing with. I am not going to lie; seeing the size of the blood pool in Dave’s brain was terrifying. Hearing the doctor say that he shouldn’t even be alive, much less awake and coherent, was nothing he could explain. He was hopefully optimistic that Dave would continue to stabilize and that the bleed would not progress beyond it’s current borders. It was currently almost 2” x 2” and laying deep in the left side of his brain.
As I looked down at my best friend, and then back to the image of his brain, tears pooled in my eyes. Dave could still hardly speak, he had no feeling on his right side, his brain had an active bleed, but against all odds, I felt him squeeze my hand with his right one and say, I love you. It was more like a pained whisper and the faintest of squeezes, but he was speaking, attempting to make his right side work, awake and so very alive!
Dave was stationed directly outside the nurse’s station in the Emergency room of the new hospital. There was so much activity in and out of his room as they waited on pins and needles for him to take the turn for the worse that the doctors were all expecting. But, Dave refused to give in to the sleepiness that called his name. He held my hand with his strong left one like it was his lifeline. He sat in that bed and refused to give up – to him, closing his eyes and going to sleep, even though he was so very tired, felt like giving up. He refused to leave me!
After almost 5 hours of monitoring him every 10 minutes, accessing neurological function, another repeat CT scan and so much lab work trying to figure out what was going on and why this had happened, they notified us that they were once again going to be transferring Dave to another hospital – the 3rd one that day. His insurance was Kaiser, and so they wanted to get him to the nearest Kaiser facility to continue monitoring him. Thankfully, this time they were willing to transport him via ambulance and we got to ride together 🙂
Expecting Another Miracle
We arrived at the Kaiser hospital and they admitted him directly to ICU to give him one on one nursing care as his condition was still so unstable and very critical. Within a few minutes of arriving in the ICU, the neurosurgeon arrived and assessed Dave’s current status. Dave had not shown any signs of decline in the past 5 hours but the size of bleed that he had experienced in the location of the brain that it had occurred was very much life threatening.
The doctor gave it to us straight. He didn’t understand why Dave was even conscious, much less coherent. In his experience, these types of bleeds had a very small survival rate. If Dave made it through the night, we would re-access in the morning and do an exploratory brain operation to see if they could identify the source of the bleed. If there was a sudden turn for the worse in the night, they would proceed with the emergency brain surgery, that thankfully had been postponed for more than 8 hours at this point.
Because of the paralysis that Dave was experiencing on his right side, he wasn’t allowed any food or drink. They needed to do a swallow study and have the feeding therapist evaluate him to minimize the chances that he would choke on anything orally. Also, because he may have surgery at any moment, they needed him prepared and ready to go under anesthesia.
It was going to be a long night, but I pulled a chair up right next to my best friend, grabbed his hand and we settled in to watch and wait and pray. Finally, after almost 14 hours since he had first called me, Dave let himself rest. I didn’t sleep at all that night – praying constantly that Dave made it through the night and defied the odds that the doctors were putting on him. ‘Please, God, let Dave live.’ That was my prayer and the miracle I was expecting. I didn’t even care at that point that he ever walked again, I just couldn’t imagine life without him.
New Adventures Ahead
I had no idea what the future held as I sat in that hard hospital chair and held Dave’s hand throughout the night. The home we were building, the future we had envisioned, the dreams we were chasing – that all seemed so distant as I looked around at the multitude of machines monitoring Dave’s every breath and heartbeat. I didn’t know what this new adventure looked like, but I knew that we were going to experience it together…
Those are the words my best friend whispered to me as they prepared him to be life flighted for emergency brain surgery. The doctors told us he was dying, and his chances of surviving were very small. But, the moment he whispered those words to me, I knew that my Dave wasn’t going to die that day or the next, if he had anything to say about it. He had a house to build, and I obviously couldn’t be trusted to cut the rebar correctly 😉 .
The First Thursday of the Rest of Our Lives
It was August 18th, 2015 and like most days that summer, the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun was hotter than normal. Dave had been taking off every Thursday from his regular 4 day a week job, to work on the house, giving him 4 days a week to make some forward progress. It had been a tough couple of days and the stress of the build was starting to take its toll on us. We’d had a disagreement that morning before I left for work, and it was weighing heavily on my heart. Around 10:45 I messaged him and told him I was sorry, that I loved him and that there was no one else I’d rather do this life with. He messaged back the same, and the weight was lifted from both of us.
Dave is a creature of habit, and his lunch is always at 11:30 during his work week, and so at 11:30, he sent me his normal daily lunch check-in message telling me he was working on the rebar for the railing and that he loved me. All is well with him.
At 11:48am I received a phone call from Dave – not typical of him to call me, and even if he does, I rarely answer my phone when I am at work. But something told me to pick it up, and so I did. The moment I heard his voice, I knew that something wasn’t right. He, barely audible, said that there was something wrong with his arm and he couldn’t hold onto his phone. He said he kept dropping it. I told him to just hold on, that I was on my way. My heart dropped – with my limited knowledge, I was sure he had had a heart attack based on the way he sounded and that he couldn’t feel his arm. He was just 46, how could this be happening?
I rushed from my office, calling my employer on the way, telling him that something was wrong with Dave and I had to go check on him. He asked me if I had called 911 and I said, ‘no, but I will right now.’ Thankfully he instructed me to do that, because in my panic, I hadn’t even thought that far. I dialed 911 as I raced towards our home, which is about 10 minutes away from my work on a normal day – that day it took me about 5 minutes. I told the operator that my fiance had just called me and he couldn’t feel his arm and said he didn’t feel good. They said that they would send an emergency vehicle immediately, and asked me to stay on the line with them until I got to Dave.
The crazy thing is, we don’t have cell phone service the majority of the way to our home. There is a huge dead zone, but I never dropped that call. The 911 operator was with me the entire time as I raced through the valley and up our long gravel driveway, trying to stay the panic that was threatening to wash over me, praying silently to make it in time. I could already hear the emergency vehicle in the background and I knew that they were only a minute or 2 behind me; the benefit of living in a small town.
I flew down our hill, as fast as my car would allow and pulled into our driveway. The sight that met me was worse than I had imagined. There stood my boy, in the driveway, with his pants unbuckled, struggling to get them closed. When he heard me, which seemed to be a very delayed response, he looked up and I knew – I knew that something was terribly, terribly wrong, much worse than a heart attack.
The entire right side of his face was completely drooped – his right eye almost sagged shut, his mouth hanging drooping, his right arm hanging limply at his side. His right leg half a step behind his left and at a funny angle. He didn’t even seem aware that his body was betraying him.
I raced to him and the words he stuttered to me, shook my world and broke my heart simultaneously, but where yet another miracle. He leaned against me, flung his good arm around me, with his pants still hanging around his hips and said, ‘I’m glad you made it. I was waiting for you before I went to sleep.’
I put my arms around him and helped him struggle to a lawn chair we had set up nearby. I eased him down, and prayed silently that the ambulance would hurry, because he was deteriorating before my eyes, and I didn’t even know what was wrong, but I suspected he’d had a stroke. I held him, buckled up his pants (he had to go to the bathroom and couldn’t figure out why his arm wouldn’t work to buckled back up his pants.) He struggled to say that he couldn’t hold onto his phone, and he didn’t know where it was. I looked down our hill slightly, and there it was, on the ground where it had fallen out of his hand that he could no longer feel. I am not sure how he was able to hold onto it to call me, except sheer will power, and another miracle!
I leaned into him as he sat in that chair, fading quickly, whispering words of encouragement, wrapping my arms around him, comforting him, reassuring him that I was here now and I wouldn’t be leaving him. His left eye was glazed over with fear, his right eye, barely open. His speech was getting worse; he could barely whisper to me. He kept saying over and over, thank you, thank you, thank you. I thanked him for waiting for me. I held him until the emergency vehicles pulled into our driveway. It was only a couple of minutes, but to me, holding my best friend as he faded so quickly before my eyes, it seemed like an eternity.
The EMT immediately started evaluating Dave, and transferred him to a gurney and within a couple of minutes, we were racing down the road. They put me in the front seat of the ambulance, not telling me anything. The driver again asked me the timeline and what had happened. By this time, we were about 12 minutes from the time that Dave initially called me. How could 12 minutes feel like 12 hours? I tried to relay what I knew, Dave’s health status – healthy as a horse, no pre-existing conditions, no high blood pressure, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, very active. We were building this house, working 100 plus hours a week – I am not sure you get more active than that. The ambulance raced towards the small hospital that was in the next town over, about a 10 minute drive. I could hear that the EMT’s in the back were calling in details to the waiting emergency room, but the driver kept trying to make small talk with me, distracting me, I am sure and I couldn’t tell what they were saying about Dave.
When we pulled up to the emergency room, there were doctors and nurses waiting for us. I looked over and the Chaplin was opening my door and helping me out – and that was the minute that I knew. That was the exact instant that I realized that this was way more serious than I had even imagined in the past 20 minutes. The Chaplin took me to the side while the emergency personal evaluated Dave and started to rush him inside the ER. But then, the emergency vehicle driver asked for a signature for the patient, and my strong Dave caught my eye and I knew that he wanted to sign. Time felt like it stood still as the attendant walked over to Dave and Dave, took the pen and every so slowly, in his long hand signature form, wrote out his name. It seemed like it took forever, but in that moment, I knew my boy was going to fight as hard as he could to not leave me. He was fighting to sign that form the same way he had fought to stay awake until I had arrived at our home, just a short while ago. You see, Dave had heard what they were saying in the back of the ambulance – he knew how serious he was, even though at that time I didn’t. And because my Dave is the strongest and most stubborn man alive, during that ride, he made a decision that he wasn’t going to sleep. He was afraid that if he went to sleep, he wouldn’t wake up. He realized, even as his body completely gave up on him, that his will was stronger than his body. And so, he showed his will to survive in that signature. Once he was done, he handed back the pen and they proceeded to rush him through the doors of the ER.
The Chaplin didn’t leave my side as the nurses got as much information from me as they could about Dave. His age (I accidentally aged him 10 years by giving them the wrong year of birth, whoopsy 😉 ), health status – they ask the same questions, over and over. I just kept asking them if I could see him and to please tell me what was going on. After what seemed like forever, but was probably less than 10 minutes, a doctor came to me and the Chaplin grabbed my hand – I still thought that was weird. The doctor then in a quiet calm voice told me that they had just completed a CT scan on Dave and that he had suffered an Intracranial Hemorrhage, a bleed, deep within his brain that was still bleeding and he needed to have emergency surgery. Unfortunately, they aren’t equipped for that kind of surgery at that small hospital, so he then told me that they would be life flying him to Portland immediately for the surgery. It took all of 30 seconds for the doctor to give me that life altering news, and then he rushed back into Dave’s room. I stood there, all alone, except for the Chaplin that was holding my hand still. She asked if there was anyone that I would like her to call, and I told her my sister, Shannon. She asked for her number and I gave it to her and she immediately turned away to make the call. I stood there in the hallway, holding back the panic, holding back the fear, holding back the terror that was rushing through me. How can this be happening? He is healthy – this doesn’t happen to 46 year old healthy people. The Chaplin returned within a minute and said that my sister was on her way. I asked her if I could see Dave and she asked and then took me to his room. There were machines and lights and people everywhere, but he was sitting up and as soon as I walked in the room, he looked to me and I could see that the terror I felt, was matched only by the terror he was feeling. I walked over to him, leaned in close because by this time, he could barely talk and he whispered to me – ‘The rebar is cut wrong.’
What did you just say to me, dear man that is lying in a hospital room, dying??!? Oh, my heart sang – he wasn’t done fighting, he wasn’t done living, he didn’t care what they were saying, he wasn’t done. He whispered, ‘I don’t have time to die, I have a house to finish.’ That is right, my hero, we have a house to finish, and you aren’t going to die. We are going to fight together and make sure of it. He then whispered, ‘I need you to be in charge.’
We weren’t married, and so his next of kin, his mother would be relied upon to make all of his medical decisions, if Dave became incapable of making them himself, and Dave didn’t want that. He wanted me to – and so, I looked to the Chaplin that was standing at my elbow and told her what Dave had said, and how can we make this happen? I needed to be his medical power of attorney. She told us to hold on, she would be right back and rushed from the room. Probably, she should have said that there was nothing that could be done, because Dave’s brain was already compromised, but she didn’t. She saw what we had together, even in the few short minutes that she stood there observing us. And so that sweet Chaplin moved heaven and earth for us in the 5 minutes that we had before life flight arrived to airlift my boy to brain surgery in a hospital an hour away. She was back in minutes with the forms, and a witness. She asked us to sign and again, Dave slowly and painstakingly signed his signature in his beautiful script long hand. The life flight crew was standing behind us waiting at that time, waiting for Dave and me to finish this important detail. The detail that gave him peace of mind that I would move heaven and earth for him too – that I would do everything in my power to get him the very best care possible.
I looked him in his eyes and told him I would be waiting for him in Portland, leaned in and kissed him for what may have been the very last time and stepped aside for the flight crew to place him in a flight bag, strap him to the gurney and whisk him to the roof. By this time, my sister had arrived, although I don’t remember, just realized that she was at my side on the elevator ride to the roof. They let me follow and Dave never took his eyes off mine. In the last 30 minutes they had told us that Dave may not live through the surgery, they made me sign releases for the liability of the life flight (yes, he could crash and die on the way), they told us that his prognosis was very poor. But, looking into his eyes, I knew that if he had anything to do with it, he would survive and thrive. With my eyes, I told him the same thing – if I had anything to do with what happens next, he would not only survive, but he would thrive.
I watched with tears streaming down my face as they loaded him into that helicopter, knowing by this time, that it may be the last time I saw him alive – there are no words for that depth of fear and pain I felt in that moment. My only peace came from my constant prayer for the last 35 minutes, ‘Please Jesus, save him. Please.’
And then, with the same fighting spirit that Dave had shown in the last 35 minutes, he looked out the window of the helicopter as it started, lifted his hand and blew me a kiss. Be still my beating heart!
We later learned that had Dave succumbed to the sleep that was calling his name, the chances he would have woken up, were about 15%. If he had woken up, the chances he would have had the recovery that he has experienced over the past 4 years, less than 3%. The long term survival rate for the type of bleed that Dave had is less than 13%, and that is a recovered survival rate, that is just the survival rate. There are no studies past 7 years, because there are very few survivors.
It would have been so easy for my boy to just go to sleep because that was his initial thought, that he was so tired and maybe he would just lay down in our 5th wheel that was parked at the property and take a little nap. Later, I also learned that he didn’t want to bother me at work, so he didn’t initially call me. He called both our daughters first, but as they were in class, they didn’t answer his call.
HE ALMOST DIDN’T CALL ME – HE ALMOST JUST WENT TO SLEEP WITHOUT ME. This is the most amazing miracle of all – that he waited for me. For as long as I live I will never forget him uttering those words to me as he fell into my arms. Even now, as I am writing this, tears are on my cheeks as I remember the memories and feelings of that day.
Our brains are like very complex computers, and like a computer when you shut it down when it has a bad virus, it doesn’t always boot back up. Because Dave never let his ‘computer’ shut down, his brain started to make alternative routes of communication around the bleed and the damage that the bleed was causing. These alternative connections/rewiring of his brain started to happen almost immediately. The brain is an amazing organ, and when stimulated correctly, can do amazing things. If it is even a possibility, don’t go to sleep when you think you might have experienced a stroke or brain bleed. Try not to let your ‘computer shut off’, but instead allow your brain to start rewiring itself. This rewiring can start to happen within as little as 20 minutes of injury.
I know this is a long, emotional post and there is much more to our story and build, but for myself, I need to get this part of our story documented. Dave is my hero. Our story is hard, complex, and full of joy, hope and love. So much has changed for us since that sunny day in August 4 years ago, but I am not sure we would change any of it. It has molded us into the people we are today. His bleed has defined our journey and build in a way nothing else could have. His bleed allowed us to see and recognize miracle after miracle taking place, not just that day, but every single day since. God saved Dave’s life and our shipping container home build have him a reason to get up every day and fight to regain our life back. Our journey and Dave’s bleed allowed us to let love shine, to let perseverance prevail and let hope take flight ~
My husband wanted to have the ‘WOW’ factor for our house. I wanted the most economical and yet livable solution available when you are trying to make an 8’ wide metal box your home. In the beginning, we talked and dreamed of the possibilities as far as design and stacking them together like Legos – everyone’s initial thought of building with shipping containers 🙂 We discovered quickly, it isn’t quite that simple or cheap to start stacking them willy-nilly. So we had to put some hard thought into what exactly we could and couldn’t live without in our future shipping container home.
My Husband’s Ideal Space
Dave is a practical man, with a ‘WOW’ factor mentality 😉 He needed a sink and counter, a hot plate would suffice with a mini fridge, a toilet if we could figure out the plumbing and a place to sleep. He was more concerned with the structural components, the welding and the infrastructure for the land. He didn’t really care how many windows we had, how the natural lighting would infiltrate the living spaces, where we were going to have space for our youngest son who was 10 at the time or where we would eat. He gave zero thought to laundry or family dinners, how his wife would stay clean or really anything that would make these cold metal boxes a home for our family. He’s a man – he could eat on an upside down bucket in the corner, off of a paper plate and take a shower in a portable tent behind a tree – God bless his heart 😉
My Ideal Space
My idea of practical also takes into account long-term usability and how to prevent me from running wild into the woods or going even more crazy than we already felt even contemplating this build 🙂 A kitchen with full size appliances, a washer and dryer, a bathroom with a large shower where I could shave my legs – girl goals 😉 and of course an INSIDE toilet and sink, lots of storage, a separate bedroom for our son, a master bedroom large enough that I could walk around my bed to make it, a living-room space where we could have our older children over for family meals, and windows; lots of windows and natural light – and it had to be pretty. I might be a Pacific Northwest girl, but I like my comforts 😉
We Compliment Each Other
Initially, our individual ideal spaces were quite different. But in our separate visions, we both addressed items that not only made our future home functional and solid, but also usable, comfortable and inviting. As we started to think ‘outside the box’ at all the possibilities of what our shipping container home could become when we combined our ideas, the magic really started to happen and our imaginations and creativity took flight. Our number one realization – when you are building tiny, you can have nice finishes and still not spend a fortune because of the small footprint. Suddenly, granite counters, tile showers, stainless steel appliances, zebra flooring, spiral staircases, multiple bedrooms and a large deck overlooking our valley right off our master bedroom were our reality, just on a very small-scale.
What Could We Live Without
We had lived in a much larger home prior to building our tiny home and took a hard look at what parts of the house we used in our average American family home. We only really used the kitchen and bar seating area, occasionally the living room to visit if company was over, the bathroom and 2 of the bedrooms. We rarely, if ever used any of the other rooms of the house. We knew that we could live with a living room, kitchen, laundry space, bathroom and 2 bedrooms. Now, to make it all fit in as small of a footprint as possible – exactly how many containers could we get away with using was the hard question? We decided that if we could get away with 2 shipping containers – a 20’er stacked on top of a 40’er or 480 square feet, it would help keep costs down and the footprint on our very hilly land easier to build on.
The Initial Design
I am an accountant, not a designer or an architect. So, I opened up my Powerpoint on the computer and started stacking rectangles on top of each other, because after all, that is what we were working with. I then dug into our local building code for the minimum square footage requirements in the spaces that we wanted to include in our home. The bathroom, bedrooms, stairs and entry points/doors had to be certain dimensions in order to meet the code for our state. With only 480’ to work with, the challenge seemed daunting. But, I have always loved a challenge – and so I measured and moved and measured and moved, over and over until I got everything to fit in the 480’ we ‘thought’ we had – Success!!! Or so I thought…
Back To The Drawing Board
To the casual observer or newbie like ourselves, 2 shipping containers provide approximately 480 interior square feet. But – and that is a very big BUT, when you start adding things like framing, insulation and sheet rock you lose approximately 6.5” on each interior wall in order to facilitate those basic finishes. Metal conducts moisture – and mold was not something I ever wanted to deal with inside my home. Taking this into account, we knew we couldn’t frame directly up to the metal interior walls. The obvious solution was to build a wooden framed box inside our metal shipping container using 2 x 4 construction and make sure that the metal and wood never touched each other, ever. (Because the strength of our home comes from the metal box, we didn’t need to use traditional 2×6 construction except on the end walls where the doors were for wind shear.)
To simplify for those who are new to the shipping container building process like we once were – when you add the framing, insulation and sheet rock, you lose approximately 6.5” on each interior wall and suddenly your 480’ tiny home, really becomes a 406’ ‘super’ tiny home.
Note – Our interior living space is 1” shy of 7’ wide – cozy living at it’s finest! Don’t worry, you get used to it. It does help to have the right size furniture to make it all work together – no oversized lazy boy recliners for us 😉 I know that in the world of tiny homes, our 406’ is a mansion, but moving from a 2,000 sq ft home to 406’ was a huge obstacle to work our minds around.
Now – to rework those rooms sizes to fit into the space we really had to work with. Back to the drawing board to design our shipping container home for me!
More to come… but until then, what is your dream? Never be afraid to chase it!!!