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…
Finally!!! We were done (enough) with the outside of our shipping container home that we were ready to move inside and start creating a living space inside our cold metal boxes. It was December and icicles hung from the roofs of our containers (literally). Shipping containers transfer condensation, and in our SW Washington location, there is so much moisture in the air, that we knew we were going to have to be very diligent as we built our interior to protect against future moisture and mold problems.
A Wood Box
Our shipping containers are structurally much stronger than a stick built home, for obvious reasons, and so we were able to use 2 x 4 material instead of standard 2 x 6 material to frame our home. We were building our home to code and it was fully permitted. Our framed wood walls were 16” on center, standard code, but we needed to make sure that they didn’t touch the metal shipping container at any point. To accomplish this, we used the D ring tie downs that are standard in containers and use bailing wire to stand our walls 1” off of our container walls.
Laying Out Our Tiny Home
Our bathroom walls, and the stairwell framing were critical as we framed the interior. Our cabinets were already purchased and in storage, as was our spiral stairwell. As we framed the bathroom walls, we needed to be very accurate so that the final design matched up to our pre-fabbed design.
This was a challenge, because we had laid out our interior and cut our window openings, installed our windows and frames, purchased our cabinets and fixtures all before Dave’s ICH. Working through the same design 3 months later and checking and rechecking for accuracy was a difficult and time consuming process, but we accomplished it 🙂
Electrical & Plumbing
Once our walls were framed in, we started installing our roughed in electrical and plumbing. We did all of this ourselves and the reduced wall spaces (2 x 4 instead of 2 x 6) created some challenges, At Least we only had 1 bathroom, a kitchen and a laundry area to plumb in 😉 Our shipping containers sit on a 3’ foundation, so we had plenty of room underneath the house to work on our drains and venting for our plumbing.
I wanted to make sure that we had plenty of electrical outlets in our home, and they are literally placed about every 5 feet on the interior 🙂 I had personally never done any electrical work, but by the time we were through, I had learned how to drill holes in the studs to chase wire, and installed most of the standard electrical outlets. Dave installed the oven, dryer and hot water heater outlets and was an excellent electrical teacher 😉
There is one thing that we wished we would have known/realized during our rough in, and that is to we wished we have put a recessed electrical box/outlet in for our oven. When we installed our oven during the final phase of the build, it would not sit flush against the wall. This could have been prevented if we had realized and installed a recessed box. Just an FYI for you and something we wished we could have done over.
Spray Foam Insulation
Once our framing, electrical & plumbing were all inspected and we were given the green light to proceed, we were ready for our insulation to be installed. This is something that we couldn’t do ourselves and had to contract it out. Prior to having the insulation installed, we rented an industrial dehumidifier and ran it for a week to dry out the interior of our shipping container. Our wood wall studs were saturated with moisture, just from condensation in the air and we didn’t want that moisture sealed in once the foam was sprayed. Insulation is very expensive, and for our 400 sq ft, we paid $7,000 – ouch! The insulation sealed the space between the metal container and the wood framed walls, and eliminates any moisture or condensation problems that we could have had.
We did run into 1 issue with our insulation installer – they failed/got lazy and didn’t shoot foam down into the walls space between our 20’er and 40’er. We didn’t initially realize this initially, but once our sheetrock was installed and was drying, there was so much additional moisture inside the containers that the bottom of the walls started to mold within 24 hours. We had to cut out the bottom of the sheet rock and also a 12” area around the perimeter of our bedroom floor to dry the area out. Thankfully, our insulation installer came back and sprayed into those areas. But oh my, it created so much additional work and set us back a couple of weeks as we had to fix their mistake.
It took us about 12 weeks to frame, rough in our utilities, pass inspections, dry out the interior, insulate and sheetrock. It was a slow and tedious process, but there was such a sense of satisfaction we had from doing 90% of the work ourselves 🙂 Thankfully, Dave was getting better each and every day and our shipping containers were actually starting to look like a home!
We were officially dried in, but still had so many outside projects that we needed to wrap up before we were ready to move inside and start finishing our home.
A shipping container doesn’t need a roof, but I wanted a unique roof to create a dry space over both our deck and our front door. We have a 20’r sitting on top of a 40’r, leaving 20’ of deck space off of our master bedroom. We roofed 10 of that space creating one of our favorite places in the entire house – living space right outside our bedroom door – and the view 🙂
Dave’s friends came and helped us complete the roofing. Our roofing is called Rusteel and is unique in that it rusts almost immediately upon exposure to the elements. Yes, I paid extra for metal that will rust – Dave still questions my sanity at times 😉
Turning a Ginormous Gravel Pile Into Access
In order to meet code, we had to have access to the front of the house that didn’t exceed certain tolerances. The only thing we had infront of our containers at this point was a huge pile of gravel that had been used to park the crane when we placed our shipping containers.
But Dave and our son, Bryce, got to work and upcycled some 4×4’s that had been salvaged from a project on the Canadian border. He reused the brackets, the boards and designed the large pile of gravel into our home’s approach 🙂
As I’d mentioned before, Dave’s OT set up therapy for Dave. The upstairs deck and exterior stairs were a project that Dave meticulously worked through as part of both his cognitive and functional therapy. From laying out the deck boards, screwing them on (a challenge when he couldn’t feel his right hand), cutting and laying the final stair treads, upcycling and designing the outside stairs and access. All of these steps needed to happen to make our shipping container legal and meet building code.
This was a project that would have taken us a couple of weekends before Dave’s ICH. But even working on it 6 days a week for a couple hours a day in the beginning and then longer as he got stronger, it took him almost 6 weeks to finish.
Outdoor Living Space
When Dave had sealed and laid the last board, he was so proud of the deck and stairs – and he should be. I was so proud of him. I had seen him struggle through the processes in a way that tore at my heart, but he preserved. It turned out amazingly gorgeous. The biggest victory was how much he was able to regain his dexterity and skill level during the project. The project may have taken weeks and weeks, but to this day, it is one of the areas of our home we are most proud of!
Dave was finally becoming stable enough that we could start focusing our energies a bit back on our home build. Every single step seemed to take about 4 times as long as it did just weeks ago, but we made a list of the most critical things that needed to get done to get our home weather proof before the winter weather came and focused on those.
And, if winter coming wasn’t enough, Dave had another brain procedure scheduled for mid October. The push was on, but in the middle of all the work, we stopped to have family pictures with our kiddos who had been so helpful during our build. We couldn’t have done it without them 🙂
Family & Friends ~ Our Heros!
We were so blessed to have family and church family step up and help us. It was almost a full time job for me when we were at our property to keep Dave safe. If the family wouldn’t have helped us, we would have ended up with 2 rusted out shipping containers going into spring and not the home that we were able to get dried in before winter came. With our home dried in, our hope was that Dave would be able to continue to work on it as part of his therapy and as he got better and stronger.
Sealing the Crawl Space
We started by finishing up the foundation. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the side walls of the container did not touch the concrete foundation. This was an error on our engineers part, but we problem solved solutions and used cedar shims to wedge between the container I-Beam and the foundation wall. By shimming, we were able to displace the massive weight of the containers. Before shimming, the weight of the containers on our foundation were focused in the 4 corners, causing damage to the back of our foundation. Thankfully, we were able to repair that damage before Dave’s bleed and the foundation continued to fail.
After we shimmed all the way around the foundation, we went along and used a really strong caulk called Volcom and placed a large bead that weather could run off of instead of seeping into the crawl space in the foundation. While the process was tedious and time consuming, it has been worth it. We successfully displaced the weight properly and also have a very dry crawl space under our home. Our foundation has not experienced any settling or cracking since we put the fixes in place almost 4 years ago 🙂
Painting Our Rusty Boxes
Initially, Dave and I had planned on painting the containers ourselves. We already had our paint colors chosen and in the early summer, this would have taken us a day at best. But with his bleed, this was another project that now seemed completely overwhelming and daunting. Dave would not be able to help much, which would leave the logistics of getting the job done to me. Again, our church family came to our rescue, and during the work week, while Dave sat in his lawn chair and supervised (like he was the boss 😉 ) a painter that our church provided painted the outside of our containers. This paint protected all of our raw metal from rusting and also prepped the containers to install our shear walls and windows.
Side note: Our original paint color was called Intellectual Gray. We have since repainted our containers a bright, sassy orange that we feel represents our personalities and our home much better 😉
Installing The Shear Walls
Our shear walls, or walls that sealed off the end of the containers were thankfully completed by a carpenter that our church family hired for us. He framed, sheeted, sided and installed the doors on both the upper and lower containers. Without his help, we would never have gotten this portion done before the rains came. The most challenging part of the shear walls was connecting the wood to the metal container. We used pressure treated, but prior to placing the wood against the metal and securing it with lag bolts, we placed a moisture barrier between the metal and wood to prevent condensation transfer that is common in containers.
Installing The Windows
Our hope had been that the carpenter was going to be able to install our 7 windows also. But unfortunately, the shear walls took him longer than we expected and we had to start the process of installing the windows ourselves. We were up against a time frame; in mid October, Dave was scheduled for another Cerebral Angiogram. We needed to have our home dried and secured prior to this procedure, because as always, when they go into the brain, things can change quickly.
Installing the windows was a major process, but thankfully, our kids helped us out alot on the prep work. First, we had to pre-drill the screw holes into the metal frame that Dave had installed earlier in the summer. This was a time consuming and tough job for me and the kids. Because of the force and exertion it took to drill through the metal, Dave couldn’t do it. It put to much pressure on his head. But, Dave still had high expectations on how he wanted the job completed. We pre-drilled screw holes every 6 inches (overkill in my opinion, but he was the boss 😉 ). Once the holes were completed, we wrapped the entire window frame in moisture barrier tape.
And then, slowly, ever so slowly, Dave, myself a couple of our kiddos, installed the ground floor windows one by one. The windows were screwed from the inside to prevent any additional holes that water could seep into from the outside. Once a window was installed and screwed in, we placed cedar trim around the outside of the window to fill any gap between the window itself and the metal frame. We secured the cedar trim with Volcum instead of fasteners to again, preventing any additional holes for water to enter our home.
It took us almost a day a window to install our 7 windows. We learned the process on the ground floor windows, and then prayerfully installed the three 2nd floor windows. This is where Dave’s sudden Houdini personality was both a blessing and a curse. He had zero fear of standing on the very top of our 12 foot ladder, yes, where it says not to stand, unable to feel his right side and installed those windows like the amazing man he is. I stood inside the container leaning out the window holding onto him and assisting with handing him what he needed to get this process over as quickly as possible.
Dave’s Perseverance and Never Give Up Attitude
Dave had both on a level I had never witnessed or experienced up to this point in my life. 8 shorts weeks ago, he had almost died on our property. On October 14th, he, in complete exhaustion from having worked at his new pace for 6 of the last 8 weeks, smiled his new crooked smile with a sense of accomplishment that neither of us had felt up to this point.
Yes, we had successfully sealed our shipping containers so that they could become a home, but we had done in it in spite of all of the obstacles the past 2 months had thrown at us. Together, we knew that we could accomplish anything. What seemed impossible, was no longer impossible. What seemed improbable, had just been school on what Dave & Jaimie, together can do if we put our minds to it.
We were well on our way to making our containers a home!
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 ~