Several years passed and God continued to heal our marriage and bring Sylvia and me closer together. And closer to Him!
We had that special Honeymoon together on the Isle of Palms near Charleston, South Carolina, in May 1996. It was a very wonderful week for both of us.
Earlier that year (January 28, 1996) this prophecy was spoken to Sylvia and me by Minnie Coleman: "The Lord says to you: 'I brought the two of you together years ago to accomplish My purposes for you. Your latter days will be the best. I will restore to you seven-fold what has been taken away. It is time for you to do what I have been preparing you for.'"
A year later God opened the door to the internet for my new "Theophilus and the Powers of Darkness" comic strip series and brought thousands of visitors daily from all over the world to follow the story of our spiritual journey as it was relived by Sketch and Honey Drawings and their family, and by Theophilus and his wife!
Sylvia was my editor. I looked to our Lord for guidance, but I also usually got Sylvia's feedback and encouragement before releasing my work to the public. I regret that she did not get appropriate credit from me for her part in the success of Theophilus.
A few years later, Art Thompson would write, "Though her husband, Bob, is the artist who gave cartoon life, form, and words to Theophilus, it was Sylvia who gave the little cartoon man his heart and often softened his words and inspired him to reach out to others who were hurting or in need."
In 2002 the Holy Spirit led me to stop work on Theophilus and begin a new comic strip series on the internet. "Our Father's Children" is a graphic history of spiritual warfare beginning in the Garden of Eden. It was not intended to be just another illustrated Bible story for children. It is a message for all -- especially adults, both young and old.
It is about reality, not fiction. And responses from readers like the following have been encouraging and let me know that God was touching the hearts of those He brought to my web site to see what He had led me to write and illustrate: "I enjoyed your OFC strips and some of the 'Theophilus and the Powers of Darkness' strips. You definitely have an awesome way of making us aware of the reality of the spiritual side working and influencing our world around us. I haven't seen such a perspective on the spiritual realm since the likes of C. S. Lewis and his 'Screwtape Letters.'"
In 2003 our children mailed a beautifully designed invitation to our family and friends with the following information...
"On December 1, 1953 in West Palm Beach, Florida
Robert Alton West, Jr. and Sylvia Norma Buteau
exchanged vows committing themselves to each other
and agreeing to share the rest of their lives together.
For 50 years they have been
BOB & SYLVIA WEST
Please help us celebrate their
Golden Wedding Anniversary
by attending a party in their honor
Saturday, November 29
It was a joyous occasion! Those who were not able to attend sent cards, letters, and/or photos that were compiled into two large binders for those in attendance to enjoy and for Sylvia and me to add to our treasures.
With the Lord's help I was able to surprise Sylvia with a gift that I had worked on for a few months without her knowing. I designed and produced a book full of our family history and photos. After I presented it to Sylvia during the party, those who came to help us celebrate enjoyed looking through the book and remembering as well.
The title was "PRECIOUS MEMORIES of our first 50 years together." But I only had time to put together photos and family history of our first 25 years. I intended to add to it and finish it later, but I had no way of knowing at that point how quickly our lives were going to change.
A Few Months Later...
It was 9:15 a.m., Thursday, July 15, 2004.
I stepped off the elevator on the seventh floor at Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, and walked directly to Sylvia's room. Our daughter Suzanne was standing with her back toward me looking out the window. I looked at the empty bed.
"Where's Sylvia?" I asked.
Suzanne turned to face me with a look of anguish and said, "She's gone to surgery. They took her early, Dad. Just moments ago. You just missed them."
Then she added, "Mom told me to tell you that she loves you very much."
I stared at the empty bed. I began to fight to hold back the tears. "I didn't get to tell her that I love her."
Suzanne came over and hugged me, and I put my arms around her. We were both crying now.
"Mom knows you love her, Dad.
Service is her love language just like mine is, and she knows how you have been taking care of her and serving her day and night. She knows you love her."
I prayed aloud, "Father, give Sylvia peace. Let her feel your presence and your love. Take control of her surgery and all those involved with it. Let the surgeon's hands be your hands. Lord, we trust you to take care of Sylvia. Thank you, Lord!"
"Dad, I called Robynne last night. I told her how seriously ill Mom is, and about the surgery, and that if she wanted to talk to Mom while she was able to talk, she needed to call now. She did, and after Mom hung up she said, "Robynne told me that she loves me and she sounded like she meant it."
This brought tears of joy to my eyes.
Suzanne continued, "I spent the night with Mom and cried much of the night as I listened to her struggle to breathe each breath.
"At one point Mom said to me, 'I'm sorry, Suzanne. It is too hard to live.'
"I said, 'Mom, don't give up. You've got to keep fighting. Promise me that you will.'
"She said that she would."
A Prophetic Dream and Interpretation
During the night of June 21, 1996, I had a significant dream. In this dream I was in a nice building. It was very large. I didn't see any walls. All of the people were busy working and helping one another. One specific that comes to mind is the chandelier. It was on the floor and we hoisted it up to the proper height.
In another part of the dream, a woman came into the room with a large container of fresh cookies for Sylvia and me. As she was handing them to me, she said, "Help her!" and gestured in the direction of Sylvia. Sylvia had gotten out of bed and was leaning over a dresser, coughing and gasping for air. Before I could respond, the problem went away and she was okay.
The symbolism of the chandelier was obvious. We were lifting it up to send forth light. The fresh cookies represented blessings, and the woman bringing them must have represented the Holy Spirit. I wasn't sure except that I knew this was a message from God and I wanted to know the full meaning.
Later, on August 2, 1996, the Lord answered our prayers for the interpretation. God said, "I am making Bob a part of the working team, but he must not lose sight of the other important things I have called him to care for (Sylvia). I will take care of Sylvia (the problem got resolved), but I don't want Bob to lose perspective on what I have called him to care for."
As I sat there in 2004 and looked back, I realized that the first part of that 1996 prophetic dream was fulfilled exactly one year later when the Lord opened a door to the world with my Theophilus.org website on the internet and put me to work telling the story of our spiritual journey in the serial comic strip, "Theophilus and the Powers of Darkness." Now, seven years after that, the second part of the dream was being fulfilled.
Beginning June 5, 2004, Sylvia became very sick. During the following weeks she stubbornly refused to go to the doctor because she was so sure that she would get well on her own. During this time she took the antibiotic Azithromycin for five days. When she showed no sign of improvement, someone suggested that antibiotics will stop bacterial pneumonia, but have no effect on viral pneumonia. Therefore she must have viral pneumonia, which has to run its course -- usually six to eight weeks, it was said.
Until now, Sylvia, age 69, had no known health problems, except arthritis. She was a retired commercial insurance agent, but continued to work at the agency one or two days a week. She also worked out at the fitness center three or four times a week, did the housework, shopping and cooking, kept track of many who were sick, bereaved, or having birthdays and sent them cards and words of encouragement. She did a lot of email correspondence, and had recently gotten a new eMac computer and enrolled in a class at Blue Ridge Community College to learn more about using the new operating system.
Sylvia had been healthy and very active. She had always been health-conscious regarding her diet, vitamins, etc. She has never smoked, drank alcohol, taken drugs or participated in any high-risk behavior. She had always been the caregiver. Now she was so sick she couldn't even take care of herself.
As Sylvia became sicker and taking care of her took more and more time, I had less time to give to my "Our Father's Children" serial comic strip. In the comic strip I had recently been led by the Lord to show the involvement of Satan and his followers in the spread of human evil to the point that God saw that all except Noah and his family were beyond hope of ever responding to His Spirit and how God destroyed the evil people in the flood.
On June 12 I added to our web site the strip showing the ark landing in the mountains of Ararat. I did some work on another episode, but decided to put it aside with the thought of perhaps continuing the work at a later date. For now Sylvia needed my attention day and night, and I gladly gave it. Nothing else seemed important.
One day I asked, "Honey, don't you think you ought to see a medical doctor?"
"No!" It was obvious that she was irritated by my suggestion.
On June 22 I wrote the following in an email to our daughter, Robynne, who lived in West Virginia at the time. "Your mother has been very sick for three weeks now. Fever. Coughing that originates in her chest, not her throat. (She doesn't have a sore throat.) Chest pain. Pain in shoulders and lower back. The thought of food seems to make her nauseous; she eats very little and seldom. Swollen left foot and ankle. The swelling has almost gone down, but she still has difficulty walking. For a few days she could not walk at all since she couldn't put any weight on her left leg/foot. She has been pretty much bedridden."
I became very concerned about Sylvia's condition and asked again, "Honey, don't you think it would be wise to see a medical doctor about this?"
"No!!!" she exclaimed. "Stop threatening to take me to a medical doctor!"
Sylvia had been seeing Drs. Steve and Nancy Cagen for chiropractic adjustments. Sylvia had already rejected Dr. Nancy's suggestion that she see a medical doctor. Then on Monday, July 5, Dr. Steve said, "Sylvia, it's time we take this to the next level. You're very sick. You have lost weight and you're extremely weak. You're getting worse, not better. I'm really concerned. You need to see a medical doctor. Would you do that for me?"
Sylvia didn't answer at first. Dr. Cagen looked at me. I nodded in agreement.
Then Sylvia asked, "Who?"
"We haven't been in the area long, so I don't know much about the doctors here," Dr. Steve replied. "I do know Dr. Jay Buehler at the Toxaway Health Center, and I have a lot of confidence in him. Their office is closed today. But, you could go to the hospital emergency room."
It was apparent that the respiratory problem was not going to improve without medical intervention. When we arrived home, Sylvia asked me to call Dr. Buehler's office the next morning for an appointment.
Suzanne had been talking on the phone with Sylvia's sister, Trudy. Both were very concerned. Later that day Suzanne came to our home intending to try to talk Sylvia into going to a doctor. She was pleased, and relieved, to learn that Sylvia had already made the decision to see Dr. Buehler.
Tuesday, July 6 Thru Sunday, July 11, 2004
Early on the morning of July 6, I called Dr. Buehler's office and when I described Sylvia's condition to the receptionist, she told me to bring her right away. After we arrived I learned that they had no open appointments for weeks ahead. By the grace of God they had worked us in.
Dr. Buehler examined Sylvia and her x-rays and concluded that she had pneumonia.
"Hospital pneumonia, not walking pneumonia," he said.
He immediately put her on oxygen because her oxygen level was very low (80%). He told Sylvia that she needed to go to the hospital. She didn't want to go. He asked if she would rather go home and die or go to the hospital and get well.
She said, "I don't care."
I said, "Well, I care. And there are many others who also care."
This seemed to make the difference. She agreed to go to our local hospital and Dr. Buehler sent her there by ambulance.
In Transylvania Community Hospital under the care of Dr. James Shaw, Sylvia was given supplemental oxygen, increased from 3 liters per minute to 5 on July 8 to keep her oxygen level above 90% and treated for pneumonia. With x-rays, CAT scans, blood work-ups and other tests, the doctors continued to think she had pneumonia. But after another week of antibiotics, her white blood count continued to rise, and even on oxygen she continued to find it more and more difficult to breathe. She became sicker and weaker.
Monday, July 12, 2004
Since there was no explanation for Sylvia's condition continuing to worsen, Dr. Shaw decided to send Sylvia via ambulance to Mission Hospital in Asheville so that the pulmonary specialists there could take over. But getting Sylvia to agree to go would be another matter. It is interesting how God accomplished that with a series of events that began at lunchtime.
I left the hospital, intending to have a barbeque sandwich for lunch. I arrived at Hawg Wild BBQ and learned that they are closed on Mondays. Next I stopped at Arby's, but for some reason decided to leave and go to Wendy's. As I ate my lunch at Wendy's, I noticed Richard Jennings eating alone on the opposite side of the restaurant. Richard and his wife Judy are pastors of Joy Outreach Fellowship. I had not seen Richard for a year or two, so I walked over and said "Hi."
We shook hands and Richard asked how we were doing. We were both teary-eyed by the time I finished telling him about what Sylvia was going through. He said that Judy had a doctor appointment near the hospital and he would let her know that Sylvia was there. As I left the restaurant, I noticed that he was talking on his cell phone.
I hurried back to the hospital and opened the door to Sylvia's room. Judy was already there. She gave me a big smile. Sylvia was smiling too. I could tell that Judy had brightened her day.
Within minutes the nurse came in and said that Dr. Shaw had arranged for Sylvia to be moved to Mission Hospital in Asheville. Sylvia said she didn't want to go. She was concerned that Suzanne would have the additional burden of driving to Asheville and back each day in addition to working all day and spending the night with her.
"Sylvia, Suzanne is young!" Judy said.
As I listened to Judy talk Sylvia into going to Mission Hospital, I realized that God had arranged for Judy to be here at this particular time. I marveled as I remembered that I had intended to eat somewhere else, but ended up at Wendy's where I saw Richard and he called Judy, who just happened to be in the neighborhood and came right away, just in time to encourage Sylvia to be willing to receive the help God had waiting for her in Asheville.
We prayed together and then Judy helped me carry Sylvia's personal belongings to my car, while Sylvia was taken to the ambulance that would take her to Asheville. I remember telling Judy about how God was teaching me to be Sylvia's servant leader, and that He was teaching her to trust me.
Then I added, "I believe when this ordeal is over, we will enjoy a wonderful relationship that is beyond our imagination!"
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
This morning Dr. Robert J. Pritchard, pulmonary specialist, sedated Sylvia and went into her lungs with a scope, looked around and retrieved some biopsy material to determine what was growing there so that the correct antibiotic could be administered.
When Dr. Pritchard spoke with Suzanne once Sylvia was in recovery, he explained that her lungs looked good (no tumors, etc.) except for the mystery gunk that was growing in them, but he felt confident that he now had good specimens from the biopsy procedure and that he should know a lot more about what we are dealing with when he receives the test results, and once the mystery substance was identified he could move forward with effective treatment.
When I saw Sylvia, she was feeling much better, probably because of renewed hope of Dr. Pritchard being able to solve the mystery, and also because Dr. Pritchard had suctioned fluid out of her lungs while he was doing the biopsy procedure.
Sylvia's outlook was bright and cheerful until around 3:30 p.m. That's when an infectious disease consultant came into her room and began firing questions at her in a manner that reminded us of a police interrogation rather than a calm information-gathering effort. Once her head was spinning from the pace of his questions and she was unable to quickly identify the source of her infection, the doctor stepped back and said, "Well, I have no idea why you're as sick as you are. In order to figure it out, we're probably going to have to get some tissue samples from your lungs."
When Sylvia asked how that was done, he replied by saying they would cut into her chest and remove some lung tissue. Of course that was upsetting to Sylvia and sent her into a full-blown anxiety attack -- her first in her nearly 70 years of life! It was as if the spirits of fear, depression, and hopelessness entered the room with the doctor and stayed when he left.
Three hours later Sylvia was still in pathetic shape. Between 6:30 and 7:00 the respiratory therapist gave her a breathing treatment, thinking maybe it would at least help her psychologically so that she could rest. It did and she was able to sleep for a while, which helped her feel some better. The next day Suzanne sent a fax to the infectious disease doctor's superior asking that this doctor not be allowed to come near Sylvia again.
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
The pathology report came back, "no infectious material found," so exploratory surgery was scheduled for the following morning.
Dr. Pritchard had already told Sylvia before I came into the room. When he told me that they needed to do the surgery, I looked at Sylvia.
"It's alright," she said. "Dr. Pritchard told me that it would require us working together, but he is going to try to get me well so that I can go to my granddaughter's wedding." Jennifer's wedding was scheduled to take place Saturday, August 14th on Anna Marie Island, Florida. We already had motel reservations and were really looking forward to the wedding, being with family, and spending some time on the beach.
Dr. Pritchard had given Sylvia hope. So I said, "Okay."
Sylvia urged me to go ahead and leave at 5 p.m. to attend my weekly Photoshop class at Blue Ridge Community College in Hendersonville. Her evening meal arrived just before I left, so I cut up the meat and made sure everything was arranged so she could feed herself. Our grandson, Josiah, arrived just as I was leaving and stayed with Sylvia until Suzanne got off work and drove from Brevard to the hospital.
I had no idea that this would be the last time I would see Sylvia's eyes and hear her voice for months. And there would be times when I did not know if I ever would again.
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