It’s 12:30 in the afternoon on a scorching Chicago summer day. The room we are about to enter is stark white reminding me that I'm in a hospital. The nurses are asked to clear out of their lounge as this will be the location where lives are changed.
My husband Keith and I are the first to now enter the somber room. We head to the other side of a stately square maple table that seems to encompass the rather small space. Over the next couple of minutes it seems that every resident and fellow working on the PICU floor that day has come to watch the upcoming display. By the time everyone has come in there is standing room only. I think, “Why do ALL these people need to be in here? Do they think they are at the movies getting ready to watch a show? I’m surprised they don’t have their popcorn!”
Finally the PICU and Pediatric Neurologist Attendings arrive. Two seats have been saved at the table to the left of me. At this point I am more nervous than I have ever been before in my life. My stomach is doing somersaults as we await the verdict about to be handed down. Deep inside my already wounded heart it knows what we’re about to be told with my brain waging war saying, “There is hope. Don’t you dare give up now. She is still alive.”
The neurologist starts to speak and it’s like the world starts to slow down to a snail’s pace as I try to comprehend what is being said. Suddenly through the fog I hear, “Your daughter will never be the same again. The little girl you have raised and grown to love is forever gone.” Before the doctor iterates all the words my world instantly crumbles down all around me as my worst nightmare has just come true. I sit there sobbingly crying with an avalanche of tears I never knew could exist in just one person. In what seems like the blink of an eye my life has now changed into an unexpected realm of grief and thrust into an unimaginable reality. My brain is simply unable to wrap itself around all of this.
Chapter 1 – In the Beginning…
It has not come
am I really that late?
It’s been 29 days
according to the date.
They said it can’t happen,
it’s not possible you see;
But God has other plans
that happen to be just for me.
I go see the doctor
just to make sure
that I might be expecting
a little him or a her.
For the doctor says
I just need to wait to see
nine months from now
you will be happy as can be
The wait may seem long
but time will fly by
because it will happen
in just the blink of an eye.
When your little one you’ve wait for
finally comes on out
your family will be complete
there will be no more doubt.
The first time I saw Keith we were both in the Army stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. My battalion had just moved to these new barracks about two weeks prior. We had over sixty percent female soldiers compared to Keith’s being almost one-hundred percent males with the exception of one. I can only imagine being an eighteen to twenty-something guy and finding the plethora of new “friends” to be made.
He and several of his buddies came by my barracks to visit two of my next door neighbors. I was standing out on my balcony in front of my door when one of the guys stated talking to me. Then Keith came over. He looked like he might have been sixteen or seventeen year old. I thought one of my neighbors was his sister.
I asked him, “So are you here visiting your sister?”
“So, who are you with?”
He points to the guys and says, “I’m with them.”
At this point I am kind of confused. If he is not my neighbor’s brother, why was he here? He looked too young to be a solider so I asked, “Are one of those guys your brother?”
“No. I’m in the Army. I live right over there,” as he is pointing across the way to the barracks on the other side.
“How old are you?”
“I am twenty-two.”
I am dumbfounded and don’t believe him and said, “You are not.”
By this point he started to get irritated and replies back, “Yes I am.”
In my not so appealing, persistent manner I don’t ask but instead tell him, “Show me your ID.”
“Then I don’t believe you. Show me your ID.”
Exasperated he said, “Fine!” So he took his right hand and put it in his jean shorts back pocket. He pulled out his black leather wallet, opened it up, took out his military ID and handed it to me. I took it and immediately looked at his birthday. Shock became written upon my face as I felt the heat creeping in on my cheeks. I tentatively hand him back his ID and said, “So you really are twenty-two.”
In an irritated manner he replies back, “I told you.” He decided he had no interest in me what so ever and headed back over with his other friends.
I quickly got over it and finished talking to his friend as I had absolutely no interest in him either. The first thing that turned me off was that he smoked. I mean, who likes to kiss a guy that tastes like an ash tray. The second thing was that he was only about an inch taller than me and I was five feet seven inches tall. If I were to wear any kind of heals I would have been taller than him and I hated that. The last thing that bothered me was how incredibly skinny he was at about 130 pounds. I mean, he had muscles and a six pack but we were basically the same size. I thought it was strange.
The following Saturday I invited one of Keith’s friends over to my room to watch a movie. On his way over he runs into Keith. He asks, “Where ya headed?”
“Over to that new girl Kristena’s room to watch a movie. Do you have any plans?”
Keith replied, “No. Just hangin’ around here today.”
“Want to come with?”
Keith thinks on this. He really didn’t like me that much but didn’t have anything better to do so he said, “Sure, why not.”
They both headed over unbeknownst to me. When I heard the knock on my door and opened it I was shocked Keith was there. He must have noticed the surprised look on my face and said, “Jeff said you guys were watching a movie together and invited me to come along. I hope you don’t mind.”
It wasn’t like I was going to turn him away now. Besides I really didn’t care so I invited them both in.
Who would have ever thought that this simple act would lead into a friendship and then
blossom into something more. Over the next month we started to spend almost every day together just talking and getting to know each other more and more. He had become my heart’s desire and we officially became a couple on July 8, 1993. So much for my list of turn offs. Those kind of got thrown out the window.
It amazes me sometimes just how quick our relationship grew. I don’t know the exact moment I feel in love with Keith but by our two month anniversary on September eighth, I wrote this entry in my diary:
It seems weird that I have been active duty for 5 months now. Today, Keith & I have been together for 2 months and we could not even spend it together. I think last month he had to work till 10 o’clock & we did nothing that night. I’ve known him for the past 4 months. I love him dearly. Granny really wants to see a picture of him or him & I together. I want to go get some professional pictures done to send to people but I don’t know how he would feel about that. You know what is scary is the fact I can see myself marrying Keith. I’ve always had a dream that I was getting married & there was a man I was getting married to but I could not see his face. It was just blank. Well, I have been putting Keith’s face there. I can actually see myself marrying Keith. I can’t imagine my name as Kristena Marie Tunstall. That seems so weird to me. I like Patton better but it would not make much of a difference because that would be my name & I would get used to it. It is just something I’m not used to. Actually now that I think about it, I like it.
By December we started to talk about getting married and spending the rest of our lives together. I could no longer imagine living the rest of my days without him right beside me. We set the wedding date for September 10, 1994 back in my home town of Sacramento, California.
I was so excited as I had been dreaming of my wedding day since I was little girl. My wedding dress would be pristine white with a full length train. It would have an open heart in both the front and the back of the bodice. There would be hand sewn beading and gems sewn throughout the dress. The sleeves would be made of lace. It would simply be breath taking and I would look like a princess. Keith would be in a black Armani tux with tails. There would be one solid white strip going down the side of each leg on the outside. The colors for the wedding were emerald green and burgundy.
The things we always hope and dream of don’t always get to come true. Life happens and we have to alter those dreams to accommodate them. This happened for Keith and I when my Granny had been diagnosed with cancer and was only given a few months to live if we were lucky. This brought home for Keith and I the reality of how short life can really be. We decided to forgo the fairy tale wedding I had always dreamed of because in the end Keith and I were the only ones that mattered. On February 18, 1994, only a little more than seven months after we had become a couple, we headed to the courthouse with my friend Tina, Keith’s friend Mike and his wife Courtney. I wore a dark blue and ivory stripped skirt with a delicate white long sleeved sweater. Keith wore tan Dockers and a solid hunter green, button up long sleeve shirt. It was an informal, quiet ceremony. We pledged our lives together for whatever road God had us headed down. All we knew is we loved each other and could not wait to get started on our new journey.
Over the next several years we had many ups and downs that most newly married couples go through. In 1996 I decided to get out of the Army. Keith decided to get off of active duty and go into the reserves about a year and half after me. We decided we wanted to be by family so we chose Chicago. His mom, dad, and all seven of his brothers and sisters all lived there.
We were happy. Our life was better than that first veil of glistening snow that falls on the ground signaling that winter has arrived. All that was missing were children in our lives as we wanted to start our family. Only God knew the path to that miracle would be a hard, complicated, winding road.
After many years without using protection and never getting pregnant we both decided to get tested to see if there was anything wrong. I ended up having a mild case of endometriosis while Keith had sperm issues with his count, how fast they moved, and how quickly they died. We were told the chance of us becoming pregnant the ol’ fashioned way was next to impossible. Unfortunately for the doctor’s, what is impossible for them becomes possible when it comes to God plan because on June 7th I had this one day period. Only three days later I decided to take a pregnancy test to rule out being pregnant as I thought there might be something wrong and this way when I went to the OB/GYN I could tell him I wasn’t.
The morning of June tenth at 6:30 I headed straight to the bathroom and closed the door. I didn’t want to tell Keith what I was doing as this was just a precaution before heading to the doctor. I opened one of the wooden cabinet doors and dug around for the pregnancy test I knew I had in there. I always had at least one in the house and with as many as I bought all the time I think I should have owned stock in the company. I took one of the small, disposable four ounce plastic cups from the bathroom and went pee into it. I removed the cap off the test and dipped it into the liquid for fifteen seconds, put the cap back on and laid it on the small white plastic drawers that were on the ground beside the toilet.
The test said to wait the typical three minutes before reading the result. Normally I would have just stood there watching the stick as the urine would have moved across the test window over to the control window. Then I would have sat there for the next three long minutes as the result always showed negative with my disappointment soon to follow. This time would be no different as I already knew it would be negative so I went to fix me my morning bowl of Total Raisin Bran, my current flavor of the month.
About 6:32 I decided to go check the test because in my experience you never needed to wait the allotted three minutes the instructions always claimed. I headed back down the hall, go into the bathroom and pick up the test. To my utter shock and pure amazement there is this little magical plus sign in front of my eyes. The ear piercing scream that came out of my mouth must have scared the pea-wadens out of my poor hubby because he came running through the apartment to the bathroom and yelled, “Are You Okay?”
With the biggest smile plastered to my face I hand him the test and scream in excitement, “I’m pregnant. I can’t believe it. I’m pregnant. The test came back positive.”
He took the test from my hands and looked at the result. He started to grin from ear to ear and said, “I guess the doctors were all wrong as God had other plans for us.”
I went to work that morning with the biggest smile on my face. I went to the OB/GYN later that day where he confirmed that I was indeed pregnant and my due date was February 8, 2000. I guess you could say that June 10th was one of the happiest days of my life. The hard part was just getting through that next nine months.