Did This Hurt Her?

A few months ago Rhema’s was blood tested for lead. Her pica was at an all-time high and she was literally eating through the window sills and gnawing on pieces of wood. We live in a colonial style house built in the 1880’s so we knew there was a chance the house had lead-based paint. Rhema and Hope’s lead levels had been tested in previous years and had been within the normal range.

On a Monday morning I was informed that Rhema’s lead levels were dangerously high, and that she needed to go to the hospital immediately for tests and x-rays. 

Doctors at Children’s Hospital gave us 2 options: a 5-day hospital stay that included continuous IV chelation treatment through a PICC line or outpatient chelation therapy that would take many months. Rhema does fairly well with hospital stays, but the transition back home is usually a nightmare. And I had visions of fighting my girl to keep her from yanking the PICC line. We decided to go with the outpatient treatment and doctors warned that as long as her lead level did not get over 40 (the normal range is 0-9), she could stay out of the hospital. The highest her level ever got was 39.

The state immediately got involved. They did inspections on the house and trained me in “hazard reduction” practices – which basically meant a lot of scrubbing floors and baseboards on my hands and knees. The state even took before and after dust samples to make sure I was cleaning right! They deemed the house “hot” (i.e. there’s a whole lotta lead), and the house has to be deleaded. (Thankfully, we just rent the house so we won’t be footing that hefty bill. But I do have to pack up the house in the next two weeks, and the girls and I will be moving into a hotel for a month while the house is deleaded.)

Brandon was able to come home from Iraq for a short time in May when we met with doctors. With his heart in his throat he asked, “Did this hurt her?”

We were told that “no lead is good lead”, that even small amounts can cause serious health problems. The high level of lead in her body and the amount of time it had been there indicated chronic poisoning. (Doctors conducted a test to measure lead in her tissues – a normal result is 30 or below; Rhema’s came back at 109.) Lead poisoning symptoms include reduced IQ, learning disabilities, hyperactivity, delayed growth, hearing problems, behavior problems, headaches, digestive issues, difficulty sleeping, and my favorite, “loss of new abilities, especially speech skills.”

I thought of all the ABA and speech therapy sessions and how hard we’ve worked over the past few years to help Rhema learn and develop. I thought of how we’d finally gotten her seizure disorder under control which meant she’d have a better chance of learning. And all this time she had yet another disadvantage, her poor little body was toxic. How much time had we lost? What gains were missed because she was poisoned? How would this impact the rest of her life?

I hated. I hated the house (so much grief in this darn house). I hated the autism that caused my 6-year old to lick baseboards and put anything and everything in her mouth. I hated myself for exposing her to it, for not seeing the signs, for not getting her tested sooner. I hated having to deal with yet one more thing.

The lead problem surfaced at a deeply painful time in our lives, and I don’t remember how I functioned for those first several weeks. I was lost in a sea of discouragement, guilt and despair like I’ve never known, and I wanted to drown in it.

But somehow the stubborn grace of God… and an undeniable peace… would not let me go.

In a hospital room years ago I “laid my Isaac down.” (I find I have to do this with both my children, but with my Rhema it’s more often, almost daily.) Those of you who have put your “Isaac” on the altar know what I’m talking about. You go against every motherly instinct you have… and you let go. In joy and tears, you take your treasure and you offer her up to the One who made her and loaned her to you. You believe that she is His’. At your core, you believe this. That He loves her far better than you do.

I trust that He who cannot miss when a sparrow falls, will care for and hold up my little Rhema Amelia Russell. And just as I look back on all the challenges and setbacks in the past years, I cannot help but see the ways the Lord has faithfully provided. At every turn I see His hand, His guidance, comfort and grace.

The past few months have involved driving to Boston several times a month to meet with doctors and test Rhema’s blood. She responded extremely well to her first round of treatment, and her levels came down. They have since rebounded and we are looking at another round of chelation. But the changes in her behavior have been astounding. A few months ago she was pinging off the walls, eating non-edibles, smearing poop, and regressing in almost every area. Today she is doing so well! She is calm, more attentive and engaged; she is understanding language and saying more words everyday.

Yes. God is good. All the time.