The ambulance arrived just before five on Tuesday night.
A team of paramedics stood in our bedroom. Jen was in the doorway holding Eli, who was smiling at the medic with the mustache (I suppose he looked like Grandpa Buddy). Aedan was on the bed with me, playing with toys and occasionally asking for my help. I was told most of this later. At the time, I was having a hard enough time just staying conscious.
Ten minutes earlier I had told Jen to call 911. I’d been in bed for most of two days, laid up with an infection of some sort. Earlier that afternoon I’d taken some anti-nausea meds I hadn’t tried in a year or so. We know now that this was half the problem. The other half is still a mystery. In any case, I woke up from a nap in a haze much thicker than normal. Minutes later my body began going numb. Massive waves of heat welled up in my chest and swept from my head to my toes and back again. My heart began to race, my face went tingly, my ears rang, and I felt desperately short of breath. My vision got all snowy – like an old television set before the blue screen – and small muscles in my legs started to twitch. I’m not exaggerating when I say this: I thought I was dying.
Of all the experiences I’ve had in recent years, this one takes the cake. It was just plain scary. It wasn’t the stretcher, the ambulance, or the ER (all that is old hat). It was the feeling that life was leaving my body. Once I landed at Regions and was all hooked up to monitors, it became clear that throughout these episodes, while I thought my heart and lungs were failing, my vitals were actually fairly normal. Everything was apparently okay – except for the fact that I thought I was dying. This outrageous sensation – like Icy Hot all over my body – would come and go and last for minutes, taking my breath and all feeling away in the process.
It began to subside after a few hours at the hospital. In fact, in the in-between moments, Jen and I would joke about the trip to ER being an expensive night out. We had some rather profound conversation about life and death and trivial things, spent some time in tearful prayer, and were more or less ready to go home before they were ready to let me go, which they did just before 11:00 that night.
So five hours later the most they could say was that I had been experiencing an extreme reaction to the antiemetic I’d taken earlier. This satisfied me until ten o’clock the next morning when I began to feel it all over again. Consequently, I spent the day on the phone with doctors and on-line researching my symptoms. Quite fortunately, though I had no more answers at the end of the day than I’d had when I’d begun, I had far fewer symptoms to research. Better said, I began to feel normal again.
The rest of the week has been pleasantly unremarkable. Aside from the fact that my back hurts like crazy from so much time in bed, and I’m so very tired that it takes hours for me to wake everyday, it seems whatever it was is behind me. And I don’t mind leaving it that way – unanswered questions and all.
Whether it was the meds, a post-Shingles complication, a nasty bug, or a combination of all three, and though it was merely a neurological mess of some sort, it’s as close to feeling like dying as I’ve ever come. And it was scary. Wouldn’t want to do it again. Not that way, anyway.
In any case, it wasn’t my time, as they say. And I’m glad for that. Not that I’m not ready to be where I’m going when this life’s finished, I’m just not ready to leave. So much more to do. Consequently, though I’ve been feeling the ache to be well and healthy again much lately (able to snowboard, play ball with my kids, write for hours on end, and hold a guitar), this week I’ve been acutely aware of that desire.
Treatment continues. Only five more infusions. Twenty more days of methotrexate. Twenty-five of prednisone. Then the battle for “life-as-it-was” really begins. I’d like to get a running start. Winters around here have been hard for me the last five or six years. My body just starts freezing up. And most years, my heart does, too. I really want it to be different this year. I’ve got a fifty-bucks-a-month membership at the local YMCA I want to use. My body hurts so much so often (I get why people with migraines tend to be a bit cranky – or distant, at best). I’m able to keep ahead of it with enough pain medicine, but then I’m too tired to do the physical activity needed to heal my body beyond the pain. So I drink something caffeinated, and my gut goes nuts.
It sounds and seems like an endless cycle, but there has been progress. In the weeks just prior to this one, there was much good. Just last weekend, Jen and I did a bunch of Christmas shopping, saw the downtown Macy’s storybook display with the boys and their cousin Julia, celebrated Eli’s first birthday, led worship for two services at Living Hope Church, and went to a super-fancy wedding and reception in new dress clothes (the first suit I’ve donned in ten years). Life felt better than normal for three days in a row. And aside from the headache today, I guess it still does, really.
Christmas is great. Such a colorful celebration of the glories of a free market economy. Expensive. Stressful. Homage to the triune god of wealth, debt, and stuff. Nevertheless, follow the holiday and its story back to its roots, and you have a baby born in a barn whom angels and prophets proclaimed to be “God With Us.”
The way God came to us says much about God. He came by humble means, to say the least (“born in a barn” is typically not a nice thing to say about anybody), but he also made his appearance in the context of a mess. In devotional writings on Advent, Dietric Bonhoeffer reminds us that in Jesus, God demonstrates his desire to be with us despite the cost, AND despite the context.
I’ll celebrate that.
God knows we need him here. God knows what a mess we’ve made.
Thank you for visiting this site. Thank you for reading what I write. Thank you for praying prayers for my family and me. Thank you for sending us checks and cards and Christmas gifts. We are incredibly cared for, and grateful for every atom of it, in spite of our inability to fully convey that gratitude to everyone to whom it’s due. This last week I was made somberly aware of what a remarkable privilege it is to be able to dial three numbers on a phone and expect help and a ride to the hospital to arrive in minutes. I needed water and I had it and an IV drip bag in ample time.
Worldwide, this is not the norm. For many reasons, this fact hurts more this time of the year than it does any other. If you are like us, and looking for a way to relieve some of this burden somehow this season, it is true that we have needs and bills to pay and limited means to pay them, but for us it is not an immediate matter of life and death. There are critical needs around the globe that are met with pocket change (where one dollar goes much farther than it does when applied to our medical bills), and there are organizations that do this as efficiently as possible. One that does so well is one that digs wells in Africa. I ask you to consider Blood:Water as a channel for your gifts to the wider world this Christmas (click on the above link, or visit the Connections Page on this site to research this and other means of bringing help to those in need).
May God bless us ALL this Christmas.
PS. In an effort to be aware (and thankful) of the many ways our world has been and is being helped by the sometimes heroic but most often feeble efforts of those like you and me, let me offer this link to a downloadable MP3 message by Dr. David Livermore of Mars Hill in Michigan. A greatly encouraging glance at ways God has brought His Kingdom into our mess through us and in spite of us.