Personal Journey

Happy Brain Surgery Anniversary to Me

April 6th, 2018. It was the Cleveland Indians’ home opener. I was at University Hospital having an opener of my own. Brain surgery.

Kumquats: Joanna Kosinska

A year later the skin on my head is still tight. I often run my fingers along the dents in my skull. They can’t be seen because my superhero surgeon managed to extract a kumquat-sized tumor without shaving my hair. My jog pace is three minutes slower and hurts worse. I mess up numbers and dates with freakish consistency (just ask my students). But thank you, God. I can write. And teach. And hug. And walk. I can have coffee with my grown daughters, watch my son graduate high school, watch my teenager swim. I live with a new perspective: life isn’t forever. Don’t waste.

Carpe diem, we’re told. Seize the day. I am a Jedi-Master at day-seizing. I climb volcanos. I sled head-first and backward. I slide down the hot metal handrail in swanky pools. I dance the Stanky Leg stone sober and the YMCA without regard for which way the “C” goes. I rock the high dive, the low dive, and any balcony or roof within ten feet of a pool.

Professional day-seizer, right? Au contraire mon frère. That is thrill seeking. To carpe diem is to hug tightly, to look someone square in the eyes, to hold hands like they’re welded together. To carpe diem is to write love letters, make meatloaf, be interruptable, do dishes, leave the dishes, serve a meal, smile, cry, all of it without vanity.

When things go south—not just hiccup south, but kamikaze-nose-dive south—God takes over. It’s magnificent.

But first comes poverty. Blessed are the poor in spirit. I remember going to church and wanting to stop my ears at the upbeat worship songs. I wanted to scream, I had this piano dropped on me! Why are we all singing like it’s standard ops? Where are the thunderclouds? Where is Mozart’s Requiem? I could not sing. Those words weren’t for me. Are you kidding me? Poor? I was destitute in my spirit.

We think we deserve a smooth road. We pray for asphalt, lay down good habits and programs to assure a wrinkle-free trip; we buy apps, sign up for accountability groups. Sometimes we sin for a toll road. And when a root trips us or a bridge is out—don’t we just howl in indignation? How could you, God? How DARE you! Fact is, the Awful with-a-capital-A moment has to come in order for the After to come. Like Jesus. His Awful was the cross. We live in his After. I’m glad he went through with it. He had a choice.

When you know something is very wrong with you, but you don’t know exactly what, or you can’t fix it with diet and exercise…you are meek. You’re at the mercy of your broken body, of doctors, nurses, health insurance policies, lab techs, maintenance personnel (did they sanitize the instruments?), high-tech computers, the unbroken flow of electricity during your surgery. You feel at the mercy of gobs of stuff. But that’s a lie. You’re at the mercy of only one thing: God.

There are no promises of healing. Only: blessed are the meek. This I experienced. I am blessed by the fact that my brain surgery was a success, but even beforehand I was blessed by the way I felt…held is the best word for it. Not alone. Not forsaken. Not punished. I was exactly where God wanted me to be. For other people, the place to be was the baseball home opener. I cannot compare myself to others. Do you think it’s possible I wasn’t jealous of those hotdog-eating fans with their perfect health? I wasn’t. That was my miracle.

In the face of no guarantees, here is my takeaway:

Love.

Love however it looks for you. Maybe it means speaking up. Or shutting up. Love can be as easy as smiling at a stranger. But it’s more fun when it’s kissing my husband. Bob taught me what love under duress looks like. The mention of 2018 gives him the willies, but I have fond memories of his arm around me, his hand in mine, his Oscar-worthy declarations of you’ll-be-fine. And he was right. Ever the optimist is my husband. He’s trying to get me to see things that way. It’s less painful to be an optimist. But see, Bob would have said, “It’s more pleasant to be an optimist.” I still have halfway to go. 😉

Today I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to try. (It’s scary and exciting and entirely legal.) What is it, you ask? I’ll let you know if I actually go through with it.

Cheers! And happy brain surgery anniversary to me.

 

 

 

 

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Personal Journey

My Lightning

There once was a woman, a wife, a mother, a teacher, a writer, a child of God. In that order.

She was interrupted. It was a lightning strike.

(Your chances of that happening are like your chances of being stru—)

Lightning: March 8th, in the middle of teaching a class.

A brain tumor.

After the strike and in the singed landscape, the woman noted what remained:

the woman

a child of God

a wife

a mother

a teacher, who sometimes wrote about the lightning.

In that order.

29 days she waited for them to cut open her head. Sometimes she joked about the doctors taking her unwritten stories; mostly she cried and reached for the strong arms of her husband and the stronger arms of God. Kindnesses settled on her like quilts: her family and friends, the prayers of strangers.

45 days she waited to hear the word.

Benign.

Thank you, LORD.

April 23, 2018, Benign.

Personal Journey

Post Brain Surgery Update

I had brain surgery on April 6th. I spent four days in the hospital, and have been pretty much fused to my recliner since my return home. I sleep there, day and night.

I know God held me together as Bob drove to the hospital. At 5:45 it was still dark. Not many cars were on the road as we passed through the city, but the lights of the baseball stadium were on. My surgery day was also the Indians home opener. It reminded me that life goes on, even when my personal world is having an earthquake. I squeezed Bob’s hand and felt the prayers of my family and friends settle on me. This is happening was a recurring thought. God help me, this is actually going to happen. I was thankful too, that soon it would be over. I wanted it to be over, but I didn’t want it to happen, but it had to happen, so I wanted it to be over…if that makes any sense.

Alone in my curtained pre-op room, I prayed. I will be forever able to visualize that room, that curtain, the scratchy way the overlapping gowns felt against my skin, how the instant I put on a hospital gown, I got brittle inside. I lay in bed and hoped they’d let Bob come back soon. I was glad for the distraction of nurses and the various people who came to put on my compression socks or get my information. My anesthesiologist looked like Clark Kent. Even Bob said so. Dr. Plant radiated confidence, which is a really nice attribute if you’re going to put someone in a near-death state. In order to go to sleep this way, the first thing that happens is you’re given medication to send your blood pressure plummeting. Sometimes it proves difficult to place the breathing tube, which is important since the body won’t be doing any breathing on its own. Then there’s the disquieting statistic that, although operating table anesthesia deaths are rare, 1 out of 20 people die within one year of having general anesthesia, often due to post-operation complications and the trauma inflicted on the body. And I’m not talking about old people, either. For those over age 65, the chances are 1 in 10 you’ll be dead within one year of having general anesthesia.

Of course, I hadn’t looked into those statistics before my surgery. The less I knew about what was going to happen to me, the better. If you don’t mind blood and are curious about how really smart folks dig into skulls, you can watch this craniotomy video.

Whew! Glad to have that part over. Thank you, God, for a successful surgery with no complications. And my scar? I’ve got just about the prettiest brain surgery scar ever. Thank you, Dr. Bambakidis.

During my post-op recovery, I felt a deep body trembling, so in addition to the narcotics I was already getting, they put me on valium. Every so often my drugs would cross over just right and I’d be in my hospital bed saying how wonderful everything was, how groovy…and wasn’t the world just the greatest place? I’d smile lazily and one of my eyes would close while the other stayed at half mast. Other times, when my drugs were running low, things got ugly.

There were so many blessings relating to my brain tumor. One of them was that my missionary sister from Tanzania flew home to be here for my operation. Her presence was absolutely necessary and God-ordained. We didn’t know we needed her, but we really needed her. And I can never thank her enough for making that sacrifice. She was able to visit some supporters and family and was our hands and feet in those critical post-surgery days.

Unfortunately, for most of my hospital visitors I was not good company. I’d be in one of those drug crossover moments and excitedly text friends and family to come. Then, between the time they received the text and the time they actually arrived, I was feeling awful. After that, I tried to be more careful about scheduling visitors, even at home. I’ve been so blessed by friends and family. I’m tempted to start naming people who’ve loved on me in crazy-generous ways, who made this difficult time as sweet as it could possibly be…but I don’t trust myself not to leave someone out, and the outpouring of love has been so overwhelming. I could write a book of kindnesses. And the fact that they abound makes me no less thankful for each one. I lay in bed and remember each kind letter, email, flower, or gift. I think of how God loved me and showed Himself to me in the goodness of people.

My husband was chief in this goodness. He stayed by my side the entire time I was at the hospital. After the first sleepless night spent on that bench, they gave him a cot of his own. His being there gave me great comfort. How I do love this man!

I was reading and came across this quote: “…it is important to know of pain… It destroys our self-pride, our arrogance, our indifference toward others. It makes us aware of how frail and tiny we are and of how much we depend on [God].” – The Chosen

I would not change one thing that happened to me; I would not un-live one moment of it. But it was painful, and my over-and-over prayer is that I will learn the lesson of pain. My brain tumor was my full-on collision with God. I remember praying: You have my full attention now. These days spent in my recliner and, as I get better, ambling about the house, they are slow and quiet. I can read or pray or listen to friends. I have no excuse for not drawing near to God and man because I can do nothing else, go no place else. How can I not be grateful for this time? I must be careful to spend it wisely. Pray I do.

I appreciate you reading my update. It’s been hard for me to think too deeply about the specifics of my surgery, which is why I’m focusing more on how it affected me spiritually. But I welcome any questions about how the process went for me.