Personal Journey

Carpool*

Carpools. Whatever responsibility they take from you in terms of time-on-road, they drop back on you in burden-for-others. The half hour stint in rush hour is often fraught with excitement: Thanks to the idiots who use their commute to act out Grand Theft Auto and the crashes they leave behind, or the excitement of a car bursting into flames directly in front of me. Also, the ever-present excitement of will-this-17-year-old-car-make-it? I pray every morning that if I’m to break down, let me break down after I drop the boys off. Of course, it would be a bonus not to break down along Fulton Road, or Hood Road, as I call it, where the burned-out blackened crusts of houses and graffiti scream the warning: You’re not in Kansas anymore.

I may be a mite stressed as I do my leg of the carpool.

The morning began no differently than any other. The car was tomb silent, as it always is. No matter how I try to convince my son to make light conversation with our passenger, he refuses. Both refuse. They are in their iPhones. I am sort of alone. Except I can neither sing badly nor hyperventilate if I’m so inclined.

My heart decides to beat faster. Just like that. My heart, without permission from me and in response to nothing circumstantial, begins to gallop, and I’m driving and I’m thinking, what the… I’m thinking things I’ll leave out here because in a crisis I’m not thinking dag nabbit or dang or gee whiz. I have thirty minutes of Nascar rush hour ahead of me, uncomfortable company in my back seat, and I can’t feel my arms… 

I begin to rehearse how I’ll tell Luke to take over the wheel, should I pass out on I-71.

I don’t want to scare him, just to raise his DEFCON level a bit. Nothing sounds anything short of ludicrous, so I trash the idea. I debate between the fast lane, which will make this hell end sooner, assuming I don’t get pulled over or pass out, and the slow lane which will afford me an easier turn off, in the likely event that I do.

Wheezing threatens. I am drowning a bit in the car because I can’t seem to get enough air to go into my lungs. I take deep, slow breaths, praying that God will let me hang on until we get to school. Then I’ll give myself permission to hyperventalate, to cry, to pass out. I decide to stay in the middle lane and keep praying.

Praying.

Praying.

Praying as we snake through Hood Street. Praying as we close in on the school. My arms feel a bit more alive, and I think, I’ve licked this. Amen. The boys have no idea what I’m holding at bay. We are an arm’s length from one another physically, yet I feel a universe between us.

I drop them off.

I thank God.

Panic attacks can’t always be thought down. I know this. But this was a victory for me. It never materialized fully, and I went on with my day, as if I’m a completely normal person.

*Inspired by a fellow blogger whose writing often makes me smile and who also has panic attacks. I suggested he fictionalize one and see how it goes. This was meant to be my own Experiential Fiction piece, but I changed my mind and left it. I didn’t want to forget the truth before I set it to fiction. New to the panic attack scene, I’m navigating a life that involves personal (very personal) earthquakes with no seismic warning system.

 

 

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Personal Journey

Incidentally You Have a Brain Tumor and Your Van Won’t Start

I’m not whining, for the record, I’m recording. Those violins are entirely coincidental.

Ever have an experience that was so thoroughly insane that you wondered whether God-in-heaven had just bragged about you to Satan, “Have you considered my servant, X?”

March, 2014. I had pneumonia. Not walking pneumonia, mind you. Although I walked from the parking lot into the doctor’s office, mewling, and kept it up while I waited for them to work their magic and make everything better.

“Well… what have we here?” asked a motherly Indian doctor. I cried. I gasped. She said she doubted I had pneumonia but she’d do a chest x-ray just in case. I didn’t even say I told you so. Breathing the words required too much effort.

Dr. Thank-God gave me some superhero antibiotics, steroid lung mist, and a codeine cough syrup that made me think I was hearing choruses from The Grateful Dead. I looked forward to being not dead and grateful.

Convalescing is lovely for kids and old people and anyone else who can afford two weeks on her back. Not me. My refrigerator was empty, and the minions were hungry. No, starving. They’re always starving. We go straight from full-of-orange-chicken to desperately languishing. It takes five minutes, I tell you, and a mother can only take so much whining.

I shuffled into Aldi, weak and shaky, and considered turning around and going back home, but I’m prideful and didn’t want to admit weakness the kids would flog me for returning empty-handed. As I pushed the cart down one aisle and then another, I felt weaker and weaker, like my knees couldn’t be trusted. That being an entirely new and unwelcome feeling for me, I became alarmed. My heart raced, and no matter how much air I gulped, it wasn’t enough. I began to fear the very real prospect of fainting in Aldi.

It took herculean effort to put those groceries on the belt and gasp into my phone. Come… get me.

In all our 20 years of marriage, I have never asked Bob to come get me.

On a bench in Aldi, quite the spectacle, I waited. Bob was taking forever (7 minutes), and I regretted not calling the squad. I’m going to die in Bob’s car.  Because I couldn’t feel my arms and legs, because my heart was completely out of control, because I couldn’t breathe– I sincerely believed I might be dying. What a relief to make it to the ER. Much rather die there.

The intake nurse asked if I ever had a panic attack before.

No. I don’t have panic attacks. I’m here for you to fix this whole weak kneed, heart pounding, head hurting, unable to breathe thing I’ve got going on. Don’t judge me, just fix it.

I think the strategy in ER’s is to make you wait until you either 1. die or 2. get better on your own. My symptoms worked themselves out while I lay there waiting for test results. #2 for me.

The doctor told me they didn’t know what caused my presenting symptoms, but they had found something else while they were in there looking around. An incidental finding, he called it. A mass, he called it, about 7 millimeters diameter in my brain.

[record screech]

I know metric measurements, and I know what diameter is. And I thoroughly know masses don’t belong in one’s brain. Still, I held up my fingers and asked: This?  Like a marble? Yes, that. He was a nice-enough guy. He was just punching me in the gut with his incidental finding. It’s hard to like someone when they’re doing that, even if they speak like Buddha and gently touch your skull while illustrating. I wouldn’t lose sleep over it, he told me. Just see this neurosurgeon…

Don’t lose sleep over it?  I have pneumonia and a brain tumor and I still don’t know what mutiny happened inside my body to bring me in here in the first place.

Have you considered my servant, Kelly?  Only that could explain the ridiculous pile-up of medical afflictions with which I found myself. Don’t lose sleep over it, snort.

Bob put his arm around me, and we hobbled to our van, aware we still had a trunk full of groceries in the Aldi parking lot. I was in shock and beat down and mumbling bits of Scripture to myself.

The van was dead. The whirring, moaning sound it made left little doubt. In my mind I laughed that I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening maniacal laugh reserved for the truly absurd. I wouldn’t be more surprised than if we walked out of the ER to a couple of dairy cows in our parking space.

What I know now, without a doubt, is there is no hedge and no escape from the brokenness of our world.  Anything can and will happen. Jesus tried to warn me (John 16:33b), but I’m more of an experiential learner: In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. 

He has, I tell you– overcome. It’s been more than a year since they discovered my marble. I find it a handy excuse when I forget things or am generally scatterbrained. Maybe I’ll have it cut out someday if it gets unwieldy. Life gets unwieldy sometimes, like that day. But then there’s a next day, and a next. And eventually you can look back and laugh, not even maniacally. You can look back with Jesus and watch your personal storm together like you’re watching a movie, and he looks at you and you look at Him, and He winks.