August 31- A Day to Celebrate Life

Today is the 2 year anniversary of my hernia surgery. I had been suffering from a right, femoral hernia for about two years and I kept thinking the pain would go away. The summer before my surgery, the pain got so bad that I had to use my grandmother’s old walkers to get around. I was READY to have the surgery. It was supposed to be no big deal, laparoscopic, the surgeon had done “hundreds of them.” Overall, my health was good, I was young, it was an uncomplicated procedure done by an experienced physician. I really didn’t think that much could go wrong. If anything, I figured a problem with anesthesia could be the only complication. As it happens, the anesthesia went very well. However, the moment I opened my eyes in the recovery room, I knew that something was wrong.

surgery Me, right before they wheeled me back 8-31-2016
Unfortunately, the searing, burning pain and the shocks of what felt like lightening through my core, are very much imprinted in my memory. I asked the nurse immediately to please call my doctor, something was WRONG. Hazily, I saw her make the phone call, shake her head, and hang up. She returned to my bedside and said that the doc wouldn’t be coming. I should take my Percocet and motrin and go home.

It’s a LONG ordeal to describe, so I’ll hit the highlights. I had urgent follow-up appointments, ct scans, drainage of a hematoma that they thought might be causing a problem (it wasn’t), in and out of the ER, admitted to the hospital multiple times, more procedures, work ups, etc. My surgeon said that my insurance wouldn’t cover anything in terms of a revision for at least 6 months. He couldn’t fix anything that went wrong, for half a year. He told me to go find my own pain specialist until the 6 month mark. That was it. I was curled in a ball, in the bed all day every day. Intermittent fever, couldn’t walk without crutches because of the pain, sit in a chair, go to the bathroom, or sleep. I knew I couldn’t make it 6 months.

Finally, I called the surgeon’s office and explained that something HAD to happen, he had to see me, DO something- I couldn’t live like that. They called me back and oh so benevolently, admitted me to the hospital- without decent orders for over the weekend. I lay in the bed, in a ball, shaking from pain. I had a fever. One young nurse cried and left the room- she wouldn’t take care of me any more because she couldn’t hold it together. An older male nurse came and stood by my side- I was in a haze, but at some point he stormed out saying “this just isn’t right!”. There was nothing that they could do to alleviate my pain- my physician was gone for the weekend and hadn’t left instructions for adequate care. They weren’t able to get an IV in, because I was so dehydrated from being denied water for so long. James was working, and I retreated into a bubble, mentally. I prayed over and over, nothing intelligible, just begging for mercy. Then, I heard voices- a song.

“Thank you for being a frieeeend!! Travel down the road and back again…”

Golden Girls

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Click the link to hear the song! You’re welcome.

My dear, wonderful friends from high school completely shocked me and all came to the hospital (one lived in New York, one in Miami, one in Atlanta) for a surprise visit. They were singing the theme song from the Golden Girls as they entered the room. My angels had arrived! They went to bat for me and very long story short-they got a wheelchair and busted me out of there like it was Alcatraz! One of them drove me to the hospital where James was on call and I was admitted there for the weekend, with the intention of getting a direct transfer to Emory on Monday. They took great care of me, and it took until Tuesday, but I made it up to Emory. I sat in a triage room for 13 hours. THIRTEEN. That’s not an exaggeration. My mom came up to meet me there, and I remember the immense relief we both felt when they finally got me to my room, at 4am.

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Me, in the wheelchair right after we got outside the hospital. I managed a real smile. Hard not to when surrounded by so much love. They were my answered prayer that day!

My prayers were answered when my dear, loyal friends came and helped me. I prayed that there would be no complications getting me admitted, and although it took FOREVER, I will never forget the feeling of relief when I fell asleep that first night. I was scared, but I felt like I was in the right place. Surely, they could fix me.

The rest of the story is to be continued… Sometimes, people have the privilege of hearing God answer their prayers in the moment and other times, it’s only evident what was happening in hindsight. Still in others, it doesn’t make sense at all on this side of Heaven. I can honestly say that all three have applied to me throughout this journey.

Today also happens to be the Feast of St. Aidan! August 31st was a day worth celebrating in our home, for the past decade. St. Aidan is the patron saint of firefighters, and my oldest son’s name means “fiery one.” It could not describe him more perfectly. St. Aidan was an Irish monk and missionary, who spread Christianity to all of northern England in the 7th century. He travelled without ceasing during his lifetime, spreading the Gospel to everyone from the upper classes, to children and slaves.

aidan  Recent pic of Aidan

We like to acknowledge and honor each one of the children’s saints- whether from their first name, middle, or birthday. It’s so sweet how each of them feels a kinship with these special souls throughout history, who loved our Lord. We tell stories about St. Rose of Lima, and St. Matthew the Apostle. Not gonna lie- St. Nicholas day might be everyone’s favorite because we do the traditional gifts, which include the all-important chocolate!!!

Earlier in the week, Aidan asked me what we were going to do for “our” special day. August 31 will always be significant to me. Best way I can think to describe it is, it’s a second birthday. The new “me” was born that day. My life changed, drastically, and I will never be the same. I’ve told friends and strangers alike that I feel like George Bailey, in It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve been given a second chance to live my life- that seemed ordinary before, but now, everything is in Technicolor. EVERYTHING is brighter, sweeter, a privilege. I was driving to the grocery store with the kids in the car, and I had a migraine the other day. I thought “oh, I wish it would go away, I want to feel fine.” Then it hit me- I’m driving a car! Taking care of my own children with no help! Going to the grocery store to buy food to cook! I didn’t do ANY of those things for well over a year. Over. A. Year. I’m lucky enough to grocery shop with a migraine! All of a sudden, my mood lifted and I started to sing along with the radio with true joy.

 

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A picture of my high school friends in April 2018, Savannah girls!

My “bad” day was what I had only dreamed about a year ago. What a blessing a grocery trip can be. Cleaning up a spilled sippy cup isn’t a burden because my legs used to be so weak I couldn’t squat and then stand back up. I couldn’t hold my daughter in the bathtub, couldn’t rock her to sleep. Now, if she pops up at 2am, I relish the chance to hold her close and rock away. Yes, August 31 is a big day for us. My oldest son’s namesake, and my second birthday. It IS a wonderful life!

Fixed the Computer!

 

 

I’ve had so many stories, thoughts and experiences that I wanted to share, but our laptop was on the fritz. I’ve tried to get the kids to be more tech savvy and losing Google Chrome was the result of them having more computer time! I have no idea where it went, or why it doesn’t work anymore. I’ll figure that out later! I wrote something a while back, in the midst of a season of change. I’m still in that season. I feel like, for two years, I’ve been redefining who I am and what my role is every single day. I’m trying to find my footing so to speak, and it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be. Trials change you. You can’t walk through fire without getting burned, and I did. Badly. But the wounds healed slllooooowly. Veeeeeery slowly. The change was imperceptible from day to day. The only time I realized it was when I looked back. Where was I a few months ago? Where am I now? It wasn’t a giant boom, I didn’t wake up one day and shout “I’m healed!” What a cool story that would have been, right? No, it was gradual, and it’s still happening. I’m a work in progress.

This is what I wrote back in May:

IMG_1091      A lot has happened around here over the last few months! I keep telling myself I will write when I feel better and have the spare time. I’ve been putting off making phone calls to make vacation plans for the summer, and procrastinating about seeing a doctor whom I like a great deal- but I want to feel even better when he sees me again. Sometimes I have a very good reason for putting off plans or items on a to-do list, but frequently it’s an overall attitude of “when my life is perfect, then I will do it!” (whatever “it” is). I think that part of that mindset stems from fear- fear that has been so deeply imbedded in my soul for so long, it’s hard to break free from it completely. I always hold back some- will I get too tired? Will I make pain worse? Will I commit to something and then disappoint loved ones? The past two years have been traumatic for me, and I can’t deny that they have left an indelible mark in my mind. How will I choose to use this experience? These memories?
The past few months have been a leap of faith for me, and a process of letting go of fear even more. I had been on nerve pain medication (Lyrica or Neurontin) as well as pain medication (fentanyl, oxycodone, etc.) for a year and a half. I tried over half a dozen other medications as well, and suffered through every awful side effect that came in tiny print, in the little booklet from the pharmacist. My body lost all muscle, appetite, I lost a third of my body weight, and my hair thinned a lot. I always knew that the medications were temporary, and I was very hard on myself for taking anything for pain. I carried a lot of guilt over that. My dear friend Kathleen told me at the beginning, “Amy, you can worry about pain, or medication. Pick one, not both.” So, I picked pain and took the meds that my kind, conservative pain management doctor said would help.
The timeline to come off of everything was all my idea. Once we FINALLY found the right combo of interventional procedures like nerve blocks and injections, I was SO ready to be done with the meds that had allowed me to have some sanity in the midst of great pain. I cannot put into words just how awful that part has been! Fentanyl withdrawal is a special kind of torture. That was last year. The past three months I stopped the last of the nerve pain meds and oral pain medication. I even stopped motrin, because of nausea all of the time. I still had chronic pain every day when I stopped taking meds, so I think of it as a leap of faith- faith that everything would be ok, and I would be strong enough to handle life with some pain. After the first two months passed, my nervous system calmed down a lot. There’s a long, technical explanation for that, that I understand, but I won’t explain fully, since it might bore everyone!
I finally have an appetite! I would literally lie in my bed, curled in a ball, and think of all of the foods that I would eat one day, when the nausea was gone. Krispy Kreme topped the list- every time! I did research, James did, my parents did- everyone was so supportive about this next phase of trying to get my overall health back. Not gonna lie- it’s been brutal. B-R-U-T-A-L. I read that the hardest part of stopping any substance that the body is used to, is the mental battle. People use the substance as a crutch of some sort. I know how blessed I am to say that I never had that battle. At all. I have experienced every physical symptom of tolerance and withdrawal, but zero mental symptoms. I give God 100% of the credit there. Everyone has struggles in life, and I don’t think that I am better than anyone who did have to struggle with addiction.
While I am SO glad that this particular struggle is behind me, I am grateful to have gone through it. Yes, I actually said that. I have a deeper understanding of people who have addictions, and who are afraid to live their lives without a crutch. I am less judgmental- I never realized that I was before! Oh, my heart goes out to people who have to suffer through the physical symptoms that I did, AND fight a mental battle as well. If I could wrap my arms around someone suffering right now, I would do it. One of my favorite docs told me that I didn’t have the cravings or miss the meds because I didn’t let them become part of my identity. They, along with many, many interventional procedures, were a means to an end and not who I am.
Every day, I have some symptom- something that reminds me that I’m not perfectly well. Like the thorn in Paul’s side, it’s always there. I put off doing a lot of things for the past few months, because at first, I was dealing with withdrawal and increased pain while my nerves adjusted. Then, I felt weak because I hadn’t eaten well or exercised for years. Yep, that would sideline just about anyone. Daily, I started to obsess over small improvements and mark my existence and my success by how my body felt or looked. I realized last week (yeah, it took me that long!) that I had made physical well-being an “idol” in my life. I don’t think that wanting to feel healthy and strong is bad, not at all. However, obsessing over it and thinking that life will “begin” when everything is perfect- that is wrong. I failed to appreciate the progress I had made, because I was always looking on the horizon for something better. Anything can become an idol, and frequently, it’s something that appears to be good and just. Who doesn’t want to feel good? Ok, another question- who has perfect health? Hmm… Silence.
No one has perfect health, and I’m not sure why I kept thinking that it was an attainable goal. These mortal bodies are just that- fallible, fragile, and will not last forever. If I set my sights on things above, our Lord’s steadfast love, and I search for contentment in my soul, then anything that comes my way in life won’t knock me down. Like a strong wave crashing onto the beach- did you ever walk out into the surf at the beach as a child, and let the waves hit you? Sometimes they can knock you down, but usually, if you know just when to jump, they break and you are still standing. When you are lying in bed at night, after a day at the beach, sometimes you still have the sensation of waves hitting you…but you are snug in bed, and not being rocked by the ocean anymore. The waves have left their mark.

 

 


I looked at James the other day and told him I was just going to embrace whatever came my way- good or bad, but I didn’t want to wait anymore to enjoy things. I can lie beside little Lana and admire her profile and her little dimpled cheeks, even if I’m dizzy or tired. I can laugh, hard, even if I’m sore. You’ve heard the phrase “progress over perfection”? I lost sight of that. I am incredibly grateful for the progress that I have made. I will focus on that, and I’m not going to wait to celebrate anything.

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First swim meet of the 2018 season, on my 37th birthday. I was able to attend the whole thing!