|Spring 2006 Issue|
This column has changed three times now. Back in January, I saw a segment on one of those hour news programs about a woman writer who was in a committed lesbian relationship, but wanted to do a book on what it was really like to live as a man in todayís world. So, with the help of some professional make-up and "masculinity" lessons she went undercover. It sounds pretty bizarre, but was actually quite well done. She had some very insightful observations including some on male intimacy. I originally started writing a perspective called "Male Intimacy & Christian Marriage" but decided the topic and my thoughts about it were way too complex for this space. I still think it is an important issue. Anyone interested in the topic should feel free to stop by the Center to discuss it.
Then I was going to share something I did not write, titled "A Gift," about "being old," and though obviously written by someone of the opposite gender, it reflected quite well my own feelings about growing older. It is still in this newsletter later on.
However, the events of March trumped both the others and begins as follows.
The story could begin in early childhood, but for now I will start in December or January this past winter. One day I finished up my computer work at home and went out to shovel some wet (heavy) snow on my way next door to the Center. You know those cramps you can get in your leg (calf) where you cannot move in any direction without it hurting more? Well, I got one of those in my chest which expanded to my left armpit area while shoveling the snow. I was aware there was an outside chance these could be the signs of a heart attack, and not wanting to collapse and die in the wet cold if it were, I went in to lie down just inside the front door of the house. I put my total focus on God (this is what I do with leg cramps in order to allow the muscles to relax by not focusing on them) and basically said, "I suspect this is a muscle cramp but also know it could possibly be a heart attack. I have surrendered my whole life to You, and this is Your call, including if this is my time to pass from this earth." Well, in about ten minutes the pain subsided, (doctors recently confirmed it was not a heart attack) and I went on about my business, taking some time at the Center to relax.
I did not do anything about that incident, beyond mentioning it to a couple of people, at the time, but over the next couple of months I noticed some numbness in my finger tips and toes when I would wake up in the morning. From my herbs and vitamins training days, I suspected I was having a circulatory system problem and finally decided in late February I should go to my family physician (I had not been there in four years) to see whatís what, figuring I might need to alter my vitamin and herbs to address the problem if one was developing.
My doctor ordered some blood tests and said she would like to send me for a stress test. She advised that if they found any problems, they (the cardiologist) might want to do a heart cath (inserting dye into the heart through a tube to see any blockages) which could lead to putting in stints. She knows my philosophies about intrusive non-natural medical procedures, and as I offered that I would not necessarily proceed with those even if the stress test revealed a problem, we discussed whether or not to do the stress test at all. I said my purpose in being there was to find the truth, but I would leave it up to her. The stress test itself was not intrusive and I was OK with doing it. We decided to proceed, and it was scheduled for March 7th at 1:00 p.m.
The stress test was being done at Sparrow Hospital. I drove myself there. It was our week to host our golf group card night, and Donna was at home getting ready. At the hospital I joked with the very nice young lady doing the test about how slowly I walk, so the treadmill might seem like a jog to me even at its lowest setting. We had very pleasant conversations about many things as I was taking the test and afterward. I was lying on the table for quite a lengthy time after the treadmill, waiting to get up and go. Finally, the cardiologist came in again and said, "this is a very abnormal test." He probably thought I was a lunatic, because I had not heard the "ab" part and thought he had said "normal," so I responded, "thatís great." Finally we got things clarified, and sure enough, they wanted to admit me directly for a heart cath procedure expecting to discover blockages needing stints. I had been discussing my philosophies throughout the test with the various hospital personnel, and told them I could envision too many dominos lined up prepared to cascade once the first one was pushed, and was not prepared to proceed until I had gone home and prayed about it (among other things). After a few tries by the cardiologist and a physicianís assistant to convince me to stay (we respect your beliefs but) they finally released me from the hospital. The nice young lady who had been administering the test looked very sad as I was dressing to leave, so I gave her a card and suggested she might want to visit the wsharing website and read my poetry and see my photography to understand my philosophies and to lift her spirits.
When I got home and mentioned to Donna they wanted to keep me there, her response was, "you are kidding right?" But, within fifteen minutes of getting home, my family physician called. The cardiologist had phoned her from the hospital. We had some discussion about whether I would proceed, and she admonished that if I were going to, I needed to decide fast. After I got off the phone, Donna suggested I call Sportron (one of the herbal companies whose products I use) because I trust their science and they have doctors on staff. So I did. They suggested some herbal things I could do, but added, "if your doctor says you need stints, you need stints." About that time I was starting to feel a pain behind my left shoulder. I called my family physician back and told her I would be proceeding, quipping that "besides, I had started to feel this pain and trying to make the damn decision was probably going to give me a heart attack." She laughed, and said she would call the cardiologistís office to get things scheduled.
After having been given an EKG Wednesday (8th) morning in the cardiologistís office, he walked Donna and I out to his scheduling person and asked what his day looked like at the hospital tomorrow. She told him he already had three people scheduled for procedures. Then he said, "start my day an hour earlier and put Mr. Gibbons in first thing at 7:00 a.m." His urgency significantly elevated my sense of the severity of whatever he was seeing in the various tests.
We arose at 4:00 a.m. to get ready, and arrived at the hospital at 5:30 a.m., as instructed, on Thursday. The heart cath was begun at 7:00 and stopped almost as soon as it started. I was wheeled into a holding area and the cardiologist came in to inform me there was nothing he could do with stints. He said I had major blockages in my heart arteries and I was looking at open heart surgery. I was not sure if they meant that day, until 11:00 a.m. when they brought me some food (I was still in the recovery area).
Sometime in the early afternoon, the cardiac surgeon came by for a visit. I really liked him. He took whatever time was needed to explain things and to listen. Of the four major blockages (up to 80%) the one they were the most concerned with was a main artery they call the "widow maker" which was 60% blocked (I later quipped, my first inner reaction was "well that means it is still 40% open and it took 55 years to get 60% blocked). The surgeon indicated he would have liked to have operated right away, but the soonest there was an opening in the operating room was Monday morning (13th) at 7:15 a.m. He indicated he had discussed it with the cardiologist, and both agreed I should stay in the hospital (four days) until then so medical attention would be readily available if something were to happen (in the main artery in particular). I think they may have been anticipating an argument because of Tuesday. However, I told him I agreed, even though it was for different motives. I said, medical reasons aside, I felt I needed to stay for spiritual and emotional reasons. I explained that I know myself well, and there would come a time in these next four days when I would question every decision I had made up to then. I was there because I was convinced it was the path God wanted me to follow. If the questioning came (and it did big time on Saturday at 6:00 a.m.) and I was in the hospital, I would stay the course, believing I was in Godís will, until whatever the natural conclusion. But, if I was at home when the doubting came, since to me life still felt normal, they would be hard pressed to convince me to walk back into the hospital for the operation.
And so there I stayed ó receiving your prayers, well wishes, and visits. People were surprised to visit and see me looking normal (except for the monitors). That was a major part of the difficulty for me too, because life did feel normal. I was taking it on faith that what they said was actually happening inside me, was indeed something threatening my physical existence in this world. Because I had been steeped in the world of herbs and vitamins for the last ten years, had never broken a bone, and had not been in the hospital for physical reasons since having my tonsils out as a child many years ago, I felt much of the time like I had been captured by an enemy camp. I needed to remind myself often, that God is at work everywhere, even in places where operations and drugs are more prevalent than natural ways of doing things. There were times of peace, but there were also many times when my fears, and anxieties skyrocketed. In particular that Saturday morning already mentioned. Finally, God asked me what I was afraid of? Death? "No, I would not have lain down on the floor that day shoveling snow if that were the case." Pain? "No, I do not look forward to the pain, and will not like being in the midst of it, I am sure, but that is not it." Then what? "The same thing I have been afraid of since I began my spiritual journey 20 years ago. I am afraid of making bad decisions that will cause myself (or others) lifelong suffering or pain."
By late Sunday night, I was entering a pretty good space emotionally. My nurseís father had gone though the same operation at 55. I was listening to soothing music, and I was as ready as I would ever be to proceed. In fact, Monday morning I called home at 4:00 a.m. with "hello, this is the front desk, and this is your wake-up call." (It was the time my family had said they needed to rise to get to the hospital on time).
I have no recollection of Monday from the time they started wheeling me down the hall (they had already given me an oral drug). I do have a vague memory of people giving me ice chips on a spoon later that day. I am told my family was being allowed in, two at a time, for ten minutes each hour. I was in intensive care into Wednesday only because there was not a bed available in the regular cardiac care unit. There were continuing ups and downs emotionally, and the night I was moved to regular cardiac care we had a little crisis (an extremely racing heartbeat) physically. Although to this day I do not know if my emotional state triggered the physical crisis or the physical event created my emotional state; the most intense since my Saturday Gethsemane (as I called it). In spite of this my recovery progressed well, and I was released around 7:00 p.m. on St. Patrickís Day (Friday 17th), as befitting someone half Irish.
I have been home over a month now, and healing has continued at a good pace. As of this writing I have been given green lights by my family physician, cardiologist, and the cardiac surgeon.
Those are the basics. Now I would like to share a few reflections,
and maybe a side story or two.
I was quite surprised at the minimal amount of physical pain considering the severity of the operation. I did tell each of my nurses that I was relying on their expertise for how often to take the pain medications, rather than waiting for pain to show up first. They always asked how my physical pain was, on a scale of 0 to 10, and the highest I recall telling them was a three. I did suggest, when the hospital called to do a survey after I got home, that had they asked about my anxiety and fear levels (emotional pain), there would have been many times when it was at least a seven.
Speaking of fear and worry, I have heard it said that these are a sign of a lack of faith. I have even heard worry referred to as an insult to God. If so, then faith is one of my lesser qualities. However, I have heard it said of courage, that "courage is not the absence of fear, but is stepping forward in spite of the fear." I think there is a dynamic of faith which is like that.
Related to this, someone asked me if I could "feel" the many prayers being said for me. The ability to feel spiritual energy is not one of my gifts. Unfortunately, I tend to spend more time in my head than in my heart. However, I did have a visualization pop into my mind several times in the midst of this. I saw the story of the paralytic being carried on his bed by his four friends to be healed by Jesus (Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 2:2-12; Luke 5:17-26). Except, in this vision, I was the man on the mat, paralyzed by fear, and there was not just four, but hundreds of you helping to carry me to Jesus to be healed. It was both an emotionally powerful and humbling image, bringing me to tears several times.
A comment was made, "The doctors saved your life." It actually prompted me to write a poem in which I say, "This is not the truth." My doctors are gifted, knowledgeable, and highly skilled. And they used those gifts to prolong the usefulness of my physical body in this time on Earth. But, that is not my "life." My life is far more than a body. Only recently has my "life" begun to return, as the Holy Spirit reminds me what my life has been about, and how my relationship with God and His purpose for my life are as strong as ever.
Indeed, even if I were to focus only on the bodily aspects of this journey, each doctor used their gifts well, right up to the surgeon who sewed, glued, and wired me together as he finished his work, yet the real healing took, and is taking, place away from all these hands. Sometimes God heals directly. But, our Creator has also intricately placed a healing process within our bodies (and also within our minds and spirit).
Doctors tend to be seen as either gods or demons depending on what a person is experiencing at the time. We would all do well, myself in particular, to remember they are simply human beings doing the best they can just like the rest of us. For all their highly specialized training, the big picture is as much a mystery to them, as us.
My view of doctors, hospitals, drugs, and the companies who make them, was a significant factor in my emotional sufferings. Having spent the last ten years working with herbs, vitamins, and other natural products, I have read many articles "demonizing" (though not always that blatantly) the "other" side. And, adding fuel to the fire, a number of the medical personnel tried to argue the lack of difference between drugs and natural products. In one of the doctorís offices I made the statement, "shouldnít we all just be trying to find the truth." We spend so much time in these turf wars trying to protect a financial bottom line, or some ego need to be right, that we seem to lose our perspective.
I am very glad I have no recollection of my surgery or the immediate hours following it. The drugs and anesthesia were great blessings. I am also very glad that I felt lead to follow that "natural" path ten years ago. I believe the herbs and vitamins have contributed to my excellent healing process and likely also helped me not to have had a heart attack or other crisis before. And speaking of blessings, I took a moment in the hospital to be grateful I am living here, in a place of highly trained professionals, with a clean hospital equipped with some unbelievable technology to help things go as well as possible. Too many people in the world get their medical attention in mud huts and unsanitary conditions.
I continue to have much to be grateful for. My physical healing has come along exceptionally well. Emotionally, I still wince with a little anxiety when an unfamiliar ache or pain appears in my chest, but the cardiac rehabilitation people assure me that is quite common because heart patients are so focused on every little twitch in their bodies for a while.
I saw a bright yellow bird through the window in the bathroom as I was showering the other day. It sat on a tree limb for a few moments, then off it flew. I was reminded that the bird was not likely thinking about its heart. It was just getting on with the business of life. It was doing simply what God created it to do. I am looking forward to that too. Of course, those of you who know me well, understand that in my beliefs it was only my experiential perspective which saw things outside of the circle for a while. In truth, I never left Godís path for me.
OK Ė last item. Before all this happened I had picked up a Lent guide with daily "six-minute meditations on the Passion according to Luke." This booklet started the Sunday before Ash Wednesday by suggesting taking some time that day to "talk over with the Lord" some Lenten plans rather than "pulling out a file of resolutions we save for a time like this." I spent some quiet time listening for Godís leading.
Exactly halfway through Lent, after reading the dayís meditation in the booklet, I picked up a book which my step-daughter had given to me in the hospital. It was about a Christian writer who had faced several events which lead to a faith crisis over a three year period. He decided to go on a silent retreat at a monastery. But, even in a silent retreat they give you a spiritual director to meet with daily. At the end of the first chapter, he had just finished meeting with his spiritual director and asked what he should do for the next 24 hours. The spiritual director responded, "Nothing." To which he said, "Nothing? What do you mean nothing?" Then the SD added, "Donít do anything which accomplishes something. Take a walk. Sit by a brook. Listen to the birds." I sat there stunned, and put down the book. It was as if, exactly halfway through Lent, God was asking me how we were doing. You see, I remembered the answer I had gotten from God, when I asked that Sunday before Ash Wednesday what He wanted me to do for Lent. I had written His one word answer in the front of my meditation booklet. That word was "Nothing."
Doing "nothing" is more difficult than it might seem. I did not succeed entirely. But, my lack of sending emails, the length of time it has taken to put this newsletter together, my not returning to the Center right away, and a number of other things testify to my willingness to try to make it through the entire 40 days in spirit. I continue to examine my days in light of that spirit as well. The incorporation, added on top of everything else, allowed me to lose track of the balance. As the T-shirt John and Peggy sent me says, "Find Once Again The Sacred Balance."
I intend to do just that.
The other day a young person asked me how I felt about
being old. I was taken aback, for I do not think of myself as old.
I know I am sometimes forgetful. But then again, some of
life is just as well forgotten. And I eventually remember the important things.
I can say "no" and mean it. I can say "yes" and mean it. As you get older, it is easier to be positive. You care less about what other people think.
I don't question myself anymore. I've even earned the right to be wrong. So, to answer your question, I like being older. It has set me free. I like the person I have become.
I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be. And I shall eat dessert every single day . . . if I want.
Today, I wish you a day of ordinary miracles.
Sister Mary, who worked for a home health agency, was out making her rounds visiting homebound patients when she ran out of gas. As luck would have it a gas station was just a block away. She walked to the station to borrow a gas can and buy some gas.
The attendant told her the only gas can he owned had been loaned out but she could wait until it was returned.
Since the nun was on the way to see a patient, she
decided not to wait and walked back to her car. She looked for something in
her car that she could fill with gas and spotted the bedpan she was taking
to the patient.
As she was pouring the gas into her tank two men watched from across the street.
One of them turned to the other and said, "If it starts,
I'm turning Catholic."