The Long Road

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Gentle Reader,

I thought it would be better by now.

The seven-and-a-half months leading up to December 12…. Wearying. That’s the best word I’ve got for it. I knew that surgery would be hard. I knew that recovery would be tough. I guess I just didn’t know how tough. I didn’t know that my incision would start hurting just when that place on my side stopped. I didn’t know that the swelling would wax and wane repeatedly. I didn’t know that one night I would sleep for 12 hours and the next night I wouldn’t sleep at all. I didn’t know how completely freaked out I would get by the numbness in my torso.

Wearying.

I thought I was coming to the end of the long road, and I know that I am in some ways. But in others I see it stretching out before me, unending, into the horizon. I have to avoid close contact with kids because major surgery, especially liver surgery, really knocks down the immune system. So that means stepping away from the mid-week kid’s class at church. I can expect pain in my abdomen for weeks. The ugly black dog of post-surgery depression nips at my heels. I wake up in an anxious sweat in the middle of the night.

My heart swells with compassion for those who have been through this. My brother…I admire him. He’s been through three surgeries in the last two years and is facing another. It takes a lot of heart, a lot of faith, a lot of sheer grit to go through this.

So be tender. Be gentle with those who walk the long road.

My journey to faith. (15)

Humbled

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Gentle Reader,

Six days in the hospital. Strapped to a machine. Trying to find a good position for sleep in a hard bed. Listening to whaps and bangs and wheezes. Searching for something to watch. Drifting in and out of consciousness. Becoming BFFs with the pain pump.

There’s nothing like having major surgery.

The surgery was scheduled for four hours but ended up taking a little over five. I said good-bye to my family about a quarter after 9:00 a.m. December 12th and didn’t see them again until close to 7:00 p.m. that night. At least I think it was around that time. I was far too drugged to know for sure.

The tumor was a little larger than a golf ball. My surgeon was able to scoop it out without having to take too much liver tissue with it. I have an incision that starts just beneath my sternum and runs down around my rib cage, where it finally terminates at the spot where my elbow hits my waist.

My skin is torn in several places from the tape. Tape everywhere. Tape to hold down the central line poked into my neck, tape to hold down the epidural line, tape to hold down the drain lodged in my abdomen, tape to hold down the IV. Steri strips cover the incision, their corners beginning to peel.

At least a dozen total strangers have seen me naked. I shuffled down hallways, pushing an IV pole and hoping that my rear end didn’t make an unscheduled appearance. I heard people scream and moan in the middle of the night. I relied on nurses for everything from sitting up to showering. I called them at 3:00 a.m. when the pain pump began to buzz. They put up with my lame sense of humor, made sure I ate throughout the day and pushed me to move even though I didn’t want to.

Now, at home, I rely on my family. My mom helped me shower when I first got back. Chris monitors my pain pill schedule and sleeps on the couch so I don’t have to be alone in the living room. My brother comes over during the day and we watch movies. My dad brings me medicinal goods such as Pepsi.

I’m living in the recliner, propped up by five pillows. The dogs nap on the ottoman by my feet. Tears sting my eyes every time I see the incision, every time I breathe deeply, every time I try to shift into a more comfortable position. I need to laugh but when I do the pain is so great. I am tired and frustrated. So I make use of the coloring books my mom and my boss got me. Swiping crayons across the page is deeply satisfying.

I have recited Psalm 23 more times than I can count. I’ve begged God for strength, for relief, for hope. He has answered. He has continually buoyed my soul above the mire that would drag me down. I am laid low, but I am not done. I ache, but the ache will not last forever. Breath comes dear but it comes nonetheless.

I am in the valley of the shadow, but I see the sun. God is here.

My journey to faith. (15)

Five Minute Friday: Turn

Gentle Reader,

‘Tis that five minute time with Kate and the gang. We: turn.

Go.

Ugh. Down with a cold, the second one in three weeks. Got my tissues, my soup, my orange juice, my cough medicine – the cough medicine I’m not really supposed to take but I’m so desperate for sleep that I’ll take it anyway. It’s not good for my liver. My liver who’s playing host to a guest.

It’s a tumor.

Or a tumah.

Depends on your accent.

It’s really bizarre to be told that you’ve got this bubble-like thing growing on one of your organs. You’re happy when they say it’s almost surely benign, but still. It’s a thing. A thing that shouldn’t be there. And now you’ve got a consultation scheduled with an oncologist who specializes in hepatobilliary tumors.

At least he’s a dog person, according to the information your mom found.

I don’t know if I’m overwhelmed or just smack in the center of that peace that doesn’t make any sense. Either way, this is the truth to which I turn:

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This is one of those “God said it so I believe it” times. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Surgery and recovery and tests. Long words I can’t pronounce. The possibility of being force-fed Jell-O.

Whatever comes, God will save me.

And you.

Stop.

Let us turn to Him.

My journey to faith. (15)

Fatty

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Gentle Reader,

How’s that for a title? Did it hook you in?

Friday’s trip to the doctor turned into quite the adventure. He ran almost an hour late. (This was due to a woman who came in with chest pains, which turned out to be a panic attack. Total sympathy for that on my part). I had to give samples of some bodily things that you just never really want to give samples of. Then I was told that I couldn’t eat until after a CT scan, scheduled for 3:00 p.m. that afternoon.

A barium drink. Yum. A shot of radiation. Glowing intestines.

Then two more hours of waiting, at which point I would’ve eaten tofu. And I shudder at the idea of tofu.

I did strain my abdominal muscles at work, but the CT scan showed no hernia. So no surgery. But it did show some spots on my liver: cavernous hemangiomas (benign masses made up of tangles of blood vessels) and nodular regenerative hyperplasia (a rare defect resulting from medication use). The possibility of any of this leading to cancer is extremely low, but, nevertheless, the workman’s compensation doctor I had been seeing told me to go my regular doctor ASAP and get an ultrasound scheduled. This is something I will have to have monitored for the rest of my life.

Today I had that appointment. He was less concerned with the aforementioned issues and more concerned about the fact that I have a fatty liver. I was unaware of that. My liver is currently storing more fat than is considered normal. This could be happening for a variety of reasons, ranging from a virus to high cholesterol. So, along with the ultrasound, I get to have fasting blood work done first thing tomorrow morning.

We discussed whether or not I need to stop taking the medication I’ve been on for anxiety and depression, along with whether or not I need to stop taking birth control (I’ve been using it primarily as an estrogen supplement). The answer to both was “yes,” although the need to stop the birth control is more pressing than the antidepressant, at least until the blood work is done and my enzyme levels can be assessed.

This problem forces me to make some lifestyle decisions. Exercise has always been a four-letter-word to me, but walking is going to have to become part of my daily routine, both for liver health and for dealing with anxiety. No more fast food, unless it’s something like a salad or a sandwich made with fresh ingredients. (Sigh. Goodbye, my dear Arby’s). I don’t have to worry about alcohol or red meat, as neither is part of my diet, but I do need to consume more fruits and vegetables.

You know. All that stuff they tell us to do all the time.

Why am I sharing this with you?

Certainly not to freak you out. I’m not freaking out. Not a bit. And that’s why I share. When I was first presented with this information, I knew immediately that I had a choice. I could get upset or I could decide that I was going to trust God to see me through, whatever that looked like. There wasn’t a middle ground on this one. If I went down the “what if” road and followed all the rabbit trails, I’d be a wreck. If I decided to trust, I’d be okay.

I decided to trust. I decided to operate out of what I knew to be true: God has a great plan for my life and He works out all things for His glory and my good. And I’ve been more than okay. I’ve been downright positive, which is entirely of the Spirit, because I’m a glass-completely-empty girl when left to my own devices.

You can choose. You get to decide. Whatever you are going through today, whatever hardship you face, you can put your trust in God. I’m not at all saying that you should stuff your emotions or live in some fantasy land where you deny everything. I’m just saying that shock doesn’t have to shake. Whatever bumps that come your way don’t have to turn into major earthquakes. You can turn your eyes to God. You can say, “I am putting myself one hundred percent in Your hands.”

That choice? It leads to peace. It leads to hope.

My journey to faith. (15)