Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Experiencing "H(is) E(xcellent) L(ingering) L(ove)": These Last Eleven Months

"Small things make all things,
and tiny things make tall things; 
Be faithful in little things every day!"
-"Faithful in Little Things" by Ron Hamilton (aka "Patch the Pirate")

Imagine for a moment that you're sitting in church on Easter Sunday, dressed to the nines, ready to worship God while the sunlight streams through stained glass and the music echoes in the vaulted ceilings. You hear a thumping in the back, and see a father and son carrying in another son—in a wheelchair. The invalid is dressed in a suit jacket, dress shirt, and golf shorts, because both legs end garishly at the knee in long stumps swathed in white cloth. He slumps in the chair, as if the act of sitting up straight is too much of an effort for him. A wide foam strap and a thick plastic valve protrude from his throat; one can only imagine the gaping hole that leads right to his windpipe behind the contraption. His glasses frame his deep-set eyes for an unintentionally chilling effect—but by far the most disturbing feature is the undeniable lack of hair on his head. Featherweight wisps of downy fuzz bear testament to the hair-that-once-was, but the effect is really rather garish. The church isn't exactly "handicap accessible", but that evidently didn't stop this man of indeterminate age (the lack of hair makes him look older than he probably is) from wanting to go through the ordeal it no doubt took to get him to this place.

Consider how you would respond: how would you feel, seeing that man sitting across the aisle from you the whole time? Would you avoid looking in his direction, or would you be worried he might catch you staring? Is it "worth it" for handicapped people to come into buildings that aren't really equipped to facilitate them? Would you wonder if it had been easier for him to just have stayed home and watched the service online? Are you uncomfortable or encouraged to see handicapped people (not necessarily amputees or invalids, but disabled people in general) in your church?

The man in this story is my brother Joe, who came to church on Easter Sunday, the day after being released from the hospital--and yes, undoubtedly, I was extremely encouraged to see him there that morning.
He's been home for a week now, and I can say with reasonable certainty that this whole ordeal has taught me the most about faithfulness and gratefulness in the little things.

The devil may taunt and say, "Where was God when Joe lay unconscious or psychotic in the bed, so swollen they couldn't close his chest and so immuno-suppressed that the attempts to restore circulation and alleviate pressure caused the muscles in his legs to die?"
I can face that devil and tell him, "God was there protecting the new heart from infection and rejection. God was there keeping his brain from being one of the organs to shut down die to the traumatic operation. God was there keeping his kidney tissues alive and healthy while they weren't working, so that eventually there would still be a chance that they would resume function and not require a surgery among all others."

These things might be big things, but in the course of his recovery, Joe has taught me to appreciate little things such as:

-eye contact; Back when he had tubes down his throat, when we couldn't tell if he was having a psychotic break or not, he would make eye contact in lucid moments, and respond with slight movements of his head, and we would celebrate as if he had delivered a formal address.

-joints; from being bedridden and swollen for so long, Joe had difficulty bending his legs or straightening his arms. He has to exercise and stretch every day just to be able to fully extend his arms.

-taste; When Joe first regained consciousness, and they said he could start eating, he discovered that going six months without eating and all the drugs he was taking really did a number on his taste buds. My buddy Joe has a sensitive palate (that's what makes him such an amazing cook), so even though he could eat, he didn't want to.

-seeing the sun/fresh air; While Joe was in the ICU, the first time leaving his room was about two months after he'd first gone to the hospital. And even then, he was too fragile to start going outside for another two months or so. His room in the ICU had a view of the city, but Joe couldn't see it all the time; he would just get annoyed when the light prevented him from napping.

-quiet; In the ICU there are alarms sounding literally every ten seconds. If they're not from Joe's own equipment, they are sounding out in the hallway or from one of the adjoining rooms. Add to that the noise of other infant patients... It's no wonder the guy went half-crazy. We take silence for granted in our day-to-day life. We get so fired up in our minds that we turn to electronic distractions to try and compensate for it, not considering the incredible gift that quiet resting can actually be.

-family; The house was devoid of family more in the last eleven months than it has ever been since the day it was built. As an introvert, you would think that I would never notice when people were or weren't there--but let me tell you a secret about introverts:

We notice when people aren't there more often than we interact with people who are. So even though I might not be the one participating and hanging out with my family when they are home, I can say for sure it was boring and often lonely when they aren't. An introvert is happy just knowing that the people they love are in the next room; when they aren't there, we notice.

It was hard, knowing, too, that they were up in Seattle spending time with Joe, who was separated from his family for the longest time ever. Not including Jamie... who wasn't really all that "separate" from at least community when she lived in Oaxaca, Mexico for a year. Other than the nurses and Mom and Dad, Joe never really had consistent "community" beyond periodic (albeit frequent) visits from friends and such. He was essentially "in exile"... and out of everybody, I made the least number of trips up to visit him. It just felt like every time I could have had the chance, there was always something in the way... something preventing me from seeing my brother, or that essential part of my family that I'd missed for far too long. Even trips back home for my mom and dad were full of plans and preparations for the return trip, no time for relaxing or just being together. So... even though the sound of the ventilator keeps me up at night... I am happy that it's Joe's ventilator, and he can sleep at home without the necessary hospital noises.

-health; I have learned that there are pills and machines to get the human body to do almost anything... and they are mere shadows and mimics of hormones and chemicals and functions that a healthy, whole body naturally produces. The fact that my body is keeping the bad germs and filth and bacteria in the very air I breathe from killing me is no small miracle. The fact that I don't even know how many muscles it is taking me to sit up straight and hold my head up even when I'm almost too tired to think straight is something to be grateful for. Just the amount of breath it takes to talk and make my voice work is something I never considered before now.

This list is only a general reference, and it only scratches the surface of the multitude of things I have discovered to be grateful for in this time. It was a long and painful process, but I have learned to keep progressing and moving forward from where I am, instead of wishing things were different from the way they are.

Catch you further upstream...