Saturday, April 11, 2015

For the Love of Balloons

I grew up in a generation where those nice Mylar balloons filled with helium were decorations and gifts for all kinds of occasions and parties. In my home town of Bexley, OH, there was even a store dedicated to them, no other than long-but-not-forgotten Balloons on Occasion on Main Street. They offered a hundred designs and numerous shapes of balloons, and no doubt enough Mylar to keep a few dozen 7th graders speaking like The Chipmunks for an entire event. At any rate, the balloons were definitely my favorite cheer-up gift of choice, but I outgrew my balloon affinity around the same time that the store closed its doors.

Let me move on from middle school to my 20's. Any of you who have read some of my blog posts know that my health has been anything but pleasant. Early on in my disease, visitors would come see me in the hospital bearing balloons saying "Get Well" or "Keep Smiling". After awhile, I think people caught on that my health issues and the depression and desperation that have gone along with them required more than just a balloon. I always appreciated the gifts, but balloons seemed to go out of style just as my health did.

I think the helium-filled gifts stopped coming when people realized that things were WAY beyond balloons. Starting in 2010, I started noticing problems swallowing. Over the years, things got worse, and soon I started getting frequent cases of pneumonia. My lungs had been ravaged by the H1N1 virus in 2009, but it didn't explain my the numerous pneumonias. I finally had a very, VERY painful biopsy of my lungs. They found food in the tissue sample.

The next test was an upper endoscopy to look at my esophagus. As the doctor tried to move the scope down, he met resistance where my esophagus should have allowed passage. A balloon was used to dilate it, and my troubles with swallowing abated... for a month. I had to go back and have another one done. It remained open for a little more than three weeks. After the third balloon dilation couldn't keep the esophagus open, the doctor had to resort to surgery. And when my bowel was nicked in that surgery, I had to have emergency surgery the next day to fix that. That situation is a whole other blog post.

Anyway, this past Christmas, I got pneumonia, and with my history of esophageal stricture, another upper endoscopy was performed. Sure enough, there was resistance in the esophagus, and another balloon was used to dilate the it. I thought things were going OK until the last weeks of February. I wasn't even able to swallow water. It just came right back up. Imagine your esophagus is like the Panama Canal. The locks open and close as vessels pass through. In my body, the Panama Canal just remained closed after a few weeks of working normally. I required another balloon dilation in early March.

Again, the effects of the March balloon dilation only lasted a few weeks. I've spent the past few weeks trying everything, from a liquid diet to medication that would allow me some relief and some nourishment. Perhaps the worst day was the Wednesday before Easter. I had taken a bite of a mashed up baked potato. Immediately, I could feel the food scraping down my throat all the way down inside my chest even though it was a soft food. Suddenly, it felt like a iron fist was gripping the space between my breasts. The spasm it caused took my breath away. I was on my back, practicing Lamaze breathing for the next hour, trying to push through the pain. I thought it would never end.

Going through these kinds of health issues has made me realize the true brilliance of this glorious machine, also known as our bodies. Each part has a function, and when one part breaks down, the body and spirit falter. It's a sad truth that there many who don't recognize the brilliance of its design. It's easy to be angry when something goes wrong. The important thing is to be grateful for all the times it works just right. Every part of us is precious. I have learned true gratitude the hard way, but I am grateful nonetheless.

I haven't received a Mylar balloon for over a decade, but the balloon I received Thursday could be one of my greatest gifts. Although it is the same type I've received twice before in the past few months, I'm hoping this one truly keeps my Panama Canal open.  I hope the iron fist of those spasms stay away for good. Throughout it all, I'm thankful for the divine balance of my life, even when things feel upside down.

I remember being a child and the feeling of letting a helium balloon go and watching it climb and climb until it was out of sight. It a good analogy for my health. One day I was had it in my grasp, and the next it was so far gone, I could no longer see it. With the help of my amazing family and my incredible team of doctors, I feel like my balloon is floating back down to where I see it. With all the prayers I can muster in my heart, I hope one day to hold that string again and marvel at the extraordinary miracle of it all; the good, the bad and everything in between.