Friday, November 27, 2015

A Host of Blessings

There are times in life when we get the opportunity to evaluate our blessings. Thanksgiving is a perfect time to do so, and I thought I'd share some of mine with you.
I'm grateful...
For these lungs that inhale and exhale with mightiness despite past trauma.  For the scars all over my belly that show how divinely created was my body in its capacity to heal. For more than my share of miracles. I awake each day knowing I'm lucky to be opening my eyes, no matter how much pain I'm in. 
For my four-legged child, the pink nosed, caramel colored chocolate lab, Zoe Isabella, who has seen me at my worst, yet continues to walk alongside me every day. There is an unspoken language between us. The moments when she looks me in straight in the eye are treasures.
 For my nephew, Ethan, who amazes me with his ingenuity and artistic ability far beyond his years. He dazzles me with his knowledge and melts me with his smile. I love him more than mango smoothies and clear blue skies.

For my nephew, Eli, who is tender and sweet. His empathy far exceeds his years, and his humor generates laughter from all ages. I love him more than peanut bars and rainbows.  
I never thought I'd get another chance to love someone or something with such intensity and heartrending magnificence, and here the Universe gave me TWO such opportunities.
For the angels of loved ones who have passed. From the unborn to the almost ancient, I have been blessed with protection and love; encircled with those who speak loudly in whispers. For Gabriel, Mommy misses you. You are with me every moment...
For my family whose support and love ground me. My parents for giving me life and love. My brother, Keith, for his strength, wisdom and friendship.  
For Keith and his wife, Sonja, who made me a YaYa.
 For my 91-year old grandmother, aka Mimi, who is the spunkiest "Old Polish Chick" around.
For my extended family who have all enriched my life and loved me unconditionally. And for the extended family I've come to know from Sonja's side. They are all precious, each and every one.
For my friends, who are family by choice. Each one enriches my life in his/her own unique way.
For Donna Jorgensen, my mom, best friend, roommate, soul sister, occasional nurse and overall partner in mischief. She knows my heart better than anyone. Thank you for being my person..
Most of all for the God! I can't imagine life without my faith being at its core. Everything above is because of the love and generosity of the Divine.
Life has its ups and downs, but it's all a gift in the end. Even our hard times, our tragedies, our heartbreaks have the capacity to teach and strengthen us. Over the years, I've tried to find the positive in my pain and have tried even harder to be grateful for it. 
Even in our often tragic, misguided world, there is so much beauty. Soak it up and store it in the recesses of your spirit like a chipmunk collects nuts and stores them for winter. When your pain comes, in whatever form(s) it does, nourish yourself with the splendor you have accrued until the sun shines upon you once again.
I have SO many blessings. I think of those who don't have homes on cold nights, food for hungry bellies, medicine for sickness, and most of all, LOVE! That is the greatest gift ever, and I'm grateful to be marinated in it.

I'm grateful for each one of you who are taking part of this written journey of mine. My wish is for you all to be marinated in love, too.
Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Looking Back, Looking Forward

I cannot remember a time when I didn't write. It is as part of me as any body part. From the beginning, my Nana (maternal grandmother) was my mentor, my spiritual guide, my dear friend. She was a writer, although I don't recall her ever teaching me how to write. I believe you can teach people the fundamentals of grammar and the rules of writing, but creativity is part of the soul. Our writing is so different, yet similar at the same time, and I see so much wisdom in her words as I look back at them.

Last Friday, watching the terror unfold in Paris, I was paralyzed with sadness for the victims and their families. On a greater level, I was stricken with almost paranoid fear for the future of our World. Survivors reported hearing terrorists saying "Glory be to God"(in Arabic) as shots were fired at innocent civilians. I find no glory in bloodshed and murder, in killing and hatred. I cannot imagine a god, any god, seeking such horror in its honor. Especially not the God my Nana helped me discover; the God she so often honored in her own writing. It's at times like these that I'm thankful she's no longer living to see these atrocities.

Although it has no name, there is a war going on. It spans the globe, and its rooted in our hearts. Sweethearts, dark hearts, crazy hearts. We all bleed the same blood, but it's the robbery of blood that makes me ill. The lives that were taken so savagely and remorselessly belonged to people who breathed the same air as the killers. Both killers and victims came from a mother and father who came from a mother and father. For what is considered the First World, this is a barbaric display of inhumane disgrace.

When my Nana self-published her book, "A Potpourri of Love", she included several pieces written about the Vietnam War. My uncle, Denny, Nana's oldest child and my mom's big brother, flew helicopter gunships, and while she supported her son, she despised the war. She despised war period. When I was thinking of writing a post about Friday's atrocities, I found myself dialoguing with Nana in spirit. I wondered how she would have expressed her disillusionment with the recent brutality in France. Looking through her book, I found piece that expresses a lot of what's in my heart, so I am sharing it. While it has been almost half a century, her words span the decades.

I have two sons who are precious to me.
They're not at war, but they soon may be.
Would I have them defend this beloved land,
And all those things for which it stands?
Of course I would, there can be no doubt;
But IS 'defense' what war is all about?
I wonder: IS war the answer to our plight?
Does fighting and killing turn wrong to right?
If we've made such a miserable bed,
Must we lie in it 'til we're ALL dead?
Spanking may stop a naughty child,
But why is he naughty; why is he wild?
Aspirin may stop an ache or pain,
But correct the cause, or it comes again.
CAN we end the cause of war,
The harvest of misery we all abhor?
It seems we've been shown a better way
By one whose birthday is Christmas Day.
But whatever we believe about the virgin birth,
Who can deny this great one's worth?
Somehow we've failed to do THY will;
Ignored the command, "Thou shalt NOT kill."
We've been taught much that is surely true;
That we prove our faith by what we do;
That God loves the WORLD, not just a part;
That all walk in darkness who've hate in their heart;
That peace begins within you, and me;
That we choose to fight, or choose to be free;
By seeds we sow each day of our life;
Each moment we add to the peace, or the strife.
Remembering these things, I seem to recall
The times I didn't believe them at all,
Each time I said an unkind thing...
Was I helping the bells of freedom ring?
When I listened to gossip and suspected the worst,
Was I really putting 'Democracy' first?
If I judged a man by his color or creed
Was I serving the cause for which men bleed?
If I reserved smiles or words of praise
For those with status or pleasing ways,
Was I seeing that inner spark Divine
That lives in all men all of the time?
When I was sad, or gave in to despair,
Was I having faith in Our Father's care?
When I refused to swallow my pride
Was I being led by my "Inner Guide"?
When I thought I had done something good,
Was I directing the credit where I should?
All of these things, and so many more,
Challenge my soul, in the face of war!
For in every war-scarred face I see
My own dear sons looking at me.
Could I be failing these trusting young men
By resisting the challenge again and again?
Our money says, "In God we trust"!
But do we really? Can God trust us?
Tho I can't stop this terrible war,
With God's help I need to do more,
Not to keep my sons from going,
Perhaps more 'heart' will do the trick,
For isn't THIS what makes us tick?
This may seem like an abstract answer;
Like a miracle cure for a terminal cancer,
But if God is Love, and Love is of the heart,
Then Heart IS needed to illumine the dark.
Ending the war WITHIN MYSELF,
Taking thoughts of love down off the shelf,
Armed with kindness, instead of a gun
Is the only way 'my' war can be won.
Measuring each deed, each word I say,
With the Golden Rule, every day.
Only then can I feel free
When the face of misery looks at me.
~Mary Anzaletta Robinson Long (Nana)
I learned so much from my Nana. She truly believed that progress and peace began from within, and she led by example.  During the Vietnam War, she was tormented not just as the mother of a soldier, but as a citizen of the World.  But Nana was concerned on an even greater level. It was the cause of war, ANY war, that scared her. To her, hatred and intolerance were as lethal as the weapons that were fired from my uncle's helicopter. And she was absolutely right. Those two things greatly contributed to the attacks in Paris. Nana's been dead over a decade, but I could feel her tears that night. They wet my face as much as my own tears.
The global community is bleeding. There are so many wounds, it's hard to know where to begin. As a woman with chronic pain and illness, I get overwhelmed balancing all the doctors and surgeries, the medication and the appointments. Then I take a step back and look at all that's going on in the news. All the attacks and wars, the victims and attackers, weave a complex and heartbreaking reality that seems hopeless. How does our World heal?
There are no immediate answers. For my own sadness, I turn back and find the unconditional love my Nana left in word and spirit. No matter her emotional or physical pain, she taught me that peace began within. It wasn't something that could happen overnight, but rather it was something that took daily meditation and prayer. I remember many bedtime talks when she'd babysit my brother and I. She used to tell me that peace began with me. Looking back, I think she was brilliant. Peace does begin within each of us. And when you combine the peace within yourself with the peace within another person, and another, and another... then peace MIGHT have a fighting chance amidst all this madness.
I'll leave you with the bedtime prayer she taught me growing up. It's a spin off of a mainstream Christian bedtime prayer many of you probably know.
Now I lay me down to sleep
Into your arms,
Dear God I creep
Thank you for your love and care
And for your power that's everywhere
Make me shine God, just for you
In all I think and say and do

Friday, November 6, 2015

Amazing Machine

Some of the most precious things I've learned in life have come from my experiences with my chronic illness. That may sound odd, but one of the ways I've learned to survive with a body in crisis is by gripping tightly to a positive attitude. It keeps me afloat. When my mindset falls into sadness and depression, which is sometimes a reality for me, I find it's much harder to stay afloat in the waters of the deep, dark sea of chronic pain.

Yesterday I had a procedure to open my esophagus with a balloon passed into my stomach with a scope, also known as a balloon dilation. It's my tenth one this year. Because I've been on pain meds for so long and have had so much anesthesia for countless surgeries, my tolerance is very high. My surgeon is usually able to sedate me well enough, although there have been times when I've been able to feel the entire procedure. Unable to move, I've just had to lay there and endure something that will allow me to swallow without choking (at least for awhile.)  In the beginning, the dilations have lasted six to eight weeks, but the relief period has been dwindling to sometimes just a few weeks. 

With my usual surgeon booked for weeks and then leaving for vacation, I had to practically beg for another surgeon to perform the procedure. Initially, the anesthesiologist told me I would just have twilight sedation, where I'm asleep but not totally out. I signed the consent. The surgeon showed up an hour later, and I instantly liked her. She looked me in the eye, explained the procedure (I could probably DO the procedure, but bygones), and then she asked if I had signed the consent for general anesthesia. I told her I'd been told I would have twilight sedation. She shook her head. As I was rolling down the hall on the gurney, the surgeon was telling the nurses to pull the appropriate drugs to intubate and put me on a ventilator.

My heart began to race. My family had gone to the waiting room, and I was scared. I've been intubated numerous times, but this felt different. I hadn't had time to prepare my mindset to see this as just another way the doctor wanted to keep me safe. She knew my high tolerance to anesthesia, and she knew that my already weakened lungs weren't always strong enough to breath on their own. She didn't want me to be awake, she didn't want me to suffer, and I appreciated her time and care. Sometimes these procedures felt like going to a fast food drive through. You're in and you're out. Yesterday, it felt like a sit down restaurant. As scared as I was, I felt like the surgeon was looking out for me. That was the last thought I had before falling into a deep sleep.

I awoke in a lot of pain, so nauseous I could barely shake my head. My throat hurt from the breathing tube. I was in a recovery room reserved for patients who'd had general anesthesia. I had two nurses beside me, one giving me nausea medication and one addressing my pain. My breathing was normal, but my diaphragm was sore. I lay there and slowly woke up. Once my symptoms were under control, I was taken to another recovery area where I would see the doctor and be reunited with my dear Uncle Denny who had escorted me yesterday. He hadn't been told I underwent general anesthesia and had been concerned. The doctor came in and smiled at me.
"We were able to open your esophagus with the balloon. It was definitely tight when I tried to pass the scope through to your stomach," she said.
"Thank you for everything," I began. "I was scared about being on the ventilator, but I appreciate you looking out for my breathing!"
"Of course. That's what we're here for. Hopefully you'll have some relief. Unfortunately, I'll probably see you again soon, since this isn't remedying itself."
She smiled one last time, and walked away. I was left to get dressed. All the drugs my body had been given were causing different symptoms. The smell of the sleeping gas  remained in my nose. One of the nausea meds always made my muscles tense. I was seemingly functioning, but secretly drunk. It was like TGIF Happy Hour, not Thursday afternoon. My uncle took me home, and my mom cared for me last evening. I fell asleep on the couch, laying with my pillow on her lap. There are some times when you just need your mom. She can fix things better than anyone.
I began writing this around 4:30 am. I awoke an hour earlier, dealing with side effects of a few if the drugs I'd been given; specifically the one the helped to wake me from anesthesia. I'm exhausted, but wide awake. Looking back, I was able to see yesterday for what it was; a parade of ways medicine, in all its scopes, is able to work with the body during times of struggle. The anesthesia made me sleep while the ventilator helped me breathe. The meds used to wake me helped me burst out of the fog of Neverland, and my recovery room nurses helped me combat unfortunate side effects invading my body. It was a marathon of care, and I was blessed by those who ran it for me.
Our bodies are incredible machines. Each time I go into the hospital or have a procedure, it amazes me the way the body copes with quite stressful situations. Little balloons keep stretching my stubborn esophagus, and the blessed thing just endures it. As with anything, there are risks with the procedure, but the team of surgeons and nurses at OSU work diligently to lessen those risks with their complete attention to each detail.  As I was wheeled to the car, I passed all different kinds of patients. Those with IV poles dragging beside them, in wheelchairs with amputations, with new babies in their arms going home for the first time.
It's easy to take for granted even the seemingly smallest functions of the body, but each part of us is part of a greater whole. We are the greater whole. Treating our bodies with respect is the least we can do for this incredible machine that escorts us through life. I just took a sip of water, and the fact that it went down without aspiration or choking is a practical miracle! Even with all of its issues, my body is a gift that shouldn't be taken for granted. Sometimes it angers me when I hear of people abusing drugs or alcohol, acting recklessly, endangering themselves to certain environments. It's like throwing away a golden egg, disrespecting the most precious gift God can give.
I wish I could go back to the last day my body worked without the 24/7 oxygen and balloon dilations, the surgeries and medications, especially without the pain, and live it over again. I wish I had known to ENJOY that day more than any other, because it was the last day of being authentically me. But I can't do that. I've had organs removed, have scars all over my body, require medication to live with tolerable pain.
I'm no longer the original Jessica. I'm the new and improved Jessica, because after everything I've gone through, I am more in awe of my incredibly strong body and precious life than I was before all this happened. And each procedure or trip to the ER grinds that point even deeper into my DNA. Even broken, my body is an amazing machine, and I am grateful for everyone who has helped keep me together after all these years. The journey is more important than the destination, and my journey has given me hope, love, and gratitude from deep within. Your body is precious, too! Act accordingly.
I'm grateful to everyone who has helped put Humpty Dumpty back together again.