Image

Fear Overcome by Faith

I admit it… I am afraid.  Next week I will submit my body to the skills of a surgeon I met one time.  I will enter into several hours of deep sedation under the care of an operating room staff of masked strangers.  They will operate from above and below.  While removing the final segment of my colon that has become irreparably diseased due to diversion colitis, they will create two large wounds to heal when the operation is complete.  It is an extensive and delicate surgery.

If experience is our best teacher, than I have learned in the last nine months that my body will puzzle the experts with its process and condition, and I have learned that the “rare complication” is not so unique when you become part of its statistic.  The portal vein blood clot, the liver infarction, the C-Diff infection, and even the diversion colitis were not the normal course for recovery from my March illness and surgeries… but they were my course.

Now my path has brought me to another unwanted surgery, a surgery that will make my ostomy permanent.  There’s no turning back now.  There is no possibility of reversing the ostomy.  The diversion colitis has determined this path.

I am reminded again of the truth that I clung to as a life-line through the early days of my recovery as each day brought waves of uncertainty and complexity: None of this takes God by surprise.

King David wrote many Psalms that expressed fears he battled; David clearly describes how faith in our all powerful God conquers those fears.  David wrote of his enemies, of the nay-sayers who slandered him and tried to pull his focus away from the Source of his strength.  Yet David knew the faithfulness of the Lord, his God, because experience had been his best teacher.

Psalm 3:1-5 Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.”  But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.  I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain.  I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.

Next week, as I face another major surgery with significant risks, I would not be honest if I said I wasn’t afraid.  Fear is overcome by faith.  My experiences of these last nine months have been a remarkable teacher.  I know that I am deeply loved by God, and He gives me strength.  I deeply love the Lord, and in Him I find courage.

Next week, when I lie down to sleep, I know that I will wake again, because the Lord sustains me!

Image

Redemption through this Suffering

Mid-July.  My symptoms were increasingly bothersome.  We wondered if the C-Diff infection had returned or if there was yet another complication to address.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18

It had been two weeks since learning the news about the liver infarct (the portion of my liver that died due to a blood clot).  The reality of this long-term issue and its long-term needs was settling in.  Indeed, my physical body is diseased; improvement will happen with time, but full recovery is impossible.  As my husband says, “None of us get out of here alive.”  We are not made for this place.  James 4:14 reminds me that I am just “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

Instead of focusing on the temporal, the deterioration of my body is a continual reminder to focus on what is eternal.

In mid-July, I returned to the hospital for another lab work-up; the results brought both comfort and concern.  The C-Diff infection was gone.  We were tremendously grateful and breathed a sigh of relief!  Yet the exclusion of C-Diff confirmed the new symptom culprit: diversion colitis.

Diversion colitis is a complication of having an ostomy. It causes purulent inflammation in the remnant colon.  It usually begins within a year of the colectomy surgery.  Some individuals are asymptomatic.  For those who experience symptoms, they can range from mild to severe.  The underlying cause and symptoms of diversion colitis can be treated with medication, but surgery is the only method of correcting diversion colitis.

The diagnosis needed to be confirmed by scope and biopsies.  As is true with all gastrointestinal diagnoses, the doctor needs to see the damage and disease to determine the diagnosis.  My procedure was scheduled, and I counted the days until relief could begin.

By the day of my procedure, my symptoms had grown increasingly distressing.  The pain was debilitating.  Though even on my hardest days I refuse to spend the day in bed, I spent most of the day prior to my procedure confined to my room.  Prescription pain relief took the edge off and provided enough calm to end my tears.  The count down of days became a count down of hours.

Biopsy confirmed the diagnosis.

After a week of trying to find a pharmacy who carried the medication and obtain authorization from the insurance company to cover the prescription, we decided to try a different medicine.  I am thankful that my Crohn’s disease is treated by the eight pills I swallow each day.  The diversion colitis treatment, however, is not so simple.  Each administration requires about thirty minutes.  Like ostomy care and injections for the blood clot, I had to learn a new process, gather appropriate supplies, and learn to quiet my heart in the midst of new challenges.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Romans 8:18-25

What started March 3rd as an Urgent Care visit for abdominal pain had resulted in a cascade of issues.

  • 13 days in the hospital, requiring 2 abdominal surgeries
  • Re-learning life as a semicolon
  • Left hip nerve damage and left leg instability
  • A stay in rehab to learn how to walk with a weakened left side and receive support with wound care
  • Portal vein blood clot
  • C-Diff infection
  • Liver infarct
  • Diversion colitis

Being subject to frustration, shackled by the bondage of decay, I wait eagerly for the redemption of my body.  Complete healing in heaven is my hope, and for this, I wait patiently.

Yet in the mean time, I cling to the promise that I am “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance” for me to do (Ephesians 2:10).  Therefore, I live one day at a time, believing that He is transforming the suffering of my body into good for His glory.  As Paul wrote, “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…”  Earlier in Romans, Paul writes that, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (chapter 5:3-4).”

I do not know what will come next.  Perhaps there will be more complications.  As it is, I have six medical appointments ahead of me, with more to come.  Yet this I do know: God is using this suffering to knock off rough edges in me, to soften the places where I have grown hardened and to refocus spiritual disciplines that have grown lax.  There is redemption through this suffering.  God is using this suffering to work in the hearts and minds of those who journey with me and in others who read these reflective and deeply personal writings.

To God be the glory!  Great things He has done.

Image

His Gentle Whisper

1 Kings 19: in the immediate wake of a great victory, Elijah was so overcome by fear and exhaustion at the threat to his life that he cried out to God, “I have had enough, Lord… take my life!” (vs 4)  He was ready to be done.

In early July, four months after my  ostomy surgery, I was learning the devastating news about complications we could not have predicted even in a worst-case-scenario discussion.  My best friend uttered the very words of my heart after hearing the diagnosis, “How much more, Lord?”

As days turned into weeks, God was using the wisdom of the doctors and the cocktail of medications to win the battle my body fought against the C-Diff infection.  Severely weakened by the infection and its treatment, each day was a struggle.  As the bacteria was being eradicated from my body, some symptoms resolved and others remained.  The symptoms that lingered became a clear indication of what was happening to my body; it was indeed my liver that was suffering.

My gastroenterologist ordered another CT scan. It was my fourth scan in four months.  The risk of exposure to the radiation was less than the need for imaging of my abdominal organs and the blood supply to each area.

Following the scan, there was a long delay before the doctor came to discuss the results.  She was not supposed to be in the clinic that day; she was seeing me on her lunch break.  My husband and I assumed she had been detained by a morning procedure.

She entered the exam room dressed in scrubs and apologized for both the delay and her appearance.  Neither one were a concern for us; we were simply grateful that she made time to meet us that day.  She explained that her delay was due to the findings on the CT scan and the resulting conversations with my surgeon.  It was not someone else’s bad news that kept her; it was my own.

Over the next hour, she discussed the situation involving my liver, my continued symptoms, and concerns related to me working outside of the home.  In her ever gentle manner, she guided us to understanding what was found and how we needed to move forward.

Another complication.

“How much more, Lord?” 

The CT scan in April discovered the portal vein blood clot, and showed that it was restricting blood flow to the left side of my liver.  The July CT scan discovered that the right side of my liver suffered an infarct; it showed a wedge-shaped piece of the liver had lost complete blood supply and become necrotic.  The belief was that a portion of the blood clot broke off and lodged in the right side of the liver, causing the infarction.

A hepatologist (liver doctor) and a hemotologist (blood doctor) were added to my care team.  The vitamin and mineral supplements I had been taking for years were no longer allowed, to prevent strain on my liver.  Decisions about medications, consumption of foods and beverages, and my activity level will be filtered through their impact to my liver.

1 Kings 19:9-13, “There he (Elijah) went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

“He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’

“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”

Throughout these last several months, I’ve learned to listen for the gentle whisper.  If I could borrow this imagery from Scripture, I might compare the ostomy surgery to a great and powerful wind that tore my body apart and shattered life as I knew it.  I might compare the portal vein blood clot to an earthquake and the C-Diff infection to a fire.

Similarly, I can assert that through all of it, the Lord was my protection; He held me safe in the cave of His loving care.  He has kept my heart encouraged and my spirit lifted through His gentle whispers.

On one particularly discouraging day, a former colleague opened instant messaging with me.  Her starting comment spoke to the very need of my heart.  We chatted about my struggle.  She reminded me of the promise from Ephesians 2:10 about the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do, identifying that He wasn’t done with me yet!  God whispered hope through her.

In a quiet moment on a solitary day, as I laid wrapped in a hand-made quilt, I re-read the handwritten label stitched on the underside.  The sweet quilt maker from my church family had written my name and her name and the date of her gift.  Then she wrote, “A quilt is something you make to keep someone you love warm.”  God whispered love through her.

On a day filled with disappointments, I poured out my heart to my sister.  She listened.  She validated the pain and the losses.  Then she shifted my focus to the words of 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”  God whispered courage through her.

Every day, through the hugs of my boys and through the endless compassion of my husband, God continues to whisper.  Through His Word, through the hymn writers of ages gone by, through my pastor’s homilies, God continues to whisper.

In my fear or exhaustion, I may question, “How much more, Lord?”  At the end of one battle, I may not feel capable to face the next threat on my life.  Yet through all that has transpired through these last several grueling months, I have felt God sheltering me, and I continue to hear His gentle whisper.  He whispers hope.  He whispers love.  He whispers courage.

Image

The Vicious Bacteria

I could hear the nurse talking; I tried to focus my mind on her words.  My heart was breaking.  The domino effect of medical issues I had faced since March was unbelievable, and I began to wonder when I would actually be on the road to recovery, rather than just the path to the next serious complication.  This was incredulous!  

It was June.  I had been home from the rehab center for 12 weeks.  I had learned how to manage ostomy changes.  The treatment for the blood clot was underway.  I thought I was on a clear path, the detours completed.  I was wrong.

I had been diagnosed with a UTI ten days earlier and given a course of antibiotics to treat it; I thought it was just a little bump in the road.  A few days into the treatment, I began experiencing some symptoms that could be associated with liver decline.  I sent my doctor a message, and she squeezed me into her schedule.

In addition to checking liver function, she wanted to rule out an infection that can happen to patients who have recently been hospitalized, stayed in long-term care facilities, had an autoimmune disorder, or had recently been on antibiotics.  I scored four out of four on that check list!

The test came back positive.  I had the vicious C-Diff infection.

C-Diff is a bacteria that attacks the small and large intestines, destroying all of the good bacteria in the gut until only the C-Diff bacteria remains.  It causes extensive inflammation throughout the intestines, and symptoms are similar to what one experiences with the flu.

 

As we sat around the dinner table with our boys the night after learning about the infection, my husband soldiered on bravely.  He had tried to keep family routines consistent throughout the long weeks of my illness and recovery.  Just like every other night, he picked up the study Bible to read the next chapter.  He began reading where he had left off the night before, Romans 5:

“…we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

By the time my husband finished our reading and lead us in the Lord’s prayer, we were both crying.  He squeezed my hand as his tear-filled eyes met mine.  We clung to the promise that there is meaning to be found in what we were enduring.  There is a redemptive purpose in our suffering.  We were discovering this truth anew.

As the days passed, I continued to decline despite the treatment I was receiving.   I had daily calls with Mayo Clinic; I learned that if I did not call to check in by mid-morning, a nurse would call me.  There were days we talked three and four times.  My illness progressed despite all the best efforts. The doctors doubled my dose of medication. Then I developed a rare complication to the infection.  The doctors added a new medication to the cocktail and gave me 24 hours to see improvement, before the decision to hospitalize me.

The days were dark, but my hope remained in the peace that this life is not the end.  The illness only made the longing in my heart that much more earnest for my eternal home.

My only option was to persevere.  I trusted that whatever the outcome, it would be for my best and for His glory.

My daily prayer became, “Lord, empty me of me so that I can be filled with You.  You are my hope.”

 

Image

Humbly Grateful

My magical recovery date was April 24th.  The surgeon signed the note; I was allowed to return to work without restrictions the last Monday of April.  This was to be the unfettered day when I would be well again.  April 24th.  I had it written in black and white.

I had progressed from wheelchair to walker, from walker to cane, from cane to hands-free.  I was ready to return to work and re-establish routine in my life.  I was ready to be productive, to create, to invest myself.  I was looking forward to being well.

Oh, how my heart clung to this whisper of hope!  April 24th.  Alas, this was just a date, and when it arrived, I wasn’t miraculously well.  Oh, how disappointment struck when I realized the unreality of my expectations.

Four days after returning to work, I was back in the emergency room.

During that eight hour occupation of the exam room, I had a series of tests, a myriad of labs done during three different collections, two separate ultrasounds, and another CT scan.  As I sat in the room between visiting medical professionals, I kept a running monologue with the Lord.  I honestly had no idea why I was there, but I knew it was exactly where I needed to be.

The night before I had mentioned to my husband that I wasn’t sure what was around the corner, but I knew whatever it was, the Lord would shepherd me through it. I explained to him that twice that day, through two different means, in two very distinct ways, I had encountered Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely Your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

The first time I heard Psalm 23 that day, as I listened to our local Christian radio station, I remember feeling deeply touched by the words.  I was moved to tears.    There was a sense within me that I really needed to hear it; I listened intently.

Later that day, as I plodded through a book about how God uses disappointments in our life, I read the author’s interpretation of these verses.  I remember thinking that I needed to grab hold of the meaning of this passage; I had a sense that Psalm 23 was to remain in my awareness. The next day I understood why.

The ER doctor treating me that night returned to the exam room in a solemn manner.  She explained that I had a blood clot that was cutting off the blood supply to the left side of my liver. This was an unintended but not surprising complication of my March illness, surgeries, and extended bed rest.  To every piece of information she shared, I calmly responded, “Okay…”

She tried to impress on me the reality that this was serious.  “Okay…”

She tried to emphasize that this would be a long, involved process of healing.  “Okay…”

She tried to explain that this could result in further complications with my liver or other vital organs.  “Okay…”

Her words of diagnosis and prognosis were received by my quieted heart.  The Lord had already prepared me for that moment.  In His kindness and goodness to me, He reached into my day, before I was aware of what was to come, to remind me that He was already there.

“What is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?”  Psalm 8:4

The God of the universe, who orchestrates all of life everywhere, is still mindful of me.  What a humbling thought!  He reached into the midst of my need and gave me peace.  He had been with me through all of the medical crisis and grueling recovery to that point; I had no doubt He would shepherd me through this too.

Then the doctor explained the treatment.

I could feel the peace of my heart slowly fade as fear, then terror, gripped me.  The doctor explained that I would need to inject myself in the abdomen twice each day until the oral medication was at a therapeutic level.

The issue was that I don’t do needles. I can’t watch phlebotomists draw blood. I can’t look at IV’s going into my arm or hand. I should be desensitized to it at this point in my life, but I’m not. I don’t do needles.

I told the doctor that I could not do it. When she told me the alternative was hospitalization, I asked her how long. She wouldn’t answer me; she was not going to let me wimp out. She told me that I could learn to give myself the injections. I wasn’t so sure.  She excused herself from the room and informed me that the nurse would be in shortly to teach me how to administer the shots.

As I sat alone in the exam room, I told the Lord between tears that though I had been able to adjust to all that a perforated colon had thrown at me… I grieved the colostomy… I learned how to change my ostomy appliance…  I had adjusted countless details of my life that I never expected to be impacted by it… I did not think I could do the treatment for the blood clot.  “This crosses the line!” I cried out to God.

“Yet give attention to Your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that Your servant is praying in Your presence this day.”  1 Kings 8:28

In that moment of fear and frustration, a gentle peace swept over my heart.

“I, even I, am He who comforts you.”  Isaiah 51:12

God identifies Himself as our comforter. He answered me with peace and reassurance from His word. The verse that flooded into my awareness was one that I often repeated when lap swimming as I pushed my body to swim faster or longer:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

I needed my body to do the unthinkable, and I knew that it was outside of the realm of own ability to complete this task.  My fear was paralyzing, but my faith in an all powerful God who loves me with an inexhaustible passion was greater still.  My fear said this treatment was unbearable, but my faith said that He would shepherd me through this.

The nurse entered the room.  With “I can do all things…” repeating in my mind and tears still welling in my eyes, I told the nurse I was ready to learn how to take the shots.

My nurse was a gift of compassion and kindness.  She patiently walked me through the process.  She comforted me as I cried.  She never rushed me; she stood beside me offering me grace and encouragement.  I cried so hard at some points that I couldn’t see the syringe I was holding in my hand. Several times, when I had convinced myself to push the needle into my abdomen, I froze.  I could not move.  I practiced deep breathing.  I kept repeating my mantra.  After uncountable minutes of tears and suspended movement, I did it!  I sunk the needle and depressed the syringe.  Every bit of the solution entering my abdomen burned; I continued to plunge it in.  The needle withdrawal was a rapid movement of victory!

 Inserting the needle and injecting the burning solution continued twice a day for fifteen days, as I stayed focused on the One who shepherds me and repeated the promise that I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.  With only half of my abdomen available for injections, I had a limited area to work with.  I developed extensive bruising and large, rock hard hematomas.

As the medication thinned my blood, the skin breakdown around my stoma became significant.  One particularly rough day, as blood pooled in my ostomy bag, I required an impromptu visit at the wound-ostomy clinic with a check-in from the concerned surgeon.  Throughout this time, I had to learn new techniques and try different appliance set ups as we worked to minimize the exposure from my oddly shaped, oddly placed, retracted little stoma.

None of this was easy.  I got discouraged.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

I began to focus my thoughts on all that the Lord had provided up to that point.  My heart became overwhelmed with gratitude.  I tried to welcome the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (Give thanks in all circumstances) and James 1:2 (Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds). I tried to welcome these words, rather than allow them to guilt me to be in an emotional place I had not yet arrived.  As I re-focused my thoughts away from the difficulties around me and onto the many graces provided to me, my heart became overwhelmed with gratitude!

The reality is that my circumstances did not change.  I was still in the recovery phase after surgery.  My energy was still low.  I daily dealt with pain.  I still required injections twice a day and lab draws twice a week.

“From the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.”  Psalm 61:2

Sometimes my heart gets overwhelmed… but God.
God is good.
God provides.
God comforts.
God sends comforters to me.
God is with me.
God is shepherding me through this.

I am humbly grateful.

 

Image

He is the One who writes my story…

By mid-April, I was six weeks post-op.  I wrote a “final update” to my friends and family. Though my long days of convalescing from surgery were coming to an end, the reality is that this was only the beginning of the story.  This was just one tumultuous chapter.

During my early recovery days, a rather thoughtless extrovert informed me that “ostomies are GROSS!”  As an inner-world processor who never has a clever come-back, I was surprised by my response for him: “Having an ostomy is better than being dead!”

Recovery from the surgery was a physically and emotionally painful process, but I survived.  I lived to experience more days; I can receive each day as a gift. I am reminded of a quote posted by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation,

“I know this transformation is painful, but you’re not falling apart; you’re just falling into something different, with a new capacity to be beautiful.”

~William C. Hennan

There was no “resuming normal life” following convalescing.  There was a new normal, a different normal to be learned and experienced and embraced.  I wrote of that time:

“Waves of grief over what I lost mingle with gratitude that I am alive. Throughout the last week I’ve had three different conversations with loved ones when they shared that during the first week of my hospital stay, they feared that I would not survive. The reality of what I endured is sinking in, what my body suffered and fought through. I know others have not survived this, but I did. I have a calming peace that reminds me that I am okay, but I also feel immense sorrow that I will never be the same. I cling to the Word of God that reminds me that every day of my life was written before one of them came to be (Ps 139:16); none of this took Him by surprise. Yet there is a part of me that wants to push back and scream, ‘THIS WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE PART OF MY STORY!!!’ I shake my head in disbelief and wonder. I put my hand on my abdomen; the crinkle of the plastic pouch and rigid feel of the appliance awakens my senses and affirms that this is real. This is real. This is real, and I’m okay. It doesn’t always feel real, and I don’t always feel okay. I must remind myself that it is so. If the goal of grief work is acceptance and adjustment, then I must continue to embrace the grief. This is not a life change that I would have chosen, but this is part of my story. And I’m okay.”

 This is part of my story.  I wouldn’t have written a chapter this way; if under compulsion to write such an ordeal, I would have wrapped it up quickly and moved on.  However, I am not the author of my story.  My loving heavenly Father is the author of my life.

In His mercy and love for me, He is using this pain to shape me.  This is not a theological statement about whether God causes or merely allows tragedy in our life; this is a reminder of the promise found in Romans 8:28.  He will work all things together for my good.

He is using my frailty to renew me.  My continual prayer is that He empty me of myself so that I can be filled with Him.  If illness is His means, then I need not resist. He is using my brokenness and suffering to shine His light into my own darkness.  It is my prayer that the words I compile here will bring honor to Christ, and that He will use these words of vulnerability to shine His light into the lives of others as well.

This is only the beginning, and there are more chapters to be written: one about my liver and one about a vicious bacteria.  I am not well.  I do not know when I will be well again, but this is part of my story.  And I’m okay.

Image

One Step at a Time (Rehab!)

After thirteen days in the hospital, the first eleven without food, I was ready to be discharged.  What started with a text to my supervisor on March 3rd, letting her know I thought I needed an antibiotic and was going to be a little late coming into work that morning, was ending nearly two weeks later, following two abdominal surgeries.  It was now mid-March.

I was ready to be discharged.  I was a different person leaving the hospital than I was when I entered.  I had lost twenty pounds.  I had lost a third of my colon.  I had gained open wounds, stitches, and staples.  I had gained a left-side stoma.  My arms and hands were a series of bumps and bruises from requiring two concurrent IV sites, which were changed every few days to maintain viability of access and daily lab draws to monitor infection and system functioning.  The backs of both arms were deep shades of black and purple from the heparin shots given every 8 hours.  My body endured significant trauma from the infection, from the cocktails of antibiotics and pain medications, from the surgeries.  I was alive.  I was different, but I was alive.

I was ready to be discharged.  I had lost the ability to control movement of my left hip and leg following the left-side colectomy surgery.  I had lost the ability to put full weight on my left leg.  One of my successes for that day’s final in-hospital physical therapy session was the fact that I was able to transfer myself from sitting in a wheelchair to standing with a walker, then slowly shuffle right – left – right, then sit back down in the wheelchair that the physical therapist rolled up tight against the back of my legs.  I wasn’t really sure we could call it walking.  Much of my weight rested on my arms and walker, and I lacked the strength to actually pick up my feet to step.  Either way, we called it progress!

I was ready to be discharged.  I still required assistance with movement I used to take for granted, like sitting up in bed.  I still required complete assistance with personal cares, all the typical things like getting a cup of water to brush my teeth in bed and all the new things like learning to empty my ostomy bag.  I still required wound care, as the battles fought in the operating room had left me with five new abdominal scars.  I still required all my meals to be prepared by someone else and served to me on a tray in bed.  My daily existence was confined to my hospital bed.

I was ready to be discharged.  My insurance company wanted to send me to a rehab facility an additional hour further away from my family, requiring a four hour round-trip commute would they come to visit me.  In answer to the prayers of many, the hospital social worker was able to present my case and get approval from the insurance company to authorize my stay at a rehab center ten miles from my home.

The discharge from the hospital, with the many hands assisting my transfer out of bed, into the wheelchair, out of the wheelchair, into the vehicle, as well as the ride to the rehabilitation facility, are a bit of a blur for me.  My husband recounted later the challenge and anxiety of the drive for him, as he ferried his precious and fragile cargo from one care facility to the next.

I do remember my arrival at the rehab center.  Unknown to us, the nurse from our church family who works at the facility, was waiting for my arrival.  Once I was transferred into the wheelchair, she wrapped her arms around me and gave me a warm hug.  I was so weak; I’m not sure I even had the strength to hug her back.  All I remember is feeling held and safe.  I felt like I could take a deep breath for the first time in two weeks!

My transition at the rehab facility did not go smoothly, but I watched the staff work with genuine compassion, despite the challenges we all were facing.  The physical and occupational therapy I received was fantastic!  Their goal was the same as mine: to get me home.  We were all working together for my success.  I felt tremendous gratitude.

The stoma-healing diet was as much of a challenge for me as it was for the kitchen staff who prepared my meals.  I began to count on white fish and peaches for lunch, along with boiled chicken breast and peaches for dinner.  Thankfully, they also provided chocolate milk and chocolate ice cream any time I made the request!  It was the only time in my life I did not care about those chocolate calories!

Visitors were more frequent, as I was back in our area, close enough for friends and church family to stop by.  The look on one friend’s face when she entered my rehab bedroom spoke more than her words ever could; her uncontrollable tears communicated the pitiful reality of my current condition.  My 5’10” frame of solid structure lay weak and resigned in my bed.

I kept mostly to myself, stayed mostly in my room.  I was a woman in my early fourties; a feeble body was the only thing I had in common with the other residents who were twice my age or more.  After a few solitary days, I began forcing myself leave my room to prevent depression from settling into my heart.  I would set my piano books on my lap and wheel myself into the sitting room where the piano resided.  Various residents would be present, staff would wander in and out.  I would play for as long as I had the physical strength to remain sitting up.  I played old hymns.  Some of the residents would sing along to favorites.  I played contemporary worship songs that helped me to reflect on the sovereignty of God.  I would often cry as I played.  Many expressed gratitude for the music, but I knew that I was doing it to heal my own spirit.

Physical therapy focused on helping me strengthen my left hip and leg while learning to walk safely with a weak side.  If I was asked to do ten knee bends, I would do twelve.   If I was asked to stand at a counter-height table to work on a task for ninety seconds, I would stand and work for two minutes.  The goal of physical therapy was to teach me the adjustments I would need to make for being successful at home while simultaneously working to rebuild some of the strength that I had lost.

Occupational therapy focused on helping me regain independence with personal cares, including techniques for bathing from a seated position.  I learned how to use assistive devices to take socks on/off and to reach for items without bending.

Wound and ostomy care were attended to by the nursing staff.  One of the surgery sites became infected and required the nurses to insert a wick each day into the open wound to draw the infected fluid out.  Stoma care was challenging due to many factors, including the daily changing stoma size as it healed, the irregular football-shaped stoma, the placement of the stoma on a natural abdominal crease, and the retraction of the stoma itself.  Each nurse had different experiences with ostomy appliances and accessories; each nurse approached the ostomy care differently.  I soaked it all in, trying not to be overwhelmed or confused but rather to learn unique techniques and tricks from each of them.

Physically I was seeing small daily improvements; the staff rejoiced with me over each gain.  Emotionally I was welcoming and embracing the grief over what my body had endured and over the impact this was going to have over so many areas of life.  Spiritually I was being nourished by Bible reading, prayer, and regular encouragement from my church family.  Yet every night, I cried, longing to be home, longing to be with my family, longing for the comforts of familiar surroundings.  The days counted on.

One night in rehab, I wrote the following:

A friend gave me the book JESUS TODAY. One of the devos encourages, “Let pain and problems remind you of your constant need for Me. Create a collection of brief prayers, such as ‘Help me, Jesus. Fill me with your peace. Show me your way.'”

Today has been hard. I’ve really concentrated on Philippines 4:8 – the whatever is good, lovely, ect. Thinking about those things. I wrote a list of today’s good things. I tried to express gratitude to everyone who I encountered today.

But in many of the quiet, uninterrupted moments of today I just cried. 14 days of wearing my big girl boots, too much to take in, no option beside bravery. And now the tears seem to come. A lot of tears.

This evening as I sat crying, I recalled the reminder to use a brief prayer to speak my heart, and so i just began repeating, “Jesus, be near me. Jesus, be near me.”

A young nurse’s aid walked into my room at that time to check on me… and then spent the next 40 minutes with me, helping me care for myself and get cleaned up before bed. She rubbed on lotion. She even tucked me in.

And when she left my room, I knew that Jesus had answered my prayer through her. Her hands were His hands of ministry to me. Her kindness was His kindness to me. He is near. He is loving and good.

That truly speaks of my experience through my early days of this journey.  I continually experienced Jesus through other people.  Our church family faithfully delivered meals for my husband and three boys.  I was showered with cards of encouragement, including a special poster colored by the 3rd and 4th grade class at my youngest son’s school with an encouragement from Psalm 46.  Bouquets of flowers brought the outdoors into my solitary space.  My paraplegic friend sat wheelchair to wheelchair with me as we discussed how God uses tragedy in our lives.  My pastors took turns visiting me, providing a devotional thought, praying for my healing, and offering me communion.

In the midst of all of this sorrow, all of this pain, I continually experienced the presence of Jesus.  He is kind.  He is near.  He is loving and good.