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
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 sends comforters to me.
God is with me.
God is shepherding me through this.
I am humbly grateful.