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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.

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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.”