A waiting person is a patient person. The word ‘patience’ means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us
Henri J. M. Nouwen
“Patience is a virtue.” Truer words were never spoken, as it does, in fact, take a truly strong and virtuous person to successfully practice the ancient art of patience. Patience is a gift I have yet to receive, however. I guess you can consider this apparent lack of patience a primary characteristic of my generation, for whom the concept of immediate gratification reigns supreme. Or, you can blame the unnecessarily busy lives we lead, filled with packed schedules, work and family commitments, business meetings and small children yelling in the backseat of the car. Blame your cat or your dog. Blame that guy who never fails to have the most complicated drink order on the menu at your favorite coffee shop. Whatever the case may be, wherever the blame is ultimately placed, we humans do not like to wait around for anyone or anything moving slower than a sloth on a Sunday afternoon. We’re constantly on the move, no matter where we are or what we may be doing at that moment in time.
With all that being said, I ask you, dear reader, whoever you may be, to stop and take the time to consider something very important: imagine yourself going about your day, just as you’ve always done for years. Imagine waking up in the morning, and going to work or school. Imagine driving to the supermarket to do your weekly grocery shopping. Imagine you and your family walking the dog around the park down the street. Imagine jogging or simply taking a stroll around the neighborhood.
Now, I want you to imagine not being able to do any of these things, things we so often take for granted. What if you were forced to be patient, to slow down, to wait. Personally, I’m no stranger to waiting for the things I need or want. As you may or may not have already read under the link at the top of this page entitled, “My Health Journey”, I’ve been battling Crohn’s disease for the last 14 years, albeit a fairly mild case. On May 17 of this year, I had my first bowel resection surgery to remove the terminal ileum, the cecum and a small, but very severe, intestinal stricture in the ascending colon. As is quite common in the majority of Crohn’s cases, my terminal ileum – the last few inches of the small intestine where it meets the large intestine – was so severely damaged from past inflammation and scar tissue that it was almost completely closed up. Up until the date of the surgery, I’d been strictly adhering to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), but unfortunately, although the rest of my digestive tract had been completely healed, there was no saving that particular part of it. It was already gone. No amount of dietary restrictions or improvements, no amount of medications, were ever going to make the scar tissue magically disappear. But I’d come to terms with this fact, and I was okay with it. To be honest, I’d never been more at peace with any other decision I’d made in years past. Really, the only choice I had was to fully accept it and let go of control of the situation. I had done my part, but of course, God had other plans for me.
I had actually made the decision to have surgery two years ago when I first started the SCD, but I had also been in the middle of finishing up my junior year in college at the University of North Texas, so surgery just wasn’t plausible. This year was different though. This year, the very thing that had been weighing on me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually for so long, that had unapologetically cast a long, dark shadow over every aspect of my life, was about to be removed forever, cut away like a gardener pruning his bushes and flowers for the spring.
It’s the morning of my surgery, and I’ve surprisingly gotten a good night’s sleep, despite the feelings of excitement, anxiety and hunger that were all vying for my attention. A few days before, I’d been instructed to not eat or drink anything, not even water, six hours prior to the procedure. So, I wake up at about 7:00 in the morning and drink (inhale) as much water as I can to ensure that I don’t go into surgery dehydrated. Needless to say, I have to pee like a racehorse before even setting foot in the car to drive to the hospital.
I’m nestled into a pillow at one end of the couch, while my dad is seated at the other end. My stepmom has just flown out of state for a couple of days, so it’s just the two of us at home. For most of the morning and part of the early afternoon, we sit in silence watching, of all things, the Food Network. As a small group of master chefs and amateur cooks alike face off in a cooking competition for the ages, I break the silence between us.
“You know what sounds really good right now?”
“Pizza! I can make the crust out of cauliflower, and put tons of sauce and vegetables on it. I need that in my life, like, now.”
“That does sound really good.”
“I just really want food, in general.”
“You’ll be eating again before you know it. Six weeks are going to pass by like that, and you’ll be in good shape.”
“I know. I’m going to be just fine.”
In the days leading up to the surgery, a endless stream of emotions had been running rampant through my mind and my body. Fear. Anxiety. Doubt. An intense sense of worry and wondering what exactly was going to happen. It was all I could think about, all that mattered, even amidst completing end-of-semester projects, studying for final exams and putting in long hours at work. This particular day, however, is different, as an oddly pleasant feeling of acceptance and peace washes over me. I’ve just arrived at the hospital and signed in at the front desk. I then sit down at a rather comfortable chair near the towering windows at the entrance to the building. I pick up and open the magazine that’s resting on the small, brown table nearby, and I wait for my name to be called to complete the pre-operational paperwork.
After providing all of my information, and after arriving at the waiting room, my name’s called again, and so begins the adventure of a lifetime. The first nurse introduces herself to my dad and me, but I’m so hungry and exhausted from the day before, I can’t seem to focus very well on a single word she’s saying. It all goes in one ear and out the other. Nonetheless, I nod my head anyway, trying my absolute best to, at least, look like I’m listening intently to and understanding everything she’s telling me.
The same nurse measures my weight, which I do remember as one of the more positive aspects of the day. I’d gained a whole six pounds since my last doctor’s visit (thanks, milk kefir)! To most people, six pounds may not seem like a lot, but when you have Crohn’s disease, and you’re already built like a very short beanpole, every pound counts. After having my weight checked and giving a urine sample, I head to the pre-op room, Room 1, at the end of the hall next to that big oven where they keep all of the warm blankets (I planned that, I did). At the same time the first nurse leaves to assist the next patient, a second nurse arrives with a fresh hospital gown and a plastic bag in which to put my clothes. I change into the hospital down, realizing that I will never, in a million years, figure out how to tie the back of those things without help. I put my clothes and shoes into the plastic bag, and seal it up. My dad and the pre-op nurse come back into the room, and I settle into the bed, getting comfortable underneath the three or four layers of warm blankets I have over me.
I’m still on auto-pilot as I sign what appears to be a novel’s worth of various consent forms and other paperwork. I listen to the nurse as she gives me a rundown of everything involved in the pre-op stage. About half an hour after my arrival, a third nurse – a sweet, but sassy, Russian lady – draws enough blood to fill a couple of small vials. After asking me a few questions to see how I’m doing, she disappears as quickly as she arrives behind the curtain and back out into the hallway. The pre-op nurse then attempts to insert the IV, but I’m so cold and dehydrated, she has trouble finding a vein. Eventually, she’s able to find a good one in my left forearm. She inserts the small, hairlike tube into my skin, runs it about an inch along the length of the vein and tapes it securely to my arm. This is the last step before the nurse wishes me well and sends me on my way as she, too, leaves the pre-op room.
I lie there in the hospital bed, surrounded by warm blankets and cold, clean air. My dad is quietly sitting in a chair in the corner of the room. I struggle to stay awake as we wait for the surgeon, who’s running later than planned due to another procedure. About two hours later, the surgeon finally arrives at my room, accompanied by the anesthesiologist and another nurse. The last question I remember asking: “You’ll be using the smallest catheter, right?” She’s about to cut me open, remove part of my small and large intestines, and what am I preoccupied with the most during this whole thing? Why, the catheter, of course. Although I never particularly enjoyed the idea of having a tube in my bladder, it’s actually not as devastating as one might think. I wake up in the recovery room, still ranting and raving about that catheter, crying and pleading, “Take it out! Take it out!” However, I’m referring to the enormous amount of pain and discomfort I feel in my lungs, back and abdomen, and not the catheter this time. Within only minutes of waking up, I fall back asleep.
I wake up later that night, unsure of where exactly I am at first. It’s a Tuesday, and I spend the next three days slowly, but surely, adjusting to this new body of mine and a new life after surgery. Admittedly, I’d been through some pretty challenging circumstances before, but they all paled in comparison to everything I experienced during those three days in the hospital. I couldn’t do very much for myself, so I had to rely on my family and the other people around me for help. Those that know me best can only imagine how absolutely maddening that was for me, as I’ve never really been one to enjoy asking for help with anything. I also couldn’t use any of my abdominal muscles to lift myself up or move about very easily. I had to learn how to use my arms, back and legs to compensate for my lack of ab muscles. And I became fast friends with almost every nurse on my floor, since that handy-dandy call button they give you was basically glued to my hand the entire time I was there.
It was late in the afternoon on Friday that I finally got to go home, and the call button was replaced with a little silver bell, although I rarely used it. In fact, the bell provided more of an opportunity to annoy my dad than anything else (sorry, Dad). Aside from said minor annoyance, continuing my recovery at home, surrounded by family, friends and familiar surroundings (a more comfortable bed wasn’t too shabby either), was much easier than living out those days in a hospital bed.
It’s been six weeks since the surgery, and I’m quite surprised at just how fast these weeks have flown by. Then again, when you’ve exhausted every magazine in the house, along with every single episode of The Pioneer Woman on the Food Network, and you never move from the same spot on the couch for four straight weeks, the days can start to run together. It’s been during this time of rest and renewal that I’ve been able to reflect back on not just the last six weeks, but the last 14 years of my life. I didn’t realize it at first, but this surgery had been in the works for quite some time. I’d waited long enough, and now, it had finally happened.
I’d actually been waiting for a lot of things to happen. Waiting for the medications to work, and they never did. Waiting to find a doctor who was right for me. Waiting to be well again. But what’s seemed like a never-ending game of sitting around and twiddling my thumbs has been the ultimate test in faith and trust in a plan much grander than any I had made for my own life. This is it. Right here. This is precisely what it really means to do your part as God Himself works on your behalf to write the rest of your story.
On our way home from one of my follow-up appointments with the surgeon, my dad and I came up with a pretty good way to sum it up: Pray, believe, expect, thank. Ask in prayer for what you need or want; believe with all your heart, mind and soul that it’ll happen for you; expect nothing but His best; and thank Him in advance for all that He’s done, and continues to do, for you. There comes a time when you have to accept the situation at hand, where you are at that moment in time, and just let go. Let go of that fear, that doubt and that anxiety that’s been plaguing your heart and your mind for ages. You can’t hold on to it anymore because you know all too well how the law of attraction works. The more negativity you let into your thoughts, the slower you’ll heal on a physical level. So, you let go of all of it, of everything that’s out of your control. You stop holding on to the past, and everyone and everything that’s been holding you down. It’s at this moment of surrender when you find true and lasting peace.
For real though, I’m still waiting on my hospital gown-tying lesson. Any takers?