Friday, July 30, 2010

Slow Time

My girls w/ first fruits from the garden

It's been an upside-down summer, a summer that has not gone at all as I had planned, as we had planned as a family.   Lots to be grateful for, particularly for health and health insurance.  I started trying, a few weeks ago, to be intentional everyday about the gratitude piece of all of this - because it's really easy for me to get stuck in the frustration, the plans gone awry, the maddening pace of recovery from major abdominal surgery, the inability to parent Abby in the ways I need to (did I mention she hurt her foot last week making it impossible for her to be very mobile, thereby doubling my uselessness and Shannon's way-over-loaded household of people to have to take care of?). 

Today, on my morning walk - the only exercise I'm allowed, but exercise I'm encouraged to do and so have been doing religiously - I realized that I'm beginning to see the value of the slow time I've been forced into.  Yes, yes, I know - should be obvious.  But I'm pretty thick-headed when it comes to myself sometimes.  I can be good at telling others, like lots of preachers, that balance is incredibly important.  I tend to be horrible at it myself.  I thrive in jobs where the demand is constant and the challenge bar is set higher everyday.  I create long lists of expectations in my head about what I should be accomplishing at home every second that I am there.  My teaching, you see, both by example and word, was very centered in being productive at all costs -- and being productive means endlessly moving.  There's no slowing down, no relaxing.  If you do, then you're failing somehow, not good enough, not doing whatever it is you're supposed to be doing.

Abby and our goddaughter, Elisabeth
And so I can admit, out loud now, that there's an enormous lesson for me in all of this - that there is much for me to be attentive to in the slow time that has been forced upon me.  I have friends and colleagues who have traveled the world and the United States this summer, in all kinds of incredible ways.  It took awhile to discover that this small corner of the world is all I needed to see for now.   I can also admit that there are moments I even like it, that I enjoy the not rushing around that I am not physically capable of just yet.  Because all kinds of things happen in the slow time: gardens grow, toddlers discover the world beyond themselves, family comes, dear friends visit from the West Coast, loving spouse simply loves and cares.  And, as I write this on a small, screened-in deck in the mountains of western North Carolina, fireflies come out to play - to wink their light, to display their mystery held in brief, spectacular lives.  There's nothing more to say other than a prayer of thanks to the One who creates, and holds, the winking, shining fireflies - and who creates and holds me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Right, Not a Reward

Possibly a further sign of healing - a post not about me.  I'm linking to an article written by a friend of mine, and published yesterday in Asheville's weekly free alternative press.  My faith tells me that all people are born equal, all people worthy of what is needed to live in freedom and in health.  Housing is one of those things needed - it's not a reward for a life well lived.  Being housed means many different things, but every person should have a roof over his or her head that is safe and dry.  Creating housing to truly meet the needs of a diverse community is contentious anywhere.  My friend Robin Merrell has done an excellent job of elucidating the situation here in our community.  I'm fortunate to call her both colleague and friend as we work toward a community that truly welcomes everyone - including having housing for all.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Tonight I'm able to simply feel gratitude, something I have struggled to uncover these last couple of weeks.   And uncover really is the right word - I've been thankful, deeply deeply deeply thankful for so much from the moment we entered the emergency room two weeks ago.  But I haven't been able to really feel it, it's been covered up with frustration and fatigue and the overwhelming feeling of uselessness.

Tonight, though, tonight I feel gratitude: for my exceedingly patient and loving wife; for our daughter whose unabashed joy at everyday things like running through the backyard and hugging her animals makes everything better; for co-workers who love me and care about me beyond what I can do for them in my job; for caring folks from the church who pray and bring food; for my parents who worry because they love me so much; for health insurance that made surgery many things, so many people, so many moments for which to be thankful.

I'm realizing that this healing is all about uncovering, removing what has made my body unwell for many years.  The bad stuff is out now, physically.  And what remains is new, raw, finding its way to wholeness and health through my resting, eating good food, laughing with my girls, sleeping deeply and often.  And I'm grateful to have been given the opportunity to heal, literally from the inside out.  My prayer tonight, tomorrow, and onward is to hold onto this gratitude in some measure each day, to hold it with an open hand and welcome what the healing brings.

Friday, July 9, 2010


So there's mention, over and over, about fatigue in my instructions for recovery.  I'm supposed to avoid it by alternating periods of rest with those periods of activity I mentioned yesterday.  Except the only way to avoid the fatigue is to sleep, all the time.  To not go outside my bedroom, not have a conversation, certainly not think about anything more taxing than whether I want water or, well, more water to drink next. 

It's not just physically frustrating to be incapacitated by this -- though I'd just begun to make strides back toward better physical health when I landed in the ER last week. I'll get through the physical recovery, I'll start running again in a month or so and will do some very smart eating to make up for the weeks of so little activity.  I know that it'll be slow, but I can do that.

The hardest, most painful part of this is the weeks between now and then, trying desperately to slog through the fatigue that is permeating my brain.  On my very best days - pre-surgery - I need some help managing the chemicals that bounce around up there.  Adding this debilitating fatigue on top of my already not-so-stellar chemical make-up has made for some really long days.  Mentally, I have a very hard time imagining how to get through the stretch of days that are still ahead.  I feel empty, useless and in the way.  Not to mention the added financial burden of the cost of a major surgery that's my fault.  I know, I know -- it's not rational.  I'm very aware of that.  But it's my reality right now, and there's no how-to for this on my recovery instructions.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Periods of Activity

(Practical Reflections, Part II)

"Pace your daily activities to avoid fatigue, alternate periods of activity with rest."  That is the first line of instructions in my discharge papers under the heading: "Ms. Spencer's Activity After Discharge."  Makes sense, really.  Be smart about what you're doing so you don't do too much, too quickly.  I'm fortunate, my nurses were clear with me that daily activity really means laying on the couch.  I thought I'd share with you, though, what some of my periods of activity and rest have been.

Periods of activity include the following, with the appropriate rest described after:
*Walking from the bedroom to the kitchen for coffee, down the hall to the living room and sitting on the couch to watch Abby welcome the day with her various antics.
Rest - 20-30 minutes sitting to gather energy for the next foray for 2nd cup of coffee
*Walk back to bedroom to change clothes, very strategically pull on shorts and t-shirt, go sit down to eat breakfast with my girls.
Rest - 1 hour of semi-awakeness laying on couch, attempting to focus enough to read a book but really just holding the book to make myself feel more human
*Walk out of house, down 1/2 the block and back at the approximate speed of a turtle.
Rest - 1.5 hours of deep, drug-induced sleep.
*Go to breakfast at local restaurant.  1.5 mile car ride each way, 1 hour alertness in the real world.
Rest - 6 hours on the couch, narcotics and ibuprofen as comfort aids, with 2 slow walks to the bathroom and back plus a 15 minute upright period for lunch.
*A phone call about work, breakfast, talking with Shannon about her day, getting Abby ready for school (she's figured out how to help me help her get ready w/out me having to lift her at all), hugging my girls good-bye, blogging
Rest - I'm thinking it's going to be a 1.5 hour nap.  I'll let you know how it turns out when I wake up.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Practical Reflections, Part I

Here I am, a week post-surgery, and will issue a warning to those who may be reading this blog: you may not want to know some of the information to follow.  I am going to attempt, for a few blog entries anyway, to translate some hospital and doctor-speak into real-life language.  A practical guide to recovery from a hysterectomy, if you will.

So, today, I'm going to talk about the real truth behind taking good pain medicine, at least for me.  Good pain meds means narcotics, heavy-duty ones, delivered initially through a tube inserted into the vein in my left hand.   Now, you'd think this would be a wonderful thing - narcotics not only deal with pain, they also make you not care about whether you're in pain or not.  After having my gut cut open from belly-button down, this sounds as though it would be welcome relief.  (oh, yes, as an aside: my hysterectomy was "old school," due to complicating factors, so no lasers or anything else that can often make them easier these days)

Here's the scenario in my hospital room:  nurse comes in with narcotic all ready to be neatly and quickly inserted into my i.v. for almost instant pain relief.  Wonderfully caring nurse readies the i.v., pushes in the pain meds...and I feel instantly, totally nauseous.  Which is not so much of a relief.  So, nurse runs out for more meds - it seems that everyone, including me, is very interested in me not vomiting through the 3 layers of stitches in my gut.   An anti-nausea medicine is immediately pushed into the i.v. and the next thing I know it's 3 hours later.  This goes on for a day or so, different drugs being tried to see if I can handle any of them any better.   Suffice to say, I don't remember very much of the hospital days.  Incredibly patient docs and nurses finally found a combination of narcotic and anti-nausea that is tolerable, that doesn't immediately knock me out for hours and that, most of all, does not induce vomiting.

Also included in the list of my daily 'medications' is metamucil and colace, to attempt to counter the difficult side effects of narcotics.  If you don't know what those are, be grateful.  If you have had to make their acquaintance, you have my complete empathy.  And we'll leave it at that for today.

Oh - except to say, with all seriousness, that the doctors of MAHEC  Women's Clinic, the nurses and CNAs of Mission Hospital, and Chaplain Dorri Sherrill are unrivaled in their skill, their care and their attentiveness.  I could not have asked for a better place to be and I am deeply grateful.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Change of Plans

I say often that I am fully, intellectually aware that I have very little control over most things - and also freely admit that I have what some would term control 'issues.'  Being in control of myself, my responsibilities, etc. is very important to me, despite the often futile nature of attempts at control.

And sometimes I learn the futility of these attempts at control in big, resounding ways.  Like being in a hospital room as the patient, not the visitor.  Being the one who is having the i.v. put in, not the one leading the prayer and holding hands.  Being the one who cannot do small things, like putting on a pair of shorts, without assistance.  Here I am, that one, that person who has to let go and let many others take care of me, and also let others handle my daily tasks, both at home and at work.

None of this was in my plans for the summer.  We're supposed to be close to a Florida beach about now, meeting up with my dad's big, loving, crazy family for a week.  But I can't travel yet.  Apparently, hysterectomies are kind of a big deal, and  riding in a car for that many hours would not aid in my recovery.  And so we'll miss the week, a loss that causes my heart to ache.  My parents are missing it, too as are sister and bro-in-law.  Mom and Dad came here, instead, to help our little family adjust to my drastically-different-than-planned needs.  I hope I'll be a parent like that, able to go, work, be present, etc. when Abby needs me.

I won't post pictures with this entry, they're really not fit for public viewing.  Suffice to say, this change of plans is also a much-needed gift to my body.  I've been carrying around too much stuff inside of me that needed to be excised, once and for all.

Maybe these weeks that must, for healing, be slow time, will allow other pieces, other stuff inside, to be let go of as well.  I'm praying for that possibility, for the grace to let what binds be freed.

And, I am grateful, beyond all words, for overwhelming, loving support from all corners of Asheville, and all parts of the U.S.  We have such a deep, caring community of people in our lives - healing is  already happening, and will continue to, simply due to all that love, and all that hope being held for us.