Change in Perspective

(June 9th, 2014)

In less than 24 hours I went from enjoying an exciting weekend in the city to lying in a hospital bed with oxygen tubes up my nose, an IV in my arm, a brace around my neck, and a room full of doctors and nurses running and screaming. I rolled through the halls of the same hospital that I walked through for work just days before. All I could see were the tiles of the ceiling with the repeating lights drifting past and from time to time the blur of people. Everything was familiar. Everything was foreign. I hoped I wouldn't be seen.

It is odd to me now that in the past I walked so casually, so work focused, past patients. What else can you do? I'm not a doctor or nurse, I shouldn't be here. But I am, and work happens here. The hospital is always busy with people who shouldn't be here, who don't want to be here, who need to be here. Doctors, nurses, students, researchers, family, friends and patients all pass in the hall. And it is not just patients whose lives are turned upside down and who watch the ceiling tiles and lights roll past.

My mother and sister's teased me in high school that I couldn't take a hint. A girl would like me, they would say. Besides feeling annoyed at their interference I was mystified. I honestly could never see it. It would seem I've not gotten better at reading the clues. The evening before I rolled through the hospital I walked up the street to meet with the doctor. I didn't even think it that odd that I was called in for such a late, and last minute, appointment. Not even when waiting for biopsy results from a cancer hospital. Early the next morning everything began. I reported to the hospital for pokes, prods and scans.

It was supposed to be a straight forward day: blood work, ultrasound of the heart, and a CT/PET scan. I did the blood work well, and even enjoyed the ultrasound. I'm not a fan of the jelly, but it was amazing to see my heart beat, the blood to pulse forward, and the valves to close properly. I had trouble with the scan. I wasn't allowed to eat in preparation. I was also nervous. I really don't like needles. A few minutes before 4pm I was brought to a busy little room filled with patients. Comfy chairs in darkened cubicles each held a patient slowly drinking contrast. I was weighed, and my blood sugar was measured. The nurse was nice. As he prepped my arm he chatted casually. I have since learned that I am always a multiple stick person. Today was no different. When he finally hit a vein, he pulled back, drawing some blood in the syringe to check. He stepped away to prep the comfy chair that would hold me for the next hour. And that is when everything went wrong.

I sat and waited for him to return. I felt really nauseous. My vision went. I felt like I was at the beach. I heard the sounds of crashing waves. The waves started yelling and I started to ask where I was. Suddenly I was swarmed and placed on a bed. The pillow under my head was ripped out. My legs were raised. Doctors appeared out of thin air. I was white. My pulse dropped to 40. They thought I was leaving. The yelling intensified as they found the nurse who had put my line in. They needed to know if he had given me the radioactive glucose that would highlight the tumors in my body. Some people react badly to the glucose. Some people die. I had not been injected yet. I was asked if I was a runner. I was given fluids. My pulse slowly climbed and my color improved slightly.

I had just fainted. Unfortunately, no one saw me fall. Though everyone heard a very loud noise. And my head hurt. From the bed and and through the brace I offered the theory that I had just slumped over in my chair and fell on the floor. But they were concerned that I had stood and fallen from a much farther distance. I would not get my body CT/PET scan. If I had brain damage the time taken for my scheduled scan would be too great. I needed to get checked immediately.

Before I was wheeled down the hallway towards urgent care to wait for my "brain CT" scan, but after I was braced, oxygenated and 'IVed' I texted a doctor friend to let her know where I was headed. She had helped me get my first appointment to the hospital, and helped much more than I will probably ever realize. She looked me up in the hospital records and found where I was and arriving, laughed at me in my predicament. As I was transported in my bed we rammed into everything and everyone in the hallway (the bed had a bum wheel). She told me how ridiculous I was and how desperate I was for attention. With my head hurting, my neck immovable, and the whirlwind of the last 24 hours finally catching me my remarks were less cheery. "It is amazing," I said, "that in less than 24 hours everything has change." We past another light and a few more ceiling tiles as she responded, "nothing has changed. You just know more now." And of course, she was right.

My parents had been in town for the opera (and to see me). We spent the weekend talking, walking, drinking, eating listening, and enjoying. It was a lovely fall weekend. It was also a perfect parent vacation time (long enough to miss them terribly, but not long enough to remember you all like living apart!). It was a beautiful moment in my life. Later, my father told me he wished things had been different, that we would have known before. They could have been support. They could have loved on me. But of course they did. My father remembered, and said, "We still had that weekend. Nothing changed except our perspective." And of course, he was right.

The cancer was already in me. I noticed the growth months earlier. When I asked how long it might have been with me, the doctor noted how fast this type grows and said "less than a year." But even if in that 24 hours my health had changed would it need to claim my hope, my happiness, my outlook, my perspective? Is my hope really placed in my health? In light of everything that God has given me, in light of all the good in my life, in light of all the overwhelming blessings, would my world fall apart because of this? In theory it shouldn't.

I say I am a christian. I say I believe that somehow Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection has changed the world. Somehow this Jesus has given me hope, a hope independent of my health, success, or even my own attempts at being a better person. I no longer need to hide my selfishness, pride, and indifference to the needs of others. Not because selfishness, pride and indifference are good things. Rather, because hiding them only fools myself, and only for so long. I no longer need to try to impress other people, God, or even myself. My self-worth is not found in my ability to do science, to be liked, to hide my flaws, or even to actually improve myself. My worth, is found in the love of God - the same love of God given to the whole world. I don't have to compete anymore. I am free to live. I am free to love others. I am free to help those in need, without it actually being just about me trying to be good. I am free to love God, love others, and to enjoy this life given to me. That freedom doesn't go away even when watching the tiles and light blink past. Or it shouldn't.

I was afraid. I feared for my life for one of the first times. I felt my body, tired and bruised, betraying my mind. Would it really die when I wanted to live? I felt my mortality and I started to try to compete, trying to prove to myself I was a better person. I've made a lot of mistakes in this life. I would need to do lots of good to make up for it. I started fearing it was too late. I feared now that my intentions were no more than the death bed conversion. And then I knew it. It was too late. It always had been. And in that overwhelming peace, I turned again to what had been my only hope all along. And I did not find him faithless.

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