Well, that one was one crazy week. I get a bowel obstruction, find out I have a hernia, an extra organ that only 2% of people are born with, had a hand full of doctors at two different hospitals look at my CT scan and say, “I don’t know”, take an ambulance ride up back up to Stanford, go home only to slip back into excruciating pain, return to Stanford and head right back into another full open surgery.
Getting ready for another wide open abdominal surgery. Don’t let the face fool you, I was pretty upset.
Let me be completely honest: the surprise, the rapid regression in my health, the pain, the nausea, paired with the progress I thought I was making the past six months made this round much more mentally difficult than anything else. Feeling prepared to run a triathlon and imagining myself crossing the finish line as a symbolic gesture of putting CDH1 behind me came to a screeching halt last Thursday is demoralizing. Instead of getting my transition pack ready, I was now mentally preparing to go back to surgery, again. I would be roaming the halls in the same wing of the same hospital, again. I would wake up after surgery with the feeling of being on fire, again. I would look down at a scar that was finally starting to heal only to find that they opened me all the way back up, again. All this makes me feel like I am starting all over, even though I am not.
The past couple days have been really difficult, even though physically, I feel like it has been easier. The other night I could not sleep with incredible amounts of gas pain which can only be relieved by passing gas. I did what every post-surgical patient does in recovery, walk. For some reason the gas pain always ends up in your shoulders and hurts like a BEAST. In some ways, it hurts more than the incision because at least the dilaudid takes care of the surgical pain. That night I roamed the halls at Stanford with anger and frustration.
Let me be completely honest one more time: I was feeling sorry for myself.
The last I checked, feeling sorry for yourself never gets you anywhere. It just eats at your soul and makes you more bitter, angry, and leaves you feeling like somebody owes you something. That’s healthy. Not. But, this was where I was, at the bottom again.
At the peak of my pity party, I passed by a couple rooms on my floor where two others were dying of cancer that night. Reality check.
“Someone always has it worse than you.” “Everyone dies.” “It’s not what we face, it’s who we become when we face it.” “The crap will hit the fan (awful analogy, I know), over and over and over again in life, so it’s a not about what challenge you face, but how you choose to walk directly through it.” “If you’re going to enjoy the beautiful things in this life: butterflies in your stomach with your first kiss, the feeling of your stomach in your mouth the first drop on a roller coaster, the nervousness you feel on a first date, the first bite of an incredible meal that literally makes you close your eyes so you can focus all of your senses on the food you are eating… it also means embracing the really crappy parts about this life like stubbing your toes, being rejected by a girl, throwing up after you’ve had too much roller coaster action, bad meals, and yes, even death and cancer.” These are my own words.
They all flooded back to me in that moment. Yes, I’m listening.
I can’t explain it, I can just say that it sounds condescending, but I had this thought that people everywhere would love to be in a position where I’m at. I don’t have a stomach… so what? So I can’t eat everything in the quantity I want… yes? So, I feel like I want to throw up until my insides are empty… big deal. There are so many others who have looked at their situation and said, “ok, let’s do this thing… It’s not ideal, but it’s useless wishing to be in someone else’s shoes, or being bitter that you didn’t get dealt a different hand in this life.” I came back to my room, sat on bed that probably costs $8,000 for me just to sit on per day, looked at my scar and said, “it’s six more inches of story to tell.”
The only option we have in this life is to walk straight through these things. My faith in God doesn’t make me immune. God doesn’t owe me anything. I just know that He’s going to help me put one foot in front of the other. Tragedy makes you take a good hard look at what you really believe about God, let alone life, love and (fill in your philosophical metanarrative here). My faith does not leave room for karma. I don’t deserve good things in this life because I’m a nice person. That leads to resentment and confusion when you face tragedy. My faith does not leave room for, “why is this happening to me, because I do things for other people.” That just leads to bitterness feeling like God owes it to me and my faith in God is not any deeper than my faith in Santa Claus. My faith does, however, promise that God will not abandon me in my hour of need even if it means I’m dying right then and there. My faith in God means that sometimes my trust in God won’t always line up with my understanding of God and the “why” of what’s happening. This allows me to shift the question from “why” to “how”. This question allows me to shift from defeat to trust. Easy? Hell no. Just a bit easier, heaven’s yes.
Look, I’m a pastor. It doesn’t give me special privileges. I don’t get “backstage passes” with the LORD. It helps give me perspective and an opportunity to walk with others going through the same crap I go through in life, encouraging them, and celebrating the awesome parts together.
I have another six inches of scar that will tell another story. I have another 4-6 weeks of recovery from being opened back up. Maybe this is an opportunity for me to regain some perspective, rally, and get ready to keep encouraging others in life’s journey so that one day when I’m in one of the rooms breathing my last, I can hope the past X amount of years of my life was spent doing exactly what God has always called me to do: walk with Him the best I know how, love others the best I can, as faithfully as I can.
On the left: my first surgery. On the right: my second surgery. On the second surgery they started 3 inches above my belly button and went down 3 more inches past my belly button. I was hoping it was going to be laparoscopic, but oh well. 4-6 weeks of recovery.