Almost three years ago I wrote a posting titled Musings- Life And Lemons. About a month ago, life served me a big lemon. I should be used to lemons by now, you’d think. I mean life is a big mixture of lemons and strawberries – or bananas, or mangos, or whatever other fruit is your current sweet-flavored favorite. But somehow, I guess, there’s a subconscious part of me that thinks I should be exempt from lemons, despite the fact that they keep appearing on my plate, and so they tend to side-swipe me when they happen.
So what’s the latest and greatest in the lemon orchard you’re wondering. It may or may not help to understand why I think this latest event on the road that is my life is a lemon, a big lemon. I’m sixty-eight years old. So, OK, technically I was only sixty-seven when this lemon appeared on my radar. But that’s another reason it was a big lemon – it messed up my birthday!!
On Friday 27 April, I headed down to Winter Park to participate in the last-but-one class of the second year of my Audire course. Ruth, my friend who has just completed her third and final year of Audire, drove us down in her truck/van/SUV (not sure which label fits her vehicle; suffice to say it’s big enough and strong enough to haul a good sized trailer). We always go down on the Friday night before class so we can get a good night’s sleep and avoid having to get on the road at o’dark thirty to be at San Pedro retreat center by 8.30am on Saturday morning.
As always, I met up with my dear friend Bickley to enjoy a superb dinner. The dinners with Bickley are always wonderful because we choose a different ethnic restaurant each month so that we can delight our palates. She and I are food aficionados and most of her other local friends are “plain-American-fare” eaters, so she doesn’t get to indulge her more exotic taste buds very often. We had a great Cuban meal that Friday evening and enjoyed even more wonderful friendship time as we caught up with each other since the previous month – which had actually been two months because of the strange class schedule we had this year.
After dinner, Bickley dropped me back to San Pedro and I settled in for the night. Before getting ready for bed, I called my husband, Richard, to tell him about my enjoyable evening with Bickley and to say goodnight. Everything normal so far; not even the hint of a lemon. I prepared myself for the night and got into bed and, out of nowhere, I started experiencing some serious abdominal pains. My immediate thought was “oh no, food poisoning!”. I got out of bed and made a mint tea (good for digestion) and made sure I had a large container of water beside the bed. The pains continued and I resigned myself to “waiting it out”, flushing my system with the tea and lots of water.
By midnight I was worried. The pain hadn’t eased up so I called Ruth who was in the room next to mine. I could tell that she had been deep in sleep. What I couldn’t know was this was the first night she had been able to get to sleep fairly early after two very stress-filled weeks and lots of disturbed nights. I explained what was going on and asked her if she thought I should “call someone”. Ruth sleepily agreed that it sounded like food poisoning and said that there wouldn’t be anything anyone could do and that I would just have to wait for it to “go through my system”. She did however suggest that I lie down quietly and gently massage my tummy and think happy thoughts.
At 3am I was a little mentally hysterical. It occurred to me that the pain hadn’t diminished and it had not even begun to “move through my system”. It was a steady low-burning pain in both my upper and lower abdomen and there wasn’t a single sign of a rumble, a gurgle, a grumble anywhere in my intestines. It was at this point that I made a decision to call 911 and get help. I called Ruth and let her know and she said to open my door so she and the paramedics could get in.
At this point I will make a long story short. A shot of morphine, a 4-mile ambulance drive, a three-hour ER stay, and one cat scan later, the ER doctor informed me that I had an acutely inflamed appendix. Now I ask you, isn’t appendicitis a “kid thing”? Or at very least, a “teen thing”? When was the last time you heard of a sixty-seven year old having acute appendicitis? So what was I to do? “That can’t be”, I firmly told the ER doctor. (Fortunately my husband hadn’t quite arrived at the hospital by then so was spared the embarrassment of that moment.) Hopefully the ER doctor made allowances for the fact that I was under the influence of morphine.
So at about 2pm on Saturday 28 April 2012, I was surgically separated from my appendix. As I waited for surgery, I remember feeling irritated that I was missing class, especially as it was a class that I had been particularly looking forward to. I also remember being frustrated because our next class was in just two weeks and I had to prepare an end-of-year integration paper as well as other homework and I wasn’t going to be in the best of shape for the next few weeks. I found myself thinking that it was my birthday in a few days and how was I supposed to celebrate if my head was still full of anesthetic and narcotic pain-killers, and my body was still weak from the whole surgery thing. This was a very bitter lemon indeed.
Thank God I got out of that kind of thinking pretty quickly! I cannot remember if I got there myself or if it was Richard who spoke it into reality, but I do remember at some point being grateful that the acute appendectomy was happening now and not closer to our trip to Italy at the end of June; even more grateful that it didn’t happen during that trip! I remember suddenly being grateful that I was being taken care of and receiving good medical attention (the staff at Memorial Hospital, Winter Park, FL were all wonderful!). And I remember also feeling grateful that I had decent medical insurance that covered this care. I got to making lemonade fairly quickly, especially once I got my pain meds!
I went home just a little over twenty four hours after being taken to OR, thanks to the wonders of laparoscopic surgery, and I experienced gratitude on a whole other level. I was truly grateful that Richard is retired now and is always at home (didn’t think I would be saying that so very sincerely!), and for the very intimate and personal care that he gave me as I made my recovery from this whole event. I was grateful for all the prayers and cards that friends sent my way and the telephone calls that showed how much they cared.
Another lesson in gratitude learned. Another lesson in being flexible and to expect the unexpected. I got my integration paper done in time despite having a befuddled brain for a few weeks (anesthetic can really mess you up mentally as well as take your knees out from under you physically), and I was well enough to attend my class two weeks later. My birthday celebration was low-key and a little delayed but it was still a celebration. In fact it was more of a celebration (internally at least) because I was still around to celebrate. So, even though I’m a slow learner, I am still teachable and I am learning to make lemonade out of life’s lemons.
Just recently life has thrown a few curve balls into my personal space. Nothing drastic, but enough to throw me off balance. And then, of course, there’s the dratted weather, which has thrown enough curve balls into everyone’s territory to create disruptions galore.
My last posting (yes, I know, it’s been two long weeks!), was on 7 March Musings- Freedom, and I shared how sick I had been and how much I was enjoying the freedom of wellness. We had a short interlude of a few days of good weather as I regained my strength, and the first call of order was the garden. So much needed to be done in the way of general tidying and clearing before beginning on the major project which would completely remodel my front yard.
I have to admit that even as I experienced the joy of gardening, I struggled with a certain level of frustration. As much as I wanted/needed to be out doing the garden, especially as I had lost so much time due to bad weather and we didn’t know how long the warm weather was going to last, I also really wanted to be writing. Having two passions is sometimes difficult to manage and the garden passion and the writing passion each carry about equal weight in my heart.
Well, I chose the garden and managed to get a few days good work in as well as immersing myself into the the general mainstream of my daily life. I was on about day five of this readjustment back to normal when the next curve ball arrived and truly took the wind out of my sails.
I had just arrived in St. Augustine for a Body Talk appointment. I pulled into the parking lot, took my phone out of my bag to put it on silent mode, and it rang in my hand. It was my husband calling to let me know that he was in the ER with chest pains “but please don’t get alarmed”!
In hindsight I have learned that my reaction to crisis/alarming news is to back off, disconnect if you will. In that moment I said to my husband, “I’ve just arrived at my appointment in St. Augustine, do you need me there?” He kind of muttered around for a few moments as I cautiously allowed my mind and my heart to re-approach the reality of the situation, then he said, “Yes, I think I’d like you here.”
As I ran in to cancel my appointment before turning the car around and racing back to Jacksonville, I realized what my comment must have sounded like to my husband as he lay on a gurney in the ER. I called him immediately and left a message (they had made him turn his phone off). I told him that even as I had asked that ridiculous question, there had been no doubt that I would go right to the hospital to be with him. I had just needed a moment to allow my fear to subside so that I could get on and do what I needed to do.
I guess for me it is a defense mechanism. Stepping back so that I can allow my head and my heart to kind of sync up together and work in harmony. It’s the kind of mechanism that has us go to numbness or disbelief in the face of personal tragedy. We need that small space of time so that God can step in and hold our heart and our hand, or even pick us right up into His arms, and walk us through the pain and the difficulty of any given tough situation.
I spent the whole of the drive back to Jacksonville in prayer mode. I asked God to protect my husband and surround him with His healing grace. I made a couple of phone calls: one to my daughter to put her in the picture, and two more to dear friends so that I would have my support group in place no matter what.
By the time I got to the hospital I was calm. They had done a bunch of tests on Richard and were beginning to administer some different medications. His EKG’s, chest X-ray, and blood work were OK, but he was still experiencing tightness and pressure in his chest as well as shortness of breath when speaking. They kept him in for observation for a couple of days before sending him home with more medication and instructions for follow-up, including an appointment with the Cardiologist.
It is amazing how a couple of days and a crisis can affect the human system. It was only after getting Richard home and seeing him slowly return to normal that I realized how exhausted my body was. As I went through the process of letting go of the anxiety all I wanted to do was sleep. I also noted how I felt generally irritable, and irritated toward Richard. (Like how dare he put me through that!!).
Stress is a very hard task-master that produces strong emotions and reactions. I am grateful that I know how to recognize stress fairly quickly and can take positive steps to reduce and eliminate it from my life. I booked a massage in the next few days and also returned to my beloved garden, two of the best therapies for stress that I know work for me.