Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Painful reminder of the past...

This past week has been filled with deep sorrow in this beautiful part of Texas that we call home. It began with the sudden passing of a man who had given so much of himself, working to keep the historical aspects of our town intact for many others to enjoy. We grieved, and then death struck again as the early morning news came that our county sheriff had passed away suddenly from a massive heart attack! With each phone call, everyone kept repeating, "We just can't believe it. Are you sure this happened?" His funeral service was overflowing with people, who wanted so badly to pay their respects, say a silent Thank You and to offer up a silent prayer for his wife. More news came of another respected man leaving us, and it seemed the grief would not stop.

I began reflecting on how often my mood sours due to the Pain rising up as anger rises inside me for all the things taken from me. I know this is a pity party, and I should not allow it. But it's not as easy as one thinks it can be. When I heard of all these fine men suddenly passing, it brought my anger into full focus and I tried hard to reason it all away, talking with my husband, telling him that I knew deep inside how blessed I am to be alive and still have my dear husband with me. Simply said, I was working on counting my blessings. Progress was made, and my mood eased. But the good Lord had more news for me that would truly bring all my anger to a sudden halt.

A dear friend of mine and her husband who live here in our community had called to invite us over for dinner tonight, and I had to tell her that my husband was limping around as his gout had flared up, so we could not join them for dinner. She was very understanding and then said, "Did you hear about the two young men who passed away?" My first thought was, "Not again, Lord, please not again." This was the moment for my heart to be fully open as I learned that one young man, very respected here, had been at a benefit to help raise funds for another man who had been seriously injured in a car wreck. He was playing outside with some kids, and a football became lodged in the tree. He probably thought nothing of climbing up the tree to retrieve the ball so the game would go on. But as he was climbing down, suddenly he fell to the ground. For a brief second, all appeared to be fine as he stood up. But then just as fast, his body gave way, and he fell to the ground again. This time he did not get up...his neck had been broken, and he was rushed to the hospital by Air Flight. He passed away at the tender age of 24. I couldn't process this, and I knew the reason why. It was striking a nerve in me that brought a very painful reminder of my own past. My friend added that another young man, a 27-year-old, had been in a head-on car wreck, and he, too, had been taken from us.

All of this news has been so hard to understand and to think of the deep grief these families will deal with is heart-breaking. All I can do is pray for each one of them. My husband had been listening to the phone call, and I explained it to him. He sat for a while, so silent and lost in his thoughts, then suddenly turning to me and saying, "Do you truly have a clue as to just how lucky you were that day when you fell from that tree?" It took less than a second for me to say one word Yes. My mind had already gone back in time, and I could see everything as it was that day...the tree, sun shining, gentle breeze blowing, and a woman standing 12 feet up from the ground, thinking I was so strong. Then without any warning, screaming to God for help as I fell and hit the dirt, not realizing how I had altered my life and opened the door for Chronic Pain to join me.

Today brought deep sorrow and humility my way as I thought about the young man being up in that tree and how tragedy struck in the blink of an eye. My husband could see me processing this and lovingly offered these words to me: "Martha, we are so blessed because you are still here, the same thing could have happened to you! Please count your blessings, and thank the Lord for all He has given to us. We must pray for these folks who are hurting so much!"  

I agreed and knew we both would spend extra time in prayer for all these families who have a long journey ahead of them. Please say a prayer for these many families who are suffering on this day. Keep on looking up and counting your blessings.

God bless you all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The demands of Pain

Many years ago, I married the love of my life, and we have been blessed with almost 37 years of marriage. He was in the police academy when our wedding date approached, and I can recall how he kept repeating over and over to me: "Do you really understand what it will be like to be married to a police officer?" A fast "Of course, I understand!" was my response. I was a young 20-year-old woman and nothing seemed impossible or too hard to tackle. What amazing love it took for him to keep pushing these words my way, trying so hard to brace me for what lay ahead. Two months after we married, he graduated from the academy and hit the streets as a full time police officer. This was when his words really hit me. Each time  I would hear of an officer being shot, my first words were "Please, Dear God, don't let it be my husband," knowing all I could do was anxiously wait and pray that his job of protecting the streets would not take him from me.  Then my prayers would start for the unknown wife-who would have to hear the dreaded words of her husband having to pay the ultimate price.

So I learned the "demands" of his being a police officer and began to accept his work almost as if there were an extra "wife of sorts" in the picture. One of my worst moments was to hear him coming in from a night of work and gently telling me, "Two teenagers took some shots at me and my partner last night, but we caught them. They were just kids," as he poured coffee into his cup! That split moment in time has stayed with me as I knew this had been a very close call for him and I thanked God for his "Guardian Angels" being on the job that day.

 But now our roles have been reversed as he watches each day and sees Pain demanding everything it can from my body and spirit. He has stood by me in the worst of times, watched me recover from surgeries, infections and has prayed me back to life many times. But he can't make this Pain go away, and I was not able to give him any "words of advice" on living with Chronic Pain.  Its a fair statement to say in this situation, we had a crash course of "on the job training!"

One day I was fine, enjoying life to its fullest and then I made a terrible mistake by climbing up a tree and falling hard, which opened the door for Pain to start its demands. The frustrations of Pain wanting so much of me sometimes is almost too hard to handle, and I have been humbled by Pain more than I want to admit! To put it simply, Chronic Pain is a force all its own and no matter what I do, there is no way to shake it from my life-its here to stay.

Chronic Pain will continue on-and I am learning new coping skills to keep the Pain at a reasonable level.  It still doesn't make me feel better about having to let go of so much, but I look back and recall those days of "silent worry" as my husband worked.  It took a lot of restraint to not pressure him about his career choice because I knew it would put a terrible strain on our marriage. Now he is the one with his version of "silent fears" as he watches the struggles I must face each day. We have shared much in our marriage-standing by each other as we promised to do all those many years ago, and I am so thankful for God sending me this good man, one who will walk with me, no matter what.

Yes, Pain will always put demands in my path, and I pray for God's Grace to keep guiding me along the way.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What hope can do for us

I watch the evening news every night since I don't read the daily newspaper. It's my way of catching up on all that is going on in our world. Recently, I tuned in to the local news for our area, and a section began rolling with a powerful message of hope and how far it can take us, especially when we hold onto it with everything we have inside us. The interview was about an elderly man who is dying from lung cancer and COPD, a common illness that follows a life of heaving smoking. He began talking about having heard of the "Make a Wish Foundation" and deep inside him, a silent wish had lingered. Now he found the courage to speak about it with his hospice partner.

I watched him talk, saw him walk outside and stand on his porch steps as a cold rain was falling. Then he started explaining his special wish:"Well, I feel a little guilty about my wish. It's raining a lot, and we sure have needed rain. But right now, I need just a few hours of sunshine so maybe my wish can come true." When asked what his wish was, he spoke from his heart and said, "I have dreamed about riding in a hot air balloon since I was a kid. Now it's all I can think about. But even though the rain seems to just keep on coming down, I have hope that just maybe this will happen!" The camera then turned to his hospice partner, and she explained that everything was ready and paid for. But now a very sunny day was really needed, and she hoped it would arrive quickly!

My heart was breaking as I listened to this man, a total stranger who is facing so much and yet he was teaching a powerful lesson of having hope. Even when everything might seem impossible, here he was clinging to it and praying for his dream to come true. The news continued, but my mind was dwelling on this man and his dream, how long he had held onto it, thinking it probably would never happen but yet he refused to give up that simple thing called hope.  

That night I made sure to include this man in my prayers, and somehow I began to feel a sense of assurance that he would see his dream come true. What strength there is in a four letter word hope, and how we all find ourselves holding onto it throughout our lives. This gentle man could easily have cast his dream aside and just let it go. But in the worst of times, he reached deep for hope and is determined to never let go of it.

I pray his wish comes true and that he finds himself floating in the glorious skies, feeling the heat from the hot air of the beautiful balloon and for a few minutes, being able to let go of the illness that racks his body and simply take it all in!

Keep pushing away from Pain, and give yourself time to hope for a few minutes of relief in each day. This is my prayer for all who suffer with Chronic Pain, and I am giving Hope a chance, too.  God bless.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Changing weather can bring extra pain misery

My mama broke her ankle many years ago. After it healed, I'd hear her say, "Old Arthur is barking at me today!" The comment sounded strange because she never gave any explanation as to why she would say that. But I began to notice that each time the Old Arthur phrase came out, there was a noticeable limp to her walk and she would spend more time in her chair, rubbing that ankle. She was a very active woman and seeing her take to her favorite recliner told me things were not right. Little did I know that this was probably my first real picture of Chronic Pain.

Finally, I decided to forge ahead and ask exactly what she meant with her Old Arthur phrase. Her look at me was direct and steady, almost telling me to brace myself for what she was about to say. Mama was not one to mince words; she was direct and to the point. She began by saying "Do you understand what arthritis is? No, guess you don't have to deal with that yet. But don't worry, it will come your way!"  

I can recall standing there for what seemed like hours but was probably only a few seconds. Then I replied, "Well, gee, Mama, I think arthritis is when you get older and your bones begin to hurt." She agreed with me that I was fairly clear about arthritis. But Old Arthur was something different! My mind was struggling to figure her words out. Then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. "I got it, Mama! When you broke that ankle so bad, the metal pins they put in to hold the bone together makes it really hurt worse when bad weather is coming!"

The slight smile that filled her face was silently telling me I now understood a bit of the suffering she had to go through. Whenever she fussed about Old Arthur coming, it was a way to release some of the tension, perhaps giving her a second or two to re-group and cope with the Pain that would never go away. But I noticed something as she spoke all this to me. Her eyes were saying so much more to me than the words she spoke. I could see that bone-weary tired feeling, that look one gets from not much sleep, and sadness, telling me she knew this Pain would never leave. That Old Arthur would always show up during bad weather.

I look back on this memory and understand now the lesson being taught to me and how I would find myself using it with my own Chronic Pain. Every so often, I will silently utter the words Old Arthur under my breath as my body is screaming at me that bad weather is on the way. Then I'm taken back to that special moment of a mother teaching her daughter about Pain and now I treasure that time. She had her words and now I have my own fighting phrase of Pain Won't Beat Me to help me get through the bad days.

When I reflect on both my parents, there is a deep ache in my heart as I look upward, wishing to talk with them for advice on dealing with my Chronic Pain. In some ways, I can almost hear them saying "Sister, life is never easy, but the Good Lord will NEVER give you more than you can handle, so just keep looking up and be thankful for all He gives you!"

For all who are suffering with Chronic Pain, please know I will keep Looking Up for you, offering a Prayer for Help. My moment of Joy today came from simply remembering the phrase uttered so long ago: "Old Arthur is Barking today!"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Being the "nurse" instead of a patient...

Men don't get sick that often. I think it's just a given fact. But when they do get sick, oh, my! Drop everything and get ready to be Super Nurse! My dear husband recently decided to give himself a gift and spend the day learning how to fly fish! All he had to do was show up and there would be an expert guide, complete with all the equipment and many fish waiting for his hook to get their attention.

I had forgotten to inquire as to how "long" his day would be but figured all was well. As the sun was setting and my "worry" mode had begun, here he came, driving up. Instead of seeing him flying inside to tell me all about his day, I noticed a man who was obviously in Pain! His back problems are actually more serious than mine, meaning that he has both a herniated disc and a ruptured disc. So it doesn't take much to get things messed up. Once he got into the house and tried to start talking, I realized he was in a full blown allergy attack of some kind. Stuffy nose, headache, itchy eyes...You name it, the poor guy had it! So no questions were asked about his day. Instead, I went into full Nurse Martha mode and grabbed every allergy medicine in the house, hoping it would help him. Finally, a warm cloth across his eyes and him laying down to rest in bed began to make all the difference in the world. I started to breathe a bit easier because this man is truly my Rock in every sense of the word.  

Over the  years as I have battled with the Pain and serious complications from surgeries, he has always been there for me. It's very scary to see him down and suddenly being the one needing his own Rock to lean on. I found myself thinking, "Will I do as good a job in caring for him as he does for me?" So I prayed for guidance and probably did a bit of Nursing Overload when he began telling me, "Okay, Martha, I am starting to feel better. You don't have to be watching me constantly!" Ah, that was music to my ears! Soon he was back on his feet, still with the sniffles but feeling so much better.  

Now I brought up His Back issues. Of course, he was "clueless" as to why his back was bothering him so much. "Must have been when I was bending over to plant seeds in the garden," he mused, "or maybe when I was putting a new lock on the door. Yes, that's what did it, right?" I paused and then told him, "Well, each day you get on the treadmill to walk, all I can hear is a hard sound of you running on that machine. Do you think that might have done the damage?" His look and reluctance to answer reminded me so much of myself, knowing the times when I did something that was probably going to intensify my Pain and simply not wanting to admit the truth!

So we both sat and talked, now sharing our Pain issues together and realizing this could easily require some serious decisions. My back problems are a mix of tree fall and degenerative disc problems, not fixable. The more we shared about what might lay ahead, it was wonderful to see how trusting we were, knowing we have a wonderful doctor who treats both of us and that whatever comes ahead, we will face it together, by love for each other and lots of prayers to the Lord. As my husband says, "Life is a roller coaster ride, ups and downs, and we just hang on, together." We started to laugh about his "Fly Fishing Trip" not ending the way he had hoped and laughing at how we both have to "struggle" to get out of our chairs.

This was my Joy, all mixed up in caring for my husband, and then simply being thankful for each other. As you struggle with Chronic Pain, there are a ton of bad days. But do your best to cherish the good days. Keep pushing forward and looking upward!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Learning from others

I am constantly amazed at the "teaching ability" of other people who suffer with Chronic Pain. They're in the trenches each day of their lives and do not let Pain take them completely down, no matter how bad it gets.

Unless you've lived with someone who fights this tough battle daily, you truly can't understand how many coping lessons we all learn in our journey with Pain.

We each have our own special list: Prayer, special stretches, medication, heating pads, pillows, ice packs, meditation, yoga, massages, and the list goes on. But it's a pretty fair statement to say that Prayers keep running on a regular basis. I've had a bit of a break from horrible back Pain, and yet that is not my only problem. Every day, sciatic nerve pain is with me in my leg from the moment my eyes open to the second they close at night for sleep. Sometimes I want to take a hammer and pound that wicked nerve into submission. But the only thing I would accomplish is a ton of lovely black and blue bruises. After so many years of having this sciatic Pain, I've really forgotten what it feels like to be "Pain Free." Guess you can say it's a mystery to me.

Recently, I had the chance to learn from another person who is fighting her own private battle with a very serious health condition. After we talked, I decided to be brave and asked her what "words of advice" she could give to someone who suffers with Pain or deals with serious health problems. She paused for a second. Then the wisdom flowed. "Well, always keep smiling, do not forget to laugh, and remember this–things are not always as dark as they might look. So just keep living!"

All I could do was sit in awe of the amazing grace and courage this beautiful woman possesses. And it hit me–here was a Major Lesson being spoken and I needed to honor it by trying to practice it! Her husband was with us during our visit, and I knew he had been right by her side as she has battled her health issues. Something spurred me on to get his view of coping in times like these. Little did I know this man was about to speak words that will never leave me.

He leaned forward, with tears filling his eyes, and said, "Well, when life gives you a detour, make sure you enjoy all of the scenery!"

This wonderful couple have no idea as to how much their words impacted me as I looked back at all the times when Pain wore me down so much, that all I wanted to do was have a major Pity Me Party! Let's be honest...nobody has any fun at a pity party, and I have learned it serves no purpose. My hope is to keep learning from others, then put their wise words into my daily life and do my best to practice them.

After all, this world is filled with beautiful scenery, and I want to breathe deeply and simply ENJOY! Sometimes we can learn by watching silently, listening with an open heart and being willing to step past our own Pain for a few minutes. It will never be easy, but it's truly worth the effort to keep fighting back against the Pain. Tonight I pushed myself to go see a play, and the scenery was very nice!

God bless each of you during your journey with Pain, and know I will always say A Prayer For You.