Thursday, June 30, 2011

#82 - True Strength

Being flexible in life is a key to having consistent joy. My body has been pretty rough on me and has caused my direction in life to have plenty of unexpected, shocking detours. I found, years ago, that going with the flow is imperative to my adaptation to new circumstances. Trying to hold on to the way things "used to be" will only lead to heartache and frustration. Besides, just because things seem to be different or even more difficult, it does not mean that the situation cannot be embraced.

My oldest, Heather, playing with Tux.
Encountering challenges can bring richness to your life. Having health battles can magnify the simple things in life and the smile on your face might be easier achieved. However, this is all about attitude. For myself, I had to often tell myself, as I've told my children, "You need an attitude adjustment!"

My youngest, Stefie, ready for another formal affair.
For the most part, I have adapted to having hard days. For 33 years I had a body that essentially did everything I asked of it. In fact, my body was full of strength, amazing endurance and my mental sharpness allowed me to be a legal/technical business writer for years and years. I was blessed. And, I'm still blessed today on deeper levels.

My girls when they were so little!
However, now, my body is not as strong. Part of the problem is that my body attacked itself. And our body is made so miraculously by God that once it begins to have health issues, it is a challenge for man-made solutions and medicines to restore it to the "natural" condition. As the years passed, I had organs fail, bones collapse and body parts shift to places that were not normal. I am a walking miracle, according to several doctors' opinions. So, I am indeed blessed.

This past weekend as my husband and I tour a
wedding venue for our oldest daughter. Love his six eyes.
He's still the most handsome creature I've personally ever known!
The challenges have taken a toll, yet I have found my renewed strength in other parts of life instead of depending on it coming from my physical strength.

Lessons about lasting endurance often come after you have been seriously ill for an extended period of time and everything in your life changes. Frequently, your mindset changes; you'll never be the same. Serious illness can create huge changes, which require that you endure suffering and hardship. This kind of endurance lesson is not by recreational choice. It's not a trip-to-the-gym kind of endurance; it goes much deeper than that because there is no "resting" state. You can't always escape your situation.

For those facing serious illness, you are learning about certain kinds of strengths and endurance as bad circumstances are cast upon you.

In my situation, I had been told on numerous occasions that I probably would not make it. I needed two serious cardio-thoracic surgeries that could be performed by only a handful of surgeons nationwide and we learned a terrible thing...surgeons don't always like to take a risk that is already bad enough and make it worse by adding Addison's disease. It was a rare surgery complicated by a rare disease. Actually, the Addison's disease wasn't the problem, it was simply an added complication. At one point, I was flat out told by a cardio-thoracic surgeon that I'd not find a cardio-surgeon that would touch me and my surgery needs with a ten-foot pole because the surgery risk was higher than open-heart surgery, and the Addison's disease tipped the scales far out of my direction. That night, in the hospital, I could only cry. My husband and I cried together. I was told to go home and to remain as comfortable as possible. Until what? Until my children found me dead? It was an unthinkable time in my life. My upper body was not getting enough blood flow; blood was backing up and puddling around my neck, and a pulmonary embollism was expected at any time from the constant blood clots...I was living on borrowed time.

Yes, I did find a surgeon. This in itself was a miracle. I had a brilliant cardio-vascular surgeon and he hired the very best on his team to help me come out of the surgery "alive." It was touch and go. I had internal bleeding and one liter of blood leaked into my chest wall, collapsing my phrenic nerve was nicked and one of my eyelids drooped so badly that it wouldn't really open for about a year. When I'm tired, it still gets droopy. My first rib was removed and the muscles in my neck were cut out and I have artery clips in place after the bleeding would not stop. A year later, I had to have the same thing done on the other side. It was a brutal time in my life.  But, afterward, artery dopplers and angiograms finally showed a continuous pulse to my upper body. SUCCESS! I also no longer felt as if invisible hands were constantly around my neck strangling me. I was thrilled to not be strangled any longer.

So, I know suffering. And, these surgeries have not been my only battles. There have been more. These two surgeries were in 2005 and 2006. But, they helped to teach me that life is not always a breeze. On a deeper level, as my life neared an end, I began to move forward in the hope of Heaven. This attitude is what helped me to have joy even in my worst, most despondent of times. What did a dying person have to look forward to? Well, I found tremendous peace in this question as I began to quit putting my hopes in this world and began to think beyond my earthly years.

I will say, that to face this kind of future is a tall order and not for the meek at heart. Neither were the shoes that my husband and daughters had to walk in during my life saving surgeries that came with a huge price. For reasons, I still don't understand why God decided to keep me around. But, I've learned to quit asking the "Why" question long, long ago. Through very serious, major surgeries AND Addison's disease to boot, I kept surviving against the odds. I savor life because I've already come so close to confronting and accepting the end of my life; I am always thankful for the additional time I've been given with my family.

Suffering and endurance can teach you to find triumphant moments. This is when true strength is found, and for people who have gone through similar battles or have lived with a loved one as they fought to live, you have discovered that this kind of strength is incomparable to any other kind.

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