Three weeks after surgery
Just after surgery, hanging on
It’s important to live in the present. It can be helpful to learn from the past. If you are still alive, a given if you are reading this, then you have survived whatever you have gone through. At times, when we are in the midst of something intense, we can be overwhelmed by the unknown. We don’t know how things will turn out. We feel we can’t possibly survive the experience. We don’t know how we will move on. That’s what happens when we are looking out the windshield of life. When we see what is happening to us. Sometimes we add to the view with stories we create that may magnify what we are looking at and skew our view toward the awful. Possibilities become certainties in our mind.
At times like this I think it’s helpful to look at the rearview mirror, all the experiences we have had. We can see that, although incredibly painful or difficult at times, we have survived everything that was once in our view out the windshield. We may have lingering effects of the experience like PTSD, anger, bitterness, resentment, distrust, a negative view of ourselves, but we have survived. The lingering effects can be healed with good therapy, supportive friends and sometimes medication. We can move forward in our lives, stronger, and more determined to live knowing we can deal with the windshield because we have the rear view mirror.
My daughter waited 20 days from the time she was put on the waitlist for a lung transplant to the day she received her gently used lungs. At first the wait seemed interminable, but then we settled into a routine of just being ok with each day and whatever it brought to us. We let go of being home by Christmas. We just took life a breath at a time, and it was not intolerable. Then she got the call, “We have lungs for you!” This started another journey of unknowns. Her surgery, while successful, nearly killed her. The doctors had to heavily drug her to get her heart to beat. Then the once fabulous lungs, began to fail. Her life was on the line. There was a chance she wouldn’t survive. She was put on a lung bypass machine called ECMO. All her blood was cycled out of her body, oxygenated, then returned. She was heavily sedated and clueless about her situation for a few days. She was on a ventilator. She was kept alive by machines and medications. I had no idea what was going to happen to my daughter. Would she wake up so I could see her beautiful blue-green eyes? Would she slip away and be gone after giving one last ditch effort to survive? I knew nothing and the windshield presented very little, a few road signs indicating danger but mostly the fog of uncertainty. I had to hang on to her being OK. Each day I saw her alive. That was also part of the view out my windshield. A daughter who was still breathing, it was through a machine, but she was still breathing. I had moments where I broke down in tears. It was just too much to hold. I had to release the fear and sadness. Mostly I tried to keep my view on reality, not possibilities, because the ‘could-be’s’ were not the ‘are’. This took every bit of strength I had. In part I wanted to be focused and strong for my daughter. I didn’t want to bring doom and gloom into her ICU room.
After almost a week in the ICU she progressed beautifully. Her heart started working and her lungs began to do their job oxygenating her blood on their own. At this time the doctors discovered her epiglottis was paralyzed. A paralyzed epiglottis means no eating or drinking ever again. The epiglottis protects the lungs from the food and liquids we eat. Getting anything other than air in the lungs could mean damage and eventually failure of the lungs. The price paid for these lungs by the person whose gift in death was life for Anna is too high to throw away on the satisfaction of eating. I was so angry about this, angry that God would allow it. I shouted my “not fair” to him. I know life is valuable but think about how much of our lives and social connections revolve around food. Would she have gotten through this? Sure. But as a mother, I did not want her to trade one negative for another. Guess what? That sleepy epiglottis woke up. It took until just recently to fully function, but wake up, it has!
What’s in my rearview mirror? The reality that everything can work out well. All the happenings of the past five weeks have been like a roller coaster ride. Everything that could have ended badly, hasn’t. My daughter has a long road of healing ahead of her. She will also face a heightened risk for infections due to the immune suppressing drugs she must take for the rest of her life so her body won’t reject her lungs. She must deal with nausea, tremors, a puffy face, and just not feeling like herself because of all the medications she takes. She has to wear a mask and avoid being in crowds to protect herself from all the viruses and bacteria the rest of us spread every time people take their illnesses out of their houses and into the world around them. (Yes, a message to stay home any time you are sick to protect others!)
You get it, right? A lot of really wonderful things have happened for my daughter but there are hard things, too. And she will deal with them since she can look in her rear view mirror and see how far she has come! I am reminded how important it is to be present and look out the windshield with those ever necessary glances out the rear view mirror to remind me, I can do this!