Sunday, September 28, 2014

The carer

Over the last four weeks I have indulged in some personal reflections following my freak accident. Early on I rightly commended the nursing care I received in hospital and gave thanks for the patience and tenderness of care I received.  But I really need to make special mention (and this is not just because she may likely read this post herself) of Carol, who has suddenly become my arms and legs...and much much more. 

I have lost count of the times that Carol has come to my aid, night and day, as she had prepared meals, changed and washed clothes, coped with going up and down the stairs with food and drinks, positioned crutches and wheel chair for expeditions to hospital and doctors' visits, answered the phone, organized medicines, cancelled flights and plans, and been an omnipresent source of strength and encouragement. Those who know her will not be surprised that she has somehow also found energy to give meals to visiting friends on several occasions.

Some moments have pushed the envelope.   A few days ago I woke at 5:45 am and reached for the glass of water by my bed in order to take the next round of drugs.  Clumsily, and very noisily, I knocked the glass over and anointed everything on my bedside table (and underneath).  As Carol shot awake and clambered out of bed to remedy the situation I was reminded of our marriage vows.  When I was asked to repeat after the minister the words 'for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health' Carol gave a running commentary under her breath (which only I heard)!  'For worse... for poorer.. in sickness'.  She was smiling as she said it  - at least in my memory she was!  I confess that over 46 years I have given her more than my fair share of grief yet every time she has come up trumps.  Truly, I thank God for her love, grace and humour - we have at least four more weeks ahead with me on crutches and I pray my spectacular carer will keep on going.   

Friday, September 26, 2014

Keeping balance

I have found out just how useful a second leg is!  It will be no surprise to those who have attempted to master crutches just how complicated every move becomes when you cannot put weight on your right foot.  I was given a hospital leaflet briefly explaining the process. Its two diagrams showed an athletic man swinging forward on crutches.  However, this totally (and I stress totally) failed to prepare me for the high tension wobbles that threatened to wreck my very move when I tried. Indeed, I failed to leave hospital on the planned day because my physiotherapist was so dismayed by my lack of balance. I still fail to impress.

However, on a later visit a physiotherapist told me that the trick for moving around corners is to imagine I am negotiating around a large 50 pence piece (sorry there is no six-sided US equivalent!) Each tiny shift around its sides requires many segments of immense concentration and effort. I am retraining myself to see the hazards lurking in the simplest of moves and to employ the 50 pence strategy.

It will get better and I am sure the stress on my arms and shoulders will build up muscle (eventually).  But a curious thing happened as I looked out of the window while typing this.  I found myself marveling about the people I could see walking, cycling and even jogging down our road. Truly marveling.  Every one of them seems to stay upright without any trouble, without apparently giving any thought to the balance required.  I smiled to myself at the absurdity of projecting my wobbles onto ordinary everyday walking. But, we do take so much for granted don't we, and I shall need to remember this when I have the use of my right foot again. Oh, the lessons I am learning!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Wheelchair compassion

My brother called me recently.  His wife has been unwell for some time and needs a wheelchair whenever she leaves the house.  As I shared my news that I had joined the ranks of wheelchair users, he described his amazement at the level of compassion people showed whenever he wheels her out.  'It surprises me, how genuinely caring and sorry people seem to be.' he said. 'I'm sure you will find that too!'

Three days ago I had my first outing around the block where we live.  As soon as we left the front door our neighbours came out to greet us and it was true - there was sadness in their eyes.  Indeed, the man almost seemed to well up.  As they said how sorry they were and how they hoped the healing would improve they really seemed to mean it.

The next day we were more adventurous and went to a major store, with a Subway next door.  As I was parked at a table by Carol, trying to protect my right leg which inconveniently lies horizontal, I found myself next to two ladies. "Oh, love,' said one, ' whatever's happened to you?'  As Carol was buying our rolls (it took 15 minutes!) I found myself drawn into their counselling as they expressed their sorrow and told me how patient I should be (and what herbal drugs I should take!)  True, in the big store there was less kindness in all the busyness but even there a store manager went with us to the car pushing our shopping cart for us because she said that I looked rather tired (and I was)!

At times it seems that compassion is in very short supply in our world but how wonderful it is to report from my own little experience (so far) compassion is alive and well, and adding a glow to the pain and awkwardness of disability.  Thank you, all you compassionate people out there.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

'God is cunning...'

I have now been out of hospital for over a week.  Implications of my injury are beginning to sink in.  One doctor told me I suffer from one of the worst bone breakages!  It will take 10-12 weeks for bones and tissue to heal around plate, screws and pins, but up to another 9 months for me to be able to walk 'normally'.  So, my visit to the US has been cancelled as have many other plans!

My life follows the oddest of routines around taking pills, flopping on the bed, attempting physio exercises,  interspersed by brief intervals wobbling on crutches and balancing on my bottom up and down stairs.  Pain continues undiminished though, of course, I remain incredible stoical as does Carol so suddenly thrust into a carer's role.

Several visitors have come and brought sunshine.  On Tuesday, Dave (God's greatest taxi driver) whose Christian story has cropped up several times in the past twenty years of ministry - always eventfully - came to ask me about taking part in his baby's thanksgiving service.  Before setting off on his day's taxi work he sat on his sofa and prayed: 'Lord, please use me today!'   Arriving at my house he realized I did not have a wheelchair nor a stool for the shower.  Immediately, he said he would drive across the city to the Red Cross centre and collect them for me.  While at the centre, another couple called him and (would you believe it) they needed a wheelchair and stool too.  So, he bundled all this equipment in his taxi, drove first to this other couple who couldn't believe his speedy service, and then came on to me.

The equipment has revolutionized my life.  I needed the chair for visiting the hospital physio that same afternoon and the stool enabled me to have my first shower for two weeks (to the relief of all visitors!)   As Dave had a bowl of soup with us, he told me about how he had prayed to be used that morning but how he had no idea that this would involve him so directly with my needs in this way.  'You see, you never know when you pray like that what God will do..  God is cunning and he works out ways to use you!'  I think we would normally choose words like wise and caring....but I truly thank God and Dave for working together so practically for me.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Freakish Week (4) Prayers in the mix

In all the camaraderie and positive spirits there was only one very visible flicker of spiritual life - one young Muslim man followed through his prayer rituals, often able to leave the ward for prayers in the hospital chapel but occasionally praying in bed accompanied by chanting on his ipad.

I say only one flicker but, of course, I hope there were several others!  On my first morning a friend, who also serves on the chaplaincy team came to visit. I was already behind curtains but his powerful prayer was certainly heard by surrounding men.  He was followed within minutes by another chaplain; then by a deacon from the church and later by my own pastor, whose strong voice committed me to the healing power of Jesus Christ.   I am sure some of this ministry would have been witnessed by those around.

Anyone who knows weakness and pain values kind words of friends, but when they pray for you they open up a tangible dimension of God's grace and love. I admit that I found praying by myself difficult but what a help these praying friends were not only in focusing prayer on me, but bringing signs of spiritual life into our ward.

I know many others were joining in prayer at a distance too.  What difference did all these prayers make?   I shall never know the full reach as Carol and I were given peace and strength but I particularly marvel about the operation itself.  The surgeon warned me that the swelling was so severe that I would likely undergo two operations: the first would pin the bones in position using an external frame in order for the swelling to reduce for a second op. some 8-10 days later. Even on the morning of the op. he thought it unlikely that he would be able to do more than the first holding surgery.  I was given an epidural (which allowed me two hours of live experience!) so I stayed awake for the drilling and screwing.   Afterwards, with obvious delight (and some surprise) he announced he had skipped the need for the first op and completed the whole process in spite of some swollen tissue.  I have no doubts that this was an answer to prayer.

Since, I have seen an Xray of the plate, 12 horizontal screws and two vertical pins holding my ankle together.  I congratulated the surgeon who has brought my messed up bones within half a millimeter of their prior state.  And I praise the Lord who has really been healing through it all.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Freakish Week (3) Experiencing camaradarie

Around me, as I lay in bed, were men of very different ages, backgrounds and personalities. Thrown together at the most basic level there were few secrets between us.  The most personal details were discussed behind flimsy curtains.

Next to me was a born extrovert in his mid-fifties who had suffered an horrendous accident some days before.  Though unable to walk, he commandeered a commode on wheels which he learned to propel (remarkably fast) by his one undamaged big toe;  passing by each bed he had personal words for each man.  It was remarkable not only how positive and encouraging he was with such apposite words but also how well everyone responded, especially the quieter men who seemed grateful to be recognized and included.  He explained to me his philosophy meant that you had to make the very best of what you are given.  'You must move on' he said.

Next to him in the opposite corner an elderly man with knee surgery was having immense trouble coping. With failing appetite and limited ability to respond to nursing care he seemed to sleep a great deal.  Our extrovert took pains to encourage him at every turn.  Applauding every tiny step, calling the nurse (several times) in the night, and sharing his positive spirit with contagious companionship made all the difference to this man who turned out to have great humour.

It was extraordinary to witness how this group of men who had nothing in common before they were thrown together into pain developed bonding with such strong mutual support. In my six days I heard few moans, witnessed considerable bravery and stoicism with such brightness of spirit. Every time someone faced a procedure they were wheeled out of the ward to the sound of good wishes and greeted with concern as they returned.  I know it would have been different without that extrovert and his power of positive thinking. Of course, one challenge I faced from this is to ask what positive influence I would have shown in his absence!   Isn't there a word about being salt and light?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Freakish Week (2) Nursing care

On Ward C8 I seemed to be the only one who had to remain immobile.  Physiotherapists worked busily to keep others active.  Two men had been smashed up by motor-cycle accidents, another as a pedestrian in a car accident.  Others were recovering from hip and knee replacements.  Exercises, practice lessons with crutches and zimmer frames were going on all around me.

In contrast I lay in total stillness, commanded to lie motionless and utterly dependent on nursing care.  Many of my readers will know what utter dependence means!  It was strange that within seconds of a nurse bending over your bed you knew how kind and caring she or he was. Early on, one nurse who called me 'My lovely' (!) expressed kindness tangibly in everything she did.  I hoped that she would be the one to answer if I pressed the buzzer!   After 24 hours she was the one who brought the bowl of warm water and began to wash me so gently and respectfully.  My back which had been pinned down ever since the accident was lifted and as she bathed it I felt incredibly grateful.  Really, it was a ministry moment of bliss!

To differing degrees all the nurses expressed care and concern.  Not one person seemed unmotivated to care in spite of huge pressures from patient needs, constantly demanding buzzers and (especially at night) staff shortages. I thought of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5 22-23) and how many of these qualities express just such high quality caring: love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.  The Christian's motivation is of the highest order - belonging to Christ and living by the Spirit.  I couldn't help thinking how challenging it is to apply that sentence to believers: 'not one person seemed unmotivated to care in spite of huge pressures'.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Freakish Week (1) If only....

Routinely, every 3 months since 1988, I have visited hospital for botox injections to keep my neurological disease in check. Last Tuesday, my latest shots seemed to go routinely.  I had planned out the rest of the day which included visiting a gravely ill friend - I wore my best trousers!  Suddenly, during the last injection a wave of nausea hit me.  Who knows why.  Unconcerned,  I stood and went to the window to take deep breaths. My consultant thought it would be good for me to lie down but I was sure it would quickly pass.  Then, for the first time in my life I fainted.  Alas, as I fell heavily, my right ankle caught in a medical cart and snapped at right angles.  I thought I could see bones sticking through. It certainly felt like that.

Rushed down into A and E it was confirmed that I had broken several bones and would need an immediate binding up in plaster. As they cut my trousers Carol, who by then had been brought by kind friends to the hospital,  commented 'If only you had worn jeans today!' X rays confirmed complex breakages which require plates, screws and pins.   However, until the extensive swelling subsided no further action could be taken.  My bed, to which I had been rooted for 10 hours was wheeled up to the trauma unit C8 where I slid into a 12 bedded male ward, full of suffering. 

'If only' is, of course,  is a tempting response.  'If only I had not stood up, if only the medical cart had not been there, if only I had a clue about what fainting means......'  One of the growth points (of many I need to learn these next days) is to realize: first, nothing should ever be treated casually as just routine.  Life is fragile and each day we should be thankful for the gift of life and alert.  Second, when things go wrong, don't burn up with recriminations which will only stoke up frustration, but accept that the good Lord can work a good purpose through everything that happens to us.  Ps 16 has again been special: 'I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken '(verse 8).