I don’t remember Christmas or New Year’s—I was recovering from heart surgery. I missed the inauguration, although I was in Washington, DC—the doctors did a tracheotomy on me and put in a feeding tube that day.
Just before Christmas, I came down with an infection that felt like the flu. I even casually mentioned it on Facebook: “Arlene has the flu—boo hoo.” I thought I would come across like I was feeling sorry for myself. I mean, it’s not the worst thing that can happen to a person. It was barely worth mentioning.
I never imagined it would lead to a stroke or destroy a valve in my heart. I would stay the hospital for 3 months drifting in and out of consciousness and coherency. There was a time when I couldn’t speak, couldn’t write, couldn’t put a sentence together to… well, save my life. I had to learn how to walk again, feed myself, bathe myself.
I went from utter despair to hopefulness to determination, back down to despair again. But mostly, I had a flat affect. I couldn’t—didn’t want to—pray or read or write in my journal. The first time I heard music—on a friend’s iPod—I cried. I had really missed it.
By the time I left the rehab hospital in DC the day after St. Patrick’s Day, I was walking with the assistance of a walker, but I still had to use the wheelchair for long distances. My legs were swollen ad had begun to leak fluids. But I was ready to get out of there and get on with my life.
I moved to Indiana to stay with family. However, within the week I was back in a rehab facility. I spent Palm Sunday and Easter there. It didn’t have a strong rehab program, so when I left the place, my legs were just as swollen, if not more so, than when I went in.
So, I wasn’t surprised that, within two weeks I was back in the hospital—this time in Indiana. I went from the hospital to acute care to another rehab facility. That took me from the end of April through the day before Father’s Day. I l was about 60 pounds lighter, my body no longer swollen and leaking. I’d graduated to a cane for long distances.
So, by my calculations, I have spent all the holidays from Christmas Eve through Memorial Day in a hospital bed. And that doesn’t count Flag Day ad D-Day.
- I’ve skipped some details about my odyssey into the world of healthcare, insurance and public benefits. I’ll leave those for the book I’m writing. But let me close with some positive things that came out of my experiences:
- I learned I have a big family—some related by biology, most related through friendship. They rallied around me, both physically and spiritually. I felt their prayers from across the country, not to mention Iraq, Canada and the Czech Republic. I could not have made the recovery I have without their care, love and support.
- I have a renewed appreciation for life. I learned that I am not content merely to survive. I crave the fullness of life—in all its chaos and order, joy and sorrow, clarity and confusion, abundance and loss.
- I have a new energy, if not an exact direction, for my ministry. I want to continue to touch people in a deep ad spiritual place through my writing, preaching and outreach. But at the same time, I am remaining open to the Spirit—listening for where she is calling me to be and what she’s calling me to do for God’s people and planet.
I am now living in Eureka, Illinois, where I went to college in the 80s and spent 7 years as the local newspaper editor in the 90s. I have returned to a very special community that twice before cocooned me in love and care. Armed with the confidence and courage that exudes from their support, I’m ready to begin my life again.