Monday, September 13, 2010

A Note to my Body

I can feel my surgery-sweet blood, traveling down my veins, like a slow, syrupy drip.
It seeps into every part of my body, I shiver and press numb fingers to my pounding head.
My heart beats heavily. I am alone in my grief tonight.
Alone in my convictions to reclaim my life,
Regain composure,
Find clarity of thought,
Peace of mind, body and soul.
I am the walking dead.
The abused and abuser in one moment, one act, one neglectful, thoughtless, self-destructive lifetime.
I turn to my body for answers, but it does not speak. Trust is gone.
I plead, “Tell me what you need, what you claim as your right, what you desire.”
“Eyes, what is it you wish to see?
How can I clear the way to comprehend your vision?'
“Feet, where is it you want to walk?
Can you lead me to the clear, cool waters, walking upstream to see what is offered there?'
“Shoulders, what are you carrying?
What burdens can I remove from you?'
“Jaws, clinched and clinching, what do you want to say?
Would I even recognize your voice?'
“Head, swimming and brimming with, overwhelmed by…what?
What would give you clarity, what would cool your fever?'
“Stomach, round, curved, always yearning to be fed, even when the brain says, ‘Enough!’
How can I satiate you?”
Body, myBody…
I can feel my surgery-sweet blood, traveling down my body, like a slow, syrupy drip…
Walk me to the river.
Let me wash away the sins of my own making.
Let me come up from the waters, renewed, reborn, reclaimed.

Beach Feet

NOTE: The following is an article I wrote when I was a chaplain-in-residence at Georgetown University to students in my dorm. I wrote a regular online column called Feed Your Spirit. (I've updated it here.)\

A few years ago, I was leading a women's retreat in Bethany Beach, Delaware. The church campgrounds where we stayed was literally two blocks from the ocean. We took advantage of the location by planning plenty of breaks in the retreat schedule so we could walk to the beach 2 or 3 times a day.

So I spent a lot of time standing on the shore with my feet planted in the sand, allowing the waves to crash over my feet. It was during a tropical storm that caused some concern but little damage to the area. It was wreaking havoc further south along the Atlantic, but we were just experiencing some residual stormy weather and high winds.

The waves were pretty fierce that weekend. I usually found myself mesmerized as I stood there watching them crest and fall onto the shore. They would crisscross each other, racing to the sloping sand.

Often, I had to replant my feet as the larger waves came and washed over them. I could feel the sand slip out from under me, so I would shift my weight and twist my feet to make sure I didn't fall into the water. It actually took some agility and muscle to make sure I didn't have to trudge back to the cabin soaking wet from head to toe.

Growing up in the Midwest. I didn't have an ocean to visit. I am more accustomed to rivers and streams. I am used to being able to count on the shore to hold me fast without fear of being towed under. The banks of a river are usually more solid, less fragile than an ocean beach on a stormy day.

So my beach experience was a new one, and something that got me thinking about life itself. I thought of many life metaphors staring at the ocean, but the most significant was that life is always shifting and changing...you might need to reestablish your footing, shift your position, change your perspective, in order to meet life head on.

Maybe that sounds 'cheesy,' but you all are in a position of great change and it may seem like the ground beneath you is constantly shifting. Dig your toes in and hang on!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

An Unblinding Light

Oprah is smiling at me from the magazine rack across the waiting room at Barnes Retina Institute in St. Louis. With her arms flung wide, her body slightly bent at the waist, she looks ready to laugh with her whole body.

I stare at her for awhile, wanting to be in on the joke. When she becomes blurry, I will know that the eye drops the technician put in several minutes ago have taken effect.

Maybe if they dilate soon, we can get this over with quickly. It’s my sixth surgery to correct diabetic retinopathy, but I am not used to this procedure. I can’t shake the anxiety of waiting.

I close my eyes to help speed the process of opening my pupils wide so the doctor can shine his bright light into them and cauterize the swollen, leaking blood vessels behind the retina and prevent any potential vision loss.

“I’ve had about 67 of these surgeries,” an older man’s voice invades my thoughts. Sitting behind me, he tells his friend about his struggles with diabetes. “I just can’t get it under control,” he says.

I try to remember when was the last time I monitored my blood sugar…and did I remember to take my medicine today? What about that donut I had last night? “I’m killing myself from the inside,” I chide myself. “God, don’t let me go blind,” I almost whisper. I shift in my seat, check my watch and survey the overflowing waiting room. It’s going to be a long afternoon.

The waiting room is nearly empty when my name is finally called. I follow another technician to a smaller room with a lot of strange equipment that has begun to at least look familiar. The doctor greets me kindly, if not warmly.

His name is Dr. Blinder. Even in my anxiety, I always want to tease him in a voice reserved for close friends, “So, Dr. Blinder, anybody give you a hard time about your name?”

But he doesn’t invite such familiarity. Soft-spoken and reserved, he looks like he takes his job way too seriously. Today, though, I’m glad he does, so I decide again not to broach the subject.

More eye drops go in, these to numb my eyes. The doctor adjusts the chin rest so that if I lean forward a bit, I can rest my head in front of his machine almost comfortably. The technician fastens a cloth band around the back of my head, “just to remind you to keep your chin down during the procedure,” she says.

During a series of equipment adjustments and murmured communication between doctor and assistant, my heart begins to beat faster…almost imperceptibly at first. “Breathe,” I tell myself as the doctor puts a sort of monocle in my left eye to keep it open. “Don’t forget to breathe.”

It’s a brief warning before the flashes of light begin. The intense white light seems to bore through my pupil and into my body. My toes curl and lift off the ground. My fingers clench around the armrests. I concentrate on my breathing again to suppress the scream welling up in my chest.

“Just breathe,” I urge myself as the laser flashes over and over. “In…out; again, in…out.”

“Try to keep your right eye open,” he says gently. But it is almost impossible, as it tightens defensively against the tortuous light. Twice before, my opposite eye squeezed so tightly, the monocle popped out.

It seems like an eternity, but it couldn’t be more than fifteen minutes before the doctor turns off the light, moves his machine back and says, “OK, all done. You did great.”

Unstrapped from the chin rest, I look around the room. Everything is bathed in red. I know it will go away, but it always startles me. I nod as the doctor tells me to “take it easy” for the rest of the day. We exchange pleasantries.

Walking back into the empty waiting room, I fish around in my bag for the sunglasses I am almost positive I dropped in there this morning. I’m going to need them. It is so bright in here.



*NOTE: Since writing this for a seminary class assignment in 2002, I have had several more surgeries in both eyes. I am legally blind in my right eye and have significant damage in the left one. Doctors say my eyes have stabilized—meaning no current leakage—but no treatment or surgery can get the vision that I’ve lost back. My diabetes continues to be a struggle, and I now take insulin to control it.