View(s) From The Room(s)

A life lived on visiting hours is tiring – even when the term itself no longer applies,[1] we would be useless to each other, or as advocates for Dad’s care, if we didn’t take some time to stand down – and tired we have been. Still are; Joy said yesterday morning that she felt like she could sleep for a month, and I understood completely. I’d thought I’d try to knock out just a quick update, but this longer post has needed to be written for a while now. Sherman, set the wayback machine…

While Warren was in the Ortho/Neurological unit in Sioux Falls, the views were pretty limited regardless of where you were in the room – and pretty boring, even for those with good eyes. The large window, with its northeast orientation, had a drape down most of the time to keep the sun out of his eyes, but even on the first few days when there was only a light diffusing shade pulled down, all you could really see was another wing of the floor – almost like looking at an apartment high-rise – but far more bland with the window spacing perfectly symmetrical, and all the blinds drawn. From the head of his bed, he could have seen the TV, the whiteboard, and the laundry closet; a curtain veiled the bathroom from his already veiled eyes.

What he could have seen, even if his eyes were working, wasn’t much to look at, but it was where the healing journey had to start – in a room with an overhead lift, lots of life-supporting equipment festooned and studded out on the wall behind him, and a nurses station just outside the door – our small-town hospital couldn’t have provided the level of care he needed the first week plus.

In the time since I last updated the blog, we’ve transferred Dad back to our home town hospital. While he really can’t see the TV, the views in – and from – the room have improved markedly. His healing this time is moving along faster, no doubt in part aided by the fact that he’s back in town where the community of friends he’s built over decades can come by and see him, and encourage him in the process. Out the window this time is a garden of prairie flowers and a large patio where patients and visitors can sit and soak up the sunshine, or enjoy the peace and quiet as they watch goldfinches flit about. Even though he can’t see it, the views have improved tremendously.

What do a tsunami and an epiphany have in common? Nothing looks the same in the wake of their passage.

So, what, exactly, does that mean and what am I talking about?

I’m back involved in “the rooms” – the expression some of us use for the places where 12 Step recovery meetings take place – and with my people, other addicts (regardless of what fellowship we call home or what we called our drug of choice) both online and face-to-face, as a direct result of a spiritual tsunami that had been triggered a while back but had just started sweeping me away a week or so before Dad fell while testing the law of gravity. The triggers? They were merely a part of my taking my inventory, and not liking what I was seeing.

TsunamiI left the rooms several years ago, tired of the backbiting and the gossiping and the turf battles – things we say we don’t do and that our Traditions exist to protect us from, but happen anyway – and the legalism tied to certain passages in our respective literature. The criminal mentality that so many newcomers walk in with and continue to express months into the program bothered me. And the way mentioning Christ as the God of my frequent misunderstanding would end up building a platform for every atheist and anti-Christian to spring from and beat on… well, me for even mentioning the Name. So, I took what I had been freely given, and my experiences, strengths, hopes… and ran to the rooms where I wouldn’t have my beliefs in a savior mocked. Where I could say the name of Jesus without fear of ridicule. Where I would be safe, and could hide my fears behind a mask of worldly-wise experience.

What do a tsunami and an epiphany have in common? Nothing looks the same in the wake of their passage.

I didn’t see at that time that all I had done was swap deck chairs on the Titanic; the safety I sought was not only non-existent, but not at all what He wanted for me. I wanted a comfort zone, and so I built one that had the worst of both worlds spiritually.

I could be – and was – a part of the leadership teams in the different worship centers and hear the same sort of stuff – the backbiting, and the gossiping, the turf battles, the legalism (especially around proof texts), with the added features of behavior modification and political correctness (don’t say this or “we say this instead of that in our denomination”, and Jesus is an American Republican, got it?) and know that I had come from a set of rooms that, when people walked in the door, most of them knew they were dying inside and out. Most of the rooms I ran to didn’t have any other requirements about working with the community at large or helping the poor or trying to alleviate suffering in the community – no, the big push was something called “small groups”[2] – and only rarely did a pastor point us toward anything that would make us uncomfortable with where we might be spiritually as individuals. As much as I need encouragement in thinking and doing the right things, the things God wants and not merely my social group? I also need someone to be able to speak into my life and say the word that challenged me to be open, and honest, and willing to change. That word, though not found in the canons of scripture, needs to be spoken more often, not to offend but to correct:

Bullshit.

My so-called comfort zone was a designer death trap. I am an addict – even without mood-altering substances – and I need to be out in those rooms as well as in the worship centers. There is a great program called Celebrate Recovery, roughly based on the 12 Step model as first put forth by Alcoholics Anonymous – but I never found the camaraderie, the sense of shared purpose and mission to be as acute as I did in rooms where newcomers were walking in reeking or reeling – and, for me, it was just another way (and place) to hide out from the pain. That won’t work for me; I need to be actively involved in small groups where we don’t have time to dance around niceties. Jesus was ridiculed, so if it comes to that again, I’m ready for it. The backbiting, and the gossiping? The turf wars and the legalism? I’m responsible for my side of the street, and so far as I understand the Word, I need to take care of the sawmill I’ve been running before I tell you what I think you need to do about the dust you may have.

Dad can’t see, and has to take our word for it that he is getting better. In my field of view? It is getting both better and clearer, now that I can see what He wanted me to see. This is where the journey starts – again.

  1. [1] since we’re family members, we can come and go 24/7
  2. [2] Funny – most of the 12 Step groups I ever belonged to were small groups. The ones that became larger groups – unless they were speaker meetings – would open together, but break into smaller groups for discussion.

Visiting Hours

A simple plan. That’s all we had for this week, something nice and easy and simple. No complicated schedules, with any of us being slaves to the clock and calendar. The big event was supposed to be on the fourth of July, when we joined the rest of our fellow citizens in the national birthday party, at a far more relaxed pace than the previous couple of weeks had been. The only other item of note on the agenda was a return to water walking, and even that was going to be an “easy does it” kind of thing.

Degenerative illnesses don’t read calendars, nor do they especially care what time it is.

When Warren and Joy left for the cities on Friday last week, we’d noticed an uptick in the number of times we had to give him pain meds for spikes in pain in his right leg; the pain there is more properly “referred pain”, as his spinal stenosis is the actual culprit and source of the pain he experiences in that leg. Well, that’s what we knew to be true for the most part. On their return on Monday evening, his pain levels were still high, but we were coming into (finally!) a welcome return to routine — no more trips to the cities on the horizon for a while, and nothing untoward in either Joy’s or my schedules — and usually his pain spikes followed a pattern of increasing before going to Minneapolis, staying high while there, and then tapering back down to where the scheduled pain management worked fairly well. Going out for coffee on Tuesday and Wednesday, he had to have a pill beforehand or immediately on our return home, and there was a little bit of a hitch to his walk, but again, this looked like a pattern we had some experience with. That it was a signal of something else entirely? Missed it by a mile.

He fell on the concrete and tile of the men’s shower room, on the hip that he’d broken previously, with me standing there trying to catch him.

My sense of guilt and responsibility was eased when the ER doc told us that it looked to her like the hip that actually broke (the right side, in three places — opposite of the side he landed on) may have already been fractured before we set foot in the pool and that the fall may have just jarred everything loose. Osteoporosis can affect men as well as women — just like breast cancer, we are not immune to the effects of this illness — and the fact that we couldn’t have known before the fall brought it to light makes the memory of the event a little easier to bear. She also helped shed some light on what might be going on with him mentally; while TIA’s are likely ruled out, a different kind of mini-stroke or dementia are not ruled out at all, and a CT scan was done on his head last night, with the likelihood of an MRI/MRA in the near future as well.

He was scheduled to go into surgery at 10:30 AM today. As it turns out, he just now went in.

I’ll be an irregular visitor here while becoming (yet again) a regular visitor to the hospital; prayers are always welcome while we’re living life on visiting hours.


Update: Back home for the night. Joy is still in Sioux Falls. The surgery went well, and though he is tired and in some pain, he was able to take calls and jokes, so we are still walking this one out on a day-by-day basis. Thanks for your prayers, folks – they matter!