Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The First Day of the Rest of my Life

 Last week at this time I was complaining about the weather, dragging my feet to work, and trying to decide what I should wear to make myself look less pale in the mirror.
A few hours later, I was crumpled over on the floor, totally distraught and unable to think clearly because the life I once knew seemed like it was going to change drastically...or suddenly end.

The doctor called. He left a message on my phone saying he had the results of my MRI I had last week. I expected “all clear.” After all, I’ve always been “all clear.” I took pride in how I took care of myself: my eating habits, my vitamin rituals, my exercise routines, my excellent genes...
However, his words were very different: “You seem to have a brain aneurysm.” 
The world literally paused. Everything that was in my mind came pouring out; nothing mattered anymore. The doctor kept talking… “next appointment with the surgeon… Medical Procedures...  MRI monitoring…”
I braced myself against the wall and gasped for breath. In my mind, a brain aneurysm meant sudden death. All I ever heard about brain aneurysms was that someone was normal one moment, and then dead the next; therefore, I was certain I was moments away from  the same. I immediately called my husband, who was out in San Francisco on a business trip that week. Needless to say, his world stopped spinning as well, as he searched hurriedly for an immediate flight home.
My eyes suddenly filled with tears. I thought truly, for the first time, about  the possibility of not living until I was an old granny in a rocking chair with my grandchildren. I thought of not waking up each morning next to my husband and making coffee for him. I thought of not being able to have another night with my best girlfriends, laughing and enjoying wine and chocolate. I thought of not holding my cat…or hopefully my future child. Why had I never thought about this before?
Because I have always  assumed I would  live. I’ve taken my health, my life, my ability to wake up each day for granted my whole life. And at this moment, reality hit me squarely in the head. Literally.

My husband and I called the doctor on three way, and she told us she could get us in Monday. Wait…what…Monday?! That was a whole week away?! Wouldn’t it be too late by then!!!? She told us that if he doctor thought we needed to be in that same day, we’d be in.
 Perhaps I should relax just a bit. Still, the unknown was agonizing. The shock of having something bizarre in my brain haunted me. The possibility of having brain surgery was terrifying. And I felt so alone. But I wasn’t, because I knew God was there, and I felt his love and care for me through two of my girlfriends who showed up unannounced on my doorstep to comfort and pray for me. I was consoled though the encouraging words of my mother-in-law who drove right over to my house to be with me. I had phone calls, texts, emails….it was interesting to feel so alone, but also so loved at the same time.

That whole week was torture. The possible scenarios ran through my mind constantly. It was hard to plan or think about the future. It was difficult to care about the kitchen floor not being clean or the sock that was lost in the washing machine.
I went on a retreat with our “house church” group over the weekend to the coast. It was difficult to connect with anyone-to laugh, and joke and talk about topics that didn’t seem all that important anymore. John and I took a lot of long walks on the beach. One night we were alone at sunset, and the wind blew, and the waves crashed. We stood together on a washed up log on the sand, and I felt as if this moment was painted just for us. The peace of God surrounded me as I watched the colors sink behind the horizon and into the water. I felt at that moment that everything was going to be ok; whether I needed brain surgery or if I died, I felt like God had it in his hands, and he’d walk with me the whole way. If he could orchestrate these waves, and this sunset and fill me with the love I felt at this moment, he could certainly give me what I needed to get through whatever it was that was to happen. And so peace rested on my mind.

Monday morning came, and I couldn’t sleep. I decided that I needed to go on a run, in the cold, in the early morning hours. I wanted to feel the wind on my skin and the air in my lungs, because that meant that I was alive! As I ran I couldn’t help but think morbid thoughts. I thought about my funeral and who would be there. Tears leaked from the corner of my eyes as I thought about my  husband and my family and my friends and my co-workers lining up to say good-bye to my body. I knew that my soul would be in a far better place, but the thought of the ones I loved mourning for me was almost too much to bear; and I tried to push that from my mind.
We drove to the east side of town, John holding my hand, neither of us saying a word. I think we were both preparing for the worst, even though my husband kept strong and optimistic for me. The room was small, and had strange medical devices around. The doctor entered and pulled up the x-rays on his computer screen. And there I was. A ghost. A skeleton. I knew it was me because I recognized the shape of my nose and my uneven eyes, but boy, did that picture look chilling without skin or hair. 
And then there was my brain. Wow. I really had all that inside of me? It was so perfectly crafted and put together; I stared at my insides with amazement. Then the doctor zoomed in closer…closer…closer…until he was focused on a vein on the front of my face. And there is was. A slight bulge in the end. The aneurysm: 3.5 mm right behind my right eye.
“  This is small and they grow slowly. There is a procedure that can be done so that it doesn’t rupture, but it is not necessary now. Just come back in a year so we can keep an eye on it.”   
What?! That’s it? No brain surgery, or procedures, or funerals? Nope. Just life. 

As I walked out of the office, I felt giddy. Actually, my husband and I both felt lighter. The weight of the world had just been lifted from our shoulders and it felt so good to be free. I saw everything with new eyes. The sun was brilliant. I was excited about my work, and my life suddenly was thrilling.
Yes, I do have a brain aneurysm in my head, right now, at this moment. Yes, if it grows big enough, it could rupture and kill me. But any of us could die, right now, at this moment. We are not promised another day.
 I could choose to think about the aneurysm as a ticking time bomb, and I could live each day obsessing and worrying about it. However, I choose to see it as a very real, permanent reminder to me that my life truly is in God’s hands. It is humbling to me that truly I am not in control of anything. Stamped in the middle of my head-both literally and figuratively-is God’s promise that I won’t go a day sooner than what he has planned for me. And instead of fretting about that, I can rest, because I know now wasn’t my time to leave this Earth and the people I love. He allowed the doctors to discover this, so they could monitor it; and eventually I will have a procedure that could save my life. 
So there must be more to do here on the Earth. And I am excited, because today is the first day of the rest of my life.