Amanda and I are really good at imagining worst possible outcomes. Sometimes, mental gymnastics are required, but we were raised with a vibrant imagination for catastrophe.
I remember as a teenager calling home on a pay phone to let Mom know that dance camp (or whatever) was going fine. She was happy to hear that I wasn’t lying dead in a ditch somewhere, which was exactly where her imagination went.
I no longer dwell on possible calamities, but I’m still fairly skilled at catastrophic thinking. On Amanda’s surgery day, I thought: what if she dies under anesthesia? When her jaw was wired, I thought: what if she chokes to death? When she had severe nausea, I thought: what if she’s asphyxiated by vomit? When we left her to manage her own meds, I thought: what if she accidentally overdoses? What if she becomes addicted to these magic opioids that have ruined so many? And when she rode the awful roller coaster of pain, I thought: what if it didn’t work, this last-ditch surgical effort, and chronic pain is now a way of life?
One thing leads to another, which leads to catastrophe.
So far, in real life: no catastrophes. Slowly and steadily, Amanda is feeling better. By late July, she’s on her own again. When we all go out to dinner to celebrate her August birthday, she orders salmon and mashed potatoes—and savors every tiny bite.
At her next follow-up appointment, the surgeon releases her to work but not to drive. Because her house is in a cellular dead zone with unpredictable WiFi, she works from my house. For the next couple weeks, she sets up her laptop at my kitchen table. I pick her up around 7 a.m. and take her home in the evening.
Just when she’s feeling like a normal person, physical therapy begins. And . . . she’s back in the house of pain. The aim of the therapy is to trigger an inflammatory response that wakes up the immune system to do its healing. This inflammation hurts like the dickens.
One thing leads to another, which leads to more pain.
After a couple weeks, physical therapy gets easier. Amanda can drive herself to work. This is the new normal we’ve been waiting for. And . . . the headaches begin. Jaw pain is no longer an issue, but she’s having vision problems. She gets an eye exam and new glasses, but she’s plagued by cluster headaches.
Having taken off two months for recovery, she now has to call in sick. This is not the new normal she’s been waiting for. She doesn’t want to be known around the office as the one who’s always sick. She feels defeated and humiliated by the constant struggle to be well.
One thing leads to another, which leads to embarrassment.
Meanwhile, the hand that I stupidly cut open heals quickly, thanks to copious globs of Neosporin. All that remains is a tiny pink mark. Strangely, it aches now when the weather changes. One thing leads to another, which leads to a weather-forecasting knuckle.
The other day I stumbled across a verse in which one thing leads to another. Paul wrote in his message to the Romans,
“[W]e know that suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance produces character;
and character produces hope.”
If this is true, by the end of her ordeal, Amanda will have unquestionable character and unquenchable hope. And although she’s embarrassed by unrelenting illness, there’s no reason to be ashamed: “[H]ope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts . . .”
We are not yet whole, but we do have hope.
Note: This is Part 8 in a series, which is ending soon. If you missed the beginning, jump back to Part 1. Thanks!