second chances

Shakesphere notes astutely that “when sorrows come, they come not as single spies but battalions.” At first, I react to crises like these with a momentary WTF!!! piss-n-moan session.  After I’ve regained my “sea legs” I struggle to see beyond my hedonic knee-jerk reaction.  Throughout life, holding onto this deeper meaning  has been vital for purposes of emotional resiliency.  For example, despite how much I can complain about my job, I appreciate knowing I’m positively impacting my patients in some small way.    Thus far, I’ve only discussed this coping indirectly as it pertains to daily life.  I believe, however, it is best illustrated when facing a life crisis.  As I reflect on my life, I realize I’m much like a cat, granted with more than my share of second chances in life.

What follows are personal stories of  three “almost” losses including: (1) my sister’s breast cancer diagnosis; (2) my mother’s pancreatic cancer; and (3) my son’s heart surgeries….

Almost is not Actual….

image

Before I continue, it’s worth mentioning that almost losing someone isn’t the same as the finality of actual death.  I can’t speak to this loss in any way and have no desire to try. As a healthcare worker, I’ve seen more than my share of it first-hand.  The emotional impact of losing a loved someone is truly “unknowable” until it happens to you…

…the experiences I share here involve the impact of serious illness on your life perspective. During my sister’s recent cancer diagnosis I was assigned to the oncology floor.  Watching someone pass away from this diagnosis was impactful in ways which are difficult to verbalize,  When my son was first diagnosed with a heart defect, I met a family who had just lost their son due to a similar diagnosis. During his last surgery, I met a mother who was grieving the loss of her son.  My mother lived 40 days with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis only to find out it was a “mistake”.  These experiences have left me a changed perspective…

A Series Of Wake-up Calls…

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight I see these events as a series of second chances or “wake-up calls”.  As an Oprah fan, I recall a comment she once made that summarizes these wake up calls perfectly:

“A lesson will keep repeating itself until it is learned. Life first will send the lesson to you in the size of a pebble; if you ignore the pebble, then life will send you a brick; if you ignore the brick, life will send you a brick wall; if you ignore the brick wall, life will send you a demolition truck.” – Oprah.

“pulmonary atresia with a ventricular septal defect”

image

My oldest son was born on June 26, 2000, after an uneventful pregnancy and painless delivery.  At just under six pounds I called him my little peanut.  I will never forget the moment I first laid eyes on him.  The love is instantaneous and overwhelming.   I couldn’t let him go and refused to let him leave my sight….

Those initial months flew by, and consisted of a blur of sleepless nights.  However, one morning everything changed.  It was late August and we were celebrating his “2-month birthday”.  My husband had left for work in a town about sixty miles way.  He was unusually colicky that morning.  Since he as normally a contented baby, I was terrified by the way he cried.  I called the doctor’s office and brought him in immediately…

…On the way to his office I heard a strange grunting from the back of the car.  After pulling over to the side of the road I noticed his skin was mottled in appearance. No blood was visible in his oral mucosa and was a dull skin-colored tone.  I started yelling at him and shaking his arm gently to elicit a reaction, but he remained unresponsive.   Nobody was home.  I would learn later that day he was in cardiogenic shock for an (as yet) undiagnosed congenital defect.

The remainder of that day was a blur, however I managed to make it to the hospital in one piece.   I recall being brought up to the neonatal ICU area and being pulled aside by a few nurses who attempted to comfort mew old hospital staff hovered around my son.  Since this was early 2000, fancy cell phones were a thing of the future.  I stepped aside and started calling family while watching them attempt to revive my son from a distance.  I notified my husband first about what was happening.  He told me he would get home as quickly as he could.  Since he was working in a neighboring town about sixty miles away it would take just over an hour for him to make it there. While waiting on his arrival, I called my parents.  Since my mother is a physician, I looked to her for guidance.  After speaking for some time with the pediatric cardiologist on call, my mom began explaining the particulars of his diagnosis.  They would need to drive him in an ambulance to the children’s hospital nearby since there was no available helicopter at that time.  The plan was to stabilize his condition and install a shunt in a vessel called the “ductus arteriosis”.   Since he was so small, they hoped this would give him time to grow before doing a complete repair.  This full repair involved replacing his pulmonary artery with a tube. 

By the time my husband made it to the hospital, the ambulance had arrived and they were ready to take my son to Children’s Hospital.  Two nurses and a respiratory therapist would take the drive to Omaha and manually bag him on that hour-long trip.  Since there was no room for me in the ambulance, I was told to go home, pack, and meet up with them at the pediatric ICU.  My mind was a jumble of nerves and I began crying uncontrollably on that drive home.  Unable to know of my son’s condition during this hour-long trip, I prayed I would arrive to find him stable.  I tried to console my panicked mind by reminding myself that my mom would call the physician’s assigned to his case for updates…

…When we arrived at the hospital he was hooked up to tons of tubes.  They took him into his first heart surgery that evening.  Thankfully, all went well and we were home within the week.  The next seven blissful months flew by despite mounting medical bills.  As his second surgery loomed in our near future, our house we went into foreclosure ans we initiated plans to file for bankruptcy in the weeks following his surgery….

…ironically, my prayers for a respite from these financial stresses came in ways I would not have expected.  While his surgery went well, my son was struggling after his second surgery.   Doctors all came in with a look of concern.  Fearful of how his lungs responded to removal of the breathing tube, they told me the next few hours should give us an option few of how well he would recover. Since my family had left to eat, I was all alone with my son.  I tried my best flto soak in every sensory experience associated with that moment.  My was a mind flood of mixed emotions, as I began to beg God for more time For us to be together. Nothing else mattered to me in that moment than the hope of a chance to watch him grow, and shower him with all the love I had to give…

Pancreatic Cancer: A horrific misdiagnosis

imageOn the wall of our living room is a painting my mom did of a butterfly.  Whenever I see it, I’m reminded of that time she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  This was back in 2007, when my oldest was in second grade and my youngest was a toddler.  My sister just had her oldest child, still an infant.  As per usual, my parents decided to handle things privately.  “Impression management” has always been a concern of theirs, especially when it comes to feelings.  They are logical, pragmatic intellectuals who exude an air of stoicism.  They avoid any open expression of emotions and utilize intellectual distancing as a defense mechanism….

In this instance, they sought to provide my sister and I with what they would want in a similar situation.  They kept us out of it in order to spare us needless worry and useless emotion.  We only learned of this diagnosis in the days leading up to a review of that could confirm this diagnosis.  It was only some time later that I have slearned, my mother lived with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis for 40 day mistakenly.  Additionally, the specifics of my mother’s health scare are limited, since I had only learned about all this “after the fact”.  My sister, however, was fortunate enough to learn about it a bit sooner and provide support.   In the week leading up to a final confirmation of this diagnosis, they invited my sister and her daughter up to visit.   Hoping to spare my oldest son from having to see his grandmother gravely ill, they kept me out of the loop.  Meanwhile, my sister and her daughter could keep my father’s mind busy enough to stave off idle worry….

I was formally notified on Saturday, that they would learn something more definitive that Monday.   Since I was off those two days, I spent most of that time worrying, with little-to-no sleep.  My drifted back and forth between three troubling thoughts. Firstly how would my father fare without our mother.  I imagined this lonely “curmudgeon”/hermit with no meaningful social access to the world around him.  My mind then fluttered with glee at the impending release of duty at my mother’s insistence that I maintain a civil relationship where they make sister.  Finally, when the reality of this impending loss hit me, I fretted that there would be things left unsaid between us…

My sister’s breast cancer diagnosis…

Image

Since my sister’s breast cancer diagnosis is fairly recent I’ve already touched upon it in a recent post.  For a blow-by-blow of my immediate reactions to this information start with this post.  In the months since this post, my sister ended up having a mastectomy and hysterectomy.  However, since she does not carry the “breast cancer gene”, she won’t be needing any chemotherapy.  Finally, since my own breast cancer gene results appear negative, life has fallen back into that familiar swing.   The familiar coldness and brevity that defines our relationship is  restored.  My biggest challenge  is accepting the reality that things might never be different between us.  Since I can only change myself, there is only so much that can be done to remedy the situation.  Its only since her recent diagnosis, that this fact has been clear to me.  I intend to respond by leaving the door open, remain civil, and allow things to unfold naturally….

So what have I learned?

image

When life hands you “second chances”, it is best to look at them as gifts.  However, making most of these gifts is often easier said than done.  Doing so requires you to take in a bitter truth as a much-needed reality check.  This reality-check has the potential to alter your life-course for the better for those willing to do the work.  That’s where I am now: letting go of the past, accepting radically those things I can’t change and directing my attention toward what I can…

So where am I at now??? I hold onto the gratitude I have for these second chances in the aftermath of an “almost loss”.  I’m trying to accept responsibility for all my actions and/or misdeeds as a mother/wife/sister.   As I reflect upon it now, here are the lessons I’m struggling to work through….

My son has taught me life is a gift & that I shouldn’t allow the inane details in my day obscure this fact.

It is for this reason, that I hold my role as mother a top priority, before all others.  I live each day in awe of how my boys are maturing and am grateful for the opportunity to watch them grow.  The idea that life is a precious gift rarely escapes my mind.  As a result, I’m aware that all well-laid plans are just minor details against the realization that they can obscure my enjoyment of the journey.   As a married mother of two boys in graduate school, I cling to this insight and grateful for the perspective. Almost losing my son taught me that the only things I can give that cab have lasting impact on my boys are: (1) happy memories; (2) unconditional love; (3) a sense of self; and (4) an education.  These are my priorities and I don’t stress over the details (or anyone else’s opinions for that matter…)

…And I’ve kept that promise I made in my prayer almost 16 years ago at my then-infant-son’s bedside.  I tell him everyday I love him, and everyda I say it, I mean it with all my heart…

My mother has taught me that the truest measure to who I am is in the lasting impact I make upon others….

By upholding a culturally-relevant ideal of duty and obligation as an unwavering force in my life, my mother has always provided me  love and support.  While familiar to my mother based on her own cultural background, it was unfamiliar to me and remained unacknowledged far to long.   I am at fault, for failing to consider mother’s actions and words from the standpoint of intended meaning.  By taking time to understand my mother I’ve learned quite a bit bout the all-encompassing influence of culture on how we perceive, communicate, live, think and feel.  For this reason I’m actually grateful for the cultural divide that had one separated us.  It brought into our lives, several valuable lessons.

The differences between us don’t end here though. My mom is an ESTJ: a polar opposite to my INFP personality type. My mom is an ESTJ: a polar opposite to my INFP personality type. Our innate cognitive preferences are divergent based on Myers-Brigs Typology.   She is extroverted and I am introverted.  She is a thinker and I am a feeler.  She is a sensor and I am an intuitive.  Isn’t it fascinating that two people so different could be placed in such a relationship with one another?  It has forced us  to see an unfamiliar side of the coin in life we would otherwise avoid altogether.

This second chance inspired me to enter therapy so I could get “unstuck”.  I learned my problems were largely due to “backasswards” thinking.  I misperceived consequence as cause.  What I got in relationships existed as a byproduct of what put into them.  In this respect, the issues weren’t so much a matter of what I was “looking at” but how I chose to “look at it”.

My sister is now teaching me valuable lessons in forgiveness and letting go…

I have to be honest, as the last in a series of “second chances”, I still struggle with the life lessons brought about by this experience.  Lately, my interactions with her feel like pouring salt on a wound.  I struggle to let go of the past hurts and am truly my best to forgive as we move forward.  It is definitely a long and complicated process much like watching an ice cube met or pot of water boil…

….In a future post I will discuss this struggle in more depth and review the concept of Forgiveness and Radical Acceptance. For now, here’s a snapshot of an email I just got from my mother, as she attempts to provide a bit of encouragement…

image

Share This: