Monday, January 30, 2012

"Take A Deep Breath And Relax"


I pushed her wheelchair down the hallway, trying to push on the handles with my elbows and hold her hands in mine at the same time.  I struggled to keep up with the wispy blue gown ahead of me – blue hair, blue shoe covers, yet thankfully a warm attitude.  

As an operating room nurse she’d likely heard and seen everything before but even as she lead us down the hallway, I was certain she’d never seen this before.  I’m sure that when she turned around to check on my progress it was a view that would be hard to match.  I was wearing the same wispy blue gown, the same blue hair, identical blue shoe covers – the difference was the patient.  Bright yellow deflated ball on her head, a denim vest, a ripped "pokey ball" gripped in the left hand and a knitted dishtowel firmly attached to her index finger, trailing on the floor behind and decidedly underneath the bright purple roller-chair. 

As we headed to surgery, the utterances of “Tawm” could be heard coming from her nervous chatter.  “Tawm”, is Bethany’s single word-call for “Dr. Tom”, a marvelous retinal specialist that is essentially the only earthly reason that she has any vision at all.  When Bethany’s body and mind began working against her eyesight, it was “Tawm” who fixed the damage.  When the eye was damaged a second time, it was “Tawm” who strategized how to immobilize her so her eye would have time to heal.  When it happened the third time and the insurance company said “no” to paying for a third surgery, it was “Tawm” who interceded on her behalf, writing a letter that brought tears of both logic, justice and joy to my eyes.  Tom’s skill has saved her vision, his passion has given us courage and his compassion has lit a flame in the heart of our 15-year-old girl.

Bethany may be “special needs” as far as labels go, but when it comes to love we’re all a little “special needs”.  She knows that “Tawm” cares for her eyes and I think she’s eternally grateful for it.  Before we can get to "Tawm" though, we need to get down the long hallway full of wispy blue gowns that shiffle and muffle the movements and tones of the surgical teams wearing them.

I get a special hall-pass on these occasions as I get to be part of the team assembled so the examination can proceed.  You see, Bethany will in no way allow you to examine anything, anytime, anywhere on her person.  A simple, temporal thermometer scan may net you a bloody nose, a trip to the scale will no doubt upset the entire pre-op area as the scale erupts into a violent, screaming tantrum.  Measure her height and the rest of the day will be pure hell.  Blood draws require 7 (large and heartless) adults, IV drips have never been successful and an EEG is like throwing squid on the ice at a hockey game.

 We’ve learned that granting me the hall pass saves both time and money as I in my blue gown become part of the “gas-and-go” team.  I’m the honorary “heavy” on the anesthesiology team.  I direct who holds which foot, when they’ve grabbed a leg in a vulnerable manner, if they have enough help in the midriff or are too light on the port side.  I explain to the anesthesiologist the “rules of engagement”, no chat, and no explanation for B as “she neither knows nor cares”, don’t wait for me – when you’re ready, “gas and go”…

I usually sit in the same chair; move her from her wheeled seat to my lap on this chair from which she can get no toehold.  Her nervousness turns to the obedient compliance that hits you just ahead of the blind panic that you’ve not yet unleashed.  Her nervous whimper breaks my heart but I know it has to be done and so I keep my tone of voice constant, assuring and upbeat – it’s a lie that I’ve mastered over the years.  Holding your helpless child as someone administers a noxious gas against her will,  squeezing her arms in a basket-hold while countless others hold struggling limbs, speaking calm assurances making sure you don’t inhale as the struggle intensifies.  Hearing her whimper-turned-masked-scream, fade as does her consciousness.  Then for a few moments, silence.  The entire team waits, she’s fooled them before – springing up like “Carrie” at the end of the horror movie in a vain attempt to bolt out the door.  This time, she’s not going anywhere.  The machines beep and we all sit in the calm and wait. 

I help lift the majority of her limp body up onto the operating table, the deflated yellow ball still haphazardly perched on her jet-black head, the dishtowel with the index finger poked through still firmly attached, the half-torn, pokey ball still gripped in her left hand.  I collect these artifacts and look at that beautiful yet seemingly dead little girl and my heart is torn between thankfulness and anger.  I thank the “real professionals” for their work and for allowing me to help and they are usually far more grateful to me for my assistance.  I put all the trappings that B loves into the empty roller chair and move it back up the hallway hearing little more than the swishing of the gown, the muffled footfalls of my bootied feet and the muted sounds of my heavy heart pounding deep within.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Eyes of a Mentor


I’ve been asked to mentor someone at work.  In fact, over the last four years I’ve been asked numerous times to mentor someone at work.  This year it was formally added to my performance objectives to mentor someone at work – that’s the beauty of work, it defies logic.

The troubling part for me is that basic elements are completely missing from the equation – “who” and “what” are never really explained and I can only guess that my corporate host wants some part of me to be infused into the lives and experiences of others and honestly, I don’t know where to begin.

It was easier being a mentor to fifth grade boys, they learn by watching.  Take them camping, take them out for a hamburger, build a black powder rifle or a checkerboard with them...basically live with them and let them visually soak in every aspect of your life.  I’m not sure how to do that in an environment where you’re legally not even supposed to notice if you’re meeting with a man or a woman, a sinner or a saint, a follower or a faker.  The very characteristics that make a person unique are intentionally to be left aside leaving me nothing but stark, grey, “relativism” to work with.  In a world where “all things are equal”, middle grey quickly becomes the baseline.

At work, one of the most sought-after aspects of “me” is my stories and experiences and how that rich tapestry of 50+ years somehow ties back into the day-to-day dealings of an office furnishings industry.  My job is to somehow crack open my heart and my head and spill all that sunshine on the people around me, and the thought of it horrifies me.  They don’t know that all that pretty warmth and sunshine comes from a violent firestorm located 93 million miles from earth.  If they did, they’d likely recant their desire to learn from me.

My stories are a fine balance between the life of a dreamer and that of a pathological liar.  Are they willing to walk that line?  My stories came from watching a dear friend die at far too young an age from a cancer that neither he nor his family deserved.  They came from a lightning bolt on an early June morning.  They came from a friend who called me in the middle of the night from the bridge where a decision to live or die was being made.  They came from the homeless guy that I sat next to and shared my coffee with and from the kid in Ecuador who was sizing up my feet because he wanted my shoes. My stories come from the endless nights and endless beatings of a special daughter with a special condition, those stories are not about her – they’re about the desperate level that we occasionally operate at…they’re a coping mechanism.  Are these people willing to open themselves up that much?

As a mentor of fifth-grade boys, my lessons were easy: I’m a sinner, saved by the grace of a loving God who has a pretty cool plan that I’m the most important part of (but not the biggest part).  I have to somehow convey this without saying “God”, without the admission of “sin” (sin is a relative thing you know) and everyone deserves “grace” simply because “its fair and equitable”.  It seems to me that the fundamental principle that makes it all work is flawed and I don’t’ know where to begin. 

My life is a precarious testament to the Jesus that I so want to meet, so want to share.  I want to share him because he’s the only way to make sense of so many disparate things in such a complex system.  If simplicity is the key to explaining complexity then Jesus is the answer to life – but that message is easily dismissed and expressly forbidden in my performance objectives.  I’m left with nothing but stories without purpose, examples without meaning and complexity that will reject simplicity.  The words of William Blake ring in my heart:

This life’s dim windows of the soul
Distort the heavens from pole to pole,
And goad you to believe a lie
When you see with and not through the eye.

My life has been shaped such that I now see through the eye and the cost of that exchange was mighty.  It caused God to cry (John 11:35) and drives brilliant minds to suicide and my task now is to share that wisdom and I tremble at the implications.  I was unsure that anyone would care to listen so I asked a dozen people if they’d be interested in being mentored, I assumed only two of the dozen would accept. 

I was wrong.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A "Bird-Brain"


It’s at times like this in the middle of the night, that I wake up and quickly become torn between a peaceful beauty and a horrible reality.  Her seizures have become more frequent, her disposition less predictable, Sherry’s despondency – greater, and the biggest of all fears more looming; the realization that a full eighty percent of the things I once thought important are in reality, silly and worthless.

To watch her roll into one of those incomprehensible “little seizures” is a lesson in powerlessness.  Her eyes roll back into her head, her body stiffens, her hands start to tremble like an old drunk in need of stiff drink.  Her voice becomes small and distant and her cries for help, more pathetic.  She wants to be both held and left alone and I never know if this typical behavior of a seizure or typical of behavior of a woman.  Perhaps its both, all I know is in either case its something I have no control over.

I watch the snow falling in the dark Michigan night and its depth blankets my soul with a quiet and commanding peace.  I have no more control over the events of my life than I do control over the snow.  Both cover me in a suffocating hold and while I’m “a” part of it all, I’m not “the” part of it all.  She’s gone for the weekend but still here, still blanketing my thoughts, still holding me captive, still rendering me powerless. 

I feel like the bird I once caught in the garage; it had flown up into the cupola and kept trying to fly higher to get out and after a day of watching this I knew I had to get involved.  I crawled up into the top of the garage and with some effort, in a flurry of feathers and fear - trapped it against the slats of the vent.  It struggled, pecked, cried and twisted its head in every direction but my gloved grip was not to be overcome.  As I laid the bird on its back, I noticed it became calm.  It's struggling ceased, its fear totally consumed it to the point that I assumed it thought death was near. I carried it down out of the cupola, out of the garage and into the daylight, turned it right-side up and with a toss, released it to the skies.

I'll never know what it thought as it flew away.  Was it thankful?  Wiser?  Confused?  Did the skies seem more blue that day, or the sun brighter?  Perhaps Bethany is like that gloved hand that saved a bird's life once.  A bizarre struggle of fear and death, a few moments of consuming peace, then daylight and release.  As I fly away, I'm forced to wonder if the gloved hand that held me is somehow thankful, wiser or more confused.  I wonder if for that gloved hand, is the sky now bluer as I fly off, is the sun somehow brighter?  

The suffocating stillness of the snow, the suffocating stillness of her "little seizures" are somehow, in some strange way, my gloves of redemption and that little realization has turned my world on its back.