Yesterday I went to a meeting with my consultant at hospital. He said that the bones in my leg had healed well and the frame could be removed the very next day in theatre. This was totally unexpected. It’s my 40th birthday next week and Diane and I had at one time hoped the frame would be gone by then, but had recently given up hope as the date got nearer. He said he would have to make some calls and asked me to wait in reception. He eventually came back and said, “sorry but there is no space in surgery until the 25th March, but the other option is to have it off with just gas and air today!” I was told it would be extremely painful but would only last half an hour. Another consultant there was worrying about this option, as he was aware I have to get the other leg done and didn’t want to create too much anxiety for me. But I decided to go for it. I am not going to lie, I have never felt pain like it. I used up a whole canister of gas and air with Diane there helping me breathe through the pain. After half an hour, it was off; though I am now back on crutches and painkillers for a while. The limb reconstruction nurse (who has taken hundreds of frames off) said the secret to coping with the pain from the frame removal is in the way you prepare for the process. She said many people come into her room acting very cocky and after a couple of minutes are trying to run out the door (which she locks).
‘Life is 10% what happens to me 90% of how I react to it.’ – Charles Swindoll
How do I react well to the challenges that are going on in my life? Five months of recuperation, disappointments and constant health challenges. Is reacting well about being brave and soldiering through? Is it about being positive no matter how awful life is?
Maybe reacting well is about being honest with yourself instead of denying what is happening. This isn’t self-pity (which can be a danger), it’s rather a self-awareness that things are tough. In the words of Brennan Manning, “it’s ok not to be ok”. I have a tendency to beat myself up thinking that I should be ‘doing better by now, what’s wrong with me?’ It often takes others telling me to give myself a break. Over the years we have all learnt to cope with different pressures. We all have strategies that we use – we might use distraction, keeping busy or leaning on friends and family. Often when we face an illness, these ways of coping are taken away by the circumstances you find yourself in. A friend described it as like ‘swimming with arm bands and someone taking them away; you have to learn another way of floating’.
Sometimes when under extreme pressure, the first thing that goes are the disciplines that I have tried to build into my life. This can be understandable, but at the same time in order to get through it takes effort on my part. If I ignore the help the physio gives me, deciding not to do any exercises and not going to the gym (it is 8:00am on a Wednesday morning!), then it will take a long time to recover. I need to be willing to put myself in that place of vulnerability.
‘When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… to be alive is to be vulnerable.’ ― Madeleine L’Engle
I am surprised that my conclusion about ‘reacting well’ is about allowing yourself to be vulnerable. I am not saying pour your heart out to every stranger in the street. We all have a context we’re working within, and we need to accept help when necessary. In the first two months after the operation I didn’t have choice. Five months later I can do a lot more. In some ways this is a good thing but I also notice I am far more reluctant to ask for help when I probably need it.
Many years ago I came across this lyric in a song: “broken yet held together by love”. It was one of those lyrics which puzzled me as it sounds like a contradiction. How can you be broken yet held together by love at the same time?
They say the longest journey is from the head to the heart. Knowing you are loved by God is tough. People sing about it and preach about it but often we all fall into the trap of always wanting to prove why we should be loved. Maybe brokenness is coming to the end of ourselves and admitting we don’t have it all together. We are all on a journey, maybe it’s that realisation that we don’t have to prove ourselves, maybe it’s stopping our pride from keeping others at a distance and embracing vulnerability and surrendering.
“The greatness of the man’s power is the measure of his surrender.” ― William Booth
Maybe the white flag isn’t just a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that we are not in control of what happens and instead of fighting in the traditional sense we are going to keep fighting but in a completely different way. And when we do, we end up focussing more on His love than our brokenness. I am a very different person to the one I was five months ago. In many ways I am not sure if I have ‘reacted well’ or not. The amount of times I have said ‘maybe’ in this blog post shows I am on journey; I don’t have it all together but I’m hoping God is whispering some lessons to me along the way.