in sickness and in health: chronicles of injuries and caretaking

This surgery’s been a long time coming, though we didn’t know it.

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Mark hurt his (ring) finger about a month ago, playing frisbee. He dove for a catch (read: threw his body toward the unforgiving earth with too much confidence in his youth and flexibility) and dislocated and fractured his lil digit.

At first, we thought it was just a dislocated joint, especially because he had “popped it back in” right after the crash. It took an x-ray three weeks later to reveal that he had popped it back in…just not to the right place.

The joint (first one up from the base) was popped out about a finger’s width on top of the rest of the hand, and the bone connecting the two joints was chipped, too. The way the surgeon described it, it seemed like the three weeks’ delay had been like a desert storm on that lil chip, wearing away at it until it was no more. Here, questions abound: where did the fragment go? Does it get reabsorbed into the blood stream? Is there a lot of erosion going on in our bodies, normally? If so, what’s doing all that jostling in there? I didn’t know how to phrase these questions appropriately and quickly enough to ask.

So the surgeon reset Mark’s joint (as a “let’s just see if this works” measure) and scheduled the formal surgery (because we were pretty sure the measure wouldn’t work) for the following Thursday. And since the resetting, Mark was told to keep his hand elevated above his heart — it prevents undue swelling — and thus, the multitude of photos of the Markling in the perpetual worshipful-hand-raise pose.

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After that first manual resetting, Mark was in a lot of pain. A desperate, helpless, sleepless kind of pain that demands all your attention but only intensifies when you offer it. He texted me all through those first two nights, unable to sleep — midnight… 1 am… 3 am… 5 am… It was heartbreaking, and I was completely useless to help. We tried getting the surgery moved up, but no luck.

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Fear and Powerlessness
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But it wasn’t all pain and tears. We did some fun stuff this past month, too. @ Thomas Sweet.
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also, Pasta.

The surgery day finally came, and as it approached, Mark’s fear grew and grew. It was kind of astounding to me, because I have an almost unnaturally blase attitude toward medical procedures. Needles, blood-giving, surgery…it’s all NBD to me. All the opposite for Mark. He despises needles, hates the thought of steel objects penetrating his dermis, fears physical pain above all else. Don’t tell the terrorists, but he would last zero seconds under torture…

The fear was palpable and uncontrollable. I was even getting frustrated with him — the fear becoming bigger than a matter of the finger and the pain itself and triggering questions of character, of faith. Why is he so afraid/what is it that makes me not as afraid? At the core, I trust in the medical establishment and their ability to make me better. Does he not believe that? Is this a trust-of-establishment thing? Why does he always expect the worst? Is it a God thing? Does he not believe that God has this under control? Is he even praying? 

I tried, really, to be patient — though I broke down at the last minute and mini-yelled at him to “Stop meeping!” right as we were walking into the surgery center. Worst, ever. I know. He forgave me, gracious even amidst the fear.

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Behind this tight-lipped smile is fear and anxiety, don’t let him fool you and please pray for him.

We met with the surgeon and discussed what the procedure would be like. Mark was small and shivery in his flimsy hospital gown and high-fashion hair net. We tried to watch Food Network to distract him from the gloomy chill of the pre-op area, analyzing cupcake flavors and laughing at the made-up drama of food competition TV shows. It was hard, though, because the surgeon had just told us that it would not be a good idea for Mark to travel right after his surgery, as we had been planning to do. Mark’s brother was graduating the next day, so we had planned to head down to be there.

It makes so much sense, in hindsight, that we would have to stick around at home and let Mark rest over the weekend, but we just had no idea what it would be like. We are — luckily — both pretty inexperienced in hospital procedures and figured that as long as I did the driving, it would be no big deal for us to travel. Wrong-oh. The surgeon looked at us with the single eyebrow raise almost visible through his tight facial control, questioning our common sense, and advised that it would be best to take it easy all weekend, hang out on the couch, watch TV, and administer meds as necessary.

It was disappointing… But I came to be grateful for the dashed plans, because this meant that both our schedules were completely free for the time that we had expected to be away.

Those four-ish hours in the waiting room flew by… I was busy texting updates and emailing prayer requests, reaching out and asking to be touched. My fear bubble had grown, too, because fear is infectious — I was feeling grave and sad and sending out pings in hopes of receiving some back. And receive I did.

People came through. Events like these, I realized, clarify who makes up your community and family. People called, emailed, texted, visited (!), letting us know that they loved us and were praying for Mark. Mark’s family even came up on Saturday to see Mark after his surgery and to grab a meal with us. Afterwards, Mark smiled like a goon and said, “I love my family,” at which I cracked up cause, like, duh.

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Scott calls Mark to encourage and to love. “Be strong and courageous,” he said (Joshua 1:7). “WHAT A GOOD GUY,” we said.
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A snippet of the post-op email update sent out to the DC small group. Theme: “We are so grateful.”

The surgeon came out, showed me before and after x-rays, complete with new bits of bone and pins poking through. He said that the joint was able to bend all the way to normal range (110 degrees, for those of you counting), so we’re hoping that with physical therapy, Mark can reset the doc’s PR for best recovery.

And thus began our four-day weekend of resting and worrying and relaxing and an uncharacteristic amount of cooking on my part. Like seriously, I have never cooked so many things in the span of four days. Who even am I?

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Couch-sleeper, thanks to J&Q’s gracious generosity. After finding out that we weren’t going to be going to Mark’s parents’ place for the weekend, we had to figure out real quick where we’d set this guy up — I didn’t want him to be alone. In short, my housemates are the best.
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Mac and cheese cures all.
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Bananer bread, gone in three days. Go us.
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“This is my favorite thing that you’ve ever cooked for me.” How can I not make it again? It’s super easy — pad krapow gai by Chef John: http://foodwishes.blogspot.com/2017/04/spicy-thai-basil-chicken-my-pad-krapow.html

It was a weekend of fitful sleeping, for sure, what with the medicine schedule and the jingle-jangle of Rogue the dog’s midnight prowls through the living room. But we did things we’ve never. done. before as a couple: hang around the house for hours, cook multiple meals in a row, (re)watch seasons of TV shows old and new, sit on the couch until my back hurt, do zero things of productivity. Like, normal people weekend activities. I know we were caring for an invalid here, but it felt kind of luxurious to me, in some ways.

And I got a teensy little taste of what it means to serve selflessly — like, putting my needs and wants on a back burner somewhere and thinking first about somebody else. And I noticed that the caretaking got easier over the weekend as I got more used to it. My selfish sharp edges were dulled a little in the face of real need and a very polite customer. Mark was an easy patient, grateful and eager to get better.

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#adulting at the grocery store, where we went to take a walk and advantage of the deals.

He has his post-op appointment on Tuesday, the day after tomorrow. And as our super-weekend winds down this evening, the Sunday feels are real. We’re sitting here, both back in our respective productivity modes as I blog with a vengeance and he puts the finishing touches on the wedding website. But for the first time in a long, long time, I feel really refreshed from what was actually a pretty stressful weekend. Ironic, yep. Such great ups and downs we’ve traveled in the span of these past 48-or-60-or-whatever hours — counting in chunks of four-to-six as the prescription bottles dictate, constantly asking for the enumeration of pain levels (on a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel?), cooking and eating real meals, laughing at the antics of Michael Scott (and falling asleep to an anime episode…), taking stock of one another and feeling grateful for the way things are and not how they could’ve been.

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Eating mac and cheese on the floor, enjoying a cold sodie pop and cider while we watch Netflix via the PS3. “I feel like a real American!”

Will have to keep you posted on how we fare through next week and the next; I’m sure the chronicles of physical therapy will bring more ups and downs. But as of this moment, I sit here, grateful for the weirdness, the normalcy, and all the cheezy blogposts in between.

Bad News Good News

Bad News Good News
by Marjorie Saiser

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I was at a camp in the country,
you were home in the city,
and bad news had come to you.

You texted me as I sat
with others around a campfire.
It had been a test you and I

hadn’t taken seriously,
hadn’t worried about.
You texted the bad news word

cancer. I read it in that circle
around the fire. There was
singing and laughter to my right and left

and there was that word on the screen.
I tried to text back but,
as often happened in that county,

my reply would not send, so I went to higher ground.
I stood on a hill above the river and sent you
the most beautiful words I could manage,

put them together, each following each. Under
Ursa Major, Polaris, Cassiopeia, a space station flashing,
I said what had been said

many times, important times, foolish times:
those words soft-bodied humans say when the news is bad.
The I love you we wrap around our

need and hurl at the cosmos: Take this, you heartless
nothing and everything, take this.
I chose words to fling into the dark toward you

while the gray-robed coyote came out of hiding
and the badger wandered the unlit hill
and the lark rested herself in tall grasses;

I sent the most necessary syllables
we have, after all this time the ones we want to hear:
I said Home, I said Love, I said Tomorrow.
“Bad News Good News” by Marjorie Saiser from I Have Nothing to Say About Fire. © The Backwaters Press, 2016.

“The Best Thing I Did” by Ron Padgett

The Best Thing I Did
by Ron Padgett

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The best thing I did
for my mother
was to outlive her

for which I deserve
no credit

though it makes me glad
that she didn’t have
to see me die

Like most people
(I suppose)
I feel I should
have done more
for her

Like what?
I wasn’t such a bad son

I would have wanted
to have loved her as much
as she loved me
but I couldn’t
I had a life a son of my own

a wife and my youth that kept going on
maybe too long

And now I love her more
and more

so that perhaps
when I die
our love will be the same

though I seriously doubt
my heart can ever be
as big as hers
“The Best Thing I Did” by Ron Padgett from Collected Poems. © Coffee House Press, 2013.


Just thinking about mumsie lee.

like,

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what does it even mean to be in love,

what does it even mean to “choose,”

and what does it even mean to decide that you will love one person for the rest of your life, and to be married to them, and to be committed to a kind of forever that no other decision in life thus far has carried with it.

like,

how is it that so many people are married and engaged and not having identity crises in numbers proportionate to those relationships,

how it is that people “choose” each other and “fall” in love at the same time cause, technically, those two things are opposite,

and how is it that love is the most ubiquitous topic of choice, of songs, of movies, of our favorite collective stories, yet nobody can answer with confidence my question of the moment: “what is your definition of love.”

like,

do people stay the same or do they grow and mature or do they do both, somehow,

do birds of a feather flock together or do the opposites do the attracting, rather,

and do we fall in lust first in order to choose to love and do people ever happen to do it the other way around.

so many pairs I notice around me now are couples of stark differences. count them on your fingers, one by one, and each is a union of two very different characteristics, personalities, interests, and desires. from parents to the couple you see once a week at church, people known deeply and shallowly. one is an extrovert while the other would rather stay home from the party. another is drinks tea and the other, coffee. one dreams of beach vacations with toes in the sand and the other is grabbing a backpack for a trek through Europe. it’s hard to truly tell, of course, because who knows what people are like within the intimacy of their living room slow dances and speaking the language of their private gazes, beneath the surface that they let other people see — not even in their identity as a couple but even in their portrayals of their public selves, as individuals.

when I imagine a couple truly “gelling” together — couples who are so comfortable in the skin of their couplehood, couples that make you comfortable in the observation of their coupleness because they’re so “meant to be” whatever that means, couples who are so together it’s electrifying, wait, not to be so dramatic but I mean like a synapse, like a brain-firing between two, distinct ends connecting as one in one bright blaze of the brain, forming a new idea or remembering an old memory, electrifying — what comes to mind is an artist couple so in sync with one another’s artist-ness it’s unbearable. he’s scribbling out a masterpiece onto bits of toilet paper and coffee-stained napkins while she edits, direct and red pen ink dribbling cause apparently they’re using a fountain pen in my imagination. she comes home from a long day at the office where she’s been interviewing obscure-famous people in the arts world because oh, her office is NPR and he starts a conversation over dinner that makes her wonder how could I have forgotten to ask that question to that person today during our interview. he paints a picture of a bird and she is the only one who calls his bs — that’s really a reimagining of his childhood longing for freedom in the wilderness of his backyard, not really a bird, silly.

but “unbearable” is a key word in that description up there. cannot be beared. borne. bore-ed. my conception of those meant-to-be, gel-hood couples is only complete with: explosive, emotional fights; crying and tearing of hairs over seemingly stupid and mundane details of life but actually full of meaning and secret feelings; multiple ruptures in the plot line of their romances, but always, magnet-like, pulled irresistibly back together until one drinks himself to death or the other walks out of a 14th-floor window, chasing butterflies from her absinthe hallucination.

my very scientific and exact system of logic commonly known as [Gut Feelings] tells me that, (un)fortunately, probably something like 90% of real-life couples do not do this kind of gelling I’m thinking of. that these extreme scenarios simply jump to the front of my mind-brain when wondering about such lofty ideas as Love aaaaaand Marriage, too, because extremes and strong impressions from the media are what the imagination deals in. honestly, it’s all kinda mixed up in there with movie scenes of people running down unrealistic airport places as well as secondhand stories of daily-moment, small-time romance — the kind made of poopy diapers and devoted husbands who clean up after them — really only small in scale, not depth.

so, for those 90% of the population, the 90% of us, what is love?

like,

why is it so complicated for me,

why was I under such an impression that it wouldn’t be,

and why am I so full of questions and qwaveries, still.

I keep coming back to the fact that there are non-negotiables and then there are the negotiables. the non-negotiables you can try to negotiate, but ultimately, your girlfriends will set you straight about them, if you’ve cultivated good girlfriend relationships in your life. and the negotiables, you must…well, negotiate. and isn’t it perfect that the ultimate answer is so plain and tall, so deep and shallow at the same time that you’d see right through it to the bottom of the well, clear and crystal. this is madison in yonderland — where time flexes itself and clarities zoom in and out of focus every other day. certainty seizes you by the moment, and the next week, leaves you choking and breathless for its betrayal. crying tears and stuff.

yep, this is the land of pro:con lists and incessant justifications that aren’t only full of excuses, but actual and VALID reasonings of possibilities previously unimagined. cause what you need may not be what you want. or what you even knew you wanted, or needed, or unimagined. questioning things, deeper things,

like,

is he challenging you to become a better person, and are you, him?

does the combination of her and you make the world a better place?

will there be fulfillment, emotional, physical, spiritual, etc?

and then, even deeper deeper things,

such as,

how do you feel about winter sports and frisbee?

when you text, does it make you cheese-smile at your phone, you-know-what-I-mean? and does the answer to that question make you want to cry a little??

can you let go of everything you feel like you’ve achieved and desired for your future til now, and lay a symbolic hand upon your literal left breast, and say: God, I trust you with the rest.

?

well, can you? stop snickering at the “literal left breast” up there just a moment and think about it.

the complicated yet utterly simple thing is that the answer to all these questions is like yes, and like, no, and maybe, all at the same time. yes, love is a choice, but no, you can’t discount the falling into it part cause that’s how you get started, or middled, or end up — seriously. yes, you will GROW and GROW but no! you cannot set that as an expectation of the other.  yes, no, maybe St. Patrick’s Day was a good, terrible, results-yet-unknown idea. yeah.

your story will be a beautiful one of lots of growth and lessons learned — you’re just not in the hindsight portion of it yet where you see it, yet. but already, so many have touched your life, carrying you from one significant realization to the next: “you two are really different; it’s cause of the s and the n” to “manage yo expectations” to “I think you can have both.”

all to the refrain of “no matter what happens, this has been a worthy pursuit.”

let it be honest. let it not become a platitude.

 

layers

By the end of my life, I want to have experienced all the layers of love that my circumstances will have offered me.

Mads: All the layers of romantic love, yes, but like, all the layers of all the other kinds, too. Wow. Can you imagine what kind of life you would be able to lead if your goal, each day, was to experience more layers of loves? To give, to receive, to witness, to empower others to do…all kinds of layers, of all kinds of loves! Marriage love and parent love and acceptance love and covering love. And tucking-into-bed love and you-can-shower-first love and let-me-rub-your-tired-feet love and here’s-some-soup! love and dearly-beloved-we-are-here-to-say-our-goodbyes love.

Meesh: Yeah! I mean, the Bible is full of commandments to love one another, honor one another, mhmm!

It is a good thing you are here, Meesh, to tap my path straight and remind me of the purpose of it all. I can wander into lalalayerland far and wide, if left to my own devices. Thanks for remembrin’ us about the Bible. About our God. And of His plans and purposes and layers of love for us. Without that, it’s just indulgent philosophizing.

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looking carefully

There’s something about peering into the face of a person, up close and personal, as they say, and seeing a kind of beauty that just isn’t seen from further away.
And then, there must be a kind of beauty others see in me, too, when the face is peered into with care and unjudgment. Not cause I think I’m pretty (I think I am pretty, sometimes) but just by virtue of the first statement of this post applying equally to all humans, which is a category of things including me.
Like, there are sometimes when I catch a reflection of myself somewhere, under certain lighting or in a certain kind of mirror, and think: oh…yay!! And other times when the same situation happens, and my response, instead, is: …AW MAN. And I think that this peering closely and unjudgingly thing can have the tendency to elicit the first kind of response in people, of the people they’re observing.
Something very beautiful about that, right? Something like “Understanding leads to love.”
Not fully developed thought-connection that I think is related, but like I just disclaimed, not fully developed:
Per Pastor John Piper:

God is the only being in the universe whose display of his own glory is love. Display of one’s glory, done by anyone else, would not be love — that would be selfishness and pride and undue self-glorification. But God is unique in possessing this quality because the display and experience of God’s glory is the only sure source of full satisfaction of man’s soul (not to mention his chief end, right?) in this entire universe. So God must show himself as glorious and must require all his creation to sing out his glory. And in this, he shows LOVE.

Observing God, seeing and knowing his glory, leads to increased gain of love.
Looking closely at his humanly creations, peering close into moments of unguarded normalcy and undaunted peer-backs, leads to increased gain of love.
So maybe…by the law of the a = b, a –> b, b –> c, then a –> c ness of the logic of the law (dear math/philosophy majors, please forgive me)…maybe these peerings, up close and personal, as they say, are like…seeing moments of God in people.
Woah. Is that too bold? Either way, isn’t he beautiful, our God of love? Dah. I wish to peer more deeply more closely more intimately. More love-ingly.

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