for release August 23, 2002
by Melodie Davis
One Step at a Time
Recently I was struggling to get two ounces of nourishment into my child, knowing it would mean the difference between the doctor letting her out of the hospital or not. And ultimately life itself is dependent on taking in food and water.
No, we didn't have a baby at this stage of life, but it was sure a lot of déjà vu all over again when I spent three nights in July in the hospital with my youngest daughter. And I have fresh sympathy or empathy for anyone going through accident, illness, pain and suffering.
It is easy to pray for the "sick and the suffering." The words roll off our lips until it's our son or daughter at the other end of the operating knife. The answers and advice are easy until it's our loved one who can't seem to keep any food down, alternately fainting, going to the bathroom, or throwing up.
I had written years ago about an operation our daughter needed: a poorly formed lower jaw which gave her a severely receding jaw to the extent that chewing meat and hard apples or carrots was very difficult. Her jaw was something that some people stared at. However, Doreen was a happily adjusted child, with a ready smile and almost always ready to pitch in with whatever the task at hand.
So this summer was the year of the Big O: the Operation to move forward her lower jaw, adjust her chin, reshape her upper jaw: a very extensive amount of surgery performed on a very tiny mouth. At 103 pounds, she is a bit on the small side, which proved to be the hardest part of recovery.
But Doreen's recent experiences are nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to what other people have gone through. I would obviously vastly prefer to cope with getting food into a 16-year-old over having her disappear, be murdered, hit by a drunk driver, coping with a terminal illness or long term disability.
I was reminded again of the fragility of the human body. Newsweek, in an article reporting on suicide bombers in the Middle East, told how one doctor at a trauma center in Jerusalem specialized in recognizing when bombing victims were actually torn up inside, even when they didn't appear to have a scratch on the outside. He said classically they appeared to be fine, almost surrealistically peaceful for the trauma they'd been through, talking to the doctor or family, and then all of a sudden they'd collapse and die, because their heart had fallen apart or the lungs were torn up. The article spoke of a three-year-old child who was still hospitalized months after a suicide bombing. I take the emotional pain we experienced at seeing our daughter hurting and in pain and magnify that 1000-fold for all those suffering the consequences of war, bombings, or starvation. We are lucky if we can only imagine such calamities, and so I count my blessings.
Walking alongside someone who is sick, who has had an operation or an accident, is difficult for both the recovering person and the family. That seems obvious but we are so quick to forget it when everything is rolling smoothly along.
When dealing with recovery, the little "disasters" or things that go wrong loom larger than life. Something mechanical in the home always chooses to go wrong when you are also dealing with an ill or hospitalized family member. The washer breaks down, the air conditioner goes on the blink, the computer decides to die, the car leaves you stranded. Suddenly your minimal reserves for coping are just totally gone and you lose it.
The emotional aspects of healing are sometime the toughest parts to master, because they are the mental games you have to play with yourself, and with your child or your relative. Several times my daughter burst out in tears of frustration because she couldn't eat what we were eating, and we just had to say, we're so sorry, but you've come this far, and you will make it.
When you are sick, life can seem like an endless routine of waiting for the next appointment, waiting for tests, waiting for results of tests, going without food, and then sorting out bills, paperwork and insurance forms. People dealing with cancer or other terminal illness often speak of just taking everything one day at a time: it is too much to cope with if emotionally you try to grasp the enormity of the whole challenge. Focus on whatever tasks you have to do today. You can do it! Faith in God provides many with the emotional strength to keep plugging away, no matter how hard.
For a free booklet, "Finding God in Pain or Illness," write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 805 words; end material = 105 words
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