Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Over My Head: Beauty in the Waiting

"Come and do
whatever You want to..."

I wrote out those lyrics the night before this little neurological adventure began, so it was with more than a wink at God as I wrote them out again the last week, hours before my mom and I would head out into the dark morning for my biopsy.

There have been days already in this process where I've prayed for the surface things--calming fear, granting peace--and there will, in not too long, come days when I just plead for it all to go away. But so far, I've tried to let this song define and hedge my prayers in this direction: that whatever the bigger-plan, higher-calling, God-sized dream of this is, let it be that. Because my version is purposeless, and pretty boring: Chandra has a brain tumor, Chandra gets brain tumor treated and removed, tumorless Chandra returns to Chandra's normal life.

That's a terrible story. I would never read that story. Why I would choose to live it (and I would) is beyond me.

God's version is a much better story--it will be. I know this, because He has written my story far better than I could have, right from the beginning. And right from the beginning, there were things that *shouldn't* have happened, had I been the editor: a father wouldn't have left, I would have fit in with the crowd, I wouldn't have wrestled with depression and suicide. But those things shaped me, and drove me into a life that is better not in spite but because of the pain and struggle.

So that's how this will be, too. I've decided. No turning back, no turning back.

Many people were praying for me Tuesday morning and, if we're being honest, some of those prayers weren't answered as requested. If you prayed for a lack of pain or stress, for a smooth transition to recovery, for a quick process, for rest, none of those things happened. The pain was otherworldly. The stress was more than slight. The process less than smooth.

"This isn't exactly what you described," I breathed as the screws cinched the metal frame tighter around my head, and I repeated to myself that it wasn't actually going to split me in twain like a horror movie. "I know," my neurosurgeon replied, and I understood his wisdom: that sometimes it's better to go in blind. Even with my immense trust in him, my stress whirred my heart like a strange instrument that my lungs couldn't match. Pain and stress were my compatriots all morning.

I had the earliest surgery slot, with the plan to move me to a room as soon as the 4-hour recovery watch ended. Four hours became ten before I was moved upstairs. Everyone who has heard this has sighed and frowned, and growled of hospital organization, and apologized. Those who prayed for swiftness and speed were given a no.

But I didn't pray for painlessness or total calm or speed. I prayed that He would come and do whatever He wanted to.*

To say that I floated in a calm state of godly quiet for the day would be the greatest of inaccuracies. I was frequently frustrated, in pain, exhausted. But there were moments--sometimes seconds, sometimes hours--when He showed up in me, and everything else paled in comparison, as it always does.

There was Gwen, the wonder-woman nurse who could find a vein even when there wasn't one to find. This was her introduction, and as she petted and swatted at my hands looking for a blue line, I prayed it was true. She found one, but no dice. As she found a second, she met my eyes with seriousness: "Sometimes, all you can do is pray." I squeezed her hand as the needle slipped in, painful but fruitful. "Prayer works," I sighed back, and she smiled and nodded and pressed the gauze firmly to my hand.

The next was Casey, who was calm and sweet but I initially dismissed her as flighty. Until my neurosurgeon told me to close my eyes and I began to feel first needles and then screws, and nothing in the world existed but that pain--and her hand, which was holding mine, petting it lightly like you would a bird. Every ounce of me went into that corner, and I only distantly heard my neuro surgeon say, "You're refusing to say, 'Ouch,' so I'll say it for you?" When they wheeled me to Recovery, she came around to look at me, and brushed my hair away from the clotting blood on my forehead. I don't remember what she said--"You'll be pretty again soon," or something like it. One of those weird things that's exactly what you needed to hear.

There was Liddy and Amanda, both friendly and, as the hours ticked by, increasingly compassionately frustrated for me. They brought ginger ale and saltines, and apologized for not being able to do anything more. They agreed that I should be Miss Congeniality for putting up with such a wait, listening over and over to other patients wake up, groggy and confused, and hear the explanations of surgery going well, wives waiting to see them, timeframes of going home.

But my favorite is what kept me from writing this for a week, because it doesn't suit my writing needs. She was the nurse I bonded with the most, the one I would never have seen (let alone had multiple real conversations with) had I not been stuck in Recovery so long. She was the one who brought me mac & cheese and green jello, and a real bed to replace the sweat-inducing gurney. She bore a reasonable resemblance to Belle, but in scrubs. And the problem is, I never knew her name.

Her tag was flipped, and we were always too busy talking for me to ask. And I didn't want to list everyone else and miss her.

But yesterday, I started thinking about the number of interactions I'll have in this journey that are momentary, or that I won't remember at all. Those are still people who can be affected--by my being pissed off at lying prostrate for ten hours, or by me being kind, talkative, interested, real. In short, I think her name is supposed to be blank for me, to remind me that I won't see all the pieces fall into place, and that the unknown doesn't make its own excuse. There are dozens--hundreds?--of people I will interact with only because I have a tumor, only because I needed that test or this treatment.

I can sigh through the wait. I can whimper and post on Facebook and growl and be pitiful in every sense of the word. And there will doubtless be times when I do.

But I'm glad I prayed what I prayed last week. I'm glad He came and did whatever He wanted to, because it meant Gwen and Casey and Liddy and Amanda and two dozen other nameless nurses and residents and the like. I'm glad it hurt, because it meant the ease of pain was another wall down, another thing to be thankful for. I'm glad I couldn't wash my hair for three days, because every time it ticked me off I reminded myself that its time on my head might be short, and to breathe thanks. A week later, I'm still occasionally woozy, and still have to half-dry my hair in order not to upset stitches, but still I'm glad.

He's doing what He wants to.

Let's do this.

* Please don't take this to mean my prayers count more than others--only, as one of our pastors reminded us on Sunday, "When you pray with boldness, brace yourself. Adventure is coming."

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