“We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”*
A funny thing can happen on the way to our destination: A detour spirits us into the unforeseen. We can’t turn back. The known road is closed.
Have you experienced or witnessed this unfolding way life works? An unanticipated turning of the heart may result.
In my case, a funny thing happened on the way to a routine, unpleasant but necessary medical procedure. Katie Couric exhorts us to have this screening. Sandra Bullock quips: “Invite your friends to join you.”
Routine colonoscopies save lives and could perhaps have saved Katie Couric’s husband and Sandra Bullock’s mom. So we do what we have to do, grateful to get them over with.
As with many procedures, the actual event isn’t the problem: anticipatory anxiety and distasteful preparation are the problem. Some of us swear off lemon-flavored drinks forever after.
Thirsty and starving (no drinking for four hours or eating on the day leading up to the procedure), I want to be done with it. Having been sickened by an allergic reaction to the pills added to the preparation, I am cranky. Let’s roll!
So what if a rhumba is rocking the monitor? My heart has always beaten to a different drummer. The erratic rate is likely a PTSD response. Invasive medical procedures trigger PTSD. Once my heart feels safe, it will normalize itself. These things I tell myself.
The anesthesiologist’s eyes narrow; gastroenterologist Dr. Song himself rushes to my gurney. My denial protests, “Let’s finish the procedure. I feel okay. No chest pains. This happens a lot.” Dr. Song’s, “No. We need to get you to the ER,” is both resolute and gentle. I would travel the road ahead by ambulance.
This detour gets my attention. I befriend Matt, an ambulance EMT, alerting him of my PTSD and what I need to feel safe. “You too?” Matt replies. “Afghanistan got me.” His fellow EMT says, “Iraq for me”. A clearing in the woods established in a heartbeat, we talk triggers and flashbacks (in my case to violent childhood abuse), and more importantly, what helps. As we wait in the ER for space to clear, medical staff stop by, attracted to the spirited conversation.
Once in my curtained “room,” hooked up to more monitors, I meet Dr. Ximena Castro, hospitalist, with whom I immediately cut to the chase, summarizing what happened and asking for data and clarity. She is equally direct about the tests she will order and the diagnostic path. Soon, she and I are leveling about her pathway from Cuba into medicine and about how our traditional families coped with non-traditional daughters. Our laughter calls others into the curtained space. Party in the ER!
Heart rhythm expert Dr. Dionysus Robotis joins us. I had already gotten the skinny on Dr. Robotis from the nurses. I am ready for him, What’s up with my heart? Yes, heart disease runs in the family. Yes, I’ve told doctors for years about my unique heart beat; it never shows up when I’m being examined. Go figure.
All this time, I am asking God to be with me. When I’m scared, I say I’m scared. When I’m grateful, I say I’m grateful. When I need help, I say I need help. I have steadfastly been unlearning the command I carried from childhood: Face trauma alone. Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel. I’m texting my friends to ask for prayers. We are only as sick as our secrets.
Test results come in. A pronouncement is made: I have Atrial flutter, an electronic abnormality. Neurons tell my heart to beat too often and too much. Cause? Remedy? “We’ll get you stabilized with medication,” Dr. Robotis advises.
Dr. Song shows up after his full day of surgeries. He agrees: if Dr. Robotis says the colonoscopy is safe, Dr. Song will schedule it the following morning as long as I continue not to eat or drink. I am relieved I will not have to start the prep all over again. Once every five years is more than enough for me.
Friends text with sweet concern; Nick, my feisty son, is calling ER staff to demand they treat his mom royally. Suddenly, I am weary. Metoprolol has calmed my heart; rhumba has surrendered to foxtrot.
Night on the cardiac ward is measured every four hours by the taking of vital signs. A patient in the room beside me wails like a wounded elk every hour; my roommate crossly refuses treatment. I sleep when I can, noticing the moon outside my window is where it has always been. I rest.
Next morning, I wave the queen’s wave as I am wheeled down the hospital corridor to the colonoscopy. Who else smiles on the way to a colonoscopy?
Procedure accomplished, I request a toasted cheese sandwich (whole wheat bread, please) and a drink.
That’s the moment I realize I have changed: I am choosing trust. I haven’t been bargaining with a conditionally loving God. I am asking a loving God to be with me. Presence is all I need. This is different for me, this abbreviated prayer: be with me. My heart beats a simple desire not to have to go this alone. A surrender to the detour. An openness to life on life’s terms. A turning of the heart.
“Pooh,” whispered Piglet. “Yes, Piglet?” said Pooh. “Oh nothing,” said Piglet. “I was just making sure of you.”
Detours can be bumpy. Second chances aren’t always pretty. But they do remind us of what matters.
*This quote is attributed to both E.M. Forster and Joseph Campbell, depending where you look. I agree with the sentiment, regardless of which of these men expressed it.