Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Miracles

Five years ago, on this day, I had a terrible accident.  But this isn't about something terrible.  It's about something breathtakingly sacred to me-- something that was a tremendous blessing of the disguised variety.  It was a pivotal experience in my life.

Before work that morning, I got out the ladder and climbed on the roof of our single-story home to make a few repairs before snow fell.  I had made some progress when I realized I needed to get down and get a few more tools.  As I was about to climb back up, my wife and daughter came out and needed to take the car somewhere.  The ladder was blocking the driveway, so I moved it out of the way.  Then, since it takes forever to do anything simple like get in the car when you have small children, I became impatient and set up the ladder in a different position, one where it wasn't supported as well.  With both hands full of tools I climbed the ladder and attempted to get back on the roof.

When I stepped on the step that's clearly labeled "not a step," I found out the hard way why you aren't supposed to do that.  The ladder shimmied violently, I lost my balance, and the next thing I knew I was on my back in our driveway.

This was 2009.  At that point, the Great Recession had been murdering our business for a full year.  Our sales had dropped by over 70 percent.  Financially I was already wrecked, so when I lay there in my driveway, behind the car my wife was about to back out, I thought it might be better for all parties if she finished me off.  I knew my arm was broken.  I knew that I was already broke.  And I knew that due to my pre-existing condition of snoring, I had been unable to purchase health insurance coverage.

I went to the emergency room knowing that I would be unable to pay for it.  Just going there felt like stealing.

One standout image of the whole experience came in the form of my daughter, who was five at the time and had been making clothes for her dolls out of colorful rags we used as shop towels at work.  With concern and gentleness beyond her years, she removed her dolls dress and helped me to sling my arm so I could get in the car.

The doctor recommended surgery.  He said that casting was impossible, and that the splint and sling method didn't have a good track record with humerus fractures like mine.  Nevertheless I took the less costly option and came home with my arm in a sling.  Just the thought of moving my arm produced excruciating pain, and laying on my back proved impossible, so I took up residence in the recliner in our living room, with pillows and blankets, my CPAP machine, and a laptop computer.

A few days later, I became sick.  I lost my appetite completely, and began throwing up.  I couldn't even keep water down and I felt full and bloated.  Since I had been taking prescription pain pills, we entertained the idea that my digestive system was just suppressed.  At my wife's urging I took a walk.

It was a foggy, frosty evening and the air was chilled.  I could see the clouds of condensation in my breath as I walked slowly around my neighborhood, hoping the movement would help get things moving.  I found myself near our church, in a very dark place.  Tears and vomit and prayers ran down my chin.  Something was seriously wrong and I didn't know what to do.

The next morning, after fervent prayer, I asked my wife to drive me to the hospital.  At the ER, they decided to do a CT scan.  The doctor told me it was probably just constipation due to the narcotics, but the test would show if there was anything wrong.

I wouldn't fit in the machine with my sling on.  I found out the hard way, when my elbow bumped into the side and I nearly screamed in pain.  I had to take off the sling and stabilize my bad arm with my good one.  I just fit.  It felt like a high-tech tomb, my arms folded across my chest like a pharaoh.  I bit my lip and held my breath.

Later as we waited for the doctor for an hour or so, I told my wife that there had better be something seriously wrong with me, because if I had undergone that painful, expensive experience over constipation it would be too humiliating to bear.

I got my wish.

That thing on the left, that thing that looks a little like Squidward's profile, was my kidney.  The thing on top of it is my squished liver.  The doctor called it "impressive."  He said he had never seen anything like it, that it was the size of a football and should have been the size of my fist.  He said I was probably just constipated, but that I should probably see a urologist about my kidney problem.  "There's no way this happened over the last few days, it must be congenital."

He was partly right.  The nearest the urologist could figure, a congenital defect had caused a slow, lifelong dilation of my kidney, but the accident had made the condition acute.  

What followed was a series of tests and procedures to drain my kidney and determine if it could be saved.  About 6 weeks later my kidney was removed altogether.

I've told this story to set the stage.  I want it to be clear that I was at the end of my rope, hanging on by my teeth.  This is not to garner sympathy, but to help explain the state I was in and give context to the things that followed.  

There's something else.  Though I have elaborated on the wreck of my physical body, my spirit was in worse shape.  I'm going to keep those details to myself here.  But the broken arm, the enormous kidney, all of that-- those are just tangible corollaries of spiritual disease and injury that was more severe, and self-inflicted.

The part of the story I've just told is the easy part.  It's much more difficult to articulate the ways that God and Grace and Angels intervened in my life.  I'm not even sure that I can, or should.

During the weeks that passed between the accident and the operation to remove my kidney, life was a blur of medical appointments and procedures.  I had a nephrostomy placed, which meant that I had tube sticking out of my back, connected to a bag of pee pinned inside my pantleg.

It was hard to work, but I had to.  Our only revenue at the shop at that time came from repair business.  It's very hard to turn wrenches and repair machines with one arm.  A clear image in my mind is when a customer needed a new rear tire.  The customer actually helped steady the scooter as I braced it with my shoulder and neck, fighting the wrench with my right arm, while simultaneously trying to relax my left arm.  Beads of sweat ran down my forehead and my broken bones ached.  I fought back tears of gratitude and despair knowing how badly we needed the money, glad to have it, but hating the need.

The nights were the worst.  Where once I had stayed up late, sitting in the recliner with my laptop, rejecting my wife, now I was unable to lay beside her though I wanted to.  Pain kept me awake.  I had been trying to change, to break old habits, and for months I had been doing well.  But now I was stuck in the same situation, forced to sit in the very same place, sleepless.  I began listening to LDS conference talks in podcast form, and I prayed constantly for help, because I have never felt so totally helpless and unutterably alone as I did then.

One night, after exhausting all the talks from the regular sessions of conference, I listened to the General Young Womens Meeting.  I don't remember any of the talks, but a choir of young women sang, "How Firm a Foundation" with a beautiful descant at the end.  It was the first time I can remember hearing the seventh verse and the words hit me with amazing force.  "The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes; That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I will never, no never, I'll never, no never, I'll never, no never, no never forsake!"

Though it felt as though all hell had gathered her storms against me, the promise of those words filled my heart and what had been a flicker of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel became a bright beacon to me.

Five years later what bills the hospital didn't write off are finally paid off.  Business is much better.  My arm is stronger than before, but I know better than to lean on it now.  I've learned whose arm to lean on for support.

Miracles happen every day.  Some take the form of divine intervention.  Some are heavenly messengers or kind strangers.  Sometimes God speaks, and sometimes He whispers.  Bones break.  Hearts break.  Blind eyes see.  And His hand that touched the forsaken lepers diseased skin makes whole souls from gaping wounds.  On this day, five years ago, I began to see miracles in my life.


Ben said...

This is beautiful, Dave. Thanks for sharing your miracle...

luvsfun said...

Powerful. Thank you.