Monthly Archives: October 2014

Arms

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Memories of embraces past…

Tuesday, October 28, 1997 was one of the worst days of my life.  It was the day Mama went into the hospital.  It was the beginning of the end, of Mama’s life and of an era in our family.

At this time, on that night, I was at the hospital to spend the night with her.  It was a bad night for us both, for numerous reasons.  She was nervous and agitated, and the medicine given to calm her down only upset her stomach.

There are lots of things about her last month and a half of life that I’m sure I’ve forgotten.  I was still trying to work during most of that time while staying as many nights as possible at the hospital.  Sleep-deprived and stressed out, I know there are lots if things I don’t remember now.  But I remember some moments with vivid clarity.

I remember people’s arms around me.  I remember the night Mama’s condition was so bad that they had to bring  a portable ultrasound up to her room because they needed to do tests and didn’t want to wait for transport to come and take her down because she was so unstable.  Jeff had come to visit both with her and with me, and her condition upset him.  That was his meltdown moment during the last of her illness.  He cried like his best friend was dying and I couldn’t offer him much comfort.  We just held each other.

Dad had spent Mama’a last full night with her at the hospital, and I came the next day to relieve him.  He left and I settled in to spend what turned out to be her last day at the hospital with her.  She was unresponsive, and not too long after I got there her breathing changed.  I know now that she was actively dying.  A nurse came in and asked how long her breathing had been like that, and I said about a half hour.  The nurse then told me that I could talk to Mama, hold her hand and pet her if I wanted to. She said she didn’t think Mama was in any pain and that she didn’t think anything was going to bother or disturb her now.  She told me she would check on us during the day and if I needed anything at all to just call.  She put her arm around my shoulder and just stood with me for a few minutes, saying nothing more.

Countless times during her hospital stay, people hugged me, squeezed me tight and infused me with strength for the battle.  Guardian angels from my own family held me close as we all cried with sadness over what Mama was enduring, and what we all knew was to come.  I never take a hug for granted anymore.  I know the difference it can make.

After Mama died, at the graveside after the service was over, people were starting to disperse and leave.  I sat by her casket for what seemed like the longest time, by myself.  I knew the cemetery people would make me leave soon, but I wanted to spend those last few minutes with her.  My cousin Van, a favorite person in my life who I don’t see nearly often enough, came over and sat down beside me.  He didn’t say a word.  He just put his arm around my shoulder and sat with me.  I never felt more loved, more understood, than I did at that moment.

Many times I have leaned on the arms of other people for strength and comfort.  I hope that my arms have provided strength and comfort for the people in my life as well.  I believe one of the most powerful ways God loves us is through the love of other people. As I have leaned into the arms of other human beings, I have felt the everlasting arms of God spoken of in the old hymn from my childhood.image

Lord of love, thank You for holding me with the arms of the people You have sent me when I needed them most.  Use my arms and hands to comfort, strengthen and encourage the people in my life who need to feel You in theirs.

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We’ve All Got Something

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Sharing burdens…

My left arm and shoulder look totally “normal”. At least, the skin there looks normal. It is unmarked by anything except age and the looseness resulting from shrinkage following my weight loss surgery.

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My right arm and shoulder, however, look quite different. I have a rare skin condition there called lichen sclerosus et atrophicus (LSA).

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I first noticed a strange-looking little patch of shiny, white skin when I was about 20 years old. Mama noticed it too, and I remember her being terrified that it was psoriasis. She took me to see a dermatologist, who performed a biopsy to make sure that it was not cancer.  Then he gave me the diagnosis of LSA and said that in all his years of practice, he had only seen a couple of cases.  Then came the parade of students, nurses and other lookers-on to view my skin, because, “This may be their only opportunity to see this condition.  It’s that rare.”  Several times since then, that scenario has repeated itself as doctors ask me if I mind their nurses and med students coming in to take a look.  I don’t really mind if medical professionals want to see it, as long as they treat me like a human and not just a disease.

Looking back, I wish it had been something as common and as treatable as psoriasis. I don’t minimize the seriousness of psoriasis; it can be a devastating condition. But at least people are familiar with the term, and there are treatments for it.

My condition is much less common, and much less treatable. There is no known cause, and the only known treatment is a specially-compounded testosterone ointment or cream which may or may not be covered by health insurance.  The testosterone treatment never helped me anyway, so it doesn’t matter that my insurance doesn’t cover it.

The affected skin does not behave like normal skin.  The LSA penetrates through to the deepest layers of the dermis.  When exposed to the sun, it doesn’t tan.  Sometimes it hurts.  Occasionally a patch of the affected skin will break open, but it doesn’t bleed.  It weeps.  And sometimes it itches, the kind of itch that makes me want to scratch at it with a fork!

The condition gradually spread down my upper arm and up toward my neck.  It expanded to roughly twice its original area when I was about 40 years old, I suspect due to my changing hormones around that time.  But that’s just a guess.

I am really fortunate as far as LSA patients are concerned.  Over 90% of cases are located on the patient’s genitalia, and the condition often impairs urinary/excretory and sexual functioning.  So I am blessed that it’s just on my arm and shoulder.

Why am I sharing all of this?  I guess I just needed to remind myself that we’ve all got something…some scar, pain, fear, disappointment.  Some burden we carry.  If I can be open about my burdens, maybe I can be more sensitive to the burdens of other people.  Maybe I can even share them.

Tattered

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Why some things can never be discarded…

There is a quilt in my house that is tattered.  I don’t mean a little bit worn; I mean literally falling apart.  Yet I cannot bring myself to part with it.  And I can’t quite explain my attachment to it.  I just know I can’t throw it out.

Its history is something of a mystery.  I don’t know which side of my family it came from.  All I know is that it’s been in the family forever, and it shows every mark of its past.  Much of the fabric is disintegrating, with the cotton batting underneath exposed.

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It is beyond ragged.  Yet, as pitiful as it looks, it is also the softest quilt in the house.  It seems as though it always was the softest one, even when it lived in Mama’s house.  I will never forget the Christmas break I came home from college with a mouth full of ulcers and a torn-up stomach from the stress of exams, sick and exhausted.  I piled myself on the couch in the den downstairs under this ancient quilt, burrowing down into its softness, taking respite in the simple comfort of being home where my Mama could take care of me.

I guess maybe that’s why I can’t let it go, even though it is coming apart at the seams (and everywhere else!).  It is, among other things, a reminder of Mama’s comforting care and the many times she held me and tucked me into the comfort of that ratty old quilt when I was cold or sick or exhausted.

I miss her every day.  But the ratty, tattered quilt lives in my house to remind me of her care.  I am almost afraid to use it now, for fear that it will come completely apart.

I think, though, that it needs to live out the remainder of its life on my couch, with me burrowed into its ancient softness, remembering Mama and feeling her loving touch once more.  Maybe it will be buried in the casket with me when I die.

Somehow I think Mama would like that.

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Bookworm Paradise

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Read. Nap. Repeat…

My idea of the perfect vacation has changed over the years (and decades).  When Reed and I were little kids, Mama and Dad took us on a week’s vacation to Myrtle Beach every summer.  What I looked forward to then was spending lots of time floating and frolicking in the surf and sand, looking for shells and sharks’ teeth, and riding the rides at the amusement park.  And one night during the week we would usually go to the movies as a family, which was a huge treat and something I always enjoyed.

As an adult with a job and responsibilities of my own, my desires for a vacation are a lot calmer and simpler than they used to be.  One of my greatest pleasures on a trip is just being able to read as much, and for as long, as I want to.  I’ve been a bookworm since childhood, but as a child, school and reading were my job.  So I didn’t always read a lot during my summer vacations.  Now, my JOB is my job, and reading often has to take a backseat to the other demands on my time and energy.  So now, vacations provide me with a block of time in which I can read all I want.

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That probably seems boring to some people, and that’s OK.  Some folks are weekend warriors who enjoy adventurous vacations filled with bungee-jumping-rock-climbing-skydiving activities.  Cool.  I looked into ziplining for this trip and that’s still not out of the question.  Flying sounds like a lot of fun to me!

I always bring my Bible with me when I travel, because, like my vitamins and supplements, it is part of my daily nourishment.  I would feel lost if I didn’t have it with me.  The practice of daily Bible reading doesn’t make me good or pious.  It makes me grateful.  And over the years it has become a part of the day that I look forward to.

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Vacations provide me with a change of scenery, new places to read and write and rest.  Right now I am sitting out back enjoying a balmy Gulf breeze, crystal clear blue sky, sunshine and the rippling water of the swimming pool, a scene very unlike the autumn chill we left behind back home.  It feels like a different season… a different world.

My friend Eileen, and her husband Brad, have a charity website dedicated to bookworms and reading.  It is called gonereading.com.  In addition to offering products for reading enthusiasts, the website donates 100% of their after-tax profits to fund reading-related charities, particularly READ Global and Ethiopia Reads.  One of their very cool t-shirts summarizes my vacation dreams perfectly:

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So, I encourage you to visit http://www.gonereading.com.  They don’t offer books, but they offer everything else a bookworm needs and desires to support their reading habits!  And they help to provide reading resources to people who would not otherwise have access to them.   For now, I am off to enjoy a little more Bookworm Paradise!