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I once heard a doctor describe illness as an external trauma that the body has absorbed. Literally, our bodies take in the bad things that happen to us and convert them into sickness. “What kind of New Age nonsense is this?” I wondered.

But he was right.

The trauma I experienced in the first three months of this year came home to roost in the second three. Cellulitis, respiratory infections, back problems, pneumonia — you name it, I had it. I was a fixture at my doctor’s office. I visited the ER. I underwent two ultrasounds and a CT scan. I took four courses of antibiotics, all different. I slept sitting up for two months.

I’m much better now. Really. But I’ve become a believer in the body-mind connection. If you don’t take care of the things that hurt you emotionally, your body will be forced to contend with them in various, very physical disguises. What hurts your soul can also hurt your body. My advice? Pour out your pain to any listening ear you can find. Ideally, you should find a professional, but barring that, talk to someone: a friend, a relative, a spiritual advisor, your spouse. And, of course, you can always pray it out.

I am the worse for wear.
So are we all, trapped as we are
in fragile flesh, prone to pelting
by the nettles of nature, the stings
of our very need for each other.
Bad love hurts to the bone.
Grace still heals, miraculous as mud
daubed on a blind eye, sudden as touching
the hem of a cloak. You will hurt,
but you will change, cell by cell,
into something stronger.
You may not see it now. But believe.
Bones ache as they grow;
so do souls.

Everyone who learns my secret tells me how wonderfully calm I am. How gracious. How unruffled. Little do they know that I’ve spent my time more like the anagram of calm — the clam: roiling on the inside, turning worrying grit into a pearl of anxiety that I hold in my calmly closed mouth. Only a few, very select people know that my husband has tested positive for Covid-19 and that I am awaiting the results of my own test. Of all the possible effects this plague could have on me, I’ll admit “asymptomatic carrier” was not on my bingo card. Not with my asthma and faulty, scarred lung. Even more surprising would be to find out I’m negative, after living in the same close quarters with a positively sick person for two weeks. Stranger things have happened, though.

Only God knows how my fear is manifesting itself — through migraines the size of a Goodyear blimp. Fortunately, God also knows and hears my fervent, late-night prayers. I may be a calm clam on the outside, but God reads my insides like a book. Maybe that’s why I seem so calm?

My head is splitting,
threatening to spill
all the ugly things
I keep inside it:
fear oozing from its rind
like overripe cheese,
panic and its partner shock,
and behind them all the dizzying
dread of knowing how small I am,
how unready and unsteady I stand.
I could heave it all out of me,
this, that no one wants to see.
I needn’t. God dissects my being,
the most masterful surgeon,
baring my wormy innards and
blessing them with balm. I feel his hand
skillfully sewing, stitches so small
no eye can behold them. The scar
will be hidden. We alone will know it.
I whisper the words, private, prayerful.

I’m not going to lie: January 2016 has been — pardon my French — a crapfest. My last surviving uncle was laid to rest, my friend Mary passed away, my best friend’s brother died — suddenly and without warning — and two of my cats are sick, one near death. My father-in-law has been unwell and in the hospital, and I have cellulitis, a staph infection of the skin and tissue, but neither the doctor nor I know why. Bills are mounting; emergencies continue to emerge. What’d I tell you? Crapfest.

Once, many years ago, I was walking through a “haunted house,” staged for Halloween. Some dim bulb decided to paper over the staircase, and I slipped walking down it. Fortunately, the walls were also lined with paper, with hands groping through cut-out holes, in an attempt to scare people. One of these kindly disembodied hands caught me as I fell and held me up. It was a lesson in an unlikely place.

It is hard, when one is in the dark, to imagine light. And yet I believe that February will turn this impending trainwreck of a year around. Or, more precisely, I believe that God will. In any case, I am moving forward.

What lies ahead may be
a pebble or a boulder,
slope or sheer drop.
It is not for me to know.
Faith whispers only this:
put one foot out at a time,
test the air,
put it down. Repeat.
The light will find you.
The floor will hold you.
The roof will not collapse.
There is a hand
waiting in the dark,
fingers tensing for your touch.
Find it.

“Very good care…” this was the hospital motto, and it was written on a whiteboard on the wall in each patient’s room.  They’d marker in the name of the nurse and aide on shift,  changing the date so you’d know what the heck day of the week it was.

When you’re inert in a hospital bed, your mind wanders.  Wonder why they couldn’t have aimed a little bit higher with that motto, I said to myself.  Why not excellent care?  Exceptional care?  But just very good?  Feh.

On the few channels available on the tiny t.v., I saw an ad for another hospital, and they had the even lower-aiming motto:  “Where life continues.”  Sheesh!  Hope so.

I’d come in five days earlier for an exacerbation of multiple sclerosis, and I was ready to go home. Steroid infusions, pain shots, testing, being poked and prodded had somehow lost its luster, and it was clear from the set of my face as the doctor came in.  “So I get the idea you want to head on out?” I nodded.  “Do you feel better enough to leave?”

I thought this was a subjective question. Almost an existential question.  Hospitals are where you’re sick.  Home is where you heal.  Sure, I didn’t feel like gangbusters, but I felt that they’d given me everything they could here to shore me up, and now, if I had my druthers, I’d take my meds home to hibernate and recuperate.

So I went home on crutches with my medications and various physical therapy aids to strengthen my hands and feet, and I relaxed right away.

Looking back, I had pushed too hard when I wasn’t feeling well, and then one day, I was struggling with a small copywriting project. I went to the kitchen where my son was getting a snack, and he looked at me and said, “Ma, what’s wrong?” I said I had to get three more records done and then I could rest.  He looked me dead in the eye and said, “No, Ma.  Now.  You need to lie down.”  He took me by the shoulders and guided me down the hall to my room and I realized I was in bad shape.  I called the doctor that day and she sent me to the ER.

Prior to this episode, my prayers had a feverish tone at times.  I’d say, “Please take care of this pile of bills!” or “We need a miracle for this situation!”  But now, I’ve seen the sliding scale of blessings that come in under the radar, and I know healing comes from hope and holding on, not from angst and desperation. Those prayers are really clenched fists – You must!  Help now!  No time left! –  not hands clasped toward Heaven in serene anticipation.  It sounds more like a high-pressure Ginsu knife salesman than a faithful child of God.

This is how I pray now:  “If You say I can, I will.”  While of course, I don’t speak for the Maker of all Things, I believe He replied, “Deal.”  Sometimes I feel He’s from Jersey, just like me.

I didn’t think I’d have sensation back in my feet as before, and then I walked into the wall, muttered in French and realized, “Hey!  That hurt!” And if it hurts, I can feel my feet. I’ll take it!

The first night I slept in my own bed, I started to feel warmth on the bottom of one foot.  The next day, the other one.  They’d been numb during my stay in the hospital. I’ll take it! The next day, I felt pins and needles in my lips, and my smile started to come back.   I’ll take it!

Every day is another grace, a new small healing the world doesn’t know about and the hospital didn’t document in their records.  Each time they would give me a shot in the hospital, they’d scan my wristband. At first I thought it was to ensure patient safety, but the nurse aide chuckled and said, “No, it’s to charge you.”

I’ve seen increments of joy like family and friends checking in to see if I need a ride to the doctor or a Slurpee from the 7-11. I’ve seen my son show me how much he’s grown up and how solid his character really is, as he takes care of things I normally do so that I have time to heal.  I’ll take it all.

So while I’m still hinky around the edges, I’m working my way back to wholeness.  The good thing about being home in the care of the greatest healer of all is that the benefits include peace of mind, comfort through the pain, and the promise of better days. All at no charge. Now that’s what I call a divine deal.


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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