All Shook Up: Phase Two

July 2, 2006 at 5:10 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s funny how injuries progress.  I am much stiffer and sorer today from the car accident than I was yesterday.  I imagine my brain taking stock of my body after the trauma and realizing, “Hey!  I pulled my back” and “Wow.  That arm injury is a lot worse than I thought” and ratcheting up the pain signals.  

My psychological response is remarkably similar to this.  For the first couple of days after something terrible happens, I am tremendously functional.  I make logical decisions, take care of small details (like ferreting my insurance card out of the ruined car’s interior to take to the hospital with me), and become scarily calm.  If you ever go through some cataclysmic event, I’m the person you’ll want by your side for the first few days.  But after that, you’d better look elsewhere because I fall apart—at precisely the moment when everyone assumes I’ve dealt with the situation. 

In keeping with this response, this afternoon I kept revisiting the accident in my head and became more upset every time.  I see the car tumbling down the embankment; I hear Andrew begin to cry so intensely that he can’t catch his breath; I remember the sensation of being tossed around inside the truck as it rolled over and over, my glasses wrenched from my face, the phone ripped out of my hand.  And in the moment when the truck finally regained its equilibrium and my Mom killed the engine, I remember the entire universe narrowing to Andrew, secured in his seatbelt and wailing with every bit of force he had. While we waited for the ambulance, I played my typical bargaining game with God.  “Please, please, please, let Andrew be OK.  Let anything happen to me.  But let Andrew be OK.” 

This reminds me of when my sarcoidosis saga began over two years ago and a doctor at the walk-in clinic I had gone to called me on a Friday afternoon to tell me I might have lymphoma.  I became super-functional for that weekend—cooking dinner, tending to Andrew, joking with friends who stopped by.  It wasn’t until Monday when I was driving up to Billings to see a specialist (a good four hour trip) all alone except for my three-month old baby that the gravity of what was happening sunk into me.  I sobbed and prayed.  Oddly, I remember bargaining with God that I would never eat potato chips again if He saw to it that I didn’t have lymphoma.  I think this long-since neglected pledge was part of a greater “I will take care of my body and appreciate my health” type of thing, but, still, I wonder what the supreme deity made of a mortal offering up junk food. 

Even though it takes a few days (or sometimes weeks or months) for terrible news to fully register with me, I’m not able to hold onto my panicked resolutions to do better after experiencing something harrowing than you would expect.  I returned to the potato chips and the self-loathing looks at my lumpy thighs.  So much for gratefully inhabiting the body God gave me.  And on Friday, as the ambulance approached down the gravel road, kicking up an obscuring cloud of dust behind it, I was sure I would do a better job—no, a perfect job—of constantly appreciating Andrew.  I would sack the babysitter and devote every waking second to his health and well being.  Not 48 hours later, he is once again driving me crazy in all the ways two year olds seem especially equipped to do.  Ignoring me, hollering at me, telling me he wants Daddy at dinner not me.  And predictably, I am losing my temper just like I always do and snapping at him to mind his manners and pay attention to me. 

I suppose it is a sign of human resiliency that we are not forever altered by the harrowing things that happen to us.  I read somewhere that life-changing illnesses like cancer don’t typically “change” people into someone new.  Instead, looking death in the eye makes a person more deeply who she was to start with.  I can’t speak for cancer survivors, but I have certainly found this to be true on my own journey through chronic illness. 

Part of growing older is gaining some modicum of self-knowledge.  I’ll be able to expect the funk I will fall into this week.  Somehow, though, knowing it’s coming never makes it any easier.  I’m choosing to view my capacity to return to my pre-accident mindset as something life affirming.  I can’t tiptoe through this world always expecting it to end.  There’s a fine line between being mindful and morbid.  If I spent every waking second appreciating Andrew, he’d become insufferable.  And I’d rather not inhabit a universe ruled by a God that expects mortals to turn away from potato chips. 

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