Expecting the Unexpected

One morning last week my five-year-old was laying on the couch, shivering in a mass of blankets, too sick to even request to watch T.V. Her flushed cheeks and glassy eyes a testament that she’d succumbed to the latest virus being passed around at school.

I was to have chaperoned a field trip for my youngest that morning; it would’ve been our first together. But instead I played nurse to her, disappointed about the minor change of plans. I know life plans change unexpectedly in the blink of an eye, all the time…

Forest fires. Insane gunman concert massacres. A grandparent passing. A surprising diagnoses. Fill-in-the-blank.

…but I continually struggle to expect the unexpected and flourish in spite of it. I keep waiting for things to “settle down” so I can find relief from the chaos. However, the secret to LIFE is found when we find ourselves joyful in the chaos—not when it goes away or eludes us.

In my last blog post, I talked about how burned out I’ve been with parenting and life. Since then, I knew I needed to seek healing—mind, body, and spirit—to find the joy again.

Being the good nurse practitioner that I am, I started by focusing on BODY.

I’d suspected for some time that my eyes needed to be examined as my vision was changing: blurry computer screens, squinting to make out fine print on packaging, fuzzy book paragraphs. It seemed to be 40-year-old eye syndrome, so I had lingered before pursuing an explanation.

Enter, a grocery warehouse. Costco is the promised land that offers our largish family unnecessary/necessary items in abundance. But now it’s also become The Place Where I Found Out. After determining the vision center in Costco to be the most economical local eye exam, I nonchalantly set up an appointment and wandered in innocently on a random Wednesday morning.

After a few routine normal steps of an eye exam, the optometrist took a look inside my eyes. And there it was, a thing I have come to know in healthcare: THE PAUSE. If you’ve heard it once, you’ll hear it every time. I knew he saw something that wasn’t supposed to be there.

“Uh, I’m going to take some pictures, okay?”

What does he see?

He printed the photos he’d captured and put them in front of me.

“You have cataracts in both eyes. See this grey haze on your lenses?”

Oh.

Tears begin to well up. I wasn’t expecting him to say that. Cataracts are a diagnosis of the elderly and can only be treated through invasive and expensive eye surgery. And since I’d aso been experiencing other physical symptoms, I immediately concluded that some systemic health diagnosis was looming. Lyme? MS? Diabetes? (Chronic high blood sugars are a risk factor for cataracts).

I left with a phone number of an eye surgeon and headed home to process the news. Just when we feel like we can’t handle another thing, there’s often something that sends us over the edge. I fell off the ledge that day.

At the eye surgeon’s office with dilated eyes

But what I’m finding over the edge is a wilderness of discovery, a place where my strength and resources have run dry. A place where I’m being delivered from the false belief that I can control or manage my life. A place where dependence can be a surprisingly beautiful and freeing gift.

I can’t do it, can’t control it. I don’t know what’ll happen in life. What’ll happen to my health, my children’s health, my spouses’ health. 

None of us can.

But we’re in good hands.

We can’t wrangle all the potential ways our bodies might fail us with a disciplined diet, frequent exercising, sleeping well, and not imbibing on all the addictive things. That’s the lie out there. Do the right things and you can control it. Nope. Worry copiously about your children’s safety and you can protect them. Nope. We will not elude disease, trauma, or death. Painful, isn’t it? It’s hard to sit with that reality.

But Someone knows the days of our lives.

Another unexpected blessing in the cataracts diagnosis was watching God’s providence. My friend Heather gave me the name of a notorious eye surgeon for whom she used to work. I called the day after my diagnosis and the receptionist said, “If you can come in at 3:45 this afternoon, I can get you in.” I found a last minute sitter and was able to go instead of waiting several months to been seen like I would’ve had to otherwise. The appointment confirmed my need for surgery, which is scheduled for this winter.

Because the cataracts were found, I requested blood work to rule out other problems. Though nothing showed up to explain them, I got an answer about other symptoms I’d been having. The tingling, fatigue, poor workouts, and need for a nap every afternoon can now be explained by iron-deficiency anemia. Yeah! I’m anemic—to have a reason for those symptoms offers great relief. For the last couple weeks, I’ve been trying various iron supplements (the first one gave me horrid heartburn but I’m liking one called Ferrex) and eating steak (bleh). One in five American women are anemic, so if you’ve been overly tired and haven’t had a CBC, B12, and iron count checked lately, maybe you should?

There is hope being on the other side of thinking we’re in control of health, on the side where we expect the unexpected without fear. Here we’re reminded again that not only are we not in control, but our bodies are meant to be temporary. They house the true, deepest part of us: our souls.

I like what my pastor said in his sermon yesterday, “Our biological realities are also our existential realities.” Our failing bodies remind us that we’re for another place. As things start falling, it’s a gentle nudge to more acutely feel the longing for our permanent homes. Unexpected health problems offer a slow release from the youthful grip on this life.

I could see, but now I’m blind(ish). Except in my soul, that’s where I’m gaining perspective.