Sunday, June 27, 2010

On Healing, Simply Stated

This post could also be titled, What God Showed Me in the Hospital.

On my third emergency room visit, I was swiftly admitted to the hospital. I had never been admitted to a hospital before and I was scared, but comforted by the strong pain medicine that the doctors fed me through an IV. My roommate was a woman my age, who when she was only 26, suffered a stroke that left one side of her body paralyzed. I would watch as she got out of bed and used her strength to drag half of her body to the bathroom. She was tough, a little scrappy, and I loved that about her. She was discharged the next morning, and there would be no more roomates once it was verified that my infection carried community acquired MRSA. There is hospital acquired MRSA, which comes from within a hospital, and community acquired MRSA which you can get anywhere. At a restaurant, at church, at your job, any place in the whole world.

I was scared and cried sometimes. While visitors and phone calls energized me, there were times late at night and in the early morning that were harder to deal with. It was the feeling of going through something alone. About a month ago I had finished reading Phillip Yancey's Where is God When It Hurts? mainly because someone gave me the book for free, and it's a question we all ask ourselves at one point or another. I didn't know how soon it would apply in my own life on a physical level. Was I being prepared when someone gave me that book?

One night, I was laying in the bed and had prayed, cried, and ran out of things to say to God. I was scared because they would be operating on my hand the next day, and I just could not find comfort or peace. Quietly, I quietly began to sing Lord I Lift Your Name on High. Because at the end of everything, all you can do is praise Him.

X-rays showed what may have been a shard of glass in my hand, but I could not figure how there would be glass in my hand without me knowing it. All you can do is place your faith in God and the doctors, and know that the Lord will see you through. Our minister showed up to read Psalms 116 and pray with me before the operation. That Psalm washed over me like a cool fountain of clear water on a hot day. It was exactly the right words at the right time, as solemn, real and true as my wedding vows. I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Did I mention that it was my right hand that was affected?

After they operated on my hand to clean the wound, the pain was so great that in addition to the IV pain killers, I was given a sedative. No glass had been found in the wound. They had bandaged my hand like a mummy. Back at my room, I was greeted with a meal tray that included a hunk of lasagna with a baked potato. My family who had come to visit got as big a laugh out of it as I did! Let's just say that if I was in the mood for the unlikely combination of a lasagna and baked potato that it would not be after a surgical procedure as the anesthesia is wearing off. Just then, my sister in law called and asked what I needed. "Some sliced fresh fruit and a chocolate milkshake!" Wish granted. My sister in law Rachel was such a source of comfort. She didn't have to do anything- she has two toddlers at home. But there she was in my room fulfilling requests.
"If you need anything, even in the middle of the night, call me. You could go over to your window, let down your hair like Rapunzel, and I will climb up it to get you what you need!" She had never seen my hair let down before.

For a couple days, someone from wound care would come to my room, immerse my hand in a portable whirlpool, and repack and bandage my wound. I did not have the guts to look at my own hand, and always looked away. The part where they pack the wound with a small strip of gauze was painful, uncomfortable, frightening. There was also physical therapy, showing me exercises to regain motion and mobility in my hand. When I could touch the tip of my thumb to the tip of my ring finger, it was worthy of a celebration. The same God who was with me at that moment had also been by my side as they wheeled me into the operating room, and those lonely nights alone in my room. People always say that. You know, they say the same God was there in the good times as the bad. But when the good and the bad are smack up against each other, you really feel it.

You know you are getting better when you are less concerned about getting your pain meds and increasingly concerned that somehow you only received one sugar for your coffee.

The day I came home from the hospital had a fear all of its own. How would I manage? What if the pain came back? Would I burden the Mister? All these fears were for naught as the Mister dutifully followed my instructions for laundry, washed dishes using his own special technique, reminded me to take my antibiotics, and made sure the refrigerator was stocked with healthy foods. Other family stepped in to help as needed, but mainly my in-laws as my own family lives a distance away. The hospital staff instructed us to purchase a specific anti-bacterial Lysol product and wipe down all the surfaces in our home with it, which we did.

On my second day home, I got up the nerve to look at my garden. The tiny stray weeds and bolted lettuce didn't even bother me, because healing my hand was the only thing that mattered. If I couldn't clean up the garden this week, or next week, or the week after that, it would happen some day, and that was fine. The infection had changed everything, but especially my perspective. The oral antibiotics left me so nauseous that I was of little use, and had to discontinue them after five days. There were also other side effects that made me feel less than healthy.

Now, my hand has healed all but for my bandaged thumb, but that too continues healing. You would be amazed how useful your thumb is, something you only notice once you can't use it. I can't even clip coupons with a pair of scissors. Before all this happened, I had been feeling very worn out and spiritually depleted. My life was so full, and yet I often felt empty. I had ordered a Christian book that addressed some of these feelings which seem to be so common to women. The book arrived before I went into the hospital, so I took it with me but had not begun to read it. Can you imagine that I was sitting in the hospital reading this book which, on page 25, compared feeling worn and weary to an infected thumb? I couldn't believe it. The message was so clear. Now if only I can recover in such a way that addresses my depleted spirit as well as my physical self. But where to begin?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Just A Note

Last Wednesday evening I was admitted to the hospital with what turned out to be a staph infection with MRSA. It has been a challenging past week, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

I am home now recuperating and am receiving wound care (there is a hole in my thumb) and physical therapy on my right hand. Blogging probably won't be on the agenda for this week. But to say God is good would be an understatement. So many people have stepped in to help us during this difficult time. And if you would like to help, I still covet your prayers during my recovery. We are still in the woods on this one, but very much on a healing path.

Thank you for your kind words and prayers!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ouch! and A Taste of Summer

It started with a blister, or so I thought. A nasty, opened blister on my thumb that happened while working outside. For the rest of the week my thumb alternated between itching and soreness, and my hand swelled up like a baseball mitt. But this past weekend, things took a turn for the worse. The blister had healed and was fine, but my thumb was in such great pain and was continuing to swell. By Sunday evening in it the massive pain dulled to a numbness and we watched in horror as the infection deep under the skin spread to my hand. I could not move my thumb, and the Mister was concerned that it was cellulitis. After several friends at Sunday night group meeting encouraged us to not wait any longer, we made the decision to spend out Sunday evening at the emergency room. It turned out to be the right decision. There was no wait- the staff immediately took us back and gave me an injection for the pain. The doctor was concerned about the aggressiveness of the infection, and felt strongly that it was the dreaded MRSA infection. He noted it was crawling towards my lymphatic system. After drawing some blood, I was hooked up to a powerful antibiotic through an IV.

There is one thing more insidious than the infection, and that is how I got it to begin with. We have no idea. The doctor pointed to a tiny scab on my thumb, no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. He said THAT was the source of the infection, which may have been an insect bite or tiny scrape that I got while going about my business outside and never noticed. But since I had such an obvious source of blame in that awful opened blister on the same thumb, I had just assumed the infection stemmed from that.

Well. So now I am at home with a swollen thumb which is alternately throbbing with pain or numb, and the limited use of my right hand is KILLING me. You know, I am one of those people who think that even if I am home sick, there ought to be something that I can get done around here.

In the Garden: Well, we have everything up and flowering, but our lettuce is coming to an end. I am enjoying the black raspberries which are doing well, but wish we had planted more of them. For now I am going to freeze them, and when there is enough, can pie filling.
For some reason, black raspberries are difficult to find in our area markets, and prohibitively expensive when you do find them. Last year when we visited Ohio I remember getting so excited when I found giant bags of frozen berries at the store, it may have been my favorite souvenir from that trip!

In the Kitchen: Cantaloupes are hardly in season yet here, but they must be in season somewhere since I found them on sale and brought home a couple, which were so ripe and sweet I could have devoured them myself in a couple days time. One thing I wanted to try making was spiced cantaloupe, which I love at picnics during the summer. I was going to call my Aunt M- and get her delicious recipe, but I knew exactly where she would send me to get it. That old stand-by, the Mennonite Community Cookbook. So I took that recipe and refined it, and scaled it down to make one quart.

Spiced Cantaloupe

1 medium-large cantaloupe, cut in strips, chucks, or melon balls.
1/4 Tablespoon alum (to help the melon keep its shape)
1 quart warm water
2 cups sugar
1 cup vinegar
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 Tablespoon whole cloves

Cut up your cantaloupe. I did a combination of chunks and melon balls. Dissolve alum in water and bring to a boil. Add fruit and cook for ten minutes. Drain. Combine vinegar, sugar and spice, and heat. Add fruit and simmer for about 15 minutes.
At this point, I let the mixture cool, poured it into a quart jar, and refrigerated it for us to enjoy cold. It tastes like early summer!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Joy of Sprouting

We've been blessed with so much good lettuce and herbs this year, there was only one thing missing. Sprouts. Not only are they delicious fiber-rich salad toppers, but I love on sandwiches, too. I usually buy a pack at the store and they go bad long before we finish them.

For a long time I had wanted to experiment with growing sprouts at home, and when I checked into how ridiculously easy it was to grow them, it seemed a shame not to do it. There are quite a few people who successfully grow sprouts in a mason jar with a cheesecloth lid. However there does seem to be some risk of also growing bacteria in the jar along with your sprouts. Numerous websites for extension offices either advise against it, or post frighteningly complicated instructions for growing a healthy salmonella-free crop. There also seems to be a lesser risk of fostering mold in the jar, especially during humid weather. I didn't want to make this so complicated that a slip of my horrible short term memory would result in illness, so I started shopping for sprouters. This way, all I would need to remember is to rinse the sprouter twice a day for a healthy crop. Sprouters are so inexpensive, I feel it was a worthwhile investment and will likely pay for itself.

I found a small 3-tray sprouter online, which even came with some seeds. I'll post a link to it on my side bar. All sprouters are essential stacks of trays with a catch tray for drainage underneath.
There are two important things to remember in growing sprouts. 1) Use organic seed, as most commercial seeds for growing are sprayed with an anti-fungal. You can get around this by cooking your seed in 3% peroxide for five minutes, but I found an abundant amount of organic sprouting seeds online. The other important thing to remember is that your sprouts should be moist, but not immersed in water. This is where the twice-a-day rinse comes in. The sprouter I purchased (again, a small item that won't take up a lot of space) drains easily and has three trays so I can add new seed every few days to an empty tray and keep a constant rotation of fresh sprouts growing. Again, I'm sure that there are many people successfully growing sprouts in a jar, but it seems like there would be less spoilage with a draining tray system, and it allows you to grow more variety at once.

Does it work? Yes, in addition to using some alfalfa seeds that came with the sprouter, and an organic "crunchy" mix, in just a few days we did have a sprout harvest. You can keep them in the fridge for a few days.
Special thanks to Gina whose inspirational blog post on sprouting gave me the confidence to get my own sprout project going. :)


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