Friday, February 17, 2012

When I Am Dying

I’m thinking that it was an inspired thing now, the title that I chose for this blog: Do Not Be Anxious. I’m sure I was reminded of it by Mary; it was said that she cited this passage from Matthew to the children at Medjugorje. It is Jesus’ greatest admonition to us: Trust in Me. And I’ve since grown very fond of the Divine Mercy prayer which was given to Sister Faustina, which acts as our response to Jesus’ words: Jesus, I trust in You.

Jesus: “Do not be anxious.” Me: “Jesus, I trust in You.” They go together well, and I’ve cited each many times here, but recently I was reminded not once but twice of a time in my life when those words really, REALLY meant a lot to me: when I was dying.

The Friday Bible study guys were discussing some passage of the bible and debating about how we must use the talents God gave us to do what we think best, vs trusting in Him to lead us. “So often,” one said, “I don’t know what He wants me to do, so it is natural to just do what I think best. I mean, short of Him talking in my ear, how do I really know?” While they tossed back and forth examples and what they did or didn’t do, the example came to me of what I did. And so I told them. At least to some degree, it settled the debate enough that they could go on.

More recently, I felt called to tell my seriously ill friend the story of how I almost died. When I determined to tell her, thinking it would be of value to her healing --- or her prayed-for healing, I went to my blog to print off a copy of the story of the miracle God had done for me, so she could read it. I was surprised however, to see that although it is so clear and important in my heart, I never wrote the details of that miracle here. It wasn’t here, but it should be documented, for me to always remember and for others to perhaps be inspired. And so I shall write of it now.

I have epilepsy, one of a number of problems which I live with. On what are generally rare occasions—it is reasonably controlled with medications, I have seizures of varying intensity, usually just as I nod off to sleep, or just as I am waking. It happened about fifteen years ago or so that I worked late at the office one night, which was not an unusual occurrence, and came home without having eaten dinner. So I made myself a large bowl of spaghetti, glanced at the paper and went to bed, and quickly fell asleep. And, I think, almost as quickly began having the feelings of an oncoming seizure. Feeling its onset and realizing I was losing control of my body, I lowered myself from the bed to the floor, so that if I lost total control or passed out I might not fall and injure myself. And then disaster happened: in my body’s spasms and twitching, I began to vomit the spaghetti I had eaten. This I knew was life threatening, very threatening.

Lying on the floor, having no control of my arms or legs, I knew that inhaling the vomit was likely to cause my death, and I had no control to stop it. I could feel the first burns of the stomach acids in my lungs. And then ----- I surprised myself.

Totally alert mentally, the one part of my body which I could control, I realized my situation and began to talk, calmly, to God: “Well, Lord, I guess it looks like I am finally going to meet You. That will be a good thing. I trust that this is Your will, and I am ready to accept it. Please care for the loved ones I leave behind.” And then I blacked out, and as the feelings of my body drifted from my mind, I was expecting to meet Jesus.

What actually I met, a few hours later I believe, was myself and a mess on my bedroom floor and carpet, and me. I ached all over, and very much in my lungs. I coughed and retched some more, and tried to clear my lungs. I felt awful. I had thoughts that although I was alive, staying alive was not a certain thing, but I ached too much, including a horrible headache to even consider that fact. I washed myself off and went back to bed, not even cleaning the mess on the floor.

The next day, and a couple of subsequent days, I didn’t really feel much better. I stayed home from work, and slept a lot. On the third or fourth day, I felt well enough to go to the doctor. (I think I’ve written here before of how my parents rarely saw a doctor, my mom probably not once in the past 30 years. So I guess I can justify my lack of enthusiasm for doctor visits as being a genetic pre-disposition.) The doctor looked and listened and said: “You’re lucky to be alive, and stupid for not having called for an ambulance. Your lack of panic likely saved your life. If you had become anxious and inhaled deeply or often, you likely would have died.” Oh, and he told me not to be so stupid next time ---- and don’t eat big meals before going to bed! Uh, yeh. I guess I figured that out for myself.

The point of citing this incident to my Bible-study friends, and my seriously ill friend, is that my life was saved because I trusted in God. I heeded His call to not be anxious, and I trusted in Him. And I lived ---- at His pleasure, and not because of any actions I took. For my bible study guys, it was the ultimate example of how you know you are doing God’s will: He lets you live. It’s also the ultimate example of trust, trusting your life in Him. I’m no saint; I don’t know how I had that much trust at that crucial time. It was a grace; it was a miracle. I am grateful. I trust in Him.

For my seriously ill friend, she needed to hear this story also, for she is right now in a similar, life-threatening situation ---- and she is scared beyond being able to control her body as I did, thus far. Put on a ventilator to help her breathe while her body fought off various infections, she won the battle over the infections, but the weaning off of the ventilator-assisted breathing is not coming easy. It may not come at all. After a couple of incidents as she was taken off the ventilator --- and then put back on --- her body now reacts with fear as it is turned off. My internet readings indicate that this is a very common reaction (and problem) with using ventilators, the anxiety when trying to get off the machine. The machines, the data, the numbers, say my friend should be able to breathe on her own, but her body is afraid to, and she can’t control that fear. It is, I guess, similar to the fear of drowning people who fight off their rescuers; their panic overrides their logical mind, and they can’t help it. If my friend cannot overcome that panic she may never come off that machine, and difficult decisions will have to be made.

I told her the story of my life-threatening situation; when I had that seizure I too was going to lose the air in my lungs and likely die. But I trusted in God, and am alive today --- perhaps just to tell her that story. I told her how I had read studies about Jesus’ death, and how some doctors suggest that He may have died from lack of air, as His weakened body couldn’t breathe anymore --- Jesus may know exactly what my friend is feeling; He may have felt the same thing. And so with these stories as background I wrote out for her what she must do.

Do Not Be Anxious, but if you are: 1)Breathe slowly and deeply; 2)Close your eyes; 3)Say the Our Father slowly; and 4)Jesus, I trust in You.

While I was with her yesterday afternoon, she nodded off to sleep. The ventilator assistance was set to a minimal amount; she was largely breathing on her own. But during her sleep, her breathing slowed very much, and the machine alarms went off, waking her up and instilling immediate panic reactions. I took the notes I had written and held it in front of her panic-stricken eyes, and she read them again. She closed her eyes, and her lips began moving. And then, as her breathing gradually came back to normal, she drifted off to sleep again. And I had to leave her for the day to come here to take care of my mom.

For that one time, my friend prayed, and acted in a way which trusted in God, despite the panic her body was feeling. I don’t know if she will continue to be able to do that, especially when she knows they are turning the machine off and expecting her to breathe on her own. It will be HER supreme challenge in trust.

I thought I was dying. My friend fears she is dying. We both had our mental wits about us in a situation which almost screams for panic. Trust in God is trusting in Him, no matter what the situation may be, even dying.

We are all going to die. It’s a fact we sometimes need to remind ourselves of: death comes to everyone. Even the ones Jesus raised, like Lazarus, died. And we need to remind ourselves of His words: Do Not Be Anxious; I’ll take care of you. And we need to remind ourselves that we really do trust in Him.

In life, and in death, Jesus, I trust in You.


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  2. You're welcome, Jordan. This whole issue about trust is such a big one today, whether it's about trusting our body (as I wrote about here) or trusting our mind and logic (witness the government and "Catholic" HHA director dictates), or trusting our Church. We so much want to be in control, but the focus of our control is always for our own benefit. We don't try nearly hard enough, in my opinion, to focus on issues for the benefit of others or society --- and if we say we do we are usually lying to ourselves, justifying what we really want for ourselves.

    That's one thing I really like about the Catholic Church, and JPII's Theology of the Body book, they teach that the focus of our life should not be about us, but us being here as God's servants, to do as He would wish us to do, for others. The teaching is so clear when you study it, and so mysterious when you're concerned about yourself first.