Last night during our midweek fellowship meeting which was taking place in the lounge of our home, I received a text from Annie (not in our lounge or our home).
“Ryan please can u come up if u feel strong enough after mtg. Even with mattress to sleep…i need u.”
It’s rare to the point of never that I receive requests like that from Annie. In fact, she is often the one insisting that I go home to get rest after long stays and difficult days at the hospital or hospice. Both places are but a five minute drive door-to-door from our home which helps a great deal in bridging and preventing any emotional distance and fragility that tends to increase and wither with miles and time.
As the last of the many precious saints that gathered yesterday evening left our lounge and home, I found myself preparing a plea before calling the hospice nurses to ask permission for this late night intrusion and inconvenience. Thankfully I still had access to an inflatable mattress we used when Annie’s family came to stay with us over the New Year; hoping that this might assist the staff as much as it would my sleep I called them. Fumbling through my – as ever – long-winded introduction, insisting that my request was no indictment on the care that Annie was already receiving, the duty nurse’s understanding was surpassed only by her accommodating. She assured me that as soon as she put the phone receiver down, she’d be preparing a bed for me in Annie’s room. If the conversation lasted any longer, I am sure that she would have asked if I would require a newspaper, cocoa, pipe and slippers. I just wish I could rate their service on Tripadvisor.com! I have no doubt that they would have welcomed Milo too, but following previous experience, spending an overnight stay in a hotel chain which allowed dogs, Annie and I know how delicately (and deafeningly) sensitive Milo’s barking reflexes are when disturbed by bumps, shuffles, whispers – or mere rumours of – in the night!
Yesterday morning and afternoon wasn’t great for Annie. She caught in between a lot of pain and a lot of tiredness. Some days, the same concoction of pain medication that worked wonderfully the day before, might as well be a fistful of candy. The ‘pain versus fatigue’ tug-o-war ended with a stalemate last night leaving Annie frayed and fragile. Sometimes God’s healing comes through the minds of doctors and nurses, sometimes His relief through through the sharp end of a syringe or beneath the shiny shell of a pill; and other times yet, through the fellowship of a good friend, a husband. Ask my wife, I can often be a pain; but it’s good to bring and be the pain relief that can’t be reached by medic or medication. We spent over an hour talking and listening to God and one another through His Word and through prayer and testimony and at the last ‘Amen’, God’s remedy for a troubled night had eased in and taken effect.
I was offered breakfast this morning but manners and habits kept me from accepting. I never eat breakfast (cue a surge of comments from concerned mothers!) and even if I did, I know I have this terrible ‘british’ disposition which seems to suffer hospitality when I am on the receiving end – I know my American friends and family remain resolute to beat that out of me! But I was nourished in heart by Annie’s appetite which made light work of a couple rounds of toast and a mother-bear sized bowl of porridge.
The doctor dropped by this morning to tell us that they’d like to send Annie for an x-ray at the hospital this afternoon. They hope to assess the amount of fluid in the as-of-yet undrained right lung pleural cavity. The same x-ray will hopefully reveal the efficacy of the talc-glue on the left side. You may recall us telling you that once the fluid was drained from the left side, they filled the cavity with surgical talc hoping that the gap would be glued and closed in order to dam or prevent a future fluid build-up in that area. That part of the operation has a 50-50 success rate and by tomorrow they hope to have some closure one way or the other. Following the x-ray, perhaps early next week, Annie will be re-admitted to the hospital in order to drain and dam the right side. This should require just an overnight stay at the hospital – but the nights are known to outlast a number of days in that place! Lord’s willing, if all goes as well as can be expected, Annie will return to the hospice for a few days respite and recovery and then perhaps back home?
Annie’s x-ray appointment is scheduled for 3pm (we’ll be leaving as soon as I publish this post) and we’ve decided to take a wheelchair walk through the woods as our passage between worlds. The hospice is separated from the hospital by a wooded area which takes roughly 15 minutes to walk through. And on a crisp wintry day like today, it will rather be like leaving Narnia! The appointment should be brief and then we can walk back through the wooded wardrobe to Annie’s hospice haven.
Heavy snow is forecast here tonight and into the weekend so I may stay another night on my bed which is now folded and tucked away in the corner of Annie’s room.
Just a few days ago Annie experienced another troubled night. On that occasion instead of reaching for the mobile phone to text me, she reached for her fountain pen and poured out her heart in praise and poetry. In the resulting poem she drew strength from reflecting on the incredible opportunities that God has given to her since her return to the hospice. More doctors have continued to come into this little room not simply just to counsel but now – it appears – even to seek counsel as they individually and personally enquire of Annie’s peace.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. – 1 Peter 3:15
I’ll leave you with the poem Annie recently composed below.
How can you smile through this?
Don’t you want to shake your fist?
Curse the one who ‘allowed’ for this?
Hide away in denial’s bliss?
How can you sing a joyful song?
When the pain’s been hanging around so long?
When everything right has gone all wrong?
You’re feeling weak, no longer strong?
How can YOU, be happy for those
Who have no worries, who have no foes?
Whom everything, their way, seems to go
With never a trouble, never a woe?
How can you on your sick bed rest?
As you writhe in pain or endure more tests?
Surely, you must have to confess
That your life has become an awful mess!
How can you smile? How can you sing?
How can you be happy? How can you bring
Anything positive? Anything good?
Anything joyful from the place where you’re stood?
And why am I asking? Why do I care?
Is it because I see something there?
Whatever it is, I know it’s rare
Maybe that’s why I want you to share?!
If you have a secret that gives you this..’thing’
I want, NO, need to know, so that I might have ‘in’
So please find the words, I am listening
I’ll need it when I go through suffering.
Well..the answer is simple, containing one word
It’s something you will have many times heard
To me, it sounds sweeter than the song of a bird
The word is JESUS and JESUS is THE WORD!