(This is a continuation of my ruminations on getting healthy, losing a hundred pounds, and turning 50–a milestone I almost didn’t live to see)
Old Testament Israel often found herself with collective back against the wall, surrounded by legions bent on her destruction, outnumbered, outflanked and woefully ill-prepared. But selfsame Israel, sans luck and most pitiable, held a perpetual trump card in her hand.
The Lord of hosts.
“Sabaoth” His name.
A bulwark never failing.
The kicker was the children still had to go out and face the worst the enemy could throw at her. She wasn’t permitted to wait at home where it was safe but had to lace up her boots, don the helmet and brandish the sword. All while being insinuated into the arena of onslaught.
“We who are about to die, salute Thee!”
Elohim went before her, though invisibly, but she still had to march straight into the teeth of hell.
Less than a month before I took the low road into the valley of darkness, I sensed something afoot. My journal entries suggested I was coming into a time when I would have to learn how to trust God all over again as unfamiliar territory loomed on my not-so-distant horizon. My most private thoughts also conjured the truth, whatever it entailed, I would not be alone.
But that confidence would be stretched to its most elastic properties.
It was the night of All Hallow’s Eve, I was 49 and I wanted to live. For years I shrugged off any self-incriminating thoughts regarding the abuse to my body with a glib, “So what if I die? I’ll be with Jesus…” The same Paul I took this inspiration from would probably have used one of his favorite phrases “Perish the thought!” to rebut my spartan attitude. Along around the previous April, I got my head on straight on that matter.
And now I was lying on as near as anything to a death bed as I’d ever known.
I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, to turn my body in bed was nigh unto torture the pain was so great, and the bag hooked onto the side of the bed frame that collected urine through a catheter looked like an IV bag of blood, the consistency and color of its contents being like tomato juice.
A call to my doctor produced a bottle of antibiotic pills that were no more effective at warding off the raging sickness than would be bringing down a rhino with a pellet gun.
I despaired when Sandy left for work at night, not so much because I would be alone, but because night was the worst psychologically. Voices layered on top of voices, remastered with even more voices, slithered through my mind like currents of electricity, dissonant and villainous.
Hanging on the wall of our bedroom is a peaceful painting that once hung in the living room of my grandparent’s farmhouse in Tennessee. It’s a country scene with a country lane holding a puddle of water from a recent rainstorm, passing through some trees and disappearing into yon mountains. At night, frightful images would muster on the face of that painting and attack me like a swarm of bees. Shadows played surreal tricks and while I admit it could have been the fever, I wasn’t, nor am I now, completely sure.
Sandy was pretty sure I was terminal. She who knows I’m sick just by looking in my eyes, looked in them and saw they were distant and unfocused, like I was beginning the descent and becoming detached from the here and now. A gray pall began to color my body and conversation ended.
In the wee hours of Sunday morning (one week later), she stood in the doorway of the bedroom and announced she no longer cared what I said, it was time to call an ambulance. But by then I had lost all hope I would revive and agreed. Within minutes our quiet neighborhood was ablaze with flashing lights, the release of air brakes and the heavy hum of diesel engines as an ambulance and fire truck filled the street in front of our house.
Cumulatively, since 1981, hospitals have been my address of residence for 56 weeks which is just over a year in case you missed the math. Not sure, though, I should use this bit of trivia as a conversation starter, mind you. Be that as it may, Piedmont of Atlanta, as hospitals go, ain’t bad. I can’t complain about its Emergency Room either, which is where I found myself, feeling dread as dark as the frosty midnight sky overhead.
The earliest diagnosis was severe dehydration and the triage nurse thought a few bags of fluids would make me feel like a new man and I’d probably be sent home that day. However, X-Rays showed there were several kidney stones lodged and ready to tip over into the ureter. Not so fast.
Then the bloodwork came in. Deadly e coli bacteria was laying siege to my system, which for the “immunocompromised” (like me) proves deadly. Oh, and we see you have MRSA, Mr. Mitchell. I’m sorry, you won’t be going home any time soon.
You ever play Domino’s? Those white or black rectangles with the circular divots, arranged ever so carefully, but when one gently nudges the next the first in line and each begins to systematically clack the next which topples into the next, and so on down the line.
That’s akin to how things progressively went from bad to worse that first week of November. As one day penetrated into the next, my symptoms followed suit. Imagine, if you will, a late-night infomercial, complete with the gushing audience and pasted-on smiles, oohing and ahhing at the man in the jazzy sweater or chef’s cap on stage. He keeps pulling out more and more of his wares, adding them to what’s already being showcased.
“Not only do you get the Ginsu knife set, but check out this table saw!”
“But that’s not all!”
The audience lets loose a histrionic gasp. You have GOT to be kidding…
“That’s right. You also get this clock radio that tells time in Somalia which also seconds as a handy-dandy waffle-maker!”
One woman in a bright pink moo-moo passes out in the second row, taking out several on her way down. Others shake their heads in awestruck disbelief. This is the greatest thing since the Veg-O-Matic. No question.
“But that’s not all!” the emcee adds in his smooth-and-sweet-as-banana taffy voice. He reaches behind the counter and pulls out a set of four impossibly chromatic wheel spinners. And that’s not all!
The audience, already overloaded with high octane levels of voltage, reaches their tipping point and spontaneously combusts…
Synonymously, the “but that’s not all” mania took on a life-sized challenge for me in those first few tremors of winter. After a mountain-sized Domino of morbid obesity teetered and fell into diabetes which gave way to rampant diarrhea and dehydration which ricocheted into kidney stones and slammed against the “superbug” of MRSA, it turns out…
…all this was just the prelude. The slowly building score to one of the most unforgettably spiritual crescendos of my life. My year of Jubilee.
Soli deo gloria!