Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On a Scale of 1 to 10

Eight years ago I had open heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. May 24th of 2000, I underwent a procedure to repair a congenitally malformed (called a bicuspid) aorta valve. I'm getting side tracted, but Dr. Cosgrove was one of the few surgeons in the world repairing rather than replacing the valve. Doctor Cosgrove is now the head of Cleveland Clinic. It was very much a miracle. If I had had the valve replaced I would have had to have the surgery repeated every 10-15 years and be on blood thinners for the rest of my life. As it is now, with my repaired valve, I am on no special medication and I should never have to have the surgery repeated. I feel better than I have since I was in my 20's.

Memories have surely faded over time, but I still remember the fog of pain of my first several days after surgery. My world revolved around the pain in my chest. That was my center. The sun rose and set about that pain. Other scales of time and place were meaningless. Every breath was very difficult. I needed to breathe and I needed to breathe deeply to prevent pneumonia, but every rise and fall of my chest was very difficult. It was as if the dagger point of a knife were pressed against my chest. It was unyielding. As my lungs filled with air, that blade met my rising chest with a stabbing tearing pain.

Every few hours I was able to escape for a time from that blade, through my IV or later a hypodermic syringe or still later through pills. I would press my call button and the nurse would enter my room, knowing by the elapsed time since my last dose what I probably wanted, but needing to check the intensity of my discomfort, she would ask how my pain measured on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst possible level of distress.

This question bothered me. I have always been a person who tries to speak as accurately as possible and I had no idea how to answer that question. I really wrestled with it. I knew the information she was seeking. I knew that she wanted to know what type and how much pain medication I required, but her question was one I could not find an accurate answer to.

Let me ask you: In units of lindys, how far is it to Momperville? No matter where you are, you can only be a maximum of 10 lindys away. You say that you don't know what a lindy is and you don't know where Momperville is. That is exactly my point. The nurse was asking how far I was away from an unknown destination in units that I had no way to calibrate with anything I knew.

We know the starting point on this scale is a zero, a place of no pain. Let's call that 'home'. We can only guess at the other end of this scale. Where is Momperville? It must truly be a horrible place, no one would go there voluntarily. It is a place of pure ,unremitting, unrepentant, absolute, total pain. Is it just a mile or a kilometer up the road? Then I can estimate and subtract how far I am from home and that will tell me how far I have to go to Momperville. If I'm half way there then I've gone 5 lindys, so my answer to the nurse would be a '5'.

But what if, and this is my suspicion, what if Momperville is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. . . what if Momperville is on the moon. . .I am sure that there are depths of pain that I cannot even begin to fathom. My desire is to speak accurately and I greatly suspect that my 5 or 6 or 7 on that pain scale, wasn't even the beginning of a 1 in comparison to what others have gone and are currently going through. I thank God that I do not know where Momperville is. I said these words to my nurse. Her eyes understood. In the busyness of her day, she did not have time for agonizing over philosophical questions about unknown destinations, but her eyes understood my words.

I have become more familiar with pain, the longer I live the more intimately I come to know him. The last few months our acquaintance has grown greatly. My mother died in February. I had never lost anyone close to me before. I am 53 and that is a blessed life to be able to say that I have had no loss before this point in my life, but her death taught me many things about pain and loss. I learned something about the location of Momperville. My dog died last week. I had 9 months to prepare for my Mother's death. The loss of my dog was a bolt from the blue. A very different pain, but extremely intense nonetheless. My wife and I at various times felt physically ill, nauseous at the intensity of feeling we experienced . . My body, as I age, greets me each morning, reminding me with dull aches and sharp pangs that things aren't working quite as well as they were decades ago. I am only on the beginning of that journey. The road ahead is veiled in the mist. . .where am I heading? What is the scale? How far do I have to go?

I met a man last week who suffered a pain beyond anything I can imagine. When he was 10 years old he suffered a searing pain that no child should ever know. For more than 40 years his life has been defined, he has been in orbit around a blazing center of agony and loss. . .He revolves around a point miles and miles beyond where I thought the center was. . . the horrors life holds that I cannot comprehend. . . the loss of a child. . . I spoke recently at a vigil for abused children. The organizers of the vigil had lost a grandchild in the most horrible way imaginable. . .my scale of a formerly measured 5 or 6 or 7 continues to shrink. . .

Look at Job, the Bible tells of his loss of all his seven children in one day:

Job 1:4
And his sons went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them.

Job's sons had houses. They lived apart from Job. They had homes and lives of their own. It does not specifically say, but it is also quite possible that his daughters had homes of their own. Sons and daughters with houses, in those days before family planning as we call it today, surely imply spouses and families. Job lost all of his children on a black and desolate day. I think it also very likely that he and his wife lost many or all of their grandchildren in that terrible time. Possibly their loss was several times as many grandchildren as children. In that perspective, almost as a minor matter, Job then went on to lose his great possessions and his health. His friends came to taunt him. His wife, surely enduring her own terrible terrible grieving was of no support to him. . . Job and his wife would laugh in derision or maybe weep bitter tears at my estimation of my pain. . .

I am no expert. I have not begun to experience deeper levels of intimacy with the abode of pain, but whenever I have ventured closer to that place, God has been there. He has already been there. He is waiting, not as a tourist, not as a transient, not as someone only there for a brief moment to greet me, but but as a resident. He knows depth of pain beyond, staggeringly beyond where man can ever go. He knows and carries the pain of all mankind, of all creation upon His shoulders. He knows everything. . . He feels it all. . .the pain of all mankind from across all time is His to bear. . .He is there for you. . . call out for Him. . . .lose your pain in Him. . . give your pain to Him. In the midst of your darkness, keep reaching for Him. If you do not know where anything else is, if you are so blinded to anything else, be assured that He is at your side, going through, living through the agony with you. . .

I love you my God. . .

Thank you for sharing and bearing all my burdens. . .

Dave Stokely

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