On our journey through life, we encounter numerous crossroads. Choices and decisions are laid before us. Or sometimes they are made for us. At times, we may even find ourselves feeling as if we are being inexorably guided by some intangible, incorporeal feeling or sensory perception. Sometimes we look back upon the outcome or consequences of such decisions and are left wondering how we got to a certain place. This is particularly true in matters involving our health and the health of our loved ones.
I do not often write of my own personal experiences because quite frankly, my life is fairly mundane and of no particular interest. And yet, at times I sense that I am a conduit for far more important, more grand issues and messages. The Power of the Message. Not the Image of the Messenger. And yet, a recent event has made me again question whether we end up at various places in our life due to … Fate? Coincidence? Luck? Or…is there something greater at play?
On Super Bowl Sunday, I got a call from my 88-year-old father. My dad is a former air force pilot, was raised in the Midwest with that generation of men who didn’t show much emotion. He was the single breadwinner in the family. So, when he called saying he was in extreme pain in his abdominal region, I took notice. We ended up in the Emergency Room at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. This is the hospital in which my daughter, Morgan breathed her last in October 2016. And every time I have had to go to that hospital after that dark night, this sense of cold foreboding has gripped me.
The following day I received the news that my dad had gallstones which blocked the flow of bile. This was causing the severe pain. On Tuesday, the medical professionals inserted a tube down his throat to remove the gallstones. That procedure went well. However, discrepancies were found which resulted in the decision to remove his gall bladder the following day.
So too, the gall bladder removal surgery was successful. The attending doctors stated that surgery went off smoothly and he was being released the next day, that being Thursday. I picked him up from the hospital about 1:00 o’clock p.m. He was in good spirits and relatively pain free. I thought, “Not bad for an 88 year old man!” Two hours later those thoughts were ripped from my heart.
The attending doctor called me and asked me to bring my father in to see him the very next day. He advised that the pathologist had found a cancerous tumor in the gall bladder. He also said that the pathologist happened to be a friend of his and for no particular reason, had focused on the report of my dad. Instead of 2 to 3 days, the call came within 1 day.
We met with the doctor on Friday. He explained that because the cancer had been found at such an early stage, it had not yet spread throughout the liver and removal surgery was a viable option. But, he also advised that about 5 days after surgery, scar tissue begins to form and surgery would be more problematic. He also advised that although fewer than 20,000 people in the United States get gall bladder cancer every year, it is one of the most aggressive cancers and if not treated immediately, in all likelihood, he had fewer than 6 months of life remaining.
On Monday, February 11, 2019, the doctors operated and removed the cancerous part of the liver wall. Their post surgery report was glowing. They believed they got all of it but we are waiting on the pathology report … again.
As I sat with my father in ICU, I was very aware that his room was just two floors below the ICU room where my beloved daughter breathed her last just two years before. The rooms looked largely identical. The beeping of the medical equipment. The attention from the medical staff. The pain and anguish from that dark October night began once again, to wash over me. And then, through the grief, perhaps clarity began to happen.
But for the gallstones lodging in his bile duct in a certain exact way, he would not have had the severe pain. Without the severe pain, we would not have known of his gall bladder issue for several more months. Those several additional months would have resulted in the rapid spread of the cancer and my dad’s almost certain death in 2019. Had the gall bladder not been removed, and the pathologist not been a friend of the surgeon and for some unknown reason, been drawn to immediately review my dad’s test results, additional time would have elapsed and scar tissue would have begun to form and again, the cancer would have had additional time to spread.
As I sat in that ICU room, all of those “coincidences” became so clear. And a sense of peace came to me. An unexpected peace which shone through the fear and exhaustion and in the most unlikely of places.
Were all of those circumstances merely a chain of coincidences inextricably linked together? Was it fate? Could it have been blind dumb luck? Or, in our lifetimes, lifetimes that are far too short for many, is there really any way to begin to grasp the vast expanse and power of some incredible energy, life force or Divinity far greater than our meager existence?
Faith for the most part is not included as an important consideration in programs offered by most eating disorder centers, hospitals and professionals. There are no “evidence-based” studies indicating the effectiveness of faith in eating disorder programs. You cannot see faith. You cannot test faith. In fact, faith by its very essence is not based upon demonstrable facts. It stands upon its own. And sometimes, when all else fails, faith comes to us in our hour of need and it strengthens us.
For our loved ones suffering from eating disorders, sometimes, when our prescription drugs have failed, when tube feeding has failed, when our loved ones are in the darkest pit of despair…. sometimes faith comes to them.
And for those who have had one beloved life unfairly and prematurely ripped away, and one beloved life saved through the most improbable of circumstances … sometimes, faith becomes a lifeline.
P.S. On Wednesday, February 13, the pathology report came back. The doctors were able to remove all of the cancer cells. There is no lingering or residual cancer, no chemo is necessary and he is expected home by Sunday. Luck? Skilled surgeons? Guardian Angel? Whichever may be the case, gratitude